With Whom does God Dwell?
Read Ex. 12:12, 13; Ex. 13:1, 2; Ex. 14:21, 22; Ex. 16:16-18; Ex. 20:1-3; Ex. 33:12-14; Ex. 35:1-3.
It is always instructive in taking up any subject in Scripture to see its connection. We will, therefore, if the Lord enable, do this in connection with that which speaks of His dwelling-place among men. The Tabernacle was, we might say, the centre of His manifestation to His earthly people, Israel. About it their camp in the wilderness was grouped, and in connection with it their journeys were taken. When they reached the Land, there too God's order was established in connection with it. We will therefore glance at the condition of the people when God gave them the Tabernacle.
If this is important in looking at the literal history of Israel, how much more so is it when we remember of whom and of what it was a type for all time. Let us then take up these seven scriptures, which recall to our minds the seven great facts there set forth.
God loves to dwell, and can only dwell, amidst the praises of His people. He can only abide where He is known; and He can only be known on the ground of redemption. In the first chapter of Romans, we see that those who had the witness of "His eternal power and Godhead" in His works of creation, which were all about them, were blinded and darkened in their minds. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and ended by being engulfed in all manner of idolatry and abominable lusts.
If we are to know God, it must be on the basis of His own revelation, according to His nature, which is true and righteous. Therefore in dealing with sinful, guilty man, He must reveal Himself as supremely righteous and holy — a God of justice, whatever else He may have to say. Blessed be His holy name, He has more than that to say, for that could only condemn us to perpetual banishment from Himself, in the outer darkness. That forms the dark background upon which shines out in all its lustre the mercy of God as revealed in Christ Jesus, His person and His work. That is suggested in the passages we have referred to.
1. The first scripture (Ex. 12:12, 13) reminds us that His people have been sheltered from a justly-deserved judgment. God can only dwell in the midst of a sheltered people. Otherwise they are yet under judgment in common with all the rest of mankind, just as Israel was under judgment in common with all the people of Egypt, until God provided the lamb and directed that its blood should be sprinkled upon the lintels and door-posts of their habitations.
How all this speaks of Him who is the "Lamb without blemish and without spot" (1 Peter 1:19), who was "made sin" upon the cross, that He might provide a shelter for the guilty! How His saints love to dwell upon it! Had God's long-suffering terminated in judgment, there would be nothing but the blackness of darkness forever. But in His love He provided a perfect shelter from all the wrath and judgment deserved, even while they were in Egypt, the place of servitude to sin. God does not ask the sinner first to take a single step in His ways, but takes him where and as he is, and provides a perfect shelter through the precious blood of Christ.
When that precious blood has been appropriated by faith (the tiny hyssop, with which it was applied to their dwellings, Ex. 12:22, speaks of true self-judgment before God, the confession of guilt and unworthiness), God's declaration is: "When I see the blood, I will pass over you." We have His provision in the blood of Christ, and His assurance in His own word that those who are sheltered by that blood are forever delivered from judgment to come. His people are not looking forward to some time in the future for salvation, or waiting for something to be done in themselves before they can have settled peace with God, but they can say they have accepted the shelter which God has provided. "The blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are, and when I see the blood I will pass over you."
2. Having seen that believers are a sheltered people, the next scripture (Ex. 13:1, 2) shows them to us as a purchased people. When judgment stalked through the land of Egypt, Israel was safely sheltered by a God-given protection, and the very blood that sheltered was also the purchase-price for them. "Sanctify unto Me all the first-born." Or, as we have it in the New Testament, "Ye are not your own, for ye are bought with a price, therefore glorify God in your body" (1 Cor. 6:20). Thank God, His people are not only set free from judgment and the fear of wrath, but they have been purchased out from Satan's servitude and from sin. Best of all, they are not their own masters. Paul delighted to style himself ever, "The bond-servant of Jesus Christ." It was a badge of the highest honor to be Christ's purchase. We are a company of servants, and can glory in a bondage which is complete liberty, to be absolutely for God, the purchase of His perfect love, by the most precious blood of Christ. The value which God sets upon us is seen in the price paid. God looks upon us and says, as it were, "These are My people." Look at a poor, wretched sinner who has received Christ. Such an one is of but little worth in the world's estimation, but God declares: "He is precious in My sight, the purchase of the blood of Mine own Son."
3. The third scripture (Ex. 14:21, 22) speaks of a different line of truth. The first two scriptures spoke of what was true for Israel even in Egypt — just as the Good Samaritan came to the place where the robbed and wounded man lay, and there poured in the healing oil and wine, God came down to His people in Egypt, but He did not leave them there. The word that told them of safety, and that they were His, gave them marching orders also to leave the place of their servitude. They are to go forth servants to God, but free from all else. Not only was Israel free from the bondage of Pharaoh, but from the very place where he had held them. This world, for the believer, is no longer Egypt but the wilderness, a place of pilgrimage, and the inheritance that attracts him is "the glory of all lands" — the "land flowing with milk and honey." So the third great fact is that the Lord's people are delivered from bondage to sin, to Satan, and the world. May we all practically know the blessedness of this.
What a gospel it is which thus proclaims deliverance to the captives as well as forgiveness of sins! What slavery, what galling chains are those of sin! Who that has served that master in the brick-kilns of sin — "serving divers lusts and pleasures" (Titus 3:3) — but knows the awful bondage of it. There are "pleasures of sin," but they are only "for a season" (Heb. 25), and afterwards the eternal wrath of a holy and sin-hating God, and the eternal gnawings of an awakened conscience are its recompense. Even for the believer, that bondage makes him cry out, "Oh wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me?" (Rom. 7:24). And the gracious, loving answer from the word of God is, "Through Jesus Christ our Lord." "Sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under law but under grace" (Rom. 6:14). God has thus declared that sin has no more title over His people! The blood of Christ has settled that question. But have we answered to God's deliverance? We cannot enter into the joys of God's dwelling among us unless we know something of what it is to be delivered from the power and thraldom of sin.
Let us see how perfectly the type answers to the deliverance of the people of God from sin. The children of Israel had come to the shores of the Red Sea. It is a desert place, with mountains on either side it left no apparent way of escape from Pharaoh who has recovered from his recent terror under the judgment of God, and has gathered his hosts to pursue after and bring them back into servitude. What could they do? Behind them is their relentless enemy, they are shut in on either side, and before them are the waters of the Red Sea. All they can do is to cry to God. And when did He ever fail to respond to His people's cry? He opened the way for them, not by first overthrowing Pharaoh, but by dividing the sea asunder. Those waves of death are parted at the presence of the rod which had brought the plagues upon Egypt, and a way is opened through the sea.
A young convert starts off on the pilgrim journey, but sin begins to reassert itself, to pursue after him. It so easily besets and the first thing he knows, he hears the familiar demands of the old masters requiring return to their servitude. What is he to do? There seems to be absolutely no way for him ahead. He looks at his own strength and sees that he is utterly powerless to overcome sin. There is no way of escape on the right hand or the left. The death and judgment deserved by sin loom darkly in front.
Here comes in the precious fact that in Christ's death he has died with Him. The way is open through Christ's death and resurrection. He has gone out of this world where sin reigns (though it never had the slightest power over Him), and by His death has opened the only way for His own. They are risen with Him, as they have also died with Him. They are therefore at liberty to reckon themselves "dead indeed unto sin, and alive unto God, through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 6:11). Here is where triumph begins; the one who had been groaning under fear of bondage can take up the song of triumph: "Sing unto the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea" (Ex. 15:1).
Those who know this practically are a people who are now in the wilderness, pilgrims whose faces are not set backward to what is behind but forward toward the inheritance — the mount of God, where He will reveal all the treasures of His love stored up for us in Christ in glory. Only to such a people, delivered from trifling with sin and the world, can God reveal the further truths of His word. May He give us true exercise as to these things.
4. This brings us to the fourth scripture (Ex. 16:16-18), which tells us of God's provision for His people in the wilderness — the Manna from heaven and the water out of the Rock. Bread was given them, and their water was sure. The wilderness is a dry and thirsty land, with nothing in it naturally to sustain, and yet God brought that mighty host through the desert for forty years, to His inheritance; and at the close, He could ask them whether they had lacked anything. Their garments had not waxed old; their feet had not swelled (Deut. 8:4). God was, and ever is, as good as His word.
It is Christ who is the food of His people, and the Spirit of God flowing through the smitten Rock — "that Rock was Christ" (1 Cor. 10:4) — supplying refreshment from the word of God to sustain us. Christ is not known by the world, but He is the "Bread of God who came down from heaven," humbled even unto death, to be the food of His people day by day according to their need — Bread of the mighty that will carry them as victors through the wilderness and bring them fresh to the end of their journey.
5. We pass next to that at which we must look somewhat carefully, the truth embodied in our fifth scripture, Ex. 20:1-3. The people are at Mount Sinai, where God is to manifest Himself in His awful majesty and holiness. None are permitted even to touch the mount. He was about to give the law, His requirement from man, and the solemn fact is emphasized that man could riot meet that requirement. In the first four commandments we have the claims of law in relation to God, and in the last six those claims in relation to man. This has been summarized, as our Lord quoted it: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself" (Luke 10:27). If such a demand as that is made upon fallen man, he can no more meet it than create a world.
Thus, so far from giving life, the law can only give death. So far from drawing man into the presence of God, it can only place barriers around the inaccessible mount of His glory and holiness. "By the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Rom. 3:20).
There are two exercises produced by the law, answering to the provision of grace made in the Passover and the Red Sea. First, as a ground of justification, it shows man his utter guilt and unfitness for God. You will search the Scriptures in vain for a single instance where the effect of the law of God upon man is anything else.
But we are sometimes told that though we are not under law as a ground of justification, we are under it as a rule of life. It is indeed an expression of God's perfect will for His people who are to walk according to these ten commandments; but the fact is man can no more keep the law as a rule of life than as a means of justification. The law only gives the knowledge of sin in us. Let us remember that remarkable passage, "The strength of sin is the law" (1 Cor. 15:56) — it binds the guilt of sin upon the conscience.
What is the secret of the struggle of the 7th. of Romans? It is a child of God seeking holiness by the law as a rule of life. But he finds that what was ordained to life only works death in him; that which was "holy, just and good" only produced condemnation in him, and the prohibition but stirred unconquerable desire to do the very thing forbidden.
Whenever you see a man seeking to keep the law as God's demand upon him, you will find him guilty and wretched; or, what is worse, self-righteous and self-deceived. If he is a child of God, he becomes perfectly miserable, crying out, "Oh wretched man that I am!" That being the case, wherefore serveth the law? God's answer is that it shuts up man to the perfect redemption through Christ, both from the guilt and the power of sin. The law has done its holy work when it has taught the solemn heart-searching truth: "In me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing" (Rom. 7:18). When it has done this, it points the way to Christ. "The law of the Spirit, of life in Christ Jesus, hath made me free from the law of sin and death" (Rom. 8:2).
But these great facts being settled, we can see the law as suggesting another great truth. Peter, writing in his first epistle to a pilgrim people who would answer very much to Israel as they passed through the wilderness, addresses them as, "Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:2). They were not only an elect and regenerate people, sheltered by the sprinkled blood, but they were marked for practical obedience. We might say the precious blood has been sprinkled not only upon the door for shelter, but upon the path of God's redeemed people, to secure their walk for Him.
How blessed is the thought that our whole pathway is a blood-sprinkled one — that is, a way of holiness; a redeemed way for a redeemed people (Isa. 35:8-10). Just as really as we are redeemed from the guilt of sin, so really are we marked for obedience to God. And this, we may gather, was typified by the law — an obedience which it could not produce, but which God desired for His people. This we have in the 8th of Romans: "For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteousness of the law (the righteous requirements of the law) might be fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit" (Rom. 8:3, 4). For those who have been redeemed from it, the law becomes the badge of the very obedience which it failed to secure. Thus our fifth scripture reminds us that God dwells among an obedient people.
6. Our sixth scripture, Ex. 33:12-14, need not detain us long, though its lesson is a precious one, based as it is upon the sad history that preceded it. Moses was in the mount, enjoying communion with God about the Tabernacle, of which God was showing him the pattern, and giving directions about each detail — and the people who had but lately been promising absolute obedience, were singing and dancing about the golden calf! You say, What a wretched people to forget their oaths in so short a time! All, is the natural man anything better in us? The flesh will turn from the glories of the person of Christ to its golden calves! Let God leave us for a single hour, and we will dishonor Him, even as His beloved servants, Peter, David and Hezekiah did — men of God as they were. No confidence in the flesh! May the Holy Spirit bring it home in the power of divine love and grace to our hearts.
But, thank God, that is but the dark background upon which the bright lustre of divine grace shines out all the more brightly. Moses returns to the mount to intercede for the people. "Peradventure," he says (for it was a legal, external, conditional covenant), "I shall make an atonement for you." He now brings back to them new tables of stone with the same commands upon them. They were, we might say, law tempered with mercy, for a people who were stiff-necked and prone to evil. This glimpse of mercy, connected with an inflexible law, is not sufficient to give life, but it causes Moses' face to shine, so that he was obliged to put a veil upon his face, for the people could not look upon that which, as the apostle tells us, was a "ministration of condemnation" (2 Cor. 3:9). But, thanks be to God, the veil is now removed, in Christ, and we see, not a partial glory, but the full glory of the ministry of life and righteousness shining in the face of Jesus. This glory is suggested at least in the scripture we have been dwelling upon; and the lesson we would gather from it is that a people who have learned their own nothingness and have been restored on a basis of grace, are now in a position to enjoy what God reveals to them.
7. This brings us to the seventh great truth, Ex. 35:1-3, which is the culmination of all the previous ones. It is the rest of God. All provisions for preparing the Tabernacle had been made, and they were now about to enter upon its actual construction. But notice, first, the repetition of the command to keep the Sabbath. It points on to the rest of God He can never rest in the presence of sin. He would declare that His dwelling-place is to be on the basis of an eternal Sabbath. We see this in the last part of Revelation, when the toiling is done the glorious end is reached. All of man's day is at last over, and we are brought into the cloudless, eternal day of God. "The Tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them" (Rev. 21:3). The rest of God and the dwelling-place of God must be together, and that for eternity. But coming back to time, to the basis on which God dwells with His people even now, how preciously it reminds us of Him who is the true basis of rest — not our work or worthiness. It is ceasing to struggle to improve the flesh, and in anticipation entering upon God's rest, even Christ Himself, whose glory God spreads as a covering over His redeemed (Isa. 4:5, 6).
Thus briefly we have looked at the characteristics of the people whom God leads into the truth of His dwelling-place. Let us repeat them. They are:
A people sheltered by the blood of the Lamb.
A people purchased by the same precious blood.
A people delivered from the power of sin through the death and resurrection of Christ.
A people nourished and sustained through all their wilderness journey.
A people sanctified unto obedience through the blood of Christ.
A people restored from the sin and folly of departure from God.
A people who have entered into the thoughts of God's rest.
If our souls have in some measure been laid hold of by these truths, we shall be in a moral condition to enjoy what God has revealed in connection with His dwelling-place among His people, and to be more fully established by it in His grace.