When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was nearer; for God thought, “If the people face war, they may change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led the people by the roundabout way of the wilderness towards the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of the land of Egypt prepared for battle. And Moses took with him the bones of Joseph, who had required a solemn oath of the Israelites, saying, “God will surely take notice of you, and then you must carry my bones with you from here.” They set out from Succoth, and camped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. The Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.
It has been observed that the most repeated prayer in the Bible is the prayer for guidance. In today’s text the Israelites are delivered out of 400 years of slavery without any plans or a clue where to go. They need guidance and God readily provides it for them. God wants to get us where He wants us to go even more than we want to get there.
God’s guidance appears as “the pillar of fire by day” and “the pillar of fire by night”. This was likely one pillar that during the day appeared as a protective cloud with a fire blazing inside by night. All of this was a visual representation of God’s guiding presence with His people. The Lord Himself was in the pillar (Exodus 13:21; 14:24) and often spoke to the His people from it (Exodus 19-20; Numbers 12:5-6; Deuteronomy 31:15-16).
For the entire journey to the Promised Land the pillar of cloud and fire remained over God’s people (Exodus 13:22). All the people had to do was follow the cloud and fire and they would be safe. Whenever they saw the cloud lift they were to follow; and where it stopped, they were to stop (Numbers 9:15-23). The psalmist celebrates God guiding His people on the Exodus journey: “He divided the sea and let them pass through it, and made the waters stand like a heap. In the daytime he led them with a cloud, and all night long with a fiery light” (Psalm 78:14).
It is not only the Israelites who needed guidance for the Exodus; we do as well. The cloud and fiery light are an Old Testament type or picture of what Jesus promises us on our journey: “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). He goes with us all the way.
- What are some ways that you think God leads His people today? What are your pillars of cloud and fire guiding you?
- What questions do you have about God’s guidance? Take a few moments to talk with God about your questions.