Read EXODUS 13:17-22
Scripture often represents the glory of God as a brilliant light. When King Solomon dedicated the temple in Jerusalem, for example, the cloud of God’s glory filled the place to such an extent that the priests were unable to serve (1 Kings 8). This cloud of dazzling light signified God’s special presence with His people, and by extension, His covenant love and faithfulness.
This was not only a metaphorical light (as David meant yesterday) but at times a literal, physical light symbolizing God’s presence. During the Exodus from Egypt, He guided and protected the Israelites with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (vv. 21–22). He spoke from these pillars (Ex. 33:9; Ps. 99:7). They were a verifiable, physical reality that could also be seen by Israel’s enemies (Num. 14:14).
These pillars went in front of the people, showing them the way they should go. They provided a reliable and comforting reminder that the God who had freed them from centuries of slavery and the grip of a powerful king was still there and would not abandon them. Therefore, it symbolized not only God’s presence but also His compassion (see Neh. 9:19).
At a practical level, God’s light allowed the people to travel by night as well as by day. He graciously led them the long way around, so that they wouldn’t immediately be forced to fight the Philistines (vv. 17–18). Not only were they unready militarily, they also possessed weak faith.
The presence of Joseph’s body should have been an encouragement in this regard (v. 19). The day had finally arrived when Joseph’s prophecy would be fulfilled (Gen. 50:24–25) and God would take His people to their “promised land.”
APPLY THE WORD
The story of the Exodus tells of many points at which the Israelites wished to return to Egypt, imagining that their lives had been better there. This seems foolish and irrational—yet too often we seem to wish the same. By our words and actions, it sometimes appears we would rather return to slavery to sin than follow Christ to true freedom.