The Pillar of Cloud and Fire; An Old Testament Picture of Christ
“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
For our devotional thought this week, I want to turn our attention to the pillar of cloud and fire that led the Israelites through the wilderness. Clearly it is an Old Testament picture of Jesus Christ. But before exploring this beautiful comparison, a point of clarification must be made. There is a common misconception about the pillar of cloud and fire in which some have envisioned a daytime cloud that transformed into a flame of fire at night. But this could not be further from the truth; for the pillar was both cloud and fire continually. The lower section was a spread out like a covering in the shape of a cloud. The upper portion was shaped like a column and reached towards the heavens flamed with fire. It was not two separate clouds that changed depending on the time of day. Let us keep the correct description in mind while we explore this Old Testament snapshot of our Savior.
To begin with, the pillar of cloud and fire directed the people of God on which way to go. When it moved, they moved. When it stopped, they stopped. They followed it wherever it directed. Like a compass navigating the Israelites through the desert wilderness, the pillar of cloud and fire showed them “the way” in which they were to take (Exodus 13:21B). And by going “the way” in which God directed, they were delivered from Egyptian bondage. Likewise, Jesus is “the way,” and deliverance from the bondage of sin can only be found in Him (John 14:6). Without the pillar of cloud and fire, the Israelites could have easily been disillusioned by mirages caused by the heat or even the miles of indistinguishable landscape associated with the desert wilderness. But with the guidance provided by the pillar of cloud and fire, they knew “the way” to go. Likewise, Jesus is “the way” we must travel though the wilderness of this sin-sick world. It is easy to become disillusioned with all of the attractive mirages the world sets before our eyes, but we must follow God’s direction and stay focused on His Son Jesus.
Secondly, the pillar of cloud and fire provided protection for the Israelites. The Bible says that in the pillar of cloud and fire was the very presence of God (Exodus 13:21A, Leviticus 16:2). This means God protected His people by providing His continual presence (Exodus 13:22). This protection was twofold. First, they were protected from their enemies (Exodus 14:20). Secondly, they were protected from the extreme temperatures associated with the desert wilderness; for it shielded them from the excessive heat of day, and provided warmth during the cold desert nights. Likewise, Jesus promised His continual protective presence to those who follow Him (Matthew 28:20).
Finally, the pillar of cloud and fire was the Israelite’s source of light as it illuminated their path. Likewise, Jesus is the Light of the world (John 8:12). Yet even though He is the Light of the world, most of this world is blind to His truth. John 1:5 says “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” Interestingly, this hard truth is clearly displayed in our Old Testament picture of Christ. When the pillar of cloud and fire settled between the Israelite and the Egyptian camps, it was light to the Israelites and only darkness to the Egyptians (Exodus 14:20). God concealed and revealed all in the same moment! With this in mind, it should not surprise us that the pillar of cloud and fire only confused the Israelites (Exodus 14:24).
Each day as we venture out into our uncharted future, may we be humbly reminded of the Israelites as they ventured through the uncharted territory of the wilderness. They trusted the Lord by following the pillar of cloud and fire. So too, may we trust the Lord by following His Son Jesus.