Once the tabernacle was built, God descended over it and appeared as a cloud during the day and as fire in the night. I donít see how anyone could distinguish the cloud and fire of God from the smoke and fire of the constant animal sacrifices burning on the pyre, but maybe they have really keen vision.
Every so often, the cloud would leave the Tabernacle and drift away. At this point the Israelites would pack up their million tents and follow it through the desert. They would continue following it until finally it remained still once more, then they would pitch their million tents again. Sometimes it would remain in place for only a night, sometimes it would remain in place for a year, but they always stayed with it.
Of course, all of this was explained to us at the end of the Exodus, so why is Numbers 9:15-23 repeating something from two years ago? Good question! Actually, I would love to see someone try and make a single coherent chronology of the events of the Pentateuch with all the repetitions and flashbacks. There are plenty of basic time lines out there, but Iím talking about a full chronology that includes every verse! It would be a serious chore, but I think the result would be very interesting. It would probably be a ridiculous kludge of hilarity.
As it is, Iíve been illustrating every tiny event in the bible, and writing an essay for every couple verses, and yet, it only took me a year and a half to cover the same distance weíve made in the bible. Not that this is a race or anything, but if it were, Iíd totally be winning!