Nearly one-third of the Book of Exodus is devoted to considerations regarding the TABERNACLE, Israel’s desert sanctuary. Detailed descriptions occur twice—when God commands Moses how to build it and when that command is being executed.
The sheer volume of Scripture devoted to the Tabernacle, its furnishings and accompanying priestly regulations and sacrifices indicate its significant magnitude. Herein is seen God coming to man and man coming to God under His terms and ways. Christ, salvation, the believer and church are portrayed before the eyes of Israel and those with spiritual insight.
The LORD said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from each man whose heart prompts him to give. These are the offerings you are to receive from them: gold, silver and bronze; blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair; ram skins dyed red and hides of sea cows; acacia wood; olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; and onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breastpiece.
Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.”
God is its Architect! He specifies the materials and the height, width, and length of each section, including details about curtains, clasps, beams, and pegs. All objects to be placed within the structure are designed and described by God—ark, mercy seat, altar, lampstand, table, and other ritual paraphernalia, as are certain procedures and matters pertaining to the priests associated with its ministry. There are even precise recipes for anointing oil and incense.
Thirteen chapters having to do with the tabernacle is a long stretch of non-story that can become wearisome reading. One wonders whether the ancient reader would find the account any more compelling than most Christians do today. Yet, within in the wearisome details of the TABERNACLE is a mine of spiritual treasure for those willing to put forth the effort to dig it out.
FIRST AND FOREMOST, the volume of material on the Tabernacle demonstrates the importance of worshiping God in the way He determines. The movement in the Book of Exodus as a whole is one from slavery to worship, from service to Pharaoh to service to God. More particularly, it is a movement from Israel’s enforced construction of Pharaoh’s buildings to the glad and obedient offering of themselves for a building for the worship of God.
Chapters 25-31 constitute the message that God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai. It centers on the forms of worship that are to provide the vehicle for the close divine presence with Israel on its journey. Fundamentally, it signals a change in the way God is present with Israel.
The occasional appearance of God on the mountain will become the ongoing presence of God with Israel. The distance of the Divine presence from the people will no longer be associated with the remote top of a mountain but with a dwelling place in the center of the camp. God comes down to be with the people at close, even intimate, range; they no longer need to ascend to God. The divine dwelling will no longer be a fixed place. God’s dwelling place will be portable, on the move with the people of God. Overall, these chapters represent a climax not only in Israel’s journey but in God’s journey.
The Tabernacle is to shape the future for Israel. In view of Israel’s repeated apostasy in their checked history, the Tabernacle makes clear that the worship of God is not a matter in which details can be neglected. Inattention to detail may well have been a major factor in the syncretism and idolatry that developed in Temple worship. A change or a compromise here and there, and it does not take long for worship patterns to become diverted from their original purpose and for something quite inappropriate or foreign to emerge.
APOSTASY is the conscious abandonment of allegiance and duty to God. In view of apostasy, it is clear that only the LORD can provide the detail appropriate for the worship of God who would dwell among His people.
The forms of worshiping God are not to be fundamentally a matter of human innovation or effort. And so God is not only the architect but the giver of the specifications for the construction and the bestower of the right spirit or inspiration for the artists, craftsmen and builders. In every conceivable way the Tabernacle and its associated worship MUST be build according to the will of God.
Yet this is not enough to explain the extensiveness of the repetition of the Tabernacle in Chapters 35-40. This additional material may have been used to make two points. First, there is the importance of obedience to the divine command. Stress is placed on the fulfillment of the command down to the last detail. When it comes to obedience, attention to particularities is important. It is not enough to be obedient in a general sort of way.
Second, Chapters 35-40 follow the Golden Calf Apostasy. Moses is given the plans to the Tabernacle, but before he can get the instructions in the people’s hands, they turn to idolatry and debauchery. If we compare and contrast the accounts of the building of the Golden Calf and Tabernacle, we can observe that the Tabernacle stands over against all forms of idolatry.
Certainly, the Tabernacle is a divinely instituted way for the community to exclude idolatrous practices from its worship life. If every detail and instruction is followed, idolatry will be avoided.
By God’s grace, the worshipers of the Golden Calf are permitted to build the Tabernacle. HOPE is the reason why the Tabernacle details are inserted between the sections of narrative as it is.
This sequence provides a form of assurance to Israel that, just as God once before went forward with such plans after their apostasy, so God would once again. The actual description of the Tabernacle in the process of being built will create an active sense of hope that this would be the shape of the future for Israel. God would dwell among His people once again.
That’s good news if you are a Jew sitting on the banks of the Kebar River in Babylonian after 586 B.C. The Temple (a more permanent tabernacle) now lies in ruins because of apostasy. The Temple plan was dependent upon Tabernacle features. We read in 1 Chronicles 28:19—
“All this,” David said, “I have in writing from the hand of the LORD upon me, and he gave me understanding in all the details of the plan.”
Interestingly, Solomon builds the Temple with non-Israelites architects and builders. The builders of the Tabernacle are not architects; they are only craftsmen, carrying out God’s plan. Non-Israelites builders are used for the Temple, spirit-filled Israelites are used to build the Tabernacle. Forced labor gangs build the Temples, slave rather than willing servants. This sounds suspiciously like Pharaoh’s using Israelites as slaves for his projects. The Tabernacle stands over against the Temple in important respects and in some ways parallels the construction of the Golden Calf.
God, however, accepts the Temple for His dwelling, but Solomon appears to get more glory than God and it becomes the place for numerous idolatrous practices through the years until the glory of God finally departs before its fall in 586 B.C.
But God is faithful. He restored the nation and the Temple was rebuilt by Zerubabbel after Babylonian Exile as He allowed the Tabernacle to be built after the Golden Calf Apostasy. And this same hope is active for the Israel today. In A.D. 70, the Temple was destroyed again because of apostasy. Because the Jews were not careful to observe the details God had given, they build a religion of man-made laws and traditions that led to apostasy and rejection of their Messiah.
There is another set of detailed building instructions in the Bible. These instructions are for the building of the Millennial Temple and are recorded in Chapters 40-48 of Ezekiel. They form the same pattern of hope. God is not finished with Israel. For a third time, God will save Israel out of apostasy. The presence of God will return to the Millennial Temple in Jerusalem and Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords, will reign over the earth.
Hence these chapters are a highly concrete way in which the hopes of Israel and the Christian are brought to focus. The future sanctuary virtually materializes before our eyes through such detailed description.
Certainly, HOPE explains the extent of the detail. To read these details create in the mind a tabernacle of those who have none. A sanctuary begins to take shape within, where it can be considered in all of its grandeur and beauty, living once again in the memory.
In view of apostasy, it is made clear that the worship of God is not a matter in which details can be neglected.
SECOND, the volume of material on the Tabernacle is concerned with CREATION THEMES in the Bible.
Consider the ARK OF NOAH. Both the Ark and Tabernacle are commanded by God, whose precise directions are communicated to the human leader, who proceeds to carry out the directions obedient detail. Both Noah and Moses found favor in God’s sight. At the end of the building of each, it is said that they did just as God had commanded.
The same Hebrew words is used for Noah’s ARK and for the basket in which Moses, like Noah, was set afloat on the chaotic waters. Our sanctuary like many others is designed in the shape of an ark. This is in tune with Christian symbolism of the ark through the ages, which commonly sees it in terms of a church afloat amid the waters of chaos.
Floodwaters and desert are the two most prominent symbols for chaos in the OT. Both arks or sanctuaries are portable, one on sea, one on land—they are used to carry the people through the water/sands of chaos. Both are viewed as means by which the people of God can move in a secure and ordered way through a world of disorder on their way to a new creation.
It is on the first day of the new year that the floodwaters abate and the covering of the ark is taken off. We read in Genesis 8:13-22—
By the first day of the first month of Noah’s six hundred and first year, the water had dried up from the earth. Noah then removed the covering from the ark and saw that the surface of the ground was dry. By the twenty-seventh day of the second month the earth was completely dry. Then God said to Noah, “Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you—the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground—so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number upon it.” So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives. All the animals and all the creatures that move along the ground and all the birds—everything that moves on the earth—came out of the ark, one kind after another.
Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done. “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.”
It is by God’s design, that on the first day of the year—the same day—Noah and his family left the Ark to enter into a re-creation in which God gives man a new beginning that God begins again with the world/Israel on the far side of apostasy. We read in Exodus 40:1-2—
Then the LORD said to Moses: “Set up the tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting, on the first day of the first month.”
I would not be surprised if Christ sits down on His throne to reign over the renewed earth on the first day of the first month. Figuratively speaking, when you receive Christ into your life to reign as Lord, it is on the first day of the first month of the rest of your life for all eternity. For on that day, God beings anew with you. 1 Corinthians 5:17 says—
If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
As we work, our way through the Tabernacle this marvelous truth will become more evident. God is the God of new creations.
The building of the Tabernacle reflects the creative role in Genesis 1. The Spirit of God with which the craftsmen are filled is a sign of the living, breathing force that lies behind the completing of the project just as it lies behind the creation. Their intricate craftsmanship mirrors God’s own work.
The precious metals with which they work take up the very products of God’s beautiful creation. Just as God created such a world in which God himself would dwell, so now these craftsmen re-create a world in the midst of chaos where in God may dwell once again in a world suitable for His holy presence. We read in Exodus 40:17—
So the tabernacle was set up on the first day of the first month in the second year.
The worship of God at the Tabernacle is a way for the community of faith to participate in God’s work of creation. God’s continuing work in and through the worship of Israel is creative of a new world for Israel; it is a means whereby the community itself can take on the characteristics of the new creation in every aspect of life.
There are seven speeches by God in Exodus 25-31 to correspond to the seven days of creation. Some of the speeches have parallels with creation days, and both accounts conclude with a concern for keeping the Sabbath. Exodus 31:17 reads—
It will be a sign between me and the Israelites for ever, for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he abstained from work and rested.'”
Just as the first Tabernacle account ends with a Sabbath notice, the next account begins with it in 35:2—
For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day shall be your holy day, a Sabbath of rest to the LORD.
The enclosure of Chapters 32-34 with these references to the Sabbath suggest that God’s decision to renew the covenant with Israel makes for the possibility of a new beginning for mankind. God’s promise to dwell among His people still stands if they will be obedient to His commands as first and foremost reflected in their observance of keeping the Sabbath holy.
The keeping of a time that is in tune with the created order is once more a reality in Israel, and this prepares the way for the hallowing of a particular place for God’s dwelling in Israel. Chapter 31 ends on a note of harmony, rest, and preparedness. It is a paradise scene, Genesis 2 revisited, but decisively marked by material order.
The importance given to shape, order, design, intricacy, color, embroidery—every visual aspect of the Tabernacle, in both furnishings and structure, corresponds with the orderly, colorful, artful, and intricate creation of Genesis 1. God’s creative activity is sometimes works through that which is already created. For instance, God made man from the dust of the ground. The end product of the “construction” in both instances is a material reality that is precisely designed, externally beautiful, and functionally “literate.”
There is careful attention to the relationship between form and function. God is present and active in both creation and Tabernacle, not simply in the verbal, but also in and through that which is tangible. Genesis 1 shows that God’s creative work is not without analogy in the human sphere. The tabernacle is one such instance.
The Tabernacle is to help Israel to IMAGINE God. For example, David imagined God in 2 Samuel 22:3 when he said—
My God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior—from violent men you save me.
He could have easily said, “My God is my TABERNACLE. For the Tabernacle is a picture of God as well as a realization of God’s created order in history; both reflect the glory of God in Israel’s midst. The end result of in the BUILDING of both creation and the Tabernacle is that they are products of God’s command. Both were completed through the Word of God.
At this small, lonely place in the midst of the chaos of the desert, a new creation comes into being. In the midst of the disorder, there is order. The Tabernacle is the world order as God intended. The priest of the sanctuary going around their appointed courses is like everything in creation performing its liturgical service—the sun, the trees, human beings. The people of Israel carefully encamped around the Tabernacle in their midst constitutes the beginnings of God’s bring creation back to what it was originally intended to be. The Tabernacle is a realization of God’s created order in history—both reflect the glory of God in their midst. Psalm 19:1 declares—
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Likewise the TABERNACLE declares the glory of God—for it is the most complete OT picture of Jesus Christ, who is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being. For it is God who has given the design, the pattern for moving and joining and the treating and the weaving, who chooses to dwell in the very pattern created. John 1:14 announces—
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling [literally TABERNACLE] among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. .
In the OT, the God who commands the building of the Tabernacle dwells within the obedient result, taking up life in the world among the newly created people, all for the sake of Israel and world. In the NT, the Second Person of the Trinity comes to dwell in the Tabernacle, He created—called MAN!
In the OT, God leaves the Mountain and comes to dwell among His people. God is not like the gods the other nations worship, who are removed from a messy world, enjoying their own life, often uncaring and oblivious to the troubles of the creatures. God leaves the mountain of remoteness and ineffable majesty and tabernacles right in the center of human community.
Do you see the picture. God left the remoteness of heaven and became a man and dwelt among us. Hear the apostle’s testimony in 1 John 1:1-3—
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.
Five times in the Book of Genesis is it recorded that God walked with His people. But in Exodus 25:8, God said—
Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.
God’s people today are the dwelling place of God—universally, locally, and individually, we are the Temple of God. The Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit indwells or tabernacles in us.
Interestingly, Moses mentions fourteen different kinds of materials here, from precious stones and gold to various colors of yarn. Paul later used the image of “gold, silver, and precious stones, when he wrote about the building of the local church in 1 Corinthians 3.
Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Moses writes the details of CREATION in one chapter and the TABERNACLE in thirteen chapters. Which do you think God wants you and I to understand?
Certainly, most of creation is a mystery. And we are faced with a unique combination of tedious description of the Tabernacle on the one hand and total omission of various particulars on the other. If one seeks to reconstruct an actual Tabernacle from the blue print on the biblical pages, frustration will set in because any reconstruction involves considerable guesswork since some details are missing.
There is an element of mystery about exactly what the Tabernacle looked like! So it is with the One it pictures. There is no complete description of Jesus in Scripture—much of what He looked like in the flesh remains a mystery.
Repeatedly., Moses is admonished to follow the exact pattern by God. Hebrews 8:5 tells us—
They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.”
The Tabernacle is an exact replica of what already existed before in heaven. It was a type and a shadow of something with real substance. That something is described in Hebrews 8:1-2—
The point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man.
Whether there is in heaven an actual building after which the Tabernacle on earth was patterned is a debatable subject, but of one thing we are sure, the Tabernacle is a picture, a type, and a shadow of the Lord Jesus Christ, where God meets man, and where deity and humanity meet in one person!
Every detail of the Tabernacle, therefore, points to some aspect of the Person and work of our Savior and the believer whom He indwells by the Holy Spirit.
For the believer IN CHRIST is the dwelling place of God. We are both IN CHRIST and CHRIST is IN US, the hope of glory!
But the Tabernacle tells more. It is not only a picture of the Lord Jesus, and the believer, but it is a complete picture of the plan of salvation as we will see in the weeks to come.
The subject of the Tabernacle is exhaustible since God is its Architect. In these messages, we will touch the fringe of the limitless expanse of its infinite teaching. But what blessing awaits us who ponder its mysteries!