May 9, 2007
“Cloud and Trumpets”
Dr. Ligon Duncan III
Tonight we will begin in Numbers 9 at verse 15, reading to the end of the chapter and then continuing on into Numbers 10, down to the tenth verse. The remaining verses that we’ll be looking at in Numbers 9 will describe for us the cloud that rested upon the tabernacle and which led the people in both the form of cloud in day and fire at night; and then, in chapter 10, a description of the trumpets that summoned the people of God.
Let me remind you what we saw together last week as we were looking at Numbers 9:1-14. We saw there the description of what was only the second observance of the Passover ever — the first observance of the Passover outside of Egypt, and we said that that whole incident was chock full of significance.
For one thing, we said that it reminded us of God’s patient grace with His people. Here’s the Lord, just a matter of days and weeks after the people of God have committed a grave act of betrayal in worshiping the golden calf, here’s God still inviting them to come to dinner with Him, to come and sit at His table and to fellowship with Him. And so the very reality of this second Passover is itself a reminder of God’s patient grace.
We also said that the passage emphasizes that the children of Israel did it just like God told them to do, unlike the incident with the golden calf where they did not do it like God told them to do. In response to God’s call to them to come and fellowship with Him in the Passover, they did it exactly as He commanded. And Moses repeats that on several occasions in the passage, just to make clear to you that the people of God were very careful, now that they’ve received this gracious invitation, to do it exactly the way the Lord had told them to do it by His word.
And we said that isn’t it interesting that the Lord tells them to come to a delight, and in order for them to come to a delight they are careful in their duty. And we said that there’s a beautiful picture in that of how (in the Christian life and in the Bible) duty and delight are not competing, opposing things. The people of God delight to do their duty, and their duty is a delight. And as they are invited to this delight they are careful to follow the duties that God has given to them, that they might delight in Him. And so there’s no competition between those themes in the true believer.
We also saw in this passage the problem that was raised because of the ceremonial ordinance regarding not coming to worship if one had been exposed to a dead person. And these people in verses 6-8 of chapter 9 come to Moses and say, ‘Look, this is only the second Passover celebration. It only happens once a year. What if there are Israelites who sincerely desire to commune with the Lord in this Passover, and they have a death in their family, and they’ve been exposed to a dead body? By the ceremonial ordinances they’re not allowed to participate in the festival. They’ll have to wait an entire year before they can come and commune with You in the Passover.’
And Moses’ response is extraordinary. Moses doesn’t say, ‘Oh, no big deal. Go ahead. Come on to the Passover.’ Nor does Moses give any answer on his own. He says, ‘You know, I’m going to have to ask God about this.’ Moses doesn’t presume to speak for the Lord in answer to that very sincere, well-meaning, and perfectly understandable question. He says, ‘I’m going to have to go ask God what He would have me say.’
And so in the very next section, in verses 9-13, we see God’s kind provision. And the provision is this. He says, ‘Moses, here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to have–what would you call it?–a make-up Passover a month later for those who have been found in this awkward situation. They’re wanting to be faithful to My ceremonial law, but they’re also wanting to come to the Passover. They’ve been exposed to death, or to a dead body, or a dead person, in the course of their lives, and thus they cannot participate in the Passover on its regular day. We’ll have a make-up date for the Passover one month later, and this will allow for them to come and participate in the Passover.’ And we see the Lord’s kind provision.
I suspect that we also see in that something else that’s very important, and that is that eventually communion with God will completely trump all of the ceremonial laws. You see this in Jesus’ ministry especially as He begins to indicate the passing away of the ceremonial laws, and then in the ministry of the apostles in the complete eclipse of the ceremonial laws. But that’s another story for another day.
One last thing we saw in chapter 9, verse 14, and that is a foreshadowing of grace to the Gentiles, because not only did the Lord invite the children of Israel to come to the Passover table, He invited the ger — the resident aliens, the non-Abrahamites, the non-Israelites, the non-Jacobites – those who were part of Israelite families, but they were not of the blood line. They had no Jewish ethnicity, and yet they believed in the one true God, they worshiped the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and so Moses goes out of his way to reiterate the Lord’s command to them that:
“If an alien sojourns among you and observes the Passover of the Lord according to the statute of the Passover and according to its ordinance, so he shall do. You shall have one statute for the alien and for the native of the land.”
And so Moses is saying that even believing Gentiles are to come to the Passover Table, and of course this is a beautiful foreshadowing of the Lord’s grace to the Gentiles.
Well, that sets the stage for the passage that we’re going to read tonight. As we look at this passage I want you to be on the lookout for two things in particular: the cloud and its meaning and significance, and the trumpets and their meaning and significance…the function that they have here in this passage pertaining to Israel. But of course the meaning that they have for us, as well.
Let’s pray before we read God’s word.
Lord, this is Your word and we thank You for it. We know through the Apostle Paul that You have meant this word for those upon whom the ends of the ages have come, and that means us. We ask, then, O God, that You would help us by Your Spirit to read, mark, and learn from Your word attentively. And we ask, O Lord, that by Your Spirit we would believe it, and that we would live it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Hear the word of God:
“Now on the day that the tabernacle was erected the cloud covered the tabernacle, the tent of the testimony, and in the evening it was like the appearance of fire over the tabernacle, until morning. So it was continuously; the cloud would cover it by day, and the appearance of fire by night. And 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. Even when the cloud lingered over the tabernacle for many days, the sons of Israel would keep the Lord’s charge and not set out. If sometimes the cloud remained a few days over the tabernacle, according to the command of the Lord they remained camped. Then according to the command of the Lord they set out. If sometimes the cloud remained from evening until morning, when the cloud was lifted in the morning, they would move out; or if it remained in the daytime and at night, whenever the cloud was lifted, they would set out. Whether it was two days or a month or a year that the cloud lingered over the tabernacle, staying above it, the sons of Israel remained camped and did not set out; but when it was lifted, they did set out. At the command of the Lord they camped, and at the command of the Lord they set out; they kept the Lord’s charge, according to the command of the Lord through Moses.
“The Lord spoke further to Moses, saying, ‘Make yourself two trumpets of silver, of hammered work you shall make them; and you shall use them for summoning the congregation and for having the camps set out. And when both are blown, all the congregation shall gather themselves to you at the doorway of the tent of meeting. Yet if only one is blown, then the leaders, the heads of the divisions of Israel, shall assemble before you. But when you blow an alarm, the camps that are pitched on the east side shall set out. And when you blow an alarm the second time, the camps that are pitched on the south side shall set out; an alarm is to be blown for them to set out. When convening the assembly, however, you shall blow without sounding an alarm. The priestly sons of Aaron, moreover, shall blow the trumpets; and this shall be for you a perpetual statute throughout your generations. And when you go to war in your land against the adversary who attacks you, then you shall sound an alarm with the trumpets, that you may be remembered before the Lord your God, and be saved from your enemies. Also in the day of your gladness and in your appointed feasts, and on the first days of your months, you shall blow the trumpets over your burnt offerings, and over the sacrifices of you peace offerings; and they shall be as a reminder of you before your God. I am the Lord your God.’”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He add His blessing to it.
I. The cloud, whether it is the cloud by day or the fire by night, is meant to bring home the truth that God is with His people.
There are two things especially, I think, that we see in the commands regarding the clouds and the trumpets that I want to draw to your attention tonight, and the first is simply this. The cloud, whether it is the cloud by day or the fire by night, is meant to bring home the truth that God is with His people. God is with us. The trumpets are meant to bring home the truth that God is calling us. God is summoning us.
Now I remind you that the Apostle Paul tells us in I Corinthians 10 that these things happened and were written down for us, and so it’s our especial concern as we look at a passage like Numbers 9 and 10 like we’re studying tonight, to ask the question, ‘What is God saying to us as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, from this passage?’ And I want to concentrate on those two themes: God is with us; God is calling us.
The cloud is a picture, whether by day or night, of God’s nearness to and presence with His people. The cloud makes visible God’s nearness to and presence with His people. If the tabernacle serves as a tangible, material reminder that God is dwelling in the midst of His people and that His people meet with Him in this appointed place of meeting, which God has commanded and described and called for the construction of.
So the cloud is a supernatural manifestation of God dwelling in the midst of His people, and it’s not surprising that the cloud rests upon the tabernacle itself. As the tabernacle is the visible, tangible place where the people of God see the nearness of God to them, so the cloud supernaturally makes God’s nearness to and presence with the people of God visible. And so it shows God’s guiding and guarding of the children of Israel, His providence, and His protection. It serves to show them when they are to move out and when they are to camp. And so the cloud is a symbol, a supernatural act of God, of tremendous significance to the children of Israel.
And of course that imagery of the cloud carries forward into the New Testament. I simply remind you of this: What happens when Jesus ascends into heaven? Turn with me to the book of Acts…Acts 1:9. This is after He has reiterated to them that the Holy Spirit will come upon them and they will be His witnesses in Jerusalem and Judea, and in Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth. He says then, Luke tells us in Acts 1:9, that:
“After He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and… [what?]…a cloud received him out of their sight.”
Now, is there any significance to that? Yes, there is, especially in light of what Jesus Himself had already told His disciples. Turn with me in the Bible back to Matthew 26, and look at verse 64, as Jesus is giving testimony for the high priest of Israel. In Matthew 26:64, after the priest (the high priest) has said to Him:
“I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ [whether You are the Messiah], the Son of God.”
And what does Jesus say?
“You have said it yourself [so He’s not going to give a direct answer to the high priest for a variety of reasons, but then He goes on to say this]; nevertheless I tell you, thereafter you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
And what does the high priest do? He rends his clothes. Why? Because he’s saying that Jesus is blaspheming. Why is he saying that Jesus is blaspheming? Because that cloud is the visible depiction of the divine presence, and Jesus is saying ‘I’m coming again on that cloud.’ He is identifying Himself with the most graphic picture that a Hebrew saint could possibly conjure up as to the presence of God with His people: this cloud which had guided the children of Israel through all their wilderness years; and Jesus is saying (even as He was received into the cloud in His ascension) that ‘I’m coming on a cloud.’
It’s a way of Jesus’ of course testifying to His deity — that He is truly the Son of God, that He is the Messiah. And it’s a way that He identifies Himself with this glorious Old Testament picture of God being with us. It’s not surprising then, is it, that John will say that ‘The word became flesh and He dwelt [He tabernacled] among us.’
And then it’s not surprising, is it, that in Acts 2 what is the next thing that you see Jesus do to the disciples, thus indicating to them that He is in fact at the right hand of power? What does He do? He pours out the Holy Spirit, and when the Holy Spirit is poured out in Acts 2, how does He manifest Himself upon the disciples? Through flames of fire. Does that strike a chord with your memory? Cloud and fire! In the wilderness! And so we see this picture of God with us being carried out in the New Testament. I’m going to come back to it one more time in another passage in the New Testament, but let me hasten on the picture of the trumpet.
II. The trumpets remind us that God is calling us.
The trumpets are described for us in Numbers 10, and we’re told that they function in a fairly straightforward way. They make audible God’s summons to His people, either to call the leaders of Israel to come and counsel with Him, or to call the whole congregation of Israel to come and counsel with Him, or to call the whole congregation of Israel to the march, or to call the whole of Israel to war, or to the final journey in the Promised Land.
It is interesting to see in the New Testament how trumpets still function in that same way for the people of God. It’s very interesting, and I must confess that I had never noticed this until I was studying for this passage tonight. Turn with me to the book of Revelation, chapter one. I have always focused on the first part of this verse, and I think I’ve somehow totally missed the second part of this verse my whole life. Revelation 1:10…it’s the passage where John says that he was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day. He’s telling you the timing in which he received the message of God, this glorious revelation of God, this visual depiction of God’s purposes, and listen to what he goes on to say, though:
“I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet….”
Now, whose voice was that? It was the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ, and He was summoning John to come and counsel with God, and God was going to reveal His word to John, which John was going to reveal to His people. And of course the trumpet continued to play a significant role in the book of Revelation. Turn with me to Revelation 8:1,2:
“When He broke the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stand before God; and seven trumpets were given to them.”
And if you’ll turn over to chapter 11 and look at verse 15, when they finally get to the seventh angel, we read:
“The seventh angel sounded; and there arose loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.’”
And so at the announcement of that last trumpet, there is this announcement of the universal reign of the Lord Jesus Christ over all kingdoms, over all nations, over all of the world.
III. Cloud and trumpet will announce the Second Coming of Jesus.
Now, if you turn back with me to I Thessalonians, I want you to see a passage in which both the cloud and the trumpet appears again in connection to the definitive coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. First Thessalonians–a passage that we’ve given some attention to in our studies on death and the last things over the last few weeks at lunchtime here at First Presbyterian Church.
I Thessalonians 4:13:
“We do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.”
You see what Paul is telling you there: that we’re not done with the clouds and trumpets yet; that there will be on the Last Day again a summoning of the people of God by the trumpets, and when that summons comes, both the dead in Christ and the alive in Christ will set out on the last march to the Promised Land, and there we will reign with Him. And it’s pictured as we’re caught up with Him in the clouds, even as Jesus went up into the clouds in His ascension. So all of God’s people are caught up–where? Where God is present, where God is near, where God is close, where God is manifested. And we will be with Him forevermore.
It’s a picture that comes right out of the book of Numbers that is given to New Testament Christians for encouragement as we go through this world, in this wilderness of a fallen world, that there will yet be another blast of the Lord’s trumpet and it will summon us to our final journey, which will culminate in our being in the Promised Land with the Lord forever and ever, as He reigns over this whole world. So we see how the Apostle Paul means for us as believers to be encouraged by these signs of God’s nearness and God’s calling, first given to old covenant believers, but still precious to those upon whom the end of the ages have come.
Heavenly Father, grant that we would always remember Your nearness to us, manifested in the pouring out of Your Holy Spirit by the Lord Jesus Christ from the right hand of God the Father Almighty into us, who are by Your grace now the temple of the Holy Spirit. And heavenly Father, we look forward to the trumpet sound that will announce our last journey and our crossing over into the land of blessed rest. Grant that we would look forward to this day in the way that we live day to day; that we would live in this blessed hope of the final summons of God and the assurance of communion with You forevermore. These things we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.
[Congregation sings The Doxology]
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.