Monday, May 27, 2019

Emmanuel: God with Us

The Israelites are to camp around the Tent of Meeting some distance from it, each man under his standard with the banners of his family” (Numbers 2:2).

According to Numbers 2 and 3, God arranged the Israelite camp in a square with three tribes on each side. The central tribe on the east was Judah, on the south was Reuben, on the west Ephraim, and on the north Dan. This was an outer square, at some distance from the Tabernacle.

Forming an inner square immediately around the Tabernacle were the Levites, also separated into four groups. On the east side in front of the Tabernacle gate were the Aaronic priests. On the south side were the Kohathites, on the west the Gershonites, and on the north were Merarites.

This configuration had a number of meanings. Some scholars have pointed out that the symbol of Judah was a lion, that of Reuben was a man, that of Ephraim was an ox, and that of Dan was an eagle. These are the four faces of the cherubim who guard God’s throne on all four sides (Ezekiel 1; Revelation 4). Thus, the nation of Israel was assuming a guarding function, guarding God’s holiness, just as Adam was supposed to guard the original garden of Eden.

We notice also that since the Tabernacle faced the east, in order to come into the Tabernacle a person had to move through the encampment of the Aaronic priests. The priests were the mediators who gave men access to God. A stranger would also have to come through the kingly tribe of Judah in order to approach the Tabernacle.

Perhaps most important, though, was the simple fact that God was in their midst, right in the center of the camp. The word “Emmanuel” means “God With Us,” and was the name Jesus bore during His incarnation. God was Emmanuel to Israel in the wilderness. His throne, His palace, His “tent of meeting,” was central in the society He created. The Church was not just one institution among many, side by side with state, school, and business, and it certainly was not peripheral to society as is the case today. Rather, God’s meeting house was the highest of all the tents—30 feet high—and positioned in the center. There was a time when towns and cities were built with the Church on a hill in the center of town with a high steeple. We need to recover that vision of the centrality of God’s presence.

How can the Church become central in society once again? Read Mark 10:42–45, and consider what it means in relation to this question. What specific things can your local church do to acquire influence and spiritual dominion over the place where you live?