And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines…
And the Lord went before them, etc. (Exodus 13:21). Israel might have been in Canaan within ten days. Reason why not is given Exodus 13:17. This however, not a reason for the forty years wandering: but only for the circuitous route by the desert of Sinai. The line of Israel's march for the first two days is soon given. They start from Rameses, capital of Goshen, a store city, recently built by the Hebrews, the king there possibly. The first stage was Succoth ("tents") perhaps a caravan station or military camp - a journey of about fifteen miles. Another fifteen miles to Etham on the edge of the desert. There roads, canals, now all to be left behind; just there and then appeared the FIRE AND CLOUD.
I. ITS NATURE. Point out the three leading theories, especially as the two earlier mentioned lead up to the third and the true. The phenomenon was:
1. Common natural fire. Seen as fire by night, as smoke by day. Perhaps the sacrificial fire of Israel preserved from primitive times. An ordinary caravan fire. Or such as was borne at the head of the Persian armies.
2. The same, but glorified by association with a religious idea; viz., that God was in reality the Guide of his people, and that that was well represented by the fire at the head of the hosts.
3. Altogether supernatural. God saw the need of Israel at that moment, and met it in his own superb manner. [For full discussion of Ritualistic explanations, see Kurtz, vol. 2:344-348, Eng. ed.] The phenomenon was a trinity in unity. It was one, not two, not one kind of pillar by night and another by day. It consisted of cloud, of fire (electric?) in the cloud, and of Jehovah in both (Exodus 13:21; Exodus 14:24) The last doubtless a manifestation of the "Angel-God" of the Old Testament.
II. FORMS AND MOVEMENTS.
(1) Usually a pillar (Exodus 13:21).
(2) A wall, see Exodus 14:19, 20. Must have been a wall in this case, of perhaps more than a mile in length. A wall of cloud to Egypt, hiding the moon, the sea, and the advanced movements of the armies of Israel When the cloud lifted, Israel was gone. On the other side, a mile or more of, as it were, electric fire, adding to the moon-illumination by which Israel passed through the sea.
(3) A roof or an awning. See Numbers 10:34; Psalm 105:39; 1 Corinthians 10:1, 2; and the very beautiful passage, Isaiah 4:5, 6.
(1) Usually stationary - on the tabernacle - on the mercy-seat - sometimes filling the tabernacle, so that none could enter to minister.
(2) Lifting, when Israel advanced.
(3) Descending, when Israel was to rest.
III. SIGNIFICANCE. Israel could not have seen the fire-cloud for forty years without catching much of the meaning; but we more. The fire-cloud teaches that the Lord Jesus is:
1. Ever in and with the Church. The glory of Jehovah appeared in the cloud.
2. In two-fold glory; in the fire of holiness; in the cloud of mercy that tempers the blaze. He so appears to the individual soul - to the family - to the Church - to the nation - to the wider world. Note the special outbreakings from the cloud at certain sinful crises in Israel's history.
3. The leader of our pilgrimage. See C. Wesley's hymn, in Wesley's Collection, 326. Yet some scope, then as now, seems to have been left for the play of intelligence (Numbers 10:31).
4. Captain in our holy war. On Egyptian monuments generals are represented as flames, streaming in darkness, at the head of armies. See the hymn beginning: "Forward be our watchword."
"Burns the fiery pillar
At our army's head;
Who shall dream of shrinking,
By our Captain led?"
5. Our wall of defence.
6. Our canopy for comfort.
7. Whose interpositions are ever marked by wondrous timeliness. It was on the "edge of the wilderness" that the fire-cloud first appeared; and after the desert journey, seems to have disappeared, save as it may have been represented by the Shechinah above the mercy seat, which assured unwonted splendour at the dedication of the first temple. - R.
Parallel VersesKJV: And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt:
WEB: It happened, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God didn't lead them by the 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 they return to Egypt;"