How do I know God’s will? Numbers 9


Today’s reading: Numbers 8-10.

It seems that the Israelites had everything we long for in knowing God’s will.

…whether by day or by night, whenever the cloud lifted, they set out. Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out. At the LORD’s command they encamped, and at the LORD’s command they set out. Numbers 9:21-23

There was no questioning when to pack up, or when to settle down. The answer always blazed before them, big as a cloud and impossible to miss. And now, after a year of camping out near Mt. Sinai, they were on their way to the Promised Land. Sometimes they moved daily. Sometimes they sat for days. But there was no doubting about when God said to go.

Now I’m not saying they didn’t grumble about God’s will. I’m sure there were days when someone said, “but we just got here.” I wouldn’t be surprised if Moses didn’t scratch his head at times and wonder, “but God, it’s perfect weather for traveling.” I’m just saying they had a clarity about God’s will that you and I dream about. Which makes me ask, what can I learn from this cloud about God’s will? Because, if you’re like most folks, his will is often more cloudy than clear.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say this cloud teaches us more about how not to determine God’s will. For example:

  • Someone will say, “I’m not moving until God makes it clear to me what I’m supposed to do.” Then you may wait for a long time. God has made his will perfectly clear, in the Bible, on the moral issues that we all face. He has made it abundantly clear that we are to lead holy lives by obeying his word. But there are countless non-moral decisions that each of us must make with no specific directive from God. If you wait for God to give you a clear answer on one of these decisions, you may never get started. For the best discussion of this problem, read Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung. See my earlier post for more on his book and the answer to this problem.
  • Someone will say, “I will only do what the Holy Spirit tells me to do.” Fine. Now tell me how you can know when the Holy Spirit is talking and not just your own desires or feelings. I believe the Spirit guides us, but only in concert with God’s word, circumstances, and the counsel of wise believers.

One thing I do know: when God says go, we’ve got to move. There are plenty of times when we see clearly what God expects us to do because he told us in his word. “Be holy, as I am holy.” “As you go, make disciples of all men.” “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” “Be thankful in all circumstances.” “Pray without ceasing.” If we keep doing the things we already know we should do, there won’t be much time to sit around wondering about the things that are cloudy.

Image by Oberazzi on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0.

3 thoughts on “How do I know God’s will? Numbers 9

  1. One of the more difficult parts of the Old Testament to understand is how the Israelites, so recently freed from captivity in Egypt, the plagues, witnesses of the pillar of fire and the cloud, the parting of the sea, the vanquishing of Pharaoh’s men, could so quickly turn to false idols and contemplate a return to slavery and hard labor. Perhaps it took 40 years to purge the memory and temptation of Egypt from their minds. Their 40 years in the wilderness is our 40 days of Lent in fasting, abstinence, turning away from sin and towards the promise land. Such amazing miracles to behold and yet not accept God. No wonder Jesus remarked, “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe.” As they approach nearer to the river Jordan, are we seeing the benefits of the wilderness purging?

  2. Pingback: Just like predicting the weather | Bible Aid

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