Lessons from Israel: No.22 : God of Guidance
Ex 13:21,22 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. 22Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people
I suspect a thought that might run through anyone’s mind, when considering responding to the Lord’s call, might be, “How will I know how to do this? How will I find the way?” or something akin to those questions. The answer will always be the same: “I will be with you.” (Ex 3:12) and “I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” (Ex 4:12) The former answer indicates that the Lord’s presence will always be with us and the latter answer declares that He will be with us to help us. After Sinai Moses was again worrying about how to lead this people and again the Lord tells him, “My Presence will go with you.” (Ex 33:14).
A great deal is written about divine guidance but ultimately it all boils down to the truth that the Lord is with us and it is His presence that will guide us. Yes, we may consider how He speaks to us – e.g. through His word, during prayer, through prophecy, through preaching, through a gentle prompting, through other people etc. – but each of these is simply a way that the Lord who is WITH US will communicate.
Perhaps we take for granted the Christmas story and hardly note when Matthew notes after the angel in a dream has spoken to Joseph about Jesus, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”–which means, “God with us.” (Mt 1:22,23) which of course was a reference to that original prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 where the Lord again declared He would be with them. In each of these cases we are stating something that most of us who are Christians take for granted and give little thought to – that God is with us.
Now whenever the Bible tells us that, it does not mean that the Lord is with us passively; it means He is here to do stuff! Thus above we’ve already noted that He has told Moses that He will “help you speak and will teach you what to say.” But that wasn’t the only thing He had said He would do. He also said, “I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them,” (Ex 3:20) and so His presence with Moses meant far more than Him simply speaking to Moses. Oh no, He was going to do some serious stuff that would wreck Egypt when Pharaoh rejected Him.
Thus when we come to today’s verses, we find a very simple thing almost, by comparison: “By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way.” i.e. God would be there to guide them. He would go ahead of them and His presence would be visible in the form of a pillar of cloud, and all they had to do was follow it. Thus every day, there was this obvious column of cloud that slowly moved ahead of them, leading them, showing them the way to go. The responsibility for where they went was the Lord’s. All Israel had to do was follow Him.
Does this have echoes in your mind in respect of the Gospels? “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him.” (Mt 4:19,20). Being a disciple meant following the person. That was Jesus’ call to each one of them who we read about. But for Moses it wasn’t just the cloud for we find, “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.” i.e. this guidance never left them as is then recorded: That was the assurance they had – that God was visibly there with them by the signs of the column of cloud or the column of fire. They must have been awesome sights, but they were very clear and very obvious.
In the New Testament we find, “God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Heb 13:5) which refers back to Deuteronomy: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deut 31:6). Thus the promise to Israel stands today, for all of God’s people. It is the promise of His presence which will never leave us. Of course that presence today is His own Holy Spirit who now indwells every believer (see 1 Cor 3:16, 1 Cor 6:19, 2 Cor 6:16). Yes, we have His written word, the Bible, but He Himself lives within us and prompts and guides us. Perhaps one of the most important things we can learn to do is to learn to be sensitive to His guiding presence – the prompting to move ahead, or the disquiet when we are going the wrong way. In a variety of ways the Spirit within will guide is. It is His very own presence and so guidance flows out of the relationship we have with Him. Isn’t that wonderful!