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The Cloud of the Lord: Exodus 40:34-38

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The Cloud of the Lord

November 24, 2013

Lesson: Exodus 40:34-38

Key Verse: Exodus 40:38

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Introduction

Who is God? The Westminster Larger Catechism gives us this answer, “God is a Spirit, in of himself in being, glory, blessedness, and perfection; all sufficient, eternal, unchangeable, incomprehensible, every where present, almighty, knowing all things, most wise, most holy, most just, most merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth” (Q&A 7). This is the Triune God who tabernacled with His people in the wilderness at the time Moses. This is same Lord who dwells with His people today. For “He is the alone fountain of all being, of whom, through whom, and to whom are all things, and hath most sovereign dominion over them, to do by them, for them, or upon them whatsoever Himself pleaseth. In His sight all things are open and manifest, His knowledge is infinite, infallible, and independent upon the creature, so as nothing is to Him contingent, or uncertain. He is most holy in all His counsels, in all His works, and in all His commands” (Westminster Confession of Faith, II. II.).

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The Tabernacle –Exodus 40:34-38

The Lord commanded Moses and the children of Israel to build a tabernacle, or, the tent of the congregation, in the wilderness. For the expression of His own glory, contingent on nothing but His own holy counsel, He commands Moses to set up on the first day of the first month, “the tabernacle of the tent of the congregation” (Ex. 40:2). Every part of the tabernacle is set up according to His own counsel; i.e., “thou shalt bring …thou shalt set …thou shalt take …etc.” Ex. 40:3-15); “Thus did Moses; according to all the Lord commanded him, so did he” (40:16; Acts 7:44). So shall we worship the Lord in Christ Jesus (in whom the fullness of the Godhead dwells), to know with certainty that He is present with us. For “the acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshiped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture” (WCF XXI. I.).

The Israelites were tent-dwellers until the time when they would settle in the promised land of Canaan. These tents were their homes, made of poles and animal skins, fastened with ropes to a stake driven into the ground. Thus these nomads could pack their homes to the camels and move to other ground. God would have His own place of abode in the midst of His people, revealed in the cloud by day, and the fire by night. He commanded Moses to build a tabernacle, or tent of the congregation. This traveling tabernacle would remind the people that the Lord would be with them. The Lord, which is spoken of in the first verse, is Jehovah, the ‘I Am’ God, the Triune God who alone gives life to all of His creation. He is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End.

This tabernacle reveals the glory of God. It is a magnificent glory, revealing the attributes and works of our Creator and Redeemer. “O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! Who hast set thy glory above the heavens” (Psa. 8:1). However, this tabernacle given to Moses and God’s people would be only a sign of the true tabernacle to come. Stephen, in his message before the council, spoke of the “God of glory” (Acts 7). He spoke of Abraham and Moses, and of those “Who found favour before God, and desired to find a tabernacle for the God of Jacob” (7:46). The Holy Spirit then leads Stephen to speak of the Most High who dwells “not in temples made with hands; as saith the prophet, Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool; what house will ye build me? Saith the Lord; or what is the place of my rest?” (7:48-49). The tabernacle which is present with us today is that which has been eternally established by Christ, the Son of God. For “Christ being come a high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle …by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us” (Heb. 9:11-12).

Discussion: What is the meaning of the tabernacle for the people of God?

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The Cloud and Fire –Exodus 40:34-38

The “cloud covered the tent of the congregation,” and “fire was on it by night.” This was an awesome presence of the Lord, for it also revealed His strength and victory in the midst of His people, delivering them from both their sins and the enemies. When the Psalmist spoke of the Lord as his rock and fortress, he saw Him in these terms: “He made darkness his secret place; his pavilion round about him were dark waters and thick clouds of the skies. At the brightness that was before him his thick clouds passed, hail stones and coals of fire. The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Highest gave his voice; hail stones and coals of fire. …He brought me forth also into a large place; he delivered me, because he delighted in me” (Psa. 18).

It is the grace of God which is prominent in the cloud and fire. It is the tender mercy of God toward His people surrounded by His awesome deliverance from sin and guilt. The cloud and fire reveal the presence of God in Christ the King as He sets a table before us in the presence of our enemies. The cloud and fire assured God’s people of His providential care as they traveled in the wilderness toward the promised Canaan. The wonder of His grace and mercy in revealing His presence is seen in both the unfathomable depths His glory, and the reality of His care and love toward us in Christ Jesus.

The cloud and the fire bring to God’s people an awareness that the deliverance of Israel from the land of Egypt (as well as our deliverance from the darkness of sin and guilt to His marvelous light of grace and forgiveness) has come by grace through faith that God has kept His covenant: “I will establish my covenant …for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee” (Gen. 17:7; Ex. 6:7). Thus our Lord secures our adoption by being our God, enabling us to understand who it is that is able to save us to the uttermost (Heb. 7:25).

Discussion: What is the meaning of the cloud and fire?

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The Glory of God –Exodus 40:34-38

“The glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle!” Throughout their journeys the people of God would know that the glory, the very presence of God would be with them. They would know His glory in their deliverance. Though we have fallen short of this Glory of God (Rom. 3:23), God has made known “the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory” (Rom. 9:23); “For God …hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). Thus “As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath He, by the eternal and most free purpose of His will, foreordained all the means thereunto, …are effectually called unto faith in Christ by His Spirit working in due season, are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by His power, through faith, unto salvation” (WCF III. VI.).

“The glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle!” The people of God know the glory of God in both His incomprehensible essence and loving protection: “God, indeed, from time to time showed the presence of his divine majesty by definite signs, so that he might be said to be looked upon face to face. But all the signs that he ever gave forth aptly conformed to his plan of teaching and at the same time clearly told men of his incomprehensible essence. For clouds and smoke and flame (Deut. 4:11), although they were symbols of heavenly glory, restrained the minds of all, like a bridle placed on them, from attempting to penetrate too deeply. Therefore Moses, to whom, nevertheless, God revealed himself more intimately than to the others (Ex. 33:11), …he received the answer that man is not able to bear such great brightness (Ex. 33:20). …One thing, indeed, ought to be quite enough for us: that the Lord declares himself to be our protector. But when we see ourselves beset by so many perils, so many harmful things, so many kinds of enemies—such is our softness and frailty—we would sometimes be filled with trepidation or yield to despair if the Lord did not make us realize the presence of his grace according to our capacity.” (Calvin, Institutes).

Discussion: What does it mean for the ‘tabernacle’ to be filled with ‘God’s Glory’?

Lessons are based on the International Sunday School Lessons for Christian Teaching, copyright © 2013 by the Committee on the Uniform Series.

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