In Exodus 25 God commands Israel to build Him a tent so that He can live amongst them. “Really!”, the God of the universe, who some might even argue is the universe, needs a group of wayward Israelites to build him a shelter so He can commune with them? This command appears to be a bit puzzling, especially for God who can do anything (Genesis 18:14, Jeremiah 32:17, 27, Job 42:2). Yet, for some reason, the Almighty beseeches this rambling tribe to build Him a shelter. Here, we will explore Exodus 25:8, and dig out the true meaning.
To help answer the question, let’s go forward in time. About the 9th century BCE, over 500 years after the Tabernacle was established. Here the Tabernacle was transitioned into a Temple 1. As we know, King Solomon would have it built for God. Yet, even in King Solomon’s dedication ceremony he admits God cannot be contained in a house:
“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold the heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You; much less this temple that I have erected…” 1 Kings 8:27
Later on, the prophet Jeremiah concedes to this as he expresses on God’s behalf “…Do I not fill the heavens and the earth? says the Lord.” – Jeremiah 23:24. This is further amplified by Isaiah, in the end of his book “…So says the Lord, “The heavens are My throne, and the earth is My footstool; which is the house that you will build for Me, and which is the place of My rest? – Isaiah 66:1. Yet, when we research the Tabernacle, there are more verses dedicated to constructing it, then anything else in the Tanakh (Old Testament). What gives?
The issue is actually quite complexe. As we know, God is beyond our physical realm, whereas we are restricted to the material. Our rationalizing is greatly hindered because we usually understand things in non spiritual or worldly sense. So, when God influences us, He uses the physical as a conduit. This is done specifically for our comprehension. For example, when God wanted Israel’s obedience in the desert, He influenced them through physical means. This is why He had poisonous snakes bite the disobedient as a means of getting their attention. God had this followed up with Moses putting a metal snake on a pole as a focal point for the victims to look upon. This served as an icon of faith resulting in curing the sufferers and consequently inspired the obedience God required (Numbers 21:5-9). Yes, it would be easier for God to “will” our compliance but with us possessing “free will” He has to influence us through tangible means.
As a Soldier, my team and I went into villages in Iraq to revitalize them. Many Iraqis saw us as a big checkbook and demanded our assistance. In many cases, we were actually causing more problems than good. One day, after a village insisted we repair their police station, we hit our breaking point. We told them we would do nothing until they cleaned the site, making it ready for our inspection. Granted, it was a delay tactic, we didn’t think they would do it. The next week we came back. The bricks were neatly stacked and the area was immaculate. There attitude was also different, they were amicable and humble. Happy with this renewed relationship, we made this our “flagship” village. Basically we focused our resources on it as a reward for their compliance. This bond would be maintained as long as our relationship remained respectful and productive. We called this technique “sweat equity”. The idea is that we would not give something for nothing. Giving something for nothing causes two “encies”: complacency and dependency. This approach was pivotal, and all the other villages capitulated.
Returning back to Exodus 25:8, we need to look and see what God is really saying here “…they shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst”. He isn’t saying “make Me a sanctuary so I can live in it”. God didn’t need a domicile from Israel, He wanted their earnestness in establishing a relationship with Him. As God stated earlier “…if you obey Me and keep My covenant, you shall be to Me a treasure out of all peoples, for Mine is the entire earth” – Exodus 19:5. Here He is saying the same thing, just in a different way.