I’m convinced the most boring parts of the Bible can teach us far more than we realize.
If we were to list the most tedious sections of Scripture, three types of passages would probably dominate. First would be the lists: genealogies, exile records, and census information. Second: purity laws, like those associated with the Book of Leviticus. The third type consists of descriptions of buildings, like the second half of Exodus, parts of Kings and Chronicles, and the end of Ezekiel. Many of us are exhausted by reading these sections, skimming them in our Bible reading plans and rarely expounding on them in our preaching and teaching.
Yet they all contain gems that we easily fail to mine. One bit of popular theology, in particular, would be soundly squashed by carefully studying one or two “dull” texts. I’m referring to the idea taught—and even sung—in many churches today, that we need to wait for the Spirit’s presence. A close look at the building descriptions throughout the Old Testament challenges this common misconception.
In the second half of Exodus, God tells Israel how to construct the tabernacle. He gives instructions, in minute detail, on how to fund, build, furnish, and decorate the house of God (Ex. 25–31). They did it all exactly as the Lord had commanded Moses. After 15 chapters of detail, we are relieved to hear that “all the work of the tabernacle, the tent of meeting, was completed” (39:32). And Moses blessed God’s people (39:43). With the house of God finally established, a fiery cloud covered the tent, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle (40:34). Notice the chain of events:
God commands ⇒ the people obey ⇒ “the work was finished” ⇒ a blessing is given ⇒ God’s presence comes.
The next building project we encounter is Solomon’s temple (2 Chron. 2–7). Instructions are given to David (1 Chron. 28:11–19), then carried out by his son Solomon (2 Chron. 2–4). After Solomon finished the work, he blessed the people (6:3), fire came down from heaven, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple (7:1–3). We see the same sequence of events as in Exodus: commands, obedience, “the work was finished,” blessing, presence.
This is what happens when God prepares a home for himself. He speaks, his people obey, it gets finished, God blesses, and he dwells. It extends back to the Creation, actually: “God said . . . and it was so . . . the heavens and the earth were finished . . . and God blessed . . . the Lord God was walking in the garden.” As it turns out, these long, repetitive passages about buildings tell us something profound about how God comes to live among his people.
Yet each of these stories is just a shadow of what Jesus accomplished to build God’s permanent house. God gave commands. Jesus obeyed them, perfectly: he resisted temptation, honored the law, fulfilled the Scriptures, and submitted himself to the Father’s will. As his accomplishment reached its fullest expression on the cross, Jesus cried out, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Then, after rising from the dead, he blessed his people and told them to wait for the Father’s promise (Luke 24:49–50). Ten days later, God’s fiery presence fell from heaven—the Spirit filled the place where the disciples had gathered (Acts 2:1–4). The house of God is complete. God commanded, Jesus obeyed, the work was finished, the priest-king blessed the people, and now God has come, by his Spirit, to live with his people forever.
The apostles never say that we need to wait for God to come and dwell among us. They insist he already has. “Don’t you know that you are God’s temple?” Paul exclaims to the hapless Corinthians. “We are his house,” says the writer of Hebrews, whose audience was on the verge of falling away. And Peter says, “You’re being built into a temple of the Spirit.” In other words, God has chosen his home, moved in, and put his feet up. He’s not going anywhere.
So to “wait for God’s presence” is to neglect a profound biblical reality. It’s like going on a date and spending the entire time explaining why you’d love to go on a date. God’s great building project, the church of Jesus Christ, is finished. Rather than asking him to dwell in us, we should simply enjoy the fact that he already does. Commands, obedience, “it is finished,” blessing, presence. Thank God for the boring bits.
Andrew Wilson is an elder at Kings Church in Eastbourne, England, and author most recently of Unbreakable. Follow him on Twitter @AJWTheology.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.