This is a strange post, but one that I hope will be deeply informative. I am discussing the strange issue of the passage of time in the Bible, and I will concentrate on one of the clearest examples of the irregular passage of time. It appears in the book of Exodus.
Most people know that the book of Exodus in the Bible is a story about the Hebrews coming out of Egypt in the “Exodus” from Egypt. That story ends at Exodus 15. Most Bible readers will know that the book of Exodus continues to the time where God descends onto Mount Sinai and gives the Ten Commandments. That part ends at Exodus 20. What most people do not keep at the forefront of their minds is that the book of Exodus continues and ends with the construction of the Tabernacle. That part ends in Exodus 40. As such, more than half of this well-known book concerns things that most readers ignore.
As this post will show, the book of Exodus is not “about” the Israelites coming out of Egypt, even though that is a part of the story. Instead, the book of Exodus is “about” God coming to Israel to make Israel his people. As this post will show, there are things going on in the book of Exodus that are just too WEIRD for most people to understand.
Luckily for you, I am not most people, and “weird” is my bread and butter.
And in this post, I’m going to explore something very important that the book of Exodus reveals about the irregular passage of time between heaven and Earth, how it applies in the book of Exodus, and what effect it has on other places in the Bible.
So let’s get started.
The Outline of the Book of Exodus
When you read the book of Exodus, you see that its contents are not focused on the Exodus itself. Look at the following image which summarizes the story, by listing what happens in each of Exodus’s 40 chapters:
The book ends with the construction of the Tabernacle. As such, this is not so much a book about coming out of Egypt. Instead, it is a story about God coming to dwell among his people. It is the story of the same glory and God that Moses saw in the burning bush coming to dwell with his people, and he does it through the tabernacle and instruments of the priests. The story of Exodus is the story of making it happen.
And this story is STRANGE. If you don’t believe me, I’ll show you.
Progression of Strange Things in Exodus
While there are some parts of Exodus that are well-known, there are additional things in Exodus that are often ignored because of how strange they are. In this section, I review the strange things in Exodus, the first of which is when God meets Moses in the burning bush:
Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:1-5, ESV)
When God meets Moses, he orders Moses to deliver his people out of Egypt, and he promises that the people will then worship him on the same mountain:
But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.” (Exodus 3:11-12, ESV)
Strangely, this happens relatively quickly in the book, being completed by the 20th chapter. It is during this time when God tells Moses that he will descend on the mountain and gives very specific instructions about not touching the mountain and also purifying the people before God descends. And then, it happens:
Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was. (Exodus 20:18-21, ESV)
And this is the first time when Moses draws near to God. And after he does, God speaks to him some more. But we still have 20 more chapters in the book of Exodus.
Then, in Exodus 24, we get a command to have several people come to God on the mountain. This is what we read:
Then he said to Moses, “Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and worship from afar. Moses alone shall come near to the Lord, but the others shall not come near, and the people shall not come up with him.” (Exodus 24:1-2, ESV)
And after the instruction is given, we get to the point where seventy-four people actually SEE the God of Israel. Here is what we read:
Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank. (Exodus 24:9-11, ESV)
Note that it says about what is under God’s feet. It is not “sapphire stone,” but instead it is “as it were” a pavement of sapphire stone, and it is “like the very heaven for clearness.” In other words, this isn’t telling you what that strange thing is that God is standing on. Instead, they are doing the best they can to describe what was seen. And then after this, we get yet another time where Moses goes up onto the mountain, but this time, there is something else happening. It involves a “cloud.” This is what we read:
The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and wait there, that I may give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.” So Moses rose with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. And he said to the elders, “Wait here for us until we return to you. And behold, Aaron and Hur are with you. Whoever has a dispute, let him go to them.”
Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the Lord dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights. (Exodus 24:13-18, ESV)
Let’s note that this is OTHERWORLDLY. Moses is gone for forty days and forty nights, and he seems to have just disappeared. He entered “the cloud.” That’s all we know. It seems that Joshua went with him. We know from the book that God and Moses are talking for about seven chapters about the construction of the Tabernacle. But then, we read this about the Israelites view of the situation:
When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” (Exodus 32:1, ESV)
Strangely, the Israelites do not know what happened to Moses. But he’s on the mountain, isn’t he? Yes he is, and they know this, and they saw this. But they still do not know what happened to Moses. We will return to this later. This is what we read:
Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand, tablets that were written on both sides; on the front and on the back they were written. The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets. When Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, “There is a noise of war in the camp.” But he said, “It is not the sound of shouting for victory, or the sound of the cry of defeat, but the sound of singing that I hear.” And as soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain. (Exodus 32:15-19, ESV)
Notice that Moses and Joshua are completely unaware of what is going on, even though they – by being on top of the mountain – should have been able to see generally what was going on below them. Strange, isn’t it?
If you want to get a sense of what is going on, you can actually get a picture of this from Google Earth. There is a traditional site of Mount Sinai, and you can see it at the picture below. Getting a ground-level view, this is what it would have looked like to the Israelites at the bottom of the mountain:
Since about 1,500,000 people (that is 600,000 men, plus women and children, see Exodus 12:37) were encamped near the mountain, I imagine the valley you see was the only place they could be, especially since they were told not to touch the mountain. The valley is about 2.25 miles long (3.6km) and ranges from 1.2 miles (2 km) wide near the base of the mountain to 0.3 miles (0.5 km) wide at about 2 miles from the base of the mountain. As such, there’s good reason to believe that this is the “view” that the people of Israel had in Exodus 20.
We can see this from a different angle, which gives an idea of the shape of the mountain:
As you can see, there is a steep valley that allows one to go “up onto” the mountain from the place where the Israelites would have been encamped. This should make the statements about going “up onto” the mountain and additional statements about going further up make some sense. This is a process to climb the mountain.
Finally, from a different angle, you can see that Mount Sinai is actually fairly flat on top, with a large peak towards the south. Here is a different view of the entire area around the mountain, looking north from the south:
And the weird stuff continues. Here’s what we read about Moses after he comes back down and covers the Golden Calf issue. Here is what we read about Moses going up on the mountain again:
The Lord said to Moses, “Cut for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke. Be ready by the morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai, and present yourself there to me on the top of the mountain. No one shall come up with you, and let no one be seen throughout all the mountain. Let no flocks or herds graze opposite that mountain.” So Moses cut two tablets of stone like the first. And he rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as the Lord had commanded him, and took in his hand two tablets of stone. The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. (Exodus 34:1-8, ESV)
That sounds fairly strange, but there’s something else you should note, which is the description of how long it took:
So he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights. He neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments. (Exodus 34:28, ESV)
Then things get REALLY weird, because look at what happens to Moses after he is with the Lord:
When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses talked with them. Afterward all the people of Israel came near, and he commanded them all that the Lord had spoken with him in Mount Sinai. And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face.
Whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would remove the veil, until he came out. And when he came out and told the people of Israel what he was commanded, the people of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face was shining. And Moses would put the veil over his face again, until he went in to speak with him. (Exodus 34:29-35, ESV)
And then after all of that, Moses gets all the instructions, and then they build the Tabernacle, and then this happens at the end of the book of Exodus:
And he erected the court around the tabernacle and the altar, and set up the screen of the gate of the court. So Moses finished the work.
Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out. But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys. (Exodus 40:33-38, ESV)
And that’s the final resolution of the book . That is where the book of Exodus ends. They get a special tent that has some strange supernatural powers.
The Supernatural Function of the Items in Exodus
This special tent is no mere tent. Instead, this tent is the Tabernacle. The book of Exodus gives a detailed description of this Tabernacle, its individual instruments, and the priestly garments that are worn when serving in the Tabernacle. But we need to make it clear how SPECIAL and STRANGE these objects were. For example, note how Josephus, a first century Jew, describes the Ephod that was a part of the priestly garments:
I will now treat of what I before omitted, the garment of the high priest: for he [Moses] left no room for the evil practices of [false] prophets; but if some of that sort should attempt to abuse the Divine authority, he left it to God to be present at his sacrifices when he pleased, and when he pleased to be absent. And he was willing this should be known, not to the Hebrews only, but to those foreigners also who were there. For as to those stones, which we told you before, the high priest bare on his shoulders, which were sardonyxes, [and I think it needless to describe their nature, they being known to every body,] the one of them shined out when God was present at their sacrifices; I mean that which was in the nature of a button on his right shoulder, bright rays darting out thence, and being seen even by those that were most remote; which splendor yet was not before natural to the stone. This has appeared a wonderful thing to such as have not so far indulged themselves in philosophy, as to despise Divine revelation. Yet will I mention what is still more wonderful than this: for God declared beforehand, by those twelve stones which the high priest bare on his breast, and which were inserted into his breastplate, when they should be victorious in battle; for so great a splendor shone forth from them before the army began to march, that all the people were sensible of God’s being present for their assistance. Whence it came to pass that those Greeks, who had a veneration for our laws, because they could not possibly contradict this, called that breastplate the Oracle. Now this breastplate, and this sardonyx, left off shining two hundred years before I composed this book, God having been displeased at the transgressions of his laws. Of which things we shall further discourse on a fitter opportunity; but I will now go on with my proposed narration. (Josephus, Antiquities, 3.5.8)
So… the garments of the priest were not merely “garments.” Instead, they were a way that God literally communicated with his people. This is evident because the law of God actually has various places where a tough question comes, and they literally ask God about how to take care of it, and he answers (See, for example, Leviticus 24: 10-16).
And it is not merely Moses or a the priest who can ask questions of the ephod. For instance, look at this strange event:
David knew that Saul was plotting harm against him. And he said to Abiathar the priest, “Bring the ephod here.” Then David said, “O Lord, the God of Israel, your servant has surely heard that Saul seeks to come to Keilah, to destroy the city on my account. Will the men of Keilah surrender me into his hand? Will Saul come down, as your servant has heard? O Lord, the God of Israel, please tell your servant.” And the Lord said, “He will come down.” Then David said, “Will the men of Keilah surrender me and my men into the hand of Saul?” And the Lord said, “They will surrender you.” (1 Samuel 23:9-12)
So notice that the ephod is a way that you can LITERALLY COMMUNICATE WITH GOD (if he wants to talk to you, that is).
Additionally, we should notice that the Tabernacle is not a normal tent. Instead, it is the place where God literally appeared to the priests and prophets of Israel to deliver them messages. For one example of many, notice what happens in the book of Samuel when the Lord speaks to Samuel. Notice where he is located:
Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord in the presence of Eli. And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.
At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his own place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was.
Then the Lord called Samuel, and he said, “Here I am!” and ran to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down.
And the Lord called again, “Samuel!” and Samuel arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.
And the Lord called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
And the Lord came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.” Then the Lord said to Samuel, “Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. And I declare to him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.”
Samuel lay until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. And Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” And he said, “Here I am.” And Eli said, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.” So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. And he said, “It is the Lord. Let him do what seems good to him.” (1 Samuel 3:1-18, ESV)
At this time in Israel’s history, there is no “Temple” of stone. Instead, the temple is the Tabernacle. As such, the Lord appears to Samuel in the tabernacle. This is the place where God would meet with ordinary human beings. For another example, we should note that Zechariah is visited by an angel in the holy place, which is the brick-and-mortar version of the tabernacle at the time of Jesus in Luke 1:5-25. No, God is not limited to this tent, but he sure likes to use it a lot.
In other words, the things that were built by God’s instruction in the book of Exodus were not just “decorative” or “pretty” or “symbolic” things.
They were things that had a function, and the function was to COMMUNICATE WITH GOD in heaven.
That’s the weird stuff that is going on in the book of Exodus, and if you don’t wrap your mind around that, you’ll never understand the book of Exodus.
The Strange Function of “Clouds” in Exodus and Elsewhere
With that in mind, let’s look back at this passage of one of the “weird” things that happens in the book of Exodus. Notice what is described:
Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the Lord dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights. (Exodus 24:15-18, ESV)
Now, that “cloud” thing is very important. It is important because “clouds” are not merely pockets of water-vapor in the sky. Now, they are, and the Bible certainly knows that rain comes from clouds, but clouds are much more than that in the Bible. Instead, “clouds” consistently serve a much larger function in both biblical and extra-biblical writings. Importantly:
In ancient writings, clouds are present when supernatural things happen. Often, they are associated with traveling between Heaven and Earth.
For example, notice the use of “clouds” in the Bible when Jesus gets transfigured, when he no longer looks like an ordinary man but instead looks like a heavenly being:
And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He 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. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. (Matthew 17:1-8, ESV)
So the clouds are involved in the transformation of things back into an earthly and mundane scene. But there’s more. Look at what we read about how Jesus ascended into heaven:
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. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:9-11, ESV)
Importantly, we should note that Jesus did not travel a far distance when he ascended. Instead, he quite literally floated up off the ground a little ways, but then he got covered in a cloud. That’s when he disappeared. When he disappeared, he was quite literally no longer on earth. Instead, he was in the heavenly places. But the disciples don’t realize this, so they’re just looking into the sky. And some angels come down and inform the disciples that Jesus is gone, but when he returns, he will return from heaven through the same mechanism, which has something to do with “clouds.”
And in fact, the event where Jesus, the “Son of Man,” disappears into the clouds was actually prophesied before in the Old Testament. Except that prophetic vision was not a view of the ascension from Earth. instead, it was a view from the heavenly places:
“I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.
(Daniel 7:13-14, ESV)
It is this same mechanism of “clouds” that is involved at the end of all things, when Jesus returns:
Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (Matthew 24:29-31, ESV)
This use of clouds is repeated in the book of Revelation:
John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. (Revelation 1:4-7, ESV)
In fact, we should note that “clouds” and “whirlwinds” (which is like a tornado, which is a funnel of clouds) are the go-to methods of moving people from Earth to heaven and of people in heaven speaking to people on Earth. This happens all over the Bible:
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:
“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Dress for action like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.
(Job 38:1-3, ESV)
Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. . . . And as they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it and he cried, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” And he saw him no more. (2 Kings 2:1, 11-12)
Then the Lord will appear over them,
and his arrow will go forth like lightning;
the Lord God will sound the trumpet
and will march forth in the whirlwinds of the south.
(Zechariah 9:14, ESV)
the word of the Lord came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the Chebar canal, and the hand of the Lord was upon him there. 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. And from the midst of it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had a human likeness, but each had four faces, and each of them had four wings.
. . .
Over the heads of the living creatures there was the likeness of an expanse, shining like awe-inspiring crystal, spread out above their heads. And under the expanse their wings were stretched out straight, one toward another. And each creature had two wings covering its body. And when they went, I heard the sound of their wings like the sound of many waters, like the sound of the Almighty, a sound of tumult like the sound of an army. When they stood still, they let down their wings. And there came a voice from above the expanse over their heads. When they stood still, they let down their wings.
And above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance. And upward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire enclosed all around. And downward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him. Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around.
Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking. (Ezekiel 1:3-6, 22-28, ESV)
That one is quite interesting, because not only does it involve “clouds,” but it also involves the appearance of something like “sapphire,” which is exactly what was seen in Exodus. But there are even more examples:
Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here!” And they went up to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies watched them. (Revelation 11:12, ESV)
In other words, clouds are NOT JUST CLOUDS in the Bible. They are also what you see when you travel from Earth to Heaven or when someone travels from Heaven to Earth.
In fact, I hate to trivialize this, but perhaps the visual will help. The best picture I can put forward about what function “clouds” have is the way Thanos travels in Infinity War from one place to another using the infinity gauntlet:
In other words, these are instances of SUPERNATURAL TRAVEL that the Bible is describing, and “clouds” are almost always involved. That’s the type of function that clouds can have in the Bible.
And it’s not just “the Bible” either. Clouds also have a function of supernatural travel in non-biblical sources, too. For example, Aristophanes was a Greek playwright in the 400s-300s BC, and he wrote a comedy called “the Clouds,” in which he humorously depicts Socrates in Athens. This play was even mentioned in Socrates’s Apology. In the play, Socrates can walk on air and converse with divine beings. It is the clouds that help Socrates do this.
This is notable, because the most famous metaphor of Socrates (assuming it was merely a metaphor, that is), Socrates describes coming out of “the cave” and into the true world, which he calls the world of “the forms.” As such, there is probably something very specific in that play of Aristophanes humorously invoking “clouds” as it relates to Socrates.
This is especially the case due to other places where “clouds” cause people to be transported in extra-biblical writings. For example, in the Aeneid, the hero, Aeneus, is magically transported by the goddess Venus to the past, where Troy was being destroyed, and Aeneus is able to watch it all happen. But look at how this transport is accomplished:
Against the goddess these complaints he made,
But took the path, and her commands obey’d.
They march, obscure; for Venus kindly shrouds
With mists their persons, and involves in clouds,
That, thus unseen, their passage none might stay,
Or force to tell the causes of their way.
. . .
The fragrant work with diligence proceeds.
“Thrice happy you, whose walls already rise!”
Aeneas said, and view’d, with lifted eyes,
Their lofty tow’rs; then, entiring at the gate,
Conceal’d in clouds (prodigious to relate)
He mix’d, unmark’d, among the busy throng,
Borne by the tide, and pass’d unseen along.
Full in the center of the town there stood,
Thick set with trees, a venerable wood.
In that scene, Venus is transporting Aeneus to a different place where he can observe things, but no one can touch or see him. As such, he is traveling in a supernatural fashion by CLOUDS. Therefore, both inside and outside the Bible, Clouds are the means to TRANSPORT people from one place to another in a supernatural way.
With that in mind, keep in mind how important this line is that we have read before:
Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights. (Exodus 24:18, ESV)
Also note how this matches with what the Israelites think when he is gone:
When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” (Exodus 32:1, ESV)
So, let’s be clear, this is a VERY strange and supernatural event. Moses was on the mountain, but he wasn’t MERELY “on the mountain.” He went somewhere completely different.
And this is not merely my own idea. For example, Josephus writes a parallel account of the Bible in his book The Antiquities of the Jews. He notes that there was a belief that Moses went “up to God.” While the translation here is not the best, notice what is said and the belief of many Israelites, some of whom thought Moses had a “natural” departure, and others who thought he had a “supernatural” departure:
When matters were brought to this state, Moses went up again to Mount Sinai, of which he had told them beforehand. He made his ascent in their sight; and while he staid there so long a time, [for he was absent from them forty days,] fear seized upon the Hebrews, lest Moses should have come to any harm; nor was there any thing else so sad, and that so much troubled them, as this supposal that Moses was perished. Now there was a variety in their sentiments about it; some saying that he was fallen among wild beasts; and those that were of this opinion were chiefly such as were ill-disposed to him; but others said that he was departed, and gone to God; but the wiser sort were led by their reason to embrace neither of those opinions with any satisfaction, thinking, that as it was a thing that sometimes happens to men to fall among wild beasts and perish that way, so it was probable enough that he might depart and go to God, on account of his virtue; they therefore were quiet, and expected the event: yet were they exceeding sorry upon the supposal that they were deprived of a governor and a protector, such a one indeed as they could never recover again; nor would this suspicion give them leave to expect any comfortable event about this man, nor could they prevent their trouble and melancholy upon this occasion. However, the camp durst not remove all this while, because Moses had bidden them afore to stay there. (Josephus, Antiquities, 3.5.7)
That’s what’s going on here. If you want to know what this looked like, I have used my wild artistic skills to put some imagery onto this act of “going up on the mountain” when the Lord descended “in a cloud” and it looked like “a devouring fire in the sight of all the people.” Here it is:
I know, I’m no Raphael, but keep in mind that I’m totally unfunded. If any artist out there wants to make this picture better, go for it. Give me a link, and if I like it, I’ll update the post.
But anyway, notice the point that I am trying to make by Moses going “up onto the mountain.” The point is this:
Moses goes to heaven, because in the Bible, “clouds” are a visible manifestation of something that takes you to heaven.
How did this ACTUALLY happen? I have no idea. I have no idea what force or magic or technology causes one to be able to pass through a different dimension and enter the heavenly places. However, what is clear from the Bible is that it is possible to cross this dimension, and the thing that always appears when this dimension is crossed is CLOUDS.
And in Exodus, Moses goes into THE CLOUDS and disappears for a significant and unnatural amount of time. That is what seems to be going on in Exodus.
The Strange Issue of Time in the Book of Exodus
As we noted before, Moses went up into the cloud, and he stayed there for 40 days and 40 nights. However, when you read what happens between Exodus 25 and Exodus 31, there is about 7,000 words of English text. That’s a nice chunk of speech by God, but it doesn’t look like a chunk of speech that should take 40 days and 40 nights. This is especially the case when we read that it is not Moses who needs to take notes:
And he gave to Moses, when he had finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God. (Exodus 31:18, ESV)
And this is the time when everybody thinks that Moses has died. The same thing happens again in Exodus 34, where Moses goes up onto the mountain, and it takes 40 days and 40 nights again:
And the Lord said to Moses, “Write these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” So he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights. He neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments. (Exodus 34:27-28, ESV)
This is very interesting that Moses “neither ate bread nor drank water” during that time. Why? One might say that one doesn’t need to eat or drink when one is in the presence of the Lord. However, the opposite happens when Moses, Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu go up on the mountain in Exodus 24. They all eat in the presence of the Lord. Additionally, in the book of Genesis, the Lord comes and visits Abraham, and God and the two angels who are with him eat a ridiculous amount of food (see Genesis 18). So, that doesn’t seem to be the case either.
Instead, the answer to this question is what I am proposing in this post. As I’ve already noted, Moses went up onto the mountain, but he didn’t MERELY go up onto the mountain. He was taken somewhere else. And when he went that somewhere else, we need to note what effect this has on Moses and the others who saw him go up. So let me be clear:
TIME WORKS DIFFERENTLY FOR MOSES WHEN HE IS WITH GOD ON THE MOUNTAIN.
Specifically, time is FASTER on Earth and SLOWER in Heaven. A short experience in Heaven corresponds to a long experience of time on Earth. In other words, Moses doesn’t need to eat or drink for forty days and forty nights, because it wasn’t experienced as forty days and forty nights for Moses. But on Earth, that same period of time is experienced over a long period of time.
The Function of the Tabernacle and Instruments of God
I don’t want to pretend to have an exhaustive explanation of what the Tabernacle and instruments of the priests did for Israel. Instead, I want to concentrate on how these physical things solved a very complicated problem: Time.
We can show how this changes things by comparing what happens before and after the Tabernacle is constructed, showing why it is so important. For example, notice that in the very next book, the book of Leviticus, we get an other extremely long monologue by God to Moses:
The Lord called Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When any one of you brings an offering to the Lord, you shall bring your offering of livestock from the herd or from the flock. . . . (Leviticus 1:1-2, ESV)
And it goes on and on and on. In fact, Leviticus 1 through Leviticus 8 is God speaking to Moses about random sacrificial laws. But God is doing it at the Tent of Meeting. But unlike the time when God speaks to Moses on the Mountain, it doesn’t take Moses 40 days and 40 nights to make the trip. Instead, the communication is quite instantaneous.
In contrast, in the book of Exodus before the Tabernacle was constructed, we should note that it took God about six days to come down onto the mountain:
Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the Lord dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. (Exodus 24:15-16, ESV)
In contrast, when the Tent of Meeting is made, the ability of God to descend and speak to Moses is almost instantaneous. For example, notice how God seems to just show up randomly and instantaneously in this next passage. This is what happens when the Israelites are afraid to go into the promised land, and they nearly rebel. Look how fast the scene changes:
Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”
Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the people of Israel. And Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes and said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, “The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.” Then all the congregation said to stone them with stones. But the glory of the Lord appeared at the tent of meeting to all the people of Israel.
And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they.” (Numbers 14:1-12, ESV)
And the same thing happens when the people rebel in Korah’s rebellion:
But on the next day all the congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and against Aaron, saying, “You have killed the people of the Lord.” And when the congregation had assembled against Moses and against Aaron, they turned toward the tent of meeting. And behold, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord appeared. And Moses and Aaron came to the front of the tent of meeting, and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Get away from the midst of this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.” And they fell on their faces. And Moses said to Aaron, “Take your censer, and put fire on it from off the altar and lay incense on it and carry it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone out from the Lord; the plague has begun.”
(Numbers 16:41-46, ESV)
In other words, something significant changes about the Lord’s ability to speak and communicate with his people. Things become regular, ordered, and nearly instantaneous, when this was not how things worked before. Why was there a difference? I have no idea. But I can observe that there was a difference.
As such, the Tabernacle and all of the other items is that it has a FUNCTIONAL quality. In other words, it seems to fix a problem of TIME in relation to Heaven and Earth.
Thinking About the Passage of Time in the Bible
So, we see that there is a “problem” of time in the book of Exodus that the Tabernacle solves. But this requires some extra thinking. What exactly is the Bible’s view of “Time”? Something we can recognize is that the Bible notes that the passage of time is a very funny thing. For instance, one thing we know about God is that God is ETERNAL. We see this all over the Bible. For example:
Lord, you have been our dwelling place
in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
You return man to dust
and say, “Return, O children of man!”
For a thousand years in your sight
are but as yesterday when it is past,
or as a watch in the night.
Behold, God is great, and we know him not;
the number of his years is unsearchable.
(Job 36:26, ESV)
As well as:
“Remember this and stand firm,
recall it to mind, you transgressors,
remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose,’
(Isaiah 46:8-10, ESV)
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:8, ESV)
As such, God is “eternal” and is not constrained by time. But what does that mean? It’s one thing to know that God being outside of time is “a thing,” but trying to figure out how that work is a whole different thing. However, I think one thing we can notice is that there is a noticeable pattern of the passage of time in the Bible on Earth as compared to heaven.
One thing we need to recognize is that the Bible actually describes TIME passing in the heavenly places. It is not the heavenly places that are exempt from time, even if God is. Instead, the passage of time in heaven is both observable and measurable. We know this because the Bible describes human beings actually going to heaven and describing increments of time in heaven.
For example, here is where John describes being taken up into heaven:
After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal (Revelation 4:1-6, ESV)
Notice once again, that we get the same “sea of glass, like crystal” that has throw-backs to the same “pavement of sapphire stone” that we saw in Exodus. In other words, we are looking at the same place that Moses, Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu saw from a distance when the beheld God.
Revelation, starting in chapter 4, is a scene in the heavenly places. As such, we can recognize that John is being taken FROM Earth and TO Heaven, and he will get to get a glimpse of things that will happen in the future. However, this is not a “timeless” existence, (which is like what happens in the movie Interstellar, when Cooper falls into the black hole). Instead, actual increments of time are experienced by John even when he is in heaven.
For example, look at what we read:
When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. (Revelation 8:1, ESV)
A half an hour? Yep. And that happened in heaven.
And it’s not only in Revelation. For example, we get indications that things happening in heaven can cause delays that are experienced on Earth:
And behold, a hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. And he said to me, “O Daniel, man greatly loved, understand the words that I speak to you, and stand upright, for now I have been sent to you.” And when he had spoken this word to me, I stood up trembling. Then he said to me, “Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia, and came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come.” (Daniel 10:10-14, ESV)
In other words, a dispute between two angels in the heavenly places took twenty-one days on Earth as experienced by Daniel. We should note that the angel Gabriel is traveling TO Daniel who is in Babylon. In other words, Gabriel is coming from Heaven to Earth, and his delay in the heavenly places took three weeks of time on earth.
We also get hints from the Bible that beings in heaven experience time in a normal progressive way. For example, when God and Satan speak in Job 1 and 2, we get the sense that they have a supernatural view of the Earth from the heavenly places, but Satan and the other sons of God cannot see what will happen to Job in the future.
Therefore, applying this knowledge to Exodus, we see what seems to be happening to Moses as he goes up onto the mountain. There is a passage of time in the heavenly places and on earth, but the passage of time on Earth happens at a different rate than the passage of time in Heaven:
In other words, the passage from Earth to the heavenly places seems to have an effect that traveling close to the speed of light would have in ordinary space travel.
I’m not saying those two things are connected (although, hey, who knows) but I’m just saying that’s what it looks like. Time goes at a different rate when you travel to heaven.
And the Tabernacle in Exodus fixes this “problem” to a certain extent. That’s what is so important in the book of Exodus with the construction of the tabernacle, priestly garments, and other things. Rather than dealing with the natural problems of communing between two different dimensions, there is both a communication channel and an ability for the Lord to quite literally appear to his people without any inconvenience.
The Application of the Passage of Time to Other Parts of the Bible
Now, after the Tabernacle is constructed, it seems that the “problem” of communicating between heaven and earth isn’t much of an issue (with the one exception of Gabriel coming to Daniel in Babylon). But that may be true for things AFTER the Tabernacle is built, but there are things that happen in the Bible before the tabernacle is built.
You see, the book of Genesis is before Exodus. Why is that important? It is important because Genesis has chronologies in it. You see where I’m going with this?
Now, the chronologies in Genesis are WILDLY controversial, even among Christians, because they seem to contradict everything we know about ancient history, carbon dating, and pretty much every aspect of archeology. Not only that, the chronologies in Genesis even contradict ancient records of ancient kingdoms, like the Egyptian and Babylonian and Sumerian Kings Lists. As such, we have a serious problem. The chronologies of Genesis seem to be completely wrong, requiring Bible-believing Christians to discard all other descriptions of history.
But when you apply what we see with the passage of time in Exodus to Genesis, you can see that things open up in a remarkable way. For example, what effect does a different passage of time between heaven and earth have when you look at “six days” in Genesis 1? Were they six literal days? Many Christians say yes. But six days AS EXPERIENCED WHERE? Heaven, or Earth? That’s a very good question.
Additionally, something that a careful reader will note with the chronologies in Genesis is that there is not one single chronology. Instead, there are about three, depending on how you count.
The first chronology starts with the life of Adam and ends at Noah in Genesis 5. That lasts for 1656 years total. Then there is “the Flood,” which is actually a proper noun that only applies to this event. The story in Genesis 6-9 indicates that the event took place over the course of about one year.
However, when you read the narrative, you see that it took place over the course of about one year AS EXPERIENCED BY NOAH. But as I have noted on this blog before, Noah’s Ark did not “float” on the waters of the Flood. Instead, the Ark went TO HEAVEN. This is what we read about the Ark in the Genesis account of the Flood:
And the flood was forty days upon the earth; and the waters increased, and bare up the ark, and it was lifted up above the earth. And the waters prevailed, and increased greatly upon the earth; and the ark went upon the face of the waters. (Genesis 7:17-18, ASV)
But that language about where Noah’s Ark went is the same language that describes the creation of the world:
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. (Genesis 1:1-2, ESV)
As such, Noah, just like Moses on Mount Sinai, was IN HEAVEN during this time. He was in the same place that the Spirit of God was when it was creating the world.
This has an important application to the chronology of the Bible in Genesis. Look at what it means:
As readers of this blog know, I have connected the so-called Younger Dryas Impact Theory with “the Flood” of the Bible. The problem, as people have noted is that the Younger Dryas Impact took place about 10,000 years ago. But Noah, it seems took place about 4000 years ago. So how do we make sense of that?
Well, my friends, the strange passage of time in Exodus is how you make sense of that. In other words, there IS NO CONTRADICTION between the chronologies of Genesis and the history of the world as we know it. Clovis culture? That is quite literally the antediluvian period. Dinosaurs? How long do you think the sixth day was, exactly?
See how this issue of time works?
This is rather important, because the passage of time in heaven and on earth is a constant theme in the Bible. For example, notice what Peter says about Jesus Christ not coming back as “soon” as all of his followers on earth were thinking that he would return.
They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. (2 Peter 3:4-8)
As such, we know from scripture that time is different for God than it is for we humans on earth. But this isn’t merely some abstract idea. Instead, it is a VERY REAL idea that has VERY REAL CONSEQUENCES on events in the Bible. And we see it at work most clearly in the book of Exodus.
And that, my friends is my explanation of the irregular passage of time between heaven and earth in the Bible. I hope you enjoyed it.