Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Future Cloud

Have you ever read something in the Bible and thought, "What?  Where did that come from?"  Then you start checking other translations thinking, surely I would have noticed this if it really is saying what I think it's saying.  This is my sixth time in two years to read through the Bible and I read something yesterday that I have somehow managed to miss the previous five times.  I know you're just dying to know, so I'll share it with you.

This is in Isaiah chapter 4.  The context is the future glorification of Israel.  I believe that Christians will share in this as per Romans 11.  (Paul must have had Isaiah 4 in mind when he wrote Romans 11 because he uses the same language of branch and remnant to refer to true Israel.)

"Then the Lord will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory there will be a canopy.  There will be a booth for shade by day from the heat, and for a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain."  Isaiah 4:5-6

When we were in Kazakhstan about 5 years ago, we heard rumors that the president was planning the construction of a giant dome to cover their climate-challenged capital, Astana (temperatures reach minus 40 in winter).  The newly constructed pleasure dome allows for a climate-controlled 1.5 million cubic yard enclosure.  It cost over $100 million to construct.  Somehow I think there's more to it than this in Isaiah 4.  The "cloud by day and fire by night" immediately bring to mind the visible way in which God manifested Himself to Israel in the wilderness as He guided them from place to place.

The cloud also seems to be associated not just with the presence of God, but with the glory of the Lord.

"As I looked, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, and a great cloud, with brightness around it, and fire flashing forth continually, and in the midst of the fire, as it were gleaming metal."  Ezekiel 1:4

"Now the cherubim were standing on the south side of the house, when the man went in, and a cloud filled the inner court.  And the glory of the Lord went up from the cherub to the threshold of the house, and the house was filled with the cloud, and the court was filled with the brightness of the glory of the Lord."  Ezekiel 10:3-4

"[Peter] was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, 'This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.'  When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified."  Mathew 17:5-6 on the Transfiguration of Jesus.

"And when He had said these things, as they were looking on, He was lifted up, and a cloud took Him out of their sight."  Acts 1:9 on the Ascension of Jesus.

"Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud one like a son of man, with a golden crown on His head, and a sharp sickle in His hand.... So He who sat on the cloud swung His sickle across the earth, and the earth was reaped."  Revelation 14:14, 16 on the future harvest of the earth.
I think I get why God revealed Himself to Israel in a cloud.  No one could look on God and live, right?  This makes sense.  His glory had to be shrouded somewhat.  So why will God also reveal Himself to us in the future in a cloud?  Won't we behold Him face to face then?  Maybe it has less to do with His presence, since we know He is present with us even now in Spirit.  Maybe it has to do with the covering aspect of the cloud.

"Remember these things, O Jacob, and Israel, for you are my servant; I formed you; you are my servant; O Israel, you will not be forgotten by me.  I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you."  Isaiah 44:21-22, emphasis mine.

Atonement is the act of covering our sins.  The mercy seat on the ark of the covenant, where God said He would meet with His people, was between the cherubim, just over or "covering" the tablet of the law of God which resided inside the ark.  (The law which His people had broken.)  So, perhaps as His presence on the mercy seat atoned for or "covered" Israel's sins, the cloud of His presence also covered or blotted out their sins.  Maybe this should be the emphasis, not on the form of His presence in the future glorification of His people, but the act of His "covering us" which is what allows for our glorification in the first place.  

Isaiah is a difficult book for me.  There are the chapters on judgment, the prophecies upon prophecies, once in a while a bit of historical narrative I can understand, then more confusing stuff.  But there are some wonderful gems in Isaiah.  Redemption is a theme woven throughout the book.  We all know and love Isaiah 53 which pictures the coming Christ who would suffer on our behalf.  Isaiah 27:19 speaks of the future resurrection.  And many other verses sprinkled throughout proclaim His great and everlasting salvation.  It seems reasonable to me, though I'm no Bible scholar, to interpret the future cloud that will cover Zion in this redemptive way.  Because He will create a cloud to cover us by day (Is. 4:5), and because He has blotted out our transgressions like a cloud (Is. 44:22a), we can return to Him for He has redeemed us (Is. 44:22b).  I'll close with my favorite passage in Isaiah.

"Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from before your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am He, and to gray hairs I will carry you.  I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save."  Isaiah 46:3-4

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I'm an on-the-run mom to 6 kids who studied and taught exercise science in a previous life. I love all things running, nutrition, and health-related. I usually run at zero dark thirty in the morning and am often quite hungry before, during, and after my run, but I live a rich, full, blessed life with my children, family, and friends. My faith in God is my anchor, and looking to Him and His promises allows me to live fully even when life circumstances are difficult. While running gives me an appetite, my desire is to hunger and thirst for righteousness more than for physical food.