The Holy Space Issue
God has an issue with His personal space. From Exodus 3:5 onward, into Leviticus and the rest of Scripture, we learn of God's "holy space issue": a holy space must be set apart, constructed, and maintained if a holy God is going to remain in that space. Once that space is set apart and constructed, the only persons who can enter or remain in that space are those who are made sufficiently holy themselves. Those who are not made sufficiently holy are not allowed to enter or remain in that space. A holy God requires a holy space, and only holy individuals are compatible with that space and with that God. Pragmatically, this means there are conditions for getting close to God and staying close to God. While that closeness means slightly different things in the Old Testament and in the New, the underlying concept is the same.
Holy Space Introduced to Moses, God's Desire for a Dwellingplace
Exodus 3:5 (NIV): "Do not come any closer," God said. "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground."
This is the first scripture in which God explicitly articulates His holy space issue.
Someone might point to the Garden of Eden, and Adam and Eve's expulsion from it, as the first mention. The problem with this is, the Lord never articulated that their expulsion was because the Garden was holy ground, at least not in the Exodus 3:5 sense or Exodus 19 sense. Rather, Genesis says the expulsion was to prevent their access to the tree of life. Genesis 3:23,24 (NIV) say, So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden...he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.
Furthermore, if Eden was holy ground in the Exodus 3:5 sense or the Exodus 19 sense, it seems odd God would allow Satan to be in it, because, later on, He would kill people and animals for being in that kind of holy space (Ex 19:12,13). In other words, it simply does not seem Eden was holy space in the sense of Exodus 3:5 or Exodus 19.
Morally Innocent Space vs Holy Space
The best theological explanation, I think, is that Eden was morally innocent, but, it had not yet been made into a specialized, set apart dwellingplace for the Lord. Regarding the phrase "morally innocent", think of an animal or a baby, which knows neither sin nor righteousness consciously (Isa 7:15,16, Jnh 4:11). Regarding the phrase "specialized, set apart dwellingplace for the Lord", think of a conscious, intentional project from a human. Because the earth was given to man (Ps 8:6-8, 115:16), God gave man the freewill to willingly build Him a dwellingplace. Such an earthly, literal dwellingplace for a holy God within Eden would upgrade Eden from a "morally innocent" status to a highly sensitive "holy space" status.
I am sure building this dwellingplace was on Adam's to-do list, but it had not yet been done and would not be done because of the Fall. Yes, we see the Lord walking and talking with Adam in the Garden, but we do not see a dwellingplace for Him and it would be going far beyond what is written to assume there was one.
Why the Temples Resembled a Garden
This explains why the eventual temples resembled a garden so much. Think of all the decorative filigree used to convey the feeling and imagery of a garden--palm trees, pomegranates, beautiful colors, etc. It is reasonable to infer that God's original plan was to have a house like that in the Garden of Eden. That failed, so on to Plan B. When the time came for His house to be built in the post-Fall world, God appeared to Moses and made one thing very, very clear: I have a holy space issue. God said, in essence, if you get this holy space thing right, Moses, you can help me set up a holy space among my people and build a house for me on earth. Now read Exodus 3:5 with those eyes: "Do not come any closer," God said. "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground."
Holy Space Introduced to Israel, God's Reveals Plans for a Dwellingplace
At Mount Sinai, God introduced Israel to the holy space issue just as He did to Moses at the burning bush (Ex 19:12,13 NIV): Put limits for the people around the mountain and tell them, 'Be careful that you do not approach the mountain or touch the foot of it. Whoever touches the mountain is to be put to death. They are to be stoned or shot with arrows; not a hand is to be laid on them. No person or animal shall be permitted to live.'...
The ultimate result of the Lord's descent on Sinai was the revealing of His plans for a dwellingplace. The second half of Exodus is occupied with this, along with related information and directions. What Adam failed to do in the pre-Fall world, the time had come for Moses and Israel to do in the post-Fall world: create an earthly dwellingplace for God. That dwellingplace had to be a holy space. Moses understood that, but Sinai was Israel's turn to understand it too.
Holy Space Emphasized at Other Moments & In the New Testament
Exodus 3:5 and Exodus 19 are foundational moments when God articulates and demonstrates His requirement for a holy space, if He is to remain in that space. Throughout the rest of Biblical history He continues to emphasize this, sometimes in minor, subtle ways, sometimes in dramatic, overt ways.
In Joshua 5:15, the Commander of the Lord's army, the Lord Jesus, said to Joshua (NIV): The commander of the LORD's army replied, "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy." And Joshua did so.
In 1Kings 6-9, we see the building, completion, and happy dedication of Solomon's temple. Read these three chapters. God makes it clear, in both communication and demonstration, that this house and its immediate perimeter are holy space. In 9:6-9, God gives Solomon and Israel one last stern warning to maintain that holy space.
In the New Testament era, God's holy space issue continues, but in intangible dimensions because He is no longer manifesting in a physical form to dwell in a physical house. Thus, the holy space requirement continues, but intangibly in the personhood and life structures of His people. What does this mean practically? It means 1Thessalonians 5:23 (NKJV): Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The holy space now is our entire personhood--our spirit, soul, body--and the life structure we are creating around ourselves. 2Corinthians 6:14-7:1 discuss our life structure being made holy and kept holy; 7:1 brings it back full circle to our personhood (NIV): ...let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.
The Lord says, "Eat it in a holy place."
In Leviticus 6:25,26 and 10:12-14 we read of the priests and their families eating a portion of the offerings offered at the tabernacle (the sin offering and grain offering, respectively). They are told to "eat it in a holy place" or "eat it in a clean place", referring to spots within the tabernacle grounds. What a word this illustrates to us! There are some blessings that require the right context to be granted and enjoyed. There are things God wants to give you, to eat and to enjoy, but only if a holy place, a clean place, a healthy place, a safe place, is prepared for it. There are certain things He simply cannot give you if He sees the space is not ready or compatible. Ask the Lord specifically, "How can I prepare a holy place for the food you want to give me? What place do you want me to get ready?"
Hear the voice of the Lord speaking in your being: "Eat it in a holy place."