And they moved on from Succoth and encamped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.
The pillar was also the assurance of right leading and guiding for Israel. He led them by the right way (Psalm 107:7) - it was not always the expected way, or even the shortest way. With God to lead, however, the longest way round proves to be the shortest way home. Nor need we, as Christians, ever be without that guidance, for Christ undertakes to guide His children and lead them in the way they should go. But more. It was in the cloud, and out from the cloud, that God spoke to Israel, revealing His Name to them (34:5), showing Himself to be the long-suffering, merciful, gracious God, keeping mercy for thousands. It was from the cloud that God spoke forth the Ten Commandments. It was a source of revelation. But above all, it proved to be a place of communion. When the cloud came down upon the Tabernacle (33:9-11) the Lord spoke with Moses and communed with him 'face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend'. This is the ultimate possibility of the pillar of cloud and fire. This is indeed the whole aim in God's drawing near to men in redeeming love - not merely that they might be forgiven, not merely that they might receive newness of life, or even created anew in the image of God, but that they might be restored to fellowship with Him. Jesus lived and died to make this possible, and lives at God's right hand to make it real to all who believe in Him. And as with Israel, so also with us, the gateway into this and every other blessing of the cloud is obedience. 'Ye are my friends', said Jesus, 'if ye do whatsoever I have commanded you' (John 15:14), and His presence, protection, guidance, revelation, and fellowship, all depend alike on our willingness to give Him the obedience of our hearts.