Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34).
At a very early age I learned exactly where God lived.
I came to understand that God lived in the same place where I went to church every week. God’s address was the address of the Baptist church where my Dad preached and where I went to Sunday school and sang in choir. I knew this to be true because I was told over and over again that the place where we did all these things was ‘God’s House.’ In my young mind that meant God resided there the same way I resided at my house.
To go to church meant to pay a visit to the house of God. And when you went to God’s house a certain decorum was expected. For one thing, you dressed your best. And above all (I had to be told constantly) you were never to run in church.
It would be a few years before I came to understand God’s house in a more nuanced way. I was never bothered by whether the Methodist church or the Catholic Church in town were also God’s house. I just assumed that God inhabited my church, and that the furniture and the carpet and the smell of those painted cinderblock classrooms were part of God’s dwelling place.
The place of worship and the practice of worship were very closely connected. Truthfully, for me I guess they still are in some ways.
As the Israelites made their long wilderness journey they came to a point where they were told to construct a place of worship. Our word for that place is “Tabernacle.” The Hebrew word is mishkan, a word that simply means “dwelling.” Sometimes slightly different words are used. In Exodus 34:26 it is spoken of as the “house of Yahweh.” The Tabernacle is also referred to as the “tent of meeting (Ex. 28:43).
Whatever it’s called, its purpose and meaning is clear: this is the place where God would meet with his people; this is the place where the people would come to meet with God. Biblical scholar Tremper Longman writes that “the symbolism of the entire structure revolved around one central idea: the Holy God was present in the midst of the camp.”
To be honest, if you set out to read the book of Exodus, you’ll feel like you’ve hit quicksand at about chapter 35. The detailed inventory of material used for Tabernacle and the instructions regarding its construction are excruciating to read. But they are not insignificant. Longman points out the ordinary materials are used for the outer areas of the Tabernacle. But as you move to the center, the Holy of holies, the materials become more valuable and precious – silver and gold. That’s because God was at the center of the Tabernacle.
Does Place Matter?
This week as follow Israel’s wilderness journey we will give our attention to this place of worship, the house of God. We’ll be pondering two simple truths that the Tabernacle represents for us today.
First, God is intent on dwelling with and meeting with his people. This truth runs straight to the New Testament in the birth story of Jesus. “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” – which means “God with us” (Matt. 1:23).
Second, the space and place where this meeting happens really matters. To read the instructions given in Exodus is to see that it matters a great deal to God.
Some might object that we can meet with God anywhere (the golf course is often mentioned as a perfectly viable alternative). There is truth to this. God is not restrained to a structure or a street address. God was certainly present with his wandering people long before the Tabernacle was built.
Nevertheless, the Tabernacle was built. And it was God’s idea, built in accordance with God’s design. This week we’re thinking about why, and what it means for us.
Sure, you can meet with a deal with God anytime and anyplace.
But when you “go” to meet with God, where do you go? Do you go? And does it matter?
Gracious God, it’s hard for us to grasp that you desire to meet with us and dwell among us. Because we know you in habit all places, we easily take your presence for granted. And we can easily neglect the practice of gathering with your people in your house. Meet us now in these moments of prayer, and give us a yearning to meet with you, we ask in the name of Jesus, Immanuel, God with us. Amen.
Mark H. Crumpler
 Cited in Philip Graham Ryken, Exodus: Saved for God’s Glory, 1105.
One thought on “With Us”
Good morning Mark, Wonderful devotion! I remember growing up in a small town in NC and attending Sunday School and church on Sunday mornings. As you, I also knew where God lived…in our Baptist Church. Wearing our Sunday best, as we entered the sanctuary, I would look around hoping to see God. In addition to “no running”, we could not chew gum or talk, once we sat on the pew…only whisper, until the music started.
Have a peaceful day! Margo
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