The Presence of God

26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 ESV

Paul makes it perfectly clear that there is no place for boasting in the presence of God. No one can claim to have access to God’s presence due to their own merit or efforts. And if you recall, when Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, they were cast from the garden and away from the presence of God. Their disobedience resulted in the forfeiture of their right to enjoy unbroken fellowship with their God. Their sin brought about shame and guilt, causing them to attempt to hide from God. They even tried to cover up their nakedness, somehow ashamed of the very form in which God had created them. And the Genesis account tells us that “they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:8 ESV). But their hiding proved ineffective. God saw them and knew exactly what they had done. While they vainly attempted to cast blame and shift responsibility, God held them both accountable for their actions.  And He placed a curse on them and their future descendants, eventually banning them from ever entering the garden again.

…therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life. – Genesis 3:23-24 ESV

The Bible goes on to record that the interactions between God and sinful man were few and far between in the time immediately after the fall. Only on rare occasions did God reveal Himself to men. He did so with Cain, immediately after his murder of his brother Abel, but only to pronounce yet another curse due to sin. God told Cain. “You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth” (Genesis 4:12 ESV). And Cain, fully understanding the import of God’s curse, responded, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth” (Genesis 4:13-14 ESV). Cain was driven from the presence of God.

And things continued to get worse. Just a few chapters later in the book of Genesis Moses records just how bad things got on the earth.

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. – Genesis 6:5-8 ESV

The sin of mankind had reached epic proportions, prompting God to vocalize the just and righteous penalty for such rebellion against Him: Death. He warns that the sins of men made them deserving of their annihilation. But God had a plan already in place. A man named Noah, whom Moses describes as having found favor in the eyes of the Lord.

And God revealed Himself to Noah, providing insight into His divine plan for mankind.

Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth.” – Genesis 6:11-13 ESV

Once again, God issued a decree concerning mankind’s rampant wickedness. This time, He determined to wipe them from the face of the earth. But He chose to spare a remnant, vowing to keep Noah and his family alive so that they might repopulate the earth when the coming worldwide flood receded.

Noah enjoyed the presence of God and he proved to be obedient to God. He did all that God commanded him to do, building the ark and filling it with all male and female creatures just as God had told him to do. And God kept His covenant promise to spare Noah and his family.

But it wasn’t long before sin entered the scene again. And the next major event recorded by Moses was the tower of Babel, where the descendants of Noah determined to build a monument to their own self-importance. Disobeying God’s command to fill the earth and subdue it, they instead decided to remain in one place and build a great city. So, God dispersed them again. Not only that, He created languages that made it impossible for them to communicate with one another.

So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth. – Genesis 11:8-9 ESV

It seems that the further they got away from Eden, the further they found themselves from the presence of God. And it would not be until God revealed Himself to Abram that man would enjoy intimate communication with his maker again. God visited Abram in Ur and said to him:

“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:1-3 ESV

God chose Abram and made a covenant promise to him. God was going to bless Abram and make of him a great nation. Not only that, God promised to bless all the nations of the earth through Abram and his descendants. From Abram would come the nation of Israel, a people whom God would call His own.

“For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” – Deuteronomy 7:6 ESV

God made them His own and He promised to reestablish His presence among mankind by dwelling among the people of Israel.

I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people. I am the Lord your God…” – Leviticus 26:11-13 ESV

The people of Israel enjoyed the presence and power of God. In the wilderness, God had appeared to them as a pillar of fire at night and a pillar of cloud by day. When they built the tabernacle, His presence dwelt in the Holy of Holies. In the land of Canaan, God revealed His presence through miraculous victories over their enemies. He led them, fed them, guided and protected them. He gave them the sacrificial system so that they might receive forgiveness for their sins and maintain a right relationship with Him. But the people of Israel proved to be disobedient and ungrateful. They ended up taking God’s undeserved presence and power for granted, and the day came when God removed His presence from them. He abandoned them to their own sinful desires. Their wickedness resulted in their defeat at the hands of their enemies, sent by God to punish them for their rejection of Him. And they found themselves living in exile, once again cast from the presence of God and unable to enjoy intimate fellowship with Him.

And even when God graciously returned them to the land of Judah, they continued to disobey Him and live in open rebellion to Him. Their lives would end up marked by moral darkness and spiritual blindness. But the apostle John tells us of the day when the darkness was penetrated by the light of God. The very presence of God came to earth in the form of a man named Jesus.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:9-13 ESV

With Jesus incarnation, God came to dwell among men. Jesus was Immanuel, God with us. He took on human flesh and dwelt among men. And while many refused to accept Him for who He claimed to be, John states that “to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” And as Paul reminds us, those who become children of God also enjoy access to the presence of God. Not because of anything they have done, but because they have placed their faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross. Faith in Jesus brings with it wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. Belief in the Messiah provides sinful men all they need to be restored to a right relationship with God so that they might once again enjoy the power and presence of God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

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Cast Out of Eden

1 Blow a trumpet in Zion;
    sound an alarm on my holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
    for the day of the Lord is coming; it is near,
a day of darkness and gloom,
    a day of clouds and thick darkness!
Like blackness there is spread upon the mountains
    a great and powerful people;
their like has never been before,
    nor will be again after them
    through the years of all generations.

3 Fire devours before them,
    and behind them a flame burns.
The land is like the garden of Eden before them,
    but behind them a desolate wilderness,
    and nothing escapes them.
Joel 2:1-3 ESV

The nation of Judah was still reeling from the devastating impact of a locust plague. Their crops and vineyards had been destroyed, leaving them on the verge of starvation. Even the herds and flocks in the fields had been left wandering in search of food. And the priests found themselves with no grain or wine to use as offerings to God in the temple. As a result, Joel had called the people to assemble for a national day of mourning and fasting, and had warned them, “cry out to the Lord. Alas for the day!
For the day of the Lord is near, and as destruction from the Almighty it comes” (Joel 1:14-15 ESV).

Joel was demanding that the people repent of their sins and warning them failure to do so would result in further judgment from God. If they thought the locusts were bad, they were in for a very unpleasant surprise. In these verses Joel describes a second of judgment that was headed their way, and he refers to it as “the day of the Lord.” This phrase is found throughout the prophetic books of the Old Testament and is typically used to refer to the final phase of God’s redemptive plan for the world. The day of the Lord will entail the final judgments of God against all mankind, but also the fulfillment of His promises to Israel. It will include the period known as the Great Tribulation, when God will pour out a series of devastating judgments on the world and its inhabitants, but also the second coming of Christ, when He will defeat the enemies of God and set up His millennial kingdom on earth.

For the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
    has a day of reckoning.
He will punish the proud and mighty
    and bring down everything that is exalted. – Isaiah 2:12 NLT

For see, the day of the Lord is coming—
    the terrible day of his fury and fierce anger.
The land will be made desolate,
    and all the sinners destroyed with it. – Isaiah 13:9 NLT

The day is near when I, the Lord,
    will judge all godless nations!
As you have done to Israel,
    so it will be done to you.
All your evil deeds
    will fall back on your own heads. – Obadiah 15

As was often the case with these proclamations of pending doom, the prophets were communicating a two-phase judgment. The first phase would take place in the not-so-distant future. It would come in the form of the Assyrian or Babylonian armies, and end in the defeat and subjugation of the people of God. But these prophecies had a second and much more distant aspect to their meaning. They were speaking of events that still wait to be fulfilled. And this is true of Joel’s words as well.

Joel warns the people of Judah to sound an alarm. They were to blow the shofar or ram’s horm as a warning signal to the nation, declaring the arrival of an enemy army. Joel wants the people to feel a sense of urgency. This was not to be viewed as a remote possibility, but as a divine reality. He warns them that “the day of the Lord is coming; it is near” (Joel 2:1 ESV). He is trying to convey as sense of imminence and immediacy. They can’t afford to ignore his warning or to assume the sound of the shofar is a false alarm.

Joel breaks the news that “a great and powerful people” were headed their way. And their numbers would be so great that they would shroud the land like a blackness. In fact, he states that “their like has never been before, nor will be again after them through the years of all generations” (Joel 2:2 ESV). This was not a case of prophetic hyperbole. Joel isn’t crying wolf or trying to elicit a response by exaggerating the circumstances. He is a prophet of God proclaiming the word of God. 

What makes the writings of men like Joel, Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah, and Zechariah so fascinating is that they provide us with proof of God’s Word. He speaks and things happen. He provides His prophets with insights into future events and those things take place, just as He predicted. God never issues idle threats concerning coming judgment. He doesn’t bluff about His hatred for sin and His determination to punish His people for their rebellion. The day of the Lord is coming. God will repay all men for the evil deeds and will fulfill every promise He has made concerning His blessings and curses.

In the following verses, Joel will describe the arrival of a mighty army, using words and phrases meant to remind the people of Judah of the most recent insect invasion they had experienced. But this time, it would be armies made up of men, not arthropods. Rather than facing crop-consuming locusts, the people of Judah would become the victims of human enemies who destroy all who stand in their way. Where the insect hordes had devastated the land of God, the human army will destroy the people of God.

It is interesting to note that Joel describes the land as being like the garden of Eden prior to the coming judgment. But when it is all over, the land will be a desolate wilderness. This description is intended to reflect a spiritual reality, not a physical one. The garden of Eden was a beautiful, God-created place of perfect peace, where Adam and Eve enjoy unbroken fellowship with their Maker. But when sin entered into the scene, the guilty pair were cast out of the garden and denied access to God’s presence. They lost their right to enjoy God’s provision and presence. And instead of being blessed by God, they found themselves under His curse.

That is point Joel seems to be making. The land had already been devastated by the locusts. The fields were empty of produce and the trees and vines had been stripped bare of fruit. But it was still Edenic, because God was there. They still enjoyed the presence of God. Yet, Joel warns, the day was coming when the garden-like nature of Judah would be turned into a wilderness, devoid of the fruit of God’s power and presence. God would even resort to their removal from His land of promise, sending them into captivity in Babylon.

God is serious about sin, and He holds His people responsible for their actions. Adam and Eve had known the rules, but they had chosen to disobey them. And they suffered the consequences. The people of Judah knew what God expected of them, but they had chosen to reject His will for their own. And now, they too would suffer the consequences. The day of the Lord was coming. Judgment was inevitable and inescapable. But as we will see, God’s warning of pending judgment is always accompanied by a call to repentance.  He longs to see His people turn away from their sin and rebellion and return to Him in humility and contrition.

All the way back at the dedication of the temple constructed by Solomon, God had promised the people of Israel:

“…if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” – 2 Chronicles 7:14 ESV

That is always the heart of God. He longs to hear from His people and it is His heart’s desire to provide healing for them. But the peace of Eden will not abide the presence of sin. God requires holiness from His creation. And yet, He is going to offer the people of Judah an opportunity to return to Him in humble contrition, acknowledging their sin and their need for forgiveness and restoration.

“…return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
    and rend your hearts and not your garments.” – Joel 2:12-13 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson