September 24, 2013

“A pillar of cloud … to lead them”

“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” (Exodus 13.21). “Whenever the cloud was lifted from over the tent, afterward the sons of Israel would then set out; and in the place where the cloud settled down, there the sons of Israel would camp” (Numbers 9.17).

Have you ever wished that the Christian life was that easy? That God would make His will so clearly known to you, and order your steps as plainly, as He did for the Israelites in the wilderness? If they were to break camp on a particular Tuesday morning, and set up in a new location … the cloud would lift from its usual position over the tabernacle, and move on ahead of them like a guide on a travel tour. And if the Lord would have them stay put for a while, the cloud stayed put as well. Wouldn’t that be nice? Wouldn’t decisions be so much easier if God still guided us by His pillars of cloud and fire?

Well, let’s first say that the Israelites’ wilderness experience was not, at bottom level, an easy one … even if it was very clear, from day to day, where God would have them be. I don’t think we’d trade places with them very readily!

But let’s also say that, while our experience of God’s guidance is different from that of the Israelites in the wilderness … God has given us our own pillar of cloud and fire, so to speak. For, as I thought and read about the pillars of cloud and fire this week, it occurred to me that these pillars serve us as a kind of metaphor for how the Lord guides us by means of His word.

After all, these pillars were meant to guide the Lord’s people in the wilderness; to show them where they should go; to order their steps, quite literally. But how does the Lord order our steps? Where do we go for guidance in life’s decisions? Is it not to the Bible? To be sure, the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments do not guide us exactly like the cloud guided God’s people of old. They do not tell us exactly where to live, or when to move or stay. But when we make decisions like these, the Bible does give us principles to go on; and it does reassure us that the Lord is guiding us, even if we don’t always realize, in the moment, how He’s doing so (Romans 8.28).

And more importantly, the Bible very clearly – just as clearly as the movement of the Old Testament cloud – orders our steps when it comes to moral and spiritual decision making. In these utmost of matters, we (like the Israelites) have not been left alone in the dark! The “pillar of fire” was established for the Israelites “to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night” – literally, “by day and by night.” And, more figuratively, we too must travel God’s path, many times, “by night” – surrounded by darkness and difficulty which can impair our vision and obscure God’s path … and leave us longing for “a pillar of fire” to light the way. And God has not left us without such light! For the psalmist calls God’s word “a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119.105). The Bible guides us, even when all around us seems shrouded in a darkness that obscures the way of truth. And, if we will simply keep to the path that God’s word lights for us, we will always be exactly where God wants to be – as assuredly as if He moved a visible torch light from place to place to show us the way!

So be a man, woman, girl, or boy of the word! Wake up in the morning, like the Israelites of old, looking for the “pillar of cloud” – eager to discover God’s direction for the day ahead. And when it’s dark, allow the “pillar of fire” to give you light … always saying with the psalmist (119.133, KJV): “Order my steps in thy word.”

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