God’s Word for You
Numbers 9:15-17 The Glory of the Lord
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, July 26, 2021
The Cloud and the Dwelling
15 On the day that the Dwelling was set up, the cloud covered the Dwelling, that is, the Tent of the Testimony. The cloud over the Dwelling looked like fire from evening until morning. 16 It was always like this: The cloud would cover the Dwelling, and at night it looked like fire. 17 Whenever the cloud above the tent lifted up, the Israelites would set out. Wherever the cloud settled down, the Israelites would camp at that spot.
The cloud showed the people the presence of God. It wasn’t new. The cloud had first appeared for them a year before. It was there at the border of Goshen, at the place they called Succoth (Exodus 13:20-22), and from there it led them to the Red Sea, coming between the people and the pursuing Egyptian cavalry (Exodus 14:19-20). Moses explains: This was “the Glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud” (Exodus 16:10).
God himself was present in this cloud, in all his infinite majesty and grace. This was not the flame of his wrath, but the brightness and brilliance of his constant care. It was a little picture of heaven, always there with the people as they prepared to move from place to place under his direct guidance and protection.
When the sinner confesses the sin and is given the gospel assurance of God’s grace, this image of God can always be with us, towering over us to protect us and guide us, day and night. It is one of the images God gives us to show his grace, his love, his fellowship, and the peace we have through Christ.
When the people saw this, they did not see God as he is (he is not a cloud, but a spirit), but they saw his radiance and majesty. When Moses asked to see God, he was told, “No one may see my face and live” (Exodus 33:20). But God graciously showed the people his presence. When the tabernacle was completed, the cloud settled down over it, and even in it. “Moses was not able to enter the Tent of Meeting, because the cloud stayed over it, and the Glory of the LORD filled the tent” (Exodus 40:35). By day it looked like a cloud, an immensely tall, billowing stormcloud shaped like a pillar and reaching into the heights of the sky. By night, this cloud was lit from within and looked like a pillar of fire. We might imagine lightning associated with this, but fire, not lightning, is the word Moses uses here. However, in other places, Moses does indeed mention thunder and lightning being present with the appearance of the cloud and the Glory of the Lord (Exodus 19:16, 20:18).
The base of the cloud (its lower part) did not always reach to the ground. Normally, it was a towering cloud with its lower portion coming right down to the space above the tabernacle. We can well imagine the line of smoke coming up from the altar mingling with the lower part of the cloud as the morning and evening sacrifices were made, and the priests doing their work in the shade of the cloud, protected from the hot desert sun. “The LORD watches over you—the LORD is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night” (Psalm 121:5-6). Then, on certain mornings, the cloud would lift up and move, and this was always the sign to Israel that it was time to pull up their tent stakes, roll up their tents and their mats, gather up the children, the lambs, and the goats, and set off in the order of march, with the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant before them, until the cloud settled again. Wherever that might be, they pitched the tent of the Tabernacle right beneath the cloud. They would set up the whole camp all around, and by evening they would begin to sacrifice the regular evening and morning lambs, the daily sacrifices, until the cloud would lift once again.
The appearance of the Glory of the Lord is a gospel, good news, event. The shepherds may have been terrified or “sore afraid” when it surrounded them, but they were told: “Do not be afraid. For behold, I bring you good news of great joy” (Luke 2:10). When the Apostles found themselves within the cloud when it settled on Jesus, they heard the testimony of the Father himself (Matthew 17:5). In the early Church Fathers we have this encouragement: “Don’t you understand how great and strong and wonderful the Glory of the Lord is? For he created the world for man’s sake and made all creation subject to man and gave all authority to him to rule over everything under heaven” (Shepherd of Hermas, Hm 12,4,2). The cloud appears for the sake of man. Indeed, the cloud made its appearances for the sake of God’s church, to let us know that he is with us and cares about us. It is a physical display of his grace, the love we do not deserve, but which he gives to us. “The glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer” (Isaiah 58:8-9).
When we consider the cloud’s physical presence for Israel, we can let the mind’s eye lean back to behold the towering source of constant shade, the powerful, impenetrable wall that held Pharaoh’s chariots back; the smoky cloud that blessed the holy place with God’s immediate presence when it was first consecrated. It was the people’s constant companion; always with them; always the presence of God watching over them. In heaven, we will experience this same thing in an even more direct way, without the need for the cloud, but with God’s brightness emanating from God himself (Revelation 22:5). We have prayed: “Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously” (Hosea 14:2), and we have been promised: “I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them” (Hosea 14:4). And to this, God’s holy prophet adds, for our sake, “Men will again dwell in his shade” (Hosea 14:7). We will live in the Glory of the Lord for all eternity.
Pastor Timothy Smith