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20Sometimes the cloud would remain a few days over the tabernacle, and according to the command of the Lord they would remain in camp; then according to the command of the Lord they would set out.

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19. Then the children kept the charge of the Lord. Some, 44     Dathe agrees with Malvenda and other ancient commentators in adopting the opinion here rejected by C. “The sense of the passage (he says) is, that the Israelites set up the holy tabernacle, and observed the holy rites, if they were detained for many days in one place; but if for a short time only, the tabernacle was not set up. Whether this was to be the case or not was indicated to them by Moses, according to ver. 23.” in my opinion, extend this too far, thinking that when the cloud tarried, the children of Israel, being as it were at leisure, employed themselves in the worship of God; but I restrict it rather to that heedfulness which is then praised at some length. To keep the charge (custodiam,) then, is equivalent to regarding the will of God with the greatest earnestness and care. For, when the cloud had begun to rest in any place, the people knew that they were to remain there; but if on the next day they were not attentive, the cloud might vanish, and thus their neglect and carelessness might deprive them of this incomparable advantage.

To this end it is said immediately afterwards that, If for one day, or more, or even for a month, or a year, the cloud stood still, the people was, as it were, tied to the spot. The old interpreter 55     I.e., the Vulgate: “Erant filii Israel in excubiis Domini.” has not badly rendered it, “The children of Israel were upon the watch;” since day and night they anxiously expected the time when God would command them to move forward. The last verse of the chapter confirms this sense, where it is again added, that “they kept the charge of the Lord at His mouth by the hand of Moses:” whence it appears that Moses was God’s interpreter, so that they might set forth on their march whenever the cloud being lifted up pointed out to them the way. Nor can it be doubted but that it preceded them; so that they might know in what direction God would have them proceed, and whither they were to go. Moreover, it must be observed that in both respects it is counted worthy of praise in the people, that they should either journey, or continue where they were, at God’s command. Thus is that absurd activity condemned which engages itself in endless work; as if men could only obey God by turmoil. Whereas it is sometimes no less a virtue to rest, when it so pleases God. 66     “They also serve, who only stand, and wait.” — Milton; Sonnet on his blindness.




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