34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 35 Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.
36 In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; 37 but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out—until the day it lifted. 38 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 Israelites during all their travels. (Exodus 40:34-38 NIV)
These words come at the end of the description of the construction and crafting of the tabernacle and its objects including the garments for the high priest and priests. A cloud had settled on the tabernacle at the end of its construction.
“Then” refers to this completion of all things.
The cloud was visible to the Israelites both by day and by night. This section connects the cloud of God’s glory to their travels. Was it only for the journey to the land of promise?
The cloud was the thing that regulated their travel – when it moved, they moved. Like the Sabbath that broke the normal rhythm of life and work perhaps? The cloud set the rhythm and not their expectations or their habits.
How do I know when to do something – or not? There is no cloud that is visible and unmistakable that moves and sits to show me what to do. The simple answer is “the Holy Spirit!” But even then I am not sure that helps as much it sounds. What is the cloud in my soul, the clearly sent sign to do or not, to move or to stay, to journey ahead or to tarry here awhile.
It is easy to say that the Holy Spirit is sent as our teacher but it is harder to follow. Why does God make it harder?? Our world is more complex – I have more stimuli coming at me than did they. And certainly less clear direction!
Perhaps one answer is preparation. Moses and those who crafted worked carefully and long to get to the “then” at the beginning of this section. It was only then that the cloud came, the glory settled. The same Spirit of God requires equally careful preparations – equal attention to the things God has said and done if I want to have the same clarity of purpose and to see as simply when to do and when not.
O Lord, as the song says “Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary.” As Moses and the craftsmen prepared the place where your glory would dwell, teach me how to prepare my tabernacle that your Spirit may not only dwell but rule, not only come but control. When the cloud moves, move me. When the cloud stays, teach me to be still and to wait. And to be so prepared that I may know and see as they did. Amen.