Sorry for the long interlude in this series. I have been quite busy over the past month. Hopefully we will be able to work our way through the rest of the series reasonably soon.
As God's people we our desire should be to live in God's presence. In the Old Testament, God's presence was closely tied to the tabernacle or temple, which, after the conquest of Canaan and especially after the building of the temple, meant that God's presence was tied to the land of Israel. Only at the temple in Jerusalem could one experience the presence of God. This is why eschatalogical prophecies like Isaiah 66 picture the Gentiles coming to Jerusalem to worship in the temple.
This ties into a recurring pattern in the way that God metes out his punitive judgment. Sin leads to judgment which results in banishment from or the removal of God's presence. The very first punitive judgment in the Bible demonstrates this. When Adam and Even sin in Genesis 3 they are told that they will die and die they do, immediately. But it is not the physical death that one expects, it's a spiritual death of separation from God. This point is driven home poignantly when we are told about the flaming sword keeping them out of the Garden where God's presence resided. This construal of judgment fills the pages of the Old Testament. One could look to the judgment of Cain or the exile of Judah for a couple of rather obvious examples. Deuteronomy 28 is also a good example. There we read the blessings of obedience and the curses of disobedience. Many of the blessings and curses are tied to life in the land.
Why does judgment function that way? I believe it is because of the holiness of God. We could cite Leviticus 20 as one example to prove our point. In verse 22 God says that the land will vomit the people out if the people do not follow God's laws, and they must follow them because God is holy. In this chapter it is clear that an integral aspect of holiness is being separated from sin. Thus God's judgment is an expression of his holiness, both as punishment for sin and blessing for covenant keeping (as best I can tell blessing is only bestowed by God within a covenant relationship, while both those in and not in a covenant relationship with God feel his wrath). Thus being in God's place is both where we experience God's holy and loving presence and where we experience his blessing. In fact, I believe that we can tie that even tighter. Ezekiel 9-11 makes a clear tie between judgment and the departure of God from the temple, his removal of his own presence. Thus, it is through experiencing the presence of God that we experience blessing. The land served as a conduit for the Israelite's experience of God. This explains why in the New Testament, the people of God have no land until Christ returns. We the church have been given the Holy Spirit, and we the church are the temple of God. There is no more need for land.
On a closing aside, I think that this view at least lends modest support to one particular understanding of hell, as where God isn't. While any teaching on hell beyond a bare-boned sketch goes beyond what we can say about it without speculating, at least this particular speculation about hell is grounded in a thoroughly biblical notion of judgment. It doesn't necessarily make it the correct understanding of hell. It at least means it isn't unbiblical.
In our next post we will look more at the theme of 'living God's way.'