“It was Moses’ custom to set up the tent known as the Tent of Meeting far outside the camp. Everyone who wanted to consult with the LORD would go there.” — Exodus 33:7 (NLT)
True confession. I’ve been going through a season in which it has been hard to connect with God, and I can tell you that it’s not God’s fault. I’ve been busy and distracted by many things, and the older, more leisurely ways that I used to use to connect with God aren’t working for me now. I’m not happy with my situation. Far from it! The problem is that I have been stumped as to what to do about it. Just recently, however, as I was talking to God about my struggle, I felt like He suggested that I take a closer look at the life of Moses to see if I might find some ideas that would help me. So as I began looking at an old familiar passage, I found some real gems that I believe will make a difference in my life. Perhaps you also are not satisfied with how your walk with God has been going, so perhaps there are things that might help you, as well.
Right from the first verse gems of truth started jumping off the page. Exodus 33:7 is meant as an introduction to the passage, and as an introduction, such gems are not expected. But here we see something special that Moses did. He set up a place for people to meet with God. It is referred to as the Tent of Meeting. This tent was meant to be a place where anyone could go, yet many commentators believe that it was only ever used by Moses and his faithful assistant Joshua. How sad if this is true! Yet the fact that Moses established this place with not only himself but others in mind speaks clearly about his heart that everyone be invited to have intimacy with God.
I realize that one hindrance I experienced in connecting with God is noise and distraction. I think God likes it when we are able to focus on him alone, and so the idea of establishing a place where I can focus — my own Tent of Meeting — is a powerful one. If you are wondering how to do this, perhaps there is a room in your home that can be set aside for meeting with God? I know that many of us don’t have a separate space we can use, so maybe it would be possible to repurpose a space that you are already using for something else? Maybe a desk generally used for other purposes might transform nicely into a place of prayer, Bible reading, and journal writing. Even a kitchen table could be transformed. You could help to make it special by placing a candle or cross on it, or changing the lighting in the space, or turning on worship music. You just need to be creative!
Exodus 33:7 opens by saying that “it was Moses’ custom” to set up a tent for meeting with God. It’s not a custom if you only do it once, so Moses must have set up this tent many times! This means that the Israelite camp must have moved around. Every time they moved, Moses would have to take down the tent and then set it up again when they arrived at a new location. This realization helps me a lot! I function best when I can establish routines and habits and get into a rhythm. And what affects my time with God the most is when I have schedule changes — or when I travel for work — and I get out of my routine. But what this little phrase says to me is that every time I have a change in my routine, I need to intentionally re-establish a place (and for that matter, a time) to go and meet with God — I need to once again set up my Tent of Meeting.
The final thing for us to note on this verse is that the location of the Tent of Meeting was far outside the camp. In context, in the first six verses of the chapter, God told Moses that He would not go with the Israelites to the Promised Land, because they were stubborn and prone to not listen to Him, and He might destroy them. Some commentators suggest that it was because of this that Moses chose to put the tent far outside the camp, rather than in the midst of the camp.
In our devotional application of this passage, and maybe some things to consider even in the historical context, we should consider the fact that people will go the extra mile for the sake of things that are of value to them. How many of us feel devalued in a relationship if the other person always makes us sacrifice for them, but the willingness to sacrifice is not reciprocated? God does not want to be an afterthought in our lives, and one way of testing us is to see if we’re willing to go that extra distance to find that place of intimacy.
Consistent with the earlier comments about the Tent of Meeting as a place to focus on God, another aspect to consider is that it is often important to get away from the hustle and bustle of the camp — the center of activity — to find the necessary quiet.
And lastly, it has been my observation that there are few people who care enough about intimacy with God that they actually pursue it. To that extent, you have to be willing to embrace being different and feel the isolation that comes with being different — and going far outside the camp is symbolic of doing just that.
May we all show the willingness to make the sacrifices necessary to find our place of focus — our Tent of Meeting!