God manifested his supernatural presence among the Israelites in the form of a pillar that went before them. This manifestation assisted the Israelites by:
- Verifying his presence was with his people
- Guiding them to the destination he desired
- Setting the pace so that the timing of their travel was appropriate for his plan
- Protecting them from attacks and other dangers
- Providing light at night
- Providing covering from the sun during the day
- Assuring the people that the Lord’s provisions and goodness were available.
What a contrast between the guidance and care provided by the Lord through the pillar for his people, and the wrath and destruction provided by the Lord through Moses’ staff on the Egyptian oppressors!
God’s presence allowed the people to do extraordinary feats such as travel in the darkness of night.
Psalm 105:39 says :
“He spread out a cloud as a covering, and a fire to give light at night.”
This pillar was “the angel of the God” in Exodus 14:19-20 when the pillar moved to the back to protect his people:
“Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long.”
As we follow this theme through the Scriptures we also learn that God’s name was in this angel:
“See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your rebellion, since my Name is in him. If you listen carefully to what he says and do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies and will oppose those who oppose you. My angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites, and I will wipe them out.”
Isaiah calls him the “angel of his presence” in Isaiah 63:8-9:
He said, “Surely they are my people,
children who will be true to me”;
and so he became their Savior.
In all their distress he too was distressed,
and the angel of his presence saved them.
In his love and mercy he redeemed them;
he lifted them up and carried them
all the days of old.
In Malachi 3:1 the Lord Almighty says he will send his messenger who is the Lord, the messenger of the covenant. This Messenger, who is the Lord himself, will come to his temple in Jerusalem:
“ 'I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,' says the Lord Almighty.” – Malachi 3:1
The one who came to the Temple in Jerusalem was the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord who spoke to Israel in 30 AD was the same Lord who spoke to Israel (Psalm 99:6-7) and Moses (Exodus 33:9-11) from the cloud. In fact, this pillar of cloud will descend on the Tabernacle to speak with Moses and hover over the tabernacle until it is time to move.
The pillar of cloud/fire is a clear theophany, which is an appearance of God in a form that is tangible to human senses. (“Theophany” is from the compound Greek word theophaneia which is made from theo meaning “God” and phaneia meaning “to show, appearance.”)