“Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of testimony, and the tabernacle was filled with the Lord’s glory. But Moses was not able to enter the tabernacle of testimony because the cloud overshadowed it.” (OSB)
The end of the book of Exodus is in many ways the crescendo of the Pentateuch! It is here that the Israelites get a true taste of the goal of all God’s creative and saving work: Immanuel, “God with us.” It is only a taste because Israel must still undertake the journey to the Promised Land (and then its conquest and apportioning), and even more, to Zion where God has chosen to set His Name and where a permanent structure, the Temple, will be constructed as God’s dwelling.
Yet the central point of the Scriptural revelation must not escape us, that God desires to dwell with, among, and in His people. This has been apparent since the Garden of Eden, and indeed we can see here the beginning of a reversal of humanity’s banishment from Eden—Israel as God’s new humanity has been restored, in some measure, to communion with God, sharing in some measure in God’s glory. And this is an effect of God’s grace, mercy, and loving-kindness toward His people, as God’s relationship with Israel is based on His unmerited forgiveness after their “fall” in the Golden Calf episode.
As we have indicated in previous reflections, the Tabernacle is a type and shadow of Christ Himself, showing in outline God’s plan to tabernacle among His people and His creation and to reveal His glory in the person of His Incarnate Son (Jn 1:14-18). And then, through the Incarnation, to form a new people for Himself, the Church, who become the living stones of the eternal, spiritual Temple which God indwells by His Spirit (1 Pet 2:5; 1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:18-20; Eph 2:19-22).
It is interesting, then, that Moses is not able to enter into the cloud of the Shekinah Glory that fills the Tabernacle—the Cloud being a very tangible (“incarnate”) manifestation of God’s presence. Moses has already encountered God—Christ Himself—in the Burning Bush, and on Sinai in the “hole of the Rock,” and in his comings and goings from the “tabernacle of testimony.” Yet here he must remain outside. Perhaps St. Paul gives us the reason when he says that the way into the Tabernacle of Christ’s Body was not yet revealed while the earthly Tabernacle was still standing, and because the Old Covenant saints are not made perfect apart from us, the New Covenant Church (Heb 9:8; 11:39-40). Moses is not able to enter into the Shekinah Glory, not because he is unsaintly, but to show that Christ and the New Covenant Church are the true goal of all of God’s economy of salvation.
We are not surprised as Orthodox Christians, given our loving veneration of the Theotokos, who is our Mother and symbol of the Church, that the Evangelist Luke sees in Mary’s bearing of Christ the fulfillment of the Shekinah Glory:
And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Lk 1:35)
Mary’s womb is the New Tabernacle, overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, and filled with Christ Himself, God’s Glory, at which time “our nature regained its unbroken character, becoming immortal through the letters written by his finger” (St. Gregory of Nyssa, Life of Moses 2.216). Luke’s account of the Transfiguration of Christ is linked to this as well by the catchword, “overshadow”:
While [Peter] was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were fearful as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, "This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!" (Luk 9:34-35)
A New Sinai (cf. Exod 24:15-16) and a New Tabernacle, Christ Himself. May we follow the Apostolic example and enter the Cloud with faith, love, and fear!
~ By Reader Justin Gohl