How God Guides Us | Campfire Stories for the Exodus 40 Pillar of Fire


Have you ever notice how campfires have a mesmerizing effect? They are community magnets–drawing people together like nothing else. Campfire stories are icon of camping. It must have something to do with being surrounded by darkness while huddled close together in community with friends or family. Campfires are powerful because they symbolize the contrast of exposure and vulnerability out in the wild coupled with caring community that makes us feel safe and part of something bigger than ourselves. My family has campfires on our stone patio quite often, and we never get tired of them!

Wilderness experiences are teeming with symbols like this that we can use to help people connect with God through stories in the Bible. The following is a “teachable moment” that you might be able to use with your group the next time you enjoy a campfire in the wilderness.

By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. ( Exodus 13:21)

Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 35 Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out—until the day it lifted. So the cloud of the Lord was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel during all their travels. (Exodus 40:34-38)


In Exodus 40:34ff God speaks to Moses in the pillar of fire.  Imagine the thousands of Israelites encamped around the Tabernacle (their tent of worship) and seeing every day a pillar of fire (God’s presence) abiding with them.  With God’s presence in the pillar of fire there was nothing to fear. I can imagine a kid getting scared in the middle of the night like we sometimes do while sleeping out in the wild. Yet with God present in the pillar of fire, all he would have to do was lift the flap of his tent and look over the sea of tents and see the pillar in their presence. That would settle anyone’s fears.


Yet in God’s wisdom he would move sometimes.  No one could control him or tell him what to do. At his discretion, the pillar of fire would start to move in another direction.  I can imagine the people eventually got comfortable in their little tent/villages. So when they saw the pillar of fire began to move, they might have grumbled and complained because they didn’t want to pack up and journey somewhere else.


How silly it would have been for the people to stay behind as the pillar of fire moved out in a new direction.  I can imagine some stubborn comfortable guy, deciding to hang back in his tent while the rest of the Israelites migrated on behind the pillar of fire. This reminds me of the scene in the movie Ice Age where the Sloth sleeps through the migration and wakes up to a tree empty of all of his friends.  Even if someone was stubborn enough to stay behind.. once the pillar of fire went over the mountain out of sight, and night settled in… it probably didn’t take long for the guy to realize he was alone. Living outside of the presence and covering of God in the pillar of fire was not a good choice. People knew that. So they followed even if it was uncomfortable.


This story of the pillar of fire makes think of a trail talk that could be done with a group of young people on a wilderness trip to illustrate the principle.  Here is the scenario:  Imagine sitting around, joking, singing, having a good ole’ time around the camp fire one night.  At just the right time you have your other guide partner sneak off a good distance away out of sight in the night and start another fire in the distance.  Once the other fire is going well… the other guide could come back and let me know we were ready.  Then without any warning, I would grab a jug of water (while the kids are clueless about why I’m doing it.. and in the midst of them having a good time), pour out the water on the fire and douse it is a smouldering pile.  I’m sure group would cry out, “What are you doing?” After the fire was out and we were sitting in the darkness (the guides will feel like big time party-poopers for a moment here) I would say… “Hey, look there, in the distance.  The fire has moved… let’s go over there and see it.”

Then at the new fire, we could tell the story of how the pillar of fire in Exodus 40 would move and lead Israel.  The principle is this: When the fire moved, Israel followed. It is silly not to go where the fire goes. Staying back by the smouldering pile is useless, life is where the fire is.  How often do I/we keep heading down a road that is futile… when all the while God is moving in another direction.  When Jesus taught his disciples to “Abide in Me” this is what he meant. Be sensitive and attentive to what God is doing and go there. By abiding in the Lord, prayerfully, seeking Him, we can always keep our eyes on him and see when he moves.  And when he does move, as tempting as it is, don’t be a lazy slug and wallow in your comfort. Pack up and follow him. Being in the presence of the Fire is much more comforting and fun then sitting in the dark by smouldering coals. If you feel like you are in the darkness where the Spirit no longer is swirling about, then get up and follow the Fire. Go wherever he leads you, no matter how uncomfortable it is. Being with him is far better than being alone in the dark.


  • Look ahead to your next camping trip or wilderness trip with a group. Plan ahead for a night when you want to set up some campfire stories and use a role play like the one above to teach the concept of learning “How God Guides Us.”
  • Please comment below what you think about this “pillar of fire” teachable moment.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

4 thoughts on “How God Guides Us | Campfire Stories for the Exodus 40 Pillar of Fire

  1. Are there any other teachable moments you could draw from the tangible analogy of a campfire? Please share your ideas.

    •  My favorite campfire song was always “It only takes a spark.” There are also a couple verses that always come to mind for me at campfires. Matthew 5:15
      “Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they
      it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.” and John
      1:5-15, “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it…”. At a campfire, one can easily see the difference between the light and the dark because the campfire participants are huddled around the fire, and darkness is all around them. A good discussion could be “How can your life shine into the darkness, rather than being covered up? What sorts of situations can ‘cover up’ the light? For example, the light would not shine in the house, if you took it out of the house. Nor would it be a light if you snuffed it out. To be a light shining into darkness it has to be placed where it is surrounded by darkness to be of any use or comfort. We do not need another light in a brightly lighted building, we need the light where there is none. Is there a way you can make the light of Christ understood in your life so that it will give light to others living in darkness?” 

      • Thanks Ben for your insight and ideas for how to use times around the fire for spiritual input.

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