Darkness into Light (Exodus 14).
Blog-post number two from chapter 14 of Exodus: From Darkness into Light. If you read the first one ‘To Fight or Not to Fight’, don’t worry, you’re in the right place and this is something new. There’s just so much to blog about in this chapter! Last time I looked at how God fought for the Israelites at this crucial and celebrated Red Sea encounter, and how it raises awkward questions for us in terms of when we need to act and when we just need to let God do His thing. This time around I’m focusing on the symbolism of going from darkness into light.
There’s a point in the story where the escaping Israelites have reached the Red Sea and find themselves trapped between water in front and enemies behind. In this tight fix, verses 19 and 20 say this:
“Then the angel of God, who had been travelling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long.”
I’m sorry, what now? This is mind-boggling, and I suppose how you read it will depend on your pre-disposition. A person of faith like myself will read this and think, ‘Wow, how cool is our God?’ Maybe a non-believer will think ‘Whaaaat?’ My hope is that anyone reading this will approach this spectacle with an open mind.
The Old Testament is full of dramatic, quirky, bizarre, downright supernatural things. One of them right here is this ‘pillar of cloud’. This is the same pillar of cloud which guided the Israelites as they set out from Egypt in chapter 13. It was a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Ex. 13:21), but both were manifestations of God’s presence with His people. Initially it was a guiding presence, leading the way into the unknown, like a divine torch-cum-compass. Now it also becomes a protective presence, a divine forcefield. Can you imagine Pharaoh’s war-council that night? ‘Um, sire, we can’t advance…’ ‘Why not?’ ‘Um, there’s this crazy pillar of cloud that’s blinding us…’ Oh to have been a fly on the tent canvas to see their faces. This is not how these things were supposed to go…
I just love this. So much. If Moses made this up, then fair play to him – what an imagination? But I believe this actually happened. At times God tears the fabric of reality, breaks the rules and gets involved. Think of that Dad who watches the kids’ game get increasingly violent and chaotic. He’s not supposed to get involved, but He does to protect His kid. God gets personally involved to look after His kids. That’s the kind of heavenly Dad we have. Oh, and did I mention our badass big brother there as well? ‘The angel of God’ is Old Testament code for Jesus. He’s there: he ‘withdrew and went behind them.’ The son of God was Israel’s rearguard. What better protection could you wish for? A pillar of cloud provided the defensive forcefield. This must have been like a desert sandstorm and a solar eclipse all rolled into one.
I love how ‘Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to other side‘ (verse 20). God can do both. He can light up your path and confound the purposes of your enemies all at the same time. How cool is our God?
But what’s even cooler than the Hollywood action sequence in chapter 14 is the symbolism that this passage is steeped in. From darkness into light. That represents the transformation that comes when God gets involved, the journey that God takes us on. For the Israelites their darkness was slavery and oppression in Egypt which now they were free from. For us our darkness was slavery to sin, a hopeless state with the certainty of everlasting darkness without God. Our light is the salvation that comes through Jesus. The Exodus transformation was just a dress-rehearsal of the greater transformation that came in the Gospels and which makes everything different for us. Our souls have been saved. Freedom has come.
Well might David say ‘my God turns my darkness into light‘ (Psalm 18:28). Well might Isaiah record God’s promise that ‘I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth.’ (Isaiah 42:16). Well might Jesus describe His mission and ministry in these same terms: ‘I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.’ (John 12:46). Again, note the symbolism. The same Son of God who brought light to the Israelites in their darkest hour by the Red Sea then brought an even brighter light to us in the darkest hour of all. Amazing.
But best of all for me, for all of us, is how Peter puts it:
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9)
God changes darkness into light. Slavery into freedom. Ignorance into knowledge. Fear into confidence. Despair into hope. Hatred into love. Division into unity. Confusion into clarity. Complacency into purpose. The divine transaction on offer for all of us is as wide-ranging as it is astonishing. Most astonishing of all? It’s free. The price has already been paid. Yet it’s an offer that must be accepted. Those who reject it will, like the ancient Egyptians, remain in darkness.
The war isn’t over. Battles yet unfought still lie in wait. Having crossed over the Red Sea the Israelites still have a desert and many enemies to contend with, just like those of us who have found Jesus face a lifetime of struggle. But the victory is assured, the ultimate end a foregone conclusion, and, thanks to Jesus, for what time we have left we will walk in the light (John 8:12).
To take away:
What personal darkness do you need God to shine His light on?