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The Bible first mentions pillars of cloud and fire in the book of Exodus, in connection with the Israelites making their escape from the Egyptian army. The Lord is described as being IN the pillar, both day and night, and the pillar proceeds forward in front of the people:

Exodus 13:21 And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud, to lead them on the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; so that they might travel by day and by night; 22 The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night never failed to go before the people.

An artist's depiction of a pillar of cloud leading the Israelites as they traveled
in the wilderness. (Source unknown)

In the next chapter (Exodus 14:19), we find out that there was an angel of God (Elohim, plural), in addition to the pillar. While the cylindrical ship I saw as I sat on the top of Sun Mountain was in a horizontal position over the city below my feet, the pillar described below is spoken of as standing — a vertical orientation.

Here is a photo of an actual cloud form in a vertical orientation. Compare it to the artist’s depiction above. One can see that a spiral-shaped vortex contributes to its shape, similar to the whirlwind that I was shown in 1987. As already discussed, whirlwinds are often associated with “heaven” in the Old Testament, and it would not surprise me to discover that this was a cloudship that was being shown as a “show of presence” to the person who took the picture of it.

Notice that this cloud is being shaped by the action of a spiral-shaped vortex.

Exodus 14:19 And the angel of God, who went before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them:

It is important to note that these two verses came from different manuscripts. Exodus 13:21 refers to Yahweh, and comes from the “J” (Yahwistic) manuscript. Exodus 14:19 comes from the “E” (Elohistic) manuscript. This is a good example of how what we consider to be one continuous narrative is really a series of narratives, pasted together as if they were from the same source. I discuss this more in "Closing Thoughts," the last page of this article.

The function of the pillar (of fire) is said to be to provide light at night between the camp of the pursuing Egyptian army and the camp of the Israelites that were fleeing from Egypt, so “they could not draw near one to another” (without being seen). This implies a strategic intent on the part of whoever or whatever was controlling the pillar’s movements:

Exodus 14:20 And it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel; and it was cloudy and dark all the night, but it gave light all the night to the children of Israel, so that they could not draw near one to another all the night.

This standing orientation is also mentioned in Exodus 33:9-10, which takes place after the flight from Egypt was complete and the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness. The pillar descends and comes to rest, standing at the door of the tabernacle, after which someone “talks with” Moses. In the original Hebrew, the speaker is not identified, so an assumption is generally made that it is “the Lord” talking, but the text does not specify the identity of the speaker. It does imply a two-way conversation between them:

Exodus 33:9 And it came to pass as Moses entered the tabernacle the pillar of cloud descended and stood at the door of the tabernacle and the Lord talked with Moses10 And all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the door of the tabernacle; and all the people rose up and worshipped, every man in his tent door.

In this painting, we can see the pillar is directly above the tabernacle,
not “standing at the door,” as described in Exodus 33:9-10.

Yet another element is introduced in other chapters. In addition to the pillar, a “cloud” is also described. This cloud sometimes contains the “glory of the Lord,” which is so bright at times, people cannot bear to be near it. (Exodus 16:10, Exodus 40:34, Kings 8:10-11, 2 Chronicles 5:13-14)

This cloud comes to rest on Mt. Sinai and covers it for six days, after which the Lord calls to Moses from within the cloud. Moses goes up into the cloud, where he remains for 40 days and 40 nights. We have to assume that his physical needs were somehow provided for during that time, possibly by whomever he was talking to.

While this isn’t Mt. Sinai, it does show a good example of a cloud covering a mountain
in such a way that a person could climb up into the cloud. It also looks a lot like a cloudship!

Exodus 24:16 And the glory of the Lord rested upon Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; and on the seventh day the Lord called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud17 And in the sight of all the children of Israel, he saw the glory of the Lord like a burning fire on top of the mountain. 18 And Moses went into the midst of the cloud and went up to the mountain; and Moses was in the mountain forty days and forty nights.

Like the pillar, this other cloud moves under its own control and serves to guide the Israelites in terms of when to move and when to remain where they are. Like the pillar, it is described as looking like a cloud during the day and looking like fire during the night. However, this cloud is upon/over the tabernacle, not in front of it. It is not the same as the pillar, and its movements are described as moving upwards or downwards, not proceeding in front of the people as they walked.

In this painting, the artist has portrayed the cloud over the tabernacle 
as being similar to the pillar of cloud being talked about above. 
However, this pillar is not “standing at the door,”so it's a mixed visual metaphor.

Exodus 40:36 And when the cloud was lifted up from over the tabernacle, the children of Israel started onward in all their journeys; 37 But if the cloud was not lifted up, then they did not journey till the day that it was lifted up. 38 For the cloud of the Lord was upon the tabernacle by day, and fire was on it by night in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys.

Apparently, this is yet another example of different manuscripts being pasted together, when they originated from totally different sources.

According to the Elohist account (E), the pillar of cloud served “not as a regular escort marching at the head of the people, but as an intermittent presence, descending from time to time to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting when God conversed with Moses (Exodus 33:9-10; Numbers 11:25; 12:5).” 

“The priestly authors (P) taught that ‘a cloud of the Lord’ (not a pillar) with a fiery appearance by night, permanently covered the Tabernacle from the day of its completion, lifting only to signal the breaking of camp for a new journey (Exodus 40:34-38; Numbers 9:15-23; 10:11-12, 34; 14:14).”

The following verse from the P manuscript states that the Lord (Yahweh in Hebrew) has been seen face to face, that Yahweh’s cloud stays over them, and that Yahweh guides them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Yahweh has a face that can be seen and is not an infinitely vast field of intelligent energy, which is our understanding of the nature of the Creator. This fits with my own feeling that Yahweh is a being of some kind (probably an extraterrestrial one), NOT the ineffable Creator. The elohim are always named in the plural, and they are not the Creator Itself, either!

Numbers 14:14 And they will tell the inhabitants of this land about it. They have already heard that you, O LORD, are with these people and that you, O Lord, have been seen face to face, that your cloud stays over them, and that you go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.

Hopefully these examples will give you a clearer understanding that these clouds and pillars are closely connected with the entity that the Israelites regarded as “God,” or “The Lord” but who was more likely an extraterrestrial being or group of beings.

Clouds do not enter the picture again until the book of Daniel, and then they are associated with the coming of the Son of man, the subject of the next page and the one that most concerns us with regard to the coming evacuation.
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