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  • The pillar of cloud and fire

  • Historical Faith Society

    December 18, 2020 at 4:44 am
  • Thomas Donlon

    January 20, 2021 at 8:45 pm

    There won’t be any evidence for this miracle. A mountain in Saudi Arabia is alleged to have a black top that is only black on the surface. If true that will be intriguing. But there could be different types of pillars of cloud and fire. If it was only smoke on mountain tops we could think volcanoes. There are a number of little ones in Saudi Arabia.

    If archaeology can prove the blackened mountain top in Saudi Arabia doesn’t have a normal geological explanation that will be intriguing. Also scripture indicates Elijah went to a mountain and the Lord tore apart the rocks with wind, caused a great fire outside and and a strong earthquake. If the sequence of Elijah’s events could make sense to me, I might argue there was a bit of asteroid type thing, that could have heated the air up to a severe temperature (like that of a nuclear blast) part of it could have exploded in the air and caused the powerful wind, and some of it hit the ground to cause the quake. Yet all this is conjecture, and I’m not sure what the timeline would be in the event a small asteroid, comet fragment or whatever raced into the lower atmosphere. The easiest thing here to believe is that it was the presence of God. It even appeared later when Solomon had the ceremony and celebration when the temple of God in Jerusalem was finally complete.

    • Deborah Hurn

      January 20, 2021 at 10:48 pm

      The theory of Israel moving towards a static volcano plume on the Arabian horizon (Humphreys, Baltz et al) does not fit with the biblical descriptions of the pillar of cloud and fire, that went ahead of the people, stopped, ‘settled’, rose, and moved again. There are so many texts about the pillar of cloud and fire, all in agreement on its ‘habits’:

      Exo 13:21-22 NRSV  The LORD went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night.  (22)  Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.
      Exo 14:19-20 NRSV  The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them.  (20)  It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night.
      Exo 40:34-38 NRSV  Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.  (35)  Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled upon it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.  (36)  Whenever the cloud was taken up from the tabernacle, the Israelites would set out on each stage of their journey;  (37)  but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day that it was taken up.  (38)  For the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, before the eyes of all the house of Israel at each stage of their journey.
      Num 9:15-22 NRSV  On the day the tabernacle was set up, the cloud covered the tabernacle, the tent of the covenant; and from evening until morning it was over the tabernacle, having the appearance of fire.  (16)  It was always so: the cloud covered it by day and the appearance of fire by night.  (17)  Whenever the cloud lifted from over the tent, then the Israelites would set out; and in the place where the cloud settled down, there the Israelites would camp.  (18)  At the command of the LORD the Israelites would set out, and at the command of the LORD they would camp. As long as the cloud rested over the tabernacle, they would remain in camp.  (19)  Even when the cloud continued over the tabernacle many days, the Israelites would keep the charge of the LORD, and would not set out.  (20)  Sometimes the cloud would remain a few days over the tabernacle, and according to the command of the LORD they would remain in camp; then according to the command of the LORD they would set out.  (21)  Sometimes the cloud would remain from evening until morning; and when the cloud lifted in the morning, they would set out, or if it continued for a day and a night, when the cloud lifted they would set out.  (22)  Whether it was two days, or a month, or a longer time, that the cloud continued over the tabernacle, resting upon it, the Israelites would remain in camp and would not set out; but when it lifted they would set out.
      Num 14:14 NRSV  and they will tell the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that you, O LORD, are in the midst of this people; for you, O LORD, are seen face to face, and your cloud stands over them and you go in front of them, in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night.
      Neh 9:19 NRSV  you in your great mercies did not forsake them in the wilderness; the pillar of cloud that led them in the way did not leave them by day, nor the pillar of fire by night that gave them light on the way by which they should go.

  • Deborah Hurn

    January 26, 2021 at 4:25 am

    I will just paste here some notes I have collected on this topic:

    [1] The Jewish people numbered many thousands (see: The number of the Jews); they owned two-wheeled wagons pulled by pairs of oxen (Numbers 7,3-9), herds of cattle, sheep, and goats. On the move the wagons formed an endless column and the herds were scattered around it for miles since they had to be grazed along the way. To guide and coordinate the movements of such a mass posed a serious problem. Moses solved it in a simple manner, which presumably was common in those times: at the head of the column on the move, a large brazier of burning bitumen was placed on a wagon. A column of dense smoke arose from it which could be seen from a great distance, thus serving as a beacon during the march. At night the glow of the fire in the brazier served the same purpose (Ex. 13,21).

    Barbiero, Flavio. “Crossing of the Red Sea.” Altri Occhi Come i Nostri (blog), December 2015.

    [219] Neither the Egyptian army nor the Israelites appear to have been fazed by the sight of a pillar of fire.

    Baukal Jr., Charles E. “Pillar of Fire Theories.” Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament 32, no. 2 (July 3, 2018): 217–35.

    [63] During these marches it is related that the Lord went before the Israelites by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light. With reference to this Linant relates that in modern times the great caravan, which every year sets out from Cairo to Mecca, has a conductor on a camel leading the way. Day and night, whatever the weather is, he remains without any covering naked to the waist. With him march men with large torches, which are kept alight during the night and illuminate the column of smoke above them, so that it appears a pillar of fire. During the day, when the head of the caravan is difficult to see on account of intervening; hills and mounds of sand, the torches are kept burning, so that, instead of the light which served during – the night, a column of smoke rising vertically on calm days might serve as a guide to the straggling caravan from afar, and indicate the time and place of a halt. So was it also arranged in after days when the tabernacle was complete — ” the cloud covered it by day, and the appearance of fire by night,” and Israel journeyed or halted according as the cloud was ” taken up ” from the tabernacle or abode upon it.

    Brown, Robert Hanbury. The Land of Goshen and the Exodus. London: Edward Stanford, 1899.

    [158] Just as caravan guides in the wilderness are accustomed to carry in front of their caravans certain signals to guide the caravans in the right direction, smoke signals by day and fire by night…

    Cassuto, Umberto. A Commentary on the Book of Exodus. Translated by Israel Abrahams. Jerusalem: Magnes, 1967.

    [179] In Exodus 13, it is said that a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night accompanied the host. Sir Hanbury Brown, in his book ‘The Land of Goschen and Exodus,’ explains this as being the torches carried by caravans when crossing the desert to mark the route for stragglers–the smoke showing for miles in the clear desert air, and at night the reflection from the torches on the cloud of smoke giving the appearance of a column of fire. This is a very feasible explanation…

    Jarvis, Claude S. Yesterday and Today in Sinai. London: W. Blackwood and Sons, 1938.

    [111] Pillar of cloud and fire: the practice of… a brazier… The troops took their cue as to the movement and direction from the smoke and the fire. [ref]

    Sarna, Nahum M. Exploring Exodus: The Heritage of Biblical Israel. New York, NY: Schoken, 1986.

    [397 n.1] Pillar of cloud and fire. The custom of guiding caravans by means of smoke and light is referred to by many authors.[refs] “Fire was to be the signal by night; smoke by day” [Alexander the Great’s marches] It is not that the pillar of fire and cloud which led the Israelites was not miraculous; but it is that its form and purpose were in the line of Oriental methods.[also Hajj caravans]

    Trumbull, H. Clay. Kadesh-Barnea - Its Importance and Probable Site: Including Studies of the Route of the Exodus and the Southern Boundary of the Holy Land. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1884.

    [89] The text does not suggest that the pillar was supernaturally generated, only that it was the means of supernatural guidance. For this reason, some have suggested that it was the result of a brazier of some sort carried on a pole that [90] would be used by vanguard scouts. This was a method often used by caravans. On the other hand, the pillar is always portrayed as acting (coming down, moving) rather than being operated (no human is ever said to move it), so the vanguard theory is difficult to support.

    Walton, John H., Victor H. Matthews, and Mark W. Chavalas. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1997.

    and a link re bitumen:

    • Deborah Hurn

      May 5, 2021 at 8:35 am

      I should post here this section by Sir Hanbury Brown on the Pillar of Cloud and Fire.

      [74] But as the Israelites grumbled in their encampment by the Red Sea, night came on, and an east wind sprang up and carried the smoke of the torches, which, contrary to custom, had been moved behind the camp of the Israelites, towards the camp of the Egyptians. Doubtless this change in the night’s position of the torches was deliberately made with the object of forming a screen between the two camps, so that the Egyptians could not see what the Israelites were doing. The manoeuvre was successful, for the column of smoke was a cloud and darkness to the Egyptians and gave light to the Hebrews, as the

      [75] wind carried the smoke towards the Egyptians and they could not see the light that shone out on the other side. Thus the Egyptians, seeing these smoke-clouds always rising from the same spot, did not suspect what was going on under cover of them. The same strong wind which blew the smoke towards the camp of the Egyptians, made the sea dry land and divided the waters, so that the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground. ” And the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand and on their left.” Now this expression has been probably misunderstood. The picture is drawn in some minds of the Israelites marching along a road with water standing vertically on their right and left, like solid walls of brickwork. But this is not likely to be the meaning, inasmuch as a natural cause for the creation of the dry passage is invoked by the Bible, and therefore it is unreasonable to expect anything but a natural effect. The more probable explanation of the expression is that, the strip of land laid dry being a comparatively narrow one, there were on each side of it expanses of water which served as walls to prevent any attack on the flanks of the fugitive host by the swift-moving chariots of the Egyptians, and also to screen the movement of crossing over from discovery by scouts before it was complete. Thus the Israelites had nothing to fear on the flanks, and had only to take precautions against any movement in their rear. Lastly, the torch-bearers followed the column across to the other side, and the Egyptians then

      [76] detected the movement, which, as dawn was approaching, could not have been much longer concealed. Whereupon the Egyptians, discovering that the Israelites had passed over, pursued, and went in after them to the midst of the sea, even all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots and his horsemen. And as the pursuit began, the day dawned, and, as so often happens about dawn in Egypt, the wind either lulled or changed, and the waters returned and covered the road by which the Israelites had passed over. The chariot-wheels sank in the wet sand and came off, so that the chariots drave heavily ; the line of the ford was concealed by the returning waters, so that the chariots and horsemen, we may suppose, went astray in the deeper water on either side. Looking back through the pillar of fire and of the cloud that concealed the rear-guard of the Israelites, there could be discerned by the growing light of the dawn a scene of frightful confusion, of chariots over-turned and plunging horses, of a disheartened host fleeing from the face of Israel, with the waters mounting higher every moment, and confusion worse confounded, until the chariots and horsemen were covered, and all the host of Pharaoh that came into the sea : there remained not so much as one of them. The horse and his rider were thrown into the sea, and Israel saw the Egyptian dead cast up upon the sea-shore at their feet.

      Brown, Robert Hanbury. <i style=”font-family: inherit; font-size: inherit;”>The Land of Goshen and the Exodus. London: Edward Stanford, 1899.

      Available here in several formats:

  • Jack Von Bronzesnake

    January 26, 2021 at 4:35 pm

    Thank you for the info Deborah, I’ll be going through that for sure!

    Here’s some strong evidence for the Exodus route and details.

    Ron and Penny Caldwell have been to the “Real” Mount Sinai and have video and pics.

    “Natural” explanations for God’s omniscient miraculous power is an effort to appease man and their limited understanding of “science” I’m afraid.


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