God is so kind. Have you figured that out yet? Instead of leading the people into a battle with the Philistines they #1 weren’t ready for and #2 weren’t prepared for, He led them south. Yet I wonder how many Israelite’s mistook God’s kindness as an act of stupidity. “Why in the world are we going this way?” “This is ridiculous.” “The most direct route is over there.”
Devotional Scripture: Exodus 13:17-22
Key Verse: “By a pillar of cloud you led them in the day, and by a pillar of fire in the night to light for them the way in which they should go.” Nehemiah 9:12
I can almost hear the murmurs. Can you? Mostly because I know I’ve said something similar. Or perhaps it was more like. “You know, if I were running this show, we’d be doing things MUCH differently.” (Guilty again.)
Nonetheless, out of kindness, God took them south. Leading the people with a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night. Anyone else a little curious what that looked like? Did it reach to heaven? Could you see at the back of the pack? I imagine so. Since it says pillar I’m picturing something tall and skinny that during the day spread out at the bottom like a huge cloud to cover the people from the hot desert sun. (Again, kindness.)
Psalm 105:39 says, “He spread a cloud for a covering, and fire to give light by night.” Protection at all hours of the day! The people, though in a land they didn’t recognize, were never without a visible manifestation of God’s presence.
At the completion of the tabernacle God’s glory in the form of cloud and fire then settled into the Holy of Holies. Exodus 40:38 says, “For the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys.” If the cloud lifted the people knew it was time to pack up and move again. But if the cloud stayed put, the people stayed put.
They never had to question when or where to move. They never had to wonder if God was with them. They never had to debate the glory or existence of the eternal God. He was right there!
God could have just privately told Moses where to go, but instead, in kindness, He made His presence known.
A picture to us of the Holy Spirit today. Who out of kindness, has been given to us as a helper to guide our steps; to show us which way to go; to counsel us in the ways of the word; to comfort and protect. Though not visible, the Holy Spirit is a manifestation of God’s presence in every believer so we don’t have to go this journey alone. Or question the existence of the eternal God because He’s always and forever right here!
Do you see it? The similarities between the pillar of cloud/fire and the Holy Spirit are many.
1. The “cloud” was not given to Israel until after the lamb had been slain, just as it was not until after Christ had been crucified, resurrected, and ascended that the Holy Spirit was given. (1 Peter 4:14 – But now we can say “the spirit of glory and of God rests on us.”)
2. The “cloud” was a merciful and gracious gift to Israel. Nowhere does it indicate that the people asked God for a “cloud” to guide them. And nowhere in the New Testament does it indicate that the apostles asked for the great Comforter to be given to them. It is God’s daily gift to us.
3. Just like the cloud was a covering over Israel, so is the Holy Spirit a covering over us. Protecting us from the evil one and sealing us for the day of redemption (Eph. 1:13-14).
4. It was from within the cloud that the LORD spoke to Israel (Psalm 99:7; Ex. 33:9; Num. 12:5). Just as it’s by way of the Holy Spirit God speaks to believers. Instructing us in the way of truth. John 14:26 says, “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”
5. The “cloud” was with Israel until they reached the promised land. And so too is the Holy Spirit with every believer until we reach heaven. God didn’t remove his presence when the Israelite’s failed or rebelled and neither does he remove his presence from us. Purchased by the blood of the Lamb, it’s a done deal. Jesus said in John 6:37, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.”
Just as God was with Israel day in and day out, so is He today with every one of His children, day in and day out. The question is, will we listen? Will we pay attention? Will we follow? Or like the Israelites will the manifestation of God’s presence come to mean nothing to us?
A year later (give or take), standing at the edge of the Promised Land, the pillar of cloud and fire having lead them every step of the way, the Israelites grumbled in their tents saying, “Because the LORD hated us he has brought us out of the land of Egypt, to give us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us.” (Deut. 1:27).
Never mind God’s kindness to us thus far. Never mind His constant presence. God must hate us because the people are like giants in the land of Canaan and the cities are too big! Ever been there? At the corner of bleak and uncertainty, a little dumbfounded as to why God would bring you here, to this place, at this point in your life?
Like the Israelite’s, in overwhelming situations, we’re often quick to forget the Holy Spirit is still guiding, still helping, still comforting, still protecting. And instead of looking up to the pillar of cloud still standing tall over the top of us we look down, overcome by worry at what might lie ahead.
If the Israelite’s had taken a moment to remember God’s kindness, seeking comfort in God’s presence, instead of sinking in their circumstances, I think the story would have turned out much differently. Yes, it was the pillar of cloud that lead the Israelite’s into the wilderness, but it was their sin that kept them there. God was ready to go, but they weren’t willing to follow.
Are we? With the Holy Spirit ever with us, guiding, comforting, helping, protecting, will we go where God calls? Or will we stay put? Forgetting all about His kindness and the promise of His presence no matter where life leads.
Psalm 105:37 says when the LORD brought the people out of Egypt, “there was none among his tribes who stumbled.” Lead by God, under His watch, not one fell on the rough terrain. Likewise Jude 24 says, “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy,” be all the glory!
God’s got this! In kindness, He’s given us His spirit to guide us. He alone can keep us from stumbling. The question is, are we willing to follow?
Contemplate and Evaluate:
What similarities do you see between the pillar of cloud/fire and the Holy Spirit?
How have you seen God’s kindness in your life?
Faced with difficult circumstances when have you been willing to follow and when have you not?