Summary: God's glory in the Old Testament is often revealed as cloud and fire.
Cloud and Fire
Exodus 13-15 Sept 30, 2012
What is the result of seeing the glory of God? I want to start you thinking there – what is the outcome? What happens? What is an appropriate response? We are going to dive in this morning a little more, digging around in the book of Exodus and seeing the glory of God revealed to His people, but it is not simply a historical or theological exercise. It has to be more than that, it has to translate into how we live, how we behave, what our attitudes are, and how we worship. What is the result of seeing the glory of God?
Israelites in Egypt:
Let’s think back to the time when the people of God were slaves in Egypt. God called Moses to lead them out of slavery, and Moses had seen earthly glory. He grew up in the palace, treated as a prince, and so had seen the riches and the opulence of Pharaoh. But that was nothing compared to what Moses was going to see!
After the Passover, the final of the 10 plagues that God sent on Egypt as part of His plan to liberate His people from slavery, the Bible tells us this:
17 When Pharaoh finally let the people go, God did not lead them along the main road that runs through Philistine territory, even though that was the shortest route to the Promised Land. God said, “If the people are faced with a battle, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” 18 So God led them in a roundabout way through the wilderness toward the Red Sea. Thus the Israelites left Egypt like an army ready for battle.
19 Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for Joseph had made the sons of Israel swear to do this. He said, “God will certainly come to help you. When he does, you must take my bones with you from this place.”
20 The Israelites left Succoth and camped at Etham on the edge of the wilderness. 21 The Lord went ahead of them. He guided them during the day with a pillar of cloud, and he provided light at night with a pillar of fire. This allowed them to travel by day or by night. 22 And the Lord did not remove the pillar of cloud or pillar of fire from its place in front of the people.
Now the first thing I noticed here was in vs 18: “God led them in a roundabout way…” It often seems that way, doesn’t it? We often think we know the best, shortest route; we often think we know how God should act for us, but it seems the way He is taking us is kind of “roundabout”. He doesn’t take us down the “main road”, and it is a sign of His love for us! There is a reason, and it is because God knows what is best, He knows what will bring us the most life and joy. But too often, we go our own road instead of following, and the result is always heartache. The lesson, instead, is one of trust. We have to trust God. We have to let Him lead. And we have to go where He leads.
But the important part, for our consideration of God’s glory, is in verse 21. We are introduced to one of the hugely significant ways that God revealed His glory in the Exodus – through the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire.
Old Testament scholar Trempar Longman III tells us: “Indeed, there is only one pillar, but the fire burning in the cloud becomes visible only during the evening and in this way remains a constant reminder of God’s presence to the people… A cloud, like smoke, serves well to represent God’s presence and, as we will see, also his glory, because though it is visible, a cloud also obscures one’s vision. People cannot see in it or through it; thus the cloud provides a sense of mystery and indirectness in the experience of God’s presence. The presence of God is in the cloud (Ex 13:21), protecting the people from a lethal dose of God’s glory.” (from “The Glory of God. Christopher Morgan and Robert Petersen (eds). Chapter 2, “The Glory of God in the Old Testament” by Tremper Longman III, 2010).)
This explanation opens up a whole bunch of questions. “Why would it be lethal?” “Why would God want to conceal or obscure His glory?” “Why would we experience God’s glory indirectly instead of directly”? Good questions, all of them. Let’s talk about them, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Let’s begin with the idea that “the cloud provides a sense of mystery and indirectness in the experience of God’s presence.” Why would we want to experience God indirectly?