The Glory Issue
In chapter 1 we explored God as a calling, communicating Being. In this chapter we will look at what I call the glory issue. In Exodus we quickly discover that God emanates an overwhelming, other-worldly, sometimes destructive, glory. The sun is a helpful metaphor for that glory, prompting several canonical writers to use it (Ps 84:11, Mal 4:2, Lk 1:78). What, therefore, is the glory issue? It is how God will modify or adapt His glory to be compatible with human beings. If He did not do this we would be utterly vaporized in an instant, like a piece of paper dropped into the sun.
From Heaven to Mountain to Tent
In heaven, God is present in the full intensity of His glory. About that unmitigated glory, Paul said, "...who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see..." (1Ti 6:16 NIV). God's glory in its truest, fullest, unmitigated form has not been seen and cannot be seen. Even in heaven it has to be covered or obscured by four elements: a stormcloud, fire, light, and a rainbow. When heavenly realms were opened before Ezekiel and he saw the glory of God (Eze 1:1,28), he saw it covered or obscured by these four elements (v4,13,28). The psalmist said the same, but focused on the stormcloud and fire (Ps 97:2,3). All the visions of God's glory in heaven recorded in Scripture, from the psalmists to the prophets to John the Revelator, are obscured or toned-down versions of that glory. Remember, Paul said God "lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see" (1Ti 6:16 NIV).
From Heaven to Mountain
For God to dwell on earth with human beings, His glory would have to be mitigated even more. The first adaptation of that glory would be from heaven to mountain. When God descended on Mount Sinai in the sight of all Israel, we see the same obscuring elements Ezekiel and others saw: a thick stormcloud, light/lightning, and fire (Ex 19:16,18). (The only missing element was the rainbow Ezekiel and John saw.) This form of God's glory allowed humans to come within a close distance, such that they could see and hear the manifestation themselves--but it was still too massive and impractical. The Lord would have to adapt His glory yet again to be compatible with a nomadic people, and eventually dwell with them permanently once they reached Canaan.
From Mountain to Tent
For Yahweh to travel with a nomadic people, and eventually dwell with them permanently once they settled in Canaan, He would have to adapt His glory from mountain to tent. This is precisely the story of the second half of Exodus. The Lord tells Israel to build Him a house (a tent), and He in turn would miniaturize and practicalize His glory to be compatible with that tent and with a traveling people. By the end of Exodus the work is complete and God's glory has moved into its new home. The book of Leviticus develops the story from there.
What We Learn
Just in this one particular sequence we have seen God adapt the form of His glory three times: (1) from its truest, fullest, unmitigated form, that no one has seen or can see, to an obscured form so the Bible writers could see it and write about it, (2) from that heavenly adaptation to a mountain adaptation, and (3) from the mountain to the tent adaptation. What do learn from this? We learn several things, some conceptual, some practical.
We learn there are aspects to God that we simply do not know. When Paul tells Timothy that God dwells in unapproachable light that no one has seen or can see (1Ti 6:16), questions arise. Do Paul's words refer to humans only, or spirit beings also? Will we ever be able to see that truest, fullest, unmitigated glory? Since Satan was "...the anointed cherub who covers...on the mountain of God..." (Eze 28:14 NASB), was he able to see that glory? Was he, Satan, the glory's covering before the stormcloud, fire, light, and rainbow? Is this why he coveted and rebelled?
We learn, once again, how determined God is to have a relationship with His creation. He continually modifies the form of His presence to get closer and closer and closer. The most important adaptation of His glory is the incarnation, when He took the form of a Man to resolve the separation once and for all. John 1:14 (NKJV, underline added): And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father...
We learn of the final and most practical adaptation of His presence, the indwelling Holy Spirit, who Peter called "the Spirit of glory" (1Pet 4:14). This Treasure living inside our earthen vessel makes us, in the New Covenant era, the covering for the glory.
We learn of the strategic conscientiousness of God, and the strategic conscientiousness we must have as individuals, especially those of us who are leaders. Too often we are obsessed with other people changing first, when, perhaps, the modification of ourselves (our "form") might be the key to unlocking others and making progress in relationships.