The Exodus from Egypt, pt. 2
by Arthur W. Pink (1886-1952)
17And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, ‘Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt’: 18But God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red sea: and the children of Israel went up harnessed out of the land of Egypt.
19And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him: for he had straitly sworn the children of Israel, saying, ‘God will surely visit you; and ye shall carry up my bones away hence with you.’
20And they took their journey from Succoth, and encamped in Etham, in the edge of the wilderness. 21And 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: 22He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people.
“And it came to pass when Pharaoh had let the people go that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, ‘Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war and they return to Egypt’” (13:17). How this reminds us of Psalm 103:13-14: “Like as a father pitieth his children, so that Lord pitieth them that fear Him. For He knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust.” This people who had spent many long years in slavery were now starting out for the promised land, and it is beautiful to see this tender concern for them. It exemplifies a principle of general application in connection with the Lord’s dealings with His people. The Lord is not only very compassionate, but His mercies are “tender” (James 5:11). The Lord does not suffer His “babes” to be tested as severely as those who are more mature; witness the various trials to which He subjected Abraham — the command for him to offer Isaac was not the first but the last great test which he received. It was so here with Israel. Later, there would be much fighting when Canaan was reached, but at the beginning He led them not the way of the land of the Philistines, for that would have involved warfare. He had respect unto their weakness and timidity. “The Lord, in His condescending grace, so orders things for His people that they do not, at their first setting out, encounter heavy trials, which might have the effect of discouraging their hearts and driving them back.” (C.H.M.)
“God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines.” This is the first thing noticed by the Holy Spirit after Israel left the land of Egypt — God chose the way for His people through the wilderness. Unspeakably blessed is this. “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and He delighteth in his way” (Psalm 37:23). We are not left alone to choose our own path. “As many as are led by the Spirit of God they are the sons of God” (Romans 8:14). And what is it that the Spirit uses in His leading of us to-day? In this, as in everything, it is the written Word — “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet,” to reveal the pitfalls and obstacles of the way, “and a light unto my path” — to make clear the by-paths to be avoided (Psalm 119:105). What a full provision has been made for us! Nothing is left to chance, nothing to our own poor reasoning — “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
“But God led the people about through the way of the wilderness of the Red Sea” (13:8). It is often said that the “wilderness” had no place in the purpose of God for Israel. But this is certainly erroneous. It was God Himself who led the people round about “the way of the wilderness of the Red Sea.” It was God’s original intention that Israel should take exactly the route which they actually followed. Not only is this evident from the fact that the Pillar of Cloud led them each step of their journey to Canaan, but it was plainly intimated by the Lord to Moses before the exodus took place. At the very first appearing of Jehovah to His servant at Horeb (Exodus 3:1), He declared, “When thou has brought forth the people out of Egypt ye shall serve God upon this mountain.” God’s purpose in leading Israel to Canaan through the wilderness, instead of via the land of the Philistines, was manifested in the sequel. In the first place, it was in order that His marvelous power might be signally displayed on their behalf in bringing them safely through the Red Sea. In the second place, it was in order that Pharaoh and his hosts might there be destroyed. In the third place, it was in order that they might receive Jehovah’s laws in the undisturbed solitude of the desert. In the fourth place, it was in order that they might be properly organized into a Commonwealth and Church-state (Acts 7:53) prior to their entrance into and occupation of the land of Canaan. Finally, it was in order that they might be humbled, tried, and proved (Deuteronomy 8:2, 3), and the sufficiency of their God in every emergency might be fully demonstrated.
“And they took their journey from Succoth, and encamped in Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. And 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” (13:20- 21). Very precious is this. Just as Jehovah — the covenant God, the promising God, the One who heard the groanings of Israel, the One who raised up a deliverer for them — reminds us of God the Father, just as the Lamb — without spot and blemish, slain and its blood sprinkled, securing protection and deliverance from the avenging angel — typifies God the Son; so this Pillar of Cloud — given to Israel for their guidance across the wilderness — speaks to us of God the Holy Spirit. Amazingly full, Divinely perfect, are these O.T. foreshadowings. At every point the teaching of the N.T. is anticipated. But the anointed eye is needed to perceive the hidden meaning of these primitive pictures. Much prayerful searching is necessary if we are to discern their spiritual signification.
This “pillar” was the visible sign of the Lord’s presence with Israel. It is called “a pillar of cloud” and “a pillar of fire.” Apparently its upper portion rose up to heaven in the form of a column; its lower being spread out cloudwise, over Israel’s camp. Note how in Exodus 14:24 the two descriptive terms are combined, showing that the “pillar” did not change its form, as a “cloud” by day and a “fire” by night as is popularly supposed; but, as stated above, it was one — a “pillar of fire” in its upper portion, a “cloud” below. It is clear, though, from subsequent scriptures (Numbers 14:14, etc.), that the whole “cloud” was illuminative by night-time “to give them light in the way wherein they should go” (Nehemiah 9:12). Let us now consider some of the points in which the Cloud typified the Holy Spirit.
1. The “Cloud” was not given to Israel until they had been delivered from Egypt. First, the slaying of the Paschal Lamb, then the giving of the Cloud. This is the order of the N.T. First, the death of God’s Lamb, followed by His resurrection and ascension, and then the public descent of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. So, also, is it in Christian experience. There is first the sinner appropriating by faith the death of Christ, and then the coming of the Holy Spirit to indwell that soul. It is on the ground of Christ’s shed blood — not because of any moral fitness in us — that the Spirit of God seals us unto the day of redemption. Strikingly is this order observed in the epistle to the Romans — the great doctrinal treatise of the N.T. There, as nowhere else so fully, is unfolded God’s method of salvation. But it is not until after the believing sinner is “justified” (5:1) that we read of the Spirit of God. In 2:4-10 we get repentance; in 3:22-28, faith; and then in 5:5 we read, “the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us!”
2. The “Cloud” was God’s gracious gift to Israel. No word is said about the people asking for this Guide. It came to them quite unsought, as a tender provision of God’s mercy. Do we not find the same thing in the Gospels? At the close of His mission the Lord Jesus told the disciples of His departure, of His return to the Father. And though we read of them being troubled and sorrowful, yet there is no hint that any of the apostles requested Him to send them another Comforter. The purpose to do this proceeded alone from Himself — “I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter” (John 14:16).
3. The Cloud was given to guide Israel through their wilderness journey. What a merciful provision was this — an infallible Guide to conduct them through the tract-less desert! “The Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud, to lead them the way” (Exodus 13:21). In like manner, the Holy Spirit has been given to Christians to direct their steps along the Narrow Way which leadeth unto life. “As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” (Romans 8:14).
4. The Cloud gave light. “And by night in a pillar of fire to give them light” (Exodus 13:21). Beautifully does Nehemiah remind their descendants of this hundreds of years later: “Thou leadest them in the day by a cloudy pillar and in the night by a pillar of fire, to give them light in the way wherein they should go” (Nehemiah 9:12). By day or by night Israel was thoroughly furnished. For a similar purpose is the Holy Spirit given to Christians. He is “the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord” (Isaiah 11:2). Said the Lord to His apostles, “When He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13).
5. The Cloud was given for a covering: “He spread a cloud for a covering” (Psalm 105:39). This Cloud was for Israel’s protection from the scorching heat of the sun in the sandy desert where there was no screen. Beautifully has this been commented upon by one who knew from an experience of contrast the blessedness of this merciful provision of God for Israel: “To appreciate what the cloud was to Israel, we must transport ourselves in imagination to a rainless country like Egypt. We lived many years on the coast of Peru — hundreds of miles as rainless as Egypt. We recalled with horror that some English hymn writer had sung the glories of a ‘cloudless sky, a waveless sea.’ In a small schooner, becalmed under a tropical sun off the coast of Equador, we tasted the awfulness of a waveless sea, and in Peru for half the year we had a cloudless sky, and rainless always. How beautiful the distant clouds looked, away off there on the peaks of the lofty Andes. We could not but feel, ‘What must be the soothingness of bring under a cloud like those Indians who lived up there in that happy fertile region of clouds amid the valleys and mountains!’ Therefore, that cloud must have been a welcome sight to those ex-slaves, accustomed to labor in the fields under the sun of Egypt. It was a proof to them of the all-mighty power of Jehovah. He could give them a cloud where there was nothing in Nature to form clouds. He could furnish a shelter to His people when no other people had a shelter” (C. H. Bright). So, too, is the Holy Spirit our Protector — we are “sealed unto the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30).
6. God spoke from the Cloud: “He spake unto them in the cloudy pillar” (Psalm 99:7). The Psalmist is here referring back to such passages as Exodus 33:9 — “And it came to pass, as Moses entered into the tabernacle, the cloudy pillar descended, and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and the Lord talked with Moses” (Numbers 12:5). In like manner the Holy Spirit is today the Spokesman for the Holy Trinity, “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches” (Revelation 2:3).
7. This Cloud was darkness to the Egyptians: “And it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel. and it was a cloud and darkness to them” (14:20). Fearfully solemn is this. God not only reveals, but He also conceals: “At that time Jesus answered and said, ‘I thank Thee, O Father. Lord of, Heaven and Earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent’” (Matthew 11:25). It is so with the Holy Spirit — “The Spirit of truth whom the world cannot receive” (John 14:17).
8. This Cloud rested upon the Tabernacle as soon as it was erected. “So Moses finished the work. 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” (Exodus 40:33-35). How strikingly this foreshadowed the coming of the Holy Spirit upon that Blessed One who tabernacled among men, of Whom it is written, “We beheld His glory” (John 1:14). So, too, the Holy Spirit came upon the twelve apostles on the day of Pentecost and they were all “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4).
9. All through Israel’s wilderness wanderings this Cloud was never taken away from them: “Yet Thou in Thy manifold mercies forsookest them not in the wilderness; the pillar of the cloud departed not from them” (Nehemiah 9:19). Despite all Israel’s failures — their murmurings, their unbelief, their rebellion — God never withdrew the Cloudy Pillar! So, too, of the Holy Spirit given to believers the sure promise is, “He shall give you another Comforter, that He may (should) abide with you forever” (John 14:16).
10. It is blessed to learn that the Cloud shall once more descend upon and dwell among Israel. When God regathers His scattered people, when He resumes His covenant relationship with them, and brings them to a saving knowledge of their Messiah-Redeemer, then shall be fulfilled the ancient promise, “When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof by the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of burning. And the Lord will create upon every dwelling-place of mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a Cloud and smoke by day and a shining of a flaming fire by night; for upon all the Glory shall be a defense” (Isaiah 4:6). What a truly marvelous type of the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit was the fiery and cloudy “pillar”!
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