Pillar of Light and Pillar of Fire

Have you ever wondered about stories that include a pillar of light in the scriptures? I used to think pillar of light experiences were reserved for chosen and specific individuals. As I’ve read the scriptures, I realized that pillars of light impacted a wide variety of people from a wide variety of backgrounds.

Here are six canonical stories where a pillar of divine light descended from heaven. What’s the pattern in these manifestations?

Moses and the Children of Israel

Circumstance

  • Hosts of Israel led by Moses
  • Fleeing Egypt into the wilderness
  • Didn’t know the way they should go

Experience

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:

He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people.

Result

  • Led by the Lord to the land of promise
  • Stopped when the pillar stopped, continued on the journey when the pillar moved
  • Although the people all saw the pillar and cloud, they did not see the Lord directly

Joseph Smith

Circumstance

  • Alone
  • Praying to know which church he should join
  • Seized upon by unknown being of darkness
  • At the moment of great alarm, he saw a pillar of light

Experience

I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.

It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!

Result

  • Joseph asked which church to join
  • He was told to not join any church
  • Restoration unfolded shortly thereafter
  • Joseph bore witness of Jesus Christ

Lehi

Circumstance

  • Prophets called Jerusalem to repentance
  • Lehi prayed for the people with all his heart
  • Lehi was alone during the experience

Experience

And it came to pass as he prayed unto the Lord, there came a pillar of fire and dwelt upon a rock before him; and he saw and heard much; and because of the things which he saw and heard he did quake and tremble exceedingly.

Result

  • Lehi saw and heard much
  • Overcome, he went home, cast himself on his bed, and was carried away in a vision
  • Saw God the Father, Jesus Christ, others, and many future events
  • Began prophesying in Jerusalem and testifying of Jesus Christ
  • People threatened his life
  • Commanded to leave Jerusalem for the promised land

Nephi and Lehi

Circumstance

  • Preaching the Gospel to Lamanites
  • Thrown in prison and left without food or water for many days
  • Lamanites went to the prison to kill them

Experience

And it came to pass that Nephi and Lehi were encircled about as if by fire, even insomuch that they durst not lay their hands upon them for fear lest they should be burned. Nevertheless, Nephi and Lehi were not burned; and they were as standing in the midst of fire and were not burned.

And when they saw that they were encircled about with a pillar of fire, and that it burned them not, their hearts did take courage.

Result

  • Lamanites feared to carry out their plans to kill Nephi and Lehi
  • Lamanites struck dumb with amazement
  • Nephi and Lehi acknowledged the pillar of fire and their safety within it as the power of God

Which led into the next example as a continuation of Nephi and Lehi’s

300 Lamanites Attempting to Slay Nephi and Lehi

Circumstance

  • Imprisoned two prophets, Nephi and Lehi
  • When going to kill the prophets, found them encircled with a pillar of fire
  • God protected Nephi and Lehi
  • Earthquake and aftershocks
  • Cloud of darkness overshadowed them
  • They heard a voice of perfect mildness three times from the cloud tell them to repent
  • Aminadab saw Nephi and Lehi’s faces shone like angels and they spoke to someone in the cloud
  • Aminadab told the others to look at Nephi and Lehi and to repent and pray until they had faith in Christ

Experience

It came to pass that when they cast their eyes about, and saw that the cloud of darkness was dispersed from overshadowing them, behold, they saw that they were encircled about, yea every soul, by a pillar of fire.

And Nephi and Lehi were in the midst of them; yea, they were encircled about; yea, they were as if in the midst of a flaming fire, yet it did harm them not, neither did it take hold upon the walls of the prison; and they were filled with that joy which is unspeakable and full of glory.

Result

  • Holy Ghost filled their hearts like fire
  • They spoke marvelous things
  • They heard a pleasant voice saying, “Peace, peace be unto you, because of your faith in my Well Beloved, who was from the foundation of the world.”
  • Angels ministered to them
  • They went forth and preached to other people testifying of Jesus Christ
  • Many were converted because of their testimony/experience

2,500 Nephites during the Savior’s Visit at Bountiful

Circumstance

  • Jesus appeared to the Nephite people after His resurrection
  • He taught them, organized them, and healed all of their infirmities
  • The Savior asked for their children to come to Him
  • Jesus blessed and prayed for each child

Experience

He spake unto the multitude, and said unto them: Behold your little ones.

And as they looked to behold they cast their eyes towards heaven, and they saw the heavens open, and they saw angels descending out of heaven as it were in the midst of fire; and they came down and encircled those little ones about, and they were encircled about with fire; and the angels did minister unto them.

Result

  • Everyone bore witness of the Savior
  • Jesus Christ institutes the Sacrament

Pillar of Light Experiences

A traumatic experience preceded every pillar of light occurrence.  The recipient acted in great faith.

A recipient heard the voice of or saw the presence of God the Father. The recipient saw the Savior, except in the case of the children of Israel who only heard the Lord’s voice. In other scripture, the Lord said they could have seen Him but refused to do so.

The recipient became a testifier of Jesus Christ.

Do pillars of light and fire occur today?  If God follows His pattern, then yes. In order to receive a gift, we must follow the pattern to receive it.

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  • Desirée Bushman Johnson

    I think of Saul/Paul also and those with him. That’s a lot of people seeing pillars of light.

  • Delisa Hargrove

    Another great example! Thanks for sharing that one!