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B'Midbar/Numbers 9:16 So it was always, the cloud was covering it and at night the appearance of fire
With verse 15 the narrative of Israel's journeying in the wilderness is rejoined. With the exception of chapters 9 and 10 of Vayikra - the account of Aharon's installation as Cohen Gadol and the death of his two eldest sons after bringing strange fire beforeHaShem - these verses might run on directly form the end of Shemot chapter 40. There the Torah tells us, "For the cloud of Adonai was above the tabernacle during the day, and fire was in [the cloud] at night, so that all the house of Israel could see it throughout all their travels" (Shemot 40:38, CJB). Jacob Milgrom (JPS Torah Commentary: B'Midbar) describes it as a cloud-encased fire and suggests that "during the day only the cloud is visible, the fire, presumably, dimmed by the sunlight. But night renders the cloud invisible, and the luminous fire can be clearly seen."
This fire is also referred to as 'glory', using the word , glory or heaviness (Shemot 24:17, 2 Chronicles 7:3, Ezekiel 1:27-28), so that it gives a picture of the glory of G-d, always present in the midst of the people, but somehow veiled or covered by a sometimes-opaque, sometimes-transparent covering. We can see the proximity and similarity of these two images: the tablets of the testimony contained in the Ark, in the Holy of Holies, seen only by the Cohen Gadol and scrupulously covered at all times except during travel when the tabernacle is dismantled; and the glory of G-d hidden in the cloud by day but revealed at night, that rises from over the tabernacle to command the people to move, thus triggering the uncovering of the Ark. In later Israelite history, the Ark was taken to the battlefield to lead the army into battle as a visible sign of G-d's presence with the armies of Israel (cf. 1 Samuel 4:3-5).
Perhaps this picture is in the back of the gospel writers' minds when they describe Yeshua. John starts the ball rolling with, "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we saw His glory, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14); the Greek word translated 'dwelt' or 'lived' being close in meaning to 'tabernacled' or "pitched His tent" so that we have the direct reflection of the presence of G-d in the tabernacle among His people and the secondary image of the hidden glory of G-d clothed in human flesh. John continues at the wedding in Caana: "This, the first of Yeshua's miraculous signs, He did at Kanah in the Galil; He manifested His glory, and the talmidim came to trust in Him" (John 2:11, CJB); the cloud thins and the fire within can be seen! As the gospel proceeds we see more signs, revealing who Yeshua is and that phrase is repeated: "This was the second sign that Yeshua did" (John 4:54, CJB). One of the most significant examples comes in the Transfiguration (Mark 9, Matthew 17) where we read that: "As they watched, He began to change form and His clothes became dazzlingly white, whiter than anyone in the world could possibly bleach them" (Mark 9:2-3, CJB). The cloud motif comes a few verses later when, "a cloud enveloped them; and a voice came out of the cloud" (v. 7, CJB) then when the voice has finished speaking, "suddenly when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Yeshua" (v. 8, CJB). Apart form the stake and the resurrection, the last flash from behind the cloud comes when Yeshua is being arrested in the garden. Yeshua is approached by the Temple guards, Roman soldiers and some Pharisees; He asks whom they seek and when the reply with His name, He acknowledges who He is by pronouncing the ineffable name. John records, "When He said, 'I AM', they went backwards from Him and fell to the ground" (John 18:6, CJB). Once again, a certain quality in His tone of voice, His authority in claiming His identity, perhaps even a flash of fire in His eyes that John didn't see from behind, and the opacity of the cloud briefly fades to show the glory of G-d inside.
But is that it? Is it just Yeshua and the pillar of cloud over the Mishkan? Luke records that when Stephen was arrested and brought in, "Everyone sitting in the Sanhedrin stared at Stephen and saw that his face looked like the face of an angel" (Acts 6:15, CJB) and at the end of his speech he cried out, "Look! I see the Son of Man standing at the right hand of G-d" (Acts 7:56, CJB). We too are to reveal the the glory of G-d that is within us "for it is the G-d who once said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' who has made His light shine in our hearts, the light of the knowledge of G-d's glory in the face of the Messiah Yeshua" (2 Corinthians 4:6, CJB).
Further Study: 2 Corinthians 4:7-10; Daniel 9:17-19
Application: G-d lives in each of us and wants to be seen by those around us. He is looking for moments when we become transparent enough for Yeshua to shine through. Are you transparent or opaque; are you transparent enough? Why not ask G-d during this week to clean off the film so that Yeshua in you can be seen again.
© Jonathan Allen, 2007
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