The Fiery and The Cloudy Pillar
“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” (Isaiah 4:5)
There is an allusion here to the cloudy pillar which rested upon the tabernacle. It was as a cloud by day, but as a pillar of fire by night. The reason of this is evident. By day, the cloud and the smoke were sufficiently visible; but not so in the night season. In the night, therefore, it was a pillar of fire, that the presence of the LORD might be distinctly seen. Spiritually viewed, this night may signify dark seasons in the soul; for there is night as well as day in the experience of God’s saints. Now when they are in these dark seasons, they want clearer and brighter manifestations of the LORD’s presence than when they are walking in the light of day. Thus this “shining of a flaming fire by night” may represent the shining in of the LORD’s clearer, fuller, and more manifested presence, the livelier and more powerful application of His word to the heart; the brighter evidences and clearer marks that He gives of His favour, which, compared with the cloud, are as the shining of a flaming fire. It is the same presence of God, and the same glory, as was the case with the cloudy pillar; but that presence and that glory are seen in a more conspicuous manner as giving light in seasons of darkness.
The shining of a flaming fire by night may also represent the shining light of the Word of truth which is spoken of as “a light that shineth in a dark place” (2nd Peter 1:19). How often when the mind is dark, and evidences obscured, there is little else seen but the clear shining of the Word of truth to which the soul turns its eyes as its only guiding light. “Thy Word,” says David, “is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105). We often get into spots where we have to look out of ourselves to the clear shining of truth in the Word of God; for there is darkness everywhere else; and to that light we have to look and wait, and sometimes at a great distance and for a long season, until that Word comes near and begins to shine into the heart. But with that shining light, as it draws near and gives forth its comforting rays and beams, comes in due time the presence and glory of God. So to fix our heart upon the word of promise, and wait for its fulfilment, is to walk by faith and not by sight. Thus to Abraham the word of promise was by day a cloud; but when “an horror of great darkness fell upon him” (Genesis 15:12), the same word of promise, as the word of a covenant God, was as a burning lamp that passed between the pieces of the offered sacrifices (see verse 17).
The glory of the LORD is His presence in the soul, for that is represented by the cloud, as it was when His glory filled the house of God, which Solomon built. Now this glory of the LORD in the cloud and smoke by day, and in the shining of a flaming fire by night, is to be a defence, both upon every dwelling place of mount Zion and upon her assemblies. A defence against what? Chiefly against four things.
First, it is a defence against error. No person can embrace error who knows anything of the presence and power of God in his soul, or has ever seen anything of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ; for all error is opposed not only to God’s truth, as revealed in the Word, but to God’s presence, as revealed in the heart. And this is true both as regards individuals and congregations. God will never sanction error as held by either. He will never bless with His manifested presence any erroneous man, be he a preacher or private individual, for He never honours or blesses anything but His own truth, and those only who believe and hold it. “Them that honour Me I will honour” (1st Samuel 2:30). This is a very important point, for you will often hear erroneous men speak as if they knew spiritual things by divine teaching and by divine testimony, and will often boast confidently of their comforts and enjoyments, as if they had got their views from God Himself, though they turn the truth of God into a lie. But be not deceived by these men or their false pretensions. They have only kindled a fire to compass themselves about with sparks, that they may walk in the light of their fire, and in the sparks which they have kindled. The Spirit of truth guides into all truth, and cannot and will not countenance or bless error. The Lord’s own prayer to His heavenly Father for His disciples was, “Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy Word is truth” (John 17:17). The soul never was divinely sanctified by a lie, nor the heart truly comforted by error.
But this glory will also be a defence against all evil; for nothing makes sin so to be seen and abhorred as sin as the presence of the LORD. He is known and felt at such moments to be infinitely pure and holy, and a holy God must needs hate sin. If, then, His presence be felt in the soul as a cloud in which He manifests His glory in the face of Jesus Christ, it will be a defence against all the sins in which you might be entangled, when there is no such sensible presence to make you revere and adore His great and glorious Majesty.
It is, therefore, also a defence against all temptations, which would lead us into anything contrary to God and godliness.
And it will be a defence too against all enemies. You may have many enemies, both without and within; but all their attempts to injure you will be unsuccessful if you have the cloud of the LORD’s presence in your soul, and the LORD be your defence. He will watch very jealously over what He Himself has communicated by His Spirit and grace to your heart, and His presence will be your best defence against every foe and against every fear.