A Biblical Theology of God’s Temple: The Presence of God in the Exodus (Part 2)
The first individuals whom God is said to dwell with in Scripture are of course Adam and Eve (cf. Gen 3:8). Thus after they sin, their punishment of being cast out of the Garden of Eden signifies not only the loss of eternal life, but also the loss of God’s presence (Gen 3:8-13, 22-24). Therefore, one of the Bible’s central concerns underlying God’s work of redemption is the restoring of his presence with man. Consequently, soon after mankind’s fall into sin, God begins to meet with various individuals (e.g. Abraham near the Oaks of Mamre, Moses at the burning bush, etc.). However, it is the instruction for the creation of the tabernacle—a tent that served as a formal meeting place with God during Israel’s years of sojourning in the wilderness—that primarily lays the foundation for the development of this theme throughout Scripture. God commanded Israel to build this tabernacle, or Tent of Meeting, shortly after he rescued them from the ruler Pharaoh in Egypt in the Exodus. For this reason, a brief study of the Exodus is a wise place for us to begin.
One sees in the details of the Exodus something of an essential link between the deliverance of Israel and God’s presence with them. This reality is discerned not only by the reader, but also by Israel; it seems clear that God is determined that his people should be both aware of and dependent upon his presence. As they are brought out of Egypt, God’s visible presence in the form of a pillar of cloud and fire serves as a testimony of his commitment to remain near to his people and to guide them through the wilderness (Ex 13:21).
Afterward, when he sets forth the Mosaic Law at Sinai, it is corporate remembrance of God’s presence and help in the Exodus event that serves as the testimony that God is with Israel (Ex 29:45, 46; cf. 19:4, 5). When the people begin to doubt this, God chooses to once again display himself visibly upon Mount Sinai so as to reaffirm this reality and to bring about trust in his continued provision through Moses (Ex 19:9-11; cf. Ex 17:7). In what follows, God indivisibly joins the notion of his presence together with the establishing of the law covenant; because God’s dwelling is with Israel, this means that they are to be a holy nation set apart for his purpose who live in obedience to his commandments. If Israel should abandon this covenant and fail to keep it, they will surrender with it the unique and invaluable privilege of being God’s people and having his presence go with them (Ex 19:5-6).
Finally, the display of God’s glory at Sinai makes clear that his presence among them is not only spectacular, but also dangerous: amid fiery smoke and peals of thunder, only Moses is permitted to meet with the Lord on top of Mount Sinai and the 70 elders from a distance lest they die (Ex 19:21-25; 24:1-2; cf. Ex 20:18-21). In distinction from how it was in Eden, this makes clear that sinful man must fear and be careful how he enters into God’s presence; he does so carelessly to his own peril.
In closing we note that, were the book of Exodus to end after the giving of the law covenant and its commandments in Exodus 20-24, one may observe what seems to be a complete theology of the Exodus: God has delivered Israel from the hand of the Egyptians and now requires their obedience as his holy people in accordance with all that he has set forth in the Law. However, the subsequent instructions that he provides for the creation of the tabernacle suggest that God’s future purposes for Israel continue to be based in his dwelling together with them (Ex 25:8; 29:45-46). Whereas the giving of the Law communicates God’s holiness and requirements for obedience, the provision of the tabernacle communicates the relational context in which he desires all of this to take place; the Lord is thus Israel’s holy host.
Up Next: Though the tabernacle no longer exists, God intends that by it we might be instructed concerning himself and the kind of relationship that he means to have with us. Therefore, in our next posting we will examine the tabernacle’s design and purpose in greater detail so that, Lord willing, we might have eyes to see some of the realities of our own redemption with greater clarity. See you next week!
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