God in the Cloud
First of all, some scattered verses from the Old Testament:
Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was. (Exodus 20:21)
Moses speaks to the people:
These words the Lord spake unto all your assembly in the mount out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud and of the thick darkness, with a great voice: and he added no more. And he wrote them in two tables of stone, and delivered them unto me. (Deuteronomy 5:22)
Later on, where Solomon is dedicating the temple to God, we read:
Then Solomon prayed, ‘O Lord, you have said that you would live in a thick cloud of darkness. Now I have built a glorious Temple for you, a place where you can live forever!’ (1 Kings 8:12–13)
It is a description of the appearing of God that for me has always held a rich attraction: one of these descriptions that brings a sense of God to your spirit, God who dwells in the thick darkness – because it seems a contradiction to many other verses where we read that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. And yet there is a sense of what is meant by that cloud of thick darkness. Sometimes if you have really gone out in the Spirit and He has come near to reveal God to you, you may have found, as your own senses are being almost dismissed and you’re entering into truly spiritual revelation, that there is a sense of a beautiful darkness, a beautiful enfolding, with the thickness of the covering that is round about God. We know that He dwells in light, but nevertheless we are told of this thick darkness, and of going into the thick darkness of this cloud, in the centre of which is God.
Another translation for that thick darkness is ‘secret or high place’, which immediately reveals that it’s a secret place, where God is. As Solomon was dedicating his temple and the thick cloud came down over the temple, it seemed like darkness. But on the inside was the holy place, the holy of holies, the secret place where God is.
Even in nature there is a kind of blackness that has nothing sinister in it. An example is one of my favourite roses, ‘Dark Lady’. It is such a deep velvety red that you could almost think it was black.
And so there comes to us a sense of that draw into the deep mystery of God. He comes to us in different ways. As I was meditating on this thought, I realized something about what looks to us like a darkness in circumstance, in life, that we cannot see anything good in, that perhaps has been unavoidable, that we’re not responsible for but we still have to face. There came over my spirit the knowledge that in a deeper trust in God, we find that even that is a way into what lies at the heart, which is the revelation of Christ. The psalmist David said in that well-loved psalm: He spreads a table for me in the presence of my enemies … Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow, even there You will be with me, you will guide me. David knew that at times sheep could be surrounded by wild animals, who could rest on higher places looking down on the valley in which the flock was feeding. Normally the sheep would not be very ready to eat if there was danger around, but with the shepherd there to take care of them they could do it. With our Shepherd to take care of us, even in the presence of our enemy, we can feed on Him. We can find in Him the rest of soul that enables us to drink in and to eat of the spiritual food that God provides for us.
Sinai was covered by a dark cloud. And we read again and again of the fire and the light that blazed inside, and of how God spoke to Moses in that fire and light.
We think of another mountain that our hearts have been very much turned towards, particularly as we draw near to Easter. For us Easter has a tremendous joy in it. But in meditating upon the events leading up to Resurrection we see that the Lord Jesus Christ began His ministry tempted in the wilderness, tested and tried by the wicked one, who then left Him for a season. Yet we know that as Calvary drew near, that darkness came near to Christ. We know because He told us. He said: This is your hour, and the power of darkness. The prince of this world comes and has nothing in Me. Calvary was a dark place. It grew dark over the land from the sixth to the ninth hour as Christ hung there on His cross. We get a glimpse of something of the fearful struggle of soul in the depths of the garden of Gethsemane, in the darkness under the olive trees. Christ’s pathway we cannot quite follow. It was a very lonely one. We cannot enter into His suffering; we catch just a little glimpse. What we do know is that the enemy couldn’t find a foothold in Him. There was no darkness in Christ.
But what we also know is this. Sinai was unapproachable: only Moses could go there. But at Calvary … there was no volcano. There was no evidence of the fire and light. There was an evidence of the darkness – and it doesn’t hold us out. We’re invited in, and we can draw near. And what we find is that the darkness holds in the very midst of it that blessed Sufferer, and from His face there streams to us the very love of heaven, that same consuming fire that was on Sinai all there in that Christ who died amidst the darkness of Calvary. Was that darkness the encroaching of the wicked one – or was it actually, ultimately, the veiling of the suffering Saviour from prying eyes? What we do know is that when we approach, our darkness goes, blessed be His Name. It goes; it completely goes. The darkness of the guilt in our life is lifted, but so too is the darkness that we can feel comes with pain and any kind of suffering. We find as we approach that mountain called Calvary that the light breaks again in our spirits, for we see there the One in whom the light could not be quenched.
The thick darkness can mean the secret or high place, and that secret, the very mystery of God, begins to be revealed to us as we come through any thick cloud and find Him. At the very heart of Calvary that seemed such defeat, we know (for we’ve been there) that for us there is healing, there is consolation, there is forgiveness, there is Christ. As I was meditating on all this today, I felt welling up inside fresh love for that lonely Sufferer, that dear Christ, who has given so much, who has given everything, to rescue us from out of our darkness that we may be enclosed and enfolded in the mystery of God and find His secret places, the treasure that is worth the seeking.
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