In 1 Kings 8, Solomon has overseen the construction of the temple. The work is complete and the priests are bringing all of the artifacts from the tabernacle to the temple. It is a grand celebration!
As a final act of dedication, a final artifact, the priests brought in the ark of the covenant of YHWH and placed it in the Holy of Holies.
When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the LORD. And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled his temple.
– 1 Kings 8:10-11, NIV-1983
Though I try to envision this in my mind, to picture what this looked like and felt like, I am certain my mental image falls far short of the reality of that day. This remarkable cloud, a “glory cloud” filled Solomon’s Temple at the dedication and it was so intense that the priests were incapable of performing their assigned duties.
This is not our first biblical encounter with the glory cloud. We saw this cloud at the dedication of the tabernacle during the wilderness wandering. In a very similar fashion, Moses constructed the tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting, and placed all the artifacts, including the ark, into the tabernacle.
Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.
– Exodus 40:34-35, NIV-1983
This same glory cloud led the Israelites through the wilderness until they reached the promised land.
In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out—until the day it lifted. So the cloud of the LORD was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel during all their travels.
– Exodus 40:36-38, NIV-1983
The glory cloud and nighttime fire were a physical confirmation of the presence of YHWH with his people.
Though not a biblical term, we know that the glory cloud was commonly called “the Shekinah.” This term is closely related to a couple of Hebrew terms, שָׁכַן (shakan) meaning abide, dwell, or settle and מִשְׁכָּן (mishkan) also meaning dwelling place or tabernacle.
The reason this matters is that the glory cloud was a sign of God’s presence with his people, his protection of them. We know that God’s patience has limits and that our apostate behaviors can cause him to remove his glory, to remove his protection. I wrote about this here: https://damonjgray.org/a-surefire-plan-for-making-god-leave-us-alone/ The glory of God was removed from Israel when they refused to be loyal to him.
The glory of the Lord went up from within the city and stopped above the mountain east of it.
– Ezekiel 11:23, NIV-1983
This was not an abrupt move on the part of God. It was incremental. And it was not even so much that God left the people but that the people drove God away. Does that sound eerily familiar?
God was in his sanctuary, but the people drove him from the sanctuary to the threshold.1
God was at the threshold, but the people drove him from the threshold to the courtyard and the temple gate.2
God was at the gate of the temple, and finally the people drove him from the city entirely.
The Tabernacle Today
We read in the first chapter of John that the Logos became flesh in the person of Christ. The text says he “tabernacled” among us. Then John says something fascinating about that truth; fascinating when we think of the Exodus passages and Ezekiel passages above.
We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
– John 1:14b, NIV-1983
Those who had the eyes to see, “beheld his glory,” the glory of the one who tabernacled among us, the glory of the only begotten of the Father. And we can drill down even farther than that. We know that the Spirit of Christ dwells in us,3 but it goes deeper still.
To them [God’s people] God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
– John 1:14b, NIV-1983 [bracketed addition mine]
And the outcome of this?
And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
– 2 Corinthians 3:18, NIV-1983
We have moved from the glory cloud that led Israel through the wilderness to the glory indwelling us and being reflected from us. That is our light, the light shining on the hill for all to see. You, Christ-follower, are a dazzling reflection of the image and likeness of Christ to a dark world that is desperate for light.
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
– 2 Corinthians 4:6, NIV-1983
1. Ezekiel 8:6-10
2. Ezekiel 8:18-19
3. John 14:17, Romans 8:9, 11, 1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19