Last Updated on May 24, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 169
Context: The Israelites having been enslaved and persecuted for centuries in Egypt, God tells Moses to lead them to a "promised land," Canaan. Pharaoh refuses to let them leave until God sends plagues and pestilences to afflict the Egyptians. Only after the oldest son in every Egyptian family dies does Pharaoh allow Moses to take the Israelites out of Egypt. God instructs Moses to go through the wilderness of Shur, rather than through the land of the Philistines, a more direct route along the Mediterranean Sea. God's guidance is portrayed in two familiar symbols: the pillar of column of a cloud by day (a long, slender, vertical cloud structure which connects Heaven and Earth) and a pillar or column of fire by night (fire has been associated with divinity from earliest times):
And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night.