presence of God

God’s Presence and the Biblical Storyline

5 January 2024

5.6 MINS

Keeping the big biblical picture in view.

It is a new year, but any time for the believer is a good time to recommit to God, not just on January 1, but every day of the year. Since we are in the very first week of the year, however, and the idea of resolutions may be on your mind, let me offer the advice of G. K. Chesterton:

The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective. Unless a man starts on the strange assumption that he has never existed before, it is quite certain that he will never exist afterwards. Unless a man be born again, he shall by no means enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.

One area where I often encourage Christians to start afresh is in the matter of Scripture reading. There are many Bible-reading plans out there, but the main thing is to be in the Word daily. I usually recommend just reading through the Bible in a year, beginning with Genesis 1 on January 1.

Reading just over three chapters a day will see you get to Revelation 22 on December 31. This year is still young, so why not give it a try? I hope many of you are now in the book of Genesis (some of you for the very first time!). You will be glad you made the effort. I will see you again in just over 360 days!

The Presence of God

There are numerous ways to try to describe the heart of the biblical story. But one obvious contender is the theme of the presence of God. If you are now reading from Genesis, you will see already that it had such a promising beginning, but then things went horribly wrong. When God created everything, including man as the crown of creation, to dwell with Him and have fellowship with Him, that should have been the way it stayed: mankind enjoying God’s presence.

But this is all spoiled so quickly with the Fall, as recorded in Gen. 3. The sin of Adam and Eve resulted in them moving out of the close relationship they had with God. First, they try to hide themselves from God’s presence:

“And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” (Gen. 3:8)

But then they were expelled from the garden:

“The Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.” (Gen. 3:23-24)

One can spend a lot of time just looking at the garden and the presence of God that resided there. The garden was a place of safety and fruitfulness. It was a sanctuary, a place of rest. It was an enclosed area. Even though sin resulted in man being driven from there, the prophets spoke of a return to the garden – a return to God’s presence.

In Isaiah 51:3, for example, we find these words:

“The LORD will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; he will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the LORD. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing.”

The Fall was such tragic news. And it was all downhill from there. Another terrible scene is found in the very next chapter. There, we see the story of Cain and Abel, and in Gen 4:16, we read these ominous words: “Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.”


Sin keeps us from the presence of God. The rest of the biblical storyline is about how that can be remedied and reversed – about how we can again enjoy union with God. In the Old Testament, we read about imperfect and limited means to somehow restore what was lost. For example, the tabernacle was a place where God walked with His people – but it was all very provisional and conditional.

We read about the building of the tabernacle in the second half of Exodus. The intent of it is recorded in Ex. 29:45: “Then I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God.” But sin and uncleanness still separated the Israelites from God and His presence, and it would often mean being driven from the camp (where God’s presence was in the tabernacle). See, for example, Leviticus 13:45-46.

Only the priests were allowed in, and only the High Priest was allowed into the Holy of Holies once a year. So mankind was still very isolated from God. The temple was similar: it, too, was where God’s presence was found. But it also had limited access.


But all this is something Christ came to undo. He came to restore our relationship with God. He came to bring the presence of God back to mankind. As is said: “The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us” (John 1:14, TLV). And by giving us the Spirit of God, we actually are now the temple of God:

1 Corinthians 3:16-17 ~ Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.

2 Corinthians 6:16 ~ What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (Quoting from Ezekiel 37:27)

In Jesus, the presence of God is directly revealed to believers by means of the Spirit. Direct access to God had not been available for 1,400 years. As William Dumbrell put it:

“After Sinai, Israel depended upon the activity of mediators, a succession of priests and prophets through whom Israel was addressed. Never again was Israel personally addressed as she was at Sinai.”

But the separation sin brings is finally and fully dealt with by Christ at Calvary. Once again, man can enjoy the very presence of God. Immanuel, God with us (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23). That is the good news of the Gospel. And the climax of all this is found in Revelation 21:1-4:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“Behold, the dwelling place 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.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Verse 3 so clearly speaks of the presence of God: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place 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’.”

This VERY sketchy and abbreviated outline of the biblical story may help us all as we read Scripture. It should be kept in mind as we daily read and study His Word. One need not do the Bible plan that I have recommended, but I would think that doing it at least once will really help you to get a grasp of the big picture, and better see the grand biblical narrative unfolding.

Divine presence is not the only way to summarise the scriptural story, but it is one very important way to describe it. So, as I say, why not do yourself a big favour and get stuck into Genesis today? Ten minutes a day or so of reading, and in a year’s time, then you will have gone through the entire Bible.

Now, that is a New Year’s resolution worth getting involved in.


Originally published at CultureWatch. Photo by Pok Rie.

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  1. Rod 5 January 2024 at 11:21 am - Reply

    Ooops shouldn’t it be one chapter every three days?

  2. Rod 6 January 2024 at 3:30 am - Reply

    Ooops again and apologies. A carpenter measures twice cuts once, this octogenarian should think twice and scribe once.
    I was involved with books not chapters and didn’t give the second thought.
    The brashness of youth (second childhood)?

  3. Trina Watson 6 January 2024 at 12:13 pm - Reply

    Thank you Bill! I think this is a great idea. Some years ago I attended the two year course of the Bethel Bible study, and it literally changed my life! That and the amazing teaching that came from wonderful saints such as Jenny Hagger through “Pray SA”. Even though I was blessed to be born into a Christian family, there was so much more deep revelation that the Lord has imparted to me and is imparting to me by His Spirit, through His Word, that is literally life changing! I am so blessed and thankful for God’s Word and for the wonderful Saints who’ve awakened me to the treasures in God’s Word, by His Spirit! Many blessings upon you. Trina Watson

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