God's Rescue Plan
I'll admit it: The Bible can seem confusing.
We might think, It's just random stories about people who lived thousands of years ago. But when you really dig into it, the Bible becomes more than a bunch of stories with little relationship to each other. In fact, the Bible is one big, connected story about God's plan to be with us. That plan started in the Garden of Eden. God designed it so he could live with us—actually walk and talk and be with us face-to-face. Of course, we know what happened next: Adam and Eve blew it. They sinned. And because of that sin, they had to leave paradise and get real jobs. But God didn't abandon them, and he hasn't abandoned us. He launched a five-phase rescue mission to save us from our sin.
Phase 1: God goes camping
The first step in that rescue mission was the tabernacle. When Moses and the Israelites escaped Egypt, God told them to build a big tent (the tabernacle) and carry it wherever they went. But this was no ordinary Coleman tent. This was basically where God "lived" on Earth. This is where God revealed himself in the form of a bright, glowing cloud. Exodus 40:34 says, "Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle."
The cloud and the tabernacle were very comforting for the Israelites. For hundreds of years after Adam and Eve sinned, only a few people had been able to interact with God—people like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But now, all of the Israelites were able to see the cloud. It was God's way of saying, "Hey, I'm still with you guys. Don't worry."
On the other hand, the tabernacle was a big reminder of what humanity had lost because of sin. There was a special room inside called the Holy of Holies. This was where God's presence dwelled. But, because of sin, people couldn't go in there. They were separated from God by a thick curtain. In fact, the only person who could ever go through that curtain was the High Priest—and he could only do that once a year after being purified with lots of sacrificial blood (Leviticus 16). Remember that bit about sacrificial blood because that's very, very important to God's big rescue plan.
Phase 2: God moves into a big house
Around 1000 B.C., an Israelite king named David started thinking, Hmmm, I sure have a really nice house. Maybe it's time we upgraded God's tent a little bit. So he spent his life planning out a really posh palace. His son Solomon, too, spent a lot of his life getting God's temple built. Finally, it was finished.
Here's what happened next: "When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the Lord" (1 Kings 8:10, NIV). Sound familiar? It's just like when God moved into the tabernacle, only this time his presence filled up a more permanent structure. It was like God was stepping deeper into our world, taking up a more permanent residence.
Unfortunately, the situation took a bad turn. Just like Adam and Eve, the Israelites messed up. They sinned. They stopped following God's commands and began worshiping idols. As a result, God left the building: "Then the glory of the Lord rose from above the cherubim and … departed from over the threshold of the temple" (Ezekiel 10:4, 18, TNIV).