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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

Numbers 9

 

 

Verse 17

THE GUIDING CLOUD

‘When the cloud was taken up.… When the cloud tarried.’

Numbers 9:17; Numbers 9:19

I. The first verses of the Lesson remind us of the fact that in all their wanderings through the wilderness the Israelites had God for their Guide.—The visible token of the Divine leadership was the pillar of cloud which hovered over the Tabernacle, and which at nightfall became a pillar of fire. The movements of that cloud decided the movements of the Israelites. When it rested, they rested; when it removed, they removed; wherever it led, they followed. ‘At the commandment of the Lord they encamped, and at the commandment of the Lord they journeyed.’ Their stay in Sinai had been a long one, but ‘in the second year, in the second month, on the twentieth day of the month,’ the lifting of the cloud gave them the signal to depart, and led by it they took a three days’ journey into the wilderness of Paran. Here, then, we have a people whose every step was taken under the Divine guidance.

II. And this is how it ought to be, and how it may be, with us.—Our lives ought to be lived, and may be lived, under Divine direction and leadership. We sometimes are tempted to envy the Israelites their possession of the cloudy pillar. But though we see neither cloud nor fire in front of us, we may be just as certainly led of God. ‘I will guide thee,’ is the promise, ‘with Mine eye upon thee.’ Are we living under the Divine leadership? Are the paths we follow, paths which God has pointed out? The practice of the Israelites is the one safe rule for life. ‘At the commandment of the Lord they encamped, and at the commandment of the Lord they journeyed.’

Illustration

(1) ‘In the daytime the Cloud.

In truth, I need God to temper my gladness, to calm my joy, to keep my heart soft and humble when the sun is shining on me and when all goes well. I have seen fine men and women, with the light of heaven in their faces and the beauty of holiness in their lives, sadly spoiled by success. So I should be glad when, in the midst of my happiness, God in Jesus Christ makes Himself a living Reality and sanctifies my heart.

But in the night-time the Fire.

Not the fire that scorches, burns, destroys. But the fire that warms, comforts, enlightens, purifies, refines. In adversity I need God, to teach me the lessons of sorrow, to cheer my downcast soul, to uplift and beautify my life through the grievous discipline. If He comes close to me then, I shall be conducted to victory through the battles I seem to lose.’

(2) ‘The old story of the founding of Constantinople says that Constantine himself marked out the limits of the new city. When his courtiers saw what a vast circuit he was making they suggested to him it was time to stop. But Constantine was deaf to their remonstrances. “I shall still advance,” was his reply, “till He—the invisible Guide who marches before me—thinks proper to stop.” So let none of us hesitate to follow wherever Christ leads.’

(3) ‘The writer does not seem to be able to get away from the thought that whatever the pillar indicated, immediate prompt obedience followed. He says so over and over again, and finishes by putting it all in one verse as the last impression which he would leave from the whole narrative.’

SECOND OUTLINE

I. The important uses of the Pillar.—It was a symbol of God’s Presence, and a symbol of God’s Providence. It was His Angel—a Guardian Angel and a Guiding Angel—for defence and direction.

II. Its distinguishing properties.

(1) It was peculiar to God’s people—God is specially present with, and makes special provision for His own.

(2) It was a constant benefit; by day and by night. Aye, and the varied aspect it presented was the means of securing the constant enjoyment of the benefit. If it had been always and only a pillar of fire, it would have made the heat of the day more oppressive, and if it had been always and only a pillar of cloud, it would have made the night more gloomy.

(3) It was an enduring benefit. Year after year, for the space of forty years, all the time they were on their journey through the wilderness, it failed them not. Nor will God fail or forsake His people until He has done them all the good He has spoken to them of,—until He has brought them to the rest and inheritance on high.

III. Its instructive lessons.—(1) It reminds us of our obligations. (2) It should impress us with a sense of our dependence. (3) It should remind us of the duty of submission to God’s will. The whole passage shows an entire submission. They journeyed when the cloud moved, they rested when the cloud rested!

Like the symbol, the subject has a dark side and a bright side, dark towards the enemies, bright towards the people of God.


Verse 19

THE GUIDING CLOUD

‘When the cloud was taken up.… When the cloud tarried.’

Numbers 9:17; Numbers 9:19

I. The first verses of the Lesson remind us of the fact that in all their wanderings through the wilderness the Israelites had God for their Guide.—The visible token of the Divine leadership was the pillar of cloud which hovered over the Tabernacle, and which at nightfall became a pillar of fire. The movements of that cloud decided the movements of the Israelites. When it rested, they rested; when it removed, they removed; wherever it led, they followed. ‘At the commandment of the Lord they encamped, and at the commandment of the Lord they journeyed.’ Their stay in Sinai had been a long one, but ‘in the second year, in the second month, on the twentieth day of the month,’ the lifting of the cloud gave them the signal to depart, and led by it they took a three days’ journey into the wilderness of Paran. Here, then, we have a people whose every step was taken under the Divine guidance.

II. And this is how it ought to be, and how it may be, with us.—Our lives ought to be lived, and may be lived, under Divine direction and leadership. We sometimes are tempted to envy the Israelites their possession of the cloudy pillar. But though we see neither cloud nor fire in front of us, we may be just as certainly led of God. ‘I will guide thee,’ is the promise, ‘with Mine eye upon thee.’ Are we living under the Divine leadership? Are the paths we follow, paths which God has pointed out? The practice of the Israelites is the one safe rule for life. ‘At the commandment of the Lord they encamped, and at the commandment of the Lord they journeyed.’

Illustration

(1) ‘In the daytime the Cloud.

In truth, I need God to temper my gladness, to calm my joy, to keep my heart soft and humble when the sun is shining on me and when all goes well. I have seen fine men and women, with the light of heaven in their faces and the beauty of holiness in their lives, sadly spoiled by success. So I should be glad when, in the midst of my happiness, God in Jesus Christ makes Himself a living Reality and sanctifies my heart.

But in the night-time the Fire.

Not the fire that scorches, burns, destroys. But the fire that warms, comforts, enlightens, purifies, refines. In adversity I need God, to teach me the lessons of sorrow, to cheer my downcast soul, to uplift and beautify my life through the grievous discipline. If He comes close to me then, I shall be conducted to victory through the battles I seem to lose.’

(2) ‘The old story of the founding of Constantinople says that Constantine himself marked out the limits of the new city. When his courtiers saw what a vast circuit he was making they suggested to him it was time to stop. But Constantine was deaf to their remonstrances. “I shall still advance,” was his reply, “till He—the invisible Guide who marches before me—thinks proper to stop.” So let none of us hesitate to follow wherever Christ leads.’

(3) ‘The writer does not seem to be able to get away from the thought that whatever the pillar indicated, immediate prompt obedience followed. He says so over and over again, and finishes by putting it all in one verse as the last impression which he would leave from the whole narrative.’

SECOND OUTLINE

I. The important uses of the Pillar.—It was a symbol of God’s Presence, and a symbol of God’s Providence. It was His Angel—a Guardian Angel and a Guiding Angel—for defence and direction.

II. Its distinguishing properties.

(1) It was peculiar to God’s people—God is specially present with, and makes special provision for His own.

(2) It was a constant benefit; by day and by night. Aye, and the varied aspect it presented was the means of securing the constant enjoyment of the benefit. If it had been always and only a pillar of fire, it would have made the heat of the day more oppressive, and if it had been always and only a pillar of cloud, it would have made the night more gloomy.

(3) It was an enduring benefit. Year after year, for the space of forty years, all the time they were on their journey through the wilderness, it failed them not. Nor will God fail or forsake His people until He has done them all the good He has spoken to them of,—until He has brought them to the rest and inheritance on high.

III. Its instructive lessons.—(1) It reminds us of our obligations. (2) It should impress us with a sense of our dependence. (3) It should remind us of the duty of submission to God’s will. The whole passage shows an entire submission. They journeyed when the cloud moved, they rested when the cloud rested!

Like the symbol, the subject has a dark side and a bright side, dark towards the enemies, bright towards the people of God.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Numbers 9:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/numbers-9.html. 1876.

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