In today’s passage — where we read about the Lord’s glory-cloud which covered the Tent of Meeting; and about the trumpets which were sounded at various times — Moses is taking us back to Exodus 40. In Exodus 40 we read that the Tabernacle was set up; and everything in it was put into place. And then, once everything was set up in the right way, the Lord’s glory-cloud — which signified his presence and which up to that time had covered Mount Sinai — now came down and covered the Tent of Meeting in order to signify that the Lord was going to dwell with his people and remain with them as they made their way to the Promised Land. That’s how the book of Exodus finished.
And here in Numbers 9, Moses takes us back to that time, because he tells us in verse 15 that on the day when the Tabernacle was set up, the cloud covered it. The Lord who is holy had come down to dwell with his people in the Tabernacle, which was an earthly representation of heaven.
And Moses tells us that from evening until the morning — so all through the night — the cloud looked like fire. So, if they looked towards the Tabernacle during the day time, they would see the cloud. But then, if they looked towards the Tabernacle during the night time, they would still see the cloud; they could still see it at night, because at night it looked like fire which glowed in the dark and it told them that the Lord was with them all through the day and all through the night; he was with them continually.
And Moses goes on to say in verse 16 that this is how it continued to be. So this wasn’t a temporary event, which lasted for a day or two. The Lord didn’t come and stay with them only for a brief time, the way your aunt might come and stay with you for a couple of days or for a long weekend. No, the Tabernacle was to be God’s home. So, he didn’t visit his people; he dwelt among his people.
Back in Exodus 33 — after the people sinned against the Lord by worshipping the golden idol — Moses pleaded with the Lord not to take his presence from them, but to remain with them. And at that time the Lord reassured him that he would indeed go with them. And sure enough, the Lord kept his promise. Even though the people were sinful and prone to wander from his ways, the Lord remained faithful to them and he stayed with them in the wilderness.
The glory-cloud was a sign of God’s presence with them. But the glory-cloud was also the means by which the Lord led them in the wilderness. And so, we read in verse 17 that whenever the cloud lifted from above the tent, that was the sign for the Israelites that it was time to break camp and move on. Furthermore, when the cloud settled, that was the sign for the Israelites that it was time to stop and make camp. According to verse 18, at the Lord’s command, they set out; at the Lord’s command, they made camp. The Lord made known his will by means of the cloud.
The cloud signified his presence with them; and the cloud was the means by which he guided them through the wilderness. And verses 19 to 23 make very clear for us that the Lord was the one who determined how long they should stay anywhere and when they should move on. So, sometimes the cloud remained in the same place for a long time. Sometimes the cloud remained in the same place for only a short time. Sometimes the cloud remained in the same place for one night. Whether it was for only two days, or for a month or for a year, whatever the length of time, the Israelites remained where they were so long as the Lord’s glory-cloud did not move, because he was the one who determined what they should do and where they should go. At the Lord’s command, they encamped; and at the Lord’s command they set out.
In verses 1 to 10 of chapter 10 we read how the Lord commanded Moses to make two silver trumpets as a way of signalling various messages to the people. So, a loud blast of both trumpets that was the signal that all the community needed to gather together. A loud blast of only one trumpet was the signal that only the leaders needed to gather. According to verses 5 to 7, a different blast of the trumpets was the signal that the tribes were to set out, beginning with those on the east and followed by those on the south. The text doesn’t mention the tribes on the west and north, but presumably they followed suit. According to verse 8, the trumpets were to be blown by the sons of Aaron, who were the priests. So, this was a priestly duty.
The trumpets were used on two other occasions as well. According to verse 9, they were to be used whenever they were living in the Promised Land and need to go to war. This was not only a summons to fight, but it was also a means of calling on the Lord. In fact, we can read about them doing this in 2 Chronicles 13 when Abijah was the king of Judah and he had to go to war against Jeroboam, the king of Israel. And we read how the priests blew the trumpets, and the Lord routed the Israelites on behalf of the men of Judah. And the text tells us that they were victorious, because they relied on the Lord. How do we know they relied on the Lord? Because blowing the trumpets was a way of calling on the Lord.
And then, according to verse 10, the trumpets could be used for joyful occasions. So, they were to blow the trumpets over their offerings whenever they celebrated the appointed feasts and festivals. In 2 Kings 11, trumpets were blown at the coronation of the king and in 2 Chronicles 5 they were used at the dedication of the temple.
We’ve been reading about the glory-cloud and the trumpets. The glory-cloud was a visible sign that the Lord was dwelling with his people. The Lord appeared in the form of a cloud; later, of course, he appeared to his people in the person of his Son. Once he dwelt among them in the form of a cloud; later he dwelt among them as a man. And so, John 1 we read how the Eternal Word of God became flesh and made his dwelling among them. The word translated ‘dwelling’ can also be translated as ‘tabernacled’. So, at that time, the Eternal Word became flesh and tabernacled among them. In the days of Moses, the Lord tabernacled among his people by means of this glory-cloud. Later he tabernacled among his people in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ.
And what else did John say?
The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us. We have seen his glory.
The Israelites were able to look at the fiery cloud, which was a visible representation of God’s glory. But John and the apostles saw the glory of the Lord in the face of his Son, because he was God Incarnate and whoever has seen him, has seen the Father; and by the mighty miracles he performed, he revealed his glory so that they put their faith in him; and on the mountain, he was transfigured before them so that his appearance became brighter than the noonday sun; and after his death, he was raised victorious over the grave and ascended to heaven, with the promise that he would come again in glory and with power. The Israelites saw the glory of God in this cloud; but the apostles saw the glory of God in the person of his Son.
And now, God’s Son sends his Spirit to his people so that God now dwells in us. So, once he dwelt among his people in the cloud; then he dwelt among his people in the person of his Son; now he dwells in his people by means of his Spirit. So, according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 6, he dwells in believers personally, so that our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in us. And according to Paul in Ephesians 2, the church is a holy temple in the Lord; and the church has become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. God once dwelt among his people by means of this glory-cloud and tabernacle. But now he dwells in his people by means of the Holy Spirit, sent from God.
And so, we ought to live holy lives, because we must not offend the Spirit who lives in us. And whenever we gather for worship, we must remember and believe that God is with us; and therefore we must worship him with reverence and awe; and we must humble ourselves before him.
But, of course, the Lord guided his people by means of this glory-cloud, because they were at that time only pilgrims on the way. The Lord had delivered them from their captivity; but they had not yet reached the Promised Land of Canaan and the Promised Land of rest. They were pilgrims on the way. And we too are pilgrims on the way, because although the Lord has set us apart to belong to him so that we no longer belong to the world which is destined to perish, nevertheless we have not yet reached our final destination, which is the new heavens and the new earth. We’re pilgrims on the way.
But while we make our way along the narrow path that leads to life in God’s presence, he has promised to be with us and never to leave us. And just as he guided the Israelites, so he guides us. He guides us by his word, in which he reveals his will for us to show us how to live. And we need to learn to trust in the Lord with all our heart; and to lean not on our own understanding, but in all our ways to acknowledge him, for he will direct our paths and lead us along the way of righteousness until we come at last into our eternal home.
The glory-cloud points us to Christ, who tabernacled among us when he came to earth as a man; and the glory-cloud points us to his Spirit, who dwells in us. What about the trumpets? Well, reading about these trumpets helps us to understand why Paul mentions a trumpet in 1 Corinthians 15. Paul was writing about the resurrection of Christ and the resurrection of believers. And he tells us in verse 51 that we will not all sleep; in other words, not every believer will die, because some believers will still be alive when Christ comes again.
Nevertheless, though we will not all sleep, we will all be changed — in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, says Paul, and the dead will be raised imperishable. In the days of Moses, the Lord commanded the priests to blow their trumpets as a signal to the people that they had to gather before the Lord. And the day is coming when the trumpet will be sounded one last time; and this time it will be the signal for the dead to be raised and for all of Christ’s people to gather before the Lord to be with him for ever and for ever in glory. And what a joyous occasion that will be, when Christ comes to defeat our great enemy, death, and to give his people everlasting life. And so, just as the Israelites listened out for the trumpets to sound, so believers today are waiting for the day when the trumpet will sound one last time as the signal that our journey has ended and we have reached the promised new heavens and new earth.