A sudden shout rose up through the assembly and all eyes turned to the mountain. The cloud, which had covered the top of the mountain those many days, began to descend, rolling and cascading down the mountainside like a sudden avalanche of vapor, mist, and smoke.
A panic spread through the people; a holy terror seized every heart. As if choreographed in advance, all Israel—every man, woman, and child—fell prostrate to the ground. A brilliant light emanated from the cloud as it dropped from the top of Mount Sinai. The peak of the mountain emerged visible, gleaming in the sun, for the first time in nine months. Without the towering cloud hovering over it, the mountain seemed small, humble, and insignificant after all. The LORD had left Sinai.
The cloud of glory settled onto the tent of meeting and the glory of the Most High filled the Sanctuary. Moses tried to enter, but he found he could not bear the weight of the glory. He was not able to enter the tent of meeting. God had come to dwell with His people; the Tabernacle was a success, but a fundamental problem with the entire Tabernacle concept emerged immediately.
Even if God can dwell among His people in a holy place, that does not mean that His people can draw near to him to enjoy communion or interaction with Him. God had taken up residence in the Tabernacle, but He appeared unapproachable. Even Moses, who was accustomed to standing upon Mount Sinai and basking in the glory of the presence of the LORD, could not enter.
The book of Exodus ends with the problem unresolved. The problem illustrates the classic theological paradox between the immanence of God and the transcendence of God. God is remote and inaccessible, and yet, at the same time, He is ever close and personal. The Tabernacle illustrated the paradox. On the one hand, the LORD moved into the midst of the camp of Israel, but on the other hand, no one could enter His presence.
The paradox between immanence and transcendence is also obvious in our sorry attempts to form a Christology to explain the divine nature of Messiah. Some explanations seem to be more theologically consistent than others, but aAny attempt at explaining how the infinite can occupy the finite necessarily involves an inversion in logic. The mystery of the Tabernacle is not less baffling than the mystery of God taking up residence within the Messiah.
The book of Exodus ends with a cliffhanger. It leaves the reader with the question, “How are the people supposed to approach God? How will they to come near to Him?”