We recently covered the Levitical sacrifices in our small group. To close our discussion, I had us read through Hebrews 9 & 10. Shortly after, it struck me that elements of the imagery carry forward into Hebrews 11 & 12. Here’s the gist of my thoughts:
- God’s glory cloud hovered over the tabernacle (Exodus 40:36 among others).
- Leviticus 1 details the whole burnt offering, which states that the animal burned on the alter is a pleasing aroma to God. As Leithart has argued in A House For My Name, the emphasis is not on the destructive fire, but rather the process of turning to smoke.
- Thus, you can picture the animal substitute being, in a sense, glorified and rising as smoke to join the glory cloud.
- Hebrews 9 & 10 extensively discuss the sacrifices and their import.
- Hebrews 11 then describes the faith of saints who have gone on to glory.
- Hebrews 12 opens with a reference to this “great cloud of witnesses.” In the context, it now seems to me that this is a reference to the imagery engaged in chapters 9 & 10 and serves to join chapters 9 through 11 into a whole. These saints have passed through death and abide with God in the cloud. The use of the word ‘cloud’ of all possible words to allude to a multitude seems too closely aligned to the preceding passages to be a mere accident of word usage.
- Later in Hebrews 12 we are told that we have come to “Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem” and not simply a “mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm.”
- Here, too, we find a reference to the glory cloud, as Hebrews 12 is referring back to Exodus 19, which states that “On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast.”
I find it interesting that the thematic use of the cloud comes toward the end of Hebrews. Anyone out there know if the book as a whole is structured to follow the sacrificial rite (laying of hands, slaughter, presentation of blood, turn to smoke, fellowship meal)?