Beyond Following the Cloud

There has been a phrase that has been used in Christian circles for a number of years that caught in my spirit the other day as I was doing the bulletin for church. It was the phrase, follow the cloud. As I pondered the phrase, because it is related to our church moving to new facilities. I felt the Lord say to take this devotional time to show what it means spiritually. It is important, in scripture, to find out where something is mentioned first, because often its first mention context is an indication of its use and spiritual application throughout scripture.

Some might ask where we get the scriptural authority to apply any of this to us today. It is found in 1 Cor. 1:6-11. Part of it is a warning to us in these last days.
1 Corinthians 10:6-11 Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted.  7 Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. 8 Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand. 9 Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents. 10 Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer. 11 Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.

Let us continue now and draw the illustrations from the “examples” given in scripture of the actions of the Israelites as they followed the cloud.

Israel has celebrated the Passover and was journeying toward the Red Sea. The reason we want to emphasize this, is because it indicates our salvation is the beginning of a journey. It is a journey out of Egypt, which symbolizes the world, into Canaan, which symbolizes all that God planned for us from before the foundation of the world. Canaan is not heaven, because there are giants in Canaan. Canaan symbolizes our inheritance in God, that we have to inherit by driving out its inhabitants and possessing the things that they were using. Remember that the current inhabitants of Canaan are squatters, they are living on someone else’s land. That land God apportioned to you before the world began.

Because the following of the cloud governed much of the journey from Egypt to the Jordan, it is paramount that you and I understand why it was given and its spiritual equivalent in our lives. It’s first appearance in scripture is in Ex. 13:17-21.

Ex 13:17-21“  And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not [through] the way of the land of the Philistines, although that [was] near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt: 18  But God led the people about, [through] the way of the wilderness of the Red sea: and the children of Israel went up harnessed out of the land of Egypt. 19  And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him: for he had straitly sworn the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you; and ye shall carry up my bones away hence with you. 20  And they took their journey from Succoth, and encamped in Etham, in the edge of the wilderness. 21  And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night:” ( AV)

Here we have the first mention of the cloud to lead them. It is important to realize that it did not come while they were still in their homes in Egypt. It did not come during the plagues, but it came after they had celebrated their first Passover, the equivalent of their salvation experience, and had begun the journey of leaving behind all that Egypt stood for. It came as they began their journey or were on the move out of Egypt, but they were still in the land of Egypt. The thing that this is symbolic of is that the manifest presence of God begins to lead us, when we are willing to begin our journey out of the world toward the promises of God, represented by Canaan.

It is important to realize that there were several camping places in Egypt as they journeyed toward the Red Sea. Many today want a helicopter ride out of all that represents the World. Although there are some that God seems to do that for, it is rare as we come to the end of this age. God is calling a people to walk out of the old into the new. This journey is fraught with peril and danger, and those things that held us enslaved in the world will endeavour to recapture us bringing us into bondage once again.

It is also important the remember that it was not just a pillar of cloud, but also a pillar of fire in their night. There are times of darkness and nighttime in our lives that we need to remember God has made provision for being led through it. One of the tactics of the enemy is to cause us to think that we cannot make it through our spiritual nighttimes.

The nature of the wilderness that Israel had to journey through was extremely hot in the day time, and exceptionally cool at night. The cloud by day shaded them so the temperature was bearable, and the pillar of fire by night, mitigated the cold so that neither they nor their flocks and herds had extreme hardship. If the cloud had not been there leading, hovering over their camp when they rested, they would have been subject to the extremes that would have caused them to run back to Egypt. Remember though, Goshen, where they had lived, had moderate temperature and was the best place in Egypt to live, even though they were slaves.

The pillar of cloud, although it did not totally mitigate hardship, made their lives more bearable as they journeyed through dangerous and unfriendly land. Some today try to teach that after you accept Jesus things will go smoothly, because we can be led by the Holy Spirit. Israel’s being led by the cloud is a type of being led by the Holy Spirit. Their lives did not always go smoothly and it was not always because of lack of faith. Deuteronomy tells us that He allowed them to hunger and thirst to teach them something.

De 8:2 -3“And 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 thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no.   3  And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every [word] that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live.”

Remember this was all while the cloud was leading them. If this is the case and as Corinthians tells us, all these things happened to them for examples or symbolic of what will happen to us in the end time. There are places that cloud led them that were full of danger. Some of this was so that God could continue to prove Himself to them.

There were at least three camping places before they reached the Red Sea. When they reached the Red Sea God brought them into a bottle neck with a mountain on either side of them. As we see later, it looked like a place where they could be trapped. God had set this place to manifest His power over the Egyptians and to eliminate them from being the world power that they were at the time. It was God’s judgment upon them for enslaving His people.  As is often the case, the children of Israel only saw the negative of their situation and complained that God had brought them there to kill them.

God was also going to show them a greater dimension of His power in the cloud. He showed the wrath side of His nature to the Egyptians and His protective side to the children of Israel. This presents an interesting question. When God pours out His judgment in the last day, some of which will be done through His Manifest Presence, will there be the same style of thing happening. When God sets out to bring His people totally out of bondage to any aspect of the world, will He manifest both sides of His nature in the situations that arise.

Ex 14:19-25  “And the angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of the cloud went from before their face, and stood behind them: 20  And it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel; and it was a cloud and darkness [to them], but it gave light by night [to these]: so that the one came not near the other all the night. 21 ¶  And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD caused the sea to go [back] by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry [land], and the waters were divided. 22  And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry [ground]: and the waters [were] a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left. 23  And the Egyptians pursued, and went in after them to the midst of the sea, [even] all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. 24  And it came to pass, that in the morning watch the LORD looked unto the host of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and of the cloud, and troubled the host of the Egyptians, 25  And took off their chariot wheels, that they drave them heavily: so that the Egyptians said, Let us flee from the face of Israel; for the LORD fighteth for them against the Egyptians.”       

Here we see that the same power of God that protected the Israel meeting out judgment to the Egyptians. It is the manifestation of the presence of God that stands between us and the world. An interesting principle seen here is that of the different way Egyptians saw the cloud as to how the Israelites saw it. To Israel it gave light enabling them to go forward in the Word and Walk of God. To the Egyptians that same presence was a darkness so thick they could not move. The Egyptians could not come near the Israelites all night.

Another principle seen here is that when it is the will an purpose of God, He will give light in the darkest situations so we may move forward in His purposes. There is that within the Christian community that teaches that fire is the judgment of God.  There are times, when God is moving, that the fire is indicative of His approval, represented by the pillar of fire. This fire of His approval lights the way through the purposes of God even though we are going through a spiritual night or dark time.

From this cloud that protected Israel, and manifest the presence of God, came the judgment of God against the enemy. Look that the phrase that describes what God did to the enemies of Israel. It says And it came to pass, that in the morning watch the LORD looked unto the host of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and of the cloud, and troubled the host of the Egyptians, 25  And took off their chariot wheels, that they drave them heavily... The presence of God in the world causes them to be troubled and lose their motivation. The Egyptians recognized that God was fighting for Israel.

Although it was a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night there were times of special manifestation. At those time a recognizable glory was seen. This would be over and above the normal level of glory seen in the cloud that already distinguished it from all the other clouds.  It is imperative that we see that there is something about the presence of God in or over a people that distinguishes them from any other group of people. When a church is walking with God there is a distinctive that comes from the presence of God that the particular church is called to display to the world and those about them. That presence of God sets them apart from other congregations that are called to manifest other types of distinctive of His glory and nature. Yet there are times within each congregation in which special visitations come and there is a higher dimension of glory seen.

Some have denied God this privilege to manifest Himself specially in any way in their midst. You go into their churches and there is a presence of God that abides, but there are never distinctive times of special manifestation of His presence. Although this scripture we use is in a negative it is possible to have a positive application of it. We take this principle from Ex. 16:10.

Ex 16:10“And it came to pass, as Aaron spake unto the whole congregation of the children of Israel, that they looked toward the wilderness, and, behold, the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud.” ( AV)

Another principle seen in the operation of that cloud that led them in the wilderness is seen in Ex. 24:16.

“And the glory of the LORD abode upon mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days: and the seventh day he called unto Moses out of the midst of the cloud.” (Ex 24:16 AV)

God speaks out of the midst of the cloud that represents His presence. It is the heart of God to lead us by His Spirit. In this instance there was a visible manifestation. Yet, there are people who insist that God has not spoken unless there is some visible manifestation. I would like to suggest that the principle is defined in this way.

The visible or physical manifestation comes, that God might introduce us to His voice so we might get to know The Voice of God. Later we will see that there came a time when the “manifestation” ceased to lead them and, then they were led by the Word of the Lord only. Those who became addicted to the manifestation, would not go on without it. Those who learned the Voice of the Lord, continued to walk in His ways and do His will. In a number of the moves of God I have been in, I have seen this principle manifest time and time again. People become addicted to the manifestation and cannot hear the Voice of God that the manifestation came to teach them of.

The history around this passage is awesome in its implications. One that should sober us in our meditation upon the manifestations of the Lord and their effect on our lives.

In the beginning of this chapter, God calls Moses and the leadership into the mountain. Moses, Joshua, Aaron and the seventy elders went up the mountain, into some dimension of the cloud, and saw God. God prepared lunch, and yet the hearts of Aaron and the 70 elders was not changed.

After they came down from the mountain, possibly somewhere near the end of the 40 days, the people came to Aaron and the elders and requested that Aaron lead them back to Egypt and make a god that they could see and worship. Here, under the cloud of God that was on the mountain, that they could see, they requested another god. Aaron and the Elders, who had just come down from seeing God so recently, acceded to their demands. The effect of that experiencing of God had worn off and the manifestation they had seen had not convinced them beyond doubt that God was real. What a sobering thought for those who think the manifestations of God will convince anyone. It is only pressing into God for ourselves, experiencing Him, and letting that experience change our lives.

Further supporting the reason for the cloud we see something of how God used it to teach Moses.

“And the LORD descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD.” (Ex 34:5 AV)

The Lord descended in the cloud and stood beside Moses and revealed His nature and character to Him. This strengthens the principle that one of the major reasons for the cloud is to reveal the Father to us. God’s heart is to impart to us and portion of His nature and character through the vehicle of the manifestation of His presence. So many get caught up in the ecstasy of His presence that they fail to get the revelation it came to give of His character and nature. If we would let it, His manifest presence will impart to us the grace and strength to go through the processing to obtain His character and nature. It is that processing, in the light of the revelation, that will make us more like Jesus.

A brief outline of that revelation may help us understand God’s character.

Ex 34:5-7 “And the LORD descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. 6  And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, 7  Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear [the guilty]; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth [generation].” (AV)

1.    The LORD God, merciful
2.    and gracious,
3.    longsuffering, and
4.    abundant in goodness
5.    Abundant in truth,
6.    Keeping mercy for thousands,
7.     forgiving iniquity and
8.    forgiving transgression and
9.    forgiving sin, and
10.    That will by no means clear [the guilty];
11.    visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth [generation].       

This list sums up God’s revelation of Himself from the cloud. Moses saw this from a special place God placed him, by Himself. This is God showing Moses His goodness. Oh that God’s people under the New Covenant had a grasp on this revelation of God. I believe that each of these is in the order God wants us to see them and He wants us to reveal Him through these characteristics of His nature. They are in order of importance and what He wants us to manifest to others first.

Following the cloud then is much more than what we have thought. Under the Old Covenant there were times when it was so strong that Moses could not enter into the tent of the congregation. The cloud abode on the tabernacle but the glory filled the temple. “And Moses was not able to enter into the tent of the congregation, because the cloud abode thereon, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.” (Ex 40:35 AV)

When one is in relationship with the cloud there are times when the power and glory of God becomes so strong that we cannot enter into it at all. It is interesting that there were times when it seemed God allowed Moses to enter into the cloud and then there were other times when it was so thick with glory that neither Moses nor Aaron could enter into the Tabernacle where it was centered. It that level of visible physical glory was available then, under the Old Covenant, how much more glory is possible under the New Covenant. It was from his time in the mountain in the cloud of God over Mt. Sinai that Moses face glowed. 2Co 3:7-10 “ But if the ministration of death, written [and] engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which [glory] was to be done away: 8  How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious? 9  For if the ministration of condemnation [be] glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory. 10  For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth.” (AV)

If that was the glory of the Old, how much greater, when it matures in God’s people, will be the glory of the New. No wonder Paul talked about Christ in You being the hope of glory.

Further in our devotional study on the cloud and its affect on the lives of those who allowed it to lead them through the wilderness, we find clearly that it also gave clear direction to their lives. It is from this aspect that we find men of God today drawing the parallels.

Ex 40:36-38 “And when the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the children of Israel went onward in all their journeys: 37  But if the cloud were not taken up, then they journeyed not till the day that it was taken up. 38  For the cloud of the LORD [was] upon the tabernacle by day, and fire was on it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys.” (AV)

Israel remained encamped, until the cloud begin to ascend from its center over the Tabernacle. When it lifted and began to move, then all of Israel packed up, got into order and moved with it. There was a specific way in which they were ordered to march or travel after the Mount Sinai experience.

The cloud, in the beginning, always led them onward or closer to God’s inheritance for them, Canaan. This lasted until they refused to go in the first time when they came to the Jordan. After they refused to go in the first time, God in His grace and mercy caused the cloud to continue to lead them for the 38 remaining years of wandering.

During all these years of wandering, while the judgment of God was being carried out, the children of Israel were still led by the cloud. There is a very important principle here. Because we are unwilling to obey does not necessarily mean that God forsakes us, but in His mercy He continues to deal with us leading us to different places to help deal with things in our lives. If we had time to go into depths on the journeys of the Children of Israel, we would find in the name of every camping place the cloud led them, things that need to be dealt with or spiritual parallels that happened there that exposed a problem in the heart of the Israelites. Often, when we are following the cloud in our own lives or when our church is following the cloud of His presence that manifests Him to us, things are exposed that we need to allow Him to deal with in our lives.

After the 40 years of wandering they were led by the cloud to the edge of the Jordan. Remember that Joshua and Caleb had been ready to enter the land 38 years earlier when they had first come to the Jordan and enter the land as spies. They had seen a generation of the unbelieving die in the wilderness. They had also been a bastion of encouragement to the new generation. Their attitude now pervaded the new generation. Although ready to fulfill their ministry 38 years earlier, they had followed the cloud and been used of God to train the new generation. The presence of God never left the Israelites even though they had been disobedient. It brought them again to the very place where they had before disobeyed and been turned back into the wilderness by the leading of the cloud. There would be a difference this time. All those of a slave mentality had died free from slavery, but not enjoying the promises for which God brought them out of the land of Egypt.

Remember, God’s heart in bringing Israel out of Egypt was to bring them into their inheritance. Because, Israel is a type and shadow of those of us in the end times, as we said at the opening of this devotional series, we know that God’s heart for His people in these days is to bring them into all that He has prepared for them before the foundation of the world. Can I make it even clearer?  God has for you as an individual and for your church as a corporate expression of His Body, an inheritance in the spirit. Do you know what it includes? Are you praying for the Lord to reveal it to you so that you can grow into it and learn to possess all that God has for you.

As they camped at the Jordan, God called Moses up into the mountain to die. Aaron also had passed his High Priest robes on to his son Eleazar. Joshua had been anointed and installed as the new leader of the nation. God was getting His people ready for the taking of the promise land. It was a time of change. As the cloud stood over the Tabernacle of the Congregation, these changes were taking place.  I want to take the final devotion time and talk of the change in the way God lead them into the promise land, and the impact its spiritual interpretation should have on us today, at the end of the age.    

God is about to change the way they are led as well. Remember, up to this time the cloud has always been the indicator of what direction they take, and the a visible reminder of the approbation of God upon the people. Men and women would have been looking to the cloud to see what was next for Israel. Then God spoke to the new leader, a man who had earned the respect of the nation as the captain of their armies and one who had led them to victory. The way they were to be led was no longer by the cloud. This must have caused some confusion. Never before had they moved without the leading of the cloud. The fact of the matter may have been that even as the orders were given, the cloud may have seemed to dissipate. Some, knowing the history of the cloud may have been apprehensive about the meaning of its disappearance. The cloud was an indication of the sovereignty over His people. God lead them sovereignly through that manifestation of His presence. Now He is speaking something new.

God indicated that He wanted to lead them through a group of people who carried the presence of God represented by the ark of the covenant. He told them, stand about 2000 cubits back, because you have not been this way before. I will cause the flood waters to roll back when the priests feet step into the Jordan as they carry the ark of the covenant.

The church is being asked by God to go a way they have never been before. The way God is leading is different than we have been use to and some are saying, but we have never seen this before. This is not the way it has been done. In other words, this is not the way it was done when we were being led by the cloud. This demands a new level of faith, to trust that God has spoken to the new leadership to do it this way. God told Joshua to do it this new way and He would magnify Joshua in the eyes of the people.(Josh. 3:7) Through Joshua’s obedience to the Word of the Lord expressed in the new style of instruction and God’s response to that obedience, Joshua’s leadership would be vindicated and strengthened when the results of the obedience was seen.

To quote Pastor Tony Niger from Carthage, the message has not changed, but the delivery method changes. Paraphrasing that for our subject we find that God is saying, The Holy Spirit is still leading it is just form of the manifestation of that leading or the vehicle through which the leading manifest changes. Before the Jordan it was the cloud that was the manifestation of the leading of the Spirit. At the Jordan and beyond the leading was manifest through visible human leadership carrying the symbol of the presence of God on earth, the Ark of the Covenant, from the Holiest of All.

What implication does this have for us today, on whom the ends of the age are come. It is this, God is about to change the way we do church. Methods that have worked for generations will cease to bring the anointing of the Spirit. That which God has worked in a people will go with them into the next dimension in which our inheritance resides. Those who refuse to go over into this new dimension will be like the two and ½ tribes on the west bank. They were the first to go into error and worship idols. Although they were given inheritance on that side of Jordan, they forfeited a dimension of their relationship with God. They were also the first to be captured by any who came against the nation of Israel.

When we fail to come into the new thing that God is doing or leading His people into, there is always something that is forfeited. I believe it is the heart of God that all of God’s people come into what He has prepared for them, yet, if the pattern is correct, we know that will not happen. As I have often said, it is not a question of what God is going to do, but it is a question of whether I will be part of it or not.

God is getting ready to work in and through His church in a new way. Will be allow Him to change His way or leading us, or will we stay with the old ways. Those who will allow Him to move afresh in their lives and ministries will be used of God in the days to come.

Isa 43:19“Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, [and] rivers in the desert.” (AV)

Being led by the cloud in the beginning of the journey from Egypt to Canaan was a new thing. It had never been seen in the earth before, God showed up and lead them in a new way.

When Joshua, leader of the second generation, stood up and declared what God had said, it was a new way of being lead by God. To them it was brand new or a new thing. It seemed to come out of the “now” of God. As we approach the end of the age, God is getting a people ready to come into all that He promised the church and all He has prepared for them from the foundation of the world. Will you allow God to dismantle the box you have had Him in? Will you let Him lead you in a method that may seem new and unfamiliar to you? God is looking for a generation that will let Him be God. A generation that will allow Him to become sovereign once again. Will you be in that generation? We see from the fact that Joshua and Caleb were in the new generation even though they came out of Egypt, that it is not age specific, but it is attitude specific.

In closing our devotions let us have the attitude that Joshua and Caleb had. It is found in, Num. 14:24; Num. 32:12;& Josh 14:7.

“But my servant Caleb, because he had another spirit with him, and hath followed me fully, him will I bring into the land whereinto he went; and his seed shall possess it.” (Nu 14:24 AV)

“Save Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenezite, and Joshua the son of Nun: for they have wholly followed the LORD.” (Nu 32:12 AV)

“Forty years old [was] I when Moses the servant of the LORD sent me from Kadeshbarnea to espy out the land; and I brought him word again as [it was] in mine heart.” (Jos 14:7 AV)

These three passages show us the attitudes of Joshua and Caleb that preserved them and prepared them to be led by the Spirit, in whatever way God was currently leading His people.

Here is the challenge as we close our time together, Will we allow God to make us so flexible, that when He starts manifesting the leadership of His Spirit in a new way, we will recognize it and respond allowing Him to change His method of relating to us.