I read book of Exodus over the past few days. Reflecting today on God’s presence as revealed in the Exodus story.
“The book of Exodus is above all else in the Old Testament the book of the Presence of the Lord. This is the thesis and the theme.… Indeed this may truly be described as no other than the theme of Israel itself.”G. Henton Davies
In the beginning of the Exodus story we read that God heard His people groaning under the slavery of the Egyptians. We don’t know why God allowed their slavery, why He waited, but in His sovereignty, He chooses to act on their behalf.
Moses, an Israelite that was raised in Pharaoh’s home and who never experienced slavery, has fled Egypt because he killed an Egyptian slave master. It’s been several years, and he’s tending sheep for his father-in-law. All is quiet on the hillside until God appears.
There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up.Exodus 3:2-6
So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—
why the bush does not burn up.”
When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look,
God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
And Moses said, “Here I am.”
“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.”
At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
Moses’ meeting with God was different than the ones we saw in Genesis. He saw a bush burning; the fire did not consume it. He was invited to come only so far, and to remove his sandals.
In contrast to the encounters in Genesis, suddenly now the presence of God is regularly accompanied by fire (and often smoke, a cloud, and/or lightning). Likewise, the presence of God in Exodus now normally includes a projection of holy space that is dangerous for people to violate. These themes usually were absent in the encounters of God’s presence experienced by the patriarchs but fire, smoke, and holiness will continue to be part of God’s presence throughout Exodus.J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays. (2019). God’s Relational Presence:
The Cohesive Center of Biblical Theology
In fact God says in Ex 6:2-3, ““I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the Lord I did not make myself fully known to them.” God was with the patriarchs but they did not experience the same intensity illustrated in the book of Exodus and beyond. They did not experience the fire, smoke, and lightening, nor the holy separation like the protective veil, having to remove their shoes, or having to stay a certain distance. God is developing his relationship with His people, preparing to dwell on earth among them.
Escaping from Egypt is only the first half of the exodus. It is easy for us to forget this, in an age where freedom is understood as merely being freedom from: from oppression, from constraint, or whatever. This aspect of liberation, as wonderful as it is, is only half the deal. In the Scriptures, more emphasis is placed on the freedom for; for worship, for flourishing, for growth in obedience and joy and glory. Human beings are not designed to be free from all constraint, slaves to nothing but our own passions, triumphantly enthroned as our own masters, even our own gods. Everybody serves somebody. So the point of the exodus is not just for Israel to find deliverance from serving the old master. It is for them to find delight in serving the new one. This powerful truth is at the heart of Christian discipleship.Roberts, A., & Wilson, A. (2018). Echoes of Exodus: Tracing themes of redemption through scripture.
Of course God rescues the Israelites from the Egyptians – His mighty right hand doing battle for them. God institutes the Passover, and leads His people out of Egypt. God takes them the long way around instead of the shorter more direct route. In leading them, they were under the direct guidance of God.
I love Moses’ song of victory and praise. Two verses, in particular, speak of God’s purpose in the exodus!
In your unfailing love you will lead
the people you have redeemed.
In your strength you will guide them
to your holy dwelling.
You will bring them in and plant themExodus 15:13, 17
on the mountain of your inheritance—
the place, Lord, you made for your dwelling,
the sanctuary, Lord, your hands established.
God is going to “plant them on the mountain” much like He planted Adam and Eve in the Garden of God. And so the people travel to Mt Sinai. God establishes a covenant with Moses and the people of Israel, giving them the law, and very specific instructions on how to build a dwelling place for God. This is quite possibly the highlight and focus of the book of Exodus. Certainly the climax occurs in Exodus 40 when God Himself fills the tabernacle with His presence.
I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God. They will know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of Egypt so that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God.Exodus 29:45-46
And so Moses finished the work. Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.Exodus 40:33b, 34-35
Theologians see this as an initial and partial resolution to restore the close relationship God’s people had with God in the garden. God does come down to dwell with His people, but His presence also is inherently dangerous. Wherever God is, is holy. The space becomes holy and an unholy people cannot enter God’s holy presence. God creates boundaries with veils and curtains. He establishes rules for entering His dwelling place. He institutes the sacrificial system for addressing sin. The tabernacle design, the law, the establishment of the priesthood – all of these were designed to instruct and protect the people so that God could dwell among them. The tabernacle design, the law, the establishment of the priesthood – all of these were designed to point to a coming “Great High Priest” who would offer Himself as a sacrifice for sin once for all!
God pitched His tent in the middle of the Israelite nation in order to dwell closely with His people. That makes reading John 1:14 all the more exciting, as the Word, Christ, became flesh and tabernacled, pitched His tent among us!
Within thy tabernacle, Lord,
who shall inhabit still?
Or whom wilt thou receive to dwell
in thy most holy hill?
The man whose life is uncorrupt,
whose works are just and straight,
Whose heart doth think the very truth,
and tongue speaks no deceit;
That to his neighbor doth no ill
in body, goods, or name,
Nor willingly doth slanders raise,
which might impair the same;
That in his heart regardeth not
malicious wicked men,
But those that love and fear the Lord,
he maketh much of them.
His oath and all his promises
that keepeth faithfully,
Altho’ he make his cov’nant so
that he doth lose thereby;
That putteth not to usury
his money and his coin,
Nor for to hurt the innocent
doth bribe nor yet purloin.
Whoso doth these things faithfully,Thomas Sternhold
and turneth not therefrom,
Shall never perish in this world,
nor that which is to come.