Cloud and Fire

By Sherry Black

A Reading from Exodus 40:18-38

18 Moses set up the tabernacle; he laid its bases and set up its frames and put in its poles and raised up its pillars, 19 and he spread the tent over the tabernacle and put the covering of the tent over it as the Lord had commanded Moses. 20 He took the covenant and put it into the ark and put the poles on the ark and set the cover above the ark, 21 and he brought the ark into the tabernacle and set up the curtain for screening and screened the ark of the covenant as the Lord had commanded Moses. 22 He put the table in the tent of meeting, on the north side of the tabernacle, outside the curtain, 23 and set the bread in order on it before the Lord as the Lord had commanded Moses. 24 He put the lampstand in the tent of meeting, opposite the table on the south side of the tabernacle, 25 and set up the lamps before the Lord as the Lord had commanded Moses. 26 He put the golden altar in the tent of meeting before the curtain 27 and offered fragrant incense on it as the Lord had commanded Moses. 28 He also put in place the screen for the entrance of the tabernacle. 29 He set the altar of burnt offering at the entrance of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting and offered on it the burnt offering and the grain offering as the Lord had commanded Moses. 30 He set the basin between the tent of meeting and the altar and put water in it for washing, 31 with which Moses and Aaron and his sons washed their hands and their feet. 32 When they went into the tent of meeting and when they approached the altar, they washed as the Lord had commanded Moses. 33 He set up the court around the tabernacle and the altar and put up the screen at the gate of the court. So Moses finished the work.

34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 35 Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled upon it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 36 Whenever the cloud was taken up from the tabernacle, the Israelites would set out on each stage of their journey, 37 but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day that it was taken up. 38 For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, before the eyes of all the house of Israel at each stage of their journey.


“Glory” is one of the great themes of the Holy Scriptures. Glory is often one of the means of God’s manifestation or revelation to humankind. From the glory of God revealed in creation, to the glory of God as the light in the new city at the end of the book, glory shines forth throughout our sacred writings.

As in today’s reading, the Hebrew Scriptures are resplendent with God’s glory as theophany in smoke and cloud and flame. “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.” This manifestation is so thick and powerful that even Moses, who communed with God in the cloud on Mt. Sinai, cannot enter.

This cloud of glory leads the people of Israel throughout their journey, fire at night and cloud by day. God’s glory is revealed in visions to the prophets. In Ezekiel we also learn that God’s glory can — and does — leave the temple.

We later find that Jesus himself is the glory of God. This is especially clear in John’s Gospel: “[T]he Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (1:14).

As Christians 2,000 years later, we are now the bearers of God’s glory, glorifying God in praise and action. As Irenaeus famously wrote, “the glory of God is a human fully alive.” May the vitality of each of our lives continually point to Jesus Christ, the Glory of God.

The Very Rev. Sherry Black is a second-career Episcopal priest, and has been a full-time hospital chaplain for ten years. She also serves a small mission church as priest-in-charge, and is dean of her deanery.

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