Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Pillar of Cloud
(PILLAR OF FIRE).
A cloud which accompanied the Israelites during their wandering. It was the same as the pillar of fire, as it was luminous at night (cf. Ex., xiv, 19, 20, 24; Num., ix, 21, 22). The name "pillar" is due to the columnar form which it commonly assumed.
It first appeared while the Israelites were marching from Succoth to Etham, and vanished when they reached the borders of Chanaan (Ex., xiii, 20-22; xl, 36). It was a manifestation of God's presence among His people (Ex., xiv, 24 sqq.; xxxiii, 9; Num., xi, 25; xii, 5; Deut., xxxi, 15; Ps. xcviii, 7). During encampment it rested over the tabernacle of the covenant, after it was built, and before that time probably over the centre of the camp. It rose as a signal that camp was to be broken, and during the march it preceded the people, stopping when they were to pitch their tents (Ex., xl, 34, 35; Num., ix, 17 sqq.; Deut., i, 33). At the crossing of the Red Sea it rested between the Israelites and the Egyptians, being bright on the side of the former and dark on the other (Ex., xiv, 19, 20). During the marches it lit the way at night, and by day protected the people from the heat of the sun (Num., x, 34; Deut., i, 33; II Esd., ix, 12; Wis., x, 17; xviii, 3; Ps. civ, 39). It may be doubted whether it covered the camp by day, as many commentators maintain. Num., x, 34, speaks only of the march, and Wis., xix, 7, does not necessarily refer to the whole camp.
St. Paul (I Cor., x, 1, 2, 6) considers it as a type of baptism, and the Fathers regard it as the figure of the Holy Ghost leading the faithful to the true Promised Land. The rationalistic explanation which sees in the pillar only a torch carried on a pole, such as is used even now by caravans in Arabia, fails to take the data of the Bible into consideration.
PALIS, in VIGOUROUX, Dict. de la Bib., s. v. Colonne de Nuée; and commentaries on the texts cited.