Sunday, February 03, 2019

Tabernacle (verb); "To dwell in or among."

We are tough on the Jews of the exodus. Yet there are occasions when they deserve not condemnation (which we are really in no position to dispense, although we do anyway) but commendation for acting in accordance with and befitting their status as a chosen people. One such case is when God cancels his Tabernacle agenda, and declines to tabernacle with them. And here we find one of the most unusual offers in the bible:
1Then the Lord said to Moses, “Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt, and go up to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ 2 I will send an angel before you and drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 3 Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.” (Ex. 33:1-3)
Here God is telling Moses that he will give the people all the blessings they seek, but he will not tabernacle with them.

This rings a bell. As Calvinists we have a series of snappy answers to common questions. And when we claim: No one, from their own non-regenerate will, seeks God. No, not one! Our snappy answer to the inevitable question regarding the ubiquitous examples of those who appeared to be searching for God and yet over time remained (by all appearances) unregenerate, we snappily answer: They are/were not seeking God. At most they seek/sought what God has to offer.

On the Snappy Calvinistic Answer satisfaction scale, I always found this reply to garner a mediocre 5 out of 10. (And I first heard it from my favorite modern theologian! The one who appears to have a cola named after him!) I am reminded of this weak Calvinistic retort because here, in Exodus 33, God makes what should be an irresistible offer to those who are not seeking God but only the blessings of God. He offers the Jews the promise of a rich posterity and an absolute, supernatural military victory and conquest of the Promised Land with all its attendant amenities as seen in the metaphor of flowing milk and honey. They get all the blessings God offered, except God himself. He is going to sit this one out. Now this would be a good deal for those who are not really seeking God, just his benefits. They would get all they wanted without the lidless-eyed judge always spoiling their fun and games.

And how do the Jews respond?
4 And when the people heard this bad news, they mourned, and no one put on his ornaments. (Ex. 33:4) 
Good on them. The blessings are great. But the real prize is not milk and honey (not that we'll decline the offer) but to tabernacle with God. They got it. They understood the ultimate goal, the grand prize. The end of the bible tells us as much, when we read:
3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. (Rev. 21:3) 
In the New Testament era we much closer to the happy situation described in Revelation. Our dwelling place is not yet in the visible, constant, and eternal presence of a Holy God. But, not so bad for now, God the Spirit is dwelling within us. I used to think the aphorism: The Holy Spirit inside you is better than Jesus beside you! was, well, impertinent. But then I was reminded that this very truth is taught by Jesus himself:
7  Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. (John 16:7)
Okay, we don't understand (at least I don't) why Jesus had to go away for the Spirit to come, but we know (since Jesus said so) that it is true. Likewise if Jesus said it is to our advantage, then that also is true, and so indeed the Spirit inside us is to be preferred, at least on this side of eternity.

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