“Out of Egypt”: The Tabernacle Was Built
This week we talk about how God instructed His people to build the tabernacle so He could dwell with His people. It’s a great session on God’s desire to be present with the Israelites, and also with us. But there is a theological nuance that we need to be aware of as we lead this session: What precisely do we mean by God being with us?
God Is Present Everywhere for Everyone
One of the unchanging attributes of God is that He is present everywhere, also known as omnipresence. Here is how this doctrine is explained in the 99 Essential Doctrines that are used in the Adult and Student resources:
God’s omnipresence refers to His presence in all time and all places simultaneously. Because God exists apart from and outside of time and space, He is not limited by their constraints (1 Kg. 8:27; Acts 17:24). He is present with us wherever we are, and sees all that occurs; nothing escapes His attention (Ps. 33:14; 139:7-10; Isa. 57:15; Jer. 23:23-24; Matt. 18:20). God’s omnipresence is a deterrent for sin, and a source of great comfort and hope for believers.
Now this does not mean that God is so big that He fills up all of creation. Two problems with that: 1) that still thinks of God in physical rather than spiritual terms and 2) God is fully present everywhere at once. So it is not like just a small part of Him is with you and a different small part is with me. He is fully present everywhere because He is Spirit, not flesh.
Psalm 139 is quite helpful for us to see God’s omnipresence. In the first six verses of the psalm, David speaks of God’s omniscience—that God is all-knowing. Then in verses 7 through 12, he pivots to speak of God’s omnipresence:
7 Where can I go to escape your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
9 If I live at the eastern horizon
or settle at the western limits,
10 even there your hand will lead me;
your right hand will hold on to me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me,
and the light around me will be night”—
12 even the darkness is not dark to you.
The night shines like the day;
darkness and light are alike to you. (Psalm 139:7-12 CSB)
Notice that David is adamant that God is absolutely everywhere. Even in Sheol—the place of the dead. There is no where to escape God’s presence because there is no where He is not.
This means that when we say that people who have not trusted in Jesus will die and spend eternity apart from God, we aren’t quite technically correct. Which leads us to the next way that God is said to be present—relationally.
God Is Present Relationally for His Own
If God is present everywhere always, what do we mean when we say He wanted to be with His people? Wasn’t He already there? Are we misspeaking? No, we are not! This is where the theological nuance comes into play. What we have in mind here is God’s relational presence. That He is not just with His people spatially (again being careful to acknowledge God is Spirit), but relationally as well. An example might help.
There is a newish concept called being “alone together.” Have you heard of it? Regardless, you likely have experienced it with the increase in tech devices. There are times when my family is all “together” in a room, but we are all “alone” at the same time—we are all in our own world staring at a screen on a device in our hands. That is being “alone together.” Physical proximity doesn’t define togetherness. Relationship does.
So let’s get back to God being with His people—and with us. As we discussed above, God is indeed with everyone, but He is not with everyone in the same way. He has a relationship with His own that is different from how He relates to unregenerate people. This is what He had in mind for the Israelites to come to see and understand. That God wanted to be in relationship with them. He wanted to show them His love, and in response, for them to love Him.
This is the beauty of the gospel: God provided Jesus not simply so we might be near Him, but so that we might be in relationship with Him. This is how He wants to be with us. This is why Christ tabernacled on earth.
Today’s Mobile Tabernacle
I wanted to hit on one other, somewhat unrelated point. Notice how God invited His people to take part in constructing the tabernacle. He could have dropped a tabernacle down from the heavens. He could have had an angelic construction crew knock out the project in mere minutes. But He chose instead to use His people and their unique giftedness (which is from Him) and resources (which again is from Him). There is something beautiful in this. Let’s be clear, God dwelling with us is a work all up to Him. But He invites us to play a secondary role to His primary one.
I see a connection here with us today. While the physical tabernacle was eventually replaced with the physical temple, and that physical temple was destroyed, rebuilt, and destroyed again, we know that God tabernacles with us today in Christ Jesus (see John 1). Just as the Old Testament tabernacle was mobile, God moved with His people as He guided them, He does the same today. He moves with us as He guides us to make Him know to the nations. And just as the Israelites were invited to use their resources and gifts, so are we. We are to use what God has given us as we share the gospel through evangelism. What a privilege He has given us!
The Lord still gives his people various abilities. But how many people today accomplish little out of lack of self-confidence or laziness? Do we think we are too poorly gifted, too poorly qualified, or too poorly skilled? … The Lord who does not despise small beginnings will water the fruit of our hands himself so that we can bring honour to him (Zech. 4:10).”—Africa Study Bible 
Preschool Tip: For preschoolers, you likely want to stay on the level of God’s desire to be with us. This is a great opportunity to affirm God’s love for us, which we see most clearly in God providing Jesus so we can be in relationship with Him.
Kids Tip: For kids, you may want to talk about the theological nuance of God’s relational presence, especially if you lead older kids. It is important that our kids know God is everywhere (it is at once a comfort and a protection against sin), but it is just as important that our kids understand the special relationship God desires to have with them. Jesus didn’t come to earth, suffer, and die just so we could avoid hell—He came so that we could be adopted as sons and daughters of the King. He came for relationship.
 “Exodus,” in Africa Study Bible (Oasis International, Ltd, 2016), 137.