All and that is well and good as it relates to Israel, but of what do tents speak when this message is to communicated to those outside Israel? The answer is much the same. As the tents reminded an Israel that regularly found itself in conditions of exile (under foreign subjugation, whether inside or outside of their promised land), and with hopes for exodus (as exodus is an ongoing process, whether in the wilderness, in their land, or in exile), so too does it serve for all of humanity. These tents, and the impermanent nature of settlement which they imply, remind humanity of its wider exile. Not in the sense of creating the escapist attitude of “this world is not my home, I’m just passing through,” but that humanity finds itself in exile from its God-given intentions to bear the divine image in this world, and that God is at work through a tent-dwelling people, to re-establish His order in this world.
Why a tent-dwelling people? Because a tent-dwelling people is a people that are prepared for exodus. A tent-dwelling people are a people that are God’s instruments to spread across the earth so as to establish the message of His kingdom, His reign, and the restoration of His creation that demands to be understood if in fact a controlling hermeneutic of Scripture, and of God’s purposes for His creation and for the divine image-bearers specially placed within that creation, is that of exile and exodus. Those are the people that will go out as witnesses to the glory of God, doing so with an understanding of the blessing of being a part of a chosen people that have been placed upon the trail of restoration to the ideal of humanity that was God’s original creation. With a knowledge of God’s blessing, and the grace implied thereby, those who bear in mind the tents, and so bear in mind the exile, and exodus by extension, joyfully take up the Abrahamic call and promise to be a blessing. This blessing operates through the telling of the promises of the covenant God, and living the blessing invites more to hear the telling. As Abraham’s descendants, this was Israel’s task. The Scriptures make it fairly clear that this is the task of all that consider themselves to be Abraham’s descendants.
It is as we think of tents that we can consider the stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and even the narrower context of a consideration of Solomon’s building of the Temple. There is an application to be made, but before making that application there is a step that must be taken. To take it, we can look to Isaac’s blessing of Jacob, which comes about as a result of deception and subterfuge. Rebekah went to great lengths to be certain that her ruse would be successful, so when Jacob went before his father, pretending to be Esau, Isaac was indeed fooled. Owing to this, Isaac, in a way that we did not see with Abraham, raises his voice and says, “May God give you the dew of the sky and the richness of the earth, and plenty of grain and new wine. May peoples serve you and nations bow down to you” (Genesis 27:28-29a). Connecting these words to Jacob with that which becomes a controlling factor in the consideration of God’s dealings with His people to come, we might note that such things are reflected in the promised blessings of the twenty-eighth chapter of Deuteronomy (and the twenty-sixth chapter of Leviticus), whereas the promised curses of the same chapter essentially reflect the opposite.
With that said, it is incumbent to mention the words of “blessing” that will be delivered by Isaac to Esau, as he says, “your home will be away from the richness of the earth, and away from the dew of the sky above. You will live by the sword but you will serve your brother” (27:29-40a). Because they are the mirror of what was said to Jacob, these words also reflect the Deuteronomic & Levitical curses. Speaking to Jacob, Isaac continues, saying “You will be lord over your brothers, and the sons of your mother will bow down to you” (28:29b). With this, Isaac confirms what the Lord had promised to Rebekah concerning her sons before she had given birth. The blessing is finalized by the delivery of that which was fundamental to the Abrahamic covenant, as Isaac then says, “May those who curse you be cursed, and those who bless you be blessed” (28:29c). Of course, Isaac is not being selective in his choice of words. He is not simply passing along only a portion of the Abrahamic covenant. As the quotation of brief snippets of Scripture by Jesus and by the New Testament authors are meant to call to mind entire stories, the mention of blessing and cursing stands for the whole of the covenant with Abraham. So as Jacob hears these words, having grown up in the household of both his father and grandfather, and having undoubtedly heard the story of Abraham’s call countless times, he also hears his father communicate the words of God and saying “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will make your name great, so that you will exemplify divine blessing…and all the families of the earth will bless one another by your name” (12:2,3b).