Clouds of glory
This lesson begins on top of Mt. Sinai. Moses was called by God to the top of the mountain to receive the Law of Moses.
(Exo. 24:15-17) When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the LORD called to Moses from within the cloud. To the Israelites the glory of the LORD looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain.
This is what the songs mean by “clouds of glory.” God’s glory is nothing so abstract as his greatness or divinity. It is the visible, radiant, consuming fire demonstrating a special, powerful presence of God himself.
Shortly thereafter, the Israelites built the tabernacle. The tabernacle was built during their wanderings in the wilderness on their way out of Egypt as something of a portable temple. The tabernacle was built in response to God’s command to Moses:
(Exo. 25:8) “Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.”
Although God is an omnipresent being, transcending all limitations of space and time, God wanted a building built for him to dwell in.
God again spoke to Moses and described how he would dwell within the tabernacle and how his presence would consecrate it:
(Exo. 29:42-43) “For the generations to come this burnt offering is to be made regularly at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting before the LORD. There I will meet you and speak to you; there also I will meet with the Israelites, and the place will be consecrated by my glory.”
<“Glory” in Hebrew is Shekinah. When the tabernacle was finished, the Shekinah appeared.
(Exo. 40:33-35) Then Moses set up the courtyard around the tabernacle and altar and put up the curtain at the entrance to the courtyard. And so Moses finished the work. Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.
Once again, we see the Glory as the bright, shining presence of God on earth. It was real and present, so real that Moses himself could not approach it.
Much later, God commanded Solomon to build a temple in Jerusalem on Mount Zion to replace the tabernacle. As was true for the tabernacle, the ark of the covenant was to rest in the Holy of Holies, or the Most Holy Place. When the temple was finished, the ark was brought in.
(1 Kings 8:6-12) The priests then brought the ark of the Lord’s covenant to its place in the inner sanctuary of the temple, the Most Holy Place, and put it beneath the wings of the cherubim. The cherubim spread their wings over the place of the ark and overshadowed the ark and its carrying poles. … When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the LORD. And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled his temple. Then Solomon said, “The LORD has said that he would dwell in a dark cloud …”
The same phenomenon occurred for Solomon’s temple as had occurred for Moses’ tabernacle. The arrival of God’s indwelling demonstrated God’s acceptance of the house built for him and consecrated the dwelling as holy.
Although Solomon saw the real presence of God, he knew by inspiration that God was not limited to the confines of the Holy of Holies. He prayed at the temple dedication ceremony immediately after the Glory appeared,
(1 Kings 8:27) “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!”
Solomon did not deny that God dwelt in the temple, but he knew that this was not all of God.
Some years later, the Israelites had so fallen away from God that God permitted Nebuchadnezzar to conquer Jerusalem. He did not destroy the temple during his first conquest, but he took from Judah its brightest and most accomplished citizens. These men and women, such as Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, were taken to Babylon to be indoctrinated in the Babylonian way.
God called Ezekiel to prophesy to these exiles and called Jeremiah to prophesy to those left behind. Ezekiel prophesied that Nebuchadnezzar would again conquer a rebellious Jerusalem and that this time virtually all of Judea would be exiled to Babylon. Many Jews doubted that God would permit the destruction of his temple and dwelling place, but Ezekiel prophesied that God’s Glory would reluctantly leave the temple, symbolizing God’s rejection of the Jews. His highly symbolic language shows the Glory gradually withdrawing from the temple and Jerusalem, eventually resting on the Mount of Olives.
(Ezek. 9:3a) Now the glory of the God of Israel went up from above the cherubim, where it had been, and moved to the threshold of the temple.
(Ezek. 10:4-5) Then the glory of the LORD rose from above the cherubim and moved to the threshold of the temple. The cloud filled the temple, and the court was full of the radiance of the glory of the LORD. The sound of the wings of the cherubim could be heard as far away as
the outer court, like the voice of God Almighty when he speaks.
(Ezek. 10:18-19) Then the glory of the LORD departed from over the threshold of the temple and stopped above the cherubim. While I watched, the cherubim spread their wings and rose from the ground, and as
they went, the wheels went with them. They stopped at the entrance to the east gate of the Lord’s house, and the glory of the God of Israel was above them.
(Ezek. 11:22-23) Then the cherubim, with the wheels beside them, spread their wings, and the glory of the God of Israel was above them. The glory of the LORD went up from within the city and stopped above the mountain east of it.
Ezekiel next prophesied that one day the Glory would return to a new and better temple.
(Ezek. 43:3-7) The vision I saw was like the vision I had seen when he came to destroy the city and like the visions I had seen by the Kebar River, and I fell facedown. The glory of the LORD entered the temple through the gate facing east. Then the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. While the man was standing beside me, I heard someone speaking to me from inside the temple. He said: “Son of man, this is the place of my throne and the place for the soles of my feet. This is where I will live among the Israelites forever.”
However, history teaches us that when the Jews returned to Jerusalem under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah and they rebuilt the temple, it was not filled with the Glory when it was dedicated. The Jews were greatly disturbed by this and anxiously awaited the coming of the Messiah, when they expected the Glory to return to God’s people.
Under the new covenant, each Christian and each congregation is a temple.
(1 Cor. 3:16) Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?
(1 Cor. 6:19a) Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?
(Eph. 2:21-22) In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
Moreover, you can see that it is not the Glory that dwells in the new temple, but the Spirit.
(Rom. 8:17-18) Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
Paul says that each Christian has a “glory” within him that will be revealed at the end of time. Read all of Romans 8. The chapter is written to tell Christians about the indwelling of the Spirit, and this “Glory” clearly is the Spirit himself.
The identity of the Spirit and the Glory is made all the more evident in 1 Peter:
(1 Pet. 4:14) If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of Glory and of God rests on you.
This passage also recalls the tongues of fire that rested on the Apostles at Pentecost. The fire in Acts 2 suggests the Glory of the Old Testament.
This thought is given its fullest description in 2 Corinthians. Paul recalls that when Moses went to Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments, he was in the presence of God’s Glory. He returned to the Israelite camp with a brightly shining face. He covered his face with a veil.
(2 Cor. 3:6-8) He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious?
Both the old covenant and the new came with Glory. Paul shows that the Old Covenant is inferior because its Glory faded away.
(2 Cor. 3:9-11) If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!
The Glory of the new covenant will never fade. Its Glory far exceeds the Glory of the old. Therefore, the new covenant is superior to the old.
(2 Cor. 3:12-13,18) Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. … And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
We all participate in this Glory, and not only will our own Glory not fade, it will be “ever-increasing”! And both the Glory and the increase comes from the Lord, by means of the Spirit.
God inspired the authors of the Bible to tell us that the Holy Spirit today represents the Glory of the Old Testament. Moreover, our bodies and congregations represent the temple. And just as was true under the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit literally dwells in the modern-day temple. This is not symbolic or representational. It is as real and powerful as the coming of God’s Shekinah at the dedications of the tabernacle and the temple.
God can dwell through his Glory both everywhere and especially in the Holy of Holies. The Holy of Holies is where the people were redeemed from their sins on the Day of Atonement. Thus, God had a special, powerful, redemptive, radiant presence in the temple. This is not inconsistent with his omnipresence. It is consistent with his omnipotence. And as a Christian grows, he is increasingly filled with the Spirit, and God’s Glory within him radiates all the more!