by Pastor Bud Talbert
The Old Testament Tabernacle was especially noted as a place where God’s unique presence dwelled. Hannah would bring the newly weaned Samuel to “appear in the presence of the LORD (i.e. at the Tabernacle) and dwell there forever.” (1 Sam 1:22) And so the lad “grew in the presence of the LORD” (2:21, cp. 26:20, Jer 3:17, Lam 2:19). Angels, with Satan among them, appear in heaven, the place we always associate with God’s presence (Job 1:12, 2:7), though we may be surprised to find Satan there. A third place where the unique presence of God is found is among His people. Psalm 114 commemorates the exodus of Israel from Egypt, and the remarkable presence of the LORD guiding Israel to Sinai: “Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob …”
We read in Gen 3:8 that after Adam and Eve sinned by taking the prohibited fruit, “… the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.” They both had “heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day” and they were afraid of God because they sinned. Our consciousness of sin always hinders us coming before the face of Yahweh. Sometimes it keeps us from our devotions altogether because, like our first parents, we are ashamed. But as Psa 139:7-12 so eloquently declares, where can we go to escape God’s Spirit? Nowhere! Where can we go to flee from God’s presence? Nowhere! Could Adam and Eve hide from God? No. And neither can we. We can avoid prayer and the Word. But running from an omnipresent God is useless.
Yet people have always attempted it. “Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod.” (Gen 4:16) Likewise, Jon 1:3 tells of the prophet doing the same thing: “But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish (the place in the ancient world regarded as farthest from Israel). So he paid the fare and went down into it (i.e. the ship), to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.” By fleeing the Lord’s call, Jonah was fleeing the Lord’s presence. Cain was forced away from God’s presence. Sadly, Jonah willingly fled from Him.
But there is coming the most striking and terrifying separation from the presence of the Lord in the day of divine judgment on the lost. “Those who do not know God … those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus … will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord ….” How long will they suffer His absence? Forever. God help us, on the one hand, to always seek the souls of men with the gospel, lest they suffer that horrible punishment. And, on the other hand, God help us to always value our greatest treasure – God’s presence – recalling Moses’ desire: “If Your presence will not go with me, do not being us up from here” (Ex 33:15).