At the commandment of the LORD the children of Israel journeyed, and at the commandment of the LORD they pitched: as long as the cloud abode upon the tabernacle they rested in their tents. And when the cloud tarried long upon the tabernacle many days, then the children of Israel kept the charge of the LORD, and journeyed not. And so it was, when the cloud was a few days upon the tabernacle; according to the commandment of the LORD they abode in their tents…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.
MATTHEW HENRY (1662-1714): This pillar of cloud and fire directed and determined all the motions, marches, and encampments of Israel in the wilderness.
C. H. MACKINTOSH (1820-1896): A more lovely picture of absolute dependence upon, and subjection to, divine guidance it were impossible to conceive than that presented in the foregoing paragraph. There was not a footprint or a landmark throughout that “great and terrible wilderness.” It was therefore useless to look for any guidance from those who had gone before. They were wholly cast upon God for every step of the way. They were in a position of constant waiting upon Him.
MATTHEW HENRY: The people, being thus kept at a constant uncertainty, and having no time fixed for stopping or removing, were obliged to hold themselves in constant readiness to march upon very short warning.
C. H. MACKINTOSH: This, to an unsubdued mind—an unbroken will—would be intolerable; but to a soul knowing, loving, confiding, and delighting in God, nothing could be more deeply blessed. Here lies the real gist of the whole matter. Is God known, loved, and trusted? If He be, the heart will delight in the most absolute dependence upon Him. If not, such dependence would be perfectly insufferable…Thus it was with Israel, and thus it should be with us. We are passing through a trackless desert—a moral wilderness.
WILLIAM JAY (1769-1853): A Christian, therefore, should take every step of importance—and what step may not be important?—feeling a responsibility that makes him tremble, and an anxiety that urges him to seek counsel from above. “I will hear what God the Lord will speak,” and regulate my marches by the cloud…We naturally wish to have things according to our mind, and make various attempts to govern our own affairs. But by degrees we are convinced that the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps, Jeremiah 10:23.
C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892): Before we move, we should always desire to see the Lord lead the way.
WILLIAM JAY: How many have injured, if not ruined, their usefulness and comfort, by improper removals, or striking their tent without the cloud!
C. H. MACKINTOSH: Thus it was with Jonah. He was told to go to Nineveh, but he wanted to go to Tarshish; and circumstances seemed to favour it; providence seemed to point in the direction of his [own] will.
MATTHEW HENRY: He went to Joppa, a famous seaport in the land of Israel, in quest of a ship bound for Tarshish, and there he found one. Providence seemed to favour his design and give him an opportunity to escape. We may be out of the way of duty and yet may meet with a favourable gale. The ready way is not always the right way.
WILLIAM GURNALL (1617-1679): A temptation comes very forcibly when it runs with the tide of our own wills.
C. H. MACKINTOSH: But, ah! Jonah had to find his place in the belly of the whale―yea, in “the belly of hell” itself, where “the weeds were wrapped around his head.” It was there he learnt the bitterness of following his own will. He had to be taught in the depths of the ocean the true meaning of the “bit and bridle,” because he would not follow the gentler guidance of the eye…Now this will surely involve the surrender of our own will, our own plans, our own management, altogether. We must follow the cloud; we must wait ever, and wait only, upon God.
ALEXANDER COMRIE (1706-1774): It will mean also to remain faithful at one’s post; a well-taught soul frequently finds that she desires to be relieved from her post before God’s appointed time…However, where there is a true “waiting upon” Him, the soul reminds herself, “God has placed me at this post, I must remain here faithfully, for as long as the Divine will ordains.”
MATTHEW POOLE (1624-1679): They kept the charge of the LORD―the commandment of God as mentioned before, that they should stay as long as the cloud staid.
JOHN NEWTON (1725-1807): The Lord has given you a little charge; be faithful in it, and in His good time He will advance you―but let His providence evidently open the door to you, and be afraid of moving one step before the cloud and pillar.
MATTHEW HENRY: As long as the cloud rested upon the tabernacle, so long they continued in the same place, and never stirred; though no doubt they were very desirous to be pressing forward in their journey towards Canaan, where they longed to be and hoped to be quickly, yet as long as the cloud rested, if it was a month or a year, so long they rested.
C. H. SPURGEON: Israel went into Canaan well enough when the Lord led the way; but when the people before the set time presumed to go up of their own head, they brought defeat upon themselves. It is never well either to run before the cloud, or to stay behind it; in either case we may expect to fall under clouds of another sort, which will darkness our way and becloud our peace.
WILLIAM JAY: But while I wait upon God, I must also wait for Him, and integrity and uprightness are to preserve me while I do so.
C. H. MACKINTOSH: We should not know how to walk, or where to go, were it not for that one most precious, most deep, most comprehensive sentence which fell from the lips of our blessed Lord, I am the way. Here is divine, infallible guidance. We are to follow Him. I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life, John 8:12. This is living guidance. It is not acting according to the letter of certain rules and regulations. It is following a living Christ—walking as He walked, doing as He did, imitating His example in all things. This is Christian movement—Christian action. It is keeping the eye fixed upon Jesus, and having the features, traits, and lineaments of His character imprinted on our new nature, and reflected back or reproduced in our daily life and ways.
MARY WINSLOW (1774-1854): Take no step without Him.
JOHN NEWTON: Be afraid of acting in your own spirit, or under a wrong impression: however honestly you mean, you may be mistaken.
MATTHEW HENRY: In every difficult doubtful case our eye must be up to God for direction…In doubtful cases, we should pray earnestly that God would make it plain to us what He would have us to do.
A. W. PINK (1886-1952): Until I am sure of His will I must continue to wait upon Him; once it is clear to me, I must set out on the performance of it, and nothing must move me to turn aside.
MATTHEW HENRY: When the cloud was taken up, they removed, how comfortably soever they were encamped. Whether it moved by day or night, they delayed not to attend its motions.
C. H. SPURGEON: Never move or stay for selfish reasons, but hold yourself at your great Captain’s beck and call.
MATTHEW HENRY: He will guide you, as the camp of Israel was guided through the wilderness by the pillar of cloud and fire.