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Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae
Numbers 9

 

 

Verses 21-23

DISCOURSE: 147

THE JOURNEYS OF ISRAEL REGULATED BY GOD

Numbers 9:21-23. So if was, when the cloud abode from even unto the morning, and that the cloud was taken up in the morning, then they journeyed: whether it was by day or by night that the cloud was taken up, they journeyed. Or whether it were two days, or a month, or a year, that the cloud tarried upon the tabernacle, remaining thereon, the children of Israel abode in their tents, and journeyed not; but when it was taken up, they journeyed. At the commandment of the Lord they rested in their tents, and at the commandment of the Lord they journeyed: they kept the charge of the Lord, at the commandment of the Lord by the hand of Moses.

The conducting of Israel in the wilderness by a pillar and a cloud is often mentioned in the Holy Scriptures; but in no place so fully as here. From the fifteenth verse to the end of this chapter is the same truth repeated again and again, with very little variation. It should seem, however, that the guiding of Israel was not the only use of the pillar and the cloud. These conductors appear, indeed, to have rested on the tabernacle; but to have occupied at the same time such a space, as to give light to the whole camp of Israel by night, and to afford them a cooling shade by day; so that the people might be protected from the burning rays of the sun, which, in that climate, nothing but a miracle could enable them for a continuance to sustain. This information we have from David, who says, that God “spread a cloud for a covering; and fire, to give light in the night [Note: Psalms 105:39.].” But the regulating of their motions is that particular point to which my text adverts; and to which therefore, exclusively, I shall direct your attention. It is obvious, that the extreme uncertainty of the movements made by the cloud must keep the people in continual suspense. This was a state of discipline proper for them. And we shall find it a profitable subject of contemplation, if we consider,

I. The use of this discipline to them—

The whole system of God’s dealings with them in the wilderness was intended to promote their spiritual welfare. Moses, at the close of their wanderings there, says to them, “Thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thy heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no [Note: Deuteronomy 8:2.].” But the circumstance mentioned in my text was of very peculiar use:

1. To shew them what they were—

[Truly they wore a rebellious and stiff-necked, people, even from the first moment that God sent to take them under his more immediate protection [Note: Deuteronomy 9:7; Deuteronomy 9:24.]:. The very moment that any thing obstructed their wishes, or disappointed their expectations, they murmured against the Lord. The mercies they received were altogether overlooked by them, and produced no effect to compose their minds, or to reconcile them to any thing which bore an untoward aspect. The wonders of Egypt, and the passage of the Red Sea, with the destruction of all their enemies in the mighty waters, were soon forgotten: “they were disobedient at the sea, even at the Red Sea [Note: Psalms 106:7.].” To such a degree did they rage against the dispensations of Heaven, that they frequently regretted that ever they had come out of Egypt, and occasionally proposed to make a captain over them, and return thither again.

Now the particular dispensation mentioned in my text had a strong tendency to elicit these unholy feelings. For sometimes the cloud moved by day; at other times it commenced its motions by night: and the whole people were compelled to follow it immediately, or to be left behind. Sometimes it continued its course for days and nights together without intermission; at other times it stopped for days, and months, and even a whole year together, without ever moving from its place. These inequalities greatly irritated their rebellious spirit. On one occasion, we are told, “they departed from the mount of the Lord three days’ journey: and the ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them in the three days’ journey, to search out a resting-place for them [Note: Numbers 10:33.].” from whence it is evident, that they found no resting-place during those three days. And what was the effect of this upon their impatient minds? They so murmured against the Lord, as to provoke him greatly to anger. Moses says, “The people complained: and displeased the Lord: and the Lord heard it; and his anger was kindled: and the fire of the Lord burnt among them, and consumed them that were in the uttermost parts of the camp [Note: Numbers 11:1.].” On another occasion, when “they had journeyed from Mount Hor, by the way of the Red Sea, to compass the land of Edom,” we are told, “the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way. And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt, to die in the wilderness [Note: Numbers 21:4-5.]?” Nor were their evil passions less called forth by the long suspension of their movements. A whole year without any progress was a severe trial to their impatient minds, when a less space than that had sufficed to bring them from the brick-kilns of Egypt to the borders of the promised land. Had nothing occurred to try them, they would never have “known what spirit they were of;” but, when such frequent occasions were administered for the discovery of their evil dispositions, it was impossible but that they must see and acknowledge that they were indeed “a rebellious and stiff-necked generation.”]

2. To shew them what they should be—

[In this respect, the discipline here used was admirably calculated to inform their minds.

Almighty God, by a visible symbol of his presence, graciously undertook to guide them in all their way. On every occasion of need, he shewed himself abundantly sufficient for the task he had undertaken. To his power there was no limit, whether to subdue their enemies, or to supply their wants. What, then, became them, but to express the deepest gratitude for this wonderful condescension, and to commit themselves entirely to his fatherly care? Their song at the Red Sea should have continued to be their song under all circumstances: “Who is like unto thee, O Lord, amongst the gods? Who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders [Note: Exodus 15:11.]?”

When circumstances arose that were trying to their feelings, or which they were not altogether able to account for, one might expect that their past experience of God’s wisdom and goodness would suffice to allay any rising irritation, and to induce a submission to his sovereign will. They knew what ready acquiescence they themselves expected from their own children and servants, in any appointments which they should make: and it was but reasonable that they should place the same confidence in God, as they themselves required of their fellow-creatures.

The successive orders to proceed or stop would naturally lead them to consider themselves as altogether at God’s disposal, and to seek all their happiness in serving and obeying him. What should they do, but keep themselves in readiness at any time, in any way, to any extent to follow his leadings and fulfil his will?

The precise state of mind which this dispensation called for was that which comprised their entire duty, and would ultimately conduce to their truest happiness.]

But it was not for their sakes only that this discipline was used, but for ours also; as will clearly appear, whilst we consider,

II. The instruction it conveys to us—

We should not limit these things to the generation then existing, nor to that peculiar people. The whole of that mysterious dispensation had a reference to the dispensation under which we live: and the particular circumstance mentioned in our text is expressly spoken of in that view: “The Lord will create upon every dwelling-place of Mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night: for upon all the glory shall be a defence [Note: Isaiah 4:5.].” It may well be considered as teaching us,

1. What we may expect from God—

[There was no mercy vouchsafed to the Jews, which we may not expect at God’s hands. In fact, all that he did for them, he will do for us. Did he direct them in all their way? he will go before us also, and direct our way. This he declares, in many express promises: “In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths [Note: Proverbs 3:6.].” We may say of God’s people now, as certainly as of his people of old, “The steps of a good man are ordered of the Lord [Note: Psalms 37:23.]:” and, “The Lord shall guide thee continually [Note: Isaiah 58:11.].”

But we must be careful not to form wrong notions respecting the guidance which we are authorized to expect. The Jews lived under a dispensation, the blessings whereof were chiefly carnal: but we live under a dispensation which is altogether spiritual: “We walk by faith, and not by sight [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:7.].” It is not by any thing obvious to the senses that God will guide us; but by his word and Spirit. His word is the one rule by which we are to walk. There is not any thing we are bound to do, but we may find it there; nor any thing contained in that blessed volume, but what, according to our ability, we are bound to do. Every thing must be referred “to the Law and to the testimony;” and agreeably to that must we more in all things. We are not to expect the Holy Spirit to direct us by any impulses unconnected with the word. To be looking for visions, or impressions of any kind independent of the word, is to delude our own souls. The way by which the Holy Spirit will guide us is this: He will sanctify the dispositions and desires of our souls, and thus enable us to “discern good from evil, and light from darkness.” He will give us “a single eye: and then our whole body will be full of light [Note: Matthew 6:22.].” Then we shall be prepared to understand the word; and be enabled and inclined to follow it: and in this way he will fulfil his promise, that we “shall hear a voice behind us, saying, This is the way; walk ye in it [Note: Isaiah 30:21.].” This is exactly what he has taught us to expect: “The meek he will guide in judgment, the meek he will teach his way [Note: Psalms 25:9.]:” the judgment shall be rectified, in the first instance, by the influence of the Holy Spirit; and then shall the way of duty be made clear before our face; the word becoming, not only “a light to our feet in general, but a lantern” to our every step [Note: Psalms 119:105.].]

2. What we should render to him—

[If we could but realize the state of mind which this mode of conducting Israel required, we should see at once what are those graces which we should cultivate in our journey towards the heavenly land.

We should exercise dependence without anxiety—submission without murmuring—obedience without reluctance.

We should depend on him without anxiety. We should leave God altogether to “choose our inheritance for us [Note: Psalms 47:4.],” and to “appoint the bounds of our habitation [Note: Acts 17:26.].” We should consider ourselves as entirely under his care and guidance, as a child is under the direction of his father: and, being assured of his fatherly regards towards us, we should “cast our care altogether upon him [Note: 1 Peter 5:7.].”

We should submit to him without murmuring. We cannot see the reasons of all his dispensations: nor is it needful we should. We should feel convinced of this, that, however inexplicable they may be to us, he is too wise to err, and too good to inflict pain without some adequate cause. We should “know in whom we have believed;” and satisfy ourselves with this composing thought, “What I know not now, I shall know hereafter [Note: John 13:7.].”

We should obey him without reluctance. We must not inquire whether his commands be pleasing to flesh and blood, or not: we must be anxious only to know what his will is: and then, though it be to march at midnight, or to continue our journey for many wearisome days and nights together, or to be kept by his providence in a state of inactivity for years, we should rise to the occasion, and endeavour to approve ourselves to him as faithful and obedient children.

In a word, to be continually with him, enjoying his presence, fulfilling his will, and pressing forward to his glory, this is the Christian’s duty: this is the very end of his redemption, and the way to his inheritance.]

Address—

[Consider yourselves now in the state of Israel advancing through the wilderness: and expect that, “as God’s children, ye shall be led by his Holy Spirit [Note: Romans 8:14.].” Yet be careful not to expect more than God has promised. Do not suppose that you shall be so led as to be kept from all error. It is not God’s design to render any man infallible, or so to guide him that he shall have no ground for fear and self-distrust. We must, under all circumstances, feel a jealousy, lest Satan should take advantage of us, or our own deceitful hearts should beguile us. The Israelites, though under the cloud, fell short of the promised land [Note: 1 Corinthians 10:1; 1 Corinthians 10:5.], because “their hearts were not right with God, neither were they steadfast in his covenant [Note: Psalms 78:37.].” But, if you will “follow the Lord fully,” you may look up to him with holy confidence, that now “he will guide you by his counsel, and hereafter he will receive you to glory [Note: Psalms 73:24.].”]

 


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Bibliography Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Numbers 9:4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/shh/numbers-9.html. 1832.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, December 8th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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