When God Goes Camping With His People
The children of Israel were a motley mob of ex-slaves setting out on a journey from Egypt to Canaan. When it came time for them to stop for the night, the Lord organized them into an orderly encampment of 12 tribes, formed around a great open circle with three tribes in each direction of the compass. He led them by day by a pillar of cloud and by night by a pillar of fire that journeyed with them.
Then He issued the amazing command: “Let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell in their midst” (Ex. 25:8).1
He would pitch His tent right in the middle of their camp! God consented to go camping with His stiff-necked cantankerous people on their journey.
The Lord gave directions for the tent He would occupy—plain on the outside, covered with animal skins, but with walls and furniture of gold inside that reflected the light of a seven-lamp candelabra that was kept burning continually. In the innermost shrine was the ark of God, His earthly throne. His law was placed on the inside covered with a mercy seat of gold. Thus justice and mercy were the foundation of His government.
The people responded joyfully to God’s request for a tent to dwell in. They donated their newly acquired gold, silver, and other materials for its construction. When the furniture was completed, “then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Ex. 40:34).
The Lord wanted His people to remember His mighty acts in delivering them from slavery in Egypt.
The divine GPS had a unique way of operating. “Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out. . . . For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys” (verses 36-38).
The cloud led them on what looked like a death march through the “waste howling wilderness” where there was no water, no food, and no grass for the milling herds. The need for water quickly became urgent. The people became so desperate that they accused Moses of bringing them into the desert to kill them all! Then the Lord commanded Moses to smite the rock, and from it would issue a river of water to quench the thirst of man and beast (Ex. 17:3-6; 1 Cor. 10:4).
The Lord wanted His people to remember His mighty acts in delivering them from slavery in Egypt and in leading them to Canaan, a land “flowing with milk and honey” (Ex. 3:8). So He gave them Passover, a seven-day celebration, to celebrate their deliverance from Egypt. Then He gave them another feast, the Feast of Tabernacles, to remember the journey from Egypt to Canaan.2
God Comes Down Again
Just as God camped with Israel in the wilderness, He came down once more to camp with His people. Jesus, the majestic Word who created and sustains the universe, emptied Himself of His glory, got inside human skin, and made the journey with us. “He pitched His tent by the side of the tents of men, that He might dwell among us, and make us familiar with His divine character and life,” writes Ellen White.3
John puts it like this: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
God entered human skin and lived among us. Like the tabernacle of ancient Israel, His earthly tent was very ordinary looking on the outside—He had “no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (Isa. 53:2). But oh, what majesty lay underneath the surface! Externally He was an ordinary man, but inwardly He was the Shekinah glory of God, reflected in the gold of His character. Once again God pitched His tent among His people and lived among us.4
What condescension, what love, is shown in this! The apostle Paul writes in amazement that Jesus, who was in the form of God, emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of humanity. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on the cross (Phil. 2:6-8).
The reason He became human was so that He could descend the ladder of humiliation, all the way from the throne of God to a shameful death on the cross. He shared the experience of His people in all their joys, sorrows, temptations, and even death. He did it to redeem His people from death (Heb. 2:14, 15).
Jesus and the Feast of Tabernacles
In Jesus’ day the Feast of Tabernacles was celebrated with booths made of branches of leafy trees. Thousands of pilgrims made the journey to Jerusalem. People made booths in their yards, on the roofs of their houses, and on the streets to accommodate the crowds that came from many countries to celebrate. They all lived in booths together to remember the desert journey of their ancestors.
Jesus attended the feast in the middle of the seven-day celebration. To celebrate the pillar of cloud, the Temple blazed with artificial lights. To celebrate the river of water, the priest carried a flagon of water from the Kedron to the altar, where there were two basins, one for water and one for wine, which were both poured into a pipe leading to the Kedron Valley.5
In the spirit of the occasion Jesus arose on the last day of the feast and proclaimed, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’ ” (John 7:37).
Here Jesus had a wonderful vision of how His spirit of love would enter human hearts and flow out to others, not a trickle, or a brook, or a stream, or a river—but rivers of living water to quench the thirst of the multitudes. How could this happen? Each heart would become a spring of water welling up to eternal life (John 4:14). The river from Him would multiply into many rivers.
But John unveils a deeper meaning. Here is an amazing fact: From His lifeless body issued a mighty river of blessing to the world and the onlooking universe.
“Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:39).
Jesus was glorified as He hung lifeless on the cross (John 12:23, 32, 33). At that time a Roman soldier thrust a spear into His side, and from the wound issued blood and water (John 19:34; 1 John 5:6). From that wound would flow rivers of living water—the Holy Spirit as His promised gift to His followers. Not long after the Crucifixion the promised gift of the Holy Spirit was given (John 20:22; Acts 2:1-4). The river from Jesus’ side represents His gift of the Holy Spirit to replace His presence in the world when He ascended to heaven.
Since the tabernacle built by Moses was later supplanted by Solomon’s magnificent Temple, the Temple became another image of God’s dwelling. After Jesus went back to His Father, His Spirit came down to dwell in God’s temple on earth.
You and I: His Temple
God’s Spirit stoops deep down to dwell in you and me as individuals
(1 Cor. 6:19). We are temples of God, buildings in which God dwells. The great hymn writer Frances Ridley Havergal expressed eloquently what it meant to be God’s temple: “Live out Thy life within me, O Jesus, King of kings!”
“The temple has been yielded, and purified of sin;
“Let Thy Shekinah glory now shine forth from within,
“And all the earth keep silence, the body henceforth be
“Thy silent, gentle servant, moved only as by Thee.”6
This great hymn describes what it means to be indwelt by the Spirit in a time of great helplessness, leading to death.
The Grand Climax
In the grand finale of the great controversy all that was symbolized by the Feast of Tabernacles becomes literally true.
The tabernacle is there.
As the Holy City, New Jerusalem, comes down out of heaven from God, a loud voice from the throne says, “Behold, the tabernacle [skene, “tent”] of God is with men, and He will dwell [literally, “pitch his tent”] with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God” (Rev. 21:3, NKJV).7
The temple is there.
“Its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb” (verse 22).
The Shekinah glory is there.
“And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (verse 23).
The river is there.
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb” (Rev. 22:1).
Miracle of miracles, we can drink of it today!
“The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’
. . . And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price” (verse 17).
Thus we see the loving persistence of our God in His attempts to come close to our rebellious race. He dwelt in a tent and went camping with ancient Israel for 40 years. Then the Son was born into humanity and lived among us for 33 years. Since then the Holy Spirit dwells in the church and in each receptive heart. Finally the Father Himself comes down from heaven to dwell with His redeemed family forever!
Lord, come into my heart and go camping with me—now and forever!
- Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations have been taken from the English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
- For a rich source of information about the meaning of the Feast of Tabernacles, see Samuele Bacchiocchi, God’s Festivals in Scripture and History: Part 2: The Fall Festivals (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Biblical Perspectives, 1996), pp. 208-280.
- Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898), p. 23.
- Here I would like to point out some interesting facts about Hebrew, Greek and English. In Hebrew the word to dwell is shakan, from which the word shekinah, God’s indwelling presence, is derived. In Greek it is skene, meaning tent. The verb skenoo means “to tent” or “to dwell.” In English we have the word skin. In all three languages the consonants are s k n.
- This is based on E. G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 449.
- For anyone suffering from terminal illness, as Frances Ridley Havergal did, her poem has deep comfort and meaning. See The Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1985), no. 316.
- Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.