It was a quiet, calm morning. I had a steaming cup of coffee, sweetened just right, my tablet open to the Book of Exodus chapter 13, sitting in my massage chair, my normal morning routine. There I was, reading the story of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt, a story I was very familiar with, when I came to a certain section:
Yahweh went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them on their way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might go by day and by night.Exodus 13:21 (REV)
My eyes fell on the word “Pillar”. Why did God use a pillar to describe His presence going before them in fire and by cloud? I was once taught that ”God has a reason for everything He says, where He says it, and why He says it.” I was intrigued and began to search it out.
My first search was the definition of pillar:
Noun – an upright shaft or structure, of stone, brick, or other material, relatively slender in proportion to its height, used as a building support, or standing alone, as for a monument. When used as a verb – to provide or support with.
Wikipedia offered the information that a column or pillar is a compression member, essentially a support to beams or arches.
Okay, now my mind is churning, and my heart skipping. I began to “see” something in my spirit. But before allowing myself to come to any conclusion, I went to the Word of God to see how many uses of pillar there were, and the context they were used in.
The Book of Genesis revealed several uses of the word pillar within the context of monuments. As I read through the scriptures there were many times pillars were built for support, such as in Exodus 26:32, 37, 27:10, along with many other descriptions of the Temple Courtyard.
Other noteworthy Scriptures were Exodus 33:9-10:
It came to pass, when Moses entered into the Tent that the pillar of cloud descended, stood at the entrance of the Tent, and spoke with Moses. All the people saw the pillar of cloud stand at the entrance of the Tent and all the people rose up and worshiped, everyone at their tent entrance.Exodus 33:9-10
Also, Yahweh came down in a pillar of cloud in Numbers 12:5 and Deuteronomy 31:15.
Pillars were also misused in worship of God’s archenemy. One example is found in 2 Kings 10:26,27. It should not be a surprise to the child of God that the enemy would deceive people into making pillars of worship to false deities.
Noteworthy also are the scriptures that say God holds the pillars of the earth, such as in Psalm 75:3, and “Lady Wisdom has built her house; she has carved out her seven pillars” (Prov. 9:1).
Now that I had all of this information, I went back to Exodus 13:21,22. To really understand what the Holy Spirit was teaching me, I felt drawn to look at this record from the perspective of the Israelites. These people were coming out of Egypt, leaving the only life many of them had ever known, and the false gods and practices of the Egyptians. In their defense, they didn’t have a personal relationship with this God; though they cried out to him during their slavery, they didn’t really know him. Moses was the go-between.
With that in mind, God had to show Himself to them. The same challenges He faces today with relating to His creation and His people, He faced then. He needed to show that He could be trusted, that He was ever-present for them, reliable, strong, a support they could lean on. He had to get them to believe in His realness, which was the opposite of the false gods the Egyptians worshipped. I believe that is why He led them with light and fire in the shape of a pillar. They would have been able to see the pillar, even the smallest of them, at all times. They could find their security in the pillar. It wasn’t just that there was constant light to lead them in the way they should go, or that the fire would give heat if needed at night. Though all that was true, it also was the shape that Yahweh chose to guide His people.
In Exodus 13:20, we see the Israelites encamped in Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. This is where the record is of Yahweh going before them by day in a pillar of cloud, to lead them on their way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might go by day and by night. I would assume the wilderness to be pretty dark at night, other than the light of the moon, but God’s presence being pillar-shaped would be plenty of continual light, a constant reminder of His presence. Whether they traveled by day or night, Yahweh was reminding them He was going before them. When the journey was hard or discouraging, they could look to the pillar and be reminded.
In closing, I’d like to turn to the New Testament where we see a few more references of the word pillar.
Paul refers to James, Cephas, and John as those who were held in high regard as pillars by their fellow brethren (Gal 2:9). It is now easier to understand that the believers held these men to be firm in their faith, leaders who were strong and trustworthy.
In 1 Timothy 3:15, the church of the living God is called the pillar and foundation of the truth. That would be us, brothers and sisters. We are the Church, His body, the foundation, Christ Jesus being our head. What a tremendous responsibility we have been given. We are to be leading, to be guiding, to be big, bold, and bright for all to see. As Yahweh was a pillar to the Israelites, so is the Church to the world today.
I don’t know what the world will be like on the day that you are reading this article. We may be in a worse economic state than we are today. These uncertain days demand something from us that we are equipped with the spirit to do. Let’s be the pillars for others who need the hope that is in us.
I would like to close with the second-to-last use of pillar, found in Revelation:
I am coming quickly. Hold on firmly to what you have, so that no one takes your crown. Whoever overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the sanctuary of my God, and he will absolutely not go out from there anymore…Revelation 3:11,12a