Stay Close To Me

My daily bible reading is taking me through the book of Numbers at the moment, courtesy of Wordlive. One particular passage from last week struck a chord with me and has been on my mind ever since. The passage was Numbers 9:15-23, which for those of you who can’t quote it verbatim (honestly!), reads a little like this:

15 On the day that the tabernacle was set up, the cloud covered the tabernacle, the tent of the testimony. And at evening it was over the tabernacle like the appearance of fire until morning. 16So it was always: the cloud covered it by day and the appearance of fire by night. 17And whenever the cloud lifted from over the tent, after that the people of Israel set out, and in the place where the cloud settled down, there the people of Israel camped. 18At the command of the LORD the people of Israel set out, and at the command of the LORD they camped. As long as the cloud rested over the tabernacle, they remained in camp. 19Even when the cloud continued over the tabernacle many days, the people of Israel kept the charge of the LORD and did not set out. 20Sometimes the cloud was a few days over the tabernacle, and according to the command of the LORD they remained in camp; then according to the command of the LORD they set out. 21And sometimes the cloud remained from evening until morning. And when the cloud lifted in the morning, they set out, or if it continued for a day and a night, when the cloud lifted they set out. 22Whether it was two days, or a month, or a longer time, that the cloud continued over the tabernacle, abiding there, the people of Israel remained in camp and did not set out, but when it lifted they set out. 23At the command of the LORD they camped, and at the command of the LORD they set out. They kept the charge of the LORD, at the command of the LORD by Moses.

Israelite Health & Safety Officers are said to have "gone tonto" at how close together these tents were situated. And near a naked flame too!

What struck me about the passage were the commentators thoughts on it. The Israelites are stuck out in the middle of the Sinai desert where God is guiding them as a cloud during the day and as a pillar of fire by night. When the cloud/fire moves away from the tabernacle, the people up sticks and follow, only making camp again when the cloud/fire comes to a stop.  They know that ultimately they’re headed for the promised land but they have no idea where God is going to lead them on their journey before they reach their destination.

It’s a passage about guidance, but it challenges the way we tend to ask God to guide us. Our tendency is to ask God for guidance and expect to get a clear answer as to where we should be going or what we should be doing. That’s not the case here. The Israelites look to God for guidance, but there is no clear answer as to where they’re going. Yes they’re ultimately heading for the promised land (insert heaven for us NT believers) but where they’re going before they get there is not made known to them. The one thing required of them is to stay close to God. They don’t need to know where they’re going, they just need to stay close to God. And it’s not like their G.P.S. (God Positioning Satellite: coming to Ship of Fools soon) was untested. This is the same pillar of fire/cloud that led them out of slavery in Egypt and so God had already shown Himself to be someone it might be a good idea to follow.

This is a challenge to all of us, whatever age. We’re constantly looking to God for guidance as to where we should be going next and what’s the next step for us etc. We ask for guidance and then, quite often, we sit and wait for some kind of national lottery-esque hand to emerge from the sky and point us in the right direction. And hey, sometimes God does answer in some spectacular ways. But this passage challenges us by showing that God guides us when we stay close to him. The point isn’t really where we’re going, it’s to keep walking closely with God wherever He takes us. And we know that God is a guidance system that can be trusted. Just as he lead the Israelites out of Egypt by a pillar of fire/cloud, he lead us out of the slavery of sin when we followed Jesus Christ and so we know that God has our best interests at heart. Whether we view the situations he leads us into that way is another matter.

Whilst this challenges all of us, I think this is something our young people really need to hear. I’m always slightly amazed (although I shouldn’t be, it was the same in my day) when I hear young people who aren’t even in their final year of 6th form talking about how their school is pushing to make decisions about universities and courses. Everyone needs to know where they’re going and what they’re doing and they need to know now! And what’s more, everyone needs to make the “right choice.”

The problem is, our schools aren’t really going to help our young people make the “right choice” mostly because the schools idea of what the “right choice” is, quite often doesn’t tie up with the Christian idea. Our judgements as Christians should be made using a completely different value system to that of the world.

So if there are any young people out there are trying to decide what the right choice for them is, whether it’s university places or something far more mundane, I believe the answer is this: The right choice is the one that keeps you walking as closely with God as possible. That choice isn’t always the obvious one, nor the most desirable. I’m sure many of the Israelites could have coped without walking round a desert for 40 years. But they were walking with God. And that was all that really mattered.

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