Of all the promises of Scripture, there is one that stands out from the rest and is repeated throughout. When God made a covenant with Abraham, He promised that He would “be God to you and to your offspring after you”, and of Abraham’s offspring He says, “I will be their God” (Genesis 17:7, 8). In Exodus 6, God tells Moses to speak to the people of Israel that He would deliver them from slavery, and in verse 7, God says, “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God…” When God gave Moses and the people of Israel the instructions for the consecration of the priests, He says, “I will dwell among the people of Israel and I will be their God.” (Exodus 29:45). In Leviticus 26:12, we see that one of the blessings for obedience to the Law is “And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people.” When Jeremiah received the vision of the figs in chapter 24, God says of the exiles from Judah, “I will give them a heart to know that I am YHWH, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.” (Jeremiah 24:7). In Jeremiah 30, God speaks about the restoration of Israel, and in verse 22 He says, “And you shall be my people, and I will be your God.” Similar words are repeated in Jeremiah 31:1. God then speaks through Jeremiah about the New Covenant:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares YHWH, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares YHWH. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares YHWH: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:31-33)
Again, God promises that He would gather Israel from exile, and says in Jeremiah 32:38-39, “And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them.” The prophet Ezekiel speaks on behalf of YHWH about the same thing, bringing Israel back from exile into their land. God says, “And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.” (Ezekiel 11:19-20). In Ezekiel 34, God speaks against false shepherds, and says that He will set David as prince over Israel. By David, of course, He refers to Jesus. In verse 24, God says, “And I, YHWH, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am YHWH; I have spoken.” God promises Israel again that they would return to their land; He again speaks the phrase “…you shall be my people, and I will be your God.” (Ezekiel 36:28). He again says this in chapter 37, verses 23 and 27. We find this also in Zechariah 8:8.
In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul tells the Corinthians that we are the temple of the living God, and he quotes from the Law and the prophets in 2 Corinthians 6:16, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” The author of the epistle to the Hebrews quotes from Jeremiah 31, and repeats the words “I will be their God, and they shall be my people” in Hebrews 8:10. In the book of Revelation, there are two instances where this phrase appears. In the first one, the Apostle John writes, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place [or tabernacle] of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God’.” (Revelation 21:3). Then God speaks to John from the throne, and He says, “The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.” (Revelation 21:7).
Why did we go through all these verses where God promises to be God to His people? I just wanted to give a bit of a perspective of what we’re talking about here: this is the main and greatest promise of God to His people. What gift could God give that is greater than God Himself? It would have been amazing grace if God simply freed us from the punishment of hell, and put us some place where we won’t suffer eternally. God chose instead to give us the greatest thing in existence, Himself.
Notice the context in which this promise is made. We see this promise in the context of covenant. In the Scriptures, God has always dealt with man through covenants. We see that it is the reward for obedience to the Law which, of course, man cannot do because of his sin. Paul teaches that the Law functioned back then the same way it does today, as a guardian or pedagogue (Galatians 3:24) to teach man that he cannot obtain salvation through works. This means that the Law was never intended to save anyone, but to make man look outside of himself and look to the promised Messiah, and the Law still does this today and that’s why we preach the Law so that man might see his need and believe the Gospel. Why is it important, though, to see the context of covenant behind the promise of God? Because of how God accomplished this. In the covenant of works, God made this promise to Adam on condition of perfect obedience; Adam failed. Later, God promised Abraham that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through his offspring, Jesus; we know this from the New Testament, especially Galatians. Jesus, who is the second Adam, came to keep the covenant of works that the first Adam broke, so that God’s people might receive grace through His death on the cross. The wicked still have in them the sin of the first Adam. God’s people receive the righteousness of the second Adam through faith. It is through this same faith that Abraham received the promises of God. These same promises we receive in Christ, which is why Paul can say that if we are Christ’s, we are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3:29). The fact that this promise is restated throughout the whole Scripture makes clear the unity of Scripture in the unfolding of the covenant of grace throughout redemptive history. In one instance, the promise was restated during the giving of the instructions for the consecration of the priests in Leviticus. God would dwell among His people by the intercession of these priests. We have a greater Priest, our High Priest Jesus Christ. He has made the perfect sacrifice, He rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven where He now intercedes for all His people. Because of His intercession, there’s no need for earthly priests so that God may dwell among His people.
We see behind the promise and the covenant the concepts of redemption and restoration, as we see in the restatement of the promise when He redeemed Israel from slavery, and when God promised those who were in exile that they would return to their land. In the same way, in Christ we have been redeemed from Satan, sin, and death. He has restored our original relationship with God, since Christ as our Mediator has reconciled us to God (Romans 5:10; 1 Timothy 2:5). He has also reconciled us to one another. By the death of Christ, the dividing wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles has been broken down, creating in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace (Ephesians 2:11-22). The intention of God is clear, to become the God of a particular people by making them His own through redemption. This particular people is the Church. We also see the concept of regeneration in places like Ezekiel 36 and 37. We were dead in sin, a valley of dry bones, and God gave us new life in Jesus Christ.
This promise is eschatological in its nature. We are God’s people, and we serve Him as our God. Yet, we still have not been glorified. God dwells within us in the Person of the Holy Spirit, and we are the temple of God, but there will come a time when all creation will see this in its fullness. This is why creation eagerly awaits the revealing of the sons of God, and we await the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:18-25). Right now, we are still fighting the sin in our flesh, but when Jesus returns, our bodies will be transformed and there will be no more sin. The rest of creation will be flooded by fire, the fire of purification and judgment, by which the wicked will perish. There will be a new creation where there is no more sin. God will dwell among His people and we will worship Him eternally. We will be able to perfectly glorify and enjoy God forever, which is the chief end of man, because sin will not bother our lives anymore. Remember what John saw in Revelation 21. He saw the new creation and the new Jerusalem, and he writes, “And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.” (v. 22). The last and perfect temple is not a building, it is God Himself. The promise of God is this: God and His people living in perfect communion for all eternity. Geerhardus Vos in his ‘Biblical Theology’ says this about Abraham and the promise: “It is emphasized in the narrative that the patriarch’s supreme blessedness consisted in the possession of God Himself: ‘Fear not, Abraham, I am thy shield, thy exceeding great reward’ [Gen. 15:1]. For this treasure he could cheerfully renounce all other gifts.” Can you think of any greater possession than God Himself? I want to point out that not only have we been chosen by God to be His people, but also to be His own children. We have been adopted as sons and daughters of God through the work of Christ, and He promises that the one who conquers will be His son, according to Revelation 21:7. I’ve only scratched the surface. I invite you to look into these texts for yourself, and look at the simplicity and depth of this truth.
David wrote in Psalm 27:4, “One thing have I asked of YHWH, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of YHWH all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of YHWH and to inquire in His temple.” The first thing we see is that this is the one thing that David asked of God and that he would seek. Surely, David has asked in prayer many things in his life, like protection from his enemies, forgiveness of sins, provision, among other things. Yet, his main focus is not on this earthly life. His main focus is in this one thing that he asked of YHWH, that he may dwell in the house of God. The focus of the psalmist is in eternity. Why does David want to be in the house of God? Because God is there. God is the reason why he wants to dwell in God’s house. David is asking for the promise of God to be fulfilled in him. God cannot lie, and if you are in Christ, you are an heir of the promise. If you are in Christ, you are God’s possession, and God is your possession for all eternity.