“…to build Him a house…”(Ezra 1:2b)
God’s glory was revealed very visibly with 1) a cloud and 2) fire. That was how He signaled that He had moved into His Earthly dwellings.
How could the Israelites know God was “dwelling” with them in His house?
1. When Moses brought the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, God’s presence led them through the desert.
The presence was seen by the people — in a cloud by day and fire by night.
“By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud… and by night in a pillar of fire… Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.”
2. When Moses built the tabernacle (tent to hold the Ark of the Covenant), no one had to do much seeking to find God’s presence.
“He took the tablets of the covenant law and placed them in the ark [of the Covenant]…
Then he brought 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 on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle… 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 40:20-21, 34-38)
3. And when the first temple was complete, no one had to do much seeking to find God’s presence.
“The priests then brought the ark of the LORD’s covenant to its place in the inner sanctuary of the temple… Then the temple of the LORD was filled with the cloud, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the temple of God…
Then Solomon said, ‘The Lord has said that he would dwell in a dark cloud…’
When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven… and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. The priests could not enter the temple of the Lord because the glory of the Lord filled it. When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the Lord above the temple, they knelt… and they worshiped…”
(2 Chronicles 5:7, 13-14; 6:1; 7:1-3)
4. Before construction even began on the second temple, Jeremiah warned the people they would have to look for God this time.
“I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place… You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you…”
(Jeremiah 29:10, 13-14)
Other prophets talked about the mysterious absence of God’s glorious presence.
“‘Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? But now be strong… all you people of the land… I am with you… This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my
Spirit remains among you… I will fill this house with glory…'”
Another prophet during the exile saw (in a vision) God’s glory leaving the temple and going somewhere else!
“…a cloud filled the inner court [of the temple in the vision]…
Then the glory of the Lord rose… and moved to the threshold of the temple. The cloud filled the temple, and the court was full of the radiance of the glory of the Lord…
Then the glory of the Lord departed from over the threshold of the temple…
The glory of the Lord went up from within the city and stopped above the mountain east of it.”
(Ezekiel 10:3-4, 18; 11:23)
More about that mountain next time…
I live in a time where I don’t physically see God’s glory. I experience His Spirit, undoubtedly. But I can’t point to any visible cloud or fire and say, “See, God is real!”
In the Bible, there are so many stories of miracles that it seems like they happened all the time. But the Bible was written over a period of approximately 1,500 years. It tells about a dark times, too, like during Ezra’s life. God should have shown up miraculously in the second temple. But He didn’t. The Law was broken, the Covenant was broken, the Ark was missing, and God’s presence was hidden.
There is still the promise that His Spirit is there.
I just have to seek with all my heart. He promises He is still there, I will find Him, and His plan will be glorious.
If today were my last day on earth, I would:
I am utterly overwhelmed by the treasures You have hidden in Your Word. I spend hours and hours searching, and with every layer I pull back, I’m blown away by the message You disguised in the simplest of stories — even in the bent “bow” that You set in the clouds after Noah’s flood, as a signal of a new covenant. How in the world can I condense this? How will people really see it? Already I’m failing, and I can only depend on You to glorify Yourself.
For the sake of Jesus, who leaves me speechless.
All verses are NIV unless otherwise noted.