Chasing the Geography of the Presence of God

It’s hard to imagine an omnipresent God dwelling in one place. And yet, every December we celebrate the fact. God dwells in the confines of a human body. And He is also everywhere.

But the incarnation isn’t the first time God has localized His presence among His people.

Olive groves near Bethlehem

(Photo: Olive groves near Bethlehem. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

God is both omnipresent and present. King Solomon summed up the seeming contradiction when he prayed:

Will God indeed dwell with mankind on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You; how much less this house which I have built. —2 Chronicles 6:18

From creation to Christmas—and from today to eternity.

Let’s take a quick geographical journey and follow movements of God’s dwelling place among us.

Beth Shemesh—The Pentecost at an Unlikely Place

Most people familiar with the Pentecost—or Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks—associate the Jewish holiday with the Book of Ruth.

After all, the most exciting events of Ruth’s story occurred during the time of Shavuot at Bethlehem’s wheat harvest (Ruth 2:23). It’s no wonder today that many people include reading of the Book of Ruth as part of their celebration of Shavuot.

Beth Shemesh—The Pentecost at an Unlikely Place

(Photo: Samson was born between Eshtaol (left) and Zorah (right). Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

Although I absolutely love the Book of Ruth, Shavuot more often causes my mind to wander further west of Bethlehem—down into the Shephelah.

It’s unlikely anybody celebrates the Pentecost at such an unlikely place as Beth Shemesh.

But a practical application urges us to do so.

The Tabernacle at Shiloh—A Promise, Person, Place & Parable

Local schoolchildren ate their lunches across the olive grove from my wife and me.

Like the kids, we came on a field trip to explore ancient Shiloh. Although our lunch was hardly a feast, it reminded me of the reasons the young nation of Israel initially came to this site. They came to worship at the annual feasts before the Tabernacle at Shiloh.

The Tabernacle at Shiloh—A Promise, Person, Place, & Parable

(Photo: Area of the Tabernacle at Shiloh. Courtesy of Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

Ask most Americans where Shiloh is, and you’ll likely get a blank stare.

  • Historians may point to a Civil War battle in Hardin County, Tennessee.
  • Music buffs may start singing the chorus to a Neil Diamond song.

But question someone who knows his or her Bible, and Shiloh means something far more significant.

Kiriath Jearim—A Noteworthy Hill Nobody Notices

It’s a place between important places. Few individuals, if any, journey there directly. Most would miss it, in fact, if they didn’t know to look.

Modern commuters along Israel’s Route 1 motor by the site every day, their minds on their routines. Even tour buses rarely point to the place, much less stop there.

Kiriath Jearim—A Noteworthy Hill Nobody Notices

(Photo: Kiriath Jearim, Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands.)

The tourists who do pull over often do so only to snap pictures at the Elvis American Diner (also known as the “Elvis Inn”). A 16-foot-tall bronze likeness of Elvis Presley greets every visitor. Inside the diner, Elvis music is all they hear as they eat their Elvis Burgers. But Elvis isn’t what makes this hill noteworthy.

Around the corner from the offbeat diner, near the modern Israeli Arab village of Abu Gosh, sits the site so few see and even fewer visit—the biblical site of Kiriath Jearim.

You’d never know by looking, but the physical symbol of God’s presence in Israel rested for about a century on this overlooked hill. (Tweet that.)