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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

Numbers 9

Verses 1-23

The Guiding Pillar

Numbers 9:16

I. Note the Double Form of the Guiding Pillar. The fire was the centre, the cloud was wrapped around it. The same double element is found in all God's manifestations of Himself to men. In every form of revelation are present both the heart and core of light, which no eye can look upon, and the merciful veil which, because it veils, unveils; because it hides, reveals; makes visible because it conceals; and shows God because it is the hiding of His power. It reappears in both elements in Christ, but combined in new proportions, so as that 'the veil, that is to say, His flesh,' is thinned to transparency and all aglow with the indwelling lustre of manifest Deity.

Note also the varying appearance of the pillar according to need. By day it was a cloud, by night it glowed in the darkness.

Both these changes of aspect symbolize for us the reality of the Protean capacity of change according to our ever-varying needs, which for our blessing we may find in that ever-changing, unchanging, Divine presence which will be our companion, if we will.

II. Note the Guidance of the Pillar. When it lifts the camp marches; when it glides down and lies motionless the march is stopped and the tents are pitched. Never, from moment to moment, did they know when the moving cloud might settle, or the resting cloud might soar.

Is not that all true about us? God guides us by circumstances, God guides us by His word, God guides us by His Spirit, speaking through our common sense and in our understandings, and, most of all, God guides us by that dear Son of His, in whom is the fire and round whom is the cloud.

In like manner, the same absolute uncertainty which was intended to keep the Israelites (though it failed often) in the attitude of constant dependence, is the condition in which we all have to live, though we mask it from ourselves.

III. The Docile Following of the Guide. 'At the commandment of the Lord they rested in their tents, and at the commandment of the Lord they journeyed.' Obedience was prompt; whensoever and for whatsoever the signal was given, the men were ready.

What do we want in order to cultivate and keep such a disposition? We need perpetual watchfulness lest the pillar should lift unnoticed. We need still more to keep our wills in absolute suspense, if His will has not declared itself. Do not let us be in a hurry to run before God. We need to hold the present with a slack hand, so as to be ready to fold our tents and take to the road, if God will. We need, too, to cultivate the habit of prompt obedience. If we would follow the pillar, we must follow it at once.

A. Maclaren, The Unchanging Christ, p. 203.

References. IX. 16. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, p. 306. X. 1, 2. C. Jerdan, Pastures of Tender Grass, p. 98. X. 10. J. Baines, Sermons, p. 1.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Numbers 9". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/numbers-9.html. 1910.