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…
"The Lord went before them in a cloud." So God ever goes before His people, and standing as we do now on the threshold of a new year, we may recall this truth to our great comfort. The future, unknown to us, is not unknown to Him; He has gone before us, and is evermore delicately adjusting things to our discipline, our perfecting, our utmost salvation and bliss.
I. We find an illustration of the text IN THE PREPARATION OF THE WORLD AS A DWELLING-PLACE FOR MAN. Ages before man appeared on this planet, God was preparing it as a habitation for us to dwell in. You talk of "getting the house ready" for some newly married pair; but consider the getting ready of this globe as the scene for humanity to dwell in, and in which to work out its fortunes. What vast ages! What complex and far-seeing adjustments! And so we find to-day that the world has been provisioned for ages, the storehouses of nature are full, we do not lack any good thing. And God also anticipated the moral exigencies of the race.
II. We find another illustration of the text IN GOD'S GOVERNMENT OF THE RACE. We are not moving at random, the world is full of design, the law is progress, we are always entering into our inheritance. The races of man form a vast motley multitude, and the Lord goes before us preparing for us paths, resting places, wells, palm-trees. "He sent a man before them, even Joseph, who was sold for a servant" (Psalm 105:17). "He sent a man before them." And this was not some exceptional thing; God is always sending out pioneers, outriders, heralds to prepare the way for the general host in its march through the ages. They come in science, they come in politics, they come in philosophy, they come in religion: men full of the prophetic instinct, men who anticipate a new world, and who prepare us for it. So these Josephs, these dreamers, go before us, making possible to us new creations, new redemptions, We ought all of us, as God's people, to have a bit of this prophetic instinct in us, helping to usher in a new and better state of things — God's messengers preparing the way. God has gone before us; He is preparing happier things for our race; and although He works mysteriously, He works certainly to His glorious purpose. And all this is true in relation to our universal life. In our worldly life God is ever providing for us new blessings, glad surprises. Some do not see God because of the cloud, but He is in it nevertheless, working out His gracious purpose. And as to our spiritual life and need, God goes before us. We believe in "prevenient" grace — the grace that goes before. Grace that comes before our trials, preparing us for them, so that they do not overwhelm us. Grace that comes before our temptations, warning us of them, strengthening us against them. Grace that comes before our duties, so that we no sooner hear the call than we feel the strength to obey. We may enter a new year with tranquil confidence. Sydney Smith recommended people to take "short views," and we can afford to do that, because God on our behalf takes long views.
III. We find our last illustration of the text in the fact THAT CHRIST HAS GONE BEFORE US INTO THE HEAVENLY PLACES. "A cloud received Him out of their sight." In that cloud He has gone before us to make ready for us once more.
(W. L. Watkinson.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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: