20 December 2013

"The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us--permanently"

by Dan Phillips

From 2006 to 2012, PyroManiacs turned out almost-daily updates from the Post-Evangelical wasteland -- usually to the fear and loathing of more-polite and more-irenic bloggers and readers. The results lurk in the archives of this blog in spite of the hope of many that Google will "accidentally" swallow these words and pictures whole.

This feature enters the murky depths of the archives to fish out the classic hits from the golden age of internet drubbings.

The following excerpt was written by Dan back in December 2006. The topic was the contrast between God's various temporary "dwellings" among us, and the permament "dwelling" accomplished in the birth of Christ.

As usual, the comments are closed. 
Mirabile dictu, sometimes fancy-schmantzy words are actually useful. One such is metanarrative. The metanarrative is the grand, overarching story tying together and giving meaning to apparently disparate tales...The Bible's metanarrative is something like this: man flees from the presence of God, and God acts to restore man to His presence.

Focus with me on a single word that first appears in Genesis 3:24. It is the Hiph`il (causitive) imperfect form of the root sh-k-n, dwell. Most English versions have something like that God "placed" or "stationed" cherubim at the entrance to the garden; more woodenly the Rotherham has that God "caused to dwell" (cf. Young's Literal Translation). The cherubim dwelt at the entrance, so that man could no longer dwell in God's presence in the garden.

Fast-forward to another theologically weighty occurrence of sh-k-n. It is in Exodus 24:16a—"The glory of the LORD dwelt [sh-k-n] on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days." This was an awesome sight, etched into the minds of those present. But it was a temporary dwelling, a passing presence, if you will.

However, on this occasion, Yahweh immediately gives instructions to make possible a more abiding dwelling place: "Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it." The word translated "tabernacle" is mishkan, which is simply the root sh-k-n with the letter mem prefixed. In Hebrew, a prefixed "m" often denotes the place where something happens. Hence z-b-ch is "sacrifice," m-z-b-ch is an altar, a place where sacrifice takes place.

Fast forward to that day we mark each year on December 25. A baby was born that day. The Bible gives no support to superstitions of any miraculous means of birth. It was not the birth that was miraculous. No, it was the conception that was miraculous, as the seemingly oxymoronic prophecy of a pregnant virgin was fulfilled in young Mary.

What was that, in her womb? Who was it? The angel Gabriel had said to Mary, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God" (Luke 1:35). But what is the full meaning of this child's birth?

It is found in what is probably my own favorite Christmas verse, John 1:14. Here is my translation of that verse: "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us as in a tent, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the unique One from the Father, full of grace and of truth!" Focus with me for a moment on the single word translated "dwelt...as in a tent." It is the Greek word skenoo. Do you notice anything about that verb? What are its consonants? They are s-k-n, the equivalent (as Greek has no "sh") to the Hebrew word we discussed earlier, sh-k-n (dwell or abide). That word is in fact used often in the Old Testament, both in verbal and noun form, for both the Hebrew shakan and mishkan.

John is telling us that the passing picture of the Tabernacle has become eternal truth in Jesus Christ. In this baby, God Himself has tabernacled—permanently. He has come to be Immanuel, God with us (Isaiah 7:14), in the fullest sense. He has come to do in truth what was previously done only in picture-form: to dwell among us, to make atonement and propitiation for our sins, to cleanse us from their defilement, to give light to our darkness, food to our souls, and to make intercession for us. The shadow has become substance. In Jesus the presence of God is restored, and that fully and permanently.

Jesus Christ is both the fulcrum and the goal of the Bible's metanarrative. He restores the presence of God to us, and us to the presence of God. In Him God has come near, does come near, and shall come near forever.