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"The Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night. He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people." — Exodus 13:21-22.

This institution was necessary, for there was no path in the desert, and they had no maps, no pioneers, no guides. But, says God, I have not brought you out of Egypt to leave you to wander and perish in the wilderness. Behold your conductor unto the rest and the inheritance which the Lord your God giveth you. Accordingly, by this, they were to be regulated in all their journeying. As this rose, they rose. As this paused, they paused. As this turned to the right hand or to the left, they turned. It sometimes called them to leave a more endeared spot, and to stop in a less inviting scene, but they were not at liberty to cling to the one, or decline the other, the signal was instantly decisive. This pillar was obviously nothing less than a real miracle, yet how little were the observers affected by it. They sinned, and even committed idolatry with this hovering prodigy always over them! We are prone to ascribe too much moral efficacy to such supernatural appearances. They soon became as unimpressive and uninfluential as the ordinary means of grace are with us.

It was a symbol of the Divine Presence. "The Lord was in the pillar." It was this nearness of God that insured their safety, and gave them their distinction and pre-eminence. There he was always at hand, always in view. "And," says Moses, "what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them as the Lord our God is in all things that we call upon him for?"

But how extensively adapted was this provision to their state and exigences! It was both a pillar of a cloud, and a pillar of fire, to lead them in the way. The one appearance was for the day, the other for the night. Fire by day would have added to the dazzling and fervidness of a burning sky; the pillar was therefore a cloud by day, and screened them like a large umbrella from the scorching rays of the sun. Cloud by night would have added to the gloom, the darkness, and the dread of danger; the pillar was therefore a fire by night, to lick up the unwholesome damps, to warm the chilling atmosphere, and to afford them a light by which they could see to move about in their tents, and also to travel, as they often did, after the sun was set.

If this ordinance showed his wisdom and goodness, the continuance of the blessing evinced his patience; for, notwithstanding their unworthiness, and their provocations, and their various corrections, this pillar was not taken away from before the people, till they reached the border of Jordan, and came to their journey's end!

He has a people for his Name now. They are only strangers and pilgrims on earth, bound for a better country, that is, a heavenly. This they would never reach, if they were left to themselves. But the God of Israel is with them. They have not the same sensible proof of his presence as the Jews had; yet they have real evidence of it, and it is satisfactory to their own minds. He keeps them from falling. He accommodates himself to their conditions. He is a very present help in trouble. He makes his goodness to pass before them. He leads them by his word, and his Spirit, and his providence. He has also said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. Therefore they may boldly say, "This God is our God for ever and ever: He will be our guide even unto death".

"Thus, when our first release we gain
From Sin's old yoke and Satan's chain,
We have this desert world to pass —
A dang'rous and a tiresome place.

He feeds and clothes us all the way;
He guides our footsteps lest we stray;
He guards us with a powerful hand,
And brings us to the promised land."

Morning Exercises For Everyday In The Year
By Rev. William Jay

 
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