Have you ever thought about what it would be like to be God? Not a lower-case “god” but the God?
Breathtaking idea, right? Well, if you haven’t thought about it, imagine this: If you were looking over God’s shoulder, how would you handle the following situation?
It’s right around 1500 BC. You have finally convinced your close human friend Moses to march a million Hebrew slaves out of Egypt and over the Red Sea to freedom. You have had to display your power a bit—sending plagues upon the Egyptians, parting the waters of the Red Sea, and igniting a guiding cloud that was bright on one side and dark on the other.
But now your chosen nation is free. See them down there? They’re straggling along through the desert, moms clutching toddlers’ hands, ready to snatch them away from poisonous snakes, dads driving herds of cattle and sheep, hoping to find waterholes. Pretty soon, they will all need to stop and set up camp.
So, if you were God, what would be your next step?
Remember, you chose these people as your own. You love them. You have made astonishingly generous promises to them and their ancestors. You are guiding them to a land that you know will be an ideal homeland. That is because Canaan is the main travel route between Europe, Asia, and Africa. That strategic positioning will allow travelers from all over the continent to see how you take care of your people and how your culture works, so they will admire it and want to copy it for themselves and turn trustingly in your direction.
So, what should you do next? Here are some options.
As God, you could do nothing. Sure, you will keep guiding your people safely to the Promised Land. But they are free, right? You created them with the power to choose. So tonight, as they set up their tents and start their campfires, maybe you should just let them decide their own destiny.
But you know better than that. You know they need not merely a travel agent but a spiritual leader, too. And that is Moses, of course, which means . . .
You could set up a mobile spiritual retreat center. It could be outside the camp, in a big enough area so lots of people could gather. Moses could have woodworkers build a 30-foot-high speaking platform (tall for audibility), which could be assembled at each stop. He could invite the people to come for an hour each evening so he could tell the stories of your miracles.
Not a bad idea, right? These people need to remember their God. Who better to remind them than the one who may have already written the Bible’s first book?
But you sense that the people need more. How is God going to handle this?
what God did
What God actually did, starting long before the beginning of this wilderness trek, was to go right to the heart of what people need—relief from condemnation and guilt.
“Wait a minute,” someone says. “Isn’t guilt a Christian invention?” No, it’s not! Guilt comes from doing something you know deep down is selfish and wrong, and it happens no matter what faith or non-faith you are from. Guilt says I’ve done something evil. And if you are a person with some kind of faith, guilt says, I have disobeyed my gods or my God, and I need to be forgiven.
We know that the guilt feeling and the feeling that the gods must be appeased is pretty much universal. Do an online search on “cultures that have conducted human sacrifices,” and you will discover that this practice has circled the globe through the centuries. My guilt is great, says the human soul. It must be atoned for in a major way!
sin and holiness
As God looked down on the twilight desert campfires, He could see the days and decades ahead. His children—knowingly or not—would hunger for holiness. They would thirst for the goodness that prevents guilt because He had placed that desire within them. Even though most of them didn’t know it yet, holiness was their highest desire, and to achieve it, they needed to know how to deal with sin.
What should God do? Remember, there needs to be a genuine way of removing sin and its guilt from everyone who wants it gone. So somehow, God needed to teach the people three facts about sin and teach them in a way that they would remember.
Fact 1: Sin is a soul-rotter. Sin starts with selfish desires. The Bible diagrams its horrible growth pattern from there: “Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:15). So, sin is like a virus, birthing ever-more dreadful variants and leading ultimately to death.
Fact 2: Sin can’t be conquered by human power. The Bible writer Paul (who would have figured out how to self-cure sin if anybody could have) admitted his own shameful helplessness: “Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me” (Romans 7:21). And finally, he cried, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” (verse 24).
Believe me, people have tried to find ways to scrub sin out of their hearts. They have resorted to starving themselves, whipping themselves, and offering child sacrifices. God knew all of this, and He also knew that the trail from Egypt to Canaan passed nations and cultures who practiced those things.
Even dedicated Christians like the Catholic Martin Luther, who deeply understood his own wickedness, once tried to earn penance by climbing a stone staircase on his knees. But while on that staircase, he suddenly remembered the last part of Habakkuk 2:4: “The righteous will live by his faith” (NASB*). It changed Luther’s life. No longer must he punish himself for his sins. But the righteous will live by their faith in what?
This question brings us back to Paul’s gasping-with-relief answer to his agonized question. Here’s the whole story: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24, 25) Humanity needs a rescue, and it comes through a Savior—Jesus Christ our Lord.
And that leads directly to the third fact about sin that God needed to teach the wilderness wanderers:
Fact 3: Sin needs to be brought to God.
bringing sin to God
What? Bring our sins to God? Isn’t that backward? Doesn’t God hate sin? Doesn’t it repulse Him? Didn’t Adam and Eve’s sin separate them from their Creator? The answer is yes to all of the above.
Long before the first Hebrew slave took the first step on that Exodus march to freedom, God had made a plan. Literally. An architectural plan. At Mount Sinai, God showed Moses this plan of His sanctuary in heaven (Exodus 25:40; Hebrews 9:11). That heavenly sanctuary provided the pattern for a replica in the Israelite encampment. The earthly sanctuary was a portable tent temple made of gold-covered altars and a framework covered with various types of fabric. Every time the people traveled to a new desert location, this tabernacle was unpacked and erected in the exact center of all the other tents.
And what a tabernacle it was! You can read its specifications in Exodus chapters 25–31 and 35–40. These specs are so detailed that people build models of that tent today. Type “tabernacle” into an online search engine, and you can see what it looked like.
As you study those images and read the specifications in Exodus, it’s important not to get lost in the details. People have written entire books about the tabernacle, but don’t miss God’s main point. He insists, “Don’t hold on to your sins. Don’t beat yourself up agonizing over them. Just bring them to Me at the sanctuary. The sanctuary is the path.”
So, how did this help the average Hebrew family? The Bible details slight variations depending on the situation, but basically, here is how it worked. The father of a Hebrew family would bring one of his lambs to the tabernacle courtyard’s doorway. Dad would confess the family’s sins, and the lamb would be sacrificed. The priest would take a little of the lamb’s blood and sprinkle it on a corner of the altar, symbolically transferring the family’s sins to the tabernacle. The family’s sins were forgiven.
Then, once every autumn on the Day of Atonement, special sacrifices were made, and the high priest would take blood into the tabernacle’s innermost room, where stood the ark of the covenant in the presence of God. The blood was sprinkled on the ark itself, symbolizing the nation’s sins being brought into God’s presence. And once the high priest had finished his work that day, every family who had brought their sins to the tabernacle throughout the year was at one with God. It was the Day of At-one-ment.
Jesus—the center of the sanctuary
All this was symbolic. Animal blood cannot cleanse humans from sin (Hebrews 10:4). But those sacrifices pointed toward the true Sacrifice—Jesus. Today, He wants so badly for us to be saved that He has taken over all the sanctuary duties in the heavenly sanctuary. He does not want sin to separate us from Him or keep us out of His presence.
Here’s how I know this:
Jesus was “the Lamb of God.” This was what John the Baptist shouted when he discovered Jesus approaching (John 1:29). Jesus became the sacrifice who would save from sin all those who turned to Him.
Jesus became our High Priest. And He’s performing His priestly duties right now—for you if you want Him to. And from within the heavenly tabernacle, He beckons you to join Him!
“Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:19–23; emphasis
Thinking about the sanctuary reminds us that God has gone to great lengths to redeem His wayward children. He longs for you to accept Jesus’ blood to atone for your sins and let Jesus, as the true High Priest, have your heart. Why not take a moment to accept the grace and forgiveness He offers?
Maylan Schurch is a pastor in Washington State and a frequent contributor to Signs of the Times®.
* Scripture quotations marked NASB are from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. All rights reserved.