All Posts /

Pillar of Fire and Cloud of Smoke

Pillar of Fire and Cloud of Smoke

EXODUS 13 / JOHN 8:12–30

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” — John 8:12

Do you remember traveling on a road trip before using a map app on your phone?

If you can, there’s a high possibility you remember the days of printing turn-by-turn directions from Or before that, buying a printed road map or atlas! Oh, how far we’ve come!

Getting lost, missing exits, getting turned around... the confusion can leave us feeling so vulnerable.

It’s incredibly dysregulating and sometimes downright frightening to be lost. The Israelites most definitely felt this vulnerability and anxiety when they left Egypt. Yes, they were leaving the devastating hardships of Egypt, but every step took them deeper into the unknown. And the unknown can be a frightening place to willingly walk into.

God... where am I supposed to be going?

From the start of the Israelites’ exit from Egypt, God kept His promise not just to lead His people, but to be with them every step of the way.

01 Read Exodus 13:17–18a.

Take note of the words in verse 18a, especially

But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea.

How does it make you feel, reading that God intentionally led the Israelites into the wilderness?

It’s hard to understand why God would intentionally take the Israelites through such a desolate place like the wilderness. Maybe today you find yourself questioning God in a place you find yourself in.

God... why am I here?
God... where are You?
God... what am I supposed to be doing?
God... where am I supposed to be going?

The wilderness wasn’t God’s punishment because He didn’t care. It was where God took them because He knew something they didn’t.

God knew going the shorter journey through the land of the Philistines was a greater danger to them in the long run. If the Israelites faced the Philistines, their fear might have prompted them to turn back to Egypt. Or, they might have been tempted by the idolatry of the Philistines and turn towards false gods.

  • God was not unaware of the needs of the Israelites. And God is not unaware of your deepest needs.

The promise of God’s presence would carry the Israelites through what appeared to be their worst nightmare in the wilderness.

02 Read Exodus 13:21–22.

What was the manifestation of God’s presence that went before them?

These manifestations served two important purposes:

... The pillars led the people in the direction that they should go.

... The pillars provided boundaries and protection for the people.

Let’s zoom in on the image here. The Israelites saw the tangible presence of God leading and guiding them day and night. Even though the Israelites cried out in complaints and weariness from the journey that felt purposeless to them, God’s presence continued to guide them.

Here is one of the challenges we face when experiencing unexpected pain and suffering: We can believe there is an underlying meaninglessness to what we’re facing. But through uncovering these details within the story of Israel in the wilderness, we see there is not a single moment of our hardship and hurt that is not used by God to bring forth a greater good and purpose.

03 The question isn’t so much about the direction in which God is leading us — it’s about our obedience along the way.

Think about where you are today. What might obedience to God look like here?

The pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night didn’t just lead God’s people; it also served as a protective boundary.

The people always knew how far ahead they could go. This clear boundary gave them a visible marking of what too far would be. Too far would simply be to step in front of the pillar of cloud or fire, putting them outside or ahead of the presence of God and the pace of His leading.

04 Have you experienced the Lord leading you or revealing a boundary to you? What did that look like?


Jesus is “the light of the world.”

JOHN 8:12

When Jesus says He is the “light of the world” in John 8:12, it is a promise of orientation and direction. Just like the pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night provided direction for the Israelites, we have this same guide in the person of Jesus.

In the darkest moments of our life, when we feel unseen, disregarded or abandoned, we can remember that the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it (John 1:5). Wherever the Light of Christ is, there is hope. This isn’t just a good-sounding Christian slogan. This is truth. And sometimes it’s helpful to speak this out loud over whatever you are facing. Remember, lies flee in the presence of truth, just like darkness flees in the presence of light.

Jesus is “the way, and the truth, and the life.”

JOHN 14:6

Where there is the light, there is the promise of life. John 1:4 says,

In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.

In Jesus, we find the life all of humanity longs for. And we can also be assured that Jesus will guide us along our way through the Truth of His Word and His presence.

Jesus is the “good shepherd” who promises to lead His people.

JOHN 10:11; JOHN 10:27

Sheep depend on the care and protection of a shepherd, and we can depend on the care of Jesus as our Good Shepherd. Read the words of Jesus in John 10:27–28:

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.

This takes some humility to lean into His guidance, but we also need to grow attuned to the voice of Jesus so we can obey when He is speaking to us. In the hard, desolate places in our lives, it can feel like Jesus is absent. But if we take a moment to pause, be silent, watch, and really listen, we can both see the light of His presence and hear the comfort of His voice.

God’s presence never departed from the Israelites, and Jesus is with us even now. We pray today that you found yourself comforted and cared for even in the hardest place you could find yourself in.

Take heart, friend. He is with you.

~ Lysa

Excerpted with permission from 30 Days with Jesus by Lysa TerKeurst and Joel Muddamalle, copyright Lysa TerKeurst and Joel Muddamalle.

* * *

Your Turn

Do you find yourself questioning God in a place you find yourself in? That wilderness isn’t Him punishing you. He is not unaware of your secret need. He’s with you and for you. How can you be obedient to Him right where you are? ~ Laurie McClure, Faith.Full