All the way around shall be eighteen thousand cubits; and the name of the city from that day shall be: THE LORD IS THERE.” (Ezekiel 48:35)
The Ark of the Covenant represented something critical to the faith and way of life of the Jews. When they were not travelling, it was housed in the holy of holies in the tabernacle or the temple, and represented the dwelling place of God amongst His people. Thus, in the Old Testament, the presence of God was tied to the seat of worship – not because He couldn’t be anywhere else, but because He was teaching them about the intimate relationship between our worship and His presence – the Ark of the Covenant was a type of Jehovan Shammah – the Lord is there – who is fulfilled in Christ and the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Jehovah Shammah has been fulfilled in the New Testament through Christ.
Today’s verse comes to us through the prophet Ezekiel, who witnessed the second destruction of Jerusalem. His vision is one of hope because it speaks of the new Jerusalem, an eternal city which can never be destroyed. It is a universal message because it speaks to all believers, whether Jews or otherwise. Of course, we can never and should never replace Israel with the church. This vison relates, first and foremost, to the Jews, and is a promise of a glorious new Jerusalem where God Himself with dwell among His people. Jehovah Shamma is promised to the Jews first, but the King who will reign is our king too. We cannot disregard the promise that Christ will return to the Jews, that God will gather in His faithful remnant and bring His people back to Him.
It’s very easy – and dangerous – to slide into complacency when it comes to the Jews. There are many Christians who mistakenly believe that the church has replaced Israel, and that God has turned His back on them. These wrong thinkers appropriate all the wonderful promises that God made to the Jews and pass off the warnings or declarations of judgement on the Jews ‘who rejected the Messiah.’ This is dangerous thinking. Jehovah Shammah, like all the other names of God, apply first to the Jews and then to other believers through the fact that the church is the ‘grafted in’ branch. God has not cut off the Jews. He has turned His face from them for a time, but over and over, His Word promises that He will return and restore them.
Jehovah Shammah is an exceptionally important name of God, because it speaks dramatically to the future and a particular purpose of the church – to reveal to the Jews the nature of the new covenant and so stir them to jealousy. Part of God’s purpose in bringing in the Gentiles is to show the Jews what they are missing out on and so create in them a hunger for Jesus. One of the most dramatic ways He does this is through Jehovah Shammah – the indwelling presence of God in every believer. His desire is that the Jews would look at Christians as say ‘Jehovah Is There.’
It’s important to understand that this has been a powerful principle throughout the Bible, revealed through various types. Stop for a moment and consider all the verses in the Old Testament which relate to God’s promises to not leave us, to be there for us, to be our God. There are many, but there are two which stand out with particular significance. It’s a valuable exercise to look at how God manifested Jehovah Shammah in both the Ark of the Covenant, and the pillars of cloud and fire in the wilderness.
The Exodus is a significant moment in the journey of Jewish identity. Scholars disagree as to whether this event or God’s calling out Abraham represent the real beginning of the Jewish nation, but that’s irrelevant in today’s exercise. What is important is that Moses makes a very important statement: ‘unless You go with us, we will not go.’ This is the whole, dramatic essence of Jehovah Shammah. Moses isn’t talking theoretical or super-spiritual things. He’s talking literally, and God’s response is the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. These two miraculous revelation of the presence of God make for a wonderful study on their own. But today, we see a powerful manifestation of Jehovah Shammah – a living, vital type to the indwelling presence of God experienced by every believer.
Later, the presence of God would be visible over the tent of meeting, and then in the holy of holies of the tabernacle after the Ark of the Covenant was given. These two things became the very centre of their faith. Everything happened around the visible manifestation of the truth that God was there. Jehovah Shammah was revealed on a daily basis. God was teaching His people that this truth is the very core of their relationship with Him. Things were hard and the journey difficult, but God was there. When they were in need, God was there. Though they murmured and complained and longed for what they remembered as the ease of life in Egypt, God was there.
This motif is repeated throughout the Old Testament – Joshua, Gideon, Esther, David, and numerous figures tell us that God was with them. The psalms are full of these references. The shadow of Jehovah Shammah is woven throughout the long history of God’s people, and it finds its fulfillment in Jesus. Immanuel is Jehovah Shammah. Immanuel means ‘God is with us.’ ‘God is there’ is essentially external or distant, but Immanuel brings God to a place of with us. It’s a step closer, the bridge between God is there and Christ in us.
Jesus came as the living manifestation of God with His people. He came and dwelt among us. He lived as we do, felt as we do, suffered as we do…in every instance of human experience, God was with us. But Jehovah Shammah points to the new Jerusalem, the place where the ‘amongst us’ becomes in us. Believers no longer say ‘God is there.’ Nor should we really say ‘God is with us.’ The real truth is that God is in us. It is non-believers who must look and see the promise of Jehovah Shammah. The presence of God in us should be so strong, so visible, that they look at us and say ‘God is there.’
Every single believer, Jew and Gentile alike, is a building block for the new Jerusalem. Yes, Jesus will return to rule. Yes, the very presence of God will entirely infuse and indwell the new Jerusalem. Jehovah Shammah will be fully manifest in the complete unity in Christ. We will not exist as independent individuals. We will be part of the manifest presence of Christ – Him in us and us in Him, perfect and complete.
This is the great promise of Jehovah Shammah. It is a revelation of the glory of God we will see and partake in. It is the eternal, indwelling presence of God from which we can never be separated. It is the very heart of God revealed and made manifest in His people. It is the place where God Himself says: ‘I AM here.’
What a joy it is, Lord, to catch a glimpse of Your future glory. What a joy to know that we shall be there in the new Jerusalem, not with You but in You, a part of Your great heart and Your eternal glory. Thank You, Lord, for Your infinite grace that brings us from the place of God is there to the joy of God in me.