It doesn’t feel a stretch to think of living in a growing pandemic as being like entering a wilderness – it’s full of unknowns, there’s a harshness about it, it’s a place of isolation. And it can also involve loss. I don’t mean loss of life, though that’s a reality, but I mean a loss of what’s familiar or comfortable, kind of like when the Israelites left the steady diet of Egypt (even if it was a slave’s diet) to follow Moses into a wilderness. A pandemic can also involve the loss of familiar things that we, too, may have been slaves to – entertainment, sports, even financial pursuits.
I think that’s why it felt like God got my attention as I read about him giving Moses instructions regarding a Tent of Meeting in the wilderness – a place for God to dwell with his people in an unfamiliar place. At the end of Exodus 29, the Lord says, “And I shall abide in the midst of the Israelites and I shall be God to them. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God who brought them out of the land of Egypt [why?…] for me to abide in their midst. I am the Lord their God.” He brought them into the wilderness so that, with all the trappings of slavery left behind, he could dwell unhindered with his people.
That’s who Yahweh, the Lord, is: a relational, covenant-keeping God who draws near to his people. He rescues us to abide with us – and us with him. And even though we’re prone to sin much like Israel was, God still longs for relationship with us – to abide in our midst. And instead of a Tent of Meeting, we are his dwelling place now. For those who know Jesus, he abides in our hearts. He’s with us. And he genuinely wants to be. That’s why he saved us. Because he loves us. That’s why Jesus willingly took the punishment for our sin upon himself so that we could be forgiven – only then could the Lord be the God who draws near to dwell with us – even in a pandemic.