Not without significance, the first mention of “pillar'’ in the Bible relates to Lot’s wife; she “looked back … and … became a pillar of salt”, Gen. 19. 26, because she disobeyed God’s clear instruction “look not behind thee”, v. 17.The “pillar’ became a monument to her disobedience and a solemn warning to others who, in like circumstances, might be tempted to do the like thing, Luke 17. 31-32. To a would-be disciple who said, “Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home in my house”, the Lord replied, “No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God”, 9. 61-62. He did not say “turning back”, but “looking back”. The man’s interests were centred “at home”; discipleship was only a secondary consideration. The heart of Lot’s wife remained in Sodom, and was not set on escaping from the doomed city. The “pillar of salt” became a witness to her disobedient hesitancy.
Jacob, at Bethel, “took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it”, Gen. 28. 18. It bore witness to the vow that he had made, that “this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God’s house”, v. 22. Bethel, “the house of God”, was a place marked by God’s presence, vv. 16, 17. The stone, on which Jacob had laid his head overnight, was set up early in the morning as a witness to his vow that, subject to conditions, vv. 20, 21, it would “be God’s house”. When relations between Jacob and Laban at Padan-aram became intolerably strained. God reminded Jacob of the vow that he had made, and the pillar that he had raised years before at Bethel; He told him to return “unto the land of (his) kindred”, 31. 13.
Devious as always, Jacob left Padan-aram without telling Laban; he “stole away unawares to (i.e., duped) Laban … in that he told him not that he fled”, v. 20. When, three days later, Laban was told of Jacob’s escape, he pursued after him, and overtook him. If God had not warned Laban in a dream, “Take heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad”, v. 24, it might have gone ill with Jacob and his company. In the outcome, Laban proposed that they “make a covenant, I and thou; and let it be for a witness between me and thee”, v. 44. Wherefore “Jacob took a stone, and set it up for a pillar’ and raised a cairn, vv. 45-46. Laban called it “heap of witness” in Aramaic, and Jacob similarly in Hebrew. It became a “witness between” them, v. 48, that neither would pass over it to do the other harm, vv. 51-53. At length, Jacob returned to Bethel and “set up a pillar in the place … even a pillar of stone … and … called the name of the place … Bethel”, 35. 14-15. The wheel had turned full circle; cf. 28. 19. Away from Bethel, Jacob was never fully blessed.
Absalom, whose own craftiness matched that of Jacob, in order to perpetuate his memory after his death, “in his lifetime had taken and reared up for himself a pillar … for he said, I have no son to keep my name in remembrance; and he called the pillar after his own name … Absalom’s place”, 2 Sam. 18. 18. His “pillar’ became a witness to his base ingratitude and treachery towards his father; he was a man whom Israel had no cause to remember with anything but disapproval.
"The pillar of the cloud by day (and) … the pillar of fire by night”, Exod. 13. 22, in Israel’s wilderness jour-neyings, bore witness to God’s presence among them. Whatever their misconduct, these visible manifestations never left them, “thou in thy manifold mercies forsookest them not in the wilderness: the pillar of the cloud departed not from them by day … neither the pillar of fire by night”, Neh. 9. 19.
Paul wrote of the local church at Ephesus that it was “the house of God … the pillar (Greek, stulos, column) and ground (Greek, kedraioma, basis, foundation) of the truth”, 1 Tim. 3. 15. As at Bethel, “the pillar’ is associated with “the house of God”. As the stone upon which Jacob had rested was set up as a standing pillar, so the truth upon which the church rests, as its basis or foundation, is set up as a pillar to give witness to it. In this Epistle, Paul called attention to these truths of which the local church is “the pillar and ground”. These are, “that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”, 1. 15; that God “will have all men to be saved … there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all”, 2. 4-6; that “God was manifest in the flesh …”, 3, 16; that “godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come”, 4. 8; and that “our Lord Jesus Christ … is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords”, 6. 14-15. These are the truths upon which the church rests as its basis or foundation, without which it has nothing to which it can witness, but, which having, it must be seen to do.
The Lord’s promise to the overcomer in the church of Philadelphia was, “Him … will I make a pillar in the temple of my God … and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God … and I will write upon him my new name”, Rev. 3. 12. The Philadelphian church had “a little strength”, v. 8, in its earthly experience; the overcomer would be a “pillar’ of strength in the “city of … God, which is new Jerusalem”. James, Cephas and John were described by Paul as “pillars” in the Jerusalem church, Gal. 2.9; such were “of reputation”, v. 2. The description suggests that they were “pillars” of strength in its constitution; cf. Jud. 16. 29, and that they were seen acting as such, in their witness to the truth.