Rev. Margaret Minnicks is an ordained Bible teacher. She writes many articles that are Bible lessons.
Since the cloud is now a technology word, it is necessary to say that is not the cloud this lesson is about. The cloud referred to in this article is the cloud we see in the sky. It is what we see close up when traveling on an airplane.
The cloud referred to here is a buzzword for meteorologists and not a computer term that is a buzzword for those who work in information technology (IT). The cloud in that sense is a type of storage for computer data and photos.
The Cloud That Guided the Israelites
The cloud by day and the fire by night were symbolic of God's provision, protection, and guidance. Since the Israelites did not know where they were going, they had to rely on God to lead them in the right direction. Even with God's guidance, it took them forty years that ideally should have been an eleven-day journey.
According to Numbers 9:1-23, the Israelites were required to stay put when the cloud rested over the tent during the day and the fire rested over the tent at night.
"At the commandment of the Lord the children of Israel journeyed, and at the commandment of the Lord they encamped." (Numbers 9:18)
The Israelites moved whenever the cloud moved during the day and the pillar of fire moved at night. There was no such thing as delaying their trip or going before the cloud moved. Sometimes the cloud stayed put for several days or several months. Sometimes the Israelites had just pitched their tent and bedded down for the night, but if the pillar of fire moved, they had to get up and move along with the fire in the sky as their guide. The Israelites never knew when the cloud by day or the fire by night would move. The group was not a family of a few people who had to get up and go. It was millions of people and animals.
Exodus 12:37-38 gives a vague number of those who wandered in the wilderness with Moses. According to those two verses, the Israelites numbered about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children plus many non-Israelites and livestock. The non-Israelites included some Egyptians who went with the Israelites when they left Egypt.
Numbers 1:46 gives a more exact number. The total of those who were registered to fight in the military was 603,550 men aged 20 and up. Even that number did not include men younger than 20 years old and women. However, the large number gives readers an idea of how many people traveled in the wilderness. Don't forget they were also traveling with many animals.
When the Israelites Didn't Travel
Miriam and Aaron complained against Moses, their brother. Only Miriam was punished, and people wonder why Aaron was spared. Aaron was not punished because he was a priest of the tribe of Levi. However, God punished Miriam by afflicting her with leprosy.
Miriam had to be put outside the camp so she would not be in close contact with others. The cloud stood still over the tent, and the entire group had to wait for Miriam to be healed. She was healed after Moses prayed for her and the group began to travel again after seven days, according to Numbers 12:1-15.
God Still Guides
The Israelites moved when the cloud moved and stayed put when the cloud or pillar of fire did not move. God doesn't lead us today by a cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night.
God doesn't guide us by a cloud by day or a pillar of fire by night. However, there are other ways God tells us when to move and when to stay put. Today, God guides us by other methods to speak to us. We can hear God's voice through prayer, meditation, reading His word, listening to sermons, or songs. We will know when God is prompting us to do something or not to do something when we have an intimate relationship with God.
Therefore, it is very important for us to know the God who created us in His own image. That is the same God who said He would be with us always and never leave us and never forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6).