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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Pillar of Cloud

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(עִמּוּד הֶעָנָן, column of the cloud, Exodus 33:9-10), otherwise called Pillar of Fire (עִמּוּד הָאֵשׁ, Exodus 13:22), was the active form of the symbolical glory-cloud, betokening God's presence to lead his chosen host, or to inquire and visit offenses, as the luminous cloud of the sanctuary exhibited the same under an aspect of repose. The cloud, which became a pillar when the host moved, seems to have rested at other times on the tabernacle, whence God is said to have "come down in the pillar" (Numbers 12:5; so Exodus 33:9-10). (See PILLAR).

It preceded the host, apparently resting on the ark, which led the way (Exodus 13:21; Exodus 40:36, etc.; Numbers 9:15-23; Numbers 10:34). So by night the cloud on the tabernacle became fire, and the guiding pillar a pillar of fire. (See BEACON).

Modern Germans explain it of a natural appearance, or of the holy fire carried before the host from off the altar; but it is clearly spoken of as miraculous, and gratefully remembered in after ages by pious Israelites (Psalms 105:39; Psalms 78:14; Wisdom of Solomon 10:17) as a token of God's special care of their fathers. Isaiah has a remarkable allusion to it (Isaiah 4:5), as also Paul (1 Corinthians 10:4; 1 Corinthians 10:2; see Pfau, De nube Israelitas baptizante, Viteb. s. a.). A remarkable passage in Curtius (5:2, § 7), descriptive of Alexander's army on the march, mentions a beacon hoisted on a pole from head-quarters as the signal for marching ("a fire was observed by night, a smoke in the day-time"). This was probably an adoption of an Eastern custom. See also an account of an appearance of fire by night in the expedition of Timoleon to Italy (Diod. Sic. 16:66). Similarly the Persians used, as a conspicuous signal, an image of the sun enclosed in crystal (Curtius, 3. 3, § 9). Caravans are still known to use such beacons of fire and smoke, the cloudlessness and often stillness of the sky giving the smoke great density of volume and boldness of outline. (See EXODE).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Pillar of Cloud'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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