The Message of the Cloud and the Fire

Yael Eckstein  |  January 10, 2022

Fire in the middle of wilderness while the sun is setting behind it.

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. – Exodus 13:21

Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is Beshalach, which means “when he sent them away,” from Exodus 13:17–17:16.

There’s an old Yiddish expression, “Man plans, and God laughs.” We make our plans and map out our vision for the future, and just when we think we are in control, God throws us a curveball. I can’t count how many times I thought I had a clear idea of how things were going to be only to find out that God had other plans.

On the other hand, there have been times where I had the opposite experience. I felt lost and confused, unsure of where things were headed, only to have God show me exactly what He had planned. I think that God just wants us to remember that He’s in control, not us.

So, when we forget, He reminds us.

I thought about this while reading the opening verses of this week’s Torah portion. The Bible tells us that when the children of Israel left Egypt and began their journey into the desert, they were led by God, who appeared at the front of the camp as a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire at night.

The Message of the Cloud and Fire

I was thinking about the message of these two “pillars.” Cloud and fire seem to have the opposite effects. A cloud makes it more difficult to see. It obscures the view of what’s in front of us. A pillar of fire has the opposite effect. Fire lights up the night and allows us to see when we otherwise would be, literally, “in the dark” about what lies ahead.

Maybe this was God’s lesson to the nation of Israel as they began their journey. By day, when they should have been able to see clearly and confidently map out their path, God appeared as a cloud in front of them, obscuring their view. And then at night, when they shouldn’t have been able to see a thing, God appeared as a pillar of fire, lighting up the way before them with perfect clarity.

Sometimes God clouds our vision. At other times, He opens our eyes to see clearly. Whether we know the plan or not, the message of the cloud and fire is that we can always trust that God is leading us through our journey, by day and by night, through good times and bad.

Your Turn:

Think of a time when God took your plans in a different direction. Thank God today for leading you on your journey.

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