What did “the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night” represent?


By BibleAsk Team

The Pillar of Cloud and Fire

Moses wrote: “And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so as to go by day and night. He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day or the pillar of fire by night from before the people” (Exodus 13:21,22).

Ancient army leaders sometimes used smoke or fire signals to guide their forces through the wilderness. Israel’s pillar of cloud and fire, however, was not produced by human means, it was a miraculous display of the presence of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:1-4, 9) that appeared before them when they left Etham and entered the desert.

The “pillar” (Exodus 14:24), which shone in the dark, was called “the pillar of the cloud” or “the cloud” (Numbers 9:21). By day it appeared as a dark cloud, in contrast with the light of the sun, and by night as a shining light (Numbers 9:15, 16). In the pillar of cloud, the Lord Himself was walking with His people. And from the cloud, He spoke to Moses.

There, the glory of the Lord, known as the “Shekinah,” appeared (Exodus 16:10; 40:34). It was similar to the way the Lord had already revealed Himself to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:2), and at Sinai in thunder and lightning (Exodus 19:16, 18). Thus, the fire and the cloud represented the divine guidance and protection.

God’s Presence

The pillar of cloud was to guide the Israelites by day and to illuminate their camp at night. From Nehemiah 9:19 and Numbers 9:15–23, we may conclude that the pillar of cloud and fire remained with Israel throughout their wilderness travels. Since there is no mention of it in the book of Joshua, it may have disappeared just before the crossing of the Jordan, at the end of the 40 years.

The fact that the pillar of cloud remained with Israel throughout their long journey, even when they were unfaithful, is a hope to the believer that the Lord will not abandon him on his path through life. Christ’s promise, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20), has never disappointed anyone eager to follow where He leads.

There is no situation in life in which the Lord abandons His children. He is present in the darkest nights of pain and failure as well as on the sparking days of joy and prosperity. True, we need Him in the night, when we realize our weakness but perhaps even more during the day, when we feel strong. Although this visible pillar is no longer seen today, God’s powerful presence can still be felt powerfully in the life of every Christian. Blessed are those whose eyes are not so darkened by sin but that they can see the guidance of God.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

We'd love your feedback, so leave a comment!

If you feel an answer is not 100% Bible based, then leave a comment, and we'll be sure to review it.
Our aim is to share the Word and be true to it.