By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people. Exodus 13:21-22.
Egypt is now behind the Children of Israel, but Canaan, their destination, lies far ahead and in between the two is a trackless waste. How will they ever find their way to where they are going … or to the water and provisions they will need from time to time upon the way? God’s provision is, in Hebrew, an ‘ammûd … “something standing” … a pillar (in most translations) or a column which was of cloud by day and fire by night. Its base was so wide that it provided cover for the vast company of Israel from the intense desert heat (Psalm 105:39) and it also provided cover from their enemies. (Exodus 14:19-20). What was this “something standing”?
Well it was, of course, the visible sign of the presence of the Lord with his people to guide them and protect them; but according to other references in Exodus it was even more than that. In Exodus 14:19, it is called “the angel of the Lord”, and in Exodus 23:20-23 God says that his “Name” was in this pillar. “My name” in Hebrew is a roundabout way of saying “I myself”; so God was saying, “I myself was in the pillar. It was my real presence that went with you” (see Exodus 33:14).
How can I read these things and not hear Jesus, 1500 years later, saying things like “Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20) and “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20) and “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever.” (John 14:16). Like the Israelites, I have the comfort of knowing God’s abiding presence by the Spirit of Jesus in my life.
But I see in the pillar too something that speaks even more directly to me of Jesus. Just as God did not give Moses a map that would offer the Children of Israel some guidance in getting to Canaan but, by indwelling the pillar, became Guidance himself, the Map himself, so too Jesus becomes for me the Way to the Father. He does not show me the way, he is the Way (John 14:6), and all I need to do is to stick close to him and I will always be where I am going. I can travel safely “by day or night” because I travel with Christ.
Lord Jesus, thank you that you are the “something standing” in my life as I begin this new day. Thank you that as I engage with you again now, you once more become my Way. Amen.