From the moment the Israelites left Egypt, danger followed them all the way. Between the Egyptian army pursuing them and the dangers in the wilderness, the Israelites were a crowd of scared, tired people. They had seen God’s power in Egypt, but they were walking into the unknown. Seeing the cloud during the day and the column of fire during the night was probably a great comfort. The pillar of cloud and fire functioned as a reminder of God’s guiding and protective care, shown in Exodus 14:19, the pillar interposed between Israel and the pursuing Egyptian army, striking fear into the camp of Egypt and encouraging the Israelites.
When Jesus gathered his disciples for a last conversation, he told them about his departure from them. Fear, anxiety, and uncertainty grew in their hearts. However, Jesus left them with a great promise: the Comforter would come in his place. The Holy Spirit would come to each of Jesus’ disciples to bring comfort, to teach, and to guide. Acts 2:1-4 narrates the coming of the Spirit. It describes a theophany (see sidebar): the sound of a “violent wind” and “what seemed to be tongues of fire.” Any reader familiar with God’s appearances in the Old Testament would recognize these descriptions as a theophany. Just like the cloud and the pillar of fire, the Holy Spirit continues God’s guiding care for his people.
MANIFESTATIONS OF GOD’S PRESENCE
|God met Abraham and made a covenant with him. This covenant sealed God’s promise to give to Abraham a land.||God’s presence occurred in the form of darkness and fire.|
|As the children of Israel were leaving, God guided them away from Egypt.||God’s presence appeared as cloud during the day and a column of fire during the night.|
|After three months our of Egypt, the people of Israel arrived at the foot of Mount Sinai.||God’s presence became visible with a great display of power. Darkness, thunder, and lightening covered the mountains.|
|The Israelites camped around the Tabernacle. God would let them know when to move or remain in place.||God’s presence took the form of the cloud over and inside the Tabernacle. When God decided it was time to move, his presence appeared as a column of fire.|
The word theophany derives from a Greek word meaning “appearance of God.” A theophany is another instance of God special presence.
In some theophanies, God appears in human form, as when he appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre (Genesis 18).
In other occasions, God appears with a great display of power. His appearance at Mount Sinai filled the Israelites with great fear (Exodus 19:16; see also Nahum 1:2-6).
However, God can also appear in a quiet, gentle way, as he did to Elijah at Horeb (1 Kings 19).
Paul’s vision of the resurrected Christ was a theophanic revelation (Acts 9:1-6).