NEITHER the Israelites nor the Egyptians had seen anything like it before. As the Israelites made their Exodus from Egypt, a pillar of cloud hovered near them and stayed with them day in and day out. At night it became a pillar of fire. How awe-inspiring! But where did it come from? What was its purpose? And what can we, some 3,500 years later, learn from the way that Israel regarded “the pillar of fire and cloud”?—Ex. 14:24.
God’s Word reveals the source and the purpose of the pillar, stating: “Jehovah was going ahead of them in the daytime in a pillar of cloud to lead them by the way, and in the nighttime in a pillar of fire to give them light to go in the daytime and nighttime.” (Ex. 13:21, 22) Jehovah God used the pillar of fire and cloud to guide his people out of Egypt and through the wilderness. They had to be ready to move in order to follow it. When the pursuing Egyptian forces were about to attack God’s people, the pillar moved between the two groups, protecting the Israelites. (Ex. 14:19, 20) Though the pillar did not indicate the most direct route, following its lead was the only way for Israel to get to the Promised Land.
The presence of the pillar assured God’s people that Jehovah was with them. It represented Jehovah, and at times he spoke out of it. (Num. 14:14; Ps. 99:7) Further, the cloud identified Moses as the one appointed by Jehovah to lead the nation. (Ex. 33:9) Likewise, the last recorded appearance of the cloud confirmed Jehovah’s appointment of Joshua as Moses’ successor. (Deut. 31:14, 15) Indeed, the successful outcome of the Exodus depended on the Israelites’ discerning the evidence of God’s guidance and then following it.
Israel’s rebellious acts demonstrated striking disregard for Jehovah’s guidance. The problem was not with their physical sight but with their spiritual outlook. They saw the pillar, but they no longer appreciated its meaning. Though their actions “pained even the Holy One of Israel,” Jehovah mercifully kept on providing guidance by means of the pillar until Israel reached the Promised Land.—Ps. 78:40-42, 52-54; Neh. 9:19.