“Be killing sin or sin will be killing you” – John Owen

The Cloud Covered…The Glory Filled – Exodus 40:34

“Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle” (Ex. 40:34).

Exodus 40 is a fitting chapter to end the book of Exodus with. The last five verses are about the glory of the Lord filling the tabernacle and the cloud settling upon it. The cloud and the glory of God descend and fill because the tabernacle is complete and the Levitical ministry was about to begin. This is always the right place to be in. God’s work can proceed only when God is present. Many have tried to engage in God’s work without the presence of the Lord. It cannot happen. Just as there can only be blessing through obedience, so too, God’s presence is required for the ministry to succeed. Success here is not our definition of success, but rather God’s blessing because of his presence.

Moses was required to ensure that the building of the tabernacle with all its components was “according to the pattern shown you on the mountain” (Ex. 25:9, 40, Num. 8:4; Acts 7:44; Heb. 8:5). The tabernacle was an incredible piece of construction. Moses was on the mountain before God for forty days and nights. During this time, God revealed to him the plans he had for the tabernacle. It began with the gifts of the people. They were to make contributions toward the building (Ex. 25:1–9).

The first piece of furniture was the ark of the covenant. God gives the plans for this most important piece of furniture in Exodus 25:10–22. Then Moses was given the plans for the table of bread, and the golden lampstand (Ex. 25:23–40). In Exodus 26, the tabernacle itself was described in great detail. The bronze altar, the oil for the lamps, and the courtyard dimension are then given in Exodus 27. The priestly garments are described in Exodus 28, and then God explains how the priests are to be consecrated to their ministry (Ex. 29). In Exodus 30, the altar of incense and the bronze basin for washing are described along with the anointing oil and incense–blending recipes. God also required a census tax as atonement money for everyone twenty years and older. This was to be for the service of the tabernacle, and the value of this tax was half a shekel.

Once the plans were given, the construction could begin. Two men were responsible for the construction and development of all aspects of the tabernacle. The men were Bezalel whom God filled with his Spirit, and gave him ability, intelligence, knowledge and craftsmanship, and Oholiab was to assist him. Any other able man was to be part of the work crew (Ex. 31). While Moses was up on the mountain receiving all these instructions, along with the Ten Commandments, down below the people had induced Aaron to build them an idol (a golden calf), and then they proclaimed that the golden calf had delivered them out of Egypt (Ex. 32). They worshiped the golden calf and began to indulge in sexual immorality. So, holy things were being done up on top of the mountain, and unholy things at the bottom of it. Sin is always willing to partner with holy things, but holy things are never willing to partner with the profane, for then they cease to be holy. Sin’s incredible deception is always to make use of that which belongs to God and then twist it slightly or counterfeit it. Worship can take place inside a building, but the heart supposed to be worshiping in the building can be wretched and defiled.

Moses had to make new tablets of stone for the Ten Commandments because he had broken them in anger when he saw what the people were doing (Ex. 34:1–9). Back up the mountain he went to meet with God. Exodus 33 provides us with a little vignette into the spiritual life of Moses. The people never really understood that their continued existence was due to the intercession of Moses for them. He prayed for them. This is an example of a very spiritual individual. Exodus 32:9–14 states: “And the LORD said to Moses, ‘I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.’ But Moses implored the LORD his God and said, ‘O LORD, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’ And the LORD relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.”

It was from this encounter with God that we find Moses desiring in Exodus 33:18 that God show him his glory. The result of being on top of the mountain again, and receiving the Ten Commandments again, along with other instructions, was that when Moses came down from the mountain, his face was shining. Exodus 34:29 states that his face shone because he had been talking with God. Something happens to any person who spends time in the presence of God. You cannot come away from God’s presence without being affected. The people moaned about Moses being up on the mountain for so long the first time which prompted their idolatry. They were unspiritual and thought only of their own desires. Prevention of sin is greatly helped by spending time with God and by using all the means that God has given us to help us walk with him. The tabernacle with all of its requirements was designed to show a people how to approach God in a holy way. This was to be a help to them. Exodus 35 through 40 is about the actual construction of the tabernacle. When God tells us what is required to worship him or live before him, God then requires that we do what he commands. Moses oversaw the entire operation and then Exodus 40:33 states: “so Moses finished the work.” 

Once the work was done as God required, God came down and the cloud overshadowed the tabernacle and his glory filled it. It was so overwhelming that Moses could not enter the tabernacle (Ex. 40:35). The cloud signaled the presence of the Lord by day, and the fire by night (vs.38; see also Ex. 13:21, 22). I take this to mean that the cloud had the appearance of fire at night. As long as the cloud remained over the tabernacle, the people stayed in one place, but if it lifted, then they were to follow it. Verse 38 says that this was what happened to Israel throughout all their journeys. Every day they saw the cloud. It was always there, reminding them of God’s presence among them. Throughout Israel’s entire wilderness wanderings, the cloud went before them. First Corinthians 10:1–4 remind us that the cloud provided protection (God’s), and that God provided food and water for Israel. That food was heavenly in origin (the manna) and water was from the Rock. Paul says the Rock was Christ. The word “rock” was a common name for God in the Old Testament (Deut. 32:4, 15, 18, 30, 31).

In the wilderness we have the presence, protection and provision of God on the people. This was a picture of the same benefits for the believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is Christ himself who fills us with his presence by the Spirit.  We do not have that ministry of death, but the ministry of righteousness. As we behold the glory of the Lord, we will be transformed into his glorious image (2 Cor. 3). We need more of God, more of Jesus. May he fill us as his temple.