The Glorious Tabernacle

I finished reading the book of Exodus this morning. There are so many things I am inspired to write about this book of the Bible that I hardly know what to pick as I sit here at Panera, fingers poised on keyboard.

What I choose to focus on today is the story of the Tabernacle built while the Israelites were wandering through the wilderness. There are enough fascinating aspects of this part of the Exodus story alone to keep me going for days. But I will attempt to hit some high points where Scripture comes to life.

First, I acknowledge Moses, the servant of God, who was faithful to follow the Lord’s instructions to the letter, doing all things “according to the pattern” shown to him on the mountain (Ex. 25:40). Forty times (in the NIV) the text refers to Moses conducting his ministry “just as the Lord had commanded him.”

 Beyond the miraculous power of God displayed by Moses throughout the ordeal of escaping from Egyptian slavery, Moses was entrusted with the law and covenant, from God’s lips to his ears. He was to impart and enforce God’s commandments so that God’s favor would extend to the entire nation of Israel.

As if this were not enough responsibility, God then made him general superintendent over the construction of an elaborate Tabernacle structured to represent the Lord’s presence with them as they traveled.

In all of these appointments, God extended extraordinary personal favor toward Moses, promising,

 “I will personally go with you, Moses, and I will give you rest—everything will be fine for you…I will indeed do what you have asked, for I look favorably on you, and I know you by name.” (33:14,17)

Isn’t it amazing to know that like Moses, we too can live in the full assurance that we have found favor with God? He promises us that he will personally accompany us on every journey, and knows each of us intimately. This is exactly the truth of the gospel for those to come to him in faith!  

“God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’So we say with confidence,’The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?’” (Heb. 13:5-6).

Next, I can’t help but try to imagine how the building project was undertaken by a people who were on a long meandering journey toward a home they had never seen. They didn’t have standing workshops for metalwork, weaving, embroidery, woodcarving, tanning hides, mixing incense, processing oils, or the many other skilled crafts necessary to complete this massive, movable worship center. How on earth did they organize it all, store the supplies, coordinate crews of craftsmen and women, doing everything exactly as the Lord had commanded? It boggles the mind.

This brings me to Bezalel, identified as the most worthy, skillful craftsman among the hordes of the tribes of Israel. He was the chief project manager. The LORD declared about him,

“Look, I have specifically chosen Bezalel son of Uri, grandson of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. I have filled him with the Spirit of God, giving him great wisdom, ability, and expertise in all kinds of crafts. He is a master craftsman, expert in working with gold, silver, and bronze. He is skilled in engraving and mounting gemstones and in carving wood. He is a master at every craft!” (31:1-4).

Bezalel was the whole package, exactly the right person to oversee the work. Notice that even though he must have exhibited his talents previous to this moment, it was the filling of the Spirit of God that qualified him to lead this huge project.

Isn’t it wonderful to know that, like Bezalel, we too can diligently pursue our natural and God-given abilities, and God will fill us with his Spirit so we can create beautiful displays of his glory? This is indeed what he has done.

Jesus promised,

“I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father. You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father” (John 14:12-13).

And Paul reminds us,

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” (Eph. 2:10).

We have all we need to make and do beautiful things that honor God. Which brings us to the Tabernacle itself. My goodness, what an amazingly beautiful, God-honoring thing!

It required 2,200 pounds of gold, 7,545 pounds of silver, and 5,310 pounds of bronze! All of the sacred instruments, furniture, and utensils were made of pure gold. The walls and roof were woven from linen and goat hair and covered with tanned animal hides.

God emphasized 13 times that the ark, the tables for incense, the lampstand, the altar with its four horns were each to be made of “one continuous piece”. As I picture this, the ark, for instance, would be one molded piece of gold, including the top, with its golden cherubim crossing their wings over the mercy seat. No seams. These were no patchwork, thrown together works of craftsmanship.

Isn’t it wonderful to know that God can take the raw materials of our lives, even the broken, disjointed pieces, and melt them together to form a whole, integrated, worshipping work of art? Indeed, everything can be refined and restored perfectly, fit for worship in the heavenly tabernacle to come! 

In his Revelation, Jesus describes this place of perfection:

“God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.’And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!…It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life.All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children” (Rev. 21:3-7).

We also learn from the story in Exodus how is was that human were found worthy to serve as priests in God’s magnificent Tabernacle. The first ministers were Moses’ brother Aaron and his sons. They were to be set apart, anointed, and clothed in the most ornate, gem-encrusted costumes. They were to represent all of the tribes of Israel as they made sacrifices on the golden altar. They were sinful men like the rest, but God provided a means of sanctification so they could bear the words “HOLY TO THE LORD” inscribed upon the medallions attached to their turbans.

Isn’t it incredible to realize that by God’s grace, we can stand before God in worship, and he sees not our iniquities and failures, but our holy, righteous standing in him through Christ. We are sealed with his mark on our foreheads. Indeed, he has made us to be priests in his household, set apart as living sacrifices.

“You are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Pet. 2:9). I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship” (Rom. 12:1).

Finally, why did Yahweh give Moses such elaborate, detailed instruction regarding the Tabernacle? What was the significance of this structure that would that was moved from place to place, following the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night?

In all of its magnificent opulence, it turns out that the Tabernacle in the wilderness was just a “type and shadow” of the sanctuary in heaven. The author of Hebrews details how “the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary.A tabernacle was set up…” (Heb. 9:1-2). The priests entered regularly to bring animal sacrifices to atone for intentional and unintentional sins against God. Until…

Christ came as high priest…he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands…”

Christ went into the Most Holy Place of the Tabernacle and made atonement for all of us once for all time. The curtain was torn that separated us from our Most Holy God! This had to be done through supernatural power; it couldn’t be accomplished by human hands or human will.

The Tabernacle in the wilderness (and later situated in Shiloh) was merely “an illustration” of what was to come, and what is now available to us! A glorious illustration, yes, but only an illustration of an infinitely more glorious reality.

Isn’t it exhilarating to realize that Jesus is preparing mansions in glory for us? He is preparing to receive us and usher us into the rewards of being with him forever?

Indeed, Jesus the Messiah, the only eternal High Priest, presides in his heavenly Tabernacle, awaiting the day when he can gather in his kingdom as one to share in the joy of his Father.

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