In Exodus (second book of the Bible) God tells us that He “will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God” (Exodus 29:45). Millennia later, John, the writer of Revelation, tells us he “heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God” (Revelation 21:3). This is a major theme throughout Scripture (Exodus 25:8; Leviticus 26:12; Zechariah 2:10; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Revelation 21:3).
So one of the overarching themes in Scripture — from the very beginning to the very end — isn’t to “get people saved” but for God to dwell down here with His people. We are so concerned about going up to Heaven, but God is concerned with bringing Heaven down to earth. Revelation, chapter 22 even says the new heavens and the new earth won’t need a temple because God will be our dwelling place (think back to Genesis!). We are working so hard to get out of this place, while God is working hard to recreate and come down to this place.
Because dwelling is God’s goal, He provided instructions for building a tabernacle (think portable temple) when He pulled the Israelites out of Egypt. God wanted to be in the midst of the Israelites. They were moving, so He would move with them.
Then later down the road, God gave kings David and Solomon permission and instructions for building a permanent dwelling place for him (1 Kings 6:1; 1 Chronicles 22).
The temple Solomon built, with God’s glory in the Holy of Holies, came to represent the Israelites’ national and personal identities. It was the center of everything: Jerusalem literally was built up around it, and the people organized their lives according to its annual festivals. But Israel began to worship other gods. Maybe it was because they got tired of making frequent trips to Jerusalem, or maybe they just wanted perceived control over their own lives. Since the fall in Genesis 3, it was almost more natural to worship false gods than the real God.
The Israelites liked gods that were controllable, and the Creator God wasn’t. They began to make a mockery of the temple system. They wanted to pursue other gods around them, when the true God Yahweh was right in their midst.There was one point where some even began following the god Molech, who called for child sacrifice.
As judgment, and maybe as a sign to wake them up, God send the leaders of Jerusalem into exile in Babylon. They were enslaved to people who worshipped Marduk. The very presence of God was seen leaving the temple right before this judgment. And then the temple got destroyed (Jeremiah 52).
Can you imagine how this must have felt? How would you feel if you home and the city or town you live in was totally destroyed? That’s about as close as you can get to imagining what the Israelites felt when the temple complex was razed by the Babylonian emperor Nebuchadnezzar. They sing,
Psalm 137:1-3 NET “By the waters of Babylon,
there we sat down and wept,
when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
we hung up our lyres.
For there our captors
required of us songs,
and our tormentors, mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
They are undone.
A generation later, after Babylonia has been overthrown by Persia, some of the Jews are allowed to make their way back to Jerusalem and begin rebuilding the temple. But it’s clear Got isn’t there anymore. The “Shekinah glory,” as it’s called, never seems to return.
From this period until the last sentence of the Old Testament, the Israelites are left wondering when God will return to dwell with them. He promised he’d come back and be with His people. His very presence in their midst.
Can you imagine the hundreds of years of longing, aching, and praying for this to happen? With every year that passed, the expectation that God would do a new thing, a big thing, a monumental thing got larger and larger.
And then it happens. Just not the way they expected.
More next time…