You’ve heard the verses for today’s sermon. Like other highlights of the book, such as the burning bush, the parting of the Red Sea, and the giving of the law at Sinai, the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire is a truly noteworthy and memorable thing.
Unlike some of the other highlights though, the pillar of cloud and fire was actually prefigured all the way back during the life of father Abraham. In Genesis 15, at the time of the covenant, this was recorded –
Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. 16 But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”
17 And it came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces. 18 On the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying:
“To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates— 19 the Kenites, the Kenezzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.” Genesis 14:15-21
The smoking oven and the burning torch represented the presence of the Lord at the giving of that covenant, a covenant which involved a set time-frame until his descendants would be returned to the same land in which he dwelt. The pillar of cloud and fire in Exodus represents the presence of the Lord among the Israelites. The time had come and the Land of Promise lay ahead of them.
It would be a reminder to them of the faithfulness of the Lord to His covenant promises, and it would be a sign to them that He would continue to be with them until He had fulfilled all He had said He would do.
The presence of God will continue to be seen at various times in cloud and in fire throughout the Bible. It is recorded as a comforting reminder that God had remained faithful to His people throughout the ages. And it is a sign to us that He will continue to be faithful until the end of the age.
Jesus ascended in a cloud, He will come for us in the clouds, He will come to Israel in the clouds, and with Him is the fire of His purifying judgment. These are just a few instances which speak of His presence in this way. We are so blessed to have this imagery so that we can remember His faithfulness to His people.
Text Verse: “Moreover You led them by day with a cloudy pillar,
And by night with a pillar of fire,
To give them light on the road
Which they should travel.” Nehemiah 9:12
We’ll be a few minutes longer than normal in today’s sermon, but these twelve verses are simply filled with interesting information and with wonderful pictures of Jesus – His work for us and in us. It’s all to be found in His superior word. And so let’s turn to that precious word once again and… may God speak to us through His word today and may His glorious name ever be praised.
I. Recounting the Work of the Lord (verses 11-16)
11 “And it shall be, when the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites,
Our first verse of today brings us again to the anticipation of the promise that was first made 430 years earlier. The “land of the Canaanites” is an all-encompassing term. Though other groups of people were there, the land was known by this term and it continued to be known as Canaan throughout the Old Testament.
It is this land, known as “the land of the Canaanites” that the Lord promised they would be brought into. Not “if,” but “when.”
11 (con’t) as He swore to you and your fathers, and gives it to you,
After his arrival in the land, in Genesis 12, we read this concerning Abraham –
“Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, as far as the terebinth tree of Moreh. And the Canaanites were then in the land.
7 Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, ‘To your descendants I will give this land.’ And there he built an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him.” Genesis 12:6, 7
Later in Genesis 13, a more comprehensive explanation of the land grant was given to him –
“And the Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him: “Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are—northward, southward, eastward, and westward; 15 for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever.” Genesis 13:14, 15
The promise continued to be explained and expanded on both to Abraham and the generations who followed him. The amount of time and the number of generations before it would come about were explained. The chosen son who would receive the land was explained. That the 12 sons of Israel were all included in this was explained. Eventually, the Lord spoke these words to Moses –
“And God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And He said, “‘Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.'” 15 Moreover God said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: ‘The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations.'”” Exodus 3:14, 15
The name of the Lord who would accomplish this is I AM. But His name is also explained as “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” He isn’t just the God of Abraham. Nor is He the God of Abraham and Isaac. He is “the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob.” The land belongs to this group of people.
We cannot go back to Abraham and thus include Ishmael and his descendants. Nor can we stop at Isaac and include the Edomites. These people could come under the umbrella of the larger group if they met the Lord’s requirements, but they don’t automatically have a right to the land, apart from what God will do through Israel.
12 that you shall set apart to the Lord all that open the womb,
This takes us right back to Exodus 13:1 & 2 –
“Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 ‘Consecrate to Me all the firstborn, whatever opens the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and beast; it is Mine.'”
At that time, the word for “consecrate” was qaddash. In verse 12, the word for “set apart” is abar. The idea is that they were to be separated from the rest of the flock so that they wouldn’t be mixed in with those which were “not sanctified.” A picture is being given for us to see.
God is using animals to show us pictures of us as believers. First it was of Israel, later of the people of His church. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 6 –
‘Come out from among them
And be separate, says the Lord.
Do not touch what is unclean,
And I will receive you.’
18 ‘I will be a Father to you,
And you shall be My sons and daughters,
Says the Lord Almighty.'” 2 Corinthians 6:17, 18
It needs to be noted that immediately after verses 1 & 2, which detailed the consecration of the firstborn, the instructions for the Feast of Unleavened Bread were given, which we looked at in detail last week.
The instructions in verse 3 & 4 were addressed with plural pronouns, but verses 5-10 were singular. Now, as soon as those verses are complete, we again come back to the setting apart of the firstborn.
The Lord is then showing us that the two accounts are tied together. The sanctification of the firstborn is related to the sanctification of the people who will observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This is obvious, but it will become even more obvious when we arrive at verse 16.
This general expression “set apart to the Lord all that open the womb” will be more fully itemized and explained as well. There will be three distinct categories noted. The first is found in the continuation of verse 12…
12 (con’t) that is, every firstborn that comes from an animal which you have; the males shall be the Lord’s.
Although not explicitly stated yet, this first category is considered as the oxen, sheep, and goats which are considered clean domestic animals. Later, animals that are considered clean or unclean will be specified. However, for now only the general term behemah or “beast” is given.
The word for “that comes” as in “every firstborn that comes” is the word sheger. This is its first of only five uses in the OT. The other four are all in Deuteronomy. It generally means “increase.” It is this firstborn of the increase which specifically belongs to the Lord. However, there is a qualifier. It only applies to the firstborn which is a male.
Later in Exodus 22, it will state that the animal wasn’t to be given to the Lord until the eighth day after the birth. Then in Deuteronomy 15, it will again be modified to state that any animal with any defect, such as being blind or lame or any other serious defect, was not to be sacrificed. Instead, it could be eaten at home.
13 But every firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb;
The donkey here is given as the example of an unclean animal. This is the second distinct category of firstborn. Such a domestic animal was not to be given to the Lord. Instead, in its place a lamb (or a goat – it is a general term that is used here), which is a clean animal, was to be given to Him.
This is the first time that the word padah, or “redeem” is used in the Bible. It will be used four times here, three in verse 13 and again in 15. It can mean to rescue, ransom, deliver, etc. It is given as a way of purchasing a life from death or servitude.
The donkey belonged to the Lord, but it was an unclean animal. Nothing unclean was to be given to the Lord and so an exchange needed to take place – a life for a life. If you’re not seeing Christ and the people of the world in the three verses we’ve looked at so far, you’re not looking very hard. An important point concerning this substitution is noted by John Lange –
“The substitution of a sheep or kid for the ass is a proof that the unclean beast signifies not the evil, but the profane, that which is not fitted to serve as a religious symbol.” John Lange
His words are correct and they strike at the heart of what is known as “original sin.” Just because something or someone isn’t evil, it is still profane. It is unacceptable to be in the Lord’s presence or to be used as a vessel for the Lord. Until something or someone goes from profane to consecrated, it remains profane.
What happens with the land, what happens with the animals, and how these things relate to the Lord and where the Lord’s people are heading, are all tied up in the work of Christ. A life for a life is demanded. If that didn’t take place in order to redeem, then something else had to happen…
13 (con’t) and if you will not redeem it, then you shall break its neck.
If no lamb was offered as a substitute, it was to have its neck broken. The verb for “break its neck” is araph which comes from the noun oreph, or the “back of the neck.” This is the first of six uses of it in the Bible. It is the root of where the name Orpah comes from. She was one of the principles in the book of Ruth.
Understanding her name and what she did is all tied up in the use of this word in this verse. Seemingly unimportant words carry throughout the Bible and unveil beautiful pictures of the work of the Lord for the people of the world.
In the case of the donkey, breaking its neck might seem harsh to our sensibilities, but there is a reason for it. And if we think about it, the little lamb still had to die in its place if the donkey’s neck wasn’t broken. The difference between a knife at the throat of a lamb, or the snapping of the neck of the donkey is really irrelevant.
In the end, dead is dead. The owner of the animal was given the choice, “Do I want to keep the donkey and sacrifice the lamb, or do I want the lamb and kill the donkey.” A donkey would be considered more valuable than a mere lamb because it was a beast of burden. Again, it is a picture of Christ. What great value is placed upon the soul of a man! Jesus said in Matthew 16 –
“If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. 26 For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” Matthew 16:24-26
Believe it or not, what we are seeing in these otherwise seemingly obscure verses is the heart of God calling out to us. The words are reflective of a choice every single one of us must make. We will either be redeemed by the Lamb and remain in the Lord’s presence, or we will die apart from the Lord. The firstborn is given as a picture of the whole. As Matthew Henry clearly states –
“The firstlings of beast not used in sacrifice, were to be changed for others so used, or they were to be destroyed. Our souls are forfeited to God’s justice, and unless ransomed by the sacrifice of Christ, will certainly perish.” Matthew Henry
13 (con’t) And all the firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem.
If the pictures of the animals aren’t clear enough, these words should be. “The firstborn of man” are the words bekhor adam. It is the same word adam used to describe the first man, Adam. Of the sons of Adam, or man, the firstborn was to be redeemed. What this implies – what it even shouts out, is that man is unclean and must be redeemed.
This redemption is later clarified in Numbers 3. The Levites were to be taken in place of the firstborn and they were to be dedicated to the Lord. After that, each firstborn beyond the number of Levites was to be redeemed for five shekels according to the sanctuary currency. Here are those directions –
“Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 45 ‘Take the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the children of Israel, and the livestock of the Levites instead of their livestock. The Levites shall be Mine: I am the Lord. 46 And for the redemption of the two hundred and seventy-three of the firstborn of the children of Israel, who are more than the number of the Levites, 47 you shall take five shekels for each one individually; you shall take them in the currency of the shekel of the sanctuary, the shekel of twenty gerahs. 48 And you shall give the money, with which the excess number of them is redeemed, to Aaron and his sons.'” Numbers 3:44-48
Two key points should be deduced from these words concerning the firstborn male. The first is that the firstborn merely represented all of Israel at their birth. Thus the entire nation was to be consecrated to the Lord and it was to be considered a priestly nation in this firstborn consecration.
The second key point I’ve already given, but it needs to be repeated. Men are unclean by nature. If the firstborn, who represented the whole needed to be redeemed, then it follows that all men need to be redeemed. Israel was selected to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, as is anticipated in this chapter. The Lord told them this specifically though in Exodus 19:5, 6 –
“Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. 6 And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.”
This right transfers to the church, the people of the Lord now. This is noted in these words from Revelation 1 –
“To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, 6 and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” Revelation 1:5, 6
Christ, the perfect and unstained Lamb of God redeemed us, fallen and unclean, and set us apart, consecrated us, and even exalted us. Not because we deserve it, but because of His great love with which He has loved us.
14 So it shall be, when your son asks you in time to come,
The word “time to come” is makhar – literally tomorrow. It is an interesting way of saying that whenever the question is asked, an answer should be ready, because he may ask “tomorrow.” When the question is asked, the answer is to be ready on the lips…
14 (con’t) saying, ‘What is this?’ that you shall say to him, ‘By strength of hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
Listen to the similarity between this and verse 8 from last week –
“And you shall tell your son in that day, saying, ‘This is done because of what the Lord did for me when I came up from Egypt.'” Exodus 13:8
Again, a clue and a hint are given tying the setting apart of the firstborn with the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The two are inseparable. One will not exist without the other. We must be redeemed in order to be unleavened, and if we are redeemed, then we truly are unleavened. Paul tells us this in 1 Corinthians 5 –
“Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, (1) since you truly are unleavened. For indeed (2) Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.” 1 Corinthians 5:7
Next, he tells us how we should respond because of our status –
“Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” 1 Corinthians 5:8
In this verse is the second of five uses of the noun khozeq or “strength of hand” to be found in Scripture. It is the stronger form of the more commonly used verb khazaq. It will be used again in verse 16, and not again until Amos 6:13 which we will get to in the year 2165. So enjoy its two uses today.
15 And it came to pass, when Pharaoh was stubborn about letting us go, that the Lord killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of beast. Therefore I sacrifice to the Lord all males that open the womb, but all the firstborn of my sons I redeem.’
As is found throughout Scripture, we see in this verse the concept of “recounting the works of the Lord.” What He has done is to be remembered and to be repeated. And then in response to that recounting should be a “therefore.” “Because of what the Lord has done, I therefore…”
A classic example of this is found in Acts 26. Paul first recounted the work of the Lord in his life from verses 12-18. He then gave an “I therefore” from verses 19-23. So it was with Israel, so it was with Paul, and so it should be with each of us.
One other point about this verse, it says here that “Pharaoh was stubborn” about letting the people go. The word here for “stubborn” is qashah. It was used only one other time in relation to Pharaoh. That was in Exodus 7:3 which said –
“And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt.” Exodus 7:3
This might seem unimportant, but it is one final clue, of the dozens we saw concerning Pharaoh, that the hardening of Pharaoh was a passive one by the Lord and an active one by him. The only reason I bring this up is to remind you again that the Lord hints all the way through this account that free-will in man is a principle and correct tenet of theology.
16 It shall be as a sign on your hand and as frontlets between your eyes, for by strength of hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt.”
Again, listen to the similarity of verse 16 to that of verse 9 from the instructions for the Feast of Unleavened Bread –
“It shall be as a sign to you on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes, that the Lord’s law may be in your mouth; for with a strong hand the Lord has brought you out of Egypt.”
This verse explicitly ties the consecration of the firstborn to the consecration of all of the people as is represented by the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The firstborn is given for the whole. Of interest though, there is also a contrast to this verse in the Bible.
The word “frontlets” is totaphoth. It is the first of only three times it is used in the Bible. It is also in Deuteronomy 6:8 and 11:8. It means “frontlets” as in something which is in front. This word was to be taken as a metaphor, not a literal thing. Now, note that this is verse 13:16. Let’s place it side by side with Revelation 13:16 –
“It shall be as a sign on your hand and as frontlets between your eyes, for by strength of hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt.” Exodus 13:16
“He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads.” Revelation 13:16
This shows us, with all certainty that these words in Exodus are not to be taken as literal signs and frontlets as the Jews became in the habit of wearing. Rather, they represented the state of the person before the Lord. They are a mental acknowledgment of the work and lordship of Yehovah which is followed by an obedient action.
The words “and it shall be” refer to the words imparted to the son which are, “Therefore I sacrifice to the Lord all males that open the womb, but all the firstborn of my sons I redeem.” That is what the sign and the frontlets were to be.
Likewise, the mark of the beast on the right or on the forehead is an acknowledgment of the work and lordship of the devil which is followed by an obedient action. They have acknowledged him and have taken either a vow, represented by the right hand, or an oath of assertion, represented by the forehead, to the antichrist. The mark may be visible, but it represented the setting apart of the individual to the devil.
This Lamb has taken my place
His life was given instead of mine
But because of this, I can look upon God’s face
In a heavenly land, ever so sublime
What a cost, what a high price indeed
That God would pay with the Lamb’s shed blood
O God, from the foundation of the earth it was decreed
That I would be a part of that cleansing flood
Redeemed! Saved and on the heavenly highway
Where that Lamb I shall finally see
Through His death, my pardon He did pay
And through the resurrection there is joy eternally
II. So God Led the People (verses 17-19)
17 Then it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, “Lest perhaps the people change their minds when they see war, and return to Egypt.”
This verse now takes us all the way back to verse 12:37 where the last note of travel was made. There it said that “the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth.” The narrative begins again, but it is still somewhat of a parenthetical thought.
Their first stop being Succoth, it would make sense that if they were heading to Canaan, that they would go by the way of the land of the Philistines because it was such a short, direct way to travel. It was a distance of about 200 miles and they could arrive in around 10 days to 2 weeks.
However, it says that God didn’t allow this route. The Israelites had been in bondage for a long period, they probably were not well trained in war, and more probably they had either no weapons or very few with which to wage war. If they were to face war, they would become disheartened and would then rather turn back to Egypt than die in battle.
This is the explicit reason given and it may have been what was communicated directly to Moses, but as we will learn there were more reasons than this which will be forthcoming. 1) The people, including Moses, would be tempered through their reliance on the Lord. 2) The Lord would be magnified through the events at the Red Sea and the destruction of Pharaoh and his armies. 3) They would be brought to Mount Sinai in fulfillment of the promise made to Moses in Exodus 3:12. 4) They would be prepared as a commonwealth of people and as a religious nation with a body of law and a tabernacle for worship and meeting with God. 5) They would see the consequences of sin and rebellion against God. 6) They would be molded and prepared for entry into the Land of Promise. 7) They would be able to understand the bounty from personal labor because of the times of dependence on God when they could not work.
For these and certainly many other reasons, the longer and more difficult way through the wilderness was chosen to lead Israel out of the bondage of Egypt.
18 So God led the people around by way of the wilderness of the Red Sea.
It should be noted that the term Lord, meaning Yehovah, is mentioned 15 times in this chapter, but only once in these final 6 verses. On the other hand, the term “God” or elohim is used 4 times and all are in these last 6 verses. The last time the term “God” was used was back in chapter 10 – 7 times and always in conjunction with the term “Lord.”
There is in this then an indication that what occurs in these verses is by the eternal counsel of God and that it was determined to come about as a part of the redemptive plan before creation itself. God personally supervises the details of this movement with, as we will see, the Lord leading the way.
Instead of being taken by way of the Philistines, it says that they are taken by “the way of the wilderness of the Red Sea.” The Red Sea, or yam suph, was first mentioned in chapter 10 during the plague of locusts, but now we are entering into the account of the exodus where it will be mentioned three times.
And so it is a good time to look at the meaning of the words yam suph. Many translate this as “the sea of reeds” because suph means “reed.” Because of this the account of crossing through the Red Sea is often denied and instead it is said that Israel simply passed through a shallow marsh or one of the bitter lakes.
This is nonsense. The word suph as a verb means “end,” such as in the termination of something. Thus, the sea could be known as “the sea at the end,” which could be in relation to the land of Israel where the land ends at one of the fingers of the Red Sea. This is seen in 1 Kings 9:26 which, uses the same term yam suph –
“King Solomon also built a fleet of ships at Ezion Geber, which is near Elath on the shore of the Red Sea, in the land of Edom.” 1 Kings 9:26
The locations Elath and Edom show without a doubt what this means. Further, one would not build a fleet of ships for sailing in the ocean and place them in a marshy sea of reeds. And finally, there is only the simple job of going to the New Testament and reading the account of the exodus in Greek where the term Erythran Thalassan, or Red Sea, is used.
Thus it was always understood to be the Red Sea, not a swampy marsh of reeds. And, the name could even be a pun. The plague of locusts ended in the Red Sea and Pharaoh and his army will find their end there as well.
18 (con’t)And the children of Israel went up in orderly ranks out of the land of Egypt.
The wording here is precise – they went up in “orderly ranks.” It is an adjective plural word khamushim and it means specifically “battle array.” It’s used only four times in the Bible – Exodus, Joshua, and Judges.
Unlike paintings and movies which depict a hurried bunch of rag-tag people, the Bible actually depicts them as a well-ordered group in lines as if prepared for battle. The picture is marvelous and it gives one the sense of the Lord passing before His armies as they march to His lead.
19 And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for he had placed the children of Israel under solemn oath, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here with you.”
This verse is given in fulfillment of Genesis 50:26 where Joseph prophesied that exactly this would occur. Of all of the notable deeds of Joseph, this was what he was most noted for. In Hebrews 11:22, this was written about him –
“By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the departure of the children of Israel, and gave instructions concerning his bones.”
The words were spoken in faith, and the words were fulfilled by God who ensured that His people carried out what was spoken. Along with his bones, it appears from Acts 7:15, 16 that the bones of the other sons of Israel were also brought back with his. But the words here are expressly given to show the fulfillment of the oath.
God, from eternity past had a plan
Even before the world came to be
He would step out of eternity, Jesus the Man
So that the world His love could clearly see
He alone has led man out of the bondage of sin
And into the wonder of His glorious light
Yes, it’s true; we were all but done in
But He stepped out of eternity to make all things right
Such a God! Such a Creator who would do this thing!
How my heart yearns to know Him more
And for all my days, His praises to sing
Someone please start the score
Let us sing a song of joy to Him now and forevermore
Won’t someone please start that wonderful score!
III. The Lord Went before Them (verses 20-22)
20 So they took their journey from Succoth and camped in Etham at the edge of the wilderness.
At this verse, the parenthetical thought of the previous verses ends and the narrative of the exodus travels continues. From Succoth, Israel went to a place called Etham which is said to be at the edge, or literally “the end,” of the wilderness. The name Etham could have one of quite a few meanings – with them; their plowshare; fortress; their sign; their strength; and maybe others.
Each scholar has attempted to define the name based on the meaning of the letters as they are structured – either from a Hebrew or an Egyptian context. None I read seemed to connect the meaning to the text itself. However, if we do that, the name seems likely. The name Succoth was given to us for a reason. Etham, like Succoth, doesn’t have to be the name of the place at the time of their arrival, but the name given to the place upon their arrival.
They went from Succoth, meaning “tabernacles” and its meaning was intended to show the state of Israel at the time. Now Etham is mentioned and it must be for the same reason. If the account drives the meaning, then the next verse explains the meaning…
21 And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so as to go by day and night.
Albert Barnes says a fire and smoke signals were used by Greeks and Persians in their marches. One ancient papyrus is said to call the commander of an Egyptian army “A flame in the darkness at the head of his soldiers.” As he says, “By this sign then of the pillar of cloud, the Lord showed Himself as their leader and general.”
Israel is at the edge of the wilderness, camped and ready to move on, but now for the first time it mentions this new development. The term “Lord,” meaning Yehovah, is now reintroduced into the narrative instead of elohim or “God.” It is with this marvelous description – the cloud and the pillar of fire that He is described.
The introduction of the manifestation of the Lord is being tied to the name Etham. And so Etham means “Their Sign” because it is what is being portrayed. He is their sign to move, where to move, and when to move. He is their sign of comfort and reassurance, He is their sign that He is with them.
If Etham is pointing us to the manifestation of the Lord and it means “Their Sign” then Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians take on a much more meaningful sense –
“Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, 2 all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea,” 1 Corinthians 10:1, 2
The people were baptized into the cloud as well as the sea. Thus it is a sign to the people of the process of their redemption. As always, this is a literal account which is prophetically picturing the work of the Lord Jesus on behalf of His people. This is with all certainty because Paul says in 1 Corinthians that it is Christ who led them in the wilderness.
*22 He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day or the pillar of fire by night from before the people.
Both Numbers and Deuteronomy show that the pillar of cloud and fire remained with Israel all the way through their years of wilderness wanderings. In Exodus 14, it notes that the pillar is both fire and cloud at the same time. The fire would be evident at night and the cloud would obscure the fire during the day.
Psalm 105 shows that the cloud not only directed them, but it also provided a covering for them –
“He spread a cloud for a covering,
And fire to give light in the night.” Psalm 105:39
And this same manifestation is referred to in Isaiah 4 as being there for the people in the millennial reign of Christ, after the tribulation period. Here are those wondrous words –
“And it shall come to pass that he who is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy—everyone who is recorded among the living in Jerusalem. 4 When the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and purged the blood of Jerusalem from her midst, by the spirit of judgment and by the spirit of burning, 5 then the Lord will create above every dwelling place of Mount Zion, and above her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day and the shining of a flaming fire by night. For over all the glory there will be a covering. 6 And there will be a tabernacle for shade in the daytime from the heat, for a place of refuge, and for a shelter from storm and rain.” Isaiah 4:3-6
Everything about the words today – even all of Exodus 13 – show us, time and again, the work of Jesus Christ on behalf of His people. The people must be redeemed, the people must be consecrated and sanctified, and the people who are will then be accepted by the Lord and will be led by Him.
And to get a better mental picture before we finish, we can again consider the stupid donkey and the innocent lamb. The value of a donkey is figured greater than that of a lamb, and yet a donkey had to be redeemed by a lamb.
The world looks at the value of Jesus as very little, but without the shedding of the blood of that holy Lamb, the greatest man on earth cannot be redeemed. What a great thing God has done for us! How marvelous are His ways! And once redeemed, He is there to lead us every step of the way.
We may feel we are at the edge of the wilderness, or even completely swallowed up in it, but the Lord is there… the Lord is there. Let us not fear! The Lord is there. If you haven’t yet committed to this wondrous, beautiful Savior, please let me tell you how you can today – even right now…
Closing Verse: “Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer,
The Holy One of Israel:
“I am the Lord your God,
Who teaches you to profit,
Who leads you by the way you should go.” Isaiah 48:17
Next Week: Exodus 14:1-9 (The Lord is Watching) (39th Exodus Sermon)
The Lord has you exactly where He wants you. He has a good plan and purpose for you. Even if a deep ocean lies ahead of You, He can part the waters and lead you through it on dry ground. So follow Him and trust Him and He will do marvelous things for you and through you.
And it shall be, when the Lord brings you
Into the land of the Canaanites, as He swore
To you and your fathers to do
And gives it to you, these directions do not ignore
That you shall set apart to the Lord
All that open the womb, that is, every firstborn
That comes from an animal which you have, heed my word
The males shall be the Lord’s, I now warn
But every firstborn of a donkey
You shall redeem with a lamb
And if you will not redeem it with that fee
Then you shall break its neck according to this program
And all the firstborn of man’s bloodstream
Among your sons you shall redeem
So it shall be, when your son asks you
In time to come, saying, ‘What is this?’
That you shall say to him, ‘By strength of hand it is true
My following words do not miss…
The Lord out of Egypt us He brought
Out of the house of bondage
This great deed He wrought
And it came to pass
When Pharaoh was stubborn about letting us go
That the Lord killed all the firstborn
In the land of Egypt, even so
Both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of beast
From the greatest of them, even to the least
Therefore I sacrifice to the Lord
All males that open the womb, it would seem
According to His divine word
But all the firstborn of my sons I redeem
It shall be as a sign on your hand
And as frontlets between your eyes
For by strength of hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt the land
While Egypt was filled with mournful cries
Then it came to pass on that day
When Pharaoh had let the people go
That God did not lead them by the way
Of the land of the Philistines that was near although
For God said, “Lest perhaps the people their minds do change
When they see war, and return to Egypt
And for freedom, instead bondage they exchange
So God led the people around by way
Of the wilderness of the Red Sea
And the children of Israel went up that day
On orderly ranks out of the land of Egypt, hooray and yippee!
And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him
For he had placed the children of Israel under solemn oath, saying
“God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones
From here with you as I am now relaying
So they took their journey from Succoth
And camped in Etham at the edge of the wilderness
And the Lord went before them by day as we note
In a pillar of cloud to lead the way, the means of egress
And by night in a pillar of fire to give them light
So as to go by day and by night, following the glorious sight
He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day
Or the pillar of fire before the people by night
The Lord is there to always lead the way
In the path which is just and right
Such a wonderful story God has given to us
To tell of His wondrous redemption plan
And it is all focused on Jesus
And what He has done for each of us, fallen man
Thank You, O God for Jesus Christ our Lord
Our precious Savior, Your eternal word
Hallelujah and Amen…