The Israelites had to learn how to be obedient to the clear commands of God – to stay and to go. “At the command of the Lord the people of Israel set out, and at the command of the Lord they camped.”
They must have looked on with wonder as the cloud lifted and moved forward. The Levites would spring into action, and the people would pack their bags. It feels good to be moving forward, to be going somewhere.
And the Israelites must have looked on with equal wonder as the cloud remained in place over the tabernacle. Day after day, turning into week after week sometimes – the people may have looked for signs that it was time to move. But God’s sovereign and mysterious purpose was to remain. And so the people remained.
For the people, the important thing wasn’t the timing of the travel or the direction of it. The important thing also was not that they understood it all. The important thing was that they followed the perfect command of God, whatever that happened to be. “At the command of the Lord they camped, and at the command of the Lord they set out.”
Soon the traveling would come to an end. The tabernacle would make its home in the Promised Land. A temple would be built. There would be no place left to travel. The people then would follow God’s command to celebrate – to hold the Passover and the other festivals. At the “appointed time,” the people could come to the temple, bringing their gifts. This was the Lord’s command.
The Christian worships the same God – the God who both moves us forward and brings us to halt. This is the God who seems to be ever moving and ever resting. His people do the same – moving forward and remaining in “camp.”
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34). We remain in camp, doing the things required of us in camp life – taking care of the needs of those around us, of our brothers and sisters in the church. We remain with them. We love them. We must not forget about the clear and perfect command of the Lord that we love those in the church.
But as we remain, we also should find ourselves moving, following the unseen cloud of God’s glory. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). We do not simply camp. We also go.
These are the commands of the Lord. We camp, and we set out. “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). The “tabernacle” goes with us everywhere we go.
In this age of Christ and his church, we want to choose one or the other – to camp or to go. But the command of the Lord is to do both.