THE TABERNACLE : NR 8
THE CLOUD OF GLORY
Scripture: Exodus 40: 34-38; John 1:14
The Lord God gave Moses the design of the tabernacle on Mt Sinai. Basically, it was a structure they could fold and convey to the nation of God’s journey through the wilderness. The main purpose of it was that it was the God-willed way in which He wanted to live among His people. It spells out the only way in which the sinner is reconciled with the holy God and can live in fellowship with Him. At best it is a picture image of the Lord Jesus Himself. It is a picture image of the Gospel message.
Christ fulfils every detail of the tabernacle in Himself. He is the only door through which to enter, the altar (cross), the bronze basin (cleansing/Word), the showbread (Bread of life), lampstand (light of the world), incense (the high priest who intercedes), the ark of the covenant (king/dominion), atonement cover (completed work on the cross/atonement for sin), wood (humanness of Christ), gold (Deity of Christ), silver (ransom), copper (holiness), purple (royal/kingly), white (righteousness), red (sacrifice), curtain (broken body).
The tabernacle is a complete summary and compilation of the entire message of the Bible:
1 Garden of Eden > The communion between God and man (purpose of creation)
2 The Fall breaks the communion, but God does not abandon the purpose of creation with man.
3 With numerous individuals a reconciled communion is represented: Enoch, Abraham, Moses etc.
4 Tabernacle and journey through the wilderness > Exodus 25:8 > Everything is God’s initiative. It was not Moses who thought about designing a tabernacle and inviting God to dwell there.
5 > Solomon’s temple > On the same principle as the tabernacle. At the time of the Babylonian exile, this temple was destroyed.
6 > Reconstructed temple: Zerubbabel
7 > Herod (NT) > God now starting to move away from the shadow into reality (Christ).
8 > Christ Himself (Immanuel). In Him God comes to live among His redeemed people.
9 > The NT-believer himself is now the temple.
10 > New Jerusalem > Eternal temple.
Since we have studied the different elements of the tabernacle for the past few weeks, we now come to the Cloud of the Glory of the Lord.
Imagine for yourself: You go to great lengths to build an expensive house. But then you lock it up and go live somewhere else. Absurd, isn’t it.
The same with the tabernacle. It had to be occupied. The Lord had to take occupation.
And He did. He came down in a cloud (the “Shekinah”). He wanted to live as close and as visible as possible to His people while they were wandering in the inhospitable desert without a map. The cloud was above the Holy of Holies and moved ahead while the nation followed. “I am here. I share in your fate”. This cloud, therefore, was an indication of the Lord’s concrete presence, and His leadership in the desert.
The word shekinah does not appear in the Bible, but the concept clearly does. The Jewish rabbis coined this extra-biblical expression, a form of a Hebrew word that literally means “he caused to dwell,” signifying that it was a divine visitation of the presence or dwelling of the Lord God on this earth. The Shekinah was first evident when the Israelites set out from Succoth in their escape from Egypt. There the Lord appeared in a cloudy pillar in the day and a fiery pillar by night: “After leaving Succoth they camped at Etham on the edge of the desert. By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people” (Exodus 13:20–22).
God spoke to Moses out of the pillar of cloud in Exodus 33, assuring him that His Presence would be with the Israelites (v. 9). Verse 11 says God spoke to Moses “face to face” out of the cloud, but when Moses asked to see God’s glory, God told Him, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live” (v. 20). So, apparently, the visible manifestation of God’s glory was somewhat muted. When Moses asked to see God’s glory, God hid Moses in the cleft of a rock, covered him with His hand, and passed by. Then He removed His hand, and Moses saw only His back. This would seem to indicate that God’s glory is too awesome and powerful to be seen completely by man.
The visible manifestation of God’s presence was seen not only by the Israelites but also by the Egyptians: “During the last watch of the night, the LORD looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion. He made the wheels of their chariots come off so that they had difficulty driving. And the Egyptians said, ‘Let’s get away from the Israelites! The LORD is fighting for them against Egypt (Exodus 14:24-25). Just the presence of God’s Shekinah glory was enough to convince His enemies that He was not someone to be resisted.
In the New Testament, Jesus Christ is the dwelling place of God’s glory. Colossians 2:9 tells us that “in Christ, all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form,” causing Jesus to exclaim to Philip, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). In Christ, we see the visible manifestation of God Himself in the second person of the Trinity. Although His glory was also veiled, Jesus is nonetheless the presence of God on earth. Just as the divine Presence dwelled in a relatively plain tent called the “tabernacle” before the Temple in Jerusalem was built, so did the Presence dwell in the relatively plain man who was Jesus. “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2). But when we get to heaven, we will see both the Son and the Father in all their glory, and the Shekinah will no longer be veiled (1 John 3:2).
But why a CLOUD? Why does the living God conceal Himself in a haze? Answer: He – the absolute holy One – could not appear to people – sinners/lawbreakers – in any other way! His glory was so overwhelming. No sinner could remain alive for one second in a direct meeting with Him. Exodus 33:20: Moses had to look at Him from behind. 1 Tim 6:16 – “He lives in unapproachable light and no one has seen or can see Him”.
The only true living God is so commanding, important, impressive and great and brilliantly overwhelming in His holiness. That is why He conceals Himself in a cloud so that in His love, He could comfort His nation with His visible presence WITHOUT their melting into nothingness. They could see Him, even though they could not see Him. And even though they could not really see Him, they knew that He was there. His concealed presence gave the assurance that He is nearby – without their death and melting away. Even though they could not really see Him, they knew that He IS near and that He is leading them.
“How do I know that the Lord is near and that He is leading me? I cannot see Him. I do not feel Him. Look at all the hardship around us. IF the Lord is near, WHY does this and that happen.”
We often drag our feet in the hot desert sand and pine for water and complain in self-pity – instead of understanding something of the CLOUD!
If the Pentecost Spirit lets me BELIEVE in Jesus’s cross and resurrection, and the Spirit lets me place my TRUST on Christ alone for salvation, then the cloud IS there. Even though I do not feel/experience it. Even though I sometimes make such wrong choices.
Lots of believers are so anxious and troubled. “How does the Lord lead one? What if I make a wrong choice?” The ANXIETY: ”Everything will go wrong if I make a wrong choice. The Lord shall leave me if… I shall be set adrift with all the consequences of my wrong choices “.
While the Lord says: “Leave the anxiety and see the CLOUD! I am so great in My glory that I am not at all dependent upon how right YOU choose. I shall still lead you”.
The cloud is encircling you and me with our right and wrong choices. The cloud came down on the tabernacle to permanently REMAIN with the nation.
What is always so difficult for us, is the fact that the cloud is not visible, that there are no manifestations, that there is not a clear voice, a trembling fit of jitters. That it is a concealed glory. Luke 17: 20-21 – “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say: ‘Here it is’ or ‘There it is’ because the kingdom of God is within you”.
Although there is no earthly tabernacle any longer, all believers share in this cloud. 2 Cor 6:16 – we are the temple of the Spirit. In Jesus Christ, God DID come down in His Glory. John 1:14 (Made His dwelling). Our Lord Jesus Christ, by the coming of the Holy Spirit, is the literal, concrete, flesh and blood fulfilment of the cloud in the Holy of Holies of the tabernacle.
It connects closely with the meaning of Pentecost because now the believer has complete assurance: God is with me with His commanding majesty to lead me in my earthly desert journey.
Just think about that incomparable John 14-23: “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him”.
How God comes to make His dwelling with us/in us, is by His Spirit – the Holy Spirit. And the Spirit LEADS us the way the cloud leads the nation in the desert. And He leads us through His Word – the Bible in which He emptied His whole heart.
We could say that the BIBLE itself is also a cloud of the glory of God. Because the Spirit works through the Word.
Sometimes we wish that we could also have such a visible cloud that moves or stops like the cloud which went out ahead of the Israelites. Then we would always know exactly what His will is. We imagine such a visible sign shall benefit us more than mere letters on paper, and the Holy Spirit whom we cannot touch.
And yet: Even though the Israelites could see the physical cloud, they were still doubting/grumbled/ rebellious/worldly/unbelieving. The SEE of the PHYSICAL cloud does not really help. It is an illusion to think that.
There is little doubt that we are better off without a visible cloud – after Pentecost. God the Holy Spirit though is closer to us than we are ourselves. And His Word is a lot better than a cloud because His whole heart is in His Word. His heart is laid bare in His Word for all to see.
Yet the believer is not a robot that is minute-by-minute controlled by the Word. Man has a responsibility. That is why the Bible does not always give direct answers to all kinds of questions and situations. Sometimes one just simply has to make choices, but we must not be afraid/anxious to choose what seems best, is the most responsible, fits in with the spirit of the Scriptures, or what other Christians advise.
We will soon realise that the Cloud of Glory is greater than our choices and that He is still leading us wonderfully/miraculously – even though we did make mistakes.
The most important thing is not whether we are always making the right choices, but whether we are bound in faith to Jesus’s death and resurrection. Then we have the assurance that the cloud of glory is with us.
Translated by Marthie Wilson