38 Now this is what you shall offer on the altar: two lambs a year old regularly each day. 39 One lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer in the evening; 40 and with the first lamb one-tenth of a measure of choice flour mixed with one-fourth of a hin of beaten oil, and one-fourth of a hin of wine for a drink offering. 41 And the other lamb you shall offer in the evening and shall offer with it a grain offering and its drink offering, as in the morning, for a pleasing odor, an offering by fire to the Lord. 42 It shall be a regular burnt offering throughout your generations at the entrance of the tent of meeting before the Lord, where I will meet with you, to speak to you there. 43 I will meet with the Israelites there, and it shall be sanctified by my glory; 44 I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar; Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate, to serve me as priests. 45 I will dwell among the Israelites, and I will be their God.
By chapter 19 of the Book of Exodus, the people of Israel arrive at Mt. Sinai. It is at Mt. Sinai that Moses receives the 10 commandments, the law, and other instructions regarding the building of the temple and the anointing of priests for God’s service to the people. Through each detailed instruction to Moses, God reminds Moses that these laws are to protect the people, to guide the people, and are there for their instruction so that they will not wander off and worship other gods.
After the make-shift temple is constructed and the altar is in place, God reiterates the covenant that God made with Abraham. First, there is the sacrifice of animals (not humans), along with a grain sacrifice (that of choice flour), a small amount of oil (olive oil), and a drink sacrifice (that of new wine). These offerings are to be made morning and night.
Later in the Hebrew Bible one of the prophets calls for an end to all sacrifices proclaiming that God doesn’t want our sacrifice, but rather our hearts.
If we place the progression for spiritual activity into context, God is working with the people to change how they worship and approach God over time. In the beginning, there is the elimination of child sacrifice, which becomes animal sacrifice. By requiring them to engage in this practice two times daily, it develops a habit among the people of praying to God, spending time with God at least two times per day (plus all of the other sacrifices made for all of the special days and holidays). In other words, God his helping the people develop specific worship habits. Eventually, though, God says no more sacrifice other than your whole being. A different kind of human sacrifice. It is almost as if God had to take them full circle in order to figure out that the kind of sacrifice God meant from the beginning was a spiritual one, not a literal one.
By the time we get to the end of this passage, we find the famous words that God used with Abraham, “I will be their God,” words that reflect the promise of the covenant made between God and Abraham.
These words represent a key concept in the ancient world, every people, regardless of origin, had a community God that they worshiped. The Israelites were no exception. Throughout the Biblical text, we see the people of Israel working out for themselves exactly what this “God” represents to them. They go through many iterations from the beginning of the Genesis story, but with each shift or change, it is accompanied by the notion “They will be my people, and I will be their God.”
Our passage today reflects God’s willingness to dwell among the people in a way that the gods of other nations fell short. Most other gods resided at a distance from their people, rarely interacting with those who worshiped them. The God of Abraham, on the other hand, wanted to remain close to the people. Even though we are seeing a distancing in the ways in which God interacts with the people, especially from the time of Adam where they spoke directly with God, to Noah who also spoke directly with God, to now where God must be hidden by a cloud; there is still a desire to be intimate with the people. The creation of the temple allows for that closeness. God is saying to the people, I want to dwell among you.
All of the preparations for the temple were detailed by God to the people so that God could dwell in the Holy of Holies among the people. God wanted to be fully present with them, but also knew that the power of God must be contained in some way so as not to disrupt the fabric of all living things. The Holy of Holies provides this kind of safety much like protecting ourselves for radiation poisoning. Even the vestments of the priests were engineered to certain specifications so that they would be protected. The kind of energy that they would have come in contact with must have been extraordinary.
God’s desire to dwell among them must have been so important that God was willing to risk all of the inherent problems with the Ark of the Covenant and the construction of the temple. When you read through the Book of Exodus, each detail is planned so meticulously that you cannot help but notice the care in which God takes over protecting the people. This is a special bond that God is creating here on earth between God and the people. It isn’t to be taken lightly. But it also cannot last forever.
Over the next several weeks we are going to be looking at this theme, “I will be their God.” We will be exploring the few passages in scripture where God makes this pronouncement and how the people respond to such a statement. With each assertion from God, there is a subtheme that runs through that particular passage.
Week 1 – Dwell Among Them
Week 2 – Return to Them
Week 3 – Restore Them
Week 4 – Promises to Them
Week 5 – The New Covenant
With each of these passages we will see how God is moving us through time from his original covenant with Abraham all the way to the new covenant in Jesus. This movement is critical for our understanding of how God interacts with the people and how God continually reminds the people, “I will be their God.”