“Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out. But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out till the day that it was taken up” (Exodus 40:36-37).
One of the most incredible things about the Israelites’ journey to the land God had promised them is that God Himself went before them, leading them through the wilderness and showing exactly where to go. He appeared as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, moving ahead of them when they were to move and stopping when they were to rest. The people followed His lead.
After setting out from Egypt, they could have arrived in the promised land of Canaan within a few weeks at most. But instead, God led them in a roundabout way that brought them to Mount Sinai, the place where God would give them His law. They stayed there for over a year, resting and building the tabernacle while Moses taught them the law of God.
Again, this was for an entire year. These people were eager for a home of their own, eager to finally enter into the promise God had made to their forefathers hundreds of years before. But the pillar of cloud symbolizing God’s presence stayed at Mount Sinai for months. He wanted them there for a reason. And while they waited, they worked. They built the tabernacle, the beautiful tent filled with the presence of God. They learned the law, coming to understand the holiness of God. And they rested, something that had been denied to them in Egypt for generations. When they left Egypt, they were a scattered group with a common ancestor. When they finally departed from Sinai, they were identified as God’s chosen nation. God kept them at Sinai for so long to show them Himself, that they might know Him and come to love Him, that His glory might be made known among them.