Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Pillar of Cloud and Fire

“And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night.  The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.”  Exodus 13:21-22

This passage teaches us three great truths about how our Lord guides his people.  We learn in the first place that our Lord goes before us.  The picture is not of the Lord pressing behind us or of him walking beside us.  No, the text says, “And the LORD went before them.”  The Good Shepherd was in front taking an active role in leading his flock.  The people followed behind him.  When our Lord goes before us, we know that it is he who decides where we shall go, and it is he who shall first meet our enemies.  We will never get lost if we stay behind the Lord.  We will always be safe if we stay in the shadow of his pillar by day or in the light of his fire by night.  The Israelites were leaving Egypt the land of their slavery and heading for Canaan their Promised Land.  In between they would face a journey in the wilderness.  So they desperately needed the guidance of God.  The deliverance and journey of Israel is a pattern of the deliverance and journey of the Church.  We were enslaved to sin.  God delivered us from the tyranny of sin and the devil through Jesus.  We are now headed to our Promised Land in heaven.  We must follow our Lord through the sufferings of this present wilderness because he is leading us to the city whose designer and builder is God.  The second lesson in the text is that our Lord provides what we need to follow him in both the light and the darkness.  God always gives us exactly what we need.  God desired his people to travel by day and by night in order to make it to their Promised Land.  So he gave them a pillar of cloud which would be visible by day and a pillar of fire to illumine their steps by night.  The Lord did not hide himself from his people.  He revealed himself and made his way known.  In the same way, we must trust that the Lord has given us all the resources and guidance that we need today.  Today he does not lead us by a pillar of cloud and fire.  He leads us by his Word and Spirit.  He does not ask us to search the hidden decrees of his mind or to try to interpret the riddles of providence.  If he wanted us to know more, he would make it clear to us.  “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29).  When our God desires to lead his people, he is not a God who whispers in the shadows but a God who appears in the open to make his way known.  We know that the Lord provided all that his people needed.  Later when his people were hungry and thirsty, he gave them bread from heaven and water from a rock.  He always provided exactly what the people required.  No good thing does our Lord withhold from those who walk uprightly (Psalm 84:11b).  The third truth in the passage is perhaps the greatest of all.  Here we see that our Lord does not depart from us.  It says, “The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.”  The leading of the Lord was not a mirage in the wilderness.  It was real.  And the people were never abandoned.  The Lord will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5b).  He shall not abandon his people who are his heritage and portion.  He loves us with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3) and places beneath us the everlasting arms (Deuteronomy 33:27).  When we lose our way, he seeks us and finds us.  Sometimes we do not know what to do, but we set our eyes on the Lord (2 Chronicles 20:12c).  He will show us where he wants us to go when the time is right.  In the meantime we must wait on him and stay behind him.  He goes before us.  He gives us what we need.  And he shall never abandon us.  Jesus taught us the same when he said, “Behold, I am with you always even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20b).  Always.  Christians are pilgrims, and as we journey to our heavenly home let us keep before us that our Lord leads us to the place he has prepared for us.  Let us lift up our heads, strengthen our weak knees, and walk in his ways! 

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