Behold his Glory

Behold his Glory

Posted on


The glory of God is an extremely important topic in Scripture. After pardoning Israel for the sin involving the golden calf, the LORD declared that the whole earth will be filled with the glory of the LORD. (Numbers 14:21)  When the Tabernacle was completed (Exodus 40:34), and when the Ark was brought into Solomon’s Temple (1 Kings 8:11), the glory of the LORD filled those places. Habakkuk prophesied that one day the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. (Habakkuk 2:14) Jesus asked the Father that His people might be with Him in heaven to behold His glory. (John 17:24) To what does the expression “the glory of God” refer? Before doing the research for this paper, I thought of the glory of God as solely a visible manifestation of splendor in a form such as a cloud, fire, or lightning, intended to inspire fear or awe. That effect was certainly accomplished but I have come to believe that another element was also in view. God desired to manifest certain aspects of His character or attributes as well. As we go through this study we will see something of how those goals were accomplished.

The act of glorifying God, sometimes referred to as giving God glory, is also a very important issue. David prayed that the whole earth would be filled with God’s glory (referring to glory given to Him) in Psalm 72:19. God said He would not share His glory (again meaning glory given to Him) with anyone else. (Isaiah 42:8) Herod was executed for not giving God glory. (Acts 12:23) Paul tells us that in whatever we do we should glorify God. (1 Corinthians 10:31) A few months ago, following an adult Sunday School class in which the topic of the glory of God and the responsibility of glorifying God were briefly discussed, a brother in the class asked me some questions about that subject. Primarily, his questions had to do with whether the responsibility to glorify God is an end in itself or a means to another end. Another way to put it would be: are we called to glorify God for His benefit alone or is the purpose to do so for the benefit of humans or are both purposes in view? Unquestioningly, God deserves to be glorified without having any other goal in view, but my goal is to see if there are other stated or implied goals that God had in mind in calling His people to glorify Him.

As briefly noted above, there are two basic senses in which the concept of the glory of God is used in the Bible. In the first sense it refers to one or more qualities that God possesses and manifests to others. In the second sense it refers to something others give Him. Obviously no one can add anything to God’s essence or attributes. What people can do is draw attention to His attributes or praise and worship Him in light of His attributes. This is often referred to as glorifying God. The purpose of this paper is to restudy the topics of “the glory of God” and “glorifying God” focusing attention especially on the questions addressed above. My plan is to examine what the Bible has to say about these two senses first in the Old Testament and then in the New. The Old Testament section will be divided into three sections. The first section will deal with manifestations of the glory of God in history. The second will deal with prophecies of future manifestations of God’s glory. The third section will deal with passages that speak about the matter of glorifying God.

We will begin by looking at uses of the phrase in the first sense in the Old Testament. As we carefully examine these passages in their contexts we will try to determine the purpose(s) God had in mind in each case. Although I am convinced that God’s glory is manifested in many places throughout Scripture, I will limit my survey to those passages where the glory of God is explicitly mentioned. Rather than looking at all of the pertinent passages in the order in which they appear in Scripture, we will examine them in more of a topical sequence grouping the passages according to the similarities between them and the apparent purposes God had in mind for manifesting His glory in each case.

Historical Manifestations of God’s glory in the OT and what they teach

The glory of God and the provision for the physical needs of His people

We will begin with passages in the Bible that refer to the glory of God being manifested in response to Israel’s need for food and water on their journey from Egypt through the wilderness to Canaan in Exodus and Numbers. Not long after the record of Israel’s crossing of the Red Sea, we read (in Exodus 16:1-3) that the nation began to grumble against Moses and Aaron because they lacked food. In response to this verbal attack, having heard God’s promise to meet their need, Moses and Aaron told the people, “At evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against the Lord. … And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you in the evening meat to eat and in the morning bread to the full …. Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, ‘Come near before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.’ ” And as soon as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. And the Lord said to Moses, “I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel. Say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’ ”” (Exodus 16:6–12, ESV)

The glory of God is referred to twice in this passage. In verse 7, Moses and Aaron told the people that they would see the glory of the LORD in the morning. In verse 8, Moses said they would have “bread to the full” in the morning, and in verse 12, the LORD, Himself, said the same thing. However, in verses 13-16, in the record of the people gathering the manna in the morning we read nothing about a manifestation of the glory of God then. Unless Moses was wrong about their seeing the glory of God in the morning or unless they saw it but it was not recorded, the only conclusion I can come to is that when the nation saw God’s provision in the manna they were seeing a sort of covert manifestation of the glory of God. What they saw was God providing for their material needs. The second mention of the glory of God in this passage is in verse 10, when the LORD “appeared in the cloud” and told Moses what is recorded in verse 12, referred to above. In this case the glory of God appeared overtly to the entire nation as He spoke to Moses. God’s glory was seen overtly in the presence of the cloud (verses 10-12) as He declared the way He would provide food for them and covertly in the morning when He actually provided it. In this and the following instances when the glory of God appeared, I would think that an underlying purpose was to remind Israel of His “awful” majesty and splendor so that they would not treat Him with disrespect.

The stated purpose for God’s provision of the nation’s physical needs was that they might know that He was the LORD their God. As a result of the plagues of the Exodus and what they had seen up to this point the nation knew to some degree that the LORD was their God, but they needed to know that in a greater degree. They knew Him as deliverer, but they needed also to know Him as daily provider. Today it is easy for us to take for granted the supply of our daily needs and not to make the connection between our food and the One who ultimately provides it. Our food comes from the grocery store. They get it from companies that supply them. Those companies get the materials from growers. The growers get the materials from God. Israel needed to recognize that the source of their daily sustenance was the LORD their God. In order to teach them that lesson God allowed the nation to be in need of food and water. He did this to make very evident the fact that He was supplying those needs. He did it to demonstrate that He was the LORD their God. The purpose for the revelation of God’s glory in this case seems to have been to demonstrate His faithfulness shown by His provision of their needs. They were manifestations of God’s glory displaying His faithfulness by providing food for them.  

The next instance of the glory of God appearing in connection with His provision for their needs comes in Numbers 20. After the death of Miriam, there was no water for the congregation and they complained to Moses and Aaron. “Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. And the glory of the Lord appeared to them, and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.”” (Numbers 20:6–8, ESV) God’s glory appeared here in the process of telling Moses what to do to provide water for the people. As in the situation where God provided manna and quail, the purpose for the revelation of God’s glory in this case seems to have been to reassure Moses and the entire nation of His faithfulness by the provision of Israel’s needs. Thus, the primary purpose for the manifestation was to benefit Moses and Israel.

The glory of God and the Tabernacle and Temple

The next reference to the glory of God that we will consider comes near the end of Exodus 29. Verses 1-35 of that chapter describe the ceremony by which the priests were to be consecrated for their service. Verses 36-37 describe the manner in which the altar was to be consecrated. Verses 38-42a describe the daily offerings that were to be presented to the LORD. Referring to the sacrifice to be offered on the altar at the entrance to the tent of meeting, verses 42-43 read: “It shall be a regular burnt offering throughout your generations at the entrance of the tent of meeting before the Lord, where I will meet with you, to speak to you there. There I will meet with the people of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by my glory.” (Exodus 29:42–43, ESV) The place where God would meet with His people in a special way (the Tabernacle and the Temple) would be set apart (sanctified) by the act of God revealing His glory in those places in a special visible way. I believe that there was an initial fulfillment of this promise in Ex.40:34-38. Exodus 40:1-33 records the construction of the Tabernacle and its erection in preparation for its function. “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” (Exodus 40:34–35, ESV) Here again, the purpose of the revelation of God’s glory is not stated, but coming where and how it does, I think it is clear that the purpose was to show that God was “taking up His residence” in the Tabernacle and later the Temple, placing His stamp of approval on them and indicating His willingness to manifest His presence there.  There were continuing fulfillments of the same kind in relation to the Temple in 1 Kings 8:11 & 2 Chron. 5:14 & 7:1-3. The purpose God had in mind is not expressly stated, but I think we can reasonably infer the purpose. God is spirit. He had forbidden any physical representation of Himself. How would one construct anything that would represent a spirit anyway? It is impossible to give an accurate representation of God in any physical form. How would the nation know that God had “taken up residence in their midst? They would know it by His glory filling the place in the form of a cloud of smoke, and that is exactly what happened. Here again, the implied purpose of the manifestation of God’s glory was for the benefit of the nation, to assure them that God was “living” in their midst. WE see a New Testament parallel in the ministry of the Holy Spirit. We do not see Him, but His fruit is visible. “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”” (John 3:8, ESV)

Further fulfillment of the promise given in Exodus 29:42-43 can be seen in the next appearance of the glory of the LORD. It is a record of Aaron being installed as a priest and the events surrounding that act. How would the people know that Aaron was approved by God to be the High Priest for the nation? How could they be assured that his taking of this office was not simply a matter of Aaron’s and Moses’ deciding that this would be the case? Later, the authority of both of them was questioned, so now when all of the ceremonial system was being inaugurated, how would they know that the authority they had had been given by God rather than taken by men?  After God gave instructions about the kinds of offerings to be presented to the LORD, the whole congregation drew near, and Moses addressed the nation saying, “This is the thing that the Lord commanded you to do, that the glory of the Lord may appear to you.”” (Leviticus 9:6, ESV) After Aaron fulfilled the command of the LORD by offering the prescribed sacrifices, we read, “And Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting, and when they came out they blessed the people, and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the pieces of fat on the altar, and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.” (Leviticus 9:23–24, ESV) As when the Tabernacle was filled with the glory of God to signify God’s approval of it, I believe the appearance of the glory of the LORD here was intended to show that the Lord had approved of Aaron’s being consecrated as High Priest. God’s acceptance of the sacrifices was signified by the fire that came out from the  LORD consuming the burnt offering (and possibly reminding all the people that He was a consuming fire as well). Here again, this manifestation of His glory was for the benefit of Israel, demonstrating His approval, but doing so in a way that would also manifest His holiness and power.

The glory of God and sin

The appearance of God’s glory that we will now consider is found in Num. 14 when the spies had returned from the land and given their report. When the people heard what the 10 spies had to say, that there were giants in the land and that Israel would never be able to defeat the inhabitants, the people wanted to kill Moses and Aaron. “Then all the congregation said to stone them with stones. But the glory of the Lord appeared at the tent of meeting to all the people of Israel.” (Numbers 14:10, ESV) In the following verses God further spelled out the punishment He would inflict upon the unbelievers when He told Moses (Numbers 14:28–34, ESV) that everyone twenty years old and above (except for Joshua and Caleb) would die in the wilderness but their children would live to enter the land. Clearly one purpose for this manifestation of God’s glory was to stop the people from stoning Moses and Aaron, but another was to pronounce judgment on rebellious unbelief.

This same attribute was displayed again just two chapters later. Korah, Dathan and Abiram objected to the leadership of the nation being confined to Moses and Aaron. “Then Korah assembled all the congregation against them at the entrance of the tent of meeting. And the glory of the Lord appeared to all the congregation.” (Numbers 16:19, ESV) After God punished the rebels with death, the congregation blamed Moses and Aaron for their deaths and were ready to kill them. “And when the congregation had assembled against Moses and against Aaron, they turned toward the tent of meeting. And behold, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord appeared. And Moses and Aaron came to the front of the tent of meeting, and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Get away from the midst of this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.” And they fell on their faces.” (Numbers 16:42–45, ESV) Moses then instructed Aaron to take his censor and make atonement for the people. Still, 14,700 people died besides Korah and his crew. God manifested His glory to protect Moses and Aaron again and also as part of an act of judgment on the rebellious people. He is literally a consuming fire. In both of these instances the purpose for revealing His glory was to deal with sin. He prevented harm from coming to Moses and Aaron and also executed judgment on unbelievers. In these cases as well, God manifested His glory for the effect it had on people. Moses and Aaron were rescued and others were condemned.

The glory of God and the commissioning of His servants

We will now consider the appearance of the glory of God in connection with the commissioning of Moses, Isaiah and Ezekiel for the service God called them to fulfill. After Moses had been given the instructions for the design of the Tabernacle in chapters 25-31, we have the record of the sin with the golden calf in chapter 32. Chapter 33 begins with God instructing Moses to begin the trip to the Promised Land with the notation that God Himself would not go with them. In response to Moses’ intercession for the nation, pleading with God to forgive them, God relented and agreed to accompany the nation Himself. At that point, in verse 18, Moses makes an interesting request. “Moses said, “Please show me your glory.”” (Exodus 33:18, ESV) Moses had seen God’s glory already. Why does he make this request again? Perhaps, in light if the immediately preceding verses Moses wants a fresh revelation of God’s character, or perhaps he wants to have a more intimate relationship with Him. Whatever Moses’ specific intention may have been, surely the overall goal was that Moses knew he needed to be equipped for the ministry that God was assigning to him. God’s response sheds light upon the aspects of His character that were revealed in this manifestation of His glory. In direct response to Moses’ request to be shown His glory, God said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”” (Exodus 33:18–23, ESV) In 34:5-7, as the LORD passed by He proclaimed some of His attributes, specifically His gracious willingness to forgive sin but also His determination to judge sin. Moses “saw” God’s glory, not with his physical eyes but with the “eyes” of his understanding. God is just (determined to punish sin) but also gracious (willing to forgive sin when there is repentance). The purpose for this appearance is not stated, but the context leads me to believe that its purpose was to prepare Moses for the challenging task that God had assigned to him for Israel would sin repeatedly and need to experience God’s forgiveness. This conclusion receives strong support from an incident mentioned above in Numbers 14, when the nation believed the ten spies’ report stating that they would not be able to conquer the inhabitants of Canaan. When God threatened to wipe out the nation (14:12), Moses used the very words of this text to urge the Lord to relent and not destroy the nation (14:17-18). I believe it also led the way for Moses to plead with God to go with His people and forgive their sin. “And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. And he said, “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.”” (Exodus 34:8–9, ESV) On more than one occasion Moses would need to remember that God was holy and just but also gracious. This revelation of God’s glory was a profound benefit for Moses.

 This manifestation of God’s glory to equip Moses for the work that lay before him has at least two other parallel situations. One concerns Isaiah and the other concerns Ezekiel. We will first examine the record of Isaiah. Although the text of Isaiah does not say that Isaiah saw God’s glory, John tells us that is so. “For again Isaiah said, “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.” Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him.” (John 12:39–41, ESV) What did Isaiah see when he beheld God’s  glory and what was God’s goal in that revelation (interestingly, in context, John was specifically referring to Jesus, not the Father)? The text reads as follows: “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”[We will come back to this last statement later in this paper.] And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.” (Isaiah 6:1–4, ESV)

There were three aspects of Isaiah’s response to this revelation of God’s glory. First, he was aware of his sin as he saw the holiness of God. “And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”” (Isaiah 6:5, ESV) Isaiah saw the utter hopeless peril of his situation. He was as good as dead! Second, God cleansed and forgave him. “Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”” (Isaiah 6:6–7, ESV) He was no longer a “dead” man. Third, God commissioned him to be His messenger. “And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” And he said, “Go, and say to this people: “ ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’” (Isaiah 6:8–9, ESV)

The form in which Isaiah saw the glory of God was different from what Moses saw. Isaiah saw the glory of God in the form of a mighty king. He was “sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up.” He was surrounded by His “court.” What was God’s goal in revealing His glory to Isaiah in this form? Isaiah ministered during the reigns of four kings. “The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.” (Isaiah 1:1, ESV) He was called in the year that King Uzziah died (Isaiah 1:1) so he had little or no opportunity to minister to him. We know of no connection between Isaiah and Jotham. We do know that Isaiah ministered directly both to King Ahaz (Isaiah 7) and King Hezekiah (Isaiah 36-39). In order for Isaiah to have the courage to tell kings what they should and should not do, he needed to have it firmly fixed in his mind that the God who directed him to do this was the King above all kings. There was no comparison between the majesty and splendor of the King of kings and any earthly monarch. Isaiah could tell Ahaz and Hezekiah that they need not fear other earthly kings because of the promise of the LORD. He could even pronounce God’s judgement on their wrong behavior because the LORD was sovereign over all. Isaiah benefitted greatly from this manifestation of God’s glory by equipping him for his specific ministry.

References to the glory of God in Ezekiel are much more numerous than in any of the other OT books. For that reason we will devote more space to review his contributions to this study. We will begin by examining his description of the glory of God as he saw it. Ezekiel’s vision of the glory of God was different from either that of Moses or Isaiah. What he saw was very strange. In verses 4-28 of chapter one, we read a description of what he saw. It included a sort of chariot with four “living creatures,” each one being composed partly of human and animal parts. When they flew they made a very loud noise. The wheels of the chariot had other wheels within them. Above the chariot was an expanse. Above it was a sapphire-like throne on which sat someone that looked like a human except that he was brilliant. We are explicitly told that it involved a vision of the glory of God. “Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking.” (Ezekiel 1:28, ESV) In the next verses we have a record of Ezekiel’s call/commission. “And he said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak with you.” And as he spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard him speaking to me. And he said to me, “Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day.” (Ezekiel 2:1–3, ESV) Then a few verses later we read words of comfort and a repetition of the commission. “And you, son of man, be not afraid of them, nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you sit on scorpions. Be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house. And you shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear, for they are a rebellious house.” (Ezekiel 2:6–7, ESV)

Why did God reveal His glory in such a strange fashion in the process of calling Ezekiel? Of all of the writing prophets Ezekiel was instructed to do the strangest acts as visual messages to the nation of Israel. He was told to cut a hole in the side of his house and carry through that hole various items. He was told to cut his hair with a sword. He was told to cook food using dung as the fuel. He was told to lie on one side for many days and then on the other side for many days. He was told that God would take his beloved wife from him but he was not to mourn. I believe God prepared Ezekiel for this strange ministry by revealing His glory to him in a very strange way.

The glory of God and the fear of God

The next passage we will consider is Ex. 24:16-17 which comes after Moses had received the stipulations of the covenant in chapters 20-23. Having heard the stipulations of the covenant (24:3), the people agreed to obey all of them. What followed was a ceremony in which the covenant was ratified by the nation (24:4-11). After that ceremony was completed, the LORD invited Moses to come back up the mountain where He would give him the stone tablets on which He had written the commandments for the nation (24:12). Moses and Joshua went up but the elders and Aaron and Hur remained on the plain to deal with any problems that would arise (24:13-14). Moses went up and a cloud covered the mountain (24:15). Then, “The glory of the Lord dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel.” (Exodus 24:16–17, ESV) We are not left in doubt about the effect this had on the people, for Moses tells us later exactly what that effect was. Near the end of his life Moses reminded the people of their response to that manifestation of God’s glory. “And you said, ‘Behold, the Lord our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the midst of the fire. This day we have seen God speak with man, and man still live. Now therefore why should we die? For this great fire will consume us. If we hear the voice of the Lord our God any more, we shall die. For who is there of all flesh, that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of fire as we have, and has still lived? Go near and hear all that the Lord our God will say, and speak to us all that the Lord our God will speak to you, and we will hear and do it.’” (Deuteronomy 5:24–27, ESV) God’s purpose was to impress upon the nation His holiness, but that is not all. In the incident recorded in Exodus 24:16-17, the appearance of the glory was described as “like a devouring fire.” Although it was possible for people to hear the voice of God, those people must never lose sight of His holiness, represented by the glory of God appearing “like a devouring fire.”  God revealed that He was holy as He manifested His glory on Mt. Sinai. This manifestation of His glory was also for the benefit of His people. It was for their protection.

God’s holiness should also inspire fear from Gentile nations. Ezekiel was instructed to prophesy against Sidon. “Thus says the Lord God: “Behold, I am against you, O Sidon, and I will manifest my glory in your midst. And they shall know that I am the Lord when I execute judgments in her and manifest my holiness in her; for I will send pestilence into her, and blood into her streets; and the slain shall fall in her midst, by the sword that is against her on every side. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” (Ezekiel 28:22–23, ESV) This manifestation of God’s glory was designed for their benefit to make the Sidonians know that the LORD is God. It would be a painful lesson but it would teach them truth from which they could profit if they were willing to heed it.

The glory of God and the spiritual vitality to His people

David speaks of the manifestation of God’s glory in the Tabernacle: “O Lord, I love the habitation of your house and the place where your glory dwells.” (Psalm 26:8, ESV) David’s mind is drawn back to those times when his soul has been refreshed as he worshipped the Lord and beheld the powerful manifestation of God’s power and majesty [in the shekinah?]. Another passage reveals a similar sentiment: “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.” (Psalm 63:1–2, ESV) In this wonderful psalm of praise David recalls times when he has seen the manifestation of God’s glory in the Tabernacle, and he expresses his intense longing to do so again. David knew the truth of a hymn that would not be written for centuries: “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.” Obviously these manifestations of God’s glory powerfully benefited people.

The glory of God and the inspiration of awe in His people

Psalm 113 extolls the greatness of God by saying: “The Lord is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens!” (Psalm 113:4, ESV) It is not enough to say that the heavens declare His glory, wonderful as that is, for here we read that His glory is even above them! God seems to have granted David a vision of a day when God’s glory would be recognized. Of that day he wrote: “All the kings of the earth… shall sing of the ways of the Lord, for great is the glory of the Lord.” (Psalm 138:4-5, ESV)  This is consistent with the fact (noted earlier in this paper) that Isaiah learned of God’s majesty in his encounter with the Lord when he was called. As a part of his call to be a prophet of the Lord, Isaiah received a vision of the LORD sitting upon His throne. In that vision Isaiah saw seraphim above Him calling out: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”” (Isaiah 6:3, ESV) The seraphim were aware of what mere humans did not see. The whole earth was filled with the glory of God. His majestic splendor was (and is) everywhere but people did (and do) not recognize it. A day will come when His majestic splendor will be recognized universally.

The glory of God leaves the Temple (and His people)

Ezekiel’s record of the glory of God, which we saw above, is not limited to its appearance there. He also speaks about the activity of the glory of God. After the record of his original call/commission, Ezekiel was led by the glory of the LORD to the exiles to which he would minister (cf. 3:15). “Then a wind lifted me up and I heard a great rumbling sound behind me as the glory of the Lord rose from its place,” (Ezekiel 3:12, NET) After being told that he was to be a watchman to the house of Israel (3:16-21), Ezekiel was told to go out into the valley where God would speak to him (3:22).  “So I arose and went out into the valley, and behold, the glory of the Lord stood there, like the glory that I had seen by the Chebar canal, and I fell on my face.” (Ezekiel 3:23, ESV) This verse seems to describe what Ezekiel was to do in preparation for receiving the next instructions he would from the LORD telling him what he was to say and do next. The next few chapters describe the abominations that were being committed in the Temple and the judgements that would come because of them. In the midst of the descriptions of those abominations we read this brief statement without commentary: “And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was there, like the vision that I saw in the valley.” (Ezekiel 8:4, ESV) I think the reason why this verse is inserted in this location is to emphasize the heinousness of the sins being committed. The abominations described were being committed in the Temple building in the very presence of a manifestation of the glory of God! This prepares us for what comes next. For only a few verses later we read, “Now the glory of the God of Israel had gone up from the cherub on which it rested to the threshold of the house.” (Ezekiel 9:3a, ESV)  This verse describes the movement of the glory of the LORD to the threshold of the Temple from which he gave instructions for the execution of the multitudes of people who had been involved in the idolatry and abominations committed in the Temple.  The next mention of the glory of God is in a verse that seems to describe the action of the glory moving from above the cherubim in the Holy of Holies to the threshold of the Temple (house) in preparation for leaving the Temple. Before leaving, His glory fills the Temple so that when He leaves His absence will be even more obvious. It is as though He is saying a powerful “Goodbye.” “And the glory of the Lord went up from the cherub to the threshold of the house, and the house was filled with the cloud, and the court was filled with the brightness of the glory of the Lord.” (Ezekiel 10:4, ESV) The next step is for the glory of God to ascend to His chariot. “Then the glory of the Lord went out from the threshold of the house, and stood over the cherubim. And the cherubim lifted up their wings and mounted up from the earth before my eyes as they went out, with the wheels beside them. And they stood at the entrance of the east gate of the house of the Lord, and the glory of the God of Israel was over them.” (Ezekiel 10:18–19, ESV) The final step is for Him to go out of the city. “Then the cherubim lifted up their wings, with the wheels beside them, and the glory of the God of Israel was over them. And the glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city and stood on the mountain that is on the east side of the city.” (Ezekiel 11:22–23, ESV) It is not until the last section of the book that we encounter the glory of the LORD again. These verses prophesy the return of the glory of God to the Temple. Since they are dealing with eschatology, they will be considered in the next section. These verses which describe the glory of God leaving the Temple were for the benefit of His people. They needed to see the consequences of their sin.

In each one of these historical manifestations of the glory of God we can see that at least one of the purposes was to minister in some way to His people. In no case was His glory manifested just to impress or for the sake of making a display. Even now as we get glimpses of the glory of God being manifested in His word or His works we are blessed, encouraged, inspired and convicted.

Eschatological references to God’s glory prophesied in the OT

The glory of God will return to the Temple

We will now look at prophecies regarding the glory of the LORD that will be fulfilled in the future. The most dramatic prophecy dealing with the glory of God is that recorded by Ezekiel about a vision the Lord gave him describing the return of the glory of God to the Temple a manner resembling the way in which it left. “And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was coming from the east. And the sound of his coming was like the sound of many waters, and the earth shone with his glory.” (Ezekiel 43:2, ESV) “As the glory of the Lord entered the temple by the gate facing east, the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court; and behold, the glory of the Lord filled the temple.” (Ezekiel 43:4–5, ESV) “Like several other visions in Ezekiel, this vision (43:1–5) is followed by an interpretation (43:6–12). As the glory of God filled the tabernacle after its construction at the beginning of Israel’s history (Exod 40:34–38), and as it filled the temple following its construction by Solomon (1 Kgs 8:10–11), so Ezekiel was assured in a vision that once again God’s glory will reside with Israel. As the exiles despaired at the departure of God’s glory in Ezekiel’s vision, a departure confirmed by the destruction of the temple, so Israel had once before despaired when the Philistines took the ark and Eli and his sons all died. Eli’s daughter-in-law named her son Ichabod, which meant “no glory” (1 Sam 4:19–22). But as the ark and the glory were restored when the Davidic covenant was revealed to David (2 Sam 6–7) and confirmed in the building of the temple (2 Sam 7:12–13; 1 Kgs 8:10–11), so will the glory of the Lord be restored to the new temple in the messianic age when the Davidic covenant is completely fulfilled.”[1] “Then he brought me by way of the north gate to the front of the temple, and I looked, and behold, the glory of the Lord filled the temple of the Lord. And I fell on my face.” (Ezekiel 44:4, ESV)

 The glory of God will be universally manifested

In several passages Isaiah prophesies that various people will see the manifestation of God’s glory. “Then the moon will be confounded and the sun ashamed, for the Lord of hosts reigns on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and his glory will be before his elders.” (Isaiah 24:23, ESV) In a passage apparently addressed to Israel of the future, we read, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” (Isaiah 60:1, ESV)  “When the glory of God appears (60:1), the light from the sun and moon will be irrelevant because it will pale in comparison to the glorious everlasting light from God. Thus the physical powers that God ordained to rule over the day and night will lose their role. The white light of the moon will be so weak that the moon will be put to shame. Even the bright burning hot sun’s light will be an embarrassment when compared to the God’s glory.”[2]

In another passage where Isaiah alludes to the enemies of the LORD, he writes regarding them: “So they will fear the name of the Lord from the west  And His glory from the rising of the sun, For He will come like a rushing stream Which the wind of the Lord drives.” (Isaiah 59:19, NASB95) “This divine judgment will cause people all over the world (from the setting of the sun to the rising of the sun) to fear the name and glory of God (59:19). At that time when the Lord brings forth his judgment on the wicked, he will also cause his glory to fill the earth … and bring his salvation to all people. The wicked will fear God’s name because of his wrath, but the righteous will revere God’s name because they will see the glory of the Holy One (6:3; 57:15).”[3]

In Isaiah’s day God’s glory filled the earth (and has done so ever since the creation of the universe), but it is veiled so only a few can see it. One day the veil will be lifted, and all will see His glory. For example, two passages from the Psalms describe a day very different from anything that has ever occurred in human history up to the present time. The author of Psalm 97 saw a day when God’s glory will be seen by all as His power is overtly manifested by clouds and thick darkness (vs. 2), fire and lightning (vss. 3-4), and mountains melting (vs. 5). The results of those manifestations will be:  “The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all the peoples see his glory.” (Psalm 97:6, ESV) When that day comes, all the peoples, not just one nation, will see God’s glory.  The writer of Psalm 102 described a similar time: “Nations will fear the name of the Lord, and all the kings of the earth will fear your glory. For the Lord builds up Zion; he appears in his glory.” (Psalm 102:15–16, ESV) In that day the glory of God will be so overwhelming in its majesty that even the kings (those highest on the social scale), all of them, will fear His glory. That has not yet occurred.

In the opening verses of the second major section of Isaiah’s prophecy, as he describes a time when the LORD will come to His people, he prophesied a day when His glory will be visible to all. He wrote: “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”” (Isaiah 40:5, ESV) “The announcement that people will see the glory of God does not seem to refer to people seeing the glory of God in some general way; for example, by observing his glorious deeds in history (24:15; 25:3; 41:16; 42:12) or by seeing his glory in nature (Ps 19:1–2). Instead, the good news is that all flesh will actually view with their physical eyes the majestic glory of God himself (40:5; 60:1–3). This announcement seems to require a great theophany appearance that will be universally visible, if all flesh will see it.”[4]

A description of the universal manifestation of the glory of God is also found in Habakkuk. In the middle of a series of five woes pronounced against the Chaldeans for their treatment of Israel, Habakkuk inserts this brief refrain: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Habakkuk 2:14, ESV) The knowledge of His glory will not only be present but it will be unignorable. It will be as overwhelming as the waters cover the sea.

The effects of the universal manifestation of God’s glory

What effects will occur when the glory of God is manifested in this way? In several places Isaiah gives us part of the answer to that question. “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus; it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.” (Isaiah 35:1–2, ESV) In verses 3-4 Isaiah exhorts his people to take courage because God is going to come bringing justice. Then, in the remainder of the chapter he describes blessings that will accompany this revelation of God’s glory. They will include the blind being given sight, the deaf being able to hear, the lame being able to leap, the mute being able to sing, and the desert having abundant water.

 “Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.” (Isaiah 58:8, ESV) “The second half of 58:8 appears to allude to what the prophet has already said in 52:12b, where it promises that God will go before and after his people, gathering them up in one place so that he can deliver the children of Israel from Pharaoh’s great army at the Red Sea (Exod 14:19–20). This is a metaphor of his guidance before them and safety, protection, and security behind them…. It appears that both 52:12 and 58:8 refer to God’s eschatological protection of his people. God’s “righteous presence” (ṣedeq) and glory will surround these people.”[5] In other words, when the day comes when God’s people turn to Him in repentance, His glory will protect them from their enemies.

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you.” (Isaiah 60:1–2, ESV) “The bright light that is connected to the appearance of God’s glory (58:8; 59:19–20; 60:1) is also a symbol of God’s salvation (9:1–2; 58:8; 59:9; Ps 27:1). The light of the glory of God is called “your (second feminine singular) light” (also in 58:8, 10) because this divine appearance of God is for the benefit of the righteous people of Zion. Isaiah 40:3–5, 10–11 also predicted the coming of the glory of God with power, ruling the earth, and tenderly caring for his sheep. This will be the time when God reigns and restores Jerusalem (cf. 52:7–9).”[6]

Ezekiel adds more information about the effects that will occur in the future. In the midst of an oracle against Gog (Ezekiel 39:1) describing God’s actions in judgment, the Lord says that after Gog’s army is slain, and “For seven months the house of Israel will be burying them, in order to cleanse the land. All the people of the land will bury them, and it will bring them renown on the day that I show my glory, declares the Lord God.” (Ezekiel 39:12–13, ESV)  “And I will set my glory among the nations, and all the nations shall see my judgment that I have executed, and my hand that I have laid on them.” (Ezekiel 39:21, ESV) The timing of the fulfillment of this prophecy is not clearly spelled out, but the certainty of its fulfillment is not in doubt.

OT Glorify

We will now look at passages in the Old Testament where the second sense of the glory of God is found, that is, references to the responses people are to have to God, giving Him glory or glorifying Him. Obviously no one can add anything to God’s essence or attributes. What people can do is draw attention to His attributes or praise and worship Him in light of His attributes. They can declare His glory or they can ascribe/give, glory to Him. We find an instance of this early in Israel’s occupation of the Promised Land.

The first passage I would like to examine in this section comes early in Israel’s history. It is a brief prophetic statement about the glory of God in Numbers 14:21 that we looked at above in a different connection. It is translated a bit differently in various translations. The ESV and the NIV84 translate verses 21-23 similarly to each other. ESV reads: “But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord, none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it.” (Numbers 14:21–23, ESV) The ESV and NIV84 see the prophecy of the future revelation of the glory of the LORD as a correlative parallel with “as I live” providing two guarantees for the certainty that those who did not trust the LORD would die in the wilderness. NASB, NET and AV translate the verses similarly to each other. The NET Bible reads: “But truly, as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord. For all the people have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have tempted me now these ten times, and have not obeyed me, they will by no means see the land that I swore to their fathers, nor will any of them who despised me see it.” (Numbers 14:21–23, NET) This translation sees only one guarantee (the life of God) for the future fulfillment of the prophecy and the prophecy is that the earth will be filled with God’s glory. The statement that those who did not trust the LORD would die in the wilderness stands by itself. In either case, whether the earth being filled with the glory of the LORD is part of the guarantee or the thing being guaranteed, the certainty of the fact that all the earth will be filled with the glory of the LORD is being clearly asserted. God is determined that this will occur.[7]

Perhaps with that prediction in mind, in Psalm 72 Solomon mixes prayers for God to bless the (Messianic?) king with descriptions of what his reign will be like. He ends the Psalm with these words. “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things. Blessed be his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory! Amen and Amen!” (Psalm 72:18–19, ESV) I take the last phrase to be a wish/prayer that what God had promised in Numbers 14:21 would be fulfilled.  Was that prayer fulfilled in Isaiah’s day when the seraphim declared, “the whole earth is full of his glory”? No, because the descriptions of the day when that will occur do not fit Isaiah’s day as we will see.

Examples of giving glory to God

By people confessing sin

After Israel conquered Jericho and then was repulsed in their attempt to defeat Ai, Joshua cried out to the LORD asking for the reason for this disaster. “Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the Lord until the evening, he and the elders of Israel. And they put dust on their heads. And Joshua said, “Alas, O Lord God, why have you brought this people over the Jordan at all, to give us into the hands of the Amorites, to destroy us? Would that we had been content to dwell beyond the Jordan! O Lord, what can I say, when Israel has turned their backs before their enemies! For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear of it and will surround us and cut off our name from the earth. And what will you do for your great name?”” (Joshua 7:6–9, ESV) Joshua is accusing God of bringing the nation into the wilderness to kill them. He then asks how this will affect God’s name or reputation. Joshua is then told that the reason Israel was defeated was that they had sinned. It was then determined by lot that the fault lay with Achan, who was summoned to Joshua. “Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, give glory to the Lord God of Israel and give praise to him. And tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me.”” (Joshua 7:19, ESV) Joshua was calling Achan to give glory (honor) to God by confessing his sin. Until he did so, God was being blamed for unjust treatment of Israel. When Achan confessed his sin, he was blamed (and punished) for what he did and God was vindicated. God was given glory in that He was shown to be just. What God did was right. This was a great benefit to the people of Israel for they would be more easily able to trust the LORD’s faithfulness. As long as Joshua and the nation did not know why God had not enabled them to conquer Ai, they were in danger of thinking that God was not being faithful to His word. When Achan confessed his sin and the nation understood the reason why they had been defeated, their confidence in God’s faithfulness was restored. Giving God glory in this instance brought about the difference between Joshua and Israel believing in God’s faithfulness or doubting it. The goal was to benefit people.

By nature simply behaving normally

David wrote “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1, ESV) Verses 2-6 continue to expound the ways in which the heavens declare His glory. In this case, it looks to me like the first sense (manifestation) blends with the second (response). Their testimony (response) to His glory (manifestation) is continuous (“day to day” and “night to night”) and universally observable (“through all the earth” and “to the end of the world”). Paul makes it very clear in Romans 1 that God designed nature to bear testimony to God’s existence and power. He did so for mankind’s benefit.

Exhortations to glorify God

Israel and all nations are exhorted to glorify God

We will now examine some passages in which there are exhortations to glorify God by declaring His glory or ascribing glory to Him. In each of the next few sections different beings are called upon to do those very things. There are different purposes given in each of these examples. When David successfully reinstalled the Ark of the Covenant in the Tabernacle in Jerusalem after having been in Philistine hands and then in Kiriath-jearim for many years, a great song of praise was sung about the LORD. After reviewing demonstrations of God’s faithfulness and love to His people, this admonition is written apparently to Israel:  “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!” (1 Chronicles 16:24, ESV) The stated reasons are: “For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the Lord made the heavens.” (1 Chronicles 16:25–27, ESV) Psalm 96 repeats the very same sentiments for the same reasons. “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the Lord made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary. Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength! Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts!” (Psalm 96:3–8, ESV)

God’s glory ought to be declared “among all nations” for three reasons. First, He deserves it. He alone is God. He is the one who made the heavens! Because the LORD is who He is, the next two verses say that everyone should acknowledge that fact. “Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength! Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him! Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.” (1 Chronicles 16:28–29, ESV) The second reason why His glory should be declared among the nations is that the gods which the nations worship are worthless. That fact was powerfully demonstrated by what God did to the Philistines when they captured the Ark (1 Samuel 5). Worship or loyalty or obedience to any other god is a total waste of time and effort, not to mention the fact that it dishonors God. If the nations are to come to know the true God, those who know Him must tell them what He is like. His glory must be declared to them. They must ascribe to Him the glory that is due to His great name. The third reason is that the LORD is coming to judge the earth (1 Chronicles 16:33b; Psalm 96:13). Those who have served false gods will be judged. Thus, in this case we can see that the exhortations to declare God’s glory and to ascribe glory to Him (both being other terms for glorifying Him) are for the benefit of people. They need to know Him and be right with Him since judgment is coming. Although the first of these three reasons is tied to God alone, two of these three reasons are directly related to benefitting people.

Jeremiah utters a similar call to the nation of Israel. “Give glory to the Lord your God before he brings darkness, before your feet stumble on the twilight mountains, and while you look for light he turns it into gloom and makes it deep darkness.” (Jeremiah 13:16, ESV) This verse comes near the beginning of a song in which Jeremiah is pleading with his people to turn back to the Lord lest they end up in exile. “The statement “Give glory to the LORD your God” is an OT idiom for “Confess your sins” (cf. Josh 7:19; John 9:24). To do so would avert the evil about to come on the nation.”[8]  They were exhorted to glorify God in order to avoid judgment.

Heavenly beings are called to glorify God

Psalm 29 echoes the very same phrases which were used above in 1 Chronicles 16 and Psalm 96 referred to above but this time the addressees are different. “Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.” (Psalm 29:1–2, ESV) In this case, however, it is not the families of the earth or the nations that are called to glorify Him but rather “heavenly beings.” Not only are humans to glorify God but the angels are to as well. The body of the Psalm extols the mighty power of God over nature. It does so in two ways. First, it does so by naming some of the elements in nature over which He exercises His power. Then, it does so by stating that the instrument by which He exercises His power is simply His voice. He just speaks and the waters (29:3), the mountains (29:6), lightning (29:7), and the wilderness (29:8) all obey His bidding. The conclusion of the Psalm tells us the value of all of this for His people: “The Lord will give strength to His people; The Lord will bless His people with peace.” (Psalm 29:11, NASB95) The angels are called to glorify the LORD because of His mighty power demonstrated by His deeds. The purpose for all of this is to reassure His people that this almighty God will give strength to His people and bless them with peace.

A prophecy of all the nations glorifying God

Interestingly, David wrote a Psalm in which he was moved to prophesy a day when all the nations will glorify God, thereby fulfilling the desire he had expressed in 1 Chronicles 16.  “All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name.” (Psalm 86:9, ESV) Earlier in that Psalm David had lamented the fact that he was needy and afflicted. As He pleaded with God for help he remembered God’s character (vss. 5, 8, 10) and used that a basis for his prayer for deliverance (vss. 2-4 & 6-7). Part of his recollection of God’s character included the knowledge that the Lord alone was God (vs. 10).  For that reason he knew that in the future all the nations that He has made will one day glorify Him (vs. 9). No purpose for glorifying God is given in the context of this passage. That is not the reason why it is mentioned here. It is mentioned because all of the nations glorifying God will be a characteristic of the time when the Lord reigns supreme, when the world will be as it should be. That awareness of God’s sovereignty strengthened David‘s trust in God for his immediate needs. With that in mind, David asked God to enable him to be obedient. He then promised to glorify God’s name because of His deliverance.  “I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever.” (Psalm 86:12, ESV) In both of these cases in Psalm 86 the fact that God is glorified is not a means to an end but rather an end in itself. It is a description of a time when the Messiah reigns and when things are as they ought to be. That will be a wonderful time for all of God’s creation.

Prayers that God would glorify Himself and a wish for Him to be glorified

A Psalm that expresses the desire that God would be glorified, this time by Himself, is Psalm 115. “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!” (Psalm 115:1, ESV) This desire is in preparation for the rest of the Psalm. The Psalmist is not going to ask that he or his people should receive glory. They do not deserve it. The Lord does. Verses 3-8 of this Psalm give reasons why He deserves to be glorified. First, He is completely sovereign (3b). Conversely, the idols worshipped by others are lifeless. Idolatry is utterly foolish. Having demonstrated the inability of idols to do anything, the Psalmist then calls Israel to trust in the LORD (vss. 9-15). He closes with an assertion that he and his fellows will bless the LORD forever (vss. 16-18). The reason for this request, that God would glorify Himself, is simply the fact that God alone deserves this glory because of His character.

Another prayer to that end is the refrain seen twice in Psalm 57:5 & 11. “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!” (ESV) The superscription of this Psalm tells us it was written by David when he fled from Saul in the cave.   Verses 1-4 and 6-10 of this Psalm contain cries for God to deliver David from his enemies interspersed with expressions of trust in God’s faithfulness. Both of these sections conclude with an expression of desire that God’s glory would be over all the earth. It seems to be as though as David thinks of his immediate need for deliverance his mind goes to a future time when such deliverance will no longer be necessary, and he expresses his desire for that day to come. The very same refrain is found in Psalm 108:5 as David prays that the Lord of all the earth would fulfill His covenant promises to him (vss. 6-9). I think the motivation for David’s desire for God’s glory to be over all the earth here is because he knows that when that occurs, David will no longer need to fear his adversaries.

In a similar vein, another Psalm expresses a desire for God’s glory to endure forever. “May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works.” (Psalm 104:31, ESV) This wish comes near the end of a Psalm which extolls the LORD for all of His works in nature. In this case the desire for God to be glorified is an end in itself. It is simply right that the One who controls all of the forces of nature and cares for all of the plants and animals should receive the credit that is His due.

The importance of God being glorified

The act of glorifying God was so important that it was a basis on which prayer was offered. “Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name’s sake!” (Psalm 79:9, ESV) In verses 1-7, the Psalmist laments the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of her enemies and pleads with God to for deliverance. Next in verse 8, he asks God to forget her former sins.  Then in verse 9, he calls out to the Lord as the “God of our salvation” and asks Him to deliver the nation for the glory of His name. In this case the glory of God itself is the goal. Asaph, whom the superscription names as the author, knows that God’s glorification is important to Him so he uses it as a motivation in his request.

Another indication of just how important it is to God that He receives the glory (the response of praise, adoration, worship, credit) He deserves can be seen from two passages in Isaiah. In Isaiah 48:3-5, the Lord reminded His people that He had prophesied various actions before they came to pass and then He fulfilled what He had promised so that His people would not give credit for those acts to idols but realize that the LORD had caused them. He did this because He knew that His people were obstinate. Then, in verses 6-8 the LORD says He is going to do the same kind of thing again. He is going to prophesy and then bring to pass what He has said would happen. Again the reason for His actions is that He knows how treacherous the nation is. In verses 9-11, the LORD explains that He has restrained His anger so that the nation has been refined but not destroyed. He has done this for His own sake so that His name would not be profaned. He refuses to allow another to have His glory. “For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.” (Isaiah 48:11, ESV) Obviously, God’s glory here is an end, but the remainder of the chapter is composed of God’s plea to His people to repent of their sin and return to Him which I believe is the ultimate goal of the passage.  Notice the following verses. ““Listen to me, O Jacob, and Israel, whom I called! I am he; I am the first, and I am the last.” (Isaiah 48:12, ESV) ““Assemble, all of you, and listen!” (Isaiah 48:14, ESV) “Oh that you had paid attention to my commandments! Then your peace would have been like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea;” (Isaiah 48:18, ESV) When God refuses to give His glory to another in this passage, the ultimate purpose is to call His people to return to Him.  It was for the benefit of His people.

Isaiah 42 provides another indication of the importance of glorifying God. In Isaiah 42: 5-7, the LORD, the Creator of all (vs. 5) prophesies what He is going to do with His Servant (the Messiah). Among other things, He is going to give Him as a covenant for the people and a light for the nations. Furthermore, He will enable Him to open eyes of the blind and set free captives. Then in verse 8, He says: “I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.” (Isaiah 42:8, ESV) In the next verse He says: “Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them.”” (Isaiah 42:9, ESV) The point is that giving this prophecy and fulfilling it will provide the evidence that He is indeed the LORD. Because that is true He will not share the glory/praise with lifeless images. With that in mind, in just 3 verses later, speaking through Isaiah the LORD calls to His people:  “Let them give glory to the Lord, and declare his praise in the coastlands.” (Isaiah 42:12, ESV) Here again, the main goal for God’s unwillingness to give His glory to another is His own glory but another purpose is to provide evidence to people that He alone is really God.

It is very important to realize that God’s determination not to share His glory is not only for His own benefit although it is that as well, for He is a jealous God who deserves to be honored alone as Lord. Still, another part of the reason must be the consequences that would flow to Israel of old and to us today if we substitute the worship of anyone or anything else in the place of the Lord. Both Biblical and secular histories are replete with examples of what happens when people give their devotion to people or things other than the Lord. In every case the result is sad to say the least. In the majority of the passages we have examined, however, the ultimate goal God had in mind was the benefit of His people.

[1] Cooper, L. E. (1994). Ezekiel (Vol. 17, p. 374). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[2] Smith, G. V. (2007). Isaiah 1–39. (E. R. Clendenen, Ed.) (p. 425). Nashville: B & H Publishing Group.

[3] Smith, G. (2009). Isaiah 40-66 (Vol. 15B, p. 602). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[4] Smith, G. (2009). Isaiah 40-66 (Vol. 15B, p. 96). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[5] Smith, G. (2009). Isaiah 40-66 (Vol. 15B, p. 581). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[6] Smith, G. (2009). Isaiah 40-66 (Vol. 15B, p. 613). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[7] Some may argue that this passage and the next should be classified as belonging to the category of eschatological prophecies of the manifestation of God’s glory rather than those dealing with His being glorified. I have decided to place this passage here because I think the focus of the contrast is between the disobedience (and consequent lack of giving God glory) of the wilderness generation with the obedience (and consequent glorification) to be rendered to God in the eschaton. I have decided to place the Psalm 72 passage here because of the parallelism between “blessed be his glorious name” and “may the whole earth be filled with his glory.” I take those phrases to be synonymous.

[8] Feinberg, Charles Lee. “Jeremiah” in Frank E. Gabelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, 1986, p. 464.

God's desire to fellowship with His people


Posted on



Robert M. Spicer


We really need to have a relationship with God.

As human beings, we need relationships with other people. Children and teens attempt to satisfy this need as they seek approval and acceptance from others in their peer groups. Adults look for satisfaction in their peers at work or in organizations or clubs or churches. We even look for some level of friendship with those we only have causal contact with, such as the mechanic who works on our vehicles, the dentist who cares for our teeth or the person who cuts our hair. We crave deeper relationships so we look for them from our family members or a few close friends. People who do not find those kinds of relationships suffer serious problems such as depression, introversion, loneliness and isolation.

Our need for relationships with other people was vividly brought to my attention by an experience I had while I was in high school. I sat in silence in my aunt’s living room as I listened to an elderly retired Methodist pastor tell me about the places he had been in recent weeks. He had been my aunt’s pastor years before, and had spent the past weeks traveling around the country visiting people he had pastored who lived across the nation. Now he was passing through the town in West Virginia where my mother and I lived with my aunt, and he was to have dinner with us. He told me of place after place in the western part of our country. They were places I had not seen and thought I would never see. As he neared the end of his travelogue I was in awe and said to him, “It must have been wonderful to see all those places!” “Yes,” he paused and then replied, “but it isn’t much fun to see things all alone.” You see, his wife had died a few years before our talk. I have come to appreciate the truth of that statement. God has made us to be social creatures.

As much as we need relationships with other people, we need a relationship with God even more, for He is our creator, and He has created us with that need with the intention to satisfy it. The advantages of a relationship with Him are many. He is available 24/7. There will never come a time when He is not available. Our relationship with Him is internal so that it is not affected by space. He is never far from us. He knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows us extensively and intensively. “O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. You scrutinize my path and my lying down, And are intimately acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word on my tongue, Behold, O Lord, You know it all. You have enclosed me behind and before, And laid Your hand upon me.” (Psalm 139:1–5, NASB95) [1] His commitment to His people can never waver. He is all powerful, all wise, and GOOD. Furthermore, He actually desires to have a relationship with us, to dwell with us. Of course God is omnipresent, so throughout this paper when I refer to God’s “desire to dwell with His people,” I mean that He wishes to have a permanent covenantal intimate relationship with them.

The purpose of this paper is to examine how the theme of God’s dwelling with His people is developed throughout the Bible, ending with the successful culmination of God’s plan as He dwells with His people in the New Heavens and Earth. As we trace the development of that theme throughout Scripture it should help us to see how perseveringly God pursues His people to draw them into a relationship with Himself. He really does love us!

The need for people to have an intimate relationship with God has been recognized by people throughout the ages. The author of Psalm 42 expresses it eloquently in the first two verses of that Psalm: “As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; When shall I come and appear before God? ” (Psalm 42:1–2) David’s longing in Psalm 63:1 is similar. “O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, In a dry and weary land where there is no water.” (Psalm 63:1) In his spiritual autobiography, Surprised By Joy, C. S. Lewis called this need “Sehnsucht,” a longing for what he later called “Joy.”[2] In Mere Christianity, he described the satisfaction of this longing by saying, “The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water.”[3] The Westminster divines acknowledged the primary importance of this need in the famous answer to the first question in the Shorter Catechism stating: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”[4]

We were created for fellowship, fellowship with Him. God has created us with that need and He has done so to show that only He can fill it. In his Confessions (p. 3), Augustine wrote, “You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”[5]   Blaise Pascal spelled out in more detail what we can learn from this longing. In Pensees #425, he wrote:


What is it, then, that this desire and this inability proclaim to us, but that there was once in man a true happiness of which there now remain to him only the mark and empty trace, which he in vain tries to fill from all his surroundings, seeking from things absent the help he does not obtain in things present? But these are all inadequate, because the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only by God Himself. He only is our true good, and since we have forsaken him, it is a strange thing that there is nothing in nature which has not been serviceable in taking His place; the stars, the heavens, earth, the elements, plants, cabbages, leeks, animals, insects, calves, serpents, fever, pestilence, war, famine, vices, adultery, incest. And since man has lost the true good, everything can appear equally good to him, even his own destruction, though so opposed to God, to reason, and to the whole course of nature.[6]


Because A. W. Tozer recognized this need and saw the only way it could be met, he penned, in The Pursuit of God , “God is so vastly wonderful, so utterly and completely delightful that He can, without anything other than Himself, meet and overflow the deepest demands of our total nature, mysterious and deep as that nature is.”[7]

God’s original design for his creation was to have a relationship with the people He had created, to dwell in their midst, manifesting His glory in an ever widening area until all of creation would be filled with the knowledge of His glory.[8] As such, people were designed to praise (Eph. 1:6) and glorify (Rev. 4:11) Him. If it was God’s original design to dwell with His people, what happened that severed this relationship? In the Garden of Eden the process of enjoying God was begun but then it was interrupted by the intrusion of sin into the picture. Beginning with Adam’s disobedience, sin separated mankind from God because He is absolutely holy (Isa. 59:2). Things continued to deteriorate through the days of Noah at which time “the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). The only noted exceptions to this sad trend are found in Gen. 4:26: “To Seth, to him also a son was born; and he called his name Enosh. Then men began to call upon the name of the Lord” and 5:24:“Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.” Still, God would not allow His plan to be frustrated so He took the initiative to begin corrective action. “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” (Genesis 6:8) Noah and his family were saved through the judgment of the Flood.

Even after the judgment of the Flood, the deterioration continued in Noah’s descendants, for people remained together instead of disbursing throughout the earth as God had instructed them to do. As a result, God confused their language at Babel, forcing them to disburse. Throughout the lives of Abram/Abraham (Gen. 12:1 ff.), Isaac (Gen. 17:18-21), and Jacob (Gen. 25:23; 28:13-15), God took the initiative to have a covenantal relationship with each of these men. Then, He would occasionally communicate with them, and in the case of Jacob’s son, Joseph, it was said that God or the Lord “was with” him (Gen. 39:2, 3, 21, 23). Noted instances of people who had that relationship are rare, and it is never said that He made “His dwelling” with any of these men or anyone else. Still, all of these examples are of God’s dealing briefly with individuals (and through them with their families), not with a large body of people. Valuable as it is for an individual to have a relationship with the Lord, that cannot be a substitute for having a relationship with other people who also have a relationship with God.  It is not until the events following the Exodus that we see God beginning to work at providing a remedy for this situation by making provisions necessary for Him to dwell with His people as a body.



Chapter 1:  God Made Clear His Intention to Dwell with His People.


When important changes are planned in a relationship, it is expected that one will state his intentions for those changes. If a lease is to be terminated, we give notice ahead of time. If a man wants to marry a woman, he will declare his love and his intentions and ask her to marry him. The more important the change, the greater is the need to announce the intentions before they are carried out. When God initiated His plan to dwell with Israel, He made His intentions clear. He did so: 1.) by explicitly stating His intention, 2.) by taking steps to initiate the covenant by which He would dwell with His people, 3.) by dramatically portraying the nation’s need for Him to dwell with them, 4.) by picturing His dwelling with them through the location of the Tabernacle in relation to the whole nation, and 5.) by His response to the completed Tabernacle. Every step in this process is a demonstration of God’s desire to dwell with His people because of His great love for them.


God declared His intention to have a close relationship with, or dwell with, His people.

In each one of the last four books of the Pentateuch God repeated His intention to dwell with His people in a way that would manifest His presence in a unique fashion. At the conclusion of the instructions about consecrating the priests, the Lord said in Exodus 29:45–46 “I will dwell among the sons of Israel and will be their God. 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.” The Tabernacle was to be the place where God would “dwell.” Exodus 25:8 “Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them.”

The same is true of Leviticus. After giving many detailed directions about the sacrificial system, in Lev. 26, in order to encourage the people to obey them, the Lord promises a number of blessings that will flow from obedience (vss. 3-4), including the following in 26:11-12: ‘Moreover, I will make My dwelling among you, and My soul will not reject you. ‘I will also walk among you and be your God, and you shall be My people.

This is also the case in the book of Numbers. After instructing the nation that lepers, people with discharges and all who were unclean because of contact with a dead person must be sent outside the camp, the reason He gives is (Num. 5:3b): “so that they will not defile their camp where I dwell in their midst.”  At the conclusion of the section dealing with the function of cities of refuge for the protection of people who had accidentally killed someone, the Lord reminds the nation that in cases of premeditated murder, the offender is to be executed. The reason given is (Numbers 35:34): “‘You shall not defile the land in which you live, in the midst of which I dwell; for I the Lord am dwelling in the midst of the sons of Israel.’ ”

Deuteronomy follows the same pattern. In the middle of a paragraph dealing with instructions regarding altars, the Lord says (Deuteronomy 12:5):“But you shall seek the Lord at the place which the Lord your God will choose from all your tribes, to establish His name there for His dwelling, and there you shall come.

The theme of God dwelling with His people in the Tabernacle/Temple which was begun in the Pentateuch, is continued in various places later in Scripture. Years after the conquest, when Solomon dedicated the Temple, God made a promise similar to the one He had made regarding the Tabernacle. 1 Kings 6:13  reads: “I will dwell among the sons of Israel, and will not forsake My people Israel.” Note that here the Lord calls Israel “My” people. Then, years after that, Ezekiel sees the glory of God leaving the Temple. As the nation goes into exile in Babylon, he utters an amazing prophecy. Ezekiel 37:26 reads: “I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will place them and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in their midst forever.” From the formation of Israel as a nation at the Exodus through the time of the Exile, God revealed His desire and intention to dwell in the midst of His people.


God prepared to initiate the covenant by which He would dwell with His people.

Having declared His intention to dwell with His people, what steps did the Lord take to implement that intention? He took the initiative by revealing the system of worship of the Tabernacle/Temple. The initiation of this system in which God would dwell with His people in the Tabernacle/Temple is recorded in Exodus 19-24. It began with the establishment of a covenant between the Lord and Israel. In 19:4-6, we read God’s offer to the nation: “‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. ‘Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.”” In that statement, although the words “dwell with” are not used, God was offering essentially to dwell with Israel, to live in fellowship with her.

In 20:1-17, God gave the Ten Commandments, and in 20:22-23:33, He gave what has been called “the Book of the Covenant” specifying what obedience to the Decalogue would look like in life. He did so by giving a series of cases, followed by the consequences that were to be carried out in each of those situations. In 24:3, when Moses verbally recounted the terms of the covenant, the people responded that they would obey them. Next, after putting those conditions in writing and offering sacrifices and sprinkling the “blood of the covenant” on the altar, Moses read the stipulations of the covenant to them, and the people agreed to obey them. Then, in verses 8-11, Moses sprinkled the people with the blood and he, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up onto the mountain and saw the Lord and ate and drank as a symbol of the confirmation of the covenant. The covenant was thereby initiated. In chapters 25-31, Exodus records instructions for the Tabernacle culminating in God giving Moses the two tablets of the testimony written by God Himself.


God taught the crucial importance of His intention to dwell with His people by teaching them their desperate need for that relationship through the experience of their sin with the golden calf.

Although God had inaugurated the covenant by which He would dwell with His people, they did not see the importance of these new arrangements, so He provided them with a lesson about the crucial importance of His dwelling with them. At the point when the Lord finished His instructions to Moses about the Tabernacle construction we read, in chapter 32, of the sin of the nation with the golden calf and God’s determination to destroy them. The interchange between Moses and the Lord in the wake of that sad event, recorded in Exodus 32:1-34:17, provides us with fascinating insight into the theology both of our need for God to dwell with us and of what is necessary for that to occur. In 32:7-10, the stage is set as we see how the holiness of God responds to sin in His people: “Then the Lord spoke to Moses, “Go down at once, for your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. “They have quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them. They have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it and have sacrificed to it and said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!’ ” The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. “Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation.””  Notice that, in verse 7, God refers to Israel as Moses’ people whom Moses brought up from Egypt. Furthermore, in verse 10, God threatens to destroy the whole nation and then make a new one from Moses. Because of their sin, God appeared to be in the process of disowning them in preparation for destroying them. He simply could not live in the presence of, or fellowship with, people who sinned.

Moses knew how important it was for God to dwell with His people, so he “entreated” the Lord in a way that sounds very much like he is trying to persuade God to change His mind. He is intensely aware of their need for God to be with them. He begins in 32:11, by reversing the pronouns God had used in verse 7: “Then Moses entreated the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does Your anger burn against Your people whom You have brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?”  Then, in verse 12 he urges the Lord to change His mind by arguing that if God were to destroy the nation, the Egyptians would accuse Him of being vicious. In verse 13, Moses continues his plea by reminding the Lord of His covenants with the Patriarchs. I believe that Moses’ motivation in changing the pronouns, in arguing with God and in reminding the Lord of the covenants was his overwhelming conviction that Israel needed God’s abiding presence in order to survive and reach the Promised Land. The result, in verse 14, was that God did “change His mind.”

In verses 15-29, after Moses saw what the people had done and then used the Levites to execute about 3,000 people, he called the people to consecrate themselves.” Then, in verse 30, Moses told the people that he would try to make atonement for their sin. He knew what was necessary for God to dwell with His people who had sinned. Moses clearly recognized the fact that God, being holy, could not dwell with sinful people, so something had to be done to atone for the sin of the nation if God were to dwell with them. Verse 32 tells us what that “making of atonement” involved in this case. Moses told the Lord: ““But now, if You will, forgive their sin—and if not, please blot me out from Your book which You have written!””  The Lord’s response to Moses is recorded in verses 33-34: “The Lord said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book. “But go now, lead the people where I told you. Behold, My angel shall go before you; nevertheless in the day when I punish, I will punish them for their sin.””

Notice that, as in 23:20-23, the Lord says His messenger will go before them rather than the Lord going Himself. That contrast between the Lord’s presence and the presence of His “messenger” is made explicit in 33:2-5: ““I will send an angel before you and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite. “Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; for I will not go up in your midst, because you are an obstinate people, and I might destroy you on the way.” When the people heard this sad word, they went into mourning, and none of them put on his ornaments. For the Lord had said to Moses, “Say to the sons of Israel, ‘You are an obstinate people; should I go up in your midst for one moment, I would destroy you. Now therefore, put off your ornaments from you, that I may know what I shall do with you.’ ”” This comes immediately after 33:1 where the Lord seems again to assert that Israel belongs to Moses rather than to the Lord: “Then the Lord spoke to Moses, “Depart, go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up from the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your descendants I will give it.’”

Still, Moses knows it is essential for God’s own presence to be with the nation. For that reason, Exodus goes on describing the interchange between Moses and the Lord in 33:12-14: “Then Moses said to the Lord, “See, You say to me, ‘Bring up this people!’ But You Yourself have not let me know whom You will send with me. Moreover, You have said, ‘I have known you by name, and you have also found favor in My sight.’ “Now therefore, I pray You, if I have found favor in Your sight, let me know Your ways that I may know You, so that I may find favor in Your sight. Consider too, that this nation is Your people.” And He said, “My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.” Moses responded, “If Your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here.” (33:15) At the conclusion of the interchange between the LORD and Moses, Moses yet again asks God to go in the midst of His people. Exodus 34:9 He said, “If now I have found favor in Your sight, O Lord, I pray, let the Lord go along in our midst, even though the people are so obstinate, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us as Your own possession.”

Finally, Moses says to the Lord, in verse 16: “For how then can it be known that I have found favor in Your sight, I and Your people? Is it not by Your going with us, so that we, I and Your people, may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth?””  Moses was intensely aware of the fact that the Lord’s abiding presence was absolutely necessary for the success of the nation. After the Lord appears to Moses, allowing him to see the “back” of the Lord while proclaiming His character to Moses, the covenant is renewed with a warning not to be involved in idolatry. From that point (34:18), running through most of Leviticus, the Lord resumes His instructions about the construction of the Tabernacle and the execution of the sacrificial system as a part of which He would manifest His presence in a special way, where He would “dwell” with them.


God taught the truth that He wished to dwell in the midst of His people through the location which He designated for the placement of the Tabernacle in relation to the location of the people.

When the Lord gave instructions about the placement of the Tabernacle in relation to the camp, He located it literally in the middle of the people, both when the nation was camped and when it was on the move. Numbers 2 spells this out. On the east side of the tent of meeting, the tribes of Judah, Issachar and Zebulon were to camp (Numbers 2:1-9). When on the move, those tribes were to go first (2:9). Then, on the south side of the tent, Reuben, Simeon and Gad were to camp (2:10-16). When on the move, those tribes were to go second (2:16). Between the camps of the twelve tribes and the Tabernacle itself, the Levites were to camp immediately around the tent of meeting and when on the move, they were to go with it (2:17) with two sets of three tribes ahead and two groups of three behind. Then, on the west side of the tent, the tribes of Ephraim, Manasseh and Benjamin were to camp (2:18-24). When on the move, those tribes were to go third (2:24). Finally, on the north side of the tent, the tribes of Dan, Asher and Naphtali were to camp (2:25-31). When on the move, they were to go fourth (2:31). So, whether camped or on the move, the Tabernacle, where God manifested His presence in a special way, was placed right in the middle of the people. What clearer way could there be to illustrate the truth that He was dwelling in their midst?

Still, even though God manifested His presence in the midst of his people, restrictions were placed upon His approachability. These restrictions were in place to protect the people with whom God dwelt from being destroyed. If they were to come too close to the place where God manifested His presence in an unworthy state, they would be killed.


There are circles of holiness surrounding the tabernacle. Outside the camp was the realm of the Gentiles and the unclean. There were no special qualifications required for those in this space. However, only those who were in covenant with God and were ritually clean were permitted to move into the camp. Only Levites, who were specially consecrated to the service of the Lord, were permitted to set up their tents in the vicinity of the tabernacle, and they surrounded the site. The Levites, in other words, served to buffer the tabernacle from the rest of the camp. Even most Levites were not permitted to minister close to the tabernacle, however. This service was restricted to one family of Levites, the descendants of Aaron. Furthermore, the most holy place of all, the inner sanctum of the tabernacle where the ark was kept, was the most restricted space of all. Only the current high priest could enter, and he only once a year—on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16).[9]


It is an interesting and related sidelight to observe that before the Tabernacle was built and used, there appears to have been a small tent in which God would meet with Moses. Ex. 33:7-11 gives us some background information about that tent and the way God met with Moses there. I find it especially interesting that the text (vs. 7) says that this tent was pitched “outside the camp, a good distance from the camp.” Could this have been because God could not “dwell” inside the camp because of the nation’s sin since the method for dealing with Israel’s sin (the Tabernacle and sacrificial system) had not yet been implemented?


God concluded His demonstration of His desire to dwell with the nation by His response to the completed Tabernacle and Temple.

When the Tabernacle was completed, the glory of God filled it, apparently showing His approval of the structure and His willingness to make the manifestation of his abode there. Ex. 40:33-38 reads as follows: “He erected the court all around the tabernacle and the altar, and hung up the veil for the gateway of the court. Thus Moses finished the work. Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Throughout all their journeys whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the sons of Israel would set out; but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day when it was taken up. For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel.” (Exodus 40:33–38)  It is as though God “moved into” His house to dwell with the nation.

The same thing happened when Solomon’s Temple was completed. After the priests installed the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies, 1 Kings 8:10-11 tells us: “It happened that when the priests came from the holy place, the cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.” (1 Kings 8:10–11) Again, the purpose seems to have been to manifest God’s approval of the building and His willingness to manifest His abode as being there. From declaring His intention to dwell with them, then through initiating the covenant, teaching the importance of His dwelling with them, placing His physical residence in their midst, and then visibly manifesting His presence in the Tabernacle and Temple, God made it abundantly clear that He wished to dwell with His people.  Now God had begun to dwell with His people. How would they respond to the awesome privilege and responsibility?



Chapter 2:  God Made the Necessary Arrangements for Him to Dwell with the Nation.


When human beings live together, it is important that they are compatible or at least that there is an agreement about how they will deal with any incompatibilities. Imagine what it would be like if one of them loved pets and the other was allergic to them. Suppose one of them habitually went to bed and awoke early while the other was a “night owl.” What if one of them enjoyed loud music and parties but the other needed a quiet life? Imagine a situation where one person was not bothered by clutter while the other was a “neat freak.” The more important the issue is, the greater is the need for agreement. This is especially evident in matters of morality, for then it is not merely a matter of taste or preference or even physical health but of right and wrong. What is the case on the human level is far more so if God is to dwell with human beings, which is precisely what God proposed to do with the nation of Israel. When God offered Israel the opportunity and privilege of His dwelling in their midst, He made very clear what how they would have to live if He were to do that. The problem of course was that God is holy and Israel sinned.

God had clearly declared His intention to dwell with Israel. He made clear the desperate need the nation had for Him to do so. He taught the truth of His willingness to dwell in their midst by the location of the Tabernacle’s placement within the camp. When the Tabernacle and the Temple were completed, He showed in a very powerful way His willingness to dwell there.

The next step was for the Lord to reveal the requirements that would be necessary for Him to continue to dwell with them. That was begun in Exodus chapters 25-31, which contain a detailed description of the furniture to be built for use in the Tabernacle and of the clothing, food, and implements to be used by the priests. The whole ceremonial system, including the design and furnishings of the Tabernacle, and the sacrifices, was given so that God, who is absolutely holy, might dwell with His people who were sinful.


The design and furnishings of the Tabernacle/Temple indicated the general requirements that would be necessary in order for people to approach the God dwelling in their midst.

When an Israelite entered the Tabernacle courtyard, the first item to be encountered was the bronze altar (Ex. 27:1-8). Surely that fact conveyed the message that without a sacrifice, there would be no access to God’s presence even if He dwelt in the midst of the nation. To emphasize the truth that access to God was always to be available, the fire on that altar was never to be allowed to go out.[10]

The second item to be encountered was the large laver (Ex. 30:17-21). It reminded people that in order to approach God, one needed to be clean. Undoubtedly physical cleanliness was intended to picture spiritual cleanliness.

The next item in a direct line from the great altar and the laver toward the Ark of the Covenant was the altar of incense (Ex. 30:1-10). (The lamp and bread table were on the sides.)  This altar, portraying the offering of prayer to God (one aspect of communion with Him), would be approached only after the matters of sacrifice and cleansing were cared for.

Beyond the inner veil stood the ark of the covenant (Ex. 25:10-22). No likeness of God should or could be made, but the ark was His footstool, indicating that He sat on His invisible throne above it. Among other passages, 1 Chron. 28:2 and 1 Sam. 4:4 make this especially clear. “Then King David rose to his feet and said, “Listen to me, my brethren and my people; I had intended to build a permanent home for the ark of the covenant of the Lord and for the footstool of our God. So I had made preparations to build it.” (1 Chronicles 28:2) “So the people sent to Shiloh, and from there they carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts who sits above the cherubim; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.” (1 Samuel 4:4)[11] (Emphasis mine.)


The laws concerning sacrifices implicitly taught that God wished to dwell in the midst of His people and fellowship with them. They also explicitly taught what would be necessary for God who is holy to dwell in the midst of sinful people.

As noted before, it is important to observe that in all of the instructions about the sacrifices God Himself took the initiative to tell Israel how He could be approached. He wanted His people to have fellowship with Him. In order for that to occur, however, certain requirements had to be met. Any time sinful people approached the Lord, who is holy, atonement had to be made for sin.[12] The very fact that God provided a way for people to approach Him indicated that He wished for them to commune with Him.


The Burnt offering. Lev. 1 & 6:8-13. It has been observed in a number of studies that the burnt offering symbolized complete consecration to God since the whole animal (except for the skin) was burned on the altar.[13]  I do not doubt that this truth was implicitly taught, but the text explicitly says (Lev. 1:4) that the purpose was atonement.[14]

Allen Ross suggests how these two purposes (consecration and atonement) fit together. Speaking of the burnt offering he says,


It signified that the worshipper had surrendered his or her life to God and that God had completely accepted the worshipper. In other words, any barrier that had existed was removed—there was full atonement. The sweet aroma of this offering would ascend to the heavens, signifying that God was accepting it and the worshipper with pleasure.… In the Old Testament, the word “atone” (kipper) was used primarily for the maintenance of a right relationship between the worshipper and God. It referred to the ritual by which all the barriers to access to God were removed and devout worshippers were free to commune with the holy LORD God.[15]


[It should be noted that the atonement provided by this sacrifice is of a more general nature than atonement provided in the purification or reparation offerings to be discussed below.[16]]

In this offering the worshipper acknowledged both his consecration to God and his desire to make atonement for his sin. Both of these goals existed because the worshipper wanted fellowship with God. How did God respond to the expression of this desire? The Lord took pleasure in the fellowship He would have with the one who had approached Him. God’s pleasure is expressed two ways in the text. The offering is called “a sweet aroma,” and it is said that the offering would “be accepted.” Regarding the former, Ross says,


The smell of the animal burning on the open flame in the courtyard must have given off a pleasing aroma. As the smoke ascended to heaven, the idea of the pleasing smell was transferred to God to express the effect of the offering. God did not simply accept the worshiper and the offering—it gave him pleasure.

The latter phrase makes it clear that God is not reticent to receive the offering as a basis for atonement. Rather, He is pleased to do so. [“The term rason [“accepted”] conveys the idea of divine pleasure and willing acceptance.”][17]


God’s desire to have fellowship with His people continued to be indicated by two other elements in the directions for this sacrifice. First, provision was made for even the poorest people to offer a burnt offering. Lev. 1:14 states that one might bring a turtledove or a young pigeon.[18]  Second, God wanted to make sure that the opportunity was always open for people to come to enjoy His fellowship, so a fire was to be always burning on the altar to indicate that one could come to offer this sacrifice at any time. [See Lev. 6:8 & 12-13.][19]


The Meal offering. Lev. 2 & 6:14-23. In order for people to fellowship with God in a way of which He would approve, it was necessary for them to understand the kind of relationship that existed between them and God. We see the same sort of thing today in fellowship between people. The nature of fellowship between two coworkers would not be the same as fellowship between one of those workers and the President of the United States. An Israelite in ancient days would not fellowship with a fellow Israelite the same way he would with God. In order for people to enjoy fellowship with God in a way that would acknowledge their respective positions, God gave His people the meal or grain offering.

“The grain offering was a gift to the Lord that honored him as the source of life and of the fertility of the land. It represented the dedication to God of the fruit of one’s labor. In the grain offering the worshiper offered the best of the kernels of wheat to indicate that he was offering the best to God, which signified the dedication of one’s life and work to God.”[20]

In order to make clear the fellowship element of this offering, the priest would take a small portion (which was God’s portion) and offer it on the altar, and the rest would be consumed by the priest who was God’s representative. As the priest ate the main portion as God’s representative, he was portraying the fact that God accepted and was pleased with the offering.[21]


The Peace offering. Lev. 3 & 7:11-21. This offering reenacts the experience and blessing of fellowship with God. “The main emphasis of the peace offering must be on celebrating all the benefits of being at peace with God; it indicates that all is well between the worshiper and God.”[22] It may be that the burning of the viscera was intended to symbolize sharing of the most intimate aspects of the human soul with the Lord. It pictured the willingness of the worshipper to be totally open and vulnerable to the God with whom he was at peace.[23]

Whereas in the burning of part of the sacrifice, the worshipper experienced a symbol of his willingness to be open in fellowship with God, as the worshipper ate part of the sacrifice, he was experiencing a symbol of God’s willingness to be open in fellowship with him.  “All of this ritual was one of the greatest expressions of communion with God. That the communal meal was received from the sacrifice is striking. In almost all other sacrifices it was the offerer giving to God; but here it is as if God was returning a portion of the sacrifice for the faithful to eat in his presence. This indicates the LORD’s gracious bounty to his people and the peaceful relationship that existed within the covenant.”[24]

This offering represents the goal of the entire sacrificial system. All of it was designed with the final purpose being to enable God’s people to have fellowship with Him.


“Because the peace offering is the culmination of sacrificial worship for Israel, because all the laws of atonement and purification in the Book of Leviticus lead to this point, one is not wrong in saying that the goal of the ritual (and the underlying theme of the teachings of Leviticus) is joy and gratitude in the presence of God…. Believers gather in his presence to celebrate with one another that this and all gifts are from him; and they do this by eating the communal meal together, a holy communion and not a common meal, and by sharing their faith and their bounty with one another in joy and generosity.[25]


In light of this fact, it is interesting that in the order in which Leviticus 1-5 presents instructions for the five offerings, directions for this one are in the middle of the five. Could its central position in the text be symbolic of its central position theologically? In any case, it was certainly an occasion for great joy.


The Purification (Sin) offering. Lev. 4:1-5:13 & 6:24-30. The name “purification offering” is more accurate than “sin offering” because it was to be offered after things like childbirth or the healing of a skin disease, which did not involve sin.[26] Sin was moral impurity. Certain physical conditions seem to have involved physical impurity in a way that is not entirely clear.

If God was going to dwell with His people, both they and the place around the Tabernacle had to be cleansed. The idea in the offering seems to be that if one who is impure (in either a physical or moral way) were to enter the sanctuary, he would be instantly killed because he was approaching God who is absolutely holy and who is “a consuming fire.”  If God’s dwelling place were allowed to become unclean, either He would leave (which He ultimately did) or the people would die.[27] Since God wished to dwell with His people, he made provision for people and things to be purified so that he could continue to dwell with them without destroying them.[28]   When the cleansing was accomplished, access to God was restored.[29] The fact that the priest ate some of the offering indicated that God (represented by the priest) accepted the offering so that the offerer was purified/forgiven.[30]

It is important to recognize that God forgave sins when His people confessed them. The sacrifices were symbols they were instructed to offer in order to finish the process.[31] Because the Lord wanted to fellowship with His people, He made it possible for all kinds of people to bring this kind of offering, whether they were rich or poor, leaders, clergy or regular citizens.[32]


The Reparation (trespass/guilt)  offering. Lev. 5:14-6:7 & 7:1-10. Another requirement for God’s people to live in fellowship with Him was that they must maintain a right relationship with one another. When one had done another wrong, the matter needed to be rectified and an appropriate sacrifice had to be offered. Toward that end, Allen Ross says, “The main point is that reparation is evidence of true repentance.”[33] With that in mind, Ross further says that the name of the offering ought to be “reparation” rather than “guilt” or “trespass” offering.[34] I am strongly inclined to believe that his understanding of the point of the offering is right. The interchange between Jesus and Zaccheus in the New Testament would seem to argue in favor of this understanding. After Jesus invited Himself to Zaccheus’ house, we read (Luke 19:8-10): “Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”” I take that to mean that Zaccheus was voluntarily going far beyond the Law’s requirement to repay what was taken wrongfully and to add 20% to it (Lev. 6:5). In response to Zaccheus’ statement, Jesus declared that salvation had come to his house that day. Apparently, Jesus had seen evidence of true repentance. Jesus made this same point clear in Matt.5:23-24. ““Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.”[35] As in the case of the purification offering, the priest ate part of the sacrifice as a symbol of the fact that God had accepted the sacrifice and granted forgiveness.[36]

These offerings made it possible for a holy God to dwell in the midst of a people who had sinned. Wenham has provided a helpful summary of the functions of the three sin-related offerings.


“The sacrificial system therefore presents different models or analogies to describe the effects of sin and the way of remedying them. The burnt offering uses a personal picture: of man the guilty sinner who deserves to die for his sin and of the animal dying in his place. God accepts the animal as a ransom for man. The sin offering uses a medical model: sin makes the world so dirty that God can no longer dwell there. The blood of the animal disinfects the sanctuary in order that God may continue to be present with his people. The reparation offering presents a commercial picture of sin. Sin is a debt which man incurs against God. The debt is paid through the offered animal.[37]

Chapter 3: Israel Ignored or Despised the Fact of God’s Dwelling Among Them


When people live/dwell together, how would we expect that they will relate to one another? To some degree, of course, that will depend upon the nature of the relationship. The minimum we would expect is that they would communicate with one another frequently and graciously. Normally, after people are married, they talk to each other. They may share hopes and dreams and also hurts and frustrations. As children grow up in a family the various members of that family normally talk to each other. The nature of the communication will of course depend upon things like the age of those communicating and the nature of their relationship to others, but there will be communication. Not only would we expect that the people involved would communicate with one another but it would certainly be best if they would also show profound love and respect for one another in their speech and behavior. The parents would care for the needs of their children. The children would show love and respect by being obedient to their parents. How did Israel respond when God began to live with them?

When God expressed His intention to dwell in the midst of the nation of Israel, He was offering to be their God and to take them as His people. As such, they were to have a unique relationship with Him that other nations did not have. With the completion of the Tabernacle and then the Temple, arrangements were in place for God to dwell with His people. How did they respond to this arrangement/position of privilege and responsibility? Did they express love and communicate with Him constantly? The answer is that some individuals enjoyed God’s presence but there is almost no connection mentioned between those individual experiences and the fact that God was dwelling with His people in a sanctuary.  Almost nothing is said in terms of a positive description of a general response of the nation to God’s dwelling with them. What little is said does not reflect well. At its best, it must be said that the nation as a whole seems to have simply ignored the fact that God had made His dwelling with them. At its worst, the nation treated the LORD with contempt and worshipped idols rather than the LORD.


Some individuals did enjoy God’s presence and blessing.

As was the case before the Mosaic code was given, so also during the years when God manifested His presence in the Tabernacle/Temple, God was said to “be with” certain individuals or groups, enabling them to perform special feats:


Ex. 3:12 The LORD was with Moses enabling him to lead Israel out of Egypt.

Judges 1:19 The LORD was with Judah so he took possession of the hill country.

Judges 1:22 The LORD was with the house of Joseph so they were victorious over Bethel.

Judges 2:18; 3:10; 6:34; 11:29; 13:25; 14:6 Over and over again through the book of Judges, when the people cried out to the LORD for deliverance when they were being oppressed by an enemy because of their sin, the LORD was with a judge when he was raised up, enabling the people to be delivered from that enemy.

1 Samuel 3:19 The LORD was with Samuel so He let none of his words fall to the ground.

1 Samuel 18:12, 14, 28 Saul was afraid of David because the LORD was with him. David had success in all his undertakings because the LORD was with him. When Saul saw and knew that the LORD was with David he was even more afraid.

2 Kings 18:7 The LORD was with Hezekiah so he prospered.

2 Chronicles 17:3-5 (c. 860 BC) The LORD was with Jehoshaphat so the LORD established the kingdom in his hand.


In addition to these passages which speak of God “being with” individuals enabling them to perform unusual feats, in a few instances, we read of godly kings of Judah who sought the LORD at least for a time. When Solomon dedicated the Temple, he offered a beautiful prayer of dedication (1 Kings 8:22-53). Other kings (Asa, Jehoshaphat, Joash, Uzziah, Hezekiah, and Josiah) also either instituted various reforms or demonstrated piety in some form. Still it does not appear that there was a general revival among the people or one in which they responded appropriately to God’s dwelling with them.

For those who responded to God’s love positively, fellowship with Him was indescribably precious. We see evidence of this especially in various Psalms.  Psalm 23, which is ascribed to David, expresses the writer’s confidence in the Lord even in the face of death because of His presence. Ps. 23:4 “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4) Even though death was so close to David that he was walking in its very “shadow,” he had peace because the Lord was with him. Fellowship with God was that real and precious to him although no mention is made of the Tabernacle. The mode of communion between David and God appears to have been like that enjoyed by individuals before the Tabernacle system was inaugurated, before God began to dwell with His people as a group.

An expression of deep longing for fellowship with God coming from one who was, at the time of writing, unable to worship in the central sanctuary may be seen in Psalm 42:1-2:  “As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; When shall I come and appear before God?” (Psalm 42:1–2) The writer thirsts for fellowship with God at the sanctuary with a desire like the ravenous thirst that would be felt by a deer that had been running in the heat of the wilderness. He utters his cry of desperate longing in the form of a question.

An instance of one who had previously experienced fellowship with the LORD in the central sanctuary but who was, at the time of writing unable to do so, may be seen in Psalm 63:1-8: “O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, In a dry and weary land where there is no water. Thus I have seen You in the sanctuary, To see Your power and Your glory. Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, My lips will praise You. So I will bless You as long as I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name. My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness, And my mouth offers praises with joyful lips. When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches, For You have been my help, And in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy. My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me.” (Psalm 63:1–8) This Psalm, attributed to David “when he was in the wilderness of Judah,” begins with a passionate expression of loyalty to God combined with a desire to enjoy fellowship with Him again as he had experienced it in days gone by. This is followed by a promise to praise the Lord because of His character. This section is closed with an expression of praise for loving fellowship that he has enjoyed even though it was not experienced in the sanctuary.

A similar sentiment is expressed by the writer of Psalm 84. “How lovely are Your dwelling places, O Lord of hosts! My soul longed and even yearned for the courts of the Lord; My heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God. The bird also has found a house, And the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, Even Your altars, O Lord of hosts, My King and my God. How blessed are those who dwell in Your house! They are ever praising You.” Regarding verses 1-4, Knight comments:


We have a picture in this psalm, then, of the families of Israel, father, mother and children, leaving their scattered villages, all wending their way up the hill to reach Jerusalem at the top. Their hearts are overflowing with joy. They are longing to reach the Temple precincts, the courts of the Lord. For there they will meet, not just with God, but with the living God. (1) It is only the living God who can create the cycle of nature out of the “deadness” of the great heat of summer. (2) It is only the living God who can create new life in the “deadness” of human hearts that have rebelled against his Covenant love.[38]


In verses 5-7, the writer is so taken up with praise to the LORD that even the memory of the road that had to be travelled in order to reach Jerusalem and the Temple where God dwelt, difficult though the travel was, brought joy to the heart.  How blessed is the man whose strength is in You, In whose heart are the highways to Zion! Passing through the valley of Baca they make it a spring; The early rain also covers it with blessings. They go from strength to strength, Every one of them appears before God in Zion.

Then, after a brief request that his prayer be heard, the Psalmist exults in the sheer joy he has in being in the Temple where he can experience the LORD’s presence. He exhausts words to describe the goodness of the LORD!


O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer; Give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah. Behold our shield, O God, And look upon the face of Your anointed. For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand outside. I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God Than dwell in the tents of wickedness. For the Lord God is a sun and shield; The Lord gives grace and glory; No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, How blessed is the man who trusts in You!” (Psalm 84:8-12)


Still another expression of love and worship may be found in Ps. 122:1-5, also ascribed to David. “I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” Our feet are standing Within your gates, O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that is built As a city that is compact together; To which the tribes go up, even the tribes of the Lord— An ordinance for Israel— To give thanks to the name of the Lord. For there thrones were set for judgment, The thrones of the house of David.” (Psalm 122:1–5)  Knight helps us get the “feel” of this text:


I was glad among those who said”, runs the Hebrew. …They had come to a common decision to make the aliyah. They had said to each other, Let us go to the house of the Lord. Now they have arrived. They look round them in excited astonishment: Our feet, they say, have actually been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem! What a memory they will have to take back home with them! What a privilege is theirs to carry all their sins and griefs to the place of sacrifice, the footstool of the Living God, Maker of heaven and earth. Their whole lives have now found meaning and purpose as they join in the festal processions that precede the sacrifice, and follow behind the priests and Levites as they shout and dance “before the Lord” on the way up to the altar of sacrifice.[39]


In these Psalms and many others the writers make it clear that they have had precious and intimate fellowship with the Lord, both at the sanctuary and away from it. These instances provide us with examples of the truth expressed in Isa. 57:15: “For thus says the high and exalted One Who lives forever, whose name is Holy, “I dwell on a high and holy place, And also with the contrite and lowly of spirit In order to revive the spirit of the lowly And to revive the heart of the contrite.” (Isaiah 57:15) God delights to dwell with those whose hearts are right with Him. When we examine the history of the nation as a whole, the situation is quite different from that expressed by and about individuals.


The nation’s response in the wilderness wandering years through the days of the Judges shows that the people as a whole turned to idols in spite of God’s presence being with them.

Idolatry was a problem from the very beginning. We saw, in the previous chapter, the account of the golden calf. Little else is said one way or the other, during the wilderness years, about the effect which God’s dwelling in the midst of the nation had on the people. After the conquest, when Joshua was about to die he admonished the nation, “Now, therefore, fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:14) When they asserted that they would serve the LORD, he basically repeated the same injunction. “Now therefore, put away the foreign gods which are in your midst, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” (Joshua 24:23) So, even during the wilderness years and during the conquest, the nation held on to gods which were kept “in their midst.” We should not miss the position of these idols! They were treating the idols with the same kind of intimacy they were supposed to have with the LORD. Still, of the period of the conquest it was written, “Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua and all the days of the elders who survived Joshua, and had known all the deeds of the Lord which He had done for Israel.” (Joshua 24:31) I take that to be a comparison between what then was and what would be during the days to follow.

Things changed radically during the period of the Judges, for then segments of Israel lapsed into blatant idolatry. This is evident from passages like Judges 2:13-14, 20-22. A bit later Samuel had to admonish the people, “If you return to the Lord with all your heart, remove the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your hearts to the Lord and serve Him alone; and He will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines.” So the sons of Israel removed the Baals and the Ashtaroth and served the Lord alone.” (1 Samuel 7:3–4) Near the end of Samuel’s life the nation demanded a king. The LORD’s response to Samuel is insightful. “The Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them. “Like all the deeds which they have done since the day that I brought them up from Egypt even to this day—in that they have forsaken Me and served other gods—so they are doing to you also.” (1 Samuel 8:7–8)


The nation’s response during the monarchy showed a continuing deterioration of her relationship with the Lord.

Little can be gleaned, except by way of implication, from the historical accounts in Samuel through Chronicles about the matter of God’s dwelling with His people during the days of the united and divided monarchy. The idolatry is clearly presented, but there is little explicitly stated about God’s dwelling with them. However, the writings of the prophets do reveal the quality of the spiritual condition of the nation during this time. As he introduces a message of coming judgment on the nation, Isaiah (late 8th century) states the reason for it in 29:13, “Because this people draw near with their words And honor Me with their lip service, But they remove their hearts far from Me, And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote,” (Isaiah 29:13) Their religious activity was an empty form. In Isaiah chapter 1 there is a more thorough description of the attitude of the nation toward the worship of the LORD who was dwelling among them. Addressing them as Sodom and Gomorrah, he says:


“Hear the word of the Lord, You rulers of Sodom; Give ear to the instruction of our God, You people of Gomorrah. “What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?” Says the Lord. “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams And the fat of fed cattle; And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats. “When you come to appear before Me, Who requires of you this trampling of My courts? “Bring your worthless offerings no longer, Incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies— I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly. “I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, They have become a burden to Me; I am weary of bearing them. “So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; Yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood.” (Isaiah 1:10–15, emphasis mine)


Clearly the message of this paragraph is that although the nation went through the ceremonies required by the Mosaic Law, their hearts were not in what they were doing. Their outward behavior acknowledged God’s presence, but their heart attitudes did not reflect an appreciation of the wonder of that privilege. It should not be glossed over that God refers to the nation as “Sodom” and “Gomorrah,” two cities that were proverbial for the depth of their sin. The people apparently did not skimp on the number of sacrifices (“multiplied”) that they brought. However, since God did not depend upon the sacrifices for His “food,” if those sacrifices did not come from hearts that had a right attitude toward Him, He had no interest in them at all. He took “no pleasure” in them. Even the manner in which the people came to the Temple showed their disrespect. In God’s mind there was a big difference between appearing before him at the temple and destructive “trampling” of his courts (1:12). “Trampling” does not simply refer to many people walking around in the temple; it describes an act of disrespect and the destruction of something (see 5:5). [40]  “Iniquity and the solemn assembly” refers to the fact that God could not endure religious rituals that accompanied sinful lifestyles.[41] Sacrifices do not make up for disobedience. In fact, when the sacrifices are offered by those who are living in disobedience, they are an offense, a mockery.

Various passages (2 Chron. 19:3; 20:33; 33:15; 34:33) record the presence of idolatry throughout the period of the monarchy. As if that were not bad enough, a contemporary of Jeremiah, Ezekiel (chapter 8), describes four scenes in the Temple complex, God’s “residence”, where blatant idolatry was being committed. First, there was an “image of jealousy” by the northern gate by the altar (vss. 5-6). Second, at some place within the Temple itself, there were engraved the representations of various animals before which 70 of the elders of the nation were worshipping (vss. 10-12). Third, by the north gate of the Temple complex there were women weeping as part of a pagan cult worship practice (vs. 14).  Finally, in the Temple court there were “about twenty-five men, with their backs to the temple of the LORD, and their faces toward the east, worshiping the sun” (vs. 16). It is especially significant for our purposes to observe two phrases in this whole description. First, in verse 4, we read that “the glory of the God of Israel was there, like the vision that I saw in the valley” (cf. chapter 1 and 3:22). Second, as the LORD described these idolatrous acts, He said that their purpose was “to drive me far from my sanctuary” (vs. 6b). The whole purpose of the Tabernacle/Temple existing was so that God might dwell with the nation. Here, the LORD says that the nation was trying to drive him out of His own dwelling. They did not want Him to dwell among them.


Finally, for a time, God accepted the nation’s desire that He not dwell with them.

As the Lord beheld the attitude of the nation over a period of approximately nine centuries and when He saw the gross idolatry described in this passage in Ezekiel, his conclusion was that the nation wanted “to drive me far from my sanctuary” (Ezek. 8:6 English Standard Version). How God responded would come as no surprise to those who recalled His warning in Exodus 33:2-5, quoted above:  ““I will send an angel before you and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite. “Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; for I will not go up in your midst, because you are an obstinate people, and I might destroy you on the way.” When the people heard this sad word, they went into mourning, and none of them put on his ornaments. For the Lord had said to Moses, “Say to the sons of Israel, ‘You are an obstinate people; should I go up in your midst for one moment, I would destroy you.’ ”” (Exodus 33:2–5, emphasis mine) Either God would have to leave or He would destroy the entire nation. As it was, during the Exodus period, many people were killed.

The Lord decided to leave, and yet the way in which He left still showed His love, for He was reticent to stop dwelling in the midst of His people. His leaving takes place in stages. First, “Then the glory of the Lord went up from the cherub to the threshold of the temple, and the temple was filled with the cloud and the court was filled with the brightness of the glory of the Lord.” (Ezekiel 10:4) Was this a last look of longing? Next we read, “Then the glory of the Lord departed from the threshold of the temple and stood over the cherubim. … and they stood still at the entrance of the east gate of the Lord’s house, and the glory of the God of Israel hovered over them.” (Ezekiel 10:18–19) The Lord had mounted His chariot in preparation for leaving. Next, the Lord’s chariot left the city and then hovered above the mountain to the east. “Then the cherubim lifted up their wings with the wheels beside them, and the glory of the God of Israel hovered over them. The glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city and stood over the mountain which is east of the city.” (Ezekiel 11:22–23) But that would not be the end of the story as well will see below.


The Nation’s Response after the Return from Exile

Even after the exile and return, the attitude of the nation does not appear to have improved. Speaking in reference to the altar of the Lord, Malachi writes, ““But you are profaning it, in that you say, ‘The table of the Lord is defiled, and as for its fruit, its food is to be despised.’ “You also say, ‘My, how tiresome it is!’ And you disdainfully sniff at it,” says the Lord of hosts, “and you bring what was taken by robbery and what is lame or sick; so you bring the offering! Should I receive that from your hand?” says the Lord.” (Malachi 1:12–13) The disrespect that had been demonstrated during the days of the monarchy continued after the exile.






Chapter 4: In spite of her attitude and behavior, God persevered in His desire to dwell with His people


Evidences of God’s love for Israel and His continuing desire to dwell with them during this time may be seen through the prophets in various places. One instance is in Ezek. 11:16 “Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “Though I had removed them far away among the nations and though I had scattered them among the countries, yet I was a sanctuary for them a little while in the countries where they had gone.” ’ (emphasis mine) Even in their captivity He was there with them. A powerful example of God’s continuing desire to dwell with His people in spite of their rejection of Him is that of Hosea, whose own behavior pictured God’s love for Israel. Hosea was told to marry an unfaithful woman like God had taken unfaithful Israel as His “wife.” In time Hosea’s wife, Gomer’s behavior drove her into slavery from which she was purchased by Hosea so that he might remarry her and that she might live with him in faithfulness. Eventually God will do a similar work for the nation of Israel. The LORD’s command to Hosea to love Gomer is insightful for our purposes. It reads, “Then the Lord said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by her husband, yet an adulteress, even as the Lord loves the sons of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love raisin cakes.”” (Hosea 3:1, emphasis mine) Hosea would again live with Gomer even as the LORD would again dwell with His people. That hope is further spelled out in prophecies of the Messianic Age.


His desire to dwell with His people was further demonstrated in the prophecies of a Messianic Age to come.

In chapter 43, we read the conclusion to the account we read earlier of the glory of the Lord leaving the Temple. “Then he led me to the gate, the gate facing toward the east; and behold, the glory of the God of Israel was coming from the way of the east. And His voice was like the sound of many waters; and the earth shone with His glory. And it was like the appearance of the vision which I saw, like the vision which I saw when He came to destroy the city. And the visions were like the vision which I saw by the river Chebar; and I fell on my face. And the glory of the Lord came into the house by the way of the gate facing toward the east. And the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court; and behold, the glory of the Lord filled the house.” (Ezekiel 43:1–5, emphasis mine)  This is a prophecy of the Lord returning to His dwelling place with His people and remaining there forever. His purpose would ultimately be fulfilled. The eternal character of God’s dwelling with them is reemphasized in 43:6-9: “Then I heard one speaking to me from the house, while a man was standing beside me. He said to me, “Son of man, this is the place of My throne and the place of the soles of My feet, where I will dwell among the sons of Israel forever.” (Ezekiel 43:6–7a, emphasis mine) Near the end of a beautiful section prophesying the coming of the “shoot from the stump of Jesse” (beginning at 11:1), Isaiah exhorts, “Cry aloud and shout for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, For great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 12:6)

About 100 years later, Zephaniah looked forward to the same time and wrote, ““The Lord has taken away His judgments against you, He has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; You will fear disaster no more. In that day it will be said to Jerusalem: “Do not be afraid, O Zion; Do not let your hands fall limp. “The Lord your God is in your midst, A victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.” (Zephaniah 3:15–17)

About 50 years after that, Ezekiel looks forward to a day of restoration and blessing.  ““Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “Though I had removed them far away among the nations and though I had scattered them among the countries, yet I was a sanctuary for them a little while in the countries where they had gone.” ’ “Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “I will gather you from the peoples and assemble you out of the countries among which you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.” ’ “When they come there, they will remove all its detestable things and all its abominations from it. “And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God.” (Ezekiel 11:16–20, emphasis mine) The day will yet come, Ezekiel said, when the nation will turn to God with a whole heart, and they will live in fellowship with Him. In another passage, Ezekiel looks forward to a day when “My servant David will be king over them,” (37:24), and he says, ““My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd; and they will walk in My ordinances and keep My statutes and observe them. “They will live on the land that I gave to Jacob My servant, in which your fathers lived; and they will live on it, they, and their sons and their sons’ sons, forever; and David My servant will be their prince forever. “I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will place them and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in their midst forever. “My dwelling place also will be with them; and I will be their God, and they will be My people. “And the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forever.” ’ ”” (Ezekiel 37:24–28)

Then, in the passage we saw earlier, where Ezekiel sees the Glory of God returning to the Temple, He says, referring to a message from the Lord,  ““He said to me, “Son of man, this is the place of My throne and the place of the soles of My feet, where I will dwell among the sons of Israel forever. And the house of Israel will not again defile My holy name, neither they nor their kings, by their harlotry and by the corpses of their kings when they die, by setting their threshold by My threshold and their door post beside My door post, with only the wall between Me and them. And they have defiled My holy name by their abominations which they have committed. So I have consumed them in My anger. “Now let them put away their harlotry and the corpses of their kings far from Me; and I will dwell among them forever.” (Ezekiel 43:7–9)

After the return from exile, Zechariah looks forward to the Messianic age and says, ““‘For I,’ declares the Lord, ‘will be a wall of fire around her, and I will be the glory in her midst.’ ”” (Zechariah 2:5) He continues in the same vein a few verses later with, “““Sing for joy and be glad, O daughter of Zion; for behold I am coming and I will dwell in your midst,” declares the Lord. “Many nations will join themselves to the Lord in that day and will become My people. Then I will dwell in your midst, and you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent Me to you.” (Zechariah 2:10–11) Once more in his vision of the future he writes, “““Thus says the Lord, ‘I will return to Zion and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. Then Jerusalem will be called the City of Truth, and the mountain of the Lord of hosts will be called the Holy Mountain.’” (Zechariah 8:3)

At some point in the days of the prophets, Joel (whose date is uncertain) added these words, “““Thus you will know that I am in the midst of Israel, And that I am the Lord your God, And there is no other; And My people will never be put to shame.” (Joel 2:27) “Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, Dwelling in Zion, My holy mountain. So Jerusalem will be holy, And strangers will pass through it no more.” (Joel 3:17) “And I will avenge their blood which I have not avenged, For the Lord dwells in Zion.” (Joel 3:21)

In the meantime, until the fulfillment of these Messianic prophecies, since the nation as a whole had not responded well to God’s dwelling in their midst, what did God do? We will look at the answer to that question in the next chapter.



Chapter 5: God Began to Dwell Among His People in a different way


Although the LORD accepted, for a time, Israel’s desire that He no longer dwell with the nation, His purpose to have a people in the midst of whom He would dwell was still in force. So, what did He do next? Both the life and ministry of Jesus and the present ministry of the Holy Spirit help to answer that question. To understand the life and ministry of Jesus accurately, however, we need to read not only the Gospel records but also how the Apostles interpreted Jesus’ life and ministry in the Epistles as they looked back upon it under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.


Jesus began to dwell with the Disciples

As with Israel of old, God again began to be with His people, but this time it was in the person of Jesus Christ. Near the beginning of His ministry the Lord asserts His desire to be with His disciples. In Mark 3:14 we read, “And He appointed twelve, so that they would be with Him and that He could send them out to preach.” In the Gospels, many times Jesus is portrayed as being with His disciples. In several passages in Luke it is noted, sometimes in passing, that the disciples were with Jesus. “Soon afterwards He went to a city called Nain; and His disciples were going along with Him, accompanied by a large crowd.” (Luke 7:11)  “Soon afterwards, He began going around from one city and village to another, proclaiming and preaching the kingdom of God. The twelve were with Him,” (Luke 8:1) “When the apostles returned, they gave an account to Him of all that they had done. Taking them with Him, He withdrew by Himself to a city called Bethsaida.” (Luke 9:10) “And it happened that while He was praying alone, the disciples were with Him, and He questioned them, saying, “Who do the people say that I am?”” (Luke 9:18) “When the hour had come, He reclined at the table, and the apostles with Him.” (Luke 22:14, emphasis mine)

Several times in the Gospel of John, Jesus alludes to the fact that He was, or had been, with the disciples.  “Therefore Jesus said, “For a little while longer I am with you, then I go to Him who sent Me.” (John 7:33)  ““Little children, I am with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’” (John 13:33) “Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:9) ““These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you.” (John 14:25)  ““But these things I have spoken to you, so that when their hour comes, you may remember that I told you of them. These things I did not say to you at the beginning, because I was with you.” (John 16:4)

Jesus’ presence with His people may also be seen in the Epistles of John. In his first Epistle, as John looks back at the time he spent with Jesus, the words he uses give eloquent expression to the value he placed on being with Jesus: “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life— and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us— what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1:1–3)

Another method for teaching the presence of Jesus with His people may be seen in the connection between the New Testament people of God and the Old Testament Tabernacle/Temple. In the years following the ascension, as the Holy Spirit taught the disciples more and more about what they had experienced during the life of Jesus, they reflected upon their experiences in the light of Scripture and saw connections between the Tabernacle/Temple and what they had experienced during the time they were with Jesus which apparently they had not seen before. Decades after the conclusion of Jesus’ earthly ministry, John looked back upon the days when God became man in the person of Christ, and he wrote, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt [or tabernacled] among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) It could not have been missed by any original readers of this text who knew the book of Exodus that there was an obviously intended connection between Jesus’ dwelling [or tabernacling] among His people and their beholding His glory with corresponding statements about the LORD dwelling with ancient Israel and their beholding His glory in Exodus 40:33-38 and 1 Kings 8:10-11. That connection between the work of Christ and the Tabernacle/Temple worship was also seen by the writer of Hebrews. He notes that the flesh of Christ was the corresponding reality of the temple curtain (Heb. 10:20), which when torn apart represented Christ’s body being broken to provide access to God (9:8). Furthermore, when Paul says that God sent his Son to be a “propitiation” through his blood (Rom. 3:25); he was referring to the “place of propitiation” (usually translated “mercy seat”) in the Holy of Holies.[42]

But, again the spokesmen for the nation as a whole rejected Him as they had in Ezekiel’s day. How would God respond to this?

““Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard and put a wall around it and dug a wine press in it, and built a tower, and rented it out to vine-growers and went on a journey. “When the harvest time approached, he sent his slaves to the vine-growers to receive his produce. “The vine-growers took his slaves and beat one, and killed another, and stoned a third. “Again he sent another group of slaves larger than the first; and they did the same thing to them. “But afterward he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ “But when the vine-growers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ “They took him, and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. “Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers?” They said to Him, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons.” Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures, ‘The stone which the builders rejected, This became the chief corner stone; This came about from the Lord, And it is marvelous in our eyes’? “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it.” (Matthew 21:33–43) What Jesus here predicted was fulfilled in the New Testament church in which He would dwell.


Jesus still dwells with His people

In the upper room discourse, the evening He would be betrayed, Jesus alluded to the facts that the Holy Spirit would abide with his followers and that He, Himself, would dwell with His people. In Jn. 14:17-18 He said, speaking of the Holy Spirit, “that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:17–18)  A few verses later in the same passage we read, “Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.” (John 14:23, emphasis mine) A bit later He continues in the same vein:


Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” (John 15:4–10 Emphasis mine)


The “abiding” terminology which John used in his Gospel carries over into his First Epistle. He tells his readers that just as they have the anointing from God, they abide in Him (2:27). Whether this is a command or a statement of fact is debated since the form for both is the same.[43] However, there is little doubt that the next verse has a command to abide in Him. “Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming.” (1 John 2:28)

There are qualifications one must fulfill for this abiding to be. In His “Bread of Life” discourse, Jesus stated what is necessary for one to abide in Him and have Him abide in that person: ““He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.” (John 6:56) I take this to refer symbolically to partaking by faith in Christ. In his First Epistle, John further elaborates on the qualifications required if one is to abide in Him who is the Light. The first is to love the brothers: “The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him.” (1 John 2:10) Another qualification is confessing that Jesus is the Son of God. “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.” (1 John 4:15) Still another is abiding in love. “We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” (1 John 4:16) John also highlights the responsibilities of one who abides in Him. He is to walk as Jesus walked. “The one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.” (1 John 2:6)


The Holy Spirit dwells with His people

John further provides evidences for his readers by which they can tell if they are abiding in Him. The first two are that the one who abides in Him will keep His commandments and he will possess the Spirit who indwells him. “The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.” (1 John 3:24) The latter is confirmed in the next chapter of the epistle. “By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.” (1 John 4:13) A final piece of evidence is that the one in whom God abides loves other believers. “No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.” (1 John 4:12)

The Apostle Paul spells out in more detail the doctrine of God abiding with His people. In the present age, Paul calls believers a temple. In 1 Cor. 3:16, he writes, “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”  Then, again in 6:19, he uses the same metaphor, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” When he exhorts the Corinthians to have nothing to do with idolatry, he uses language reminiscent of the Tabernacle/Temple period. In 2 Corinthians 6:16, we read: “Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.’” The latter quotation is a conflation of Ex. 29:45 and Lev. 26:12. In Romans 8, in a small section in which Paul contrasts those who are “in the flesh” with those who are “in the Spirit,” he refers twice to the Spirit of God dwelling in believers (8:9 & 11).

In Ephesians, Paul uses the phrase “in Christ” 13 times, “in Him” 8 times, and “in whom” (referring to Christ) 3 times. The whole epistle is saturated with truth related to the believer’s union with Christ. Furthermore, ties to Old Testament passages relating to God’s dwelling with His people become explicit in this letter. “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19–22)

Throughout this entire age God has dwelt with His people. We can see in this the beginning of the fulfillment of His plan to dwell with His people. He resides within each one of us. The words of many of the Psalms convey so beautifully the joys not only of the Psalmist but our response as well when we consider our individual relationships with the Lord. He abides with us. He dwells with us. He has never left or forsaken us.

The knowledge that He is with us has brought untold blessing and comfort and conviction and encouragement to the people of God down through the centuries. Even at that, there are times when, because of our sin, we are out of fellowship with this One who dwells within us. Furthermore, two aspects are missing from God’s original plan to dwell with His people as a group that would fill the earth. First, the people with whom He dwells are individuals. It is certainly true that the individuals make up a group, the Church, God’s New Covenant people. It is also true that groups of these individuals make up local churches. Still, they are not geographically united as Adam’s progeny could have been or as Israel of old was. Second, we make up a very small percentage of the population of the world. How will God’s original purpose that His people, with whom He dwells, make up the entire population of the world, be accomplished? The last chapter addresses that question.



Chapter 6: God Will Dwell Among His People Forever


When will God finally and eternally dwell with His people in uninterrupted fellowship? In His great High Priestly prayer Jesus expresses His desire for this very condition. ““Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24) Paul tells us, in 2 Cor. 5:8, that this desire will be satisfied as he reveals his own attitude toward living or dying: “We are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.” In 1 Thessalonians 4:17, as Paul describes the return of the Lord he says, “Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.” That will be the final and eternal experience of all of God’s people in the New Heavens and Earth.

The picture of God dwelling with His people, which is drawn in Revelation 21-22, presents the culmination of the plan God began to develop back in the Garden of Eden and continued to develop throughout the rest of Biblical history. “God dwelt with human beings in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:7, 16; 3:8), in the tabernacle (Ex. 25:8; 40:34), in the temple (1 Kings 8), and above all in Christ (John 1:14; 2:19-21). Christ sends forth the Spirit in order that the church (1 Cor. 3:16) and its members (1 Cor. 6:19) may be dwellings of God. The New Jerusalem is the consummation of all these.”[44] In order to more fully appreciate how it is true that the picture in Revelation 21-22 is the culmination of God’s plan to dwell with his people, it might be helpful to trace some threads that run through biblical history beginning in the Garden of Eden and ending in Revelation.

One thread has to do with the fact that God cannot bear to dwell in the presence of sin for He is holy. The holiness of God was violated and began to be protected in Eden. It was more clearly protected in the Tabernacle/Temple and secured eternally in the New Heavens and earth. Gen. 2:8 tells us: “The Lord God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed.” (Genesis 2:8) It was in that garden that God manifested His presence, walking and talking with Adam and Eve (3:8). Then, after the Fall, speaking of Adam (and Eve), Gen. 3:23 tells us: “therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken.” (Genesis 3:23) That which was sinful could not dwell in God’s presence. Because they had sinned, Adam and Eve were ejected from the Garden and prohibited from reentering it. As we saw in chapter two, the design for the Tabernacle/Temple and the sacrificial system gave a pictorial representation of the necessity to protect sinful people against the holiness of God and vice-versa. “In this respect, it is significant to remember that in the Old Testament any uncleanness was to be kept out of the temple precincts. (e.g., 2 Chr. 23:19; 29:16; 30:1-20).”[45] That same truth was further supported by NT passages, such as those in Corinthians, noted above, that teach the importance of Christians living holy lives in light of the fact that they are the Temple/dwelling of God. In the description of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21:27 and 22:15 we see the culmination of this thread. It reads: “and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (Revelation 21:27) “Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying.” (Revelation 22:15)

More threads can be seen woven through some of the fabric of those two chapters of Revelation. For example, one thread is that we can see a correspondence between the design of the end time Jerusalem and the Holy of Holies in Solomon’s Temple. In the description of the dimensions of the holy city Jerusalem we read: ““The city is laid out as a square, and its length is as great as the width; and he measured the city with the rod, fifteen hundred miles; its length and width and height are equal.” (Revelation 21:16) In other words, it is a cube. Someone familiar with the description of Solomon’s temple would remember that the Holy of Holies in that building was also a cube. “The inner sanctuary was twenty cubits in length, twenty cubits in width, and twenty cubits in height, and he overlaid it with pure gold. He also overlaid the altar with cedar.” (1 Kings 6:20)

This similarity in design should come as no surprise when we recall that on several occasions Moses was told to construct the Tabernacle according to the pattern he was shown by the Lord on Mt. Sinai.[46] I would expect that such a plan would be like Eden and the final eschatological Temple because all three were intended to portray God’s dwelling with His people. Consider the following references cited by Beale.[47] ““According to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furniture, just so you shall construct it.” (Exodus 25:9)  ““See that you make them after the pattern for them, which was shown to you on the mountain.” (Exodus 25:40)  ““Then you shall erect the tabernacle according to its plan which you have been shown in the mountain.” (Exodus 26:30)  ““You shall make it hollow with planks; as it was shown to you in the mountain, so they shall make it.” (Exodus 27:8)  “Now this was the workmanship of the lampstand, hammered work of gold; from its base to its flowers it was hammered work; according to the pattern which the Lord had shown Moses, so he made the lampstand.” (Numbers 8:4) Still other references include the following: ““Our fathers had the tabernacle of testimony in the wilderness, just as He who spoke to Moses directed him to make it according to the pattern which he had seen.” (Acts 7:44) “…who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, “See,” He says, “that you make all things according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain.”” (Hebrews 8:5) The Tabernacle Moses was to build is called a “copy” as opposed to the one that is called the “true” one. “Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be cleansed with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us;” (Hebrews 9:23–24) Apparently the author of Hebrews sees the “true holy place” as the New Jerusalem that came down out of heaven from God.

Another thread is composed of an interesting connection made by both a similarity and a contrast between the Tabernacle/Temple and the end time Jerusalem. Regarding the latter John says, “I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb.” (Revelation 21:22–23) Throughout most of the Old Testament period and into the Gospels God manifested his presence as residing in a temple. Here there is no temple as such (for, as will be discussed below, all evil will be expelled from the city) but the Almighty and the Lamb are the temple. Furthermore, there will be no need of a candlestick in this temple as there had been in the Tabernacle and Temple because the Lamb will be the lamp. The only source of light in the Holy Place was the candlestick lamp. The only source of light in the New Jerusalem will be the glory of God.

The final thread that we will observe has to do with the theme of this paper, the presence of God with his people. Apparently, in the Garden of Eden God appeared and walked with Adam and Eve. “They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” (Genesis 3:8) In the next verses God talks with them about their behavior and pronounces judgment upon them. In the years following the expulsion from the Garden, as we saw in previous chapters, God was with his people. He spoke to them either directly or through prophets. In the New Testament Jesus spent time with his disciples. Currently the Holy Spirit resides in his people. Regarding the New Jerusalem, in Revelation 21:3 we read “And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them,” (Revelation 21:3) No one familiar with the Pentateuch could miss the allusion to the Tabernacle. Furthermore, the lemma form of the verb translated “dwell” is the same as that of the noun “tabernacle,” further strengthening the connection. Furthermore, we read: “There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 22:3–5) For our purposes, three things stand out in this text. First, since God’s throne is there, he must be there dwelling with his people too. Second, they see his face. That is especially significant in light of what God told Moses when he asked God to show him his glory. God said he would put Moses in a cleft of the rock and pass by him. Moses could then see God’s back but not his face. “But He said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!”” (Exodus 33:20)  ““Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen.”” (Exodus 33:23) In the New Jerusalem, God’s people will be able to see his face. Third, this situation is eternal; it will be “forever and ever.” God’s plan to dwell with his people in uninterrupted fellowship eternally will be realized.

We began this paper by observing the great importance it is for God to dwell among his people. It is important to God because of his great love for his human creatures. It is important for us because he has created us for communion with Himself so that our most profound needs can be satisfied only in him. So often even we as Christians fail to grasp the truthfulness of this in our souls. Even we who are believers look here and there to find that which will bring us satisfaction, peace, joy or fulfillment when only our God can provide these things. One day we will know that truth experientially as well as theoretically. What a great day that will be! Until that day we would do well to offer a prayer of commitment like that of Alexander McClaren, quoted by Ruth Myers in The Satisfied Heart:


O God my strength, if I fix my happiness on anything less stable than the heavens, less sufficient than You, sooner or later I will lose it. If my life entwines around any earthly prop, some time or other my prop will be plucked up, my poor vine will be torn, and its sap will bleed out of it. Therefore I choose to entwine the tendrils of my life around You.[48]




Augustine, Saint. Confessions. Tr. Henry Chadwick. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Beale, G. K. The Temple and the Church’s Mission, Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2004.

Dillard, Raymond B. and Longman III, Tremper. An Introduction to the Old Testament, Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994.

Grogan, Geoffrey W. “Isaiah” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 6. Grand Rapids: The Zondervan Corporation, 1986.

Knight, G. A. F. (2001). Psalms, Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.

Konkel, August H. The NIV Application Commentary: 1 & 2 Kings. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006.

Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity. New York: The Macmillan Co., 1952.

Lewis, C. S. Surprised By Joy. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1984.

Myers, Ruth. The Satisfied Heart. Colorado Springs: The Waterbrook Press.1999.

Pascal, Blaise. The Pensees. Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

Poythress, Vern S. The Returning King, Phillipsburg: P & R Publishing, 2000.

Rooker, M. F. (2000). Vol. 3A: Leviticus. The New American Commentary (99). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Ross, Allen P. Holiness to the LORD, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002.

Ross, Allen P.  Recalling the Hope of Glory, Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2006.

Schnittjer, Gary Edward. The Torah Story, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006.

Smith, G. V. (2007). Isaiah 1–39 (E. R. Clendenen, Ed.).The New American Commentary. Nashville: B & H Publishing Group.

The Shorter Catechism With Scripture Proofs. Carlisle:The Banner of Truth Trust.

Tozer, A. W. The Pursuit of God, Harrisburg: Christian Publications, Inc., ND.

Wenham, G. J. The Book of Leviticus, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979.

Young, Edward J. The Book of Isaiah, Vol.1, Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1965.

[1] All Scripture references are from the New American Standard Bible 1995 Edition unless otherwise noted.

[2] Lewis, C. S. Surprised By Joy. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1984, p. 7.

[3] Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity. New York: The Macmillan Co., 1952, pp. 37-38, emphasis mine.

[4] The Shorter Catechism With Scripture Proofs. Carlisle: The Banner of Truth Trust, p. 1.

[5] Augustine, Saint. Confessions. Tr. Henry Chadwick. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991, p. 3.

[6] Pascal, Blaise. The Pensees. Christian Classics Ethereal Library, emphasis mine.

[7] Tozer, A. W. The Pursuit of God, Harrisburg: Christian Publications, Inc., ND, p. 42.

[8] Beale, G. K. The Temple and the Church’s Mission, Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2004 develops this theme exhaustively.

[9] Dillard, Raymond B. and Longman III, Tremper. An Introduction to the Old Testament, Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994, p. 70.

[10] Ross, Allen P. Recalling the Hope of Glory, Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2006, p. 193-4.

[11] Ibid. pp. 195-6.

[12] Ross, Allen P. Holiness to the LORD, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002, p. 86.

[13] Ibid., p. 94.

[14] Ibid., p.86.

[15] Ross, Recalling, pp. 201-2.

[16] Wenham, G. J. The Book of Leviticus, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979, pp. 57-8.

[17] Ross, Holiness, pp. 94-5 & 89.

[18] Ibid., p. 89.

[19] Ibid., p. 158.

[20] Rooker, M. F. (2000). Vol. 3A: Leviticus. The New American Commentary (99). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, p. 99.

[21] Ross, Holiness, p. 164.

[22] Ibid. p. 111.

[23] Ibid., pp. 118-9.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid., pp. 120-1.

[26] Ibid., p. 124.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Wenham, op.cit., pp. 94-6.

[29] Ross, Holiness, pp. 133-4.

[30] Ibid., pp. 169 & 171.

[31] Ross, Recalling, p. 199.

[32] Ross, Holiness, p. 140.

[33] Ibid., p. 147.

[34] Ibid., p. 149.

[35] See further Wenham p. 111.

[36] Ross, Holiness, 175-6.

[37] Wenham, op.cit., p. 111.

[38] Knight, G. A. F. (2001). Psalms, Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, Vol 2, p. 62.

[39] Ibid., p. 267.

[40] Smith, G. V. (2007). Isaiah 1–39 (E. R. Clendenen, Ed.). The New American Commentary (107). Nashville: B & H Publishing Group. In a footnote: “רָמַס, “to trample,” is almost always (the exception is Nah 3:14) used in a negative sense of destroying (Isa 16:4; 26:6; 28:3; 63:3). Other roots meaning “tread” also refer to destruction (5:5; 28:18; 51:23).”

[41] Grogan, Geoffrey W. “Isaiah” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 6. Grand Rapids: The Zondervan Corporation, 1986, p.30 and Young, Edward J. The Book of Isaiah, Vol.1, Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1965, p.66.

[42] Ross, Recalling, p. 190.

[43] The NET Bible has the following translator’s note: The verb may be read as either (1) indicative or (2) imperative mood. The same verb is found in the following verse, 2:28, but the address to the readers there seems clearly to indicate an imperative. On analogy some have called for an imperative here, but others have seen this as suggesting an indicative here, so that the author is not repeating himself. An indicative is slightly more likely here. Up to this point the thrust of the author has been reassurance rather than exhortation, and an indicative here (“… you reside in him”) balances the indicative in the first part of 2:27 (“the anointing which you received from him resides in you …”). With the following verse the author switches from reassurance (the readers at the time he is writing still ‘remain’; they have not yet adopted the teaching of the opponents) to exhortation (he is writing so that they will ‘remain’ and not succumb to the deception of the opponents).[43]

[44] Poythress, Vern S. The Returning King, Phillipsburg: P & R Publishing, 2000, p. 186.

[45] Beale, G. K. The Temple and the Church’s Mission, Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2004, p. 24.

[46] Ibid., p. 66.

[47] Ibid., p. 32.

[48] Myers, Ruth. The Satisfied Heart. Colorado Springs: The Waterbrook Press.1999, p. 180.