The Glory of God Comes Down. Exodus 40:34-38
Read: Exodus 40
We’ve now arrived at the final chapter of Exodus and the final session in our series. We’ve journeyed with the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, across the Red Sea, into the wilderness, and to Mount Sinai. With them we’ve seen God reveal his name and his character, provide for the needs of his people, establish the covenant, give form and function to worship in the laws and ritual commands, and now finally we come to the end of the exodus narrative.
The last three chapters of the book seem at first glance to be a rather tedious instruction manual detailing the mechanics of Yahweh Worship. The chapters deal with a host of practicalities that at first glance seem of little relevance to us as 21st Century Christians; The making of the Ark of the Covenant, the dimensions of the table and the construction of the lampstand. The creation of various Altars, and even the requirements for a basin for ritual washing. Details about priestly garments, and even the measurements of the courtyard around the Tabernacle.
Details, details, details, the sort of bible passage that one usually skips over to get to the next good bit…
The ending of Exodus and the beginning of Leviticus…
As we approach the end of Exodus it is important to note that the division between the end of the book and the start of Leviticus is in one sense quite arbitrary as the tetrateuchal narrative continues across the books - Leviticus details the ongoing corporate worship of Israel in Yahweh’s presence, Exodus establishes the form that this worship takes.
However, this said, the closing chapter of Exodus does function as a kind of summary of one part of the larger narrative, and an anticipation of what is to come.
It’s all finished…
By the time we arrive at chapter 40:34 the tabernacle has been built and the ritual and cultic vessels needed for Yahweh worship have been created. Everything is ready to go. Aaron and his sons have been ordained to continue their ministry and Moses has inspected the progress of the craftsmen and deemed it to be completed.
And so we read the awesome and wonderful statement:
“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.”
The impression that the author gives is one of God as impatient to descend in glory on the symbolic place of his presence. The glory of Yahweh is described as filling the Tabernacle ‘as soon as it is completed’. In fact so strong and overwhelming is the presence of God that Moses, the one with whom God has spoken ‘face to face’ cannot enter the Tent of his own accord. Because the presence of the Lord is so powerfully present Moses has to wait for an invitation from Yahweh before he can enter. (The invitation is made in Leviticus 1:1.)
Pause here to reflect on the significance of the glory of God descending in the midst of his people. The Exodus narrative has been built around this central theme: the revelation of the presence of God and the promise that the presence will remain with the people. From the very early chapters where the presence of God is revealed to Moses alone, through the escape from Egypt and the wilderness wandering where the presence of God is revealed to his people in his provision, to the momentous revelation at Mount Sinai…it’s all about the presence of God being revealed to his people. And now, at the end of the Exodus narrative the presence of Yahweh descends in such power and glory, the most full revelation of his presence so far in the life of the Hebrews.
Bringing things into the present for a moment: How do you experience and know the presence of God in your life of faith? At what point on the journey are you? Is there a point in the life and journey of Israel that seems to parallel your own point on the journey of faith?
When you reflect on the glory of God, and what it is to enter into his presence, how do you reconcile the terrifying presence of God spoken on in Exodus and the invitation in Hebrews to come ‘boldly before the throne of God’? What do these two realities say about God?
The presence remains…
“In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out – until the day it lifted. So the cloud of the Lord was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel during all their travels.”
The people of Israel, despite all their disobedience and moaning, are finally able to be described as faithful partners in the covenant relationship. With the presence of God clearly manifest in their midst, as a cloud by day and a fire by night, they learn to trust and obey the leading of the presence of God. We’re told very simply that when the presence of God moved, so too did the people. When it did not, they did not. Although a simple and short sentence this captures the magnitude of the journey on which this people has been. At the start of Exodus the people did not believe that God, a God whom they had largely forgotten, could take them from Egypt and the clutches of Pharaoh. And yet here they are, not too many years later, simply trusting and following in whichever direction Yahweh leads them.
The journey so far for this rag tag bunch of Hebrews and assorted foreigners has been a long one, but finally as the Exodus narrative ends they have grasped the revelation of God’s presence and have structured the life of their young nation around the reality of the presence made known. As we close this series I want to draw out one final thought, and it is this:
In the Exodus story God goes about revealing himself to a nation, a people, a community, and not primarily to individuals. In the second half of the book of Exodus the authors are concerned with detailing the corporate structures and rituals that communicate Gods presence to the whole Israelite community. Everything that has been made or set up or built or crafted in some way helps the Israelite people to understand and see the reality of Gods presence and worship him as he has revealed himself. And this is all set within the context of the whole community. The book of Exodus is a story of a community and not a story of individuals…
And so some questions:
How do we, or can we, structure our lives around the reality of the presence of God? What does this look like?
Does your answer to the question above relate more to you as an individual or more to the wider Christian community? Why is this?
To what degree do we see ourselves as first and foremost a ‘people’ or community, or a collection of individuals? How does this relate to the story of the Israelites in Exodus?
This final chapter of Exodus sums up the symbolism of the places, objects, and acts that we’ve seen during the Exodus story. It then recounts the central idea of the book of Exodus, the theology of presence, Yahweh with his people: not in his mighty deeds, or in his rescue, or in his provision, or in his guidance, or in his judgment, or at a distance on a forbidden mountain, but there in their midst; the symbol of his nearness visible to all, and all the time, Yahweh protecting and guiding, Yahweh teaching and blessing, Yahweh’s Presence settled in Israel’s centre, Yahweh’s Presence filling their holiest space, Yahweh’s Presence in their living place and most importantly Yahweh’s presence in them. And that, in a nutshell, is what it’s all about.