By Guest Author, Stephen Scaggs
Read Part 1 Here: I Am Not Alone: The Ever-Present God, Israel, and the Church
C.S. Lewis once wrote, “We live in a world starved for solitude, silence, and private: and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.” In the beginning God said about humans that, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). While this, in context, refers to the creation of the woman as helper, Paul looks back on this chapter retrospectively and writes, “This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:32).
The entire world is feeling this right now: we are doing something that does not feel natural because it is not natural to be socially distant. Even when we are by ourselves, we have not developed adequate skills for meditation and true friendship. We were created to be social creatures, and at the time of writing this article and the present COVID-19 pandemic, we feel this incredibly painful absence, even while needed.
While this particular strain of the coronavirus is novel, social distancing to avoid plagues is not. In fact the people of God were to separate themselves from lepers because they bore the mark of the corruptible. You can read about that in length in Leviticus 13, everyone’s favorite Bible book! If the leprosy was found the priest was to “shut them up” away from other people. But this was considered an “act of mercy,” and God delights in mercy.
The God Who Forms
The Law of Moses was not given to save Israel from their sins: no, they had literally just been saved from oppression in Egypt. These saved people are now then gathered at the Mount “of God’s redeeming love,” where he tells them that they are his and says to them “I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself” (Exodus 19:4). He saved them for a reason, for formation, for assembly. Indeed Stephen the Martyr refers back to that assembly as “the congregation in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38).
It was here at Sinai God makes a partnership with Israel, where he meets his church at the mountain. And in the middle of this formation God himself wanted to live with them. Immediately after God gives the basic package of laws (Exodus 20-23) and after making the covenant official (Exodus 24), he then wants them to make a portable access to his presence right in the middle of the church. The laws might seem tedious but the reason behind the sanctuary is beautiful: “Let them construct a sanctuary for me, that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8). In a real sense this is why God saved these people: he wants to dwell among them!
If the story ended right around Exodus 31, we would be able to neatly close our Bible. But unfortunately Israel breaks the first 4 of the 10 commandments (at least how I understand #3 and #4!) This was tantamount to a bride immediately running down the wedding aisle following the “I Do’s” and running into the embrace of a stranger, not her now-husband. But luckily for you and for me, God doesn’t zap Israel (although he wants to! [Exodus 32:9-11]).
Instead he speaks who He is and tells them a little more about His Name that they’ve taken in vain:
The LORD descended in the cloud and stood there with him as he called upon the name of the LORD. Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.” Moses made haste to bow low toward the earth and worship. He said, “If now I have found favor in Your sight, O Lord, I pray, let the Lord go along in our midst, even through the people are so obstinate, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us as Your own possession.” – Exodus 34:5-9
For God to dwell with us is for us to be God’s inheritance. I love those two thoughts paired together. When the church meets and professes the Name of Jesus, we are his and he is ours. Even while we’re experiencing social distancing right now, let us seek the God who delights in mercy and is “abounding in lovingkindness and truth.”