Within the Hebrew Bible, we supposedly see two perspectives on God’s relationship with the earthly sanctuary: one says that God literally dwells in the tabernacle or temple, and the other states that God’s “name” is what’s there, not God himself.
According to Moshe Weinfeld, the latter is the position of the Deuteronomist, who disliked anthropomorphic depictions of the God of Israel. In this scenario, a good summary of the Deuteronomic position appears in I Kings 8:27: “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built!”
According to some critics of Weinfeld’s scenario, however, Deuteronomy is a lot more complex with that. Yes, Deuteronomy repeatedly refers to the central sanctuary as “the place God will chose to place his name,” but the Deuteronomist still thinks God is at his earthly sanctuary, as far as these critics are concerned! After all, their argument runs, Deuteronomy frequently uses the phrase “before the LORD,” indicating that the Deuteronomist believes that the Israelites were in God’s direct presence when they worshipped him.
I’m not sure if “before the LORD” means God is right there with the Israelites at his sanctuary. II Samuel 7:15 says that God removed Saul from before his presence. Is that literal, or does that simply mean that God no longer recognizes Saul as king? I opt for the latter.
Deuteronomy 26:12-15 describes a ceremony in which the Israelites make a declaration to God about hallowed things. They make their statement “before the LORD” (v 13), yet they implore God to look down from his holy habitation in heaven. The assumption is that God dwells in heaven, not in the earthly sanctuary. “Before the LORD” seems to mean, not God’s literal presence in the tabernacle, but rather God’s attention to what the worshipper is saying.
This doesn’t mean I’m gun-ho on Weinfeld’s position, however. I’ll share more in future posts. Stay tuned!