Tabernacling with God!Published on: 19.11.2021
By: Dr. Jürgen Bühler
At this year’s Feast of Tabernacles, we heard again from so many people around the world that from wherever they joined us, they felt a tangible presence of God. Miracles, healing of relationships, answers to prayer, all took place while watching the Feast. It was amazing to again witness this as it is now our second online Feast celebration when pilgrims could not be with us in Jerusalem in person. Yet despite lockdowns and travel restrictions, God was not locked down, neither was He restricted. He was very present in homes and watch parties, wherever people joined us for the Feast. God indeed was tabernacling with His people around the world.
‘The God who tabernacles with His people’ is a theme that runs deep through the Word of God, and it reflects many of the spiritual truths which surround the Feast of Tabernacles.
One of the most frequently asked questions I receive around the world is: “What about the third Temple?” Of course, there are prophetic passages that refer to a future Temple. But it seems that throughout history, men were more preoccupied and excited about the concept of a temple than God was. His preferred vehicle of habitation was always a simpler, tent-like structure rather than a glorious stone building.
From the beginning, God instructed Israel to build Him a tent to dwell in rather than a temple. And this was not because Israel did not know of any alternatives. On the contrary, Abraham came from one of the earliest civilisations in Ur of Chaldea, which built massive stone structures for their gods. The best known is the Ziggurat of Ur, a man-made ‘Mountain of God’ to worship the moon god. When Israel dwelt in Egypt, they saw not only the gigantic pyramids of Giza, but the whole land was filled with large temples to a legion of gods worshipped by the Egyptians- and some have even survived until today.
When the Lord led Israel out of Egypt, He instructed Moses to build Him a dwelling place, but it had no resemblance to these towering monuments of worship. Instead, it was a simple portable tent structure. This was not a command arising from bare necessity of travel, but Moses told his people to build what he saw in heaven. And there he saw the tabernacle of God (Exodus 25:9, 40). And this heavenly reality has not changed since then. Near the very end of the Bible, the Apostle John wrote: “After these things I looked, and behold, the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened.” (Revelation 15:5).
The first person to build a temple to the one true God was King David. His desire to build a proper house of worship for God came out of his wish to adequately worship the God he loved so much. David struggled with the thought of himself living in a beautiful palace in Jerusalem while the Creator of the world lived in a mere tent: “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells inside tent curtains.” (2 Samuel 7:2) His desire to build a house for God was immediately echoed by Nathan the Prophet, who encouraged him to do all that was in his heart. I believe we all would have rejoiced in such plans.
But that night, God rebuked Nathan: “For I have not dwelt in a house since the time that I brought the children of Israel up from Egypt, even to this day, but have moved about in a tent and in a tabernacle.” (2 Samuel 7:6) An earthly temple was never within the intentions of God, but His desire was always more to tabernacle with His people. God’s presence was always on the move, or ready to move. It was the very prayer of Moses that God’s presence would move with Israel. This moving presence was Israel’s guiding light, the very sign that distinguished God’s people from all other peoples (Exodus 33:16).
Yes, God did choose Jerusalem as a special place where His presence would dwell for eternity. Countless people have testified to me how they experience that unique presence of God in Jerusalem, especially at the Western Wall. Some of my friends were called there to new ministries; lives were changed at this unique location. And God surely allowed David’s son Solomon to build a Temple for him, and promised His eyes would always be on this House. But perhaps God understood the human mind and foresaw that man would be too tempted to reduce His presence just to that one location in Jerusalem.
Isaiah, maybe more than any other Hebrew prophet, understood that God’s very presence could never be confined to a building: “Thus says the Lord: “Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool. Where is the house that you will build Me? And where is the place of My rest?” (Isaiah 66:1) He knew to contain God in a building was impossible. This very thought also separated the God of Israel from all other nations, with their temples and shrines. The God of Israel was the Creator of heaven and earth. He cannot be confined to a fixed place of worship. He is omnipresent. He can be encountered anywhere and often in the most unusual places. Richard Wurmbrand, a hero of the persecuted church in communist Romania, was imprisoned for years and severely tortured for his faith in Jesus. Yet he said that he experienced the glory of God, the manifest presence of Jesus, more in his prison cells than in any church buildings he ever visited afterwards.
The Apostle Paul declared to the philosophers and scholars of his time in Athens: “God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things.” (Acts 17:24-25)
It is true a tabernacle, a tent, was even less able to contain this endless and all-powerful God, but the tent represented more the nature and character of God. He is ever on the move. It reminds us of the words of Jesus to Nicodemus: “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8) There is an aspect to our God that is lively and on the move, and so are His people.
The era of corona has been a reminder of this. Many of our church structures have remained empty over the past year or more. Here in Jerusalem, the Pais Arena where our Feast is held every year has remained empty during Succot. In so many ways, we had hoped to welcome our Feast pilgrims from around the world to Jerusalem once again. But God had other plans. At the same time, we heard so many testimonies of how God flooded living rooms and meeting halls with His presence while people watched our Feast programs this year.
Meeting with a group of international Evangelical leaders in recent days, they all said corona represents a recalibration of ministry. God is reminding us of a forgotten truth that He desires to tabernacle with His people not just in large halls in Jerusalem, or mega-church buildings or mass crusades, but His indwelling glory can be experienced wherever two or three are gathered in His name.
When Ezekiel saw the future of a restored Israel, he perceived the climax of this restoration as God’s ‘mishkan’ – His tabernacle or dwelling place among His people (Ezekiel 37:26-28). Also, the Apostle John, when he saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth’, he heard a shout of amazement from heaven: “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.” (Revelation 21:3). God’s future for mankind is not us being in a heavenly abode, a glorious temple; rather, God is coming down to a new heaven and new earth to tabernacle with men.
And His dwelling with men is not defined by some ornate exterior, but more by an upright attitude of the heart. When God asks Isaiah where this house that man would build for Him can be, He gives His own surprising answer. “But on this one will I look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word.” (Isaiah 66:2; see also Isaiah 57:15)
This means there are certain qualities of the human heart that attract the presence and attention of God: humility before Him and utmost respect for His word. It echoes the very heart attitudes lauded by Jesus in the Sermon of the Mount: the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the merciful, and the pure of heart. Jesus calls them “blessed” because God takes notice and looks to tabernacle with such.
The Feast of Tabernacles is a time when God reminds Israel of their own tabernacle journey through the desert. When Israel arrived in the Promised Land, He commanded: “You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All who are native Israelites shall dwell in booths, that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 23:42-43)
The Feast also is a reminder to all of us on the fleeting nature of man. Paul relates to this in his second letter to the Corinthians. “For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven,” (2 Corinthians 5:1-2).
Here, Paul refers to our own very body as being a tabernacle, a succah. By that he means that our earthly bodies are just temporary forms which one day will be replaced by a far greater abode. He also admits that in this tent of our body, we will groan at times. Even though we are wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), these bodies are still fragile, often weak and even prone to sin. That is why Paul shouts in despair: “Who will deliver me from this body of death?’ (Romans 7:24)
But the amazing truth is that this very same frail tabernacle of our human body can become the very dwelling place of God, the temple of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus was in Jerusalem during Succot, he made a statement that surely reminded many on the future temple envisioned in Ezekiel 47. The prophet saw the future temple become a spring of life-giving, healing water. Jesus said: “He believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:38) Therefore, the hope of a future temple in Jerusalem can become a reality for you here and now.
What an amazing reality that is, when we as believers can become a sanctuary for the indwelling glory and presence of the Lord. And not only that, it also will become a sanctuary of God for the people around us. People meeting with us can encounter the God who dwells within us. Just as Moses prayed, this mobile presence we carry wherever we go is what sets us apart from the world around us. It makes us a light that shines in darkness.
But it is upon us to cultivate that presence and make the Holy Spirit feel welcome and at home in our lives. Or to put it another way, if your body can be the very abode or dwelling place of God, He only will feel at home with us if He is made master of our lives. As master of the house, He wants us to give Him the right to move around the furniture in our lives. His presence will thus affect our habits, daily activities and even our secret ambitions. He will not accept being confined to just one room, one compartment of our lives. He wants to fill every corner and aspect of our lives. But if we do this, great things can happen! People around us will be impacted as streams of living water flow from the sanctuary of our life.
And finally, yes, here in Jerusalem we all are eager to see every one of you back in the city of Jerusalem. We cannot wait to have you back with us at the next Feast of Tabernacles to celebrate with us here in Jerusalem and to experience with all of you how God will tabernacle among His people right here in city which carries His name. Until then, I pray that we all will experience His manifest presence wherever we live. “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men!”