Yesterday, we concluded by saying that we like regularity, and that change is difficult. And when changes do come into our lives, we would prefer to know what is coming in advance. We would like to know what our options are, and to know all the details, and then be able to decide ourselves what direction we are going to go.
Unfortunately, God does not lead His people that way. God doesn’t very often take you into His confidence in planning out your life. He simply does those things, and you and I have to go along with it. We have to do this, just as the Israelites did. If one of those stiff-necked people had said, “I don’t care if the cloud is moving. I hate that cloud. I am just going to get by on my own and stay right here for now,” in a very few minutes he would have been stuck in the desert under the blazing sun. He would have died, either by the heat of the sun in the daytime, or from the cold weather at night.
The point is not that God is arbitrary. What God was doing was taking a nation of slaves with no discipline, no laws, and no structured religion, and he was giving them all of those things. He was beginning to train a rabble to become a nation, and also the kind of fighting force that would one day be able to conquer the land of promise. If God is guiding us, which He is if we are trusting in the salvation He has given through his Son, it means there is a goal to which the Lord is leading us. Alan Cole writes, “To speak of a journey is to look for an arrival: He who has begun a work of salvation for Israel will complete it” (Phil. 1:6).1
Now I suppose at this point it is very easy for us to think that Israel had an advantage that we don’t have. After all, they had this visible and unmistakable cloud for them to follow. Perhaps we wish we had that. But are we to suppose that today, in the age of the Church, we are in an inferior position to those who were God’s people under the old covenant? Are we to think that the new covenant is not better in this respect, as in all other respects? Of course not. What we have today must be better—and it is, because God has given us the Holy Spirit, God Himself, the third person of the Trinity. And the Holy Spirit is not merely dwelling over us. He is actually dwelling within us, and He protects and guides us as He enables us to understand the Bible and obey it. Jesus talked about this in the upper room when He told His disciples, “When he, the Spirit of truth, comes he will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). And Paul, writing in his letter to the Galatians, said, “Live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (5:16).
If the Holy Spirit does for us today what the cloud did for Israel in the Old Testament, then the New Testament equivalent of what we find at the very end of the book of Exodus is Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples: “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:1-4).
If you’re a Christian, God has already set His mark upon you by giving you the Holy Spirit. You wouldn’t be a Christian if He hadn’t. But because God, by the presence and power of His Holy Spirit, regenerates you, making you alive in Christ, then the very fact that you are a Christian is evidence that God has set His seal of approval upon you—as He did upon the people of Israel and their work when He came down in the form of the cloud upon the tabernacle. If that great gift of the Holy Spirit has been given to us, then we should aim for God’s approval in our lives and service even more than those who were under the old covenant.
The Holy Spirit is given to us to enable us to follow as God leads and as we follow, to know that we are protected from all enemies. Nothing will ever happen to us that does not first pass through the will of God, and that whatever happens according to the will of God is ultimately for our good. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Rom. 8:28). To follow the Lord in obedience to His commands, knowing that He always watches over and protects us, is our opportunity and our joy.
1R. Alan Cole, Exodus, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1973), 239.