Turns out it is not as easy to evict God as you would suspect. It takes hundreds of years, unlimited warnings, and a multiplicity of summons. God is not easily gotten rid of.

Surprise. Because we know that God is so pure and holy He cannot even look at sin. And we, as it were, His landlords, are steeped in sin from birth. Our houses are often filthy, untidy, and unfit for the Divine Presence. So you would think God would leave at the first opportunity, right? Well, not exactly.

From the time God placed His presence by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night until He removed His glory from Solomon’s temple, a total of 849 years passed. That’s right, over 800 years until God finally decided to vacate the place.

Now, there were hints through the years that God might be relocating but He kept putting off the move. People felt so confident that He was there to stay that in the Talmud (explanation of oral traditions and interpretations of Jewish Law) there is a statement that goes “even at a time when the Jews are impure, the Shekinah (Divine Presence) is with them.”

It was this attitude that led the leaders of Israel to take the Ark of the Covenant to the battlefield against the Philistines as a sort of talisman, a way to guarantee victory that they couldn’t bring about by their righteous acts. At that time, they found out how wrong they were as 30,000 of their men died and the Ark of the Lord was captured by their archenemies. “Ichabod”: “The glory has departed!”

After years of preaching from godly men like Isaiah, after the northern Kingdom had already been destroyed and laid to waist by the Assyrians, after witnessing the most egregious sins being piled up to the high heavens, after watching the colossal failures of the leaders of His people, after witnessing His people go through an entire period of time when the Law of the Lord was not only far from their mind, it was literally lost (what remained was only a faint memory of the Law of God until some people found a copy of it while renovating the temple); after centuries of abuse and abandonment by His own people, God took the hint and left.

The account of God’s leaving the temple is too painful to read. It is found in a vision God gave the prophet Ezekiel in chapters 8-11 of his book. We don’t know how long the process took, but from the text it seems like it was a painfully slow ordeal. Could God be hesitating?

First, the glory of God (I imagine a mysterious, radiant, electrifying and terrifying column of fire) hovered above the Cherubim in the deepest recesses of the temple – the most holy of places. From there, it traveled the length of the temple southwards toward its main entrance. Then it seems to linger there, desiring to stay a little longer, perhaps, but no longer able to. And at some point it goes to the east entrance, pausing one more time, with Cherubim in tow, illuminating the entire perimeter, I imagine, until it finally takes an eastward flight toward the Mt. of Olives, to where it will return one day in the person of the Messiah.

This has to be one of the saddest accounts of Scriptures. The Divine Presence, feeling the weight of the people’s sins, must take His leave from the place He chose to dwell. I imagine a deafening silence in heaven. I see God weeping. The angels fall to the ground, too weak to look at of a God whose heart was wounded for His people.

But three lessons emerge from this dreadful account. First, though God’s longsuffering is long, it is not long enough to outrun His justice. There is always one eviction notice too many and God will leave when that measure is reached.

Secondly, notice how gentle and kind God is even as He proceeds to leave. He doesn’t go out protesting; He doesn’t kick or slam the door on His way out. God is forceful in His discourse. He is passionate in His pleas for obedience, but when it is time to leave, He will do so with the dignity of royalty. God never forces His way in or out of our lives.

Thirdly, even in the midst of His parting, God assures His people that this is not the end. There will be a future for His people, a time when His glory would dwell among us once again, this time in the person of His beloved Messiah whose Birth we celebrate this month.

Come this Sunday and I will guide you through this most extraordinary journey. It will be a sober reminder of the nature of this God we serve and the dangers of evicting Him from our hearts.

Pastor Ivanildo C. Trindade