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Exodus 13:21

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

The Lord went before them - That by the Lord here is meant the Lord Jesus, we have the authority of St. Paul to believe, 1 Corinthians 10:9; : it was he whose Spirit they tempted in the wilderness, for it was he who led them through the desert to the promised rest.

Pillar of a cloud - This pillar or column, which appeared as a cloud by day, and a fire by night, was the symbol of the Divine presence. This was the Shechinah or Divine dwelling place, and was the continual proof of the presence and protection of God. It was necessary that they should have a guide to direct them through the wilderness, even had they taken the most direct road; and how much more so when they took a circuitous route not usually traveled, and of which they knew nothing but just as the luminous pillar pointed out the way! Besides, it is very likely that even Moses himself did not know the route which God had determined on, nor the places of encampment, till the pillar that went before them became stationary, and thus pointed out, not only the road, but the different places of rest. Whether there was more than one pillar is not clearly determined by the text. If there was but one it certainly assumed three different appearances, for the performance of Three very important offices. 1. In the day-time, for the purpose of pointing out the way, a column or pillar of a cloud was all that was requisite. 2. At night, to prevent that confusion which must otherwise have taken place, the pillar of cloud became a pillar of fire, not to direct their journeyings, for they seldom traveled by night, but to give light to every part of the Israelitish camp. 3. In such a scorching, barren, thirsty desert, something farther was necessary than a light and a guide. Women, children, and comparatively infirm persons, exposed to the rays of such a burning sun, must have been destroyed if without a covering; hence we find that a cloud overshadowed them: and from what St. Paul observes, 1 Corinthians 10:1, 1 Corinthians 10:2, we are led to conclude that this covering cloud was composed of aqueous particles for the cooling of the atmosphere and refreshment of themselves and their cattle; for he represents the whole camp as being sprinkled or immersed in the humidity of its vapours, and expressly calls it a being under the cloud and being baptized in the cloud. To the circumstance of the cloud covering them, there are several references in Scripture. Thus: He spread a Cloud for their Covering; Psalm 105:39. And the Lord will create upon every dwelling place of Mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, A Cloud and Smoke By Day, and the shining of a Flaming Fire by night; for upon all the glory shall be a Defence, (or Covering), Isaiah 4:5; which words contain the most manifest allusion to the threefold office of the cloud in the wilderness. See Numbers 9:16-18, etc.

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

Pillar of cloud - The Lord Himself did for the Israelites by preternatural means that which armies were obliged to do for themselves by natural agents. The Persians and Greeks used fire and smoke as signals in their marches, and in a well-known papyrus, the commander of an Egyptian expedition is called “A flame in the darkness at the head of his soldiers.” By this sign then of the pillar of cloud, the Lord showed Himself as their leader and general Exodus 15:3, Exodus 15:6.

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
The Lord went before them in a pillar, or appearance of the Divine Majesty. Christ was with the church in the wilderness, 1Co 10:9. Those whom God brings into a wilderness, he will not leave nor lose there, but will take care to lead them through it. It was great satisfaction to Moses and the pious Israelites, to be sure that they were under Divine guidance. Those who make the glory of God their end, and the word of God their rule, the Spirit of God the guide of their affections, and the providence of God the guide of their affairs, may be sure that the Lord goes before them, though they cannot see it with their eyes: we must now live by faith. When Israel marched, this pillar went before, and pointed out the place of encampment, as Divine Wisdom saw fit. It sheltered by day from the heat, and gave light by night. The Bible is a light to our feet, a lantern to our paths, with which the Saviour's love has provided us. It testifies of Christ. It is to us like the pillar to the Israelites. Listen to that voice which cries, I am the Light of the world; he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the Light of life, Joh 8:12. Jesus Christ alone, as shown in the Bible, and as the Holy Spirit, in answer to prayer, recommends him to the soul, is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, Joh 14:6.
Ellen G. White
This Day With God, 237.2

We have a message to bear to those who have not had the light of present truth; and in our work we must make no denial of our faith. A study of the history of the children of Israel will help us to learn lessons that will keep us from repeating the mistakes that spoiled their record. The Lord wonderfully delivered this people from their bondage to an oppressive king, and Himself took charge of their vast army. He guided them by a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night—a cloud which enshrouded His own presence. He provided them with food in the wilderness; and men did eat angels’ food.... TDG 237.2

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Ellen G. White
This Day With God, 254.3

The Word of God is to be the man of our counsel, and is to guide our experience. The lessons of Old Testament history, if faithfully studied, will teach us how this can be. Christ, enshrouded in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, was the guide and the light of the children of Israel in their wilderness wandering. Here was an unerring Guide. TDG 254.3

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Ellen G. White
This Day With God, 278.4

God is constantly appealing to the human heart, bidding it recognize His love and mercy, and accept His righteousness in the place of the principles of evil. Thus He has pleaded with mankind in all ages. In Noah's day Christ spoke to men through a human agency and preached to those who were in bondage to sin. He came to Israel enshrouded in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. He it was who educated that vast multitude in their wilderness wandering.... TDG 278.4

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Ellen G. White
The Upward Look, 232.2

This parable is of great importance to all who are entrusted with responsibilities in the Lord's service. God selected a people to be educated by Christ. He brought them into the wilderness to be trained for His service, and there gave them the highest code of morality—His holy law. To them was committed God's lesson book, the Old Testament Scriptures. Enshrouded in the pillar of cloud Christ led them in their wilderness wandering. By His own power He transplanted the wild vine from Egypt to His vineyard. Well might God ask, “What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done?” (Isaiah 5:4). UL 232.2

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