It must have been quite some sight to see the 600,000 plus men, along with their wives and children, break camp and set out from Sinai (Num.10). To see the horde of the redeemed marching away from the world of bondage to the land of promise. And in their midst, right smack dab in the middle of the twelve tribes, the ark of the covenant and the mercy seat–God in their midst. But more impressive than seeing the parade on the ground would have been to see what hovered overhead.
And the cloud of the LORD was over them by day, whenever they set out from the camp.
(Numbers 10:34 ESV)
So energizing was that initial departure from Sinai that Moses sought to convince his father-in-law to go with them, “We are setting out for the place of which the LORD said, ‘I will give it to you.’ Come with us, and we will do good to you, for the LORD has promised good to Israel” (10:29).
That’s why they set out–because God had said He had a land for them. That’s why the heightened anticipation–because God had promised good to them. That’s what the cloud before them by day, and the fire around them by night, should have reminded them of, that they were a people of promise.
It is all the more amazing then, that there was complaining in the cloud.
Don’t really know the timing, but in terms of how it reads in my Bible, it’s not long after they leave Sinai that they want to go back to Egypt. Not long after tasting and seeing the Lord is good, that they complain they have no meat. That bread from heaven is no longer good enough. And so, with the cloud above them, and the promise before them, “the people complained in the hearing of the LORD about their misfortunes” (11:1).
And I sit in silence and contemplate such folly. Not because I can’t understand how a child delivered of God, under the cloud of the presence of God, possessing the promise of God, would complain against God. But because I can. Forgive me, Lord.
The LORD had promised them good, all they could focus on was the food. The cloud was before them, but their “strong craving” (11:4) is ultimately what led them.
To be sure, perhaps I over-romanticize the thought of a swarm of nomads as they create their own cloud, a dust cloud. And I probably need to beware of seeing through rose-color glasses what was a massively hard journey. Nevertheless, the LORD had promised good to them and the LORD was in their midst.
So what allowed their cravings to overshadow His cloud?
I think there’s a clue in my Romans reading this morning–they weren’t fully convinced that God was able.
In hope [Abraham] believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what He had promised.
(Romans 4:18-21 ESV)
Abraham too had been promised good. He too had been called to leave a land. He too had to endure an uncertain journey with no apparent fulfillment of the promise in sight. He too knew what it was to wonder at how it was all going to come together. He too knew the despair of “strong cravings” of longing for an easier way. But the divine testimony is that Abraham “believed against hope.” That he “did not weaken in faith.” That he didn’t waver through distrust concerning the promise, but, instead, grew strong in his faith. All because he was fully convinced that God was able to do what God had promised He would do.
Complaining in the cloud dissipates as we determine with holy resolve to believe the word of the Promise-Giver. The temptation to submit to the “cravings” to murmur is put down as we “trust in the Lord with all our heart and lean not to our own understanding” (Prov. 3:5-5).
O, that we would be fully convinced that God is able. Confident that the cloud of His presence will lead us to the good He has promised.
By His grace. For His glory.