The Promise of God’s Presence

by

Out of the blue, the old man heard the voice of God. This wasn’t one of the gods his people tried to placate in fear. This one talked. What did He want?

The old man’s name was Abram, later changed to Abraham. The God who spoke was Yahweh—literally, “He who is.” Yahweh told him to leave Ur, which was near the Persian Gulf, and move to a small strip of land along the Mediterranean. God would be there, and Abraham would enjoy His presence.

TO GLORIFY GOD AND ENJOY HIM

The story is told in Genesis 12. Abraham’s descendants—a weary batch of liberated slaves—heard it anew at Sinai. They were in shock. Only days earlier, they had witnessed Yahweh’s tenfold humiliation of the no-gods of Egypt. Now they learn that He is not a god but the God, King of heaven and earth, and that He has had a special mission for them all along.

They learn their own story, one that began globally. God made all things for Himself, and He crowned His work with a man with whom He would enjoy His world. Heaven and earth were united, God and Adam were intimate, walking and talking each evening. God’s presence meant delight; in it man would flourish.

But the man and his wife rebelled. They ran and hid from God’s presence. Alienation replaced intimacy. Gone was joy; no one flourishes outside God’s presence. Cherubim—with sword in the garden, then woven into the tabernacle’s heavy curtain—would announce an ugly truth: man cannot return to joy and blessing in God’s presence until sin has been removed.

Life was deconstructed outside of the presence of God. The horror of a flood and defiant independence at Babel tell a sad tale: man would not live in God’s presence; therefore, mankind could not flourish.

BLOODY SHADOWS OF HOPE

But a new covenant changed the tone of the story. New language sounded: Yahweh would bless Abraham. The word bless a ppears five times in Genesis 12:2–3, an intentional counterpoint to the five uses of curse in chapters 1–11. To “bless” means God will restore creation’s original purpose—to make life flourish again in the presence of God.

How? God would start with Abraham and his children. They would enjoy God’s presence and flourish in the land of milk and honey. Their delight was also their mission: to enjoy God’s presence so that the world, too, would know Him.

God knew the people’s faithlessness would blunt their witness. So He gave Abraham shadows to propel his faith forward to the Faithful One: cleaved animal carcasses arranged on each side of a bloody aisle that God himself would walk (Gen. 15); circumcision, a bloody ritual pointing to One who would be cut away for us (Col. 2:11); a son on an altar beneath a father’s blade, and a lamb to shadow the Substitute that God would offer (Gen. 22:8). Only in Abraham’s true Seed would the presence of God return in new and fresh ways: this hoped-for One would announce and then enact the Jubilee blessings of healing, forgiveness, and joy that would give a weary people hope that life could flourish again (Luke 4:18–44; see Lev. 25, Isa. 61). And only at His death would the curtain be torn and the cherubim dismissed from service.

A CONTINUING MISSION

Our chief purpose is “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” Such delight is not selfish. Like Abraham and Israel, the church both enjoys and embodies God’s presence. We proclaim the gospel in word and deed so that the world, too, may know Him. In His presence, our delight gives the world hope.

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