East Side Story – Part 2

In the last blog, we talked about the negative aspect of moving to the east. But what about people who moved from the east? Yes, that is a real thing and has a positive implication.

the-tabernacle-of-moses-onlyMost have heard about the Tabernacle. When we get to Exodus the author reveals God’s order for its construction, he does so with language similar to Genesis 1 & 2. The Tabernacle is a reconstruction of God’s good creation, and the Tabernacle is even a representation of the Garden of Eden. We will save those details for a later blog. For now, understand this was to be a place for Yahweh (the personal name of the God) to dwell. Israel is given a semblance of what was lost in Eden – the special presence of God. The entrance faced the east, as did the entrance into the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. This was the dwelling place of God on the Mercy Seat of the Ark (Num. 3:38).  So to enter, one must come from the east. Am I reading too much into this?  Let’s continue.

In the Book of Numbers, the author lays out the arrangement of the tribes of Israel around the Tabernacle as they camped in the wilderness.

Numbers 2:3, Judah’s military divisions will camp on the east side toward the sunrise under their banner… (emphasis mine)

campYou may be thinking, “So what?” The tribe of Judah would carry the Seed of the Messiah who would redeem God’s people (Gen. 49:8-12). Why is this important? “God’s redemption would come from the east and that this redemption would be a time of restoration of God’s original blessing and gift of the land in Creation. Thus God’s first act of preparing the land – when he said, ‘Let there be light’ (1:3) – used the imagery of the sunrise in the east as a figure of the future redemption.” (Sailhamer) This is also the reason the author let us know the garden was planted on the east side of Eden (2:8). It was here God intended to pour out his blessings on humanity.  Moving to the east, as we pointed out in the last blog, East Side Story – Part 1, was seen as moving away from the garden amidst God’s presence and blessings.

But that’s not all. The book of Numbers goes beyond the tribes and tells us where certain individuals and families camped.  Mainly Moses, Aaron and his sons.

Numbers 3:38, Moses, Aaron, and his sons, who performed the duties of the sanctuary as a service on behalf of the Israelites, camped in front of the tabernacle on the east, in front of the tent of meeting toward the sunrise… (see picture above)

Moses is a type of Christ – prophet (Num. 34:10), priest and king (Num. 33:4-5). Side note: Moses was not of the Aaronic priesthood, but he acted as a priest in receiving communication from God for the people, beginning at Sinai. Another rabbit-hole for another blog. So Moses (type of Christ – see Book of Matthew), and the high priest and priests (type of Christ – see the Book of Hebrews), camp on the east side of the Tabernacle. Let’s keep going.

The prophet Ezekiel picks up the imagery to and from the east. God’s Spirit gives the prophet a vision at the eastern gate of the Temple, which faces… east (Ezk. 11:1). Notice the redundancy – it’s important. The vision is about Israel’s corrupt leaders. Then Ezekiel sees a terrifying image:

Ezekiel 11:22-23, Then the cherubim, with the wheels beside them, lifted their wings, and the glory of the God of Israel was above them. The glory of the LORD rose up from within the city and stood on the mountain east of the city. (emphasis mine)

This again takes us back to Part 1. The divine chariot-throne slowly moving to the east out of the holy city. This is symbolic of moving away from God’s presence and blessing, but here Yahweh is the one moving away from His people. Later Ezekiel receives this vision:

Ezekiel 43:2, He lead me to the gate, the one that faces east, and I saw the glory of the God of Israel coming from the east. His voice sounded like the roar of many waters, and the earth shone with His glory. (emphasis mine)

The presence of God has returned, from the east, to the Temple through the eastern gate! Ezekiel describes this moment in fantastic terms through Hebrew literature. Now the prophet is ready to reveal the Spirits vision of a future Temple.

Ezekiel 47:1-5, Then He brought me back to the entrance of the temple and there was water flowing from under the threshold of the temple toward the east, for the temple faced east. The water was coming down from under the south of the altar. Next he brought me out by way of the north gate and led me around the outside to the other gate that faced east; there the water was trickling from the south side. As the man went out east with a measuring line in his hand, he measured off a third of a mile and led me through the water. It came up to my ankles… measured off a third a mile and led me through the water…. to my waist… measured off a third of a mile, and it was a river that I could not cross on foot… deep enough to swim in… (emphasis mine)

Ezekiel 47:8, Then he said to me, “This water flows out to the eastern region…”

26-ezekiels-templeWhat in the world?! The book of Ezekiel speaks to those in Babylonian captivity. God’s people were taken into captivity for their idolatry and immorality. This was an awful time in the history of the Jews, but these visions gave the people hope of the coming of a new king – the Messiah (Ezk. 34); a new heart – from the Spirit (Ezk. 36); restoration of God’s covenant when the Spirit comes (Ezk. 37). The vision of the valley of dry bones, pictures skeletons coming alive as Yahweh breathes life into them. Suddenly tendons and skin appear. Does this remind you of anything? The description is of Genesis 2, when the Creator made man from the dust of the earth and breathed life into him (2:7). It is God’s plan for humanity to restore His people to a time before the Fall in the Garden. The Creator will finally defeat human evil (Ezk. 38-39; Gen. 3:15) to bring about new creation.

In Ezekiel’s vision for a new Temple, it is more fantastic than Solomon’s. I do not believe this is a literal Temple, since the other visions have been symbolic, but it is to show how God’s presence will return in the Messianic Kingdom. The living water came from the. . . you guessed it. . . east side of the new Temple and fills up the land toward the dead sea – desert and lifeless – and turns it into a scene out of Genesis 1! This has always been the Creators plan since Paradise was lost. A new heaven and a new earth. A new city whose name is “Yahweh is There.” (48:35) This is the scene at the end of Revelation (21-22).

The book of Matthew takes us back to the Pentateuch and Moses. The day Jesus was born, the writer says:

Matthew 2:1-2, …wise men from the east arrived unexpectedly in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” (emphasis mine)

Jesus is the new and improved Moses. He came out of Egypt (Matt. 2:19-20) to the Promised Land. As Moses crossed the Red Sea, so Jesus crossed through the waters of baptism (Matt. 3:16-17). As Moses and Israelites wandered through the wilderness for 40 years, so Jesus wandered in the wilderness for 40 days (Matt. 4:2). Moses received the Law on a mountain and Jesus gave the law on a mountain (Matt. 5-7). The kingdom of God was coming. Jesus is the new Temple. The apostle John plasters his gospel with this imagery right out of the gate.

John 1:14, The Word became flesh and took up residence (lit. tabernacled, or dwelt in a tent) among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

We even find amazing Temple imagery at the tomb of Jesus. On that resurrection morning, Mary Magdalene have come to visit. See if you pick up on Tabernacle/Temple metaphor:

John 20:12, She saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and the one at the feet, where Jesus’ body had been lying. 

Did you see it? It’s the ark of the covenant! The two angels at each end. The Mercy Seat of God, where He came to dwell. Jesus is God!  Jesus is the fulfillment of the new Temple bringing living water (Jn. 4:10) for all who come from the east to return to the Garden of Eden and to the tree of life! Jesus is the way, the truth and the life (Jn. 14:6).

What you do with this imagery is up to you. When we understand what this means, we should all be blown away by God’s glory and presence. This new Temple is made up of all who come to the Messiah. God’s presence, the Holy Spirit, comes to reside in us (I Cor. 3:16-17). As Adam and Eve had once walked their Creator in the Garden, so walk in a new way life. If you have been moving toward the east in your life, these passages should have you running back from the east, and into the arms of Jesus. Sit and meditate on these things.

*All Scripture in this blog is from the Holman Christians Standard Bible.

*Resources for this blog: Commentary of Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, Jamison, Fausset, Brown; The Pentateuch as Narrative, John Sailhamer; The Jewish Study Bible, Oxford

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