Summary: God led the children of Israel with a cloud by day and a fire by night. We have the Holy Spirit and God is still leading.
The children of Israel had been in captivity. They served as slaves in Egypt under Pharaoh’s leadership, a man who had forgotten Joseph and what God had done for his country under Joseph’s godly leadership. God sends a man named Moses to deliver His people from this bondage. After the ten plagues, Pharaoh finally decides to let God’s people go.
In our story today we immediately see a truth regarding God’s leading in our lives. God knows what we can handle. He knows what we are ready for physically, mentally and spiritually. The shortest route from Egypt to the promise land is only a few 100 miles at the most. But the shortest route is not always the best route. God knows that this route leads the people straight through the land of the Philistines. It’s not that God can’t handle the Philistines; there is no battle that the Lord is not able to give us the victory in. But God knows the heart of men as well. He knows that at this time the people are beat down. They’ve gone through years of hard labor and trials. Their moral is low; their bodies are weak and tired. God knows they are not up to the shortcut. He’s believes that if they face the Philistines at this time that they will not even attempt to fight. They will just turn and run back to Egypt. They will turn their backs without even giving God a chance to give them the victory.
There are many shortcuts in life that sometimes present themselves, shortcuts that God has cautioned us against. There are those who shortcut marriage, choosing to live together, a trial run they call it. There are those who take financial shortcuts, hoping that a roll of the dice or a lottery ticket will replace the years of hard work that others have put in to get to where they are now at. Many of these shortcuts leave us in positions that God never intended for us to be in, making choices we’re not ready to make. God did not lead us to the place where we find ourselves at and yet we then call out to Him for help, for guidance, for leadership. Follow God’s plan from the start. Stay in the path in which He leads. If you do stray, pray for His guidance to get back to where you should be.
And that is what we really want to talk about this morning. Lord, lead the way. A parallel passage to the one here in Exodus is Numbers 9:15-23. The people of Israel are going to follow God’s leading for the next 40 years. They will not always obey His leading but they will have His guidance available to them. They have something to follow that we don’t have today. God’s presence was manifested to them as a cloud by day and a fire by night. That would be nice in some ways wouldn’t it? Forget having a GPS to help you find an address. Just follow the cloud, follow the pillar of fire. (The cloud just made a left up there at that next street. Look, the pillar of fire has stopped right there in front of that house. This must be the place.) But we have something better! Each believer has the Holy Spirit living within them, giving them guidance and counsel throughout life.
The Word of God promises that we are sealed by the Holy Spirit. We are filled with the Holy Spirit. We can be controlled by the Holy Spirit if we’ll allow ourselves to be. We can be counseled by the Holy Spirit. We can be comforted by the Holy Spirit. I don’t need another cloud over my house. I’m thankful for the spring rains but I like the sunshine too. I don’t need another light outside my house at night. I grew up in the country. You could go out at night and look up at the stars. You could see the Milky Way. You could see the constellations. If I go outside where I live now all I see is an occasional jet flying over. The street light in front of my house lights up every room on the front of my house as though it were the middle of the day. But what I do want, what I do need is the Holy Spirit, God Himself living in me, guiding me, counseling me.
Back to our story, Numbers 9:17 tells us that when the cloud was taken up then the people journeyed. When the cloud stopped, the people stopped and pitched their tents. By the way, I noticed something interesting that goes along with this story, something that we’re told about back in Numbers 2. God gave Moses specific instructions regarding the order of the camp. Every place that they stopped and pitched their tents, they were to do so in a specific manner. The tabernacle where the people worshipped, the priests who cared for the tabernacle and who offered the sacrifices were to always be right in the middle. It was the central point of the community, God and the church in the middle, the focal point of all that was done. Like the hub of a wheel holding everything together, there was God and the tabernacle. That was always God’s plan. God does not want the church to be out on the outskirts of our lives, out on the edge of town, a destination that we reach on Sunday morning and Sunday night. God is to be central to our lives all week long, in all that we do. God taught this lesson to the people through His design of their camp.