When God’s people turned away from Him, He removed His presence from the temple.
From the very beginning of Scripture, God is a covenant maker—with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and on and on. God established a people for Himself based on this repeated covenant: “I will be your God and you will be my people” (Jeremiah 7:23). He formed them as a nation, gave them a home, then had them build a temple that would become His house among them, where He dwelt with them and His glory was manifest.
We must remember the full covenant promise. God told His people that He would bless them and be with them if they kept His commands and pursued no other gods, and He warned them of judgment and consequence if they abandoned His ways. In Jeremiah 7 we see this proclaimed clearly when He calls on the people to execute justice, to not oppress the vulnerable, to not shed innocent blood, and to not seek after other gods (vv.5–7). If they do this, He tells them, they will be free to live in the land and He will dwell there with them. The passage goes on to describe how God’s people have believed deceptive words and persisted in their sin to the point that God asks them:
“Has this house, which bears my name,
become a den of robbers in your view?
Yes, I too have seen it” (v.11).
The Israelites had so departed from God that even His holy temple had become marked by their selfishness and thievery. And this was not God’s only Fatherly warning to His people. In verses 23–25 God recounts how, through the nation’s leaders and prophets, He has been summoning and calling them to obedience since they were freed from Egypt.“Yet they didn’t listen or pay attention but followed their own advice and their own stubborn, evil heart. They went backward and not forward” (v.24).
So God kept His promise. He departed the temple. He “cast the people out of His sight” and “plucked them up” from the land He had given them and from His house, the temple (2Chronicles 7:19–21). Ezekiel 10 paints a powerful picture of God’s departure as a whirling, mysterious, magnificent cloud that filled the temple court with brightness before going “out from the threshold of the temple… and it stopped at the entrance to the eastern gate of the LORD’s house” (vv.4,18–19).
There is a seeming hopelessness in those words. It is especially grim when we realize that we are so like the people of Israel—prone to stubborn rebellion against God. But remember who else used the words from Jeremiah 7 and called the temple a “den of robbers”: Jesus, God Himself, when driving out the money changers in Matthew 21:13. It is in Jesus that our hope lies, the very presence of God sent to dwell among us.
God promised this very thing in the book of Haggai, declaring, “Once more, in a little while… I will fill this house with glory…. The final glory of this house will be greater than the first… I will provide peace in this place” (vv.6,7,9). God, the covenant maker, does not abandon His covenant or His people. He took His presence from the people as judgment, but always with the intent to restore His presence to His people, and to us, through the life and work of Jesus Christ.
Written by Barnabas Piper