“The Cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the Glory of God filled The Dwelling. Moses couldn’t enter the Tent of Meeting because the Cloud was upon it, and the Glory of God filled The Dwelling.”
Exodus 40:34-35, The Message
My thirteen and a half month study of the Book of Exodus ended yesterday. Since mid-January of 2016 until yesterday morning I have slowly plodded through its pages, musing on the old story once again. On my journey I was accompanied by Biblical scholars Walter Kaiser Jr., R. Alan Cole, J.A. Motyer and John Mackay as well as several others who contributed to my meditations – Kathy Lee-Thorp, Meindert DeJong, Thomas Cahill, Bruce Feiler and Walter Wangerin, Jr. The principal story line of Exodus I have known since my youth and flannel graph days – the people in slavery, the plagues visited upon Egypt, the Red Sea crossing, the receiving of the Ten Commandments, the Golden Calf and the construction of the Tabernacle – but just like I have found with the rest of the Scriptures, the Word is indeed “living and active”, so that every time you read it the potential is real to see something or hear something new that you hadn't seen or heard before. Such was the case with this read-through.
When I attended Bible college back in the early 80s, I didn't attend a school that embraced the JEDP-theory of the Pentateuch (essentially the belief that the first five books of the Bible were derived from several different sources instead of being composed by one author) but we had to, at least, be familiar with the idea. Having it be the source of my devotional life for a little over a year I am now more persuaded than ever that at least with Exodus, the book is a unity. I am no scholar by any stretch of the word but the themes of the book are consistent and seem to flow from one mind, one individual who was chosen for a remarkable task.
The Book of Genesis opens with creation and all its splendor, portraying humanity as it was always meant to be. It ends with the fateful words “...he was placed in a coffin in Egypt” (50:26). The story of Exodus begins where Genesis left off – in Egypt but the people who once sought refuge there had become enslaved for hundreds of years. By the end of the book the people are in the wilderness of Sinai, now free and in covenant with Yahweh with the glory of the Lord filling the Tabernacle. Theyhaven't just moved geographically. It's a brand new day, a new beginning. The verbiage of Exodus 39 has echoes of Genesis 1 in it – “God saw all that he made, and it was very good” Gen 1:31 compared with Exodus 39:43, “Moses inspected the work and saw that they had done it just as the Lord had commanded. So Moses blessed them.” I'm told by people who study such things that this is intentional.
J.A. Motyer writes of the “clouds” of Exodus:
And even more significant inclusio looks back to the first chapters of Exodus. There is no verbal reference to a 'cloud' in 1:1-2:10, yet we could not expound that passage without reference to 'days of darkness' and 'to living in the shadows.' It was, indeed, such a time. The dark shadow of enslavement lay upon the people of God, the bitter cry of bereavement as their sons were snatched from them for the river, the blows of the taskmaster, a future without hope, and the relentless, uncaring policy of genocide. They were at that time a people under a cloud, even if the text does not expressly say so. Now, at the end of the book, they were again a people under a cloud, this time the cloud of the Lord, the signal of his presence in glory, holiness and grace. Between these two clouds the Sovereign Lord of the whole earth had routed all the power of the enemy, granted his people deliverance, brought them to himself by the blood of the lamb, graced them with his directive law and come, in the fullness of his person, to take up residence in their midst as their indwelling God. This is the whole story of the book of Exodus.
The Bible Speaks Today: The Message of Exodus by J.A. Motyer, pp. 325-26
I think on that day that Moses inspects all that had been constructed (Exodus 39:32-43) – the furniture that will be in the Tent including the ark and the altar of incense, the tunics that the priests will wear and the special vestments for the high priest, the curtains and the stands that will hold up the Tent, and all the other special equipment. Like some agent of the FDA inspecting food, slowly Moses makes his way around the plot of ground where the articles have been lain inspecting their quality and ensuring that they are according to plan. One of the men who serves on our Board of Deacons has been involved in the construction of many homes. He tells me that between blueprint and finished product there are always a lot of “tweaks” to the plan. During his 40-day stay on the mountain, among other things, Moses had been given a blueprint for the Dwelling Place – the place where Yahweh would camp among his people. Amazingly, considering how many workmen had been involved, he finds at the end of the construction phase everything was completed “just as the LORD had commanded” (39:42).
All was set. All was made ready but the glory had not yet come. At this moment, it's beautiful craftsmanship but nothing else. And then, “the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (40:34). This is the climax of the story. God comes to dwell with his people and share in their travels. The Presence is so thick that not even Moses can enter the place. As Motyer comments:
Strange as it must have seemed, the tent designed for meeting was the very place even Moses found he could not meet with the Lord. The title belied the reality. The Lord had come home, but was not 'at home' to callers. Was Moses surprised? Reading between the lines, the text seems to hint that he was, that he tried to go in but found he could not. Yet, in reality, nothing had changed. On Sinai, while Moses did indeed enter the divine presence, he never did so without invitation, and in 24:15-16 he even waited six days to be called. The Lord is sovereignly in charge of his own front door. (p. 324)
John Mackay points out that the same cloud that had covered Mount Sinai when Moses had gone up on it (24:15-16) now settles and fills the sacred Tent “which becomes in effect a miniature, portable Sinai. The LORD's presence with his people is not confined to a single site, but may now with them wherever they go” (Exodus: A Mentor Commentary by John Mackay, p. 604). This is Day 1 of the beginning of the second year since leaving captivity. In the camp they are celebrating the Passover – it's first memorial celebration. The cloud of God's presence is filling his Dwelling Place among them. On this day, the hope and the joy they experienced must have been palpable. The living God was in their midst. The land of promise awaits them. Who could stop them now? Of whom could they be afraid? The only appropriate response to these reality is worship.