Chapter 4 – The Pillar of Cloud and Fire

“And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of 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. “And the Angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud went from before their face, and stood behind them: and it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel; and it was a cloud of darkness to them, but it gave light by night to these: so that the one came not near the other all night.” Exodus 14: 19, 20. “Then a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter into the tent of the congregation, because the cloud abode thereon, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And when the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the children of Israel went onward in all their journeys: but if the cloud were not taken up then they journeyed not till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the Lord was upon the tabernacle by day, and the fire was on it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys.” Exodus 40: 34-38. “And the cloud of the Lord was upon them by day, when they went out of the camp. And it came to pass, when the ark set forward, that Moses said, ‘Rise up, Lord, and let Thine enemies be scattered, and let them that hate Thee flee before Thee.’ And when it rested, he said, ‘Return, 0 Lord, unto the many thousands of Israel.’” Numbers 10: 34, 36. “Moreover, Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea. ” 1 Corinthians 10: 1, 2.

The application to the Holy Spirit of these beautiful passages, and of the sublime figure that runs through all of them, is rendered certain by the words of the prophet Isaiah, in the sixty-third chapter. “In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them: in His love and in His pity He redeemed them: and He bare them, and carried them all the days of old. But they rebelled, and vexed His Holy Spirit: therefore He was turned to be their enemy, and He fought against them. Then He remembered the days of old, Moses, and his people, saying, Where is He that brought them up out of the sea with the shepherd of his flock? Where is He that put His Holy Spirit within him? That led them by the right hand of Moses with His glorious arm, dividing the water before them, to make Himself an everlasting name? That led them through the deep, as an horse in the wilderness, that they should not stumble? Asa beast goeth down into the valley, the Spirit of the Lord caused him to rest: so didst Thou lead Thy people, to make Thyself a glorious name.”

The prophet expressly recognizes the Holy Spirit as the presence who dwelt in the midst of Israel, and led them through the Red Sea and the wilderness. The figure under which He is represented in these passages is striking and sublime. It was customary for ancient armies, when marching through a foreign country, to be led, especially by night, by great illuminations of torches and beacons carried in front of the advancing host, and rising in the darkness with lurid smoke and flame. It would not, therefore, be altogether surprising for the host of Israel to see in front the majestic signal of the pillar of cloud and fire; and yet, this was no merely human beacon light. With a majesty unearthly and divine, it reared its fiery column to the sky, and marched, like a mighty sentinel, before the host, pausing when they were to rest, moving when they were to advance, separating them from their foes, and sometimes spreading its folds like the canopy of a great celestial tent about their heads, and sheltering them from the fiery heat of the desert, sun.

1. It was a supernatural symbol. They were to be guided henceforth by Jehovah Himself. This was their peculiar distinction, that “the Lord alone did lead them.” This was the place where Moses was interceding for them with God. “Wherein shall we be distinct from all the other people of the earth, except Thou go with us,” and His gracious answer was, “My presence shall go with you and I will give you rest.” The pillar of cloud and fire did not represent even an angel’s guidance and guardianship. It was the sign of God’s own presence.

In the same way the Church of the living God has a supernatural leadership. The Christian has a divine guide. Our holy Christianity is not a collection of wise human opinions, and an organization combining the strongest forces of human wisdom and power. It is nothing, if it is not divine. Give us a supernatural religion, or none at all.

The church of the Apostles was a living miracle, and so should the church of the nineteenth century be. Anything less and anything else is a disappointment to God and to every true man. Not with such transcendent portents as in days of old does He now appear. But none the less real are His living presence and His mighty working in the hearts of His people and in the events of His providence. Why should God be less real and glorious today than in the days of Moses, the triumphs of Joshua, and the miracles of Pentecost? Let us send up to Him the heartfelt prayer, “Awake, O arm of the Lord, as in the days of old!” And let us hear in answer, His own summons to us: “Awake, awake, put on thy strength, O Zion, thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem!”

2. The pillar of cloud and fire was a source of light, of truth and guidance to His people. Barbaric superstition delights in the wonderful, but divine power manifests itself in the practical and the useful. God wants not to play with us, as a magician with his wondering audience, but to guide us as a shepherd would his flock. Because He wants to give us His life, His Word has little to say about subjects that appeal principally to our curiosity, but speaks mainly to the intelligence, the understanding, and the heart.

The Holy Ghost comes not to give us extraordinary manifestations, but to give us life and light. The nearer we come to Him, the more simple will His illumination and leading be. He comes to “guide us into all truth.” He comes to shed light upon our own hearts, and to show us ourselves. He comes to reveal Christ, to give, and then to illumine the Holy Scriptures, and to make divine realities vivid and clear to our spiritual apprehension. He comes as a Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ, to “enlighten the eyes of our understanding, that we may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power.”

Without Him there is no true light. These holy mysteries, these divine realities which to us are so dear, are incomprehensible to the most intelligent human minds. Two men sitting side by side hear the same truths, read the same words, live under the same religious influences. To the one they are uninteresting and unreal, while to the other they are his very life. As of old, when the same cloud was light to Israel, and darkness to the Egyptians, “so that they came not near each other all the night,” so still it is true that “the natural man perceiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, neither indeed can he know them, for they are spiritually discerned; but he that is spiritual searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.”

3. As it was a pillar of cloud as well as of light, so, as we have seen, the Holy Ghost is as dark to the unbeliever as He is light to the saint. The things of God are as dark to the world as they are beautiful and plain to the true disciple. And even to God’s children there is an element of cloud, as well as luminousness.

There is a veiled light which is as necessary sometimes as the unclouded sun. The Holy Ghost is given to reveal many things to us, “but we cannot bear them now.” He reserves His deeper teachings until we can stand them and understand them. We do not always see our way, and it is better that we do not. We must learn, as well as trust, even in the cloud. The very highest lessons on faith are taught by the veiled light, and the way we cannot understand. “I will lead them by the way they know not,”is still His word to every trusting child; but He always adds, “These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them.”

The presence of clouds upon your sky, and trials in your path, is the very best evidence that you are following the pillar of cloud, and walking in the presence of God. They had to enter the cloud before they could behold the glory of the transfiguration. A little later that same cloud became the chariot to receive the ascending Lord, and it is still waiting as the chariot that will bring His glorious appearing. Still it is true that while “clouds and darkness are round about His throne,”mercy and truth are ever in their midst, and shall go before His face.

Perhaps the most beautiful and gracious use of the cloud was to shelter them from the fiery sun. Like a great umbrella, that majestic pillar spread its canopy above the camp, and became a shielding shadow from the burning heat in the treeless desert. No one who has never felt an oriental sun can fully appreciate how much this means, a shadow from the heat. So the Holy Spirit comes between us and the fiery, scorching rays of sorrow and temptation, and under His shadow we sit and sing:

“All my hope on Thee is stayed,
All my help from Thee I bring;
Cover my defenseless head
With the shadow of Thy wing.”

4. It was a pillar of fire. Fire is more than light. It not only illumines, it warms, it purifies, it destroys. It is the same Holy Ghost who baptizes with water and with fire, but it is not the same measure of the baptism. The baptism of fire is a baptism that penetrates the inmost fibers of our being, consuming the old life, cleansing and quickening our entire being, and enduing us with power from on high. God wants to bring every one of us to such a place, that we shall not fear the fire, because everything combustible will have been consumed.

5. The pillar went before them. They saw it first in front of them, far off, and far above them. It came to them first when they were in Egypt, and it led them out of the land of bondage.
And so the Holy Spirit comes to us even in our life of sin, and leads us out of the world to Christ, and to begin our pilgrimage toward our Promised Land. The presence of the Holy Ghost in His first manifestation is distant, and we shrink, perhaps, from His closer touch. We know Him as One that brings to us the knowledge of God, the message of Christ, and the hope of salvation, and guides us in our first steps into Christian life; but we have not yet come to know Him as our indwelling Guest and our everlasting Comforter.

6. The pillar of cloud came closer to them, passed through the camp, and baptized them in its very presence, and then passed and stood behind them. This was as they went through the waters of the Red Sea. When that hour of peril came, and they walked down by faith into what seemed a living death, then their glorious Guide came nearer to their trembling hearts, enfolded them in His very arms, and then stood behind them like a wall of defense against their foes. Thus when we step out in living faith, and cross the Red Sea which separates us from our past and sinful life, and we go down into the waters of death with Jesus, the Holy Spirit comes nigher and baptizes us with His very touch and presence.

The baptism of water, which is the type of death, is significant of the baptism of the Holy Ghost. When Jesus went down into the Jordan and received baptism at the hands of John, “He saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit, like a dove descending, and it abode upon Him.” And the promise of the Spirit, in Acts was connected with baptism. “Repent and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remissions of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” So we read that “they were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” As they stepped into the Red Sea, the heavenly cloud enwrapped its folds around them, and they were immersed in both baptisms. Probably at the moment when the cloud passed through the midst of the camp, they were less conscious of its presence than they had been when it stood in the front.

So when we pass into the cloud we are not conscious of it. All we are conscious of is mist and darkness, so that, frequently, when we receive the Holy Ghost we are not directly conscious of what is occurring. We are, perhaps, so plunged in darkness, so consumed with hunger and desire, and so constantly reaching out to God that we do not realize our own condition. All the better, should it be so. A friend said to me the other day, “I am so hungry. I so long for the baptism of the Holy Ghost.” I asked him, “Who made you so hungry? Who gave you this longing? It was the very Holy Ghost. He is already with you in the shadow-side of the blessing, and He who gave the capacity for the appetite is Himself near to meet it and satisfy it.”

7. The pillar stood behind them. The Holy Spirit is ever our rearguard. He takes our past and hides it from us. Behind them lay Egypt and the Egyptians, all the past with its sin and its shame, and all their adversaries. Thus the Holy Ghost shuts us off from all that we have been, and from all that can come against us. Oh, how blessed it is, to put Him between you and your sins, between you and your troubles, between you and your enemies, between you and your memories, and to have Him for your glorious rearward!

8. The pillar of cloud and fire, a little later, came and dwelt within them. There came a day — and it was an era in their history — when a very wonderful change occurred in the position of that pillar. It was the first day of the first month, in the second year of their history. They had just completed the erection of the tabernacle, that simple and divinely planned little sanctuary, which was God’s perfect pattern and type of the Church and the individual saint. Every board, tache, loop, and curtain had been finished and placed according to God’s precise command. Every article of furniture was in its place, and they simply took their hands off, and gave it God, anointing it with oil, as the symbol of the Holy Spirit’s receiving and accepting the offering. Immediately that majestic cloud which had crowned the mount with its fiery glory, and floated in the heavens in its lofty grandeur, stooped from the skies and entered that holy place; and there, in the Holy of Holies, between the wings of the cherubim and the mercy seat, it took its place as the glowing Shekinah, that mysterious light and awful flame, which henceforth became the supernatural sign of God’s immediate presence, and which lit up the holy chamber with supernatural light and glory. God had moved into His consecrated and accepted abode, and henceforth He was no longer at a distance on a throne of glory, but within the midst of Israel, seated on the throne of grace.

And so in the opening verses of the very next chapter we read that God spoke unto Moses, not from the mountain, nor from the cloud, but from the tabernacle. Mystery of mysteries! Gift of gifts! Privilege unspeakable and divine! This is the promise which He has at length fulfilled to His Church and His people, and which every believer may now personally claim. “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” “I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.” “I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
“If any man will hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in unto him, and sup with him, and he with me.” “He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.” “At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.” “If a man love me, he will keep my words; and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.”

Where is thy God? Yonder on a throne of glory, in the heights of heaven, or here in the sanctuary of your heart, enthroned within you? Yes, this is the second great era of Christian life, the first day of the second year. The first year was the Passover, the sprinkled blood, the acceptance of Jesus as the Savior. That was the beginning of Israel’s history, for God said it should be the beginning of months. But this is the second blessing, a crisis just as definite, an era just as marked, a moment just as eternally memorable. That was Calvary. This is Pentecost. It has its time, and there is a day, when Pentecost has fully come. No soul that has ever known it can mistake it or forget it. Beloved, has it come to you, or rather has He come to abide in you forever?

9. The pillar of cloud and fire continued to lead them thenceforward in all their journeys. When they were to march, it moved before them. When they were to rest, it paused and spread its covering wings above them, as the mother bird brooding over her young, as the mighty canopy of a heavenly tent under which they were gathered. And so the Holy Spirit is our Guide, our Leader and our Resting-place. There are times when He presses us forward into prayer, into service, into suffering, into new experiences, new duties, new claims of faith and hope and love; but there are times when He arrests us in our activity, and rests us under His overshadowing wing, and quiets us in the secret place of the Most High, teaching us some new lesson, breathing into us some deeper strength or fullness, and then leading us on again, at His bidding alone. He is the true guide of the saint, and the true leader of the Church, our wonderful Counselor, our unerring Friend. He who would deny the personal guidance of the Holy Ghost in order that he might honor the Word of God as our only guide, must dishonor that other word of promise, that His sheep shall know His voice, and that His hearkening and obedient children shall hear a Voice behind them saying, “This is the way, walk ye in it.”

And now let us notice that the pillar of cloud which had entered the tabernacle did not linger there and cease to be visible externally; but it rose from the presence chamber where the Shekinah shone, and hovered above it, and then spread over the sky just as before, an external as well as an internal presence. The difference was this. In its first stage it was an external sign only; then it became an internal presence; and then, finally, it become both internal and external, the Shekinah within and the cloud above.

So in our earlier experiences we know the Holy Ghost only at a distance, in things that happen in a providential direction, or in the Word alone; but after awhile we receive Him as an inward Guest, and He dwells in our very midst, and He speaks to us in the innermost chambers of our being. The external working of His power does not cease, but it is increased and seems the more glorious. The Power that dwells within us works without us, answering prayer, healing sickness, overruling providence, “Doing exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the Power that worketh in us.” There is a double presence of the Lord for the consecrated believer. He is present in the heart, and He is mightily present in the events of life. He is the Christ in us, the Christ of all the days, with all power in heaven and earth.

As that pillar led them all the way, triumphing over their enemies, dividing the waters of the Jordan, and never leaving them until they entered the promised land, so the Holy Ghost is our Wonder-worker, our all sufficient God and Guardian. He is waiting in these days to work as mightily in the affairs of men as in the days of Moses, of Daniel, and of Paul.

10. It will be noticed, however, that after they entered the Land of Promise, all the external manifestations of God’s presence disappeared, and the vision that came to Joshua in front of Jericho — the Son of God with a drawn sword in His hand — became henceforth a pledge of the same presence, protection, and power. Henceforth, the external sign was withdrawn, and their Leader was to be with them by faith and not by sight. In like manner, when we come into the fullness of Christ, we have fewer signs, we have less of the wonderful in form; but we have more of the working of faith and power.

God showed Himself to Joshua, not by the luminous cloud, but by the falling of the walls of Jericho, by the defeat of the Canaanites at Beth-horan, by the capture of Hebron, by the conquest of the Anakim, and by the subjugation of all the thirty-one kings of Canaan. These were the wonders of His power and the signals of His presence.

Thus God, as He leads us into a deeper life of faith and power, will show to us His mind, and manifest His presence by the things He does every day through us, by the salvation of souls around us, by the breaking of proud and sinful hearts, by the opening of heathen nations to the Gospel, by the working of His providence in the events of our time, by the evangelization of the world, by these mighty overturnings which are to bring the glorious advent of His Son.

But in all this, the blessing will be given to faith, and not to sight. We must learn to trust the Holy Ghost, even when we cannot perceive the signals of His presence.

In conclusion; have we kept pace with this advancing cloud? Have we followed Him from Egypt down into the depths of the Red Sea and the floods of the Jordan? Have we let Him lead us into the Promised Land? Has He come to be our holy Guest, our indwelling Presence? Have we proved His mighty works with us as well as in us, and has He led us out into victories of faith and service for which His own heart is longing, that He may glorify Jesus and hasten His return? Shall we not send up the prayer:

Holy Ghost I bid Thee welcome,
Come and be my holy Guest;
Heavenly Dove, within my bosom
Make Thy home, and build Thy nest.