Nehemiah, the cupbearer to the Persian King Artaxerxes, describes something which is unique in all history. Speaking of Israel in the wilderness, he says of God, “Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the desert. By day the pillar of cloud did not cease to guide them on their path, nor the pillar of fire by night to shine on the way they were to take” (Nehemiah 9:19). What’s he saying? He is describing something that can only be described as supernatural. God’s presence in the midst of these who had fled Egypt was manifest by a cloud that covered the tabernacle by day, providing relief from the burning desert sun, and at night the cloud turned into a pillar of fire that provided warmth and also brought fear to the hearts of their enemies.
When Pharaoh sent his chariots to intercept them when they fled Egypt, the pillar of fire moved between them and the army. No wonder they hesitated to take on these rag-tag slaves who were led by the hosts of heaven. As long as the children of Israel were in the desert, for forty long years, God provided this unique covering for His people.
A study of how God related to His people through history shows that the focus went from the tabernacle in the wilderness, to the temple during the period of the kingdom, to the indwelling of a believer’s heart which becomes the temple of the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity.
OK, we are living in the world of technology. Does God really care what happens to us today? Is He there at all when our enemies are nipping at our heels? Some people think not. They assume that God went back home, closed the door, and left us to defend ourselves on our own.
What I’m about to say may surprise you, but here is it. The same care which God had for His people during the wilderness wandering is demonstrated in the lives of those who follow Jesus Christ today. How so?
He guided them with the cloud by day and with light from the fire all night. Psalm 78:14
In Moses’ day, the visible presence of God was seen by the cloud and the pillar of fire which was over the tabernacle, a portable meeting place divided between the holy place and the holy of holies, with outer courts where people came to meet the Almighty. In the New Testament, Paul says that God made your body His temple and that He literally indwells you.
Jesus also made promises that seem to even go beyond his relationship to those in the wilderness. He said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). During the wilderness wandering, God made provision for His people through a substance we call manna, a kind of seed cake that apparently was very good. In the New Testament God promised to meet all of your needs according to His riches in glory.
Peter, who knew what the implications were when you go fishing and don’t catch enough to feed your family, let alone enough to sell, said that God’s “divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:3).
True, it might be more comforting if you saw a cloud over your home by day and fire over it by night, yet taking the promises of God by faith, you realize there is a covering that the enemy can never penetrate.
Take time to read the book of Exodus, starting with chapter twelve, and notice how God provided for His people. It’s a visual picture of how He still provides for His people today.
Resource reading: Exodus 16:1-36