Whenever the cloud was lifted from over the tent, afterward the sons of Israel would then set out; and in the place where the cloud settled down, there the sons of Israel would camp. At the command of the LORD the sons of Israel would set out, and at the command of the LORD they would camp; as long as the cloud settled over the tabernacle, they remained camped.
The ninth chapter of Numbers goes on in this same fashion for a while, detailing just how attentive Israel was to whether or not the pillar of fire/cloud stayed put or moved. The pillar’s movement was regarded, rightly, as the command of the LORD.
Since it is unlikely that any pillars of fire or of cloud will be descending on anything in my life, the application rests in what the pillar’s movements symbolized: the command of God. Throughout The Bible, God gives commands to His children. Some of them are specifically to Israel while others are broadly applicable to all believers.The commands that are applicable to all believers fall into the category of “Am I being obedient to this?”. Jesus told His disciples that we would do as He commands if we love Him. Interesting that He didn’t cite fear as a motivator for obedience, but love. I’ll consider that at greater length some other time.
Great. God gives me commands in scripture. Woo! How does that parallel with the whole staying put until the pillar moves deal? There are two applications for that particular item this morning. The first applies to the general will of God while the second applies to the specific. The distinction between the general will of God and the specific is as simple as “The general applies to all believers everywhere ever while the specific applies to me and my life right here right now and potentially to no one else anywhere ever.”
With regard to the general will of God, I’ve noticed that God will sometimes bring me to a realization of what some part of His general will is — loving my neighbor, for example — and He will stay on that particular command for a long while. Sometimes, God brings me to a new understanding of what a command means and He has moved on the very next day. Sometimes He has moved on before lunch. Sometimes we —God and I — are camped on that principle for months. This is how the pillar applies to me with regard to the general will of God. He is going to conform me to Himself and some parts of that process will take more time than others. Some lessons will be more difficult to get through my thick skull. In the end, His goal is to make me like Christ in every way except His Godhood.
As far as the specific will of God goes, there are times when God brings me to a place in my life — my current dwelling, for example — and keeps me there for a period of time. Sometimes I’m aware of how long the visit is going to last — like a temporary teaching contract I entered into some four years ago. Other times I’ve no idea how long I’ll be staying put — back to the apartment example. These are specific aspects of His will for me and how long I will stay in each of these varies based on how long God wants me there. There are specific components — who I married, for example — that are a combination of God’s will (He gave pretty specific criteria for who believers should and should not marry) and my own will (I have a choice, after all), but these often come with a predefined period of time I’ll be spending there (the rest of my natural life, in the case of marriage). Other components — where I live, where I work, which church I fellowship in, and so on — of God’s specific will are not so definite in their time frame. I may work for my current employer until retirement or God may move me along to somewhere else. My family may fellowship at our current church until my daughter goes to college or God may move us along to some other place. The nature of God’s specific will is that it is specific. If I remain in place after the pillar has moved then I lack the guidance I need to keep moving along in God’s will. It’s challenging and I’ve missed the pillar’s movements (or lack thereof) more than once.
So, with regard to His general will, God will sometimes keep me learning a single lesson for a long while and sometimes He will move us along tout suite. With regard to God’s specific will, He will keep me in a specific place or circumstance until He is ready to move me along. Keeping me on a particular point of His general will is about bringing me into conformity with Christ. Keeping me in a particular aspect of His specific will is about fruitfulness. There are probably other reasons for each, but those are the reasons I’m able to get my mind around this morning.