“And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so as to go by day and night. 22 He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day or the pillar of fire by night from before the people.” (Exodus 13:21-22)
“Who went in the way before you to search out a place for you to pitch your tents, to show you the way you should go, in the fire by night and in the cloud by day.” (Deuteronomy 1:33)
God provided Israel an elaborate guidance system in their journey through the wilderness. In an age when there were no satellites, GPS or mobile phones, it would have been very difficult to navigate through such a terrain fraught with dangers. If they were to rely on human judgment, they probably would have chosen the shorter road. However, God had a panoramic view of things and knew what lay ahead of them. Therefore, He led them through a different route (Exodus 13:17-18). In the journey of life, sometimes what appears as a shortcut may be a shortcut to disaster!
God provided them the pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night. These were unmistakable symbols of God’s presence with them. As a result of this divine guidance system, they were able to journey to their destination. If we are to make progress in 2016, we shall need God’s presence; divine illumination and divine guidance. When these are functional in a person’s life, there will be accurate and unhindered movement towards the right destination.
Moses recognised how impossible it was for the people of God to go without His presence. That’s why he said to the Lord, “…If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here.” (Exodus 33:15). He wasn’t ready to undertake any journey without the guarantee of God’s presence with Israel. He stated why they couldn’t do without it: “How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” (Exodus 33:16 NIV). God’s presence with Israel would distinguish them from all other people on earth.
But God had assured Moses, “…My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (Exodus 33:14). God’s presence with them would lead them to a place of rest. No wonder David declared: “You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).
There is a difference between labouring under God’s presence and labouring without His presence. The difference is as wide as that between grace and human effort.
In the Scriptures, we see that when the presence was upon people they were able to accomplish extraordinary feats. Gideon was just a timid man hiding away from the Midianites but when the presence came upon him he became a valiant man (Judges 6); Samson and Saul realised the difference between when a man has the presence of God and when he does not (1Samuel 16:14; Judges 16:20-21). When the presence came upon artisans their skill rose to a new level (Exodus 31:1-6).
In their journey through the desert the children of Israel needed light. The pillar of fire provided light for the children of Israel in the wilderness. That way they could travel 24/7. Also, for us to see where we are going in life we need light. Divine illumination happens when God sheds light on our path.
The Psalmist recognised God as the Source of his light. (Psalm 27:1). Today God gives us light through His Word, both the written and proceeding Word (Matthew 4:4). “The entrance of Your word gives light;
It gives understanding to the simple.” (Psalm 119:130). Also, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:105). “Indeed, you are my lamp, LORD. My God illuminates the darkness around me.” (Psalm 18:28 NET).
We know that the farther away we are from the Source of light the less illumination we have. If we shall have light to walk with this year, then we must stay close to the Source. We need to grow in intimacy with the Lord through the study of His Word.
If we have light, then we won’t walk in darkness (John 8:12). Darkness is a symbol of ignorance. It means that we won’t take foolish steps (John 12:35). If we have light we won’t stumble (John 11:9-10), our movement will be accurate, we will see obstacles and dangers ahead and avoid them.
The people were passing through where they had never been before. They didn’t even know where they were going. On their path were bandits and hostile nations who were ready to destroy them. They needed divine guidance. God was the One “Who went in the way before you to search out a place for you to pitch your tents, to show you the way you should go, in the fire by night and in the cloud by day.” (Deuteronomy 1:33). God was quite detailed in how He led them. The cloud and the fire provided visible signs of God’s guidance (Numbers 9:15-23). By observing these signs they were able to know when to move and when not to move. Their every movement was dictated by divine instruction.
If God did so for Israel in the wilderness, He wouldn’t do any less for us. He promised us “Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” Whenever you turn to the right hand.” (Isaiah 30:21). He also assures us: “Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, The Holy One of Israel: “I am the Lord your God, Who teaches you to profit, Who leads you by the way you should go.” (Isaiah 48:17).
Jesus promised that His sheep will hear His voice (John 10:3-4, 27). God has given us His word and His Spirit to make guidance possible for us (Psalm 119:105; John 16:13; Romans 8:14). We don’t have to go through the year groping in the dark, moving like the crab, feeling our way through, when God has promised to guide us.
One wrong step can turn back the hand of the clock in a person’s life. People may give you advice but you are the one to live with the consequences of your decisions. Experience, they say, is the best teacher but often, the tuition you pay can be quite high. What we need above everything else this year is the guidance of the Lord. When He leads us we can be sure of safe arrival at our destination.