Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. (Shemot / Exodus 40:34; ESV).
The manifest presence of God is a key component of biblical truth. According to the Bible, God is not simply a philosophical concept. He is an independent, self-defined, self-aware, active, responsive relational being with personality. As a relational being, while invisible, he isn’t cut off from human beings. Rather, he has made himself known and accessible to people. While God has revealed himself in implicit, more subtle ways, through such things as creation, which acts as material evidence for his existence and his creativity, he also has done so in more explicit, dramatic ways, through prophetic utterance and his manifest presence.
The Bible itself is the product of prophetic utterance. The most obvious examples of this are the recorded words of the prophets themselves as they spoke God’s actual words to their hearers in their day. Knowledge of God and his will is not determined by divination and fortune tellers, but by God’s intimate communication through people. This also applies to the entire Bible in that its authors wrote under the authority of God’s inspiration.
But God not only reveals himself through words, but also through observable phenomena, whereby he, who is normally invisible and nonphysical, makes himself known in some sort of physical way. The Torah mentions such occurrences, including the burning bush (see Shemot / Exodus 3:2-6) and thunder at Mt. Sinai (see Shemot / Exodus 19:19). God even manifests himself in human form on more than one occasion. He comes in this way to Abraham to announce Isaac’s birth, to warn him about the impending destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (see Bereshit / Genesis 18), and in his life-transforming wrestling match with Jacob (see Bereshit / Genesis 32:22-32). That God would come in a similar fashion in the Messiah should not surprise us.
During Israel’s forty years of wilderness wanderings, God’s manifest presence guided and protected them through a pillar of fire and cloud. When the Mishkan (English: Tabernacle), the center of Israel’s worship, the mobile precursor to the permanent Temple built many years later, was completed, the cloud covered it and the kavod (English: glory) of God filled it. Kavod is one of the ways the Torah refers to God’s manifest presence. Where God was to be worshipped, his presence was really there. Note that this didn’t occur until every detail of the Mishkan’s construction as given by God through Moses was fully completed. It was only then that God’s presence filled the Tabernacle.
The filling of the Mishkan foreshadows a much greater event when God’s manifest presence would fill individuals as foretold by the Hebrew prophet Joel:
And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit (Joel 3:1-2; English: 2:28-29).
Joel speaks of a day when we could experience God from the inside out due to the indwelling of his very presence through his Spirit. But as in the construction of the Mishkan, every God-ordained detail needed to be completed first. People could not be filled with God’s Spirit until we were made ready.
But we can be ready right now. For the Messiah has done everything necessary in order that we can be filled with the glory of God. The forgiveness of sins through Yeshua’s sacrificial death and the newness of life through his resurrection are all we need to be so filled. All we need to do is turn to God and put our trust in Yeshua and what he has done for us.