Numbers 9 tells two stories. In the first story, the Lord was telling Moses to let the Israelites celebrate the Passover, and He answered Moses’ question about whether the Israelites could still celebrate the Passover since they were ceremonially unclean because of a dead body, and were away on a journey (Numbers 9:1-14, NIV). The Lord said that even if they were unclean because of a dead body or were away on a trip, they could still celebrate the Passover (Numbers 9:10, NIV). But if a man who was ceremonially clean and not on a journey failed to celebrate the Passover, that person must be cut off from his people (Numbers 9:13, NIV). A foreigner residing among the Israelites could also voluntarily celebrate the Passover.
The second story recounts the details God leading the Israelites through the wilderness. There was a cloud covering the tabernacle by day and fire by night. (Numbers 9:15-23, NIV). Whenever the cloud lifted from above the Tent, the Israelites set out; wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped (Numbers 9:17, NIV). When the cloud stayed for a few days, the Israelites would set up camp for a few days, sometimes for a month or longer (Numbers 9:22, NIV).
What is the true meaning of Passover? What is the relationship between these two stories? The inspiration that I received was that the true meaning of Passover is to quiet down and wait to hear God’s voice and enter into His presence. The cloud over the tabernacle represents His presence. This picture can be described with the verse, “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10, NIV).
When we take time out of our busy schedules to wait quietly before God as the Israelites did to celebrate Passover, we can enter into God’s rest and presence. We can then hear His voice and know that He is God. Doing this enables us to live in His presence and follow His leading.
When it comes to celebrating the Passover, we need to answer a few questions. Why did Jehovah tell the Israelites to celebrate the Passover or keep the Sabbath? Why didn’t Jesus keep the Sabbath? Instead, He healed the sick, cast out demons, and allowed the disciples to pluck heads of grain on the Sabbath. We will be able to understand an essential spiritual principle and a mistake that the church has often made when we answer these questions.
Did God choose the Israelites to be Jesus’ ancestors because they were special, or was it because God chose Jesus to be born amongst them that they became more precious to Him? If you think about this, you might agree with my conclusion. I believe that God’s primary purpose for telling the Israelites to celebrate the Passover and Sabbath was to protect them from being occupied and defiled by worldly sin like the Gentiles. They remained holy so that Jesus Christ could be born into their nation at the right time. God wanted Jesus to be born into righteousness. Celebrating the Passover and Sabbath was a means and a tool to preserve the righteousness of the Israelites. A similar example is when God chose Noah to multiply generations of people because he was righteous in God’s sight.
Numbers 15 records a man who went out to gather wood on the Sabbath day and was stoned to death by Jehovah’s order. Why was there a need for such a severe punishment? We need to understand that in addition to their many sins, the Gentiles were occupied with their own lives and didn’t take time to draw near to God. Ezekiel 28 describes God’s judgment of King Tyre. He specifically said, “By your great skill in trading, you have increased your wealth, and because of your wealth, your heart has grown proud.” “Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘Because you think you are wise, as wise as a god… ‘” (NIV, Ezekiel 28:5-6). Many commentators believe that King Tyre represents Satan. We can see from here that a person who is too occupied with the world’s business will gradually be led away from God and sin will enter in.
I’ve heard testimonies of devout Christians who sometimes work twenty hours a day at Wall Street. When I was a reporter in New Jersey, I interviewed a person who worked alongside a Chinese billionaire that managed an investment fund. He gave me the day to day routine of this billionaire. At 5:00 am, the billionaire’s driver takes him from New Jersey to New York. He stays at the office until 11 or 12 pm then heads home, often sleeping in the car. It was observed by the person that I interviewed that this man had no life of his own. I know some Christian young people who work at Wall Street also. They were once devout Christians who attended church regularly when they were in high school, but once they started working on Wall Street, they gradually moved away from God. Their lives were too busy with business and money. Some fell into a sinful lifestyle. The first step of falling away from God is not spending time with Him. As time passes, God’s presence will be less and less and lead to sin. I’m not trying to insinuate that all Christians that work at Wall Street are dominated by the world, living a sinful life. Based on my experience in the United States, Christians working at Wall Street or Hollywood face greater temptation.
The Lord Jesus said in Matthew 24:37-38 (NIV), “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark”. The main idea of this sentence is “eat, drink, get married,” which is the basic activity of human beings. But there is an implication of human greed here. Yes, people need to eat, drink, and marry to survive. In many cases, however, our business activities are no longer maintaining basic survival, but greed. And greed is endless. Returning to the example of gathering wood in Numbers 15, this Israelite may have gathered wood out of necessity or greed. The intention of Jehovah’s severe punishment to him was for the Israelites to devote one day each week to worship and have fellowship with God alone. They couldn’t do anything other than this.
But over time, the Israelites have put the cart before the horse. When the Lord Jesus came to the world as the Son of God, the Israelites condemned Him for not celebrating the Sabbath. The original purpose of the Sabbath was to keep the Israelites from committing sins until the birth of Jesus Christ. As Paul said, “Christ is the culmination of the law.” (NIV, Romans 10:4). Paul also said, “The law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian” (NIV, Galatians 3:23-24). When Christ came, the purpose of the Israelites to celebrate the Sabbath was achieved. At this time, the Jews should not have focused on whether the Lord Jesus was keeping the Sabbath. Instead, they should have seized the opportunity to have fellowship with God, because He intended for us to have fellowship with Him in Christ. But most Jews were completely mistaken and did not seize this opportunity.
Though this chapter is talking about Passover instead of the Sabbath, I felt to connect them in a way as God instituted them as laws for the Israelites to keep. There would be consequences if they didn’t keep them. So in a general sense, we want to discuss the laws and rules and how we handle it. The Passover in the history of the Israelites was only a one-time event when they passed through the red sea. Often Christians consider this a type of coming out of the darkness of the world typified by Egypt. The journey of the Israelites in the wilderness often signifies the fact that we are experiencing the test in our soul. God enacted the laws on keeping Passover and the Sabbath in the wilderness. The purpose of these laws was to help the Israelites get rid of the influences of sin and the world through keeping the Passover in a yearly circle or keeping the Sabbath on a weekly circle. When they did that, they would be continuously reminded that they were no longer in Egypt. As we know, even though they left Egypt, they still missed the onions and fish of Egypt. In other words, they were out of Egypt, but Egypt was not out of them.
It is relative to today’s Christianity. Many Christians are out of Egypt, but Egypt is not out of them yet. So likewise, they need a period of discipline by the Lord to go through their wilderness, and then enter the good land. Using Paul’s words, the law acts like the guardian until faith comes so that we become the mature sons of God (Galatians 3:24-26).
Another important purpose of establishing the Passover and Sabbath was for the Israelites to have a special time to separate themselves from the things of the world and be able to worship God. But many Jews regarded it as a law and a ceremony. A lot of hypocritical things happened. A Chinese Christian leader in the United States told a story about this. He had a Jewish neighbor who couldn’t turn on the stove or cook on the Sabbath according to Jewish law. This Jewish neighbor wanted to cook, so she circumvented the law by having the Christian leader’s wife turn on the stove for her. She could truthfully say that she didn’t break the law because her neighbor turned the stove on. This is just an example of how modern Jews hypocritically deal with the Sabbath. I’m sure that there are genuine people who follow the law, but I cite this as an example.
Christians can also be hypocritical. They may attend church but spend the whole time scrolling through social media on their phones. Most Christians will admit that to get close to God, you need to pray. They may talk the talk, but in actuality, prayer is more of a thought rather than an action. I’ve heard people say that if you don’t have a fixed prayer time daily, you don’t have a real prayer life. Lack of prayer gradually leads to a weak spiritual life and can end up propelling a person into sin. A woman in our study agreed and testified that she experienced moving away from God because she didn’t spend time in prayer. She noted that because of illness and the coronavirus, she was forced to stay home and had more time to read the Bible and pray. During this time, her relationship with God became closer, and the Word of God came alive to her. She also had a vision of a cross. A man in our study who works for a large company said that he became very agitated after the coronavirus outbreak. He and his wife set aside time to read the Bible and pray every day in the evening and realized that he felt God’s peace and presence.
I had a similar experience of moving closer to God through dedicated, in-depth prayer time. In 2010 the failure of my wife’s first IVF was a huge disappointment. Because of this and other mistakes I made in our relationship, our marriage suffered. During that difficult time, my wife didn’t speak to me for a month. I was miserable. I spent hours a day praying to God, pacing back and forth on the road of our community. I repented and continually dedicated myself to the Lord. A month later, this situation was better, and my prayer time was less frequent. I suddenly realized that I was coming down from the cloud, so to speak. It was almost like walking down a stairway from the cloud of God’s presence. At a later date, at noon, I was consistently repenting, dedicating myself, and praying to have children. The same process repeated.
When I was continually praying, I wasn’t aware that I had entered the presence of God or into the cloud. I found myself coming out of the cloud when I stopped praying. These two spiritual experiences are very real and although I can’t describe what that cloud or presence inside of me was like, I know that when I constantly pray, I enter into God’s presence. It’s only when prayer stops that I gradually descend from the cloud.
The cloud in Numbers 9 represents the presence of God. The presence of God is with us through His Holy Spirit. The cloud on the tabernacle described here is a real experience. The two prayers that led me into the clouds are also real spiritual experiences. This is the internal manifestation of God’s presence.
Why did I find myself descending from the cloud when prayer was not as fervent? Paul tells us to pray continually to stay in God’s presence (1 Thessalonians 5:17, NIV). Brother Lawrence and others throughout history practiced continually living in God’s presence. I’m still learning how to do this, but I understand from these experiences that it’s important to set aside time to pray before we can enter into His presence. I get easily distracted by other things when life is running smoothly. I don’t seem to diligently focus on God and prayer as much as I was compelled to in the difficult times. It takes more work to enter into God’s presence. I dedicated countless hours of prayer through the painful ten years of infertility.
A Korean prophet told me that God wanted to lead me through this difficulty and harvest my prayer. I’ve entered into God’s presence through prayer many times. Still, after the birth of our miracle baby, when life became less stressful, I found that at times my prayers were not as sincere, intimate, and passionate as before. I sometimes miss the difficult times and urgency of dedicated prayer. While I was sharing my testimony, a man in our study felt like the Holy Spirit was highlighting Numbers 9:8. The verse describes people who were ceremonially unclean because of coming into contact with a dead body so they couldn’t celebrate the Passover. It goes on to say: “Moses answered them, “Wait until I find out what the Lord commands concerning you.” Even Moses wasn’t sure what God meant and had to wait to get a reply from Him. The man who mentioned this verse said that even though he was eager to pray and get closer to God, the distractions of the news and other things around him kept him from waiting quietly before God. Although he wanted to hear and receive from God, he rarely heard His voice.
The word “busy” in Chinese is composed of two parts. On the left, it’s a “heart,” and on the right, it’s “death.” In Chinese, it literally means that when we become busy, we will have a “dead heart.” It is often true in our spiritual experiences. Even being too busy with Christian ministry can cause a person to be spiritually dry and dead. Slowing down our lives from the complicated and busy world outside and waiting quietly before God is the real purpose of the Passover or Sabbath. We must do this every week or every day to develop a strong spiritual habit. If we do this, we can enter into God’s presence, as represented by the clouds on the tabernacle of this chapter. We will become a person who lives in the presence of God. As we mentioned in the beginning, “Be still, and know that I am God.” (NIV, Psalm 46:10).
At the start of 2016, I felt burdened to fast and pray for 40 days for my wife’s infertility. My family didn’t understand or agree with this burden and didn’t support me in it. The burden didn’t subside, and I continued to seek God’s leading as I walked in the park during lunch break. I usually speak in tongues for a while to calm down my spirit and then sit on a bench waiting for God to speak. One day after I had been doing this for a while, I sat on the bench and felt sleepy. I heard the Holy Spirit say suddenly: “Don’t eat at noon.” I waited a few more days, and after confirming the words of the Holy Spirit, I decided to fast and pray at noon Monday to Friday. I calculated that 40 days of prayer would equal about 120 meals. If I didn’t eat at noon for 22 days per month, it would take about five months. I began fasting and praying at noon and continued this for three or four months. On one particular day, I felt confident that God had heard my prayers, and I gradually stopped fasting and praying.
Because my family objected, I never told them about this. Recently I started fasting and praying against the coronavirus at noon. My mother-in-law didn’t understand. She said, “If you don’t eat at noon, will the coronavirus go away?” It was then that I told her and my wife about the story of fasting and praying in early 2016. My wife was miraculously pregnant in May 2016. I told my mother-in-law not to underestimate the power of prayer. I told my wife that even when it seems that nothing is changing outwardly by our prayers, if we don’t pray, we will suffer the consequences. Our individual prayer can be as powerful as “the prayer of faith will save the sick” (James 5:15). And if we pray together with others, it’s even more powerful. We must do our part to cooperate with God’s work. I fast and pray for God to end the coronavirus but also to pray for a spiritual breakthrough so that I can break the strongholds established by the enemy in me, become a more obedient instrument, and a better channel of blessing before the release of God’s revival fire comes.
We all need to quiet down and wait for God to realize that He is God and enter into His presence. This is the spiritual significance of the Passover or Sabbath and the cloud in this chapter. We may already get out of Egypt, but we need to get Egypt out of us. The way is to stop engaging with the business of the world temporarily and wait and worship God. Then when we behold him, he will transform us into the same image of him (2 Corinthians 3:18). It is not by our effort, but we must give him time to do this.
We pray that this study blesses you.