In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son” (1 John 4:10). As the humble king stared into the celestial expanse, God’s concern overwhelmed him, “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psa. 8:4). Those words were spoken generations before God even appeared with us as Emmanuel, which means “God with us” (Mat. 1:23), and is the embodiment of God’s love. As much as God’s work invokes our love, we are reminded that God loved us first. He has always approached humanity, long before humanity approached him.
In Exodus 25, God gave Moses plans for the tabernacle with its furniture. It was a glorious structure that would become the focus of Israeli life in the wilderness and beyond. Its presence became the True North of their spiritual compass because it was where the people came to meet God.
There was a plan for the Altar of Burnt Offering where the nation could bring their sacrifices to the Lord. The Table of Presence represented the place where the people met God in fellowship with the loaves of bread. The Golden Lampstand became the beacon that drew people to the light of God’s glory. But, the first piece of furniture God instructed Moses to make was the Ark of the Covenant with the Mercy Seat.
Is there any significance to it being first? God does everything for a reason, and by putting the Ark first he puts emphasis on it. The Ark dominated Israel’s history. It led them into battle, opened the doors to the promised land, punished their enemies, and stood as a testimony of God’s providence. It held a preeminent place among the Jews.
But there is something else special about the Ark’s value. It represents God coming to Israel. While the other pieces of furniture draw the nation to the Creator, the Ark is where God came to the nation. It wasn’t just the Ark leading Israel to new heights, it was God. God led them into battle. God opened the doors to the promise land. God punished their enemies. The Ark came first, because God first comes to man. Then man responds to God by turning to him.
Often Christians feel God is distant, too far away. He is surely too busy with the Universe duties to care about us. But, God is close at hand (Jer. 23:23). He doesn’t come to us in the hour of need— he is always with us. He came to us long before we turned to him. He is Emmanuel. “Not that we have loved God, but that he loved us.