Have you ever found yourself captivated by the clouds? Perhaps you have even drifted into deep reflection as you watched their movements in the sky. What if your survival depended on following a cloud?
For approximately two million people tasting freedom for the first time, this was the case. Four hundred and thirty years after His covenant promise to Abraham, God was bringing the children of Israel out of bondage in Egypt to receive a land of their own as an inheritance. As they began their journey, God revealed Himself to them in a remarkable way.
We are reminded of this dramatic event in Exodus 13 where it is recorded: “And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so as to go by day and night. He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day or the pillar of fire by night from before the people” (verses 21-22).
The pillar of cloud and fire provided a tangible sign of God’s presence in Israel’s lives as they journeyed through the wilderness. Although God does not manifest His presence in the same fashion today, God still “goes before” us. By looking at how God worked with Israel, we can see how God works in our lives to protect, guide and give us life.
What exactly does “went before” mean? The Hebrew word translated as “went” in verse 21 literally means, “to go, come or walk, carrying the idea of movement. It is used metaphorically to speak of the pathways of one’s life” according to The Complete Word Study Dictionary.
The word “before” comes from a plural noun that is always used in a singular sense meaning a face. The Complete Word Study Dictionary says, “It is a figuratively idiomatic phrase substituted for the entire person.” When these two words are put together, they give the sense of God walking beside us throughout our lives. As Exodus 33:14 Exodus 33:14And he said, My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.
American King James Version×says when God speaks, “My Presence will go with you” (emphasis added throughout).
Promise of Protection
When the children of Israel camped at the Red Sea, the pillar of cloud moved behind them as a buffer between them and the approaching Egyptians. It gave light to the Israelites, but caused darkness to fall upon the Egyptians (Exodus 14:13-25 Exodus 14:13-25  And Moses said to the people, Fear you not, stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will show to you to day: for the Egyptians whom you have seen to day, you shall see them again no more for ever.
 The LORD shall fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.
 And the LORD said to Moses, Why cry you to me? speak to the children of Israel, that they go forward:
 But lift you up your rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea, and divide it: and the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the middle of the sea.
 And I, behold, I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they shall follow them: and I will get me honor on Pharaoh, and on all his host, on his chariots, and on his horsemen.
 And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gotten me honor on Pharaoh, on his chariots, and on his horsemen.
 And the angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of the cloud went from before their face, and stood behind them:
 And it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel; and it was a cloud and darkness to them, but it gave light by night to these: so that the one came not near the other all the night.
 And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.
 And the children of Israel went into the middle of the sea on the dry ground: and the waters were a wall to them on their right hand, and on their left.
 And the Egyptians pursued, and went in after them to the middle of the sea, even all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen.
 And it came to pass, that in the morning watch the LORD looked to the host of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and of the cloud, and troubled the host of the Egyptians,
 And took off their chariot wheels, that they drove them heavily: so that the Egyptians said, Let us flee from the face of Israel; for the LORD fights for them against the Egyptians.
American King James Version×). In this way, God provided protection to the Israelites.
In going before us, God promises us physical protection from danger and spiritual protection from distress. We may not always know how God protects us, but we can be certain that He does do so. God told Abram in Genesis 15:1 Genesis 15:1After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am your shield, and your exceeding great reward.
American King James Version×, “I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.” In ancient times, a shield was a weapon of warfare to provide protection against the enemy’s attack.
Henry’s Concise Commentary states that “the consideration that God himself is, and will be a shield to his people, to secure them from all evils, a shield ready to them, and a shield round about them, should silence all perplexing, tormenting fears.” If we put our trust in God, He will act as a buffer, protecting us from the “fiery darts of the wicked one” (Ephesians 6:16 Ephesians 6:16Above all, taking the shield of faith, with which you shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.
American King James Version×).
The Psalms and Proverbs contain many promises of this protection. Here are just a few:
If you reflect back in your life about various circumstances, you can probably recall instances of divine protection when God was a shield to you.
Promise of Guidance
After 40 years of wandering in the desert, Israel stood ready to enter the Promised Land. As Moses gave his last message to Israel before Joshua was to lead them across the Jordan and into the land of Canaan, Moses said, “The Lord your God Himself crosses over before you… Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:3 Deuteronomy 31:3The LORD your God, he will go over before you, and he will destroy these nations from before you, and you shall possess them: and Joshua, he shall go over before you, as the LORD has said.
American King James Version×, 6).
For 40 years Israel had followed the pillar of cloud and fire, moving when it moved, and stopping when it stopped. As they faced a new set of circumstances, God was assuring them that He would continue to guide them just as He had done before.
John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible comments that God was “to guide and direct, to assist and strengthen, to protect and defend, to give success to his arms.” Further, God would “not fail to give him [Joshua] counsel and direction, to afford him strength, and to fill him with courage.”
God also promises to guide us. Guide means to lead the way. It gives the sense of driving cattle or flocks. A guide is someone who leads the way. God is both. In John 10:14 John 10:14I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine.
American King James Version×, Jesus Christ is called our Good Shepherd. We need God’s guidance to direct our steps. The 23rd Psalm paints a beautiful picture of our being guided by God as our shepherd.
Perhaps one of the most encouraging scriptures written is that God “will be our guide even to death” (Psalms 48:14 Psalms 48:14For this God is our God for ever and ever: he will be our guide even to death.
American King James Version×). If we are humble, God will guide us (Psalms 25:9 Psalms 25:9The meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way.
American King James Version×).
Promise of Life
In Deuteronomy Moses reiterated God’s laws to Israel. He reminded them of their choice: “I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; that you may love the Lord your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20 Deuteronomy 30:19-20  I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both you and your seed may live:
 That you may love the LORD your God, and that you may obey his voice, and that you may hold to him: for he is your life, and the length of your days: that you may dwell in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.
American King James Version×).
Israel knew firsthand the results of disobeying God. Jesus Christ, the Word, had given Israel God’s law of life at Mt. Sinai, and Israel had seen the pillar of cloud and fire in front of them daily to remind them of God’s presence. However, during their sojourn in the wilderness, Israel repeatedly disobeyed God.
“But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness” (1 Corinthians 10:5 1 Corinthians 10:5But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness.
American King James Version×). Israel did not have the Holy Spirit. They were rebellious, hard-hearted and did not follow God’s way, and eventually they rejected Him (Deuteronomy 5:29 Deuteronomy 5:29O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!
American King James Version×).
God also promised life to us if we obey Him. When Jesus Christ came in the flesh, He offered the same promise of life. In John 10:10 John 10:10The thief comes not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.
American King James Version×, He said, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” He offered Himself as the Lamb of God so that we could have life through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus Christ is called the “forerunner” ( prodromos in Greek) for spiritual Israel today (Hebrews 6:20 Hebrews 6:20Where the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.
American King James Version×). In his Daily Study Bible Series on John 14, William Barclay describes a forerunner:
“One of the great thoughts of the New Testament is that Jesus goes on in front for us to follow… One of the great words that is used to describe Jesus is the word prodromos (Hebrews 6:20 Hebrews 6:20Where the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.
American King James Version×)… There are two uses of this word which light up the picture within it. In the Roman army the prodromoi were the reconnaissance troops. They went ahead of the main body of the army to blaze the trail and to ensure that it was safe for the rest of the troops to follow.
“The harbour of Alexandria was very difficult to approach. When the great corn ships came into it a little pilot boat was sent out to guide them along the channel into safe waters. That pilot boat was called the prodromos. It went first to make it safe for others to follow. That is what Jesus did.”
When Christ presented Himself before the throne of the Father, He presented Himself as the perfect High Priest. He was also the wave-sheaf offering, making Him the first of the firstfruits that will follow (Hebrews 8-10). As a result, we have the opportunity to receive the Holy Spirit, come before the throne of God the Father and live a life with God’s laws written on our hearts and minds (unlike ancient Israel).
God went before the Israelites to give protection, provide guidance and offer them life through His Word. God goes before us in the same way, offering the same promises. Even with God’s presence clearly seen in the pillar of cloud and fire, Israel had difficulty following Him.
Today, we do not have the pillar of cloud or fire. Yet God still goes before us. Jesus Christ tells us, “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:2-3 John 14:2-3  In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.
 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to myself; that where I am, there you may be also.
American King James Version×).
Jesus Christ has gone before us to prepare a place for us in His Kingdom. Will we follow? UN