My house was built to be environmentally efficient, which means it doesn’t get lots of natural light during the day. I hate this about my house. I want sun to creep in like a magazine spread and I want to see the glare of light on hardwood floors. I find myself going through the house and opening every door, raising every shade, opening windows and blinds, hoping that if I open the house up enough, the light will find its way in.
And in my house I hear weird noises at night–lights that pop and click at random times, pipes draining water for no apparent reason, a fan blowing a plastic bag across the floor. The blinds are pulled, the doors are closed and no light is coming in, but I pay attention to one little green light. Motion detectors downstairs connect to a keypad in my room and that green light tells me that despite what I think I hear, no one is lurking in my house and I don’t need to sleep with my door locked tonight.
Day and night feel completely different in my home, one wanting open space for light to shine and the other wanting to shrink my space so nothing can hide in the shadows.
I didn’t set out to write this whole series on Exodus, but each verse I read leads to another and the Lord keeps reminding me of true things from this text and so I keep going and find that day and night felt completely different to the Israelites too:
By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.
Here’s what I find interesting about the pillar of cloud and fire. The Lord changes the manifestation of his presence in direct correlation to the deficiency of their circumstance.
During the days of scorching heat, he showed up in a cloud, a pillar that not only took its place at the front of the people, but a covering that stretched out over their heads, shielding them from sun and rays, providing relief from the endless desert heat and protection for tender skin and spirits. The God who created the sun itself, the God who designed the desert without shadow or shade, the God who led his people into its sweltering grasp, became Himself the very thing He had purposed their situation to lack.
In the darkest night, He became a pillar of fire, His light allowing them to move in the most unexpected moments, His furnace warning off enemies by its flickering flames, and His glow eliminating nighttime terrors; no Israelite child grew up asking the question, “Are you afraid of the dark?” Though he, too, had purposed the darkness, he could not become its slave and neither would the Israelites under His leadership and provision.
The Lord is not unaware of what the wilderness lacks. The God who leads us by desert road, the God who chooses strange companions to be symbols of hope–no, He is not surprised by the deficiencies of this place. He is not surprised by the loneliness that threatens to suffocate us with its isolation. He is not surprised by the sweltering heat that seems determined to burn up every resource we have left. He is not surprised by the terror of night, the darkness making us easy prey for our enemies, and he is not surprised by the confusion of routes that seem to be leading us no closer to our destination. In fact, he purposed the wilderness to be exactly that.
Instead, our God offers us Himself, becoming an abundance of the very thing our journey lacks, His manifest presence a surplus of what we need on this wilderness way. He becomes a wealth in the wilderness, a wealth that we need not store up, a wealth that we can’t carry or pack, but that we simply receive. For those of us who feel we have nothing left to give, for us who just setting feet to ground is work enough, the gift of his presence is that it requires nothing from you. But it is exactly what we need.
image credit:: tim hamilton, creative commons