Glimpses of Glory

I enjoy the older testament—or, at least most of it.

No, the genealogies don’t leap off the page and yank me to the edge of my seat. And to be honest, I used to feel the same way about the detailed instructions for the construction of the tabernacle and the stitching together of the priestly robes. With the passage of time, however, I have come to appreciate these preparations for Israel’s first House of Worship.

I briefly allude to the tabernacle in my book, God in His Own Image. In Exodus 25, Moses began to lay out detailed instructions for the construction of this portable wilderness worship center, including the utensils and furniture inside and outside the tent. The craftsmen assembling this holy place used over a ton of gold. Everything in the Most Holy Place was gold. Silver in excess of two tons also adorned the tabernacle. It is estimated that the cost of constructing the tabernacle would be 45 to 55 million U.S. dollars today.

Consider also the priestly garments. Gold, beaten as fine as thread, was woven through the fabric of the high priest’s robe. Twelve precious stones, including a diamond, were attached.

Everything about the tabernacle was spectacular. Trump Tower or the grandest hotel today would fade in comparison to the lavishness in that desert tent. I was breezing through Exodus 40 just recently, noting all the very specific directions for putting the tabernacle together and placing its furnishings. I’d read it many times before, of course, and was tempted to skim just a little. It seemed a little bit tedious as Moses went on to describe all the myriad details about dressing Aaron and his sons in their priestly vestments.

Reaching Exodus 40:33, I read: “So Moses finished the work.”

And that is where something happened to me. Or maybe in me.

As I continued to read verses 34 and 35, casually swinging my legs back and forth under the chair, I suddenly—almost involuntarily—found myself growing very still. I actually began to lean forward with anticipation as I read these words: “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And, Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.”

Imagine Moses, his heart racing with anticipation of entering the completed holy place for the first time. Perhaps he had even begun to walk toward the tent for the final inspection when The Cloud—the same Cloud that had led them day after day through wilderness en route to Mt. Sinai—began moving, rolling, toward the newly finished structure.

Was it subtle or more like an approaching storm? Either way, Moses froze in his steps. Aaron and Moses watched the Cloud, symbol of God’s presence, as it enveloped the entire tabernacle, hiding it from view. The next words leap off the page: “The glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And, Moses was not able to enter the tent….”

Glory is the Hebrew word “heavy.” To be made heavy was to be treated as important and to have great dignity. Our God is inscrutable. Awe inspiring. Beyond human comprehension. Filled with splendor and marvelous beyond description. Just a glimpse of such glory would knock us off our feet. That was exactly what happened when Isaiah saw the magnificent glory of the Lord filling the temple. Here in Exodus, God’s glory also filled the tabernacle blocking Moses’ approach.

I share a quote from my book, God in His Own Image:

“But the most important feature was not the gold or the eye-pleasing work of skilled artisans. All that creativity and beauty paled when “the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.”

I wonder, have we abandoned, by negligence or intentionally, the proper respect for God? Have we, by ignoring or glossing over His sterner attributes, made God into something safe? To do so is to fashion an idol.

Quoting from C. S. Lewis’s children’s classic, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Lucy asked Mr. Beaver if the great lion, Aslan, was safe. “Safe?” responds Mr. Beaver, “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”[1]

Let us never forget Jesus was and is the Lamb of God and the Lion of Judah. Both lion and lamb. Not lion or a lamb? He was God among us in flesh and blood. He is also transcendent and glorious and awesome beyond words. Ask the three disciples who stood on the Mount of Transfiguration.

John described it this way: “The Word (eternal One) became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory…” (John 1:14) To see Jesus, the authentic Jesus, is to see God’s glory—the same glory that prevented Moses from entering the tent and the same glory that thrust Isaiah to the floor.

Sadly, many who saw Jesus, heard Him teach and witnessed miracle after miracle ended up rejecting Him—preferring a Messiah made in their image. Knowing the cross was imminent, Jesus prayed for God’s name to be glorified (John 12:27-29). The Father responded audibly from heaven to any who wanted to understand. Most of them did not.

John quotes Isaiah 6 to explain the hardness of Jesus’ critics. John concludes in 12:41, “Isaiah said these things because he (Isaiah) saw his (Jesus’) glory and spoke of him.” Some religious leaders secretly believed on Jesus but feared excommunication because they “loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.”

I wonder, how might that describe theologians and preachers today who have created their own “safe” and popular Jesus because they prefer the glory and praise of men rather than glory of the awesome God who filled the tent in the shadow of Sinai?

Mr. Beaver had it right. He isn’t safe at all. But He is—eternally—good.

[1] C. S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, (New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., 1950, reprint 1976), 96