The God of Israel is the God of exodus. The Scriptural narrative is one of constant movement, not only in action but also in location. This may aid us in discovering why, though God would allow a Temple to be built in Jerusalem and though He would fill that Temple with His glory, that He did not ask for that Temple to be constructed. The underlying movement theme of Scripture gives us insights as to why God was satisfied to be represented by a tabernacle---dwelling in the midst of His people in a portable temple.
If the Scriptures unfold before us a repetition of exile and exodus, then asserting that the idea of movement is an important element for the God of the Scriptures, is not unjustified. In the Bible’s second verse, we read that “the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the water” (Genesis 1:2b) preceding the restorative and ordering acts that followed and culminated with the creation of the being that would bear God’s image. After Adam and Eve had trespassed beyond the boundary of their divine covenant, we read that they “heard the sound of the Lord moving about in the orchard” (3:8b), prompting them to hide in fear. When judgment is pronounced upon them, they are expelled from the garden (3:23). This expulsion is also described as their being driven out (3:24).
Noah was sent by God into an ark to escape the flood (an exile of sorts). Later on, he and his family went forth from the ark (an exodus). After this departure from the ark, God’s command to them was to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (9:1b). This filling of the earth seems to imply a demand to move and to spread out across the lands of the world. This process appeared to be underway, which we see as we reach the eleventh chapter of Genesis. There we find “When the people moved eastward, they found a plan in Shinar and settled there” (11:2). This, in and of itself, is not a problem, because in order for the earth to be filled, there will have to be some settling. However, this settling apparently took a form that was contrary to God’s clear intentions, and must have involved a great number of people. There, it was said “Come, let’s build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens,” presumably so that it would be too high to be overtaken by another flood, “so that we may make a name for ourselves” (11:4a). This is a problem because man is meant to bear God’s image in the world and to gain Him the glory that is due to Him. As we bear in mind that God never asked for a temple such as the one that David desired to build, is there a possibility that we can ascribe such thinking to King David?
Furthermore, part of the justification for the construction of this tower is found in the statement of “Otherwise we will be scattered across the face of the earth” (11:4b). Obviously, this stands in stark contrast to that which God had demanded of Noah and his family, which we can imagine had been well communicated to and through their descendants (thus accounting for the continued movement recorded in the second verse of this chapter). Scattering and movement was what God desired. Pointing up the motif of movement, and the contrast provided by man’s new desire to become stationary, “the Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the people had started building” (11:5). In response, the Lord said, “Come, let’s go down and confuse their language so they won’t be able to understand each other” (11:7). When the people failed to move, the Lord moved. What was the result? The result was movement, as “the Lord scattered them from there across the face of the entire earth” (11:8a).