The Evolution of God’s Presence


I have had the amazing privilege of being part of the lecturing team for our local women’s Bible study.  It has been one of the best spiritual communities that I have ever participated in.  And I must say that teaching adds a whole new dimension to the growth process.  You’ve got to take a good look inside before you challenge other people to do so!

Here is the final teaching on our incredible study of Exodus.  Be blessed!  (I have the audio recording, but don’t know how to link a .m4a file to this blog…Any help?)

The Evolution of God’s Presence

My daughter and I are Sound of Music fans and you may remember one of the big dilemmas in that movie was, “How do you solve a problem like Maria?”  Well, this week, my big dilemma has been, “How do you sum up a Bible study on Exodus?!”  SO MUCH HAS HAPPENED!  From “Let my people go!” to “Show me your glory!”, it’s been quite a wild ride.  So let’s start by taking a few moments to Explore Exodus again…

A baby in a basket, fostered in Pharoah’s family, matures only to murder a man, and runs to a remote region.

The shy shepherd beholds a burning bush, then this hesitant head of the Hebrews engages Egypt’s evil chief.

Brick-making bondage.  A plentitude of plagues!  A poignant Passover.  A rip-roaring rescue!  To a wealth of wilderness wandering… (Wah, wah.)

Pillars of God’s presence.   Bitter water better.  A chorus of complaints.  Falling food.  Rivers from a rock.  Arms against the Amalekites!  

Judicious Jethro. =)  Covenantal commandments.  The significance of Sabbath.  Mystery on the mountain.  An accommodating Aaron and a detrimental delay delivers a gigantic golden goof. =/

Shattered tablets.  A just Jehovah and loving Lord rebukes and renews relationship. Tablets – Take two.  

Moses’ magnificent mug.  Spirits stirred.  Generosity to Jehovah.  Creative craftsmen (& working women!).  Posh priests.  Tents and tabernacles.   

And Heaven’s holiness propels His presence to His people.  

The Jews’ journey continues…

And the extraordinary book of Exodus has been experienced.

At the end of our lesson this week, after an amazing upswing of generosity and obedience on the part of the Israelites, God’s glory was “downloaded” and He officially moved into the neighborhood.  I use that particular metaphor intentionally.  The form of God’s house conformed to that of the people (a tent.)  And Numbers 2 describes the layout of the “tent city” with the tabernacle in the middle, the Levites encamped immediately around it and 3 tribes around each of the four sides.  This was similar to the ancient Near East’s tradition of a king or war leader occupying the central location surrounded by his bodyguards and the rest of the army.  And though it is never explained why, the entrance of the tabernacle faced the rising sun.  Prophetic perhaps?

And like a good story should, Exodus leaves us with anticipation of the future, that plays out in the last 3 books of the Pentateuch.  Last week, one of the woman in our group left for a much anticipated trip with her daughter to Jordan.  Before she left, she gifted me this beautifully illustrated children’s book Exodus.  I figured that since we started our entire study months ago with excerpts from the Jesus Storybook Bible, you’d permit me to read the last few pages of this book to whet our appetites for the story that continues after Exodus…

For forty years the Hebrews traveled through the wilderness until at last they reached the edge of the Jordan valley.  From the top of a high mountain God showed Moses the beautiful land of Canaan.  “This is the land I promised to give to my people,” God said.  “I have let you see it from a distance, but you shall not enter it.

And there Moses died.  His people buried him in a peaceful valley, and they wept for him for thirty days.

Then Joshua, who had first followed Moses when he was a boy, took his place and led the Hebrews into the promised land.

After all their wanderings and struggles, they were a free people at last.  They had finally come home.

Even though Exodus itself does not finish with the Israelites marching victoriously into the promise land, Tremper Longman in How to Read Exodus asserts that the narrative still concludes with a strong sense of closure.  This is because the presence of God is arguably the most important theme in the book of Exodus.  “While at the beginning of the book, God was not explicitly present with the people, by the end, God had established an abiding symbol of his presence in the camp.”  A la the tabernacle.

Mr. Longman informs us that “the tabernacle is not an isolated concept in the Bible, but fits into a biblical theology of God’s presence that flows from the first chapters of Genesis to the concluding chapters of Revelation.  

God began with His presence in the Garden of Eden, which, after the Fall, was replaced by the stone altars built during the patriarchal period.  Then once God was forming the Hebrews into a covenant nation, the simple altars and the patriarch’s acting as priest figure would no longer suffice, so God instructed them to build a portable tabernacle and ordained a lineage of priests.

The transition from tabernacle to temple begins with King David, who informed the prophet Nathan of his intention to build God a “house” since he lived in one himself.  Instead, God ordained David to be the King who would fight to establish the nation of Israel in the land of promise and the permanent temple would be built by his son Solomon (whose name means peace) as a symbol of stability, strength and centralization.  Unfortunately, Solomon and his descendants religiously polluted the temple so God abandoned it, raised up the Babylonians to destroy it in 586 BC and bemoaned its destruction in Lamentations chapter 2.  But once again, though God would judge his people, He would not give up on them, and after the exile, they returned and rebuilt the temple in 515 BC, lasting until the time of Messiah.

And then came the “Jesus Upgrade.”  During his years on earth, he honored the temple calling it “His Father’s house” as a child and cleansing it of money changers as an adult.  Even so, He knew that it foreshadowed something greater – God’s presence coming in a more intimate way.  In John 4, He answers a Samaritan woman’s question about the proper place for worshipping God by prophesying that a time would come when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem…indeed the time is here now, when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth.”  And in John 2, Jesus called His own body the temple when he promised that He would raise the destroyed temple up in three days.  Jesus is the fulfillment of the temple and the very presence of God.  And once he died, rose again and ascended to heaven, he sent the Holy Spirit – a new power supply – which fills the church and each individual believer, much like the tabernacle was filled with the glory of God.  And now we await Christ’s second coming and an eternity in the pure and direct presence of God…

So now that we have come full circle, it’s time to think practically about how to take all the truth and wisdom that we’ve learned this year and seal it into our hearts and daily lives.    

As we wrap up women’s Bible study with our final review lesson and sharing brunch next week, most of us are heading into summer time with “to do” lists already as long as the tabernacle instructions themselves.  The Sunukjian household has a month-long road trip to prepare for, a house to get into rentable condition, the task of moving our kids into different rooms, transitioning a potty-training toddler into her own bed, preparing for my tutoring role in our homeschool co-op, and the list goes on.

And many of us have emotional “to do” lists that require managing huge burdens like making decisions regarding the health care of ourselves or a loved one, financial issues that need to get sorted out, or physical limitations that have made life a real struggle.

And then, if God has been doing his job – and He has – we all have some pretty intense spiritual “to do” lists of the work that needs to be done after all these convicting lessons and lectures!  Who keeps letting these women get up here and say hard but true things?!

  • For example, some of us may have a person that we desperately need to forgive, but find it impossible to do.
  • Many of us want to let go of crippling fear but have know idea how.
  • Perhaps you have an idol or a control issue in your life but can’t seem to let it go.
  • So many of us need to trade our complaints and judgments for gratitude and grace, but don’t know how to make that shift.
  • And a few of you precious women are really struggling with resentment toward God because of how difficult life is right now and you don’t know how to release it.  (We love you.)

I don’t mean to discourage or depress anybody, I’m just acknowledging that we women carry a load of burdens on any given day.  We are doers, go getters and problem- solvers and often try to tackle these burdens, tasks and requirements in our own finite strength and with our own limited resources.  But there are some things that just can’t be done on our own.  I have been challenged by the truth of an old hymn that we sang together a few weeks ago.  Jesus Paid It All gently declares, “I hear the Savior say, ‘Thy strength indeed is small.  Child of weakness, watch and pray.  Find in Me thy all in all.”

I am encouraging each of us to focus our attention each day, multiple times a day, on being in His presence.  So I suggest we refer regularly to a special list; one that is short and sweet.  Let’s consider the following three activities to be our “Summer To Be” list, as in “To be in His presence.”  These opportunities steer clear of doing things out of our own strength.  They are passive practices that require stillness and waiting and hope.  So get out your post-it notes and stick copies of these all over the house.  On the bathroom mirror, at your desk, on the refrigerator, in your closet and even on the top of your secret stash of dark chocolate on the upper shelf at the back of the pantry.  (Am I the only one?)  So without further adieu, our “Summer To Be” List:

REMEMBER God’s Presence.  Sometimes we feel like God is hidden, much like the Israelites may have felt every time Moses walked up that mountain.  But in order to stay in the truth of God’s ever-present presence, we must intentionally remember all the past ways He has made His presence known.  I think of Sheri’s wisdom that “forgetfulness atrophies the muscle of praise and nobody wants flabby arms!”  Let’s take Daisy’s advice and remember the last thing God did and thank Him for it.

Moses did this after the victory over the Amalekites, by building altars to celebrate God’s deliverance.  This was part of a Hebrew ritual that Joshua, Moses’ successor, termed “stones of remembrance.”  June encouraged us early on in our study that these kinds of rituals help us to remember by creating a “sacred sameness.”  So what are your stones of remembrance?  How can we create a “sacred sameness” in the midst of the crazy busyness to remember God’s presence?  Keeping the weekly Sabbath, practicing daily journaling, lighting a candle, reflecting on scripture over a cup of tea, perhaps?

I have a couple of friends who have particular symbols that cause them to remember. Karen has a knack for finding random objects in the shape of hearts – rocks, sea shells, leaves.  She has a large collection of them and each marks a time of remembrance, like a personalized love note from God   My friend, Michelle, remembers God’s love for her everytime she sees a particular flower.  8 years ago, she gave birth to a stillborn baby boy and God prompted the heart of her friend to collect for her a bouquet of wildflowers from around her house to deliver to her in the hospital that same day.  Unbeknownst to this friend, the bouquet was filled with that particular flower and it washed her grief with a reminder of God’s love.  Remembering, especially in the midst of the dark days, leads to gratefulness & praise.  

WATCH for God’s Presence.  By the time the Israelites got to Marah, their hearts were as bitter as the water.  Their immediate thirst had blinded them to God’s history of self-display all around them.  If only they had REMEMBERED the dominion he already displayed over the water at the Nile and the Red Sea!  If only they would look up and focus on the gigantic suspended pillar of fire hovering above their heads!  May we, in the vein of Micah 7:7, WATCH in HOPE as God makes our bitter sweet and, after a time in the desert, will lead us to an oasis.

So how can we keep our eyes open to the presence of God?  Sheri encouraged us to take a “wonder walk.”  Emulate Moses’ desperate cry to God, “Show me Your glory!”  I follow a mom blog called “Momastery” and last week she shared about being still enough to see what you would ordinarily miss.  She posted a picture of a 3 x 3 foot square of the coastline of the Gulf of Mexico, which looked a lot like the tide pools along our beautiful Santa Barbara beaches.  Here are her reflections on being still & watching:

For the past two years I’ve come to believe that the greatest adventure is Being Still. And so I’ve been experimenting with this theory in different ways each day. This morning I stood still at this spot near the Gulf of Mexico for twenty minutes.

At first I saw nothing. As time went on and I was stiller and stiller, a whole world began to emerge. Crabs and teeny fish and a baby stingray and needlefish…a whole world, I tell you! I could have MISSED it if I’d walked away after first glance. This reminded me of people. Every single one of us has entire complicated, layered, beautiful worlds churning beneath our surface- and we love and trust the ones who will be still and patient enough to let us slowly emerge.

Also- when I tried to explain this brilliance to my children- Chase rolled his eyes, Amma asked for a bagel, and Tish said: UGH ANOTHER METAPHOR??? I am a philosopher unappreciated in my own time.  #bestill

And it goes without saying the kind of amazing things God Himself will unfurl if only we will watch in hope.  That kind of watchfulness takes practice, self-control, and stillness.  And I don’t have it, folks!  But I want it and I bet you do too.  So let’s play “I spy” with God and, to up the ante a little, let’s share with a friend what we’ve seen.

In this dry season of feeling like I’ve exchanged gratefulness for complaining, June asked me to email her 3 evidences of God’s work in my life.  Everyday.  For the last 2 weeks.  Even in my imperfect completion of this task, the accountability of this exercise forced my eyes to open wider to God’s world throughout my day.  And even when I forgot the entire day, by the time I got to the end, I was compelled to review my day in REMEMBRANCE of what God had done, because I had an email to send to a friend who wants me to see God’s presence.  So find a friend to continue your Exodus journey with throughout this summer and play show and tell about God.

REST in God’s Presence.  Rest. Yes, please!  (When I was rehearsing this part I compulsively yawned multiple times.)  I’m sure it comes as no surprise to you all, but I AM WIPED.  This semester our lives are very full (of mostly great things) but I have officially entered into the chauffering portion of my job description.  I am battling traffic all over town to get kids to school, choir, co-op, daddy’s games, doctors appointments and baseball (which is the most time-sucking sport on earth.)  And I have a chatty toddler as my constant driving companion.  Sometimes I have to laugh because it feels like I’m on candid camera or in my own private comedy of errors, but sometimes the stress seems so thick that it feels like my brain is throbbing.  We are home just long enough to mess up the house but not long enough to give it the thorough cleaning that it needs.  I am surrounded by dirty floors, a messy kitchen, end of year projects and runaway chickens.  In a weeks time, Karis stuck a cashew up her nose, got a hot pink cast for a slight wrist fracture, and stepped barefoot in her own poop.  So the only credibility I have in encouraging you all to rest in God’s presence, is that I need it as much the Israelites did.  

Sometimes rest looks like a glorious 2 hour nap while your toddler is finally sleeping.  Sometimes it looks like a 20 minute walk after dinner while everybody else cleans up.  And sometimes it just looks like a deep-breathed, intentional pause in the car before heading off to the next appointment.  But let’s be deliberate about pursuing rest in God’s presence.  The kind where you turn your gaze to the Lord instead of filling yourself with another shallow TV show or escaping with an empty work of fiction.  Perhaps we try to imagine ourselves at the foot of the Throne of Grace, or lying beside still waters, or curled up in Jesus’ arms.  Revisit your notes on the Sabbath or choose a Sabbath book to read and reflect on this summer.  But whatever you do, the only guidelines are the ones Sheri gave us:  to cease, embrace, and feast.  So let’s partake in the healing practice of resting in the presence of God.  Be encouraged by Exodus 33:14, “His presence will go with us and give us rest.”

The fact that God would want to share His presence with us in the first place, is a Holy mystery and the greatest of gifts.  He does so because He loves us.  And I keep going back to a question that Sylvia posed at the beginning of the year.  “How would we live if we knew – truly knew – we were LOVED?”  

Well, much like “the hills are alive with the sound of music,” our worlds are alive – overflowing even – with the presence of God.  If only we will take the time and make the effort to remember, watch, and rest.  Let’s pray.

How do you practice remembering, watching, and resting?


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