Pillar of fire (theophany)
A pillar of fire was one of the manifestations of the presence of the God of Israel in the Torah, the five books ascribed to Moses which conventionally appear at the beginning of the Christian Bible's Old Testament and the Jewish Tanakh. According to Exodus, the pillar of fire provided light so that the Israelites could travel by night during the Exodus from Egypt (perhaps at the time of the 18th Dynasty; see dating of the Exodus). Scripture traditionally pairs a pillar of fire with the manifestation of the divine presence by day as the pillar of cloud. The combination meant that the Children of Israel "could travel by day or night". Throughout the Israelite's time in the desert, traveling from Egypt to Canaan (the Promised Land), YHWH continually used this pillar of fire and cloud to lead his people and to remind them of his presence. When the pillar of God moved forward, the people of Israel would pack up their camp and follow behind it. Similarly, when the pillar of God's presence stopped, the Israelites would set up camp underneath it. The Levites would set up the Tabernacle of the Lord directly underneath the cloud of the Lord. This way, God's presence was visibly in the center of the camp at all times.
Some scholars (for example, Jack Miles in his Pulitzer Prize-winning 1995 book God: A Biography) suggest that the Pillar of Fire and Pillar of Cloud imagery, combined with the focus on the tops of mountains, might mean that the ancient Israelites worshiped a volcano.
- Exodus 13:21-22. 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. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.
- Exodus 14:24. During the last watch of the night the Lord looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion.
- Numbers 14:14. And they will tell the inhabitants of this land about it. They have already heard that you, O LORD, are with these people and that you, O Lord, have been seen face to face, that your cloud stays over them, and that you go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.
- Deuteronomy 1:33 Who went in the way before you, to search you out a place to pitch your tents in, in fire by night, to shew you by what way ye should go, and in a cloud by day.
- Nehemiah 9:12. By day you led them with a pillar of cloud, and by night with a pillar of fire to give them light on the way they were to take.
- Nehemiah 9:19. "Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the desert. By day the pillar of cloud did not cease to guide them on their path, nor the pillar of fire by night to shine on the way they were to take.
- Exodus 40:34-38. "Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on 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 Israelites during all their travels."
- Exodus 13:21
- See the Bible, Book of Numbers, Chapter 9:15-17
- Miles 1995, pp. 110-126
Miles, Jack (1995). God: A Biography.