On their journey through the desert they set up a meeting tent:
“Whenever Moses went out to the tent, the people would all rise and stand at the entrance of their own tents, watching Moses until he entered the tent. As Moses entered the tent, the column of cloud would come down and stand at its entrance while the LORD spoke with Moses.
On seeing the column of cloud stand at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise and worship at the entrance of their own tents. The LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as one man speaks to another.”
The tent, the cloud, the pillar of fire were signs of God’s dynamic presence, a presence not fixed, but leading them to another place. The Exodus story is a story of God’s presence leading humanity on.
God leads them to a place they don’t know. God’s not a wall making them safe and settled; God’s on the move, and God moves them on.
In his book “The Mystery of the Temple” the theologian Yves Congar, OP, says we need these “long” Old Testament stories to remind us of the dynamic presence of a God of tents who is a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day.
God is our guide, the only map we have, who moves each of us and all of history to a new stage. “We are always tempted to confine ourselves to what we see and touch, to be satisfied with this and to think that a preliminary achievement fulfills God’s promise, ” Congar writes.
“Abraham thought God’s promise was fulfilled in Ismael, Joshua thought it was the conquest of Canaan. Solomon thought it was in his immediate descendants…”but these promises were capable of more complete fulfillment which would only materialize after long periods of waiting and urgently needed purification. Only the prophets–and this, in fact, is their task–draw attention to the process of development from seminal promises and to the progress of the latter towards their accomplishment through successive stages of fulfillment continuously transcending one another.” (p 31-32)
We may think it’s the end, but it’s only a beginning.
Finally, God speaks most familiarly with Moses in the desert, a place of homelessness and unease, the Book of Exodus says: “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one man speaks to another.”
Will that be true for us too? Does God speak most familiarly with us when we’re in the desert, not sure where life is heading?