I’m not sure what I felt, exactly, as I watched the scene through our bus window–a heap of concrete where a house used to be. A home bulldozed by soldiers acting on behalf of their government, ”officially” because the family failed to wait for approval before adding a room. But really because of their ethnicity.
Maybe I felt shock. Or dismay. Or anger at the injustice. But I had no time to process because there were more.
The next pile of rubble had a lone chair sitting on top of it, perhaps a symbol of the home it once was, a reminder of the people who were now homeless. And, the next concrete heap came with a story about a family who barely made it out of the house before the bulldozing began.
To say my American sensibilities struggled to comprehend the reality I witnessed is an understatement. These dwellings–these homes–no longer existed, and their inhabitants no longer had a place in which to dwell.
A Place to Inhabit
The people I describe had dwelled in their homes. They’d inhabited a building that housed, shielded, and protected them. When we take this imagery and apply it to our faith, we begin to understand why God is called a shelter and a refuge (Psalm 91:1-2).
For much of the Old Testament, God’s people wander, having no permanent place to call home. They possess the first mobile homes–wherever God leads, they follow, then pitch their tents. Not only do they have no solid, four-walled dwellings but no land to claim as their own. Yet, there is beauty to be seen in their dwellings:
“When Balaam looked out and saw Israel encamped tribe by tribe, the Spirit of God came on him and he spoke his message:
How beautiful are your tents, Jacob,Numbers 24:2, 5-6, NIV
your dwelling places, Israel!
Like valleys they spread out,
like gardens beside a river,
like aloes planted by the Lord,
like cedars beside the waters.”
Though transient and temporary, these shelters hold beauty–especially as they circle in perfect order around the tent at the center: The Tent of Meeting. God’s Tabernacle. The Almighty’s earthly dwelling place.
Eventually, God appoints Joshua to lead His people into the Promised Land, and there Israel steps into the blessings of home ownership–each tribe assigned a portion of the land, each family given a home that no longer requires assembly each night.
After hundreds of years in slavery to a foreign Pharaoh, plus forty-one years wandering the harsh wilderness, the people of God finally dwell in a place they can call home.
No Place to Dwell
But, over time foreign religions influence the hearts of God’s people. Twisting their loyalties and breaking their covenant, the people of God turn their backs on the Holy One of Israel. They take their homes and land for granted, forgetting the One who gave it to them. Prophets warn them to change their evil ways and come back to God:
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place.”Jeremiah 7:3, ESV
God always keeps His word, so when Israel fails to amend their ways, they lose their land, their homes they’d waited so long to inhabit. Exile comes first to the northern kingdom of Israel, and Judah follows suit years later, not having learned vicariously from their brothers and sisters to the north.
Sitting along the shores of the desolate lands of exile, God’s people lament. They begin to see and understand that without God as their shelter, they truly have no place to dwell.
At last they turn their ears to the prophets–and as they listen, their hopes heighten:
“Thus says the Lord: Behold, I will restore the fortunes of the tents of Jacob and have compassion on his dwellings; the city shall be rebuilt on its mound, and the palace shall stand where it used to be.”Jeremiah 30:18, ESV
Some live to see God’s promises fulfilled when a remnant returns to rebuild Jerusalem. But even as homes pop up around the city, the hearts and eyes of God’s people stray from Him. Same mistakes are made. Similar patterns of behavior emerge.
All because they fail to make God their dwelling place.
God Our Dwelling Place
Jewish tradition holds that the famous poem, known as Psalm 91, flows from Moses’ pen in response to God’s presence filling the new Tabernacle.
Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place—Psalm 91:9-10, ESV
the Most High, who is my refuge—
no evil shall be allowed to befall you,
no plague come near your tent.
Moses understands what few do: When we make God our dwelling, we inhabit the very best of shelters. When we look to God to be our safe place and home, we enter into a residence that can never be shaken. It cannot be destroyed.
And maybe equally important is that when we make God our dwelling place, He makes room for us. He opens those mighty arms and envelopes us into His secret, holy shelter. God becomes home. By no striving of our own can we achieve such a dwelling–only by His grace.
We live in a world that is as full of distractions and false idols as in the days of Israel’s Promised Land years, so we must put our faith into practice, pursuing Jesus wholeheartedly. With the aid of the Word and the Spirit, we can amend our ways––breaking old habits, creating new patterns of behavior, and keeping ourselves firmly in His presence.
Because when we choose to make Him our dwelling place, we settle into a fortress of stability and protection. But even more than all of this, God’s home is one of love–unconditional, unchanging, agape love. We enter His dwelling and immediately become hidden in the safety of His love (as sung by United Pursuit in “Hidden”).
We’re not talking about ducking into a shack to get out of a storm. This house, God’s home, is one of abiding presence. This is about making Him our forever home.
And, because we are children of the Most High God, we never have to fear losing our Home. We can rest because we know that when we dwell in Him, our Place of Refuge can never be knocked down, never taken from us.
God is our place to dwell.
- Respond in your journal and/or in the comment section: How does it look to dwell in God, to make Him your dwelling place? What are some practical steps you can take to do so?
- My opening story happened in 2017 when I got to be part of a group that went behind the walls into Bethlehem. It truly was an eye-opening experience, seeing the inequality and injustice firsthand. Perhaps more than anything, I was surprised (and humbled) by the Christians who live there that choose to live peaceably amidst such hardship. They find ways to open schools and help those without homes. I think of and pray for them often. It never feels like enough.
- I included a link to that amazing drawing of the Israel Tent Camp so that you can check out their work and maybe purchase a greeting card to support them. 🙂
- I found the perfect hymn for this week’s topic/concept of making God our dwelling place. But, it’s not on Spotify, so I couldn’t include it on our Dwell Playlist. It is, however, on YouTube, so I’ve included a link in the title below. The lyrics are incredible.
My home is God Himself; Christ brought me there,
And bade me dwell in Him, rejoicing there;
He bore me where no foot but His hath trod,
Within the holiest at home with God.
O holy place! O home divinely fair!
And we, God’s little ones, abiding there.
A long, long road I traveled night and day,
And sought to find within myself some way,
Aught I could do, or feel to bring me near;
Self effort failed, and I was filled with fear,
And then I found Christ was the only way
That I must come to Him and in Him stay.
O wondrous place! O home divinely fair!
And I, God’s little one, safe hidden there.
Lord, as I dwell in Thee and Thou in me,
So make me dead to everything but Thee;
That as I rest within my home most fair,
I’ll share my God in all and everywhere.
Featured photo by me 🙂 This is the Mar Saba Monastery just east of Bethlehem, built into a breathtakingly steep cliff of the Judean Desert. It’s a Greek Orthodox Monastery originally built in the fifth century by St. Sabas. While this beauty has not always withstood earthquakes, I think it represents one of our best attempts in creating a dwelling that lasts. Of course, only God is forever. 😉