God’s Dwelling Place

The Holy Spirit has always played an active role in the Bible. Even though He is rarely specifically referenced throughout the Old Testament, it is important to understand that He was still present and at work in the world since the beginning of time when He hovered over the face of the waters (Gen. 1:2). Since then, He has been active in the world and in humanity by sustaining God’s tangible presence on the earth.

From the very beginning of creation, God desired His presence to be found among His people. In fact, His physical presence amidst humanity can already be found as early as Genesis 3:8 when Adam and Eve hear “the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (Gen. 3:8). This statement, in all of its simplicity and casualness, seems to imply that there was no need for any kind of earthly architecture to be created for God to dwell in. His place among His people was as simple a stroll in the garden.

But after the fall, things changed. The world no longer recorded His presence with such familiarity except for in a few mysterious passages. These passages include the Lord appearing in some kind of physical form to Abraham as He was on His way to Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 18) and with Jacob who wrestled with a man until daybreak, claiming that He had “seen God face to face” and lived (Gen. 32:24-30). Moses used to also speak with God face to face, “just as a man speaks to his friend” (Ex. 33:11). But altogether, God’s presence was not quite so manifest until the tabernacle was erected.

The tabernacle was “a copy and shadow of the heavenly things” (Heb. 8:2)—an architectural blueprint that God Himself wrote up and gave to Moses in great detail. His instructions included materials to be used and specific measurements, and even the furniture that would be found in the Tabernacle (Ex. 25-27, 30). Yet despite all of this specificity, God actually found Himself taking up residence within the humble abode of a tent and amidst the first mobile church crew. This, for the time being, would become God’s dwelling place on the earth.

After the Tabernacle had been erected, God’s glory filled it (Ex. 40:34). In this case, God’s physical presence on the earth was that of a cloud. He had now found a dwelling place outside of Eden in which He would take up residence. Or as one commentary points out:

…not even Moses could enter this greater tent of meeting, a tent where God’s full glory dwelt (40:35), for at that point God began to dwell with his people in a more intimate way. God was one step further away from the tragedy of man’s fall into sin and one step closer to his future perfect dwelling among believers when his tabernacle will appear in the new heavens and earth (Rev. 21:3).[1]

Now as this love story continues on, one might find himself with a question: “How is this presence related to the Holy Spirit?” This is actually an important and essential question we must ask in order to understand the role of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament since He is rarely mentioned by name. For our answer, we turn to the Tyndale Bible Dictionary:

In the Holy Spirit the transcendent God draws near to his people. The Spirit is the medium through whom God’s presence becomes real among his people (Is 63:11–14; Zec 7:12)… The Spirit was the presence and power of God with his people—God himself acting in accordance with his essential nature. The sinner cannot be in the presence of God without the aid of God’s Holy Spirit; to be deprived of the Holy Spirit is to be deprived of God’s presence (Ps 51:11). Without the Spirit, communion between God and humans is not possible.[2]

Furthermore, Isaiah connects God’s presence throughout the Exodus as the work of the Holy Spirit (Is. 63:9-14). And so, we come to understand that God’s presence here on earth is in fact the Holy Spirit at work among His people, for no one can see God’s true face and live (Ex. 33:20)—but then again, the Holy Spirit was at times, just as lethal as God’s face (Acts 5:3-5, 9-10). It was this presence of the Holy Spirit that Moses begged God to lead he and Israel through the desert (Ex. 33:15)

Yet, despite how magnificent and meaningful God’s humble dwelling place was, it eventually became a tent of corruption and evil during its time in Shiloh. During the beginning of 1 Samuel, it appears that it was more common to be drunk than to offer authentic worship within the Tabernacle (1 Sam. 1:13-14), and on top of that, the high priest’s worthless sons (of Belial) committed sins within the tabernacle on a regular basis. They converted it from a house of prayer into a robber’s den as they stole the meat of the sacrifices made there (1 Sam. 2:16) and even managed to turn the tabernacle into a brothel (1 Sa. 2:22). Yet, despite all of the sin that permeated in the Tabernacle, it was still known as God’s dwelling place.

Furthermore, Samuel was found sleeping where the ark of God was (1 Sa. 3:3), which was a sacred place that the Holy Spirit’s dwelling, manifest presence was often found (2 Sa. 6:2; 2 Ki. 19:15; Ps. 80:1; 99:1). It was also a place in which God spoke to Moses from the mercy seat between the cherubim on top of the ark (Ex. 25:22; Nu. 7:89). Who knows, perhaps this is a part of the reason that Samuel heard God’s call so clearly—after all, “word from the LORD was rare in those days, [and] visions were infrequent” (1 Sa. 3:1).

After Shiloh, the Ark was stolen, returned, and moved around a few times before it took up new residence in a new place. David’s son, Solomon laid out a plan to build a permanent, glorious temple in which God promised to dwell (1 Ki. 16:12-13). It was built with all of the same kind of furnishings as the original tabernacle, but was much, much more magnificent. After much construction, the temple was finished, the Ark was moved into the holy of holies, and the thick cloudy presence of God filled the temple so strongly that the “priests could not stand to minister” (2 Ch. 5:13-14). But even this dwelling place in all of its magnificence and glory was destroyed.

This brings us into the New Testament in which the Holy Spirit took up residency within Jesus. He became the model as to what ministry in the direction and power of the Holy Spirit looked like and then asked the Father to send us, His followers, the same Spirit (Jn. 14:16-17).

This changed everything. No longer is the physical dwelling place of the Holy Spirit within some form of architecture, but He is now found within Christians themselves, for they are the temple of God (Ro. 8:9; 1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16). One author has this to say on the subject:

By fulfilling both the new covenant and the renewed temple motifs, the Spirit becomes the way God himself is now present on planet earth. The temple imagery is especially significant in this regard, since the temple was always understood as the place of God’s dwelling, the place of his glory. For Paul the Spirit is how God presently dwells in his holy temple. Significantly, such dwelling takes place both in the gathered community, as one might we expect given the Old Testament background to this usage, and especially in the heart of the individual believer.[3]

God’s new plan is to subject His presence, glory, and Spirit to both the believer and the church as a whole. Should the individual live by the direction and power of the Spirit, they will look like Jesus and become a phenomena to the world as the presence of God is noticed within them. Should they subject their temple to robbery and sex as the sons of Belial did, then they shall call judgment upon themselves.

It’s a risky plan, but God “indeed is good for His lovingkindness is everlasting” (2 Ch. 5:13). It was this phrase that was sung that seemed to beckon the cloudy glory into the temple and it’s the same phrase a believer must agree with to intensify the presence within his or her own temple. For it is out of His goodness and lovingkindess that we are offered His Spirit and it’s by His Spirit and mercy that we are saved (Ti. 3:5).


[1]Robert B. Hughes and J. Carl Laney, Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary, The Tyndale reference library (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001). 41.

[2]Walter A. Elwell and Philip Wesley. Comfort, Tyndale Bible Dictionary, Tyndale reference library (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001). 1072.

[3] Fee, Gordon D. Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996. 15. Print.

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