I will be the first to admit that it can be very difficult to read through the Law. Reading Genesis and Exodus are great for narratives. This is where all the great stories happen-the Creation Account, the Flood Story, everything that happens with the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The tales of Joseph going to Egypt and then Moses leading Israel into the Promise Land are other iconic tales from those first two books of the Bible.
But after that, it gets really dry, really fast. Rules, laws, ordinances, decrees and a lot of talk about sacrificing animals and cleaning rituals is what occupies most of the other three Pentateuch books. For most Christians, these are books that are routinely skipped over. And I have to admit that I used to be one of those people.
However, I’ve decided to give them a shot, and I have been dumbfounded by the strange and amazing things I have found in Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
One of those things concerns where God lives, where His sanctuary is. When you read about it in Numbers, and then look at it in other Scriptures, it doesn’t seem to be very clear.
Does God live in Heaven? Or does God live in the Tabernacle? Or on the whole Earth? Or inside of us?
We’ll start by looking at Numbers.
God is talking to Moses and Aaron about what to do if someone touches a dead body. They are instructed that they should wash and purify themselves. However, if someone touches a dead body and does not wash or purify themselves, they are to be removed from the community of Israel.
“But if a person who is unclean does not purify himself, he must be cut off from the community, because he has defiled the sanctuary of the LORD.” – Numbers 19.20
What’s confusing to me is that it doesn’t say that the unclean person goes into the Tabernacle, the place of worship for Israel at this time. He doesn’t go make a sacrifice to the LORD. He doesn’t engage in any public prayers or praise. Yet, somehow, his being unclean has defiled the sanctuary of the LORD. So, does that mean that God doesn’t live in the Tabernacle? Because that would have to be the case for this unclean man to defile the sanctuary of the LORD. Right?
Many years after Moses and Aaron, another iconic biblical character came on the scene. A man named David was king in Israel. He was known for being a great lover of God and a singer/song writer. He said this about where God lived.
“The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD is on his heavenly throne…” – Psalm 11.4
After David, there arose a prophet named Isaiah that had a vision of the LORD.
“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.” – Isaiah 6.1
After this vision, the LORD spoke to Isaiah and said,
“Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be?” – Isaiah 66.1
From what David and Isaiah have written, it sounds as though God doesn’t live on the Earth at all. He doesn’t, in fact, live in the Tabernacle in the days of Moses and Aaron. And He seems to scoff and mock humanity for thinking that they could build Him a Temple or dwelling for Him.
The Heavens are where He lives. He does not make his home on the planet that we do. So then how did that man in Numbers defile the sanctuary of the LORD?
It isn’t like that man somehow made it into the heavens, or space, did he?
Or is the sanctuary of God somewhere else?
Going back to Numbers and the days of Moses and Aaron, there was a time when God said that He wasn’t limited to the Tabernacle. He did go outside of that Holy Tent. God was telling Moses that one generation of Israel wouldn’t see the Promised Land because of their disobedience, and He said,
“The LORD replied, ‘I have forgiven them, as you asked. Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the LORD fills the whole earth….” – Numbers 14.20-21
Glory can be understood in a few ways, but one of those ways is “presence”. As surely as the very presence of the LORD fills the earth means that God is present on the earth. He is there. Like He lives there.
Your presence right now may be at work or at home. It could be the car or the bus. Your presence is filling a certain space. But God’s presence, His glory fills the whole earth.
Isaiah the prophet, later records this same idea.
“And [the seraphs, angelic beings] were calling to one another: Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” – Isaiah 6.3
By these accounts, God and His presence, His glory are home here on the Earth. And everywhere on the Earth by the sounds of it, for His glory fills the entire planet.
This would make sense when we talk about the unclean of Numbers 19 defiling the sanctuary of the LORD. His disobedience has soiled the place where God is living, that being the Earth.
“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” – 1 Corinthians 3.16
“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” – 1 Corinthians 6. 19
“What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said, ‘I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.’ – 2 Corinthians 6.16
These are all verses from the letters that the apostle Paul wrote after the death and resurrection of Jesus. From the way that these verses read, Paul thinks that God lives and dwells within us. That is not a physical building that God lives in, rather His sanctuary is us.
This would make sense if that is what God was talking about back in Numbers when an unclean person defiled His sanctuary.
So which one is it? Does God live in the Tabernacle? Or on the Earth? Is His throne and dwelling in Heaven? Or in the physical bodies of his believers?
To make things more complicated, could it be a combination of those four?
Where does God live? And where is His sanctuary?
Let me know what you think.
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