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Shemot/Exodus 29:45 And I will dwell among the Children of Israel and I shall be for them G-d.
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Although this is a well-trodden theme, it is a promise that is always worth revisiting to make sure that we understand and appreciate just how good and how great is our G-d! This verse helps us to reconcile two of the things that G-d tells us about Himself that seem - at a human level - impossibly incompatible. In theological language, they are His transcendence - as the creator of the universe, including mankind, G-d is far above everything in His creation - and His immanence: both as the G-d of Israel and as Yeshua, the divine Saviour of the world, He has promised to live among His people. How can G-d - the word 'G-d' translates the Hebrew wordElohim and usually though sometimes incorrectly, the Greek word theos1 - be "up there" and "down here" at the same time? This verse juxtaposes the two ideas and sets them in their correct tension. The prophet speaks to the same situation: "For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: "I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite" (Isaiah 57:15, ESV).
Both the Torah and the prophet use the same vocabulary forHaShem's actions. Here, the verb is the Qal 1cs affix form of the root , "to dwell"; there, the same root appears as , the Qal 1cs prefix form. There is another much more common verb, , that is often translated "to dwell". Why do these texts use , which makes only 129 appearances in Tanakh, rather than , "to sit, dwell" which is used 1085 times? Let's take a closer look at the range of meanings that each verb encompasses and see if that helps us to understand what is going on. According to David Clines, addresses the ideas of: sitting; sitting down; lying down to rest; remaining or staying; settling, "Speak to the Israelite people and say to them: When you enter the land that I am giving you to settle in" (B'Midbar 15:2, NJPS), dwelling and living, "You shall observe My laws and faithfully keep My rules, that you may live upon the land in security; the land shall yield its fruit and you shall eat your fill, and you shall live upon it in security" (Vayikra 25:18-19, NJPS); to stand, endure or be established; or to wait for someone. Other voices speak of being inhabited or habitable, establishing settlements or populating cities.2 The nouns, 'dwellings' and 'settlements' come from this root.
on the other hand, has the meanings: dwell, rest, be present; settle, stay or remain, set up a tent.3 Signifcantly, the noun , mishkan, tabernacle comes from this root. Although some of the English meanings overlap, Nahum Sarna explains that "conveys the idea of temporary dwelling in a tent and characterises the nomadic style of life." He adds that this is "why the verbal form is frequently used together with ohel, the common word for a tent, and in connection with nomads." Unlike the Temple, a permanent building made of stone, bricks and mortar, the Tabernacle, the focus of HaShem's presence in the midst of the people Israel, is temporary and moveable. Both sited in the middle of the Israelite camp and carried in the middle of the caravan, the Tabernacle travelled wherever the people went, following the pillar of cloud and fire. It was always available to the people, reachable without a long journey, and spoke of down-to-earth intimacy in a way that the transcendent architecture of the Temple could not. Sarna again: "it functions to make perceptible and tangible the conception of G-d's immanence, that is, of the indwelling of the Divine Presence in the camp of Israel to which the people may orient their hearts and minds."
Dwelling in such an earthy or physical way among the people is a powerful message to the people: HaShem cares for them and wants to have an on-going every-day relationship with His people. That is why He commands the morning and evening sacrifice, "at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting before the L-RD," each day and promises, "there I will meet with you, and there I will speak with you, and there I will meet with the Israelites" (Shemot 29:42-43, NJPS). Umberto Cassuto paraphrases our text to say, "I shall cause My presence to abide in the Tabernacle that is the midst of Israel's camp," because I am the One "who cares for them and protects them,"4 while RabbiHirsch says that "this presence of the glory of G-d ... is itself only the proof of His presence in the nation of which He desires to be G-d, i.e., the Decider of their destiny and the Leader of their actions." In other words, the Tabernacle and the pillar of cloud and fire and themselves only symbols of the deeper reality of HaShem - rather than a tent or a column of water vapour - dwelling among His people.
Richard Elliott Friedman thinks that this "is one of the most crucial passages in the Torah" upon which everything that follows is built. Translating the text as "And I shall tent among the Children of Israel", he emphasises that "once these things are established, then: YHVH will meet with Moshe and the people there, YHVH will be present among the people, YHVH will be their G-d and they will know that YHVH is their G-d." Walter Brueggemann comments that "this is G-d's resolve to take up a new habitation, fully present in sovereign, life-giving power even without consideration of Israel's readiness or responsiveness."5 Whether the people are ready or not, HaShem is coming and His very presence will change the people from the inside out. Here G-d proposes to dwell in the midst of the people; in Yeshua, G-d dwells in the heart of each of His people wherever they are. He becomes and is the centre of His people, whether they are gathered for worship or not, no matter how dispersed in time or distance.
Let us make no mistake, however; HaShem's commitment to dwell among His people was not just a one-off gesture. It was not limited to the years of the wilderness journey or to the people of that time. Neither was the commitment restricted to the Jewish people, or those people who could turn up at the Temple as long as it was in service. Isaiah makes it plain that excluded groups such as those from the nations, could and would be included in God's people: "I will bring them to My sacred mount and let them rejoice in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices shall be welcome on My altar; for My House shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples" (Isaiah 56:7, NJPS). Scripture is very clear that Yeshua makes similar commitments to those who follow Him; He gave us His personal promise that "I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20, NASB). In the same way that HaShem's presence among the Israelites moved with them wherever they went - because the Tabernacle was always in the centre of the camp - so Yeshua's presence goes with us wherever we go because the Ruach dwells in our hearts.
It's important that we understand how and why this works. Follow this through step by step. First, Joel voices the promise that in the latter days, "I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions" (Joel 2:28, ESV). G-d confirms this through the prophet Ezekiel: "I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes and be careful to obey My rules" (Ezekiel 36:27, ESV). Yeshua promises the disciples that "When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth, for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come" (John 16:13, ESV). After the resurrection, Yeshua met with the disciples and He said to them, "As the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit" (John 20:21-22, ESV)." Fifty days later, when the Spirit was poured out on the disciples at Shavuot, as Peter confirmed that Yeshua's death and resurrection has inaugurated the last days, he connected this with Joel's words: "this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel" (Acts 2:16, ESV). Always the indwelling of the Spirit fulfils the promise of G-d dwelling with His people.
Some twenty or more years later, Rav Sha'ul reminds the Corinthians that "in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body -- Jews or Greeks, slaves or free -- and all were made to drink of one Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:13, ESV) confirms to the Ephesians that "In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of His glory" (Ephesians 1:13-14, ESV). This isn't about the gifts of the Spirit, it is about every single one of us knowing that G-d consistently keeps His promises: He is right now dwelling in and among His people - that's you and me, every generation - so that He can be G-d for us!
1. - Oftentimes, the Greek word theosis intended to represent the Hebrew covenant name for G-d, YHVH, and be translated as 'L-RD' in an English Bible.
2. - David J. A. Clines (ed.) The Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2009), pages 166-167.
3. - David J. A. Clines (ed.) The Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2009), pages 460-461.
4. - Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, (Magnes Press, Jerusalem, 1983), page 388.
5. - Walter Brueggemann, "Exodus", in The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary Vol I, edited by Leander E. Keck, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015), page 461.
Further Study: Zechariah 2:10-11; John 7:37-39; Revelation 21:3
Application: Are you absolutely sure and certain that G-d lives and dwells in you, wherever you go and whatever you do? Read His words and believe His promises - from ancient times right up until today, to the end of the age - that He is with you right now. Ask Him to confirm that to you and then receive His assurance that He really is there, for you and for His glory, in real time!
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© Jonathan Allen, 2023
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