Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary
The verb שכן (shakan) means to dwell, to reside, to be domiciled, to live somewhere. In our modern day and age we might imagine that our individual identity derives mainly from our private brilliance, character and resolve but in antiquity folks still understood that one's private identity derived largely from one's social identity. In that sense, our verb שכן (shakan) means to form a social identity with.
If one would imagine a visual depiction of society, in which individuals are represented by little colored circles that partly overlap, the picture would result in a flower-like image, with individual petals that connect to a communal heart that is formed from all the areas of overlap of all individual petals. That communal heart would have a color that is the sum of the individual petals. And here's the point: all technology, all law, all social codes, even all art and all language are part of that heart. Wholly private concerns that may show up in dreams or a person's most abstract thoughts sit in the petal that sticks out from the communal heart but everything else sits within the heart. There is no language without community, and there is no complex thought without language. In other words: you are not what you think but you are what you are with.
Our verb שכן (shakan) does not simply talk about residing somewhere. Instead, it speaks of forging a social identity. And since a single social identity ("the Viking") has many manifestations (namely everybody who is a Viking), the health and longevity of the social identity depends on the intrasocietal peacefulness of individual manifestations.
The Bible is all about learning to get along with one's neighbor, with the result of forging a social identity ("the Messiah", "the Christ", or "the Word of God" in human flesh) that consists of individual manifestations of Anointed Ones, and thus of individual expressions of the Word of God.
In the past this principle was perhaps a bit hard to grasp for some, but since mankind has begun to understand DNA it all became a whole lot clearer. One single genetic code is copied trillions of times and resides in all trillions of individual cells that make up the body of an organism. There is no chief cell who governs the others, but every individual cell develops and behaves according to the very same genetic code it has at its own private heart. And some cells become transparent eye cells. Some become contracting muscle cells. Some conduct electricity. Some sense. Some produce stomach acid. And they all do it with wholehearted dedication to the same genetic code. Likewise is the Word of God the same for everybody, and everybody's wholehearted devotion to that same Word of God results in a vast diversity of interlocked human identities that together form that one, singular social identity with which we all wholeheartedly identify.
Our verb is used 129 times, and God is the subject of it about a third of the time. God is said to dwell among his people (Exodus 25:8), on mount Zion (Psalm 74:2), in Jerusalem (Zechariah 8:3) but as in Revelation 21:22, God is not simply a neighbor, not simply one of many inhabitants, but rather the social identity of every and all inhabitants.
From our verb derive:
- The noun שכן (sheken), meaning dwelling. This noun occurs just once, in Deuteronomy 12:5: "... to establish His name there for His dwelling ..."
- The noun שכן (shaken), meaning neighbor, or those people who together make up a social identity (Exodus 3:22, Ruth 4:17, Isaiah 33:24). This noun occurs just a little under two dozen times.
- The noun משכן (mishkan), which literally means "agent/instrument/place/time" of שכן (shakan). This noun occurs more than a hundred times and nearly always denotes what Latin translations dubbed the "tabernacle" or "tent of the meeting". That means that the tabernacle was not simply a shrine in which the high priests met the deity, and which happened to be situated in the midst of the people, but rather a social anchor around which the people were to organize so that they would become the dwelling place of God. Only three times is the singular version of this word used to denote something other than the tabernacle or God's more broad "dwelling place" (Ezra 7:15, Ezekiel 37:27), which demonstrates that our noun משכן (mishkan) is not a name but a regular noun, namely in Numbers 16:24-27, where it denotes the "dwelling" of Korah, Dathan and Abiram, and in Isaiah 22:16, which speaks of a synthetic dwelling place in the rock. In both these two contexts, the emphasis lies on the forging of a social identity rather than simply a tent or shelter. The plural of our word occurs a dozen times and again emphasizes social identities rather than merely villages. It often denotes the societies that are not based on God's natural law (Job 18:21, 21:28) but on occasion it points toward multiple righteous societies (Psalm 43:3, Song of Solomon 1:8, Isaiah 32:18, Habakkuk 1:6), which resounds with the often criticized idea that historically not only Israel received the Word of God but many societies did (Luke 4:25-27).