Preceded by the Pillar of Light (1845)

William West’s 1845 oil on canvas, rather lengthily entitled The Israelites passing through the Wilderness, preceded by the Pillar of Light, was the last of the Bristol School’s epic treatment of Biblical subjects with their wonderfully romantic landscaping. I rather like it; it shows the departure of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt as told in the book of Exodus. God guided them at night with the light from a pillar of fire. West painted a dramatic scene, with the light streaming down on the tiny figures of Moses and the Israelites. On closer examination, one can see the ark of the covenant being the object upon which the great pillar of light rests. This golden box was the very symbol of God’s presence with His people, an early token of Christ Himself who would one day become flesh and dwell among us. His proximity to His people is no longer as dramatic and perceptive as once it was, but it is no less close or comforting.

“And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20