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Smoke By Day, Fire By Night

From the time of the Exodus until the Israelites entered the Promised Land 40 years later (a trip that originally was intended to have taken only weeks, not years, but which became a deliberate Journey Without A Destination for some of them), The Lord led them by day as (or in) a pillar of cloud, and by night as (or in) a pillar of fire (the fire was very likely there during the day as well, but was only fully visible at night).

The Tabernacle Smoke By Day, Fire By Night

The pillar of cloud and fire was with the Israelites right from the Exodus:

"But God led the people round by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. And the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle. And Moses took the bones of Joseph [see Coat Of Many Colors] with him; for Joseph had solemnly sworn the people of Israel, saying, "God will visit you; then you must carry my bones with you from here." And they moved on from Succoth, and encamped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. And The Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night; the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people." (Exodus 13:18-22 RSV)

When the Pharaoh (see Who Was The Exodus Pharaoh?) changed his mind about letting the Israelites go and pursued them with his mighty chariot army, the pillar of cloud changed positions from the lead of the Israelite column to the rear, where it blocked the Egyptian army until the sea was parted:

"Then the angel of God who went before the host of Israel moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the cloud and the darkness; and the night passed without one coming near the other all night. Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided." (Exodus 14:19-21 RSV)

A clear statement that The Lord was (1) in the pillar of fire and of cloud, and (2) the pillar of fire and of cloud were the same, they only appeared different, in the daytime when the "cloud" (smoke?) was made more visible and the flame less visible by the sunlight, and at night when the cloud (again, smoke?) was made less visible and the flame more visible by darkness:

"And in the morning watch The Lord in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down upon the host of the Egyptians, and discomfited the host of the Egyptians" (Exodus 14:24 RSV)

The Lord spoke to Moses directly, "as a man speaks to his friend," from the pillar of cloud:

"Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, far off from the camp; and he called it the tent of meeting. And every one who sought The Lord would go out to the tent of meeting, which was outside the camp. Whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people rose up, and every man stood at his tent door, and looked after Moses, until he had gone into the tent. When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the door of the tent, and The Lord would speak with Moses. And when all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the door of the tent, all the people would rise up and worship, every man at his tent door. Thus The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses turned again into the camp, his servant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, did not depart from the tent." (Exodus 33:7-11 RSV)

The sight of the cloud by day and the fire by night was a part of daily life for the Israelites during their entire Wilderness Journey:

"Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of The Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting, because the cloud abode upon it, and the glory of The Lord filled the tabernacle. Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would go onward; but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not go onward till the day that it was taken up. For throughout all their journeys the cloud of The Lord was upon the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel." (Exodus 40:34-38 RSV) (see also The Tabernacle In The Wilderness)

Fact Finder: At the time The Lord descended upon Mount Sinai, when He formally proclaimed The Ten Commandments (they were actually in effect long before that, see The Ten Commandments Before Sinai?), did He do so in smoke and fire?
Exodus 19:18


This Week's Bible Quiz

Who said it?

1. "You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." (Genesis 3:4-5 RSV)

2. "I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?" (Genesis 4:9 RSV)

3. "Let me eat some of that red pottage, for I am famished!" (Genesis 25:30 RSV)

4. "These twenty years I have been in your house; I served you fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flock, and you have changed my wages ten times" (Genesis 31:41 RSV)

5. "Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either heretofore or since thou hast spoken to thy servant; but I am slow of speech and of tongue." (Exodus 4:10 RSV)

6. "If you had not plowed with my heifer, you would not have found out my riddle." (Judges 14:18 RSV)

7. "And now, whereas my father laid upon you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions." (1 Kings 12:11 RSV)

8. "If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty." (2 Kings 1:10 RSV)

9. "there is nothing new under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 1:10 RSV)

10. "No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or astrologers can show to the king the mystery which the king has asked, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days" (Daniel 2:27-28 RSV)

For the answers to this April 1 2003 quiz, see the Bible Quiz Answers Page


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