Chapter 7: The Fiery Cloud

David Chilton

Narrated By: Daniel Sorenson
Book: Paradise Restored: A Biblical Theology of Dominion
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Chapter Text

He it is Who won victory from His daemon foes and trophies from the idolaters even before His bodily appearing – namely, all the heathen who from every region have abjured the tradition of their fathers and the false worship of idols and are now placing their hope in Christ and transferring their allegiance to Him. The thing is happening before our very eyes, here in Egypt; and thereby another prophecy is fulfilled, for at no other time have the Egyptians ceased from their false worship save when the Lord of all, riding as on a cloud, came down here in the body and brought the error of idols to nothing and won over everybody to Himself and through Himself to the Father. He it is Who was crucified with the sun and moon as witnesses; and by His death salvation has come to all men, and all creation has been redeemed.
–St. Athanasius, On The Incarnation [37]



What was most important about the Garden – indeed, that which made it a Garden at all – was God’s presence with His people. In order to understand this properly, we will begin our study in this chapter with the revelation of God’s presence to the covenant people of Israel, and then work both backward to Eden and forward to the Church.

God revealed His presence to His people in the Cloud of Glory. The Cloud functioned as a sort of “mobile home” for God – His fiery chariot by which He made His presence known to His people. The Cloud served as a guide for Israel, giving light in the darkness and shade from the heat (Ex. 13:21-22; Ps. 105:39), but bringing judgment to the wicked (Ex. 14:19-25). On Sinai, the Cloud was accompanied by thunder, light, fire, smoke and an earthquake (Ex. 19:16-20), and was filled with innumerable angels (Deut. 33:2; Ps. 68:17). The Cloud is nothing less than a revelation of the invisible Heaven, where God is seated on His throne of glory, surrounded by His heavenly court and council (Ex. 24:9-15; Isa. 6:1-4), and from which He spoke to Moses (Ex. 33:9; Ps. 99:7).

When the Tabernacle was completed, the Cloud entered it and filled it with the glory of God (Ex. 40:34-38; cf. 2 Chron. 5:13-14), and fire issued forth from it to consume the sacrifices (Lev. 9:23-24). The prophet Ezekiel looked up through the Cloud (Ezek. 1) and saw fire, lightning and winged creatures flying below a “firmament” – the “pavement” or “sea of glass” that is around the base of God’s throne (Ex. 24:10; Rev. 4:6) – and around the throne was the Glory in the form of a rainbow (Ezek. 1:28; cf. Gen. 9:12-17; Rev. 4:3; 10:1).

The Voice of the Lord

While there are many phenomena associated with the Cloud (most are listed in Ps. 18:6-15), perhaps the most striking characteristic is the peculiar, unmistakable noise or voice: virtually every account mentions it. Depending on the situation, it can sound like wind, thunder, rushing water, a shout, a trumpet (or many trumpets), a marching army, the rumbling of chariot wheels across the heavens, or the fluttering and beating of wings (see the passages already cited; also Ezek. 3:12-13; 10:1-5; 2 Sam. 5:24; 2 Kings 7:5-7); and Ezekiel tells us that the sound, in fact, has its origin in the beating of the wings of the myriads of angels (Ezek. 1:24; 3:12-13). Consider the following description of the sevenfold Voice from the Cloud:

The Voice of the LORD is upon the waters;
The God of glory thunders,
The LORD is over many waters.
The Voice of the LORD is powerful,
The Voice of the LORD is majestic.
The Voice of the LORD breaks the cedars;
Yes, the LORD breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.
And He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
And Sirion like a young wild ox.
The Voice of the LORD hews out flames of fire.
The Voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness;
The LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh [cf. Num. 16:19-33].
The Voice of the LORD makes the deer to calve,
And strips the forests bare.
And in His Temple everything says, “Glory!”
–Ps. 29:3-9

It was this Voice – an ear-splitting, earth-shattering roar – that Adam and Eve heard on their last day in the Garden: “And they heard the Voice of the LORD God traversing the Garden… and they hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the Garden” (Gen. 3:8; this is an important text, and we will have to consider it in more detail in a later chapter).

The Shadow of the Almighty

It is important to recognize that the Cloud was a theophany, a visible manifestation of the enthroned presence of God to His covenant people. Indeed, the Old Testament often uses the term Spirit as a synonym for the Cloud, ascribing the same functions to both (Neh. 9:19-20; Isa. 4:4-5; Joel 2:28-31; Hag. 2:5). The most revealing instance of this equation of God and the Cloud is where Moses describes God’s salvation of Israel in the wilderness in terms of an eagle hovering or fluttering over her young (Deut. 32:11). How did God “flutter” over Israel? Why does the Psalmist continually seek refuge in the shelter of God’s ”wings” (e.g., Ps. 36:7; 57:1; 61:4; 91:4)? Certainly, God Himself does not have wings. But His angels do – and the special revelation of God’s saving, judging and protecting presence was by the Glory-Cloud, which contains “many thousands of angels” (Ps. 68:17; cf. 2 Kings 6:17): “He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you may seek refuge . . . for He will give His angels charge concerning you, to guard you in all your ways” (Ps. 91:4, 11).

Now, the fascinating thing about Moses’ statement in Deuteronomy 32:11 – God’s “fluttering” over His people by means of the Cloud – is that Moses uses that Hebrew word only one other time in the entire Pentateuch, when he tells us that ”the earth was without form, and void;… and the Spirit of God was moving upon the face of the waters” (Gen. 1:2).

Nor is that the only parallel between these two passages; for in Deuteronomy 32:10 Moses describes the wilderness through which the people were traveling as a waste-the same word translated without form in Genesis 1:2 (and, again, these are the only two occurrences of the word in the Pentateuch). What Moses is saying, then – and this fact was surely understood by his Hebrew readers – is that God’s saving of His people through the Exodus was a re-enactment of the history of the Creation: In saving Israel God was constituting them a New Creation. As in the beginning, the Spirit-Cloud hovered over the creation, bringing light in the darkness (Gen. 1:3; Ex. 14:20; John 1:3-5), and leading on to the Sabbath-rest in the Promised Land, the New Eden (Gen. 2:2-3; cf. Deut. 12:9-10 and Ps. 95:11, where the land is called a rest).

Thus, God’s re-creation of His people in order to bring them into fellowship with Him in the Holy Mountain was witnessed by the same manifestation of His creative presence that was there at the original Creation, when the Spirit gloriously arched His canopy over the earth. The bright radiance of the Cloud-canopy was also the basis for the sign of the rainbow that Noah saw on Mount Ararat, assuring him of the faithfulness of God’s covenant (Gen. 9:13-17). The glory of God’s Cloud-canopy, arched over a mountain, is a repeated sign in Scripture that God is with His people, creating them anew, restoring His handiwork to its original Edenic state, and bringing the creation forward to His appointed goal.

A basic promise of salvation is given in Isaiah 4:4-5: “When the LORD has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and purged the bloodshed of Jerusalem from her midst, by the Spirit of judgment and the Spirit of burning, then the LORD will create over the whole area of Mount Zion and over her assemblies [the official gatherings for worship] a Cloud by day, even smoke, and the brightness of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory will be a canopy.” This Cloud-canopy of God’s presence, full of angels’ wings, is called a pavilion, a covering (2 Sam. 22:12; Ps. 18:11; Lam. 3:44; Ps. 91:4). And that is why the word covering is used to describe the position of the carved cherubim that were placed hovering over the Ark of the Covenant (Ex. 25:20). It is therefore significant that this Hebrew word is the term translated booths and tabernacles when God commands His people to erect booths of leafy branches to dwell in during the Feast of Tabernacles (Lev. 23:34, 42-43); as we have seen, this feast was a reminder of Eden, a symbolic representation of the fact that salvation restores us to Edenic blessings.

The Garden of Eden thus served as a Tabernacle-Temple, a small replica of God’s larger Temple and Palace in which the “heavens” are His throne and the “earth” is His footstool (Gen. 1:1; Isa. 66:l) – the invisible heavens together with the visible universe making up His great cosmic Temple. Close attention to the architecture of the Tabernacle and the Temple will reveal that they were modeled as copies, not only of the Garden of Eden, but of the original heavenly Temple: the Cloud-canopy (cf. Heb. 8:5; 9:11, 23-24).

Under the protection of the winged Cloud-canopy, man’s responsibility was to fulfill the “cultural mandate,” to “fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28). In obedient imitation of his Heavenly Father, man was to reshape, understand, interpret, and rule the world for God’s glory – in short, to build the City of God.

Simple restoration to Eden is never all that is involved in salvation, just as it was not God’s plan for Adam and his posterity simply to remain in the Garden. They were to go into all the world, bring the created potentiality of earth to full fruition. The Garden of Eden was a headquarters, a place to start. But godly rule by King Adam was to encompass the entire world. Thus, the Second Adam’s work is not only restorative (bringing back Eden) but consummative: He brings the world into the New Jerusalem.

Paradise: Restored and Consummated

Throughout redemptive history, as God called His people to the restored Paradise, he brought them into His City. We can see this in the contrast between the rebellious, autonomous city-builders of Genesis 11 and Abraham, who journeyed to the Promised Land “looking for the City which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10); and Scripture assures the New Covenant community that we “have come to Mount Zion and to the City of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (Heb. 12:22).

In the final vision of the Revelation, John is shown the fulfillment of the cultural mandate, the full restoration and consummation of Eden: “And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God” (Rev. 21:10-11). Like the Holy of Holies, the City’s length, width, and height are equal (Rev. 21:16; 1 Kings 6:20): there is no Temple within the City, for the City itself is the inner sanctuary (cf. Eph. 2:19-22); and, at the same time, “the Lord God, the Almighty, and the Lamb, are its Temple” (Rev. 21:22). The City is ablaze with the brilliant glory of God, enlightening the nations (Rev. 21:11-27), and through its main street flows the River of Life, as it flowed originally from the Garden of Eden (Rev. 22:1-2); “and there shall no longer be any Curse” (Rev. 22:3). Moreover, we are not to regard this vision as wholly future, for our Lord has said much the same about us in this age: “You are the light of the world. A City set on a Hill cannot be hidden…. Let your light shine before men…. ” (Matt. 5:14-16).

In many more ways, Edenic imagery is taken up and expanded in the New Testament, which records the fulfillment of the promises of the New Creation in Christ. An obvious passage, of course, is John’s prologue (john 1:1-18), which begins where Genesis does: “In the beginning.” We see the same concepts-the Word, creation, life, the light shining in darkness and overcoming it; and John says of Christ that He dwelt (literally, tabernacled) among us, and we beheld His glory” (john 1:14; cf. Ex. 40:34). John’s point here is to demonstrate that Jesus Christ is the full revelation of God’s presence with His people (cf. Matt. 1:23).

But John’s entire Gospel is built on Old Testament imagery. For example, the passage following his Prologue (John 1:19-2:11) contains a subtle, seven-day structure that is meant to remind us of the original seven days of creation (as well as numerous other Old Testament parallels). On the first day, John the Baptist appears as “a voice of one crying in the wilderness” (1:23; cf. Gen. 1:2-3). The next day, as Jesus is baptized (baptism is a recapitulation of two Old Testament re-creation events: the Flood [1 Pet. 3:20-21] and the Red Sea crossing [1 Cor. 10:1-2]), the Spirit descends with wings, hovering and fluttering over the waters of the New Creation – and He comes as a dove, the winged messenger that announced to Noah the re-creation of the world (1:32-33; cf. Gen. 8:11). The passage continues with other creation-images, and ends on the seventh day with Jesus attending a wedding, and turning the water (cf. Gen. 1:2ff.) into wine – the best wine (John 2:1-11). The blessing is superabundant, more than is necessary (about 150 gallons), as a forerunner of the promised blessings of the Garden which would come through Him (Gen. 49:10-12; Isa. 25:6; Amos 9:13-14; Jer. 33:10-11). Just before He does this, He mentions the hour of His death – for it is His shed blood, the wine of communion, that provides the blessings: Eden is inaccessible apart from the Atonement. And thus, by this miracle on the Seventh Day, Jesus “manifested His glory” (John 2:11) – just as God had done by His enthronement in the Cloud on the first Sabbath.

But when God is seated at rest upon His throne, He sits as Judge, examining His Creation-Temple; and when He first found wickedness therein, He cleansed it, banishing the offenders (Gen. 3:24). Similarly, the next event in John’s Gospel shows the Lord assessing the Temple and coming in Judgment against those who defiled it (John 2:12-22). (The Sabbath is when we appear before God’s throne of judgment to be examined; and if we are approved, we enter into His Rest [Heb. 3-4]). The people in the Temple on this Sabbath were guilty, and He banished them in a terrifying – and noisy – manifestation of judgment: an image of the first and final Days of the Lord (see below, Chapter 15). He then declared His body – Himself personally and His Body the Church – to be the true Temple (John 2:18-22), for the physical resurrection of Christ’s body is the foundation for His people’s being constituted as the Temple (Eph. 1:20; 2:5-6, 19-22; 1 Cor. 3:10-11, 16-17).

As God’s Temple, the Church is re-admitted to Eden and filled with the Spirit and the glory of God (Ex. 40:34; Num. 9:15; Joel 2:28-31; Acts 2:1-4, 16-21). The Church is God’s new Garden-Temple, restored to God’s original mandate for man: to have dominion over the earth, expanding the Garden until it covers the whole world. In remaking us in His image, God has given us His presence. He has taken up residence in His Temple, and has promised to be with us as we fulfill His command to the ends of the earth (Matt. 28:18-20).

There is a River whose streams make glad the City of God,
The holy dwelling places of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her, she will not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
–Ps. 46:4-5

Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the River flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the River flows everything will live…. Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the River. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.
–Ezek. 47:9-12