What Do You See in the Cloud?
Haftarat Pekudei, 1 Kings 7:51–8:21
Rabbi Aaron Allsbrook, Ohev Yisrael, Springfield VA
This week’s haftarah is a glorious one. What had begun with Moses in the desert now finds its culmination with Solomon in Jerusalem. The people were once nomads in a desert on their way to the land of promise. Now they stand before their established king in their allotted land to dedicate a secure, fixed, and beautiful house to the living God. This is a place for God to dwell among his people forever, a place wherein people may approach God through sacrifice, prayer, and worship. It is a place unique among all places because, whereas God’s presence surely fills the entire earth, he has a particular concentration of himself in this location.
Solomon builds an elaborate and baroque temple to house the presence of God. He received this idea from his father, David. David loved the presence of God and thought it was improper to have a palace of cedar for himself while God dwelt in a tent (2 Sam 7:2). So he came up with plans to construct an abode fitting to house the presence of God. God did not allow him to actualize these plans because of the blood on his hands, so the blueprints went to Solomon. And Solomon fulfilled the wishes of his father.
Solomon created a true wonder for God. It was laden with gold, silver, and bronze, and decorated with purple, blue, and scarlet, along with carvings of animals and angels—this was something to behold. When all was said and done, just as when Moses completed the tabernacle in the desert some 480 years earlier, the presence of God came and filled this building. We read,
Now when the kohanim came out of the Holy Place, the cloud filled the House of Adonai, so that the kohanim could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of Adonai filled the House of Adonai. Then Solomon spoke: “Adonai said that he would dwell in the thick cloud.” (1 Kings 8:10–12)
Even though, to the natural eye, this temple was worthy of praise due to its architectural and artistic splendor, what truly made it a spectacle, just like the tabernacle of Moses, was the glory of the Lord that filled it.
The purpose of the tabernacle and the temple was to have a place where God could dwell among the people of Israel. God is relational and wants to be with his children. However, because he’s so awesomely radiant and we’re—well—not, he has to come in a thick, dark cloud. He must be concealed. Even when he is with us, he is hidden. Even his reflection was too much for the people (see Exod 34:30).
Ezekiel picks up on this pattern when he describes the presence of God in his vision of the temple (Ezek 10:4). But such an occurrence does not happen after Ezra, Nehemiah, and company finish the building of the second temple. The prophet Haggai, however, states that the glory of the second temple would surpass that of Solomon’s temple (Hag 2:9). Clearly the fulfillment did not happen when the physical building was complete. So when would it happen?
Hundreds of years later Yeshua the Messiah took three of his disciples, Peter, John, and Jacob, onto a mountain. While he was praying his face began to shine brightly, like the sun, and even his clothes became radiant. Moses and Elijah appear in glory and the three disciples are dumbfounded. Suddenly, a bright cloud overshadows them and they hear the voice of God, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matt 17:5b). The disciples are terrified, but Yeshua touches them and all is well. They are to share this with no one.
What have they just experienced?! They witnessed here the cloud and glory of God in the person of Yeshua. And unlike Moses and Solomon, who saw a thick, dark cloud and were unable to stand in its presence, these three fishermen saw a bright cloud and were able to stand within it! How amazing! These men had just experienced the impossible. What their forefathers yearned to experience, these men were able to witness with their own eyes and encounter with their whole being.
Luke tells us that Moses and Elijah were discussing with Yeshua his eventual sacrifice and resurrection in Jerusalem. Such an event would fulfill the words of Haggai with the glory of the second temple being greater than that of Solomon’s temple. Yeshua, the radiance of the glory of God (Heb 1:3), would enter the house meant to hold the presence of God, and he would allow that presence to go out to the ends of the earth, no longer in darkness, but now in light and accessible to all (John 8:12).
Solomon built an amazing temple. He did something good in the eyes of the Lord. God dwelt there and, to a degree, the people could approach God. Isn’t that what we want, to be able to be close to God? The tabernacle is gone, the temples are gone, yet Yeshua is alive! Through him we are able to be in the presence of God all the time, wherever we are. What our fathers yearned for, what they saw in darkness, we see now in light. While his presence is still amazing and awesome, something we should revere greatly, we are able to approach in boldness because of Yeshua (see Heb 4:16).
When we see Yeshua, we see the Father (John 14:9). God continues to want nothing more than to be with his children, for them to dwell with him in his glory, without hindrance, without hesitation. We have such access now, and it will be even more glorious when he returns to Jerusalem to dwell with us forever!
Photo by Amber Flowers