Week 10 / 25-31
When Moses came down from Sinai, he had the 10 commandments, and the blueprint for the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle? It’s obviously important, but at first glance it can be hard to see why. Ex.25-31 is a fairly detailed list of how it was to be built, and Ex.35-40 is a fairly detailed account of how the Israelites followed Ex.25-31 to the letter. It is important enough for the Holy Spirit to take a very personal interest in making sure it was built properly (31:1-11), and for a whole other book in the Bible to be devoted to what would happen in the Tabernacle (Leviticus, in case you’re wondering. There is a series of sermons I preached on the book of Leviticus on the website). And when the Tabernacle is built, it receives a fairly hefty seal of approval from the LORD (40:34-38). In all, the story of the construction of the Tabernacle take up over a third of the book of Exodus. And once you’re clued into it, you’ll notice just how often the rest of the Bible refers back to the Tabernacle. Like I said: it’s obviously important. But why?
To understand the Tabernacle is to learn the way the Bible (and so the Holy Spirit) wants us to learn. It is a huge interactive, multi-sensory, fully engaging ultimate All Age aid to understanding everything that is important about the world. In fact, that is the best way to think about the Tabernacle – as a schematic plan of creation (Heb.8:5). Let me say at the outset – it is much easier to see what’s going on if you have a picture / model of the Tabernacle in front of you. So here is one:
Why is it important to understand the way Creation works? There are so many answers to this question, but the most immediately and personally relevant answer will focus on how we see our place in that creation. Herein lies some of the deepest questions we wrestle with as people. Why am I here? What does it mean to live a ‘good’ life? How do I live? Who is God and how do I relate to Him (if at all)? Where did we come from and where are we going… and how do we get there? The whole question of what this world is all about settles many of our smaller questions about our place in it!
How much of creation do you think we actually know about? How much of that do we understand? Does that make you feel insignificant?
25:1-8. Where do the Israelites get all these resources from?
(in today’s currency, the total cost of just the silver and gold would be in excess of £40 million, making this proportionally one of the most expensive buildings ever built, and certainly one of the great wonders of the ancient world)
The first things made are the 3 items of furniture: the Ark, the Table and the Lampstand (25:10-40). What do you think these are designed to teach us about? Can you think of any other passages of Scripture where these are referred to? Do they help you identify what (Who?) they represent?
(see e.g. I Samuel 4:4; Ps.99:1; Is.37:16; Ex.33:14-15; Dt.4:37; Zech.4:2-6; Rev.1:12 etc.)
How do you think the LORD would make His presence manifest in His appearing between the Cherubim (Ex.25:22)? What is He teaching us about Himself by appearing here, and not somewhere else in the Tabernacle?
The main tent is first of all built as a single room, that is then divided by a curtain (26:31-33) into the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place (which is a cube, see also Rev.21:16; also Heb.9:11-12)). What do you think this teaches us? Why is this curtain torn when Jesus dies? (Mt.27:51, note the Temple is simply a permanent version of the more portable Tabernacle). What then do you think these two rooms represent?
Why is the Ark hidden in the Most Holy Place, while the Table and the Lampstand are in the Holy Place? How does the Altar of Incense fit into the picture (Rev.8:4)? How does this change your view of prayer and worship?
Do you think priests should still wear distinctive clothing (i.e. ‘sacred garments, Ex.28:2)? Who are today’s priests? Why is there a priesthood established within the life of Israel, when the whole nation is a kingdom of priests (Ex.19:6)? How does this affect your understanding of Church life today (if at all)?
Why does having bells on the hem of the High Priest’s garment keep him alive when he enters the Day of Atonement (28:34-35)?
How does this vision of creation shape how you think
of yourself and your place in the world?
What does Ex.40:34-38 teach us about
the destiny of this creation
(see e.g. Hab.2:14)?
Do you think the Holy Spirit’s involvement in the craftsmanship of Bezalel and Oholiab has anything to say about the creative arts today?
Do you think it would be helpful to teach more about the Tabernacle in today’s Church? If it is the Bible’s way of teaching the Bible, should it feature in our ‘Introduction to Christianity’ courses?
SPOILERS: Don’t read until you’ve worked through the questions!
To begin with, this can feel a bit tricky, and a lot of this I had to be taught – so please don’t think I was able to work it out on my own! Here are some suggested answers to some of the questions above. Once you get going, it does begin to fall into place. The three pieces of furniture that are made first, teach us deep truths about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Father is always seen in the Scriptures to be in heaven (The Most Holy Place). Although heaven and earth were initially created to ‘interface’ (in Eden), humanity’s sin resulted in their exile and the establishing of a barrier between heaven and earth. And it is through the Son and the Holy Spirit that God ministers to the Church (the Holy Place). The Courtyard and beyond is the rest of fallen creation, from which we come, via sacrifice and cleansing into the life of the Church; and the Church finds access to the life of the Father through the death of the Son. I’ll leave you to download my sermon on Leviticus 16 to see how the ministry of the High Priest pre-figures the Incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ!
I know this can seem slightly obscure to begin with, but think about it like this. When Jesus dies on the cross, we are simply told the Curtain in the Temple was torn in two. There is no explanation given as to why that is significant. That is because Matthew assumes you understand the Tabernacle. Again and again you find Jesus spoken of as a Atoning Sacrifice; the Anointed One (i.e. Christ); our Priest & High Priest; entering the Most Holy Place, etc… and the assumption of Jesus and the Apostles is that you know what this kind of language means. The Tabernacle, and all that goes on within it, is a key visual aid to show us what Jesus would do and how…
 There is one exception to this rule. In Deuteronomy 4, Moses teaches us that it was the Father who descended in glory to Mount Sinai (see v.12, where no form is seen). This observation lead many theologians from previous generations to conclude that anytime we see the LORD in the OT, we were being confronted by the pre-incarnate Christ.