We’ve been tracing some biblical history on this journey to see what it looks like to dwell, and a key component is the Fall. At one point, we imagined how perfect life was before the Fall–for Adam and Eve to live in a creation with no death or pain or sorrow–in the presence of their Creator. God walked and talked with them. No mediators or intercessors. Just humanity and their God.
But, after sin enters the picture, humanity lives separated from their Maker in a world as cursed as they are. God even posts mighty cherubim at the gates of Eden to protect this holy space because humanity has lost its holiness.
The good news actually begins here–because God doesn’t end the story here. Instead, He begins implementing what Dr. Sandra Richter calls the Rescue Plan, His plan to redeem humanity to Himself.
It starts with choosing a people to call His own. So, let’s return to that era when His chosen people live in the wilderness, inhabiting tents. It’s here we can see how God makes a way to dwell among humanity again.
The Tent of Meeting
After Moses meets with God on Mount Sinai to hear the Ten Commandments, he makes the trek back up the mountain, staying forty days to receive instructions on how to make a mobile tabernacle. God tells Moses, “Have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8, NIV). Then for seven chapters, God has Moses list every detail needed to make what Eugene Peterson calls The Dwelling (Exodus 25:9, MSG)..
Tucked into these passages of preparation is this promise:
“So I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar and will consecrate Aaron and his sons to serve me as priests. Then I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God. They will know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of Egypt so that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God.”Exodus 29:44-46, NIV
God brings His people out of Egypt so that He can dwell among them. Yes, for their freedom. Yes, because He heard their cries. But most importantly so He could be with them.
How many times do we avoid the Old Testament because we’ve only ever viewed God as wrathful and vengeful. Yet when we slow down and look at His words, we see His heart. It’s never changed. He has always longed to be with His creation, but sin has been humanity’s undoing–a true barrier for a most holy God to be present with His created.
With Moses, however, God has found a man willing to do what it takes to make these people as holy and clean as humanly possible so that their Creator can dwell among them in the Tent of Meeting.
The Ark of the Covenant
The very first set of instructions about the Tabernacle describes the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:10-22). It’s first because it is the very place God’s glory dwells. The Ark is a wooden box covered in gold. Inside is laid the tablets containing the details of the covenant. Its lid, called the atonement cover, is put in place and watched over by two cherubim–gold ones this time–but with the same protective purpose.
The threads of Eden weave into this next chapter of God’s redemptive story. He makes a way to be with His people. Yet, unable to meet with them face-to-face as He did in Eden, He brings in mediators like Moses and his high priest brother, Aaron. When the sacrifices create a clean, holy people and place, God’s glory descends into the Tent of Meeting, directly into the Holy of Holies. And there, God’s glorious presence hovers over the atonement seat to meet with Moses.
This is where the veil comes in–that mighty curtain separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Tabernacle. No one crosses beyond that curtain and lives unless they are appointed and anointed to be God’s mediator–because it is the place of God’s presence.
For all those wilderness wandering years, this traveling tabernacle makes every move the people of God make. And the point of it all? For God’s people to learn and demonstrate sacred set-apartness as a means of dwelling with the One True God. God’s way stands in stark contrast to the world’s way, which He tries to prepare His people for as they stand at the Jordan River, ready to cross into the Promised Land.
“When the Lord your God goes ahead of you and destroys the nations and you drive them out and live in their land, do not fall into the trap of following their customs and worshiping their gods.”Deuteronomy 12:29-30a, NLT
“The Lord has declared today that you are his people, his own special treasure, just as he promised, and that you must obey all his commands. And if you do, he will set you high above all the other nations he has made. Then you will receive praise, honor, and renown. You will be a nation that is holy to the Lord your God, just as he promised.”Deuteronomy 26:18-19, NLT
Covenant secured, leadership appointed, and plans set, Joshua–Moses’ successor–follows God’s ways. So, as instructed, the Ark of the Covenant, carried by priests, is the first into the Jordan River:
“The priests will carry the Ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth. As soon as their feet touch the water, the flow of water will be cut off upstream, and the river will stand up like a wall.”Joshua 3:13, NLT
The very object that represents the presence of God goes before the people, just like the cloud and fire in the wilderness. As they cross the riverbed–reminiscent of the Red Sea–they step into the Promised Land and the next chapter of life as the children of the Almighty.
Fast forward to a time when King David has brought God’s people into a season of rest and prosperity. He’s built a mighty palace for himself and enjoys the fruit of his years of battling labor. But then he reasons to Nathan the prophet, “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent.” 2 Samuel 7:2, ESV.
The seed of an idea is planted, and David’s son, King Solomon, brings it to fruition, building an ornate, holy Temple in Jerusalem, the very city God appoints as His holy hill (Deuteronomy 12:11; Psalm 15). On the very mountain, Moriah, where God withholds his wrath against His people when David intercedes and confesses his sin (2 Samuel 24:15-25; 2 Chronicles 3:1). That same Mount Moriah where God asks Abraham to take Isaac, his only son, for sacrifice (Genesis 22:2).
No detail is left undone. God’s story builds on itself, circling the same places, centering on the covenants He has made with the people He loves.
In this chapter of the story, the Temple becomes the place for God to dwell among His people as they inhabit the land He has given them (Acts 7:45-47). Just as the Tent of Meeting–that holy Tabernacle–contained the Holy of Holies, so does the Temple. The Ark of the Covenant remains in its sanctified space with the same set of standards and sacred ways, all so that the God of the universe can inhabit a place among His people.
Amazingly, that same holy hill remains today. The Temple is long gone, destroyed in 70 AD as Jesus foretold (Matthew 24:1-2). But the mount stands firm. The place is still revered as holy by thousands of Jews and Christians who visit the Western Wall–the closest we can get to the Temple as it would have been–every single day.
Why? Because it’s where the presence of God dwelled for thousands of years, and where we hope to meet Him again.
As sacred as that space is within the walls of current-day Jerusalem, we don’t need a holy hill to find God anymore. The veil has been torn. Death has been defeated. New life is offered. The Holy Spirit sent. Because Jesus.
When I step back and look at the story from this big-picture view, I see a God who has always been motivated by the love He has for His crowning creation–humanity. This is the Mighty One who has never given up doing everything it takes to make a way to dwell among His people.
The question for us becomes, then, are we doing everything it takes to dwell with Him?
- The question I ended with is not meant to evoke within us some idea of works-based righteousness. Scripture is very clear that we’re made righteous when we put our faith in Jesus (Romans 3:22). What I am pointing us toward, however, is a more purposeful pursuit of God’s presence. I’d love to hear what you do to dwell with God!
- Write a prayer in your journal this week to God, confessing barriers that keep you from entering His presence on the regular–busyness, fear, doubt, regret, pride, etc. Once confessed, they are laid at the cross, and our way is made clear to sit with God, soaking in His love. What a miracle! What a gift!
- Our Dwell Playlist continues to bless me as we move through this history of what it looks like for people and God to inhabit spaces and places. We have two more weeks of this Inhabit series, then we’ll take a wee break from dwell as our focus so that we can immerse ourselves in the season of Lent.
- There is so much more to the Old Testament story that I don’t cover here, but I can continue to recommend Epic of Eden* to anyone whose curiosity is piqued. I’ve never read or heard anyone describe God’s great Rescue Plan the way Dr. Richter does. The way she uncovers details throughout this story helps us see how Jesus is the final step of God’s redemptive plan, which we will get to in more detail!
Featured Photo by Joshua Eckstein on Unsplash, of Lutheran Church of The Ascension, Bull Street, Savannah, GA, USA
*indicates an affiliate link, so with any purchases made I earn a little something