I enjoyed Dane Ortlund’s piece on the “Glory-cloud” that appears frequently throughout the Old Testament. Dane does a neat job of briefly tracing the Glory-cloud through redemptive history and concludes: “Throughout the Bible the cloud signifies God’s glory-filled presence.”
I’d like to tweak Dane’s article a little, or, more accurately, add a bit to it. Here’s what I want to add:
The glory cloud not only signifies God’s presence in general, but the Son of God’s presence in particular.
Here and here you can find my argument for the Old Testament’s Angel of the Lord being the Son of God. One of points I made there was that “The Son of God is the usual way God appears to humanity.”
But in addition to appearing as a Messenger in human form, the Son of God also appeared to Old Testament believers in the form of fire and smoke. This awesome fiery cloud, or cloudy fire, is usually called the “Glory of the Lord.”
For example, in Exodus 3, we find the Angel of the Lord and the Glory of the Lord brought together: “The Angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush” (v. 2). This particular incident is also referred to in Deuteronomy 33:16, which speaks of “the good will of Him that dwelt in the bush.” By putting together Exodus 3 and Deuteronomy 33, we can say that the Angel of the Lord, who is the Son of God, inhabited or occupied the fiery Glory of God in the burning bush.
What do these appearances as the Glory-cloud of God teach us about the Son of God?
He leads: Moses says that the LORD was the Angel of God who went before Israel to lead them, and behind to protect them, and that He did so in the pillar of cloud by day, which in the dark glowed like a pillar of fire (Ex. 13:21; 14:19).
He defends: Exodus 14:19 teaches us that the Angel who dwelt in the pillar of cloud and fire also went behind Israel to protect them. This guarding ministry is confirmed by Exodus 23:20-23.
“Behold, I send an Angel before you to keep you in the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared. Beware of Him and obey His voice; do not provoke Him, for He will not pardon your transgressions; for my name is in Him. But if you indeed obey His voice and do all that I speak, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries. For my Angel will go before you and bring you in to the Amorites (Ex. 23:20-23; cf. 1 Cor. 10:4-9).
He communes: When Moses sprinkled the blood of the covenant on the people, the Son of God revealed Himself through the Glory-cloud to Moses and others. They “saw God” and yet they all ate and drank together in sweet fellowship (Ex. 24:10-11)
He speaks: The Lord descended to the Tabernacle in the Glory-cloud and “spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend (Ex. 33:9-11)
He sympathizes: This same Glory-inhabiting Son of God is also described as “the presence of Jehovah” (Ex. 33:14-15), a divine presence who “was touched with the feeling of his people’s infirmities.”
So He became their Savior. In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the Angel of His Presence saved them; in His love and in His pity He redeemed them; and He bore them and carried them all the days of old (Isa. 63:8-9).
He commands: The law was given in the midst of awesome displays of Glory of the Lord (Ex. 19:16-25; 24:16-18). Stephen explains that Moses “was in the church in the wilderness with the Angel who spoke to him on mount Sinai, and with our fathers: who received the living oracles to give to us” (Acts 7:38).
He anticipates: The Glory-cloud also filled the Tabernacle from time to time (Ex. 40:34-38), anticipating his future “tabernacling among us” in the flesh (Jn. 1:14). The Glory-cloud especially occupied the space between the cherubim in the Most Holy place of the Tabernacle and the Temple. “I will appear in the cloud above the mercy seat” (Lev. 16:2; cf. Ps. 80:1). There the Son of God witnessed the high priest’s annual sprinkling of the mercy-seat with atoning blood, anticipating the giving of His own life-blood for sinners.
He reveals: When Moses prayed “Please, show me your glory” (Ex. 33:18), the Son of God “descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord” (Ex. 34:5).
Christ was again surrounded with the Glory-cloud at his transfiguration (Matt. 17:5). This is probably what John was referring to when he wrote: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn. 1:14).
He ascended to heaven in the same glorious cloud-chariot (Acts 1:11). And, one day, in like manner He will return in the Glory cloud, “and every eye shall see him” (Rev. 1:7).
Thanks so much, Dane, for the helpful reminder that, “Throughout the Bible the cloud signifies God’s glory-filled presence.”
But it’s even more wonderful than that because the glory cloud not only signifies God’s presence in general, but the Son of God’s presence in particular.