God’s desire to be in harmony with humankind is perhaps best expressed in a recurring Old Testament prophetic refrain, “they will be My people, and I will be their God.”
The story of the relationship between God and humanity begins with God forming the first human being from the soil and “breathing into his nostrils the breath of life” (Gen. 2:7 NRSV throughout). He directly operates on the man, removing a rib, in order to make a woman for him. From then on He so regularly meets with them in the garden that they recognize the sound of His approach and try to hide after the first sin.
That sin creates the first bit of distance from the humans as they are ejected from the garden into a less hospitable environment of the greater world (Chapter 3). Even so, God still speaks directly to Adam and Eve’s children (Chapter 4). The distance keeps increasing until only Noah pleases God (Chapter 6) and God has to start over with humanity after a worldwide (or at least humanity-wide) flood.
By the time God is ready to begin with a group of people again, He expresses a wish to dwell among the Israelites in a “sanctuary” (Ex. 25:8-9) in a place He has established as His own (Ex. 15:18-19). He expresses this wish in the description of blessings He would bestow upon Israel for living up to His covenant, “I will place my dwelling in your midst, and I shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you and be your God, and you shall be my people” (Lev. 26:11-12).
By the time Jeremiah the prophet writes his famous words about God establishing a new covenant, the Israelites of both northern and southern nations of Israel had disobeyed and forfeited the blessings. God still holds out hope of dwelling among a remnant of those people as their God and they as His people in Jer. 31:31-35 and 32:37-41.
The writer of the book of Hebrews puts a fascinating theological spin on this ideal of God living among human beings by declaring that it is Jesus Christ (God’s Son) “for whom and by whom all things exist” (Heb. 2:10) who calls His redeemed people “my brothers and sisters” (v. 12) and “my children” (v. 13). These redeemed people are defined as “descendants of Abraham” who are redeemed by His atoning sacrifice for their sin (v. 17-18).
The Apostle Paul makes the idea of God dwelling among His people even more immediate to his readers when speaks of the church as the “temple of the living God” (2 Cor. 6:14-18) by quoting prophets who echo Lev. 26:12 (Ezek. 37:23 and Jer. 31:31-35 and 32:37-41).
There seems to be an aspect of God already living in His “temple,” the church through His Holy Spirit.
Yet Paul also calls them “promises,” (7:1) that require us to “cleanse” ourselves to be fully realized.
The book of Revelation describes the scene of a New Jerusalem descending from heaven with a loud announcement, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God” (Rev. 21:3).
The book of Revelation has similar warnings that there needs to be a willful striving to “overcome,” lest we fall short of these precious promises (Rev. 22:7).
God is present with believers through His Spirit now, and will be present in the person of Jesus Christ at His return, for the rest of eternity. These promises are worth putting out a lot of effort in the process of overcoming our own nature and living out Christ’s nature within us.