The Pillar of Cloud and Fire

When we focus on the Holy Spirit, we so often disregard anything from the Old Testament because the focus through that Testament is on God the Father and not the Spirit or the Son; and the occasions where the Holy Spirit is mentioned, it is about certain extraordinary individuals receiving the Holy Spirit, or operating under the Spirit.

But when we have that mindset, we are too narrow thinking. The Holy Spirit was present and involved and active right through the Old Testament, albeit mostly incognito.

I want to focus on an Old Testament phenomenon that was vital for the exodus of the Israelites from the land of Egypt and captivity and which enabled them to enter the Promised Land.  Nowhere in this piece of Scripture is the Holy Spirit mentioned but when we consider the attributes of the Holy Spirit, as we have been doing over the past months, we see the Spirit embodied throughout this event.

Isaiah 63:11ff says:

Then they remembered the days of old, of Moses his servant. Where is the one who brought them up out of the sea with the shepherds of his flock? Where is the one who put within them his holy spirit, who caused his glorious arm to march at the right hand of Moses, who divided the waters before them to make for himself an everlasting name, who led them through the depths? Like a horse in the desert, they did not stumble. Like cattle that go down into the valley, the spirit of the Lord gave them rest. Thus you led your people, to make for yourself a glorious name.

 

Isaiah expressly recognized the Holy Spirit as the presence that dwelt in the midst of the Israelites and led them through the Red Sea and the wilderness.[1]

What we are talking about is the pillar of fire (by night) and the pillar of cloud (by day) that lead the Israelites through out of Egypt and through the desert to the Promised Land.

The pillar of fire and cloud was supernatural. It was the presence of God with his people.  The Holy Spirit is the presence of God in our lives.

Firstly, it is significant that the pillar was fire.

Exodus 24:16 For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from within the cloud. 17 To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. 18 Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain.

Fire not only lights but it warms. Remember John Wesley, the founder of Methodist denomination writing that as he received the Holy Spirit, his spirit was strangely warmed. 

But also fire can destroy and purify.  The fire of the Holy Spirit consumes our old life, and purifies our souls.

1 Peter 1:22 Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth [through the Spirit] so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. 23 You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.

Secondly, the pillar led the people. Likewise, the Holy Spirit is our guide, who leads us into the unknown as a trusted friend.  We have just seen the Para Olympics and in the races involving visually challenged people, they had a guide who ran or cycled with them. They could go where they could not see because they had a trusted guide or pilot.  That pilot and guide for us is the Holy Spirit.

Exodus 13:21 The Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night. 22 Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.

I find it really interesting that the cloud went before them leading them, as they left Egypt.  They were still in the land of their enemy.  God was leading them out of captivity by his presence.

 

That is also the case with the Holy Spirit for us. He leads us out of our captivity to sin. He does not wait until we are out of captivity before leading us; he commences leading us whilst we are in the land of Satan.

And it is also noteworthy that the cloud continued to lead them when they had crossed from Egypt onto the Sinai Peninsula and out of the enemies grasp.  It did not disappear once the Red Sea had been crossed and their enemy drowned.

The Holy Spirit continues to lead us, even when we have moved from the camp of the enemy and started on the journey to Christ, even once we have given our lives to him. He leads us through the unknown. He leads us through the dark times, through the deserts in our lives, through the times when we may feel abandoned

Nehemiah 9:12 … you led them by day with a pillar of cloud, and by night with a pillar of fire, to give them light on the way in which they should go

Not only does the Spirit lead, but he will not abandon us nor forsake us.  Through the darkness and through the light, he was with them, leading them on.

Nehemiah 9:19 you in your great mercies did not forsake them in the wilderness; the pillar of cloud that led them in the way did not leave them by day, nor the pillar of fire by night that gave them light on the way by which they should go.

The Holy Spirit leads us into wisdom and knowledge as well. We are told that the Holy Spirit comes as a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ.

Ephesians 1:17 [God] give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.

The Spirit leads us to the Promised Land of his glory. He teaches us and shows us the new way.

We also learn from Exodus that the cloud encompassed them. We know that the Holy Spirit is within us and around us, protecting us.  

 Numbers10:33ff So they set out from the mount of the Lord three days’ journey with the ark of the covenant of the Lord going before them three days’ journey, to seek out a resting place for them, 34 the cloud of the Lord being over them by day when they set out from the camp.

The cloud was over them, they were within the cloud. The cloud protected them from the burning desert sun.

The Holy Spirit protects us from the burning sun of temptation and sin.

One of the most amazing things about that cloud was that its function differed depending on whether you were his children or the persecutor of his children.

Exodus 14:19ff The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. 20 It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night.

Did you notice that?  To the Israelites waiting to cross the Red Sea, they were in the light.  To the pursuing Egyptians the cloud appeared dark and they could not see through it. They could not get to the Israelites that they wanted to recapture and re-enslave.

The Holy Spirit blinds our opposition but we walk in the light.  Many are the stories of bible runners going into places like China and of them passing through border control even though the guards had in clear sight the forbidden Bibles. Their eyes were blinded by the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit reveals God to us, but blinds those who do not believe from the truth.

1 Corinthians 2:14 Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

The pillar of fire and cloud led them to the Promised Land. Once they were there, it ceased to be an external manifestation.  It was not that the Holy Spirit had departed; it was that he became internal and integral with the people.

As they entered the Promised Land, God said to Joshua their leader: Joshua 1:I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

The pillar of cloud and fire stopped, the provision of the manna stopped, because they were in the Promised Land and could eat of God’s goodness provided there.  But God was evident among them, in his provision and his enabling them to beat the enemies in the Promised Land, first off with the defeat of the walls of Jericho.

It is the same for us. We see more signs and wonders before we believe and when we are new Christians than when we get longer in the tooth, but it does not mean we are without the Holy Spirit. They Holy Spirit is within us and continues to bless and guide us and because we know him he does not need to be external.

Initially we know the Holy Spirit only at a distance, in things that happen in a serendipitous manner or in the Word of God alone; but after a while we receive him as an inward guest, and he dwells in our midst, and he speaks to us in the innermost chambers of our being[2]

He is present in our hearts, and he is present in the events of our lives. He is the Christ in us, the Christ of all the days, with all the power in heaven and earth.[3]

Where is the cloud of His presence for you? 

Are you still in the land of the enemy being led out by the Holy Spirit? 

Have you crossed the Red Sea but are in a desert place and need his guiding and leading? 

Have you allowed the presence of God to rest within you (in old words, tabernacle with you, abide with you)? 

Are you closer to the Jordan River and the Promised Land than the Red Sea and captivity, but still rely heavily on the provision of the fire and cloud and the manna?

Or have you crossed the Jordan and now are fighting with the assistance of the Holy Spirit with the giants in the land?

In each of these places in our journeys, we need the Holy Spirit.  Have you let him take control, or are you wandering aimlessly hither and yon, master of your own destiny?

The words of an old prayer are applicable:

Holy Ghost I bid thee welcome, come and be my holy guest; Heavenly dove, within my bosom make thy home and build thy nest.



[1] A B Simpson The Holy Spirit or Power from on High 54

[2] Simpson 63

[3] Simpson 63