Exodus 13:21 Commentary - Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae (Old and New Testaments)
THE PILLAR, AND THE CLOUD
Exo 13:21-22. 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. He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people.
IN reading the Holy Scriptures, we cannot but be struck with the suitableness and seasonableness of the divine interpositions. It might be thought indeed that the Israelites at their departure out of Egypt, amounting to six hundred thousand fighting men, without one single invalid amongst them, would be irresistible: but if we consider, that they were without discipline, without arms, without stores either of clothing or provision, and without any knowledge of the way through “a great and terrible wilderness,” and without any possibility of obtaining even so much as bread or water for their sustenance, we shall see, that they needed only to be left to themselves, and they must all quickly perish in the wilderness. But in the hour of need, God came down in a pillar of a cloud by day and of fire by night to guide them in their way, and never left them till they arrived at the promised land. This mercy, and the continuance of it, are the two points to which at present we would call your attention.
The mercy vouchsafed to them—
[Never was there any thing like it from the foundation of the world. God had revealed himself to several in dreams and visions, and under the appearances of men and angels: but never in a visible stationary form, like that before us. By this cloud he guided them in the way. Without such a direction they could not have found their way through that trackless desert: but by it they proceeded without fear of erring: and all their motions were regulated by it, whether by day or night [Note: Num 9:15-23.].
By this cloud also they were protected. Though this use of the cloud is not noticed in the text, it is in other passages [Note: Num 10:34; Num 14:14 and especially Psa 105:39.]. In that hot sandy desert, it would have been impossible for them to prosecute their journey under the rays of the meridian sun: indeed even without journeying, they could scarcely have endured the intense heat to which they would have been exposed. God therefore graciously protected them by the refreshing shadow of that cloud. And to this the prophet evidently alludes, when describing the superior privileges of the Christian Church [Note: Isa 4:5-6.] ]
[This cloud was, in the first place, a symbol of God’s presence. After the Israelites had offended God in worshipping the molten calf, God threatened to leave them, and to commit the care of them to an angel: and on that occasion the cloud removed from the camp, in token that he was about to depart from them [Note: Exo 33:2-3; Exo 33:7; Exo 33:9.]. And afterwards, when, in the same spirit of rebellion, they were going up against the Canaanites without the pillar and the cloud, Moses said to them, “Go not up, for the Lord is not among you [Note: Num 14:42.].”
This cloud was also a seal of his covenant. Though the covenant, afterwards made on Horeb, was not yet formally declared, yet it was considered as existing, not only because God had actually now taken the Israelites under his protection, but because he had, four hundred years before, engaged to Abraham, that his posterity should be parties in the covenant already made with him. It is true, that circumcision was the rite, by which all the descendants of Abraham were to be initiated into the bond of that covenant; but still this was a (temporary) seal of that relationship, which now existed between God and them: and therefore the Apostle compares it with baptism, by which we are admitted into the Christian covenant; and declares that they were “baptized unto Moses in that cloud,” as we are “baptized by water unto Christ [Note: If we suppose that the cloud occasionally distilled, as it were, a dew upon them, it would be a striking illustration of the sprinkling of water in the rite of baptism. But on this we lay no stress.].”
It was, moreover, an emblem of yet richer mercies. We cannot suppose that, under that typical dispensation, so important a circumstance as this was destitute of any spiritual meaning. Indeed it is manifest from a fore-cited passage [Note: Isa 4:5-6.], that it was expressly designed to typify the guidance and protection which the Church of Christ should enjoy even to the remotest ages, through the influences of the Holy Spirit.]
We cannot fail of observing, that Moses, in recording this mercy, lays great stress on,
The continuance of it—
The cloud abode with them during the whole time of their sojourning in the wilderness. What a glorious view does this give us of our God! and how are we constrained to admire,
His inexhaustible patience—
[Truly the Israelites were “a rebellious and stiff-necked people.” Nor could either mercies or judgments ever produce on them any thing more than a mere transient effect. Every fresh trial called forth the same murmuring discontented spirit. On some occasions they seemed almost to have exhausted the patience of God himself. But God is slow to anger, though provoked every day: and if they had been less deserving of his wrath, we should never have known (unless perhaps by our own experience) how far the patience of God could extend. If it had not been ascertained by such an undeniable fact, we could not have conceived it possible for God himself to have “borne their manners in the wilderness during the long space of forty years [Note: See this expatiated upon in a most feeling manner, Neh 9:16-19.].”]
His unbounded kindness—
[In reading this history, one is astonished to find, that God attended to that people, as if there had been no other creatures in the universe. He was incessantly occupied (if we may so speak) about their matters. He carried them through the wilderness, as a man would carry his infant son [Note: Deu 1:31.]. His conduct towards them is beautifully compared with that of the eagle, teaching its young to fly, and darting under them, when filling, to bear them up again to their nest on her expanded wings [Note: Deu 32:11-12.]. But it is thus that God yet watches over his redeemed people [Note: Isa 46:3-4; Isa 27:4.]. “Lo, I am with you alway,” says he, “even to the end of the world [Note: Mat 28:20.].”]
His inviolable fidelity—
[It was from a regard to the promise which he had made to Abraham, and from a concern for his own honour, that God would not cast them off. He did indeed punish them oftentimes: but yet he continued to the last to acknowledge them as his people: “Thou wast a God that forgavest them,” says the Psalmist, “though thou tookest vengeance of their inventions [Note: Psa 99:8.].” What a striking proof does this give us, that “God hateth putting away,” and that “he will not cast off his people, because it hath pleased him to make us his people.” “Faithful is He that hath called us, who also will do it,” that is, will “finish in us the work he has begun,” and “perfect that which concerneth us.”]
We may learn from hence,
What reason we have for gratitude—
[Let any one who has been brought out of spiritual bondage, and led forward towards the heavenly Canaan, examine attentively his own experience: let him see by what particular means he has been brought to enjoy the guidance and protection of God, and to advance in safety through this dreary wilderness; and he shall see as plain marks of a superintending and all-directing Providence, as are to be found in the history before us: yea, he may see too as wonderful exhibitions of God’s patience, kindness, and faithfulness. Let every such person then adore and magnify his God. We all feel how suitable such a frame of mind was for the cloud-directed Israelites: let us all seek to feel and manifest it in our own case.]
What grounds we have for faith—
[Has Jesus Christ come into the world to lessen the privileges of his people? Has he not rather extended and enlarged them? In the external manifestations of God’s presence we are inferior to the Jews; but we have, what more than counterbalances that loss, the internal and spiritual communications of his grace. Yes, our God will, by his Spirit, “guide us into all truth,” and lead us in the way wherein we should go. By the same Spirit also will he protect us from the burning heat of persecution and temptation, and from the assaults of all our spiritual enemies. Of this we may be assured: for he has said, that “he will keep his sheep, and give unto them eternal life; and that none shall ever pluck them out of his hands.”]
Consult other comments:
Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae (Old and New Testaments)
Charles Simeon (1759 - 1836) was an English evangelical Anglican cleric.
Horae Homileticae reflects the rich source of Biblical understanding of Simeon, a towering figure in the history of evangelical theology.