When the cloud remained over the tabernacle a long time, the Israelites obeyed the LORD's order and did not set out. — Numbers 9:19
Early in my alleged adult life, we moved a lot. In those days I could load the big stuff in the back of a full-size pickup. For the small, breakable things that needed protection, I would borrow my sister's 1970-ish Bonneville, the trunk of which would hold an entire Geo Metro, if broken down, and they usually were. As I got older and tended to stay in one place for more than two months, I began to accumulate belongings. I remember the first time I had to rent a truck to move our possessions. I've rented several since then, each one getting a little bigger. More than once I've had a car full of junk on a trailer behind the truck.
During their wanderings in the wilderness, the Israelites never had this problem. They were nomads — like the Indians of the Great Plains or the Bedouins Lawrence led against the Germans and Ottoman Turks. As far as the Tabernacle went, each of the major family lines in the tribe of Levi had specific tasks and assignments for which they were responsible when the Tent of Meeting had to be moved. Sometimes, the cloud remained in one spot for a long time; sometimes, they were in a place only overnight. It didn't matter. The idea was to follow the cloud.
There are probably some of us who have difficulty when things move too fast. Some of the Israelites likely complained, "I was just starting to like this place." There are folks who thrive on routine, who like to cut a groove and wear it smooth. I'm like that about some things. Don't mess with my coffee pot. I get up at more or less the same time every morning wherever I am, whatever is going on, regardless of how late I was up the night before, weekend, weekday, it doesn't matter. I am a regular guy.
Others of us like to think we are going somewhere, exploring strange, new worlds, living on the cutting edge, always moving forward. Among the tribes of Israel, there were probably many who got a little weary of waiting for a move after a week or two weeks or six months. Certain churches and ministers are always talking about a fresh anointing, fresh fire, a new move of God. I sympathize with those folks, too. I get bored easily with routine work. I like to learn new things, acquire new skills, face fresh challenges. I don't mind revisiting something I've mastered, but I like to push it a little.
The routine has its dangers. When the cloud stays in one place too long, there is a risk that we might forget about the cloud altogether. We get so used to seeing it hanging over the same old spot all the time that we don't really see it at all. If it moves on, will we notice?
Many years ago a pastor friend of ours told us that we had a "raven ministry" — it was an explanation we needed. When Elijah had prophesied against Ahab and the apostasy of Israel, he called for an extended drought on the land (1 Kings 17). Then he retreated to the Wadi Cherith through which flowed a little brook. The prophet drank from the brook, and, twice a day, ravens would fly in carrying bread and meat they had picked up somewhere. Notice these were ravens, not angels. The common raven is a large, black bird known to be good at problem-solving, omnivorous and opportunistic in feeding, and liable to become a pest. Except for the black part, that's me. Ravens are not clean birds, that is, Jews should not eat ravens, which are also known to feed on carrion when they get the chance. Chickens that pick grain out of cow manure are fine, but not ravens.
Anyway, that's what we did, as the Spirit of God led us, we moved from place to place and brought spiritual food to God's people, especially to His weary and fainting prophets. It was a pretty cool thing to walk into a church and have the pastor almost run up to us and say, "I see you are in the ministry." Of course, the downside was that, usually, we were just there to help them move on down the road. The little wet-weather stream in Elijah's Wadi is going to dry up, and he is going to have to get up and go. The ravens go back to minding their own business and looking for roadkill. The pastor might be glad to see us, but, ultimately, we were a sort of "bad sign".
I'm not saying it wasn't tough to make friends, to share meals with people, to learn to love them then, one day, experience a painful break and realize our work was done in that place. Four or five times this happened in the course of about eight years. Recently I ran into a couple we had met during our time as ravens. They barely remembered us. My wife talked too much — she never could quite let go of a place or of the people. It was almost as if they had been hit with the Men In Black machine that wipes away memory. As she reminded them of this or that, I could see they were fighting against it, as if it were forbidden. She gave them our phone number, and, at Christmas, she insisted we send them a card. We'll never hear from them again.
So there are advantages and disadvantages to being a raven, but the one thing about it was that I was always paying attention to the cloud. The brook has dried up. I glance over my shoulder. The cloud is moving. This is our last delivery.
I'm glad I don't have to do the raven thing any more. You're not allowed to not love them. That's the bread and meat. If you don't love them, there's no point in showing up. You leave a little piece of your heart in four or five church foyers — come to think about it, it was closer to seven. A shattered, scattered heart. Fifteen or sixteen years after, we happened to fly by one of those Wadi Cherith's where the prophet had been and where the cloud had touched down. It was a little while before the evening service started, and we didn't have time to stay, but we walked into the big front door. In a case on the wall there were names we knew and pictures we recognized. I asked about one and was told he was gone to his reward. I asked about another and received an uncomprehending shake of the head. As I looked around I couldn't hide the tears, like rain in the dry season. The auditorium would soon be filled. The stream runs strong. But an old raven is just a pest in this place now.
And I have a cloud to catch.