Pillar of Fire and of Cloud


The explanation of this phenomenon is not easy. The association of the term “cloud” with God is very frequent in the OT. In some of the above passages the term “cloud” may mean “pillar of cloud” (Exod 34:5) although the presence of the Lord often is denoted by a theophany of cloud and glory. Perhaps there are two different phenomena—the guiding cloud and the cloud of the divine presence.

Some rationalistic writers have suggested that the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night may have been produced by a lighted bowl of pitch mounted on a pole. There are references by ancient historians and later travelers to the practice of Pers. armies and Arab caravans carrying braziers of burning wood at the head of their march. The large bronze pillars in front of Solomon’s Temple, which are thought by some to have been fiery cressets (or bowls of pitch), that emitted smoke and flame by day and night during festivals (1 Kings 7:15), were called “pillars” (עַמּוּד, H6647). There is, however, absolutely no proof in the Heb. text for this theory. Although it may be conceded that a device made with God’s approval could still serve His purpose, and that fire and smoke might have been employed as symbols of His presence. Yet the Scripture narrative implies that the pillar of fire and of cloud was supernatural in origin, and was intended to demonstrate God’s presence rather than merely symbolizing it.

Bibliography

W. F. Albright, “Two Cressets from Marisa and the pillars of Jachin and Boaz,” BASOR, 85 (1942), 18-27; G. H. Davies, “Pillar of Fire and of Cloud,” IB, III (1962), 817; J. Finegan, Let My People Go (1963), 95.