An upright structural support or column, or something resembling or comparable to such a supporting column.
Some ancient peoples of the Middle East set up sacred pillars in connection with their false religion; quite likely these involved phallic symbolism. The Israelites, upon entering the Promised Land, were to destroy such sacred pillars, and they were forbidden to set up pillars of that sort. (De 7:5; 16:22) However, at times they took up heathen religion and used sacred pillars.—1Ki 14:23; 2Ki 3:2; see SACRED PILLAR.
Quite apart from the improper use of pillars hated by God, the Hebrew Scriptures mention the setting up of pillars or stones of a commemorative nature. Such pillars were neither objects of idolatrous worship nor symbolic of sex organs. They served to recall historic acts or events.
On two occasions Jacob set up stone pillars at Bethel. Both instances involved taking note of Jehovah’s dealing with Jacob in a special way at that place. (Ge 28:18, 19, 22; 31:13; 35:14, 15) The pillar Jacob stationed over Rachel’s grave was no doubt stone and still existed in Moses’ day. (Ge 35:19, 20) When the Israelites accepted the laws Moses had received from God, Moses built an altar and “twelve pillars corresponding with the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Ex 24:4) Joshua gave similar instruction involving stones to represent the tribes, though the account does not call them pillars. These were to serve as a memorial to Israel and would give occasion for fathers to explain to their sons what the twelve stones meant.—Jos 4:1-9, 20-24.
A covenant or a victory could be marked by setting up a stone, often a pillar. (Ge 31:44-53; Jos 24:26; 1Sa 7:10-12) After his victory over the Amalekites, King Saul ‘erected a monument for himself at Carmel.’ (1Sa 15:12) The Hebrew word here translated “monument” is usually rendered “hand,” but it is also used at 2 Samuel 18:18 in connection with the “pillar” Absalom raised up called “Absalom’s Monument” (NW, AT, RS), so evidently Saul erected a victory monument or pillar.—Compare Isa 56:5; see ABSALOM.
The idea of a pillar as a commemorative monument may be involved in the prophecy at Isaiah 19:19. Written in the eighth century B.C.E., it dealt with circumstances after the destruction of Jerusalem in 607 B.C.E. Some of the Jews who were left in their land by the Babylonians fled to Egypt and dwelt in Egyptian cities, as foretold in Isaiah 19:18. (Jer 43:4-7; 44:1) Thus the promise that there would be “a pillar to Jehovah” beside Egypt’s boundary has been understood by many commentators to mean that Jehovah would be taken note of or commemorated in Egypt, whether there was a literal pillar or not.—Compare Isa 19:20-22.
Structural Pillars. Biblical references and archaeological discoveries show pillars of wood, stone, and brick being used in the Middle East as structural supports. Often the roof beams or upper stories of a building were held up by vertical columns. (Pr 9:1; Jg 16:25, 29; 1Ki 7:2) The wood or brick pillars might rest on stone bases. Solomon’s House of the Forest of Lebanon contained rows of cedarwood pillars supporting the beams and upper chambers. Apparently the fact that the cedar was from Lebanon or the resemblance of the pillars to a forest resulted in the building’s name. The nearby Porch of Pillars was obviously also noted for its abundant pillars, though the record does not give their number or material. (1Ki 7:1-6; compare Eze 40:16, 48, 49.) Marble pillars were used in the courtyard of Ahasuerus’ palace.—Es 1:6.
The most noteworthy pillars in Solomon’s temple were two huge copper pillars named Jachin and Boaz in front of the porch. (1Ki 7:15; 2Ki 25:17; Jer 52:21; see CAPITAL.) The New Bible Dictionary edited by J. Douglas (1985, p. 941) suggests that the king stood by one of these pillars on ceremonial occasions, but that cannot be confirmed, for the Bible merely says the king was “standing by his pillar at the entry.” (2Ch 23:13; 2Ki 11:14; 23:3) He could have been standing at a gate of the inner court or some other elevated place for addressing the people.
Smaller pillars were used in the tabernacle, four of acacia wood to support the curtain between the Holy and Most Holy and five to hold up the screen at the entrance. (Ex 26:32-37) Sixty other pillars supported the linen hangings around the courtyard and the screen at the gate of the courtyard.—Ex 27:9-16.
Small, ornamental pillars of silver apparently supported the canopy of Solomon’s litter.—Ca 3:9, 10.
Figurative Use. The material and function of structural pillars made them fitting symbols of sturdy support. They would illustrate that which securely upholds. The Christian congregation could be called “a pillar and support of the truth,” for it upholds the truth in contrast to religious error. (1Ti 3:15) James, Cephas, and John were spoken of as ‘seeming to be pillars’ in the early congregation; they were solidly fixed and strong supporters of it. (Ga 2:9) Christians who conquer will be made pillars in “the temple” of God, gaining a permanent position in the spiritual structure. (Re 3:12) The idea of the sturdiness of a pillar is found in the allusions to pillars in describing the feet of a strong angel. (Re 10:1) The legs of the shepherd lover of the Shulammite girl were like “pillars of marble,” being beautiful as well as strong.—Ca 5:15.
How long did the miraculous pillars of cloud and of fire remain with the camp of Israel?
Jehovah miraculously guided the Israelites out of Egypt and through the wilderness, “going ahead of them in the daytime in a pillar of cloud . . . and in the nighttime in a pillar of fire to give them light to go.” (Ex 13:21) This was, not two pillars, but one “pillar of fire and cloud” that would normally appear as a cloud in the daytime and as fire at night. (Ex 14:24) When the Egyptians pursued the Israelites, the pillar moved to the rear, perhaps spreading out like a wall. (Ps 105:38, 39) It caused darkness on the Egyptian side but shed light on the Israelite side. (Ex 14:19, 20) When the tabernacle was set up, the pillar above it served as a sign that Jehovah was in his holy place. (Ex 40:35) The pillar represented Jehovah, and he spoke out of it. (Nu 14:14; 12:5; Ps 99:7) The last historical notice of the pillar was just before Israel entered the Promised Land. (De 31:15) When they were settled in their land the guiding pillar was not needed as it had been during their wandering.—Compare Ex 40:38; Isa 4:5.