As I prepared to teach this lesson, I decided to share some of the truths that I learned with you here in this article, and, as always, thinking through the points of the lesson helps me prepare to teach it better. I really do love the entire Names of God study. God becomes so much more real when you know Him by His Name and character. The previous lesson was about righteousness, specifically, the Lord is righteousness, Jehovah-tsidkenu. It is amazing to see how God makes us righteous, right with Him, when we take Him at His Word. He does something that no other religion can do, He deals with our sin nature. He removes our sinful hearts and gives us new hearts. He places His Holy Spirit in us and not only requires that we walk in His ways but make us able to do so.
I believe that the modern church has much to learn from this lesson. We, like ancient Israel, have become complacent with the promises of God and do not really appreciate all that He has done for us. We have developed an attitude of entitlement. God does not owe us anything. We rebelled and made ourselves His enemies. The fact that He does not destroy us on the spot is a sign of His mercy. The fact that He chooses to dwell with us and in us is a sign of His grace. We do not deserve His mercy or His grace. They are both gifts from the Lord to us.
I would once again like to take a walk through the history of Israel and see how similar we are to them and discover truths that we can learn and apply to avoid the consequences of sin that they continually faced.
I. Israel’s history
God’s promised presence int the Old Testament – In order to better understand the subject, I would like to link to several verses to show all of the promises that God made to His people, in reference to His presence being with them.
- Ex. 13:20-22
- Ex. 23:20-22
- Ex. 33:12-16
- Ex. 40:34-38
- Deut. 4:37
- Joshua 1:1-2, 5
- Joshua 5:13-15
- Judges 6:14-16
- I Sam. 4:6-7
- Isaiah 63:9
- Psalm 132:8, 13-14
- Ez. 10:3-4, 18-19; 11:22-23
- Ez. 11:16-19
- Zach. 2:10-13
- Malachi 3:1
I would like to pull out some very important truths from the above references. After He led the people out of Egypt and into the desert toward the Promised Land, God promised them that He would lead them every step of the way and that He would be with them constantly, by day and by night. His presence would be seen and known among them. God also promised to lead them from the front, clearing the way and keeping them safe. He asked that they obey Him and not rebel. God promised to have a personal relationship with His people by revealing His ways and plans to them while His presence was among them. God promised to guide them every step of the way. His presence among them would be the very thing that would set them apart from the rest of the nations of the world. God not only showed His presence physically to them as they followed the visible manifestation of His presence, He also demonstrated His presence by His power, showing His people and the nations around them who He was by what He could do. In Joshua, we see a shift in the presence of God. Not only is He with His people corporately, He is also with them individually, making a personal relationship His goal. Joshua also teaches us that God fights for His people and together with His people. He literally takes on our enemies. In Judges, via Gideon, we see that God does not choose with whom to dwell based on family or heritage, or age or birth order. His presence is what makes us who we are. In Isaiah, we see that God meets us where we are in the midst of our affliction and lifts us up and carries us to safety. In the Psalms, we see that God desires to dwell among His people. He wants to be with them, even when they are unlovable and do not reciprocate His desires. In Ezekiel, we finally see that the presence of the Lord leaves the temple and departs from among the people. We will discover why in just a moment. Even though His presence departed, He promised to return. After the presence of the Lord departed, the people were taken into captivity for 70 years. When they returned and rebuilt the temple and the city, the presence of the Lord did not return but God promised that His presence would return one day in the future. Now, let’s examine why the presence of the Lord departed.
Israel’s response in the Old Testament – In order to understand this better, let’s take a moment to read the following passages.
Now that you have had a chance to read the passages, let’s see what we can learn. Ezekiel 6 tells us that the people of Israel did not appreciate the uniqueness of having the presence of God among them. In fact, they got used to His presence and expected it to be there to help them, no matter how they were living. They quickly fell into idolatry and began to worship and serve other gods, what the gods of the Gentiles represented, gratifying the desires of sin nature. They began to do things that God called abominations, things that were disgusting. So, before God’s presence departed, they had already abandoned Him for the desires of their sin nature. In Exodus, they were told what would happen to them if they did chase after the gods of the nations but they did not listen. They just assumed God would overlook their sin because they were His chosen people. They also filled the land with violence and provoked the Lord to anger. Sin has consequences, even though God forgives. God’s presence departed and they were taken into captivity. When they returned after 70 years, they rebuilt but the temple was not as grand and the presence of the Lord was absent. The scars of sin remained. God left them with a promise, that His presence would return one day.
God’s promised presence in the New Testament – The Old Testament ends with God’s promise to send His presence back to Jerusalem to enter the Temple. The New Testament opens up with God becoming flesh and dwelling among us. When Jesus entered the Temple, the presence of God once again entered the Temple, just as God had promised. We know that Jesus came to die on the cross to pay the price for our sins and to resurrect to set us free from sin’s power. That is not the only reason that He came. In the Gospel of John, Jesus explains another reason why He came.
26 and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17)
While walking on this earth, Jesus explained (demonstrated) who God is by Name. Jesus taught us and manifested:
- El Shaddai
Do you know God this intimately? Do you realize that He wants you to know Him in all of these ways? What keeps you from knowing Him like this? Are there any idols that try to pull you away? Please, if there are, get rid of them. Learn from the mistakes of the Israelites.
The presence of God departs once again from the Temple and from Jerusalem, with a promise to return once again in the future. Matthew 23:37-24:1 tells us that Jesus looked back on Jerusalem and wept because the presence of God was departing again and again, it was because of the hardened hearts of the people. He came to His own and they rejected Him.
Israel’s response in the New Testament – Once again, the presence of the Lord was among them and they responded the same way that they did before, because of the hardness of heart.
Jesus revealed the Father to them. He explained God to them and their response was to pick up stones and try to kill Him. Matthew tells us that even though Jesus was teaching Truth and performing miracles right before their eyes, instead of falling down and worshiping Him, they closed up their ears and covered their eyes. John tells us that as they were following Christ, He began to teach them. Jesus reached a point to where He told the people that He was God and the commitment that it would take to be His disciples and instead of making that commitment, they turned and walked away from Him. Paul tells us in Romans that the reason that they rejected Christ is because they liked their own righteousness more than God’s so they rejected Christ and set up their own. Their problem is the same problem that all humanity has, we have a wicked heart and unless God changes our hearts, we will always act in our own righteousness. Praise God for the New Covenant because in it we not only have our sins forgiven, we also have a new heart with the ability to obey God and not just the desire.
II. God’s solution to our human nature
God knows who we are, how we think, and why we act the way that we do. He is Elohim, our perfect Creator. Since we have a heart problem God has the solution. With Abraham, God’s presence did not remain with Abraham. God came and went. Under the Old Covenant, God dwelt among the people for all to see. Under the New Covenant, God does something unique. He actually indwells us via His Holy Spirit. In the Gospel of John, we learn that the Holy Spirit will indwell us to teach us and remind us all that Christ teaches in His Word. He makes it possible for us to obey God. The Israelites had the desire to obey and they had the Law to show them how to obey but they did not have the ability to overcome their sin nature. Christ overcame our sin nature when He was crucified and resurrected and now that we have the Holy Spirit in us, we have everything that we need for life and godliness. Paul tells us that our bodies are now the Temple of God and when His Holy Spirit indwells us, the presence of God once again is in the Temple, just as God promised in His Word. Not only that, Christ is going to return to the earth to set up an earthly kingdom and we who are faithful now will rule with Him then. The question is, what do we do until that time? How do we live in such a way as not to fall into the snares of idolatry? God tells us what to do, step by step until that day arrives, the glorious day when He will establish His kingdom.
Paul tells us in Philippians that even though we live here on this earth day by day, our actual citizenship is in heaven. We are just visitors here. We are not on a sight seeing tour though because we have a very specific mission to accomplish while we are here. In order not to get ensnared by idolatry and the sins of the flesh, I must realize that although I live here, my citizenship is in heaven. What does that look like on a daily basis? Paul tells us in Colossians that we are to have our minds dwell on heavenly things, on godly things, on eternal things so that we will not get caught up in the desires of the flesh and ensnared by them. The Word of God is what will keep me focused on the eternal and not caught up in the temporal things of this world. Once again in Philippians, Paul tells us that our goal is to get to know Jesus Christ intimately through a personal relationship. Christ wants us to know Him and experience Him the way that a husband and wife know each other through experience, through a personal relationship. The only way that we are going to get to know Him in this way is to be in His Word, spend time in prayer, and walk in obedience day by day. By focusing on our relationship with Christ, we will keep our minds focused on heavenly things, we will remember that our citizenship is in heaven, and we will not easily fall victim to our sin nature. Paul also teaches us that as citizens of heaven, we are good soldiers, enlisted by God in His army and we are not to entangle ourselves in the struggles of daily life. We are to live in a way that is pleasing to the One who enlisted us. Finally, Paul tells us in Corinthians that we are to die daily to our desires, to our sin nature, to the snares that want to turn us away, and also to the activities of daily life so that the life of Christ might be manifested in us. We live each day for the unseen kingdom of heaven knowing that one day that kingdom will be established here on this earth and we will reign together with the One who will establish it. The only way that this will happen is if we live for that kingdom now, day by day. Are you living as a citizen of the kingdom of heaven? Where are your thoughts focused, on yourself or on heavenly things? For whom do you live day by day, yourself, seeking to satisfy the desires of your sin nature? Or, do you die to yourself so that Christ may be manifested in you and through you? What are the idols in your life that are seeking to ensnare you and pull you away from the kingdom of heaven? Are you similar to the Israelites, knowing the right thing to do and wanting to do it but not being able? Or, because of the new heart that you received in the New Covenant through Christ, are you able to obey? May the Lord help us walk in the victory that He has given us in the New Testament. He is Jehovah-shammah. He is here and He is also in the future. Our job is to walk with Him now and He will lead us to the future that He has prepared for us.