At the very beginning of the story of God’s word, when all was right with the world, God dwelt harmoniously with his people in a perfect relationship marked by peace and purity. “Naked and unashamed” characterized not only Adam’s and Eve’s relationship with one another, but with the God who made them.
Then sin disrupted that perfect goodness, introducing self-consciousness, separation, and shame, and bringing it into every relationship thereafter, between man and man, and man and God.
As we trace the story line forward, we see that ever since man broke God’s good world with sin in an act of “cosmic treason,” God himself has been at work to redeem and restore what man broke in his rebellion. God has done that by binding himself in covenant commitments to his people, pursuing them over and over again to call them to himself, give them a good work to do, and remind them that they are His and will remain so, because He cannot and will not be untrue to his promises. “If we are faithless, he remains faithful – for he cannot deny himself.” (2 Timothy 2:13)
Though the hope embedded in this good news of God’s promise and pursuit carries us forward in anticipation, we cannot help but see that the problem presented by sin is pervasive and ongoing. How can a holy God be reconciled with an unholy people? If sin is not a problem, God is not holy, righteous, and just. If sin is as big a problem as it seems to be, God can never again dwell with man, and man can never again live in joyful fellowship with God. Though we know, this side of the cross, what (or more accurately who) the remedy has proven to be, we must carry with us an awareness of the gravity of the situation – our situation – to appreciate the miraculous and merciful nature of our rescue and redemption. And, as we study, it is also helpful for us to remember that in the days chronicled by the Old Testament, God’s people, Israel, didn’t have the fulfillment of the “who” that we enjoy today.
As Courtney Doctor mentioned in our video this past week, we zoomed way out to 30,000 feet and covered a great swath of historical and chronological ground in our lesson – about 1500 years’ worth. Our “flyover” surveyed the following:
-In God’s giving of instructions for the tabernacle – its structure, its rules, and its rituals – God communicated once again not only his holiness, but his desire to dwell among his people. “I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the LORD their God.” (Exodus 29:45-46)
-The establishment of the tabernacle in all of its beauty AND in its regulations both conveyed God’s holiness and protected his people from that holiness.
-“The irony of the tabernacle is the agony of redemptive history. By its very form this structure communicates God’s desire for cohabitation. But the increasing restriction of persons – and the elaborate systems of sacrifice and mediation even for those approved persons – communicated the legacy of sin, separation.” (Sandra L. Richter, The Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry Into the Old Testament)
-The glory of God is the manifestation of his presence. It is, as Lindsay said on Tuesday, “splendor with substance.” Where God’s presence is, there his glory is, as well. In the tabernacle, miraculously, the Holy God of the universe, in all his glory, graciously condescended to live in a tent in the wilderness that he might dwell with his people.
-Moving forward, from the tabernacle we looked (very briefly) at the time of the Judges, during which God’s people Israel, after initially refusing to obey by going into the Promised Land, finally entered into it. They also entered into a recurrent pattern of “sin, slavery, supplication (crying out), and salvation.” (From Garden to Glory, p. 111)
-We saw God raise up judges (deliverers) to rescue them out of their oppression, only to see them fall back into the cycle over and over again. The deliverers, though provided by God, could not fully and finally deliver God’s people from the oppression of their ultimate problem: sin.
-Looking back over God’s covenant commitments, we remember his promise not only of offspring, a great nation, and a great name from Abraham’s lineage, but also kings (Genesis 17:6).
-Though Israel demanded for herself a king to be “like all the nations” around them (1 Samuel 8:4) God rejected the king Israel chose for herself (Saul), placing upon the throne of Israel, David, a man after his own heart. God covenanted with David as he had with Abraham so long before. In 2 Samuel 7:16 God tells David, “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.” (for more on God’s instruction to Israel regarding kings, see Deuteronomy 17:14-20.)
-David’s son Solomon began well, reigning with wisdom from God and building a magnificent and glorious temple for God’s dwelling place, but his kingdom was not only not eternal, his reign didn’t even end well. Shortly after his death, Israel was divided into two kingdoms, which enjoyed the rule of very few God-honoring kings over hundreds of years. Eventually, Solomon’s temple was destroyed and God’s people were taken into exile in Babylon and Assyria for their disobedience to God’s commands. (See 1 Chronicles 9:1, Ezekiel 39:23, and many other scriptures that discuss the exile of God’s people.)
-Besides patriarchs, priests, judges/deliverers, and kings, God also sent prophets to his people to remind them of His words and warn them of the consequences of rejecting his good commands for their welfare. Though called by God, in some instances, to outrageous displays intended to impact God’s people and help them see the absurdity and wickedness of their ongoing rebellion, the prophets, just like the priests, judges, and kings before them, were unable to effect the obedience of God’s people. Even their living pictures could not open Israel’s spiritual eyes or soften the hearts of God’s people sufficiently to right their relationship with Him.
-The news isn’t all bad. The latter part of the Old Testament records some promising developments. But even the restoration of God’s people to the Promised Land and the rebuilding of the temple reflect more loss than glory. As the history of the period covered by the Old Testament draws to a close, we are left with a rebuilt temple that is a shadow of its former glory, a people not wholly regathered and reestablished, and a nation that is no longer sovereign, but subject to national powers ruled by pagan kings. God’s people, as a nation, are a people in decline, diminished in stature and glory in the world. God’s people are not the “kingdom of priests” he had called them to be.
400 years of silence. Waiting. Longing. Hope. And surely, as well, its faltering. In the years beyond their return from exile, God’s people waited for the one who had spoken these words to them:
“I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses….”
But how? And when?