The Promise of Presence
Israel Restored to the Land
I will display my glory among the nations; and all the nations shall see my judgment that I have executed, and my hand that I have laid on them. The house of Israel shall know that I am the Lord their God, from that day forward. And the nations shall know that the house of Israel went into captivity for their iniquity, because they dealt treacherously with me. So I hid my face from them and gave them into the hand of their adversaries, and they all fell by the sword. I dealt with them according to their uncleanness and their transgressions, and hid my face from them.
Therefore thus says the Lord God: Now I will restore the fortunes of Jacob, and have mercy on the whole house of Israel; and I will be jealous for my holy name. They shall forget their shame, and all the treachery they have practiced against me, when they live securely in their land with no one to make them afraid, when I have brought them back from the peoples and gathered them from their enemies’ lands, and through them have displayed my holiness in the sight of many nations. Then they shall know that I am the Lord their God because I sent them into exile among the nations, and then gathered them into their own land. I will leave none of them behind; and I will never again hide my face from them, when I pour out my spirit upon the house of Israel, says the Lord God.
“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
Closely related to their adoption as God’s people was the promise of God’s presence among them. their world had no United Nations, no NATO, they didn’t even really have local police. You either protected yourself from the world or you paid someone to do it. The outcomes of these conflicts were considered the consequence of your favor with God. He either looked upon you and smiled, or He hit His face from you because He was ashamed of you.
God hiding His face (and His presence) was a punishment. In times of crisis it was a death sentence. In our culture that embraces the belief of an omnipresent God, we don’t luke the threat of losing God’s presence seriously. We bounce between the belief that it is impossible to escape God’s presence, so why bother worrying about it, to the thought that God ‘’flees from our sinfulness”. Neither one of these is an accurate picture of God’s presence in the Old Testament.
The first example we have of losing God’s presence is the simplest and clearest:
“Then the Lord God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.”
The curse of sin is not that God flees from us, it is that we get expelled from the blessings God has given us. Israel experienced this on multiple occasions where their homes were given to foreignors and they were carted off in slavery. Losing God’s presence means getting kicked out of our home. Some theologians believe that people do not get sent to Hell so much as they get kicked out of Heaven, thus losing God’s presence in the afterlife. Others disagree and think God is very present in eternal punishment. Either way, God does not move, we do.
That is what makes God’s promise in Ezekiel so powerful. When God gives us His Spirit He is fulfilling His promise to never leave or forsake us. We need not fear getting kicked out of the Kingdom because God’s Spirit leads and guides us to come together in His presence, and where the Spirit draws us together God looks upon us and smiles and the Church is born – the Body of Christ sent to welcome new believers and usher in God’s Kingdom.
Where do you feel God’s presence?