By Day and By Night
The Lord was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people. (Exodus 13:21-22)
A young man reached over and held the hand of his wife, as they walked the sidewalk towards their home. He gently squeezed her hand, as if to express the sentiment “I am right here.” Without words, he communicated his abiding presence. He wasn’t going anywhere. This is where he wanted to be, right beside her. He rejoiced to share company with his beloved. That simple act brought warmth and comfort to his bride.
Throughout the Scriptures, we see a God who delights to reveal His presence toward His people. He is not the God who is far away, but the God who is near, with us, walking beside us throughout the course of our lives. He revealed His presence to the children of Israel with a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night. It was a visual reminder that the Lord dwelt among His people. He was not sending them on a journey through the wilderness on their own. He was there, each step of the way, leading them towards the goal. He did not say, “I will meet you on the other side, if you can make it.” He said, “I will meet you here, in this place, right where you are.”
They have already heard that you, O Lord, are with these people and that you, O Lord, have been seen face to face, that your cloud stays over them, and that you go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. (Numbers 14:14)
We see both the immanence and transcendence of God demonstrated in the pillars of cloud and fire. On the one hand, these served as a daily reminder, moment by moment, that the Lord was with them throughout their journey. When they went to sleep in the evening, the fire continued burning brightly. They could rest secure knowing that God was watching over them through the night. And when they woke up in the morning, opening their eyes to the new day, the cloud was waiting at the edge of the camp, ready to lead them on to the next leg of their trek. At the same time, God’s power and holiness were also displayed in the cloud and fire. The people were reminded that the Lord is fierce and glorious. One does not casually approach the Almighty. These visual signs evoked a sense of awe and reverence in the hearts of those who stood before them.
When all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would arise and worship… (Exodus 33:10)
It is surprising to us that the children of Israel would so quickly forget God’s continuous presence, during their journey. Yet, we too struggle in the same way. We may not be able to see a cloud or flames outside our house, but God has given us other reminders today that He is with us, including His Word. Besides this, we have His constant presence in our hearts, through the Holy Spirit. Despite this, we somehow manage to forget, at times, that God is with us.
At one point, after Israel’s sin with the golden calf, Moses begged that the Lord’s presence might remain with the people despite the unfaithfulness they had shown (Ex. 33:15-16). It was a terrifying thought to consider having to face the rest of the journey on their own. Moses realized that if God withdrew His presence, they would never make it to the Promised Land. The Lord assured him, “My presence shall go with you.”
How wonderful to know that the Lord will not withdraw His presence from the lives of His people today, either. We sometimes, foolishly, stray from Him. We allow distance to creep between us. We go about our day without thinking of our Savior and God. But the Lord never turns away from His children, or forgets about His people. Let us seek His presence, as Moses did when He entered the tent of meeting and stood before the glorious cloud (Ex. 33:9-10). The Lord wants to meet with us, that we might speak to Him in our prayers the way a man speaks to his friend. What we have is greater than symbols of God’s presence. His Spirit dwells in our hearts, as we come to faith in Jesus Christ. Do not forget that He is the awesome and mighty God! Approach Him with the reverence He deserves. But do not forget that He is the God who draws near, who longs to reveal His presence among His people.