For forty years, a special pillar guided the Israelites until they entered the Promised Land of Canaan. Although it changed in appearance, from a pillar of cloud by day to one of fire by night, its purpose never changed. The pillar was a visual reminder of God's abiding presence. He was with them always--both day and night. The Lord demanded that the Hebrew people follow Him in a twofold manner: physically, as they traveled when the pillar moved, and spiritually, by obeying the Law He gave them on Sinai.
Imagine with me, if you will, what it would have been like to live 3500 years ago and follow the pillar of cloud and fire. It is certain that one would not always understand the movement of the pillar. Questions such as, "Why are we headed in this direction?" or "Why did we stop here?" were certainly asked by the doubters of the day. There were times during the journey where the pillar stopped and did not move for months. Sometimes the Israelites camped for several years at a time without pulling up their tent stakes and moving (Num. 9:15-23; cf. Num. 33). But, when God decided the time was right, the pillar would ascend and start moving again. That was the signal for the people to pack up and get going! No Israelite needed a map or compass in that day for navigation. Their only requirement was following the pillar--the cloud that never went away during the day and the fire that never ceased during the hours of darkness. One would feel safe knowing that, as long as he obeyed God and followed the pillar, the intended destination would eventually be reached.
Now, let us come back to 2005 A.D. and make some applications (cf. Rom. 15:4). In this age, we are not guided by a cloud or fire. We are to be guided by the Bible, God's inspired word! Let us think of the Scriptures as our modern-day guiding pillar of cloud and fire.
The Bible is our pillar of cloud in that it guides us, even when we think we know where we're going in the daylight. There are times in life when things seem to be perfect; the sun is shining brightly, metaphorically speaking. During these times we may be tempted to try to guide ourselves without the help of God's word, simply by our own vision. May we never give in to that temptation! Listen to these words of wisdom from the prophet Jeremiah: "O LORD, I know the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps" (10:23). Now admittedly, one may think he knows what he's doing on his own. He may believe he is seeing clearly and that he is successfully guiding himself. However, such a one is deceiving himself if he is not following God's word as his guide in all aspects of life. Sooner or later, such a one will stumble and fall. None of the Israelites would have entered the Promised Land had they ceased following the pillar and attempted to guide themselves to Canaan.
We will conclude our thoughts on this theme tomorrow.