It’s amazing how moving to a place with a completely different climate can change your perspective on the Scriptures.
It took moving to Texas, for example, to really understand why Joseph and his brothers would move to Egypt to escape a regional drought. I’ve been to Egypt, and most of it’s not what I’d exactly call well-watered. You’ve got a narrow strip of habitable land sandwiched between the Nubian Desert and the Sahara. Surely, if anywhere was marginal for crop-growing before the drought set in, Egypt was it.
Except that Egypt has the Nile, and its agriculture is river-fed. A river the size of the Nile doesn’t really care that the regions downstream aren’t getting any rain; as long as the Kenyan heights in which it rises are getting rained on, it’ll keep flowing.
Anyone who has grown up in an arid land like Texas’ semidesert is probably saying something like “well, of course”, but you have to understand that I’m from England. The idea that it might not rain is about as probable as the idea that the tide might not come in. Whereas Texan weather forecasts give you the cloud cover as a percentage, Britain is more likely to give you a percentage chance of seeing the sun. All the agriculture I’ve known about has been rain-fed, not river-fed. It gives you a bit of a mistaken idea about what’s going on.
In a similar vein, the Pillar of Cloud.
In Britain, where clouds are the norm, you just sort of gloss over the pillar of cloud by which God led the Israelites in the desert. It’s nice; God is in it and all that, but the pillar of fire is much more impressive.
Having lived for some time now in a country whose skies’ natural state is unbroken blue and clouds are something of an unusual event, the pillar of cloud takes on a new significance.
In the naturally-overcast Britain of my formative years, it’s the breaks in the clouds that make the weather nice. You get to see the sun. Everything becomes much friendlier.
In Texas, where the sun is more of an enemy than a friend (particularly if you’re as fair-skinned as I am), clouds mean relief. A cloud passes in front of the sun and instantly the perceived temperature drops by several degrees.
Particularly the kind of towering, pillar-like clouds that in Texas mean a really big thunderstorm.
Again, you need to come to somewhere like Texas to really understand what manner of storm this is. North Sea storms are fairly nasty, but the sheer, concentrated viciousness of a good thunderstorm is difficult to match. I think a North Sea storm may cover a wider area, but a thunderstorm from the continental climate pattern of middle America seems wilder, and more concentrated somehow. Some of these things produce hailstones the size of grapefruit that break roofs and kill people. The temperature drops a good 20 degrees Fahrenheit in the space of about as many minutes. Even the raindrops seem a good four sizes bigger than they’d have any right to be in Britain.
Was the pillar of cloud a thunderhead? I don’t know, but the wind patterns that sustain that sort of cloud formation would probably produce some of the same effects. The same cooling, for example, even if the Divine pillar of cloud never produced rain or hail.
In a desert, that’s pretty significant. Even in a not-quite desert like Texas, that’s impressive. God provided His people with a cool and shady spot in the middle of the desert of Sinai. It’s taken Texan summers to make me impressed about it, but finally, I stand back in true awe.
A pillar of cloud really is impressive, after all.