25 – The Cloudy Pillar

From the day the tabernacle was constructed in the midst of the Israelite camp till the day they crossed the Jordan, the Cloud of the Lord was inseparably associated with it.  The Cloud rested upon the portable temple of the Most High right above the ark of the covenant and between the cherubim while the Israelites camped in the wilderness.  Then it moved in the air above the ark while they were on the march to a different place.  When The Cloud stopped, so did the Israelites and that is where they set up camp again. 

Of all the manifestations of God’s gracious presence to His people, the Cloudy Pillar was the most striking and glorious.  There was only one pillar, but it was a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. A more modern  illustration would be the policy of Alexander the Great.  He ordered a lofty pole to be set up and on its summit placed a brazier filled with combustible materials.  This was kept burning all the time over the general’s tent when they were camped, and moved in the front of the army when they were on a march.  This way they always knew where to find him.  They called it “a cloudy banner by day, a flaming beacon by night.”

Besides being designated the cloudy pillar, it was occasionally called the following names: 

  1. The Angel of God – It was called this just as other inanimate objects that served God’s purposes are sometimes designated in the Bible.  Exodus 14: 19  – And the angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of the cloud went from before their face, and stood behind them:

  2. The Lord – The pillar served the purpose of enveloping or enshrining the shekinah, a symbol of God’s presence with His people.  It was a bright flame that never went out, and stood for God Himself coming down to be in the presence of His people.  Exodus 13: 21 – The Lord went before them in a pillar of cloud, to lead them the way.

  3. God’s Throne – It was also God’s moveable throne while the Israelites marched from one place to another, and it was His stationary throne while they were encamped about it.  The shekinah presence of the pillar penetrated down through the roof of the tabernacle and filled the space between the mercy seat and the overarching wings of the cherubim that stood on each end of the golden throne.  Thus God was enthroned within and without the tabernacle.  When the tabernacle had to be taken down, that particular portion of the flame rested on the ark of the covenant and ascended into the cloudy pillar.  As soon as the Levites bearing the ark had taken their place in the forefront of the host, the cloudy pillar took up its position in the air right above this the most sacred of all the objects pertaining to the tabernacle.  Thus the cloud and the ark were inseparably associated which accounts for the people sometimes following the one and sometimes the other.  The cloudy pillar served many useful purposes:

  • First, It was a guide – To lead was its main mission as it was to lead the Israelites and give them light by day and by night.  It was very imposing in height and definitely demanded the obedience of the many thousands of Israelites.  It never led them astray, even though they might have thought so at times.  It always led them in a way that God’s Glory could be revealed to them in a mighty way.  The pillar was a striking illustration of the long-suffering kindness of our Heavenly Father.  Neither murmurings, nor rebellions, nor idolatry, nor ingratitude, ever drove away the angel of his presence.  In this way God was like a loving parent who lovingly and tenderly cared for His children.  The pillar led all the way from Egypt, and only disappeared when it had accomplished its mission by bringing the pilgrims safely and triumphantly to the end of their journey.

  • Second, It was a light  –  If the pillar had not changed its aspects, it would have become invisible when night came.  As soon as the dark came, though, it became a bright shining and fiery pillar that was visible to every eye.  It was not only a guide, but illuminated the whole camp during the pitch black nights in the desert.  The night hours would have probably been very dismal without the cloud of fire.

  • Third, It was a shade  –  Psalms 105: 39 says that He spread a “cloud for covering”.  The pillar spread out to such a wide extent at the top that it overshadowed them wherever they were, marching or stationery,  so that the blistering sun would not make them miserable.

  • Fourth, It was a shield  –  Deuteronomy 1: 30 says “The Lord your God which goeth before you, He shall fight for you.”  Salvation was a sure thing for Israel when the angel pillar stood between them and their foes.  The most noticeable of this was in Exodus, when they were at the Red Sea, with the Egyptian army right behind them.  As the Israelites saw the Egyptians advancing upon them, they saw that there was nowhere to go.  There were steep mountains on both sides, the Red Sea before them, and the Egyptians behind them.  God saw their fear of dying and quickly moved the Cloud behind them.  The Cloud stood between them.  On the Egyptian side it was total darkness, and on the Israelite side there shone much light for them so they wouldn’t be afraid.  Then God wanted to show His Glory even more, so He told them to go through the Red Sea.  He opened the waters to make a way for them.  Then when they had passed He moved the cloud that was restraining the Egyptians.  As they went into the Sea to pursue, the waters closed over them and killed all of them.  Thus the Pillar of Cloud was a Shield of Protection for them against their enemies.

  • Fifth, It was an oracle  –  We are told in Exodus 33: 9 that the Lord talked with Moses in the cloudy pillar.  From this oracle sounded forth words necessary for the instruction and direction of the congregation.

  • Sixth, It was an avenger  –  When the Lord wished to make known His displeasure, the cloudy pillar assumed a very wrathful appearance.  Flashes of fire went forth from it to destroy Nadab and Abihu because of their rebellion against God.  Also fire came out from it and destroyed 250 men for rebellion.  People who were living in rebellion might have been troubled by the sight of it, but God’s obedient people were very comforted by it. 

With the above, we have covered some of the ends that were served by the fiery cloudy pillar.  It was a guide, a light, a shade, a shield, an oracle, and an avenger.  It led, it illumined, it shaded, it shielded, it spoke, it smiled, it frowned.  It showed the way, and beckoned to the thousands of Israel to follow.  It turned the darkness into light.  It warded off the darts of the noonday sun.  It was a bulwark of defense between the Hebrews and the Egyptians.  It fought for the chosen people.  When pleased it rewarded, and when provoked it punished.  It continued its friendly guidance, its light, its protection, its counsel, and its encouragement, until it conducted the many thousands of Israel safely across the Jordan and into that good land and large, the promised land of Canaan. 

Of all the objects ever seen by the Hebrew pilgrims this was the grandest, the most imposing, and the most resplendent.  The people who actually saw it were extremely privileged and blessed, for it was to them, and to them only, that pertained the “glory”.

The Christian pilgrim has no such visible manifestation of the Deity as he travels through the wilderness of this world to the heavenly Canaan.  He must hold on to the way of truth without ever seeing “the glory” with his own eyes.  His privileges as a child of God are no less, though, than the Israelites who saw the cloud.  The fiery cloudy pillar was mainly the dispenser of temporal blessings, and in itself was temporary, so it eventually passed away when it was no longer needed. 

He is even more personally  present to us now in the form of the Holy Spirit than He ever was to the Israelites.  We now have the true light that dwells within us if we are a Christian.  The Moon of the Old Testament is succeeded by the glorious Sun of the New.  Christ is to the Christian pilgrim what the cloudy pillar was to the Israelites. 

  • Like the Cloudy Pillar, Christ is a Guide – First, He guides by the example that He set forth for us while He lived on earth.  Second, He guides by His Word that He left us so that we could have the direction we need.  Third, Christ guides by the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is here now with us to lead and guide us into all truth.  If we will follow Him, we won’t make mistakes and be led astray by Satan.

  • Like the Cloudy Pillar, Christ Is A Light  –  He lights the way for the Christian, and it is His Office to pour celestial light on the eyes of the spiritually blind.  That same great light chases away our darkness, and enables to go forth on our spiritual journey in a victorious way.

  • Like the Cloudy Pillar, Christ Is a Shade  –  He provides shelter for us to protect us from the burning, fiery, and deceitful rays of Satan that would otherwise destroy us. 

  • Like the Cloudy Pillar, Christ Is a Shield  –  Our strength as a Christian lies in the fact that we know our own weakness in the flesh.  This prompts us to hold on to God’s almighty shield that is able to defend us in every trial and test.  We can always put our trust in the shield of Christ to protect us and keep us safe.

  • Like the Cloudy Pillar, Christ Is an Oracle  –  He truly is the Word, and the grand medium of communication between God and man.

  • Like the Cloudy Pillar, Christ Is an Avenger  –  Christ’s mercy is great and long-lasting and He does not want any person to perish.  He looks with a smiling face on mankind regardless of so much sin, and wants every person to repent, believe and be saved.

So Christ is just as real as the fiery cloudy pillar that went before the Hebrews.  He is a Guide, a Light, a Shade, a Shield, an Oracle, an Avenger, a fast Friend, and a constant Attendant.  He leads, He enlightens, He screens, He shields, He defends, He instructs, and He commands.  If we will but fix our eyes upon Him, we will find Him much more precious to us than the cloudy pillar was to the Israelites.  Christ will never depart from us like the cloudy fiery pillar did.  He will always be there to intercede to the Father on our behalf so that we can always have much more mercy and grace than we could ever deserve.

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About Cathy Deaton

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My name is Cathy Deaton, Owner of Fan the Flame Ministries. God has radically changed my life, and He has shown me that I am to share the awesome things I am learning with the Millennial Generation (1981 – 1996.)  I have found that the Holy Spirit is an awesome teacher when I listen to, obey, and apply what He teaches to my life. You truly can make a difference for God in an uncertain world.HVCL-Logo-Web-Header-web