For four-hundred-years the Israelites lived as aliens and captives in the land of Egypt. With the ten miraculous plagues in the rear-view mirror, they began their trek toward Canaan, the Land of Promise. “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them along the road to the land of the Philistines, even though it was nearby; for God said, ‘The people will change their minds and return to Egypt if they face war.’ So he led the people around toward the Red Sea along the road of the wilderness” (Exodus 13:17-18).
God didn’t lead His people down the wide and easy path leading to their destruction (Matthew 7:13). As “they set out from Succoth and camped at Etham on the edge of the wilderness,” they didn’t go alone (Exodus 13:20). “The Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to lead them on their way during the day and in a pillar of fire to give them light at night, so that they could travel day or night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night never left its place in front of the people” (Exodus 13:21–22). God’s visible presence led the way.
Imagine it: A couple million emancipated slaves, with their families and their flocks, carrying all of their worldly belongings. As they marched into the dessert, singing in celebration, they were led by a visible manifestation of God’s presence. During the daylight hours, when the scorching dessert sun was beating down, the Pillar of Clouds shaded them. During the cold dark nights, God’s Pillar of Fire lit the night sky and led the wandering ones safely through the wilderness.
Today, Christians are a little like Israel. We’re marching toward a promised home; one we haven’t seen but one we know is ours. We left behind a life of captivity, a place where we were enslaved to a foreign master. The wilderness through which we travel is sometimes harsh, and the enemies are formidable, but as we travel, we don’t travel alone. God is our Provider, our Sustainer, our Savior. He promised to never leave us or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6, 8; Hebrews 13:5). Just as God’s presence never left the nation of Israel for the forty-year journey, the Holy Spirit never leaves us.
The Pillar of Fire and Cloud is symbolic of God’s Holy Word. The Psalmist sang, “Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path” (Psalm 119:105). “Light shines in the darkness for the upright. He is gracious, compassionate, and righteous” (Psalm 112:4).
And The Pillar of Fire and Cloud is symbolic of God’s Holy Spirit. Jesus promised, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13). Just as the Pillar of Fire and Cloud led Israel, so the Holy Spirit leads us today.
When there is too much month at the end of the money, Jesus lights the way. When the doctor gives a devastating diagnosis, Jesus lights the way. When the company is down-sizing and the boss hands you a pink slip, Jesus lights the way. When home is more like a battlefield than a place of refuge, Jesus lights the way. And when there is money in the bank, you and your family are healthy, and you’re living at the corner of Easy Street and Blessed Boulevard, Jesus lights the way!
Jesus also said, “I am the light of the world. Anyone who follows me will never walk in the darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).
All Scripture quotations, except as otherwise noted, are from
Holman Bible Publishers’ Christian Standard Bible.