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The Tabernacle of God

5th July 2014

Chapters 25 - 31 and 35 - 40 of the book of Exodus are almost entirely about the design, construction and inauguration of the Tabernacle and the priestly garments. The Tabernacle was the precursor of the Temple in Jerusalem - a version they could pack up and move around the desert as they marched through Sinai to the promised land. And the Temple was the precursor of the Church - you and me (1 Corinthians 3v16).

So God's command to build the Tabernacle, and the Israelites' response, are very important for us. But why did God think that it was worth dedicating almost 13 chapters to this subject?

Firstly, it was important that the Tabernacle was made correctly - exactly as God intended. In these chapters, God said:

Exodus 25v9: Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you
Exodus 25v39: See that you make them [the lampstand with its wick trimmers and trays] according to the pattern shown you on the mountain
Exodus 26v30: Set up the tabernacle according to the plan shown you on the mountain
Exodus 27v8b: It [the altar of burnt offering] is to be made just as you were shown on the mountain

And Moses said:

Exodus 36v1b: every skilled person to whom the Lord has given skill and ability to know how to carry out all the work of constructing the sanctuary are to do the work just as the Lord has commanded

And the writer of Exodus said:

Exodus 38 21: [They made the breastpiece] just as the Lord commanded Moses
Exodus 39v31: [They made he sacred diadem] as the Lord commanded Moses
Exodus 39v32b: The Israelites did everything just as the Lord commanded Moses
Exodus 39v42: The Israelites had done everything just as the Lord commanded Moses
Exodus 39v43: Moses inspected the work and saw that they had done it just as the Lord had commanded. So Moses blessed them.

That degree of repetition shows us how important it was that the Israelites were careful to make the Tabernacle precisely as God wanted it. But why did it all have to be exactly as the Lord commanded?

Well, doesn't the Lord have the right to have everything exactly as he commands?

But it was particularly important that the Tabernacle was just right, because the Tabernacle is a representation of heaven. To look at the Tabernacle is to get some small understanding of what heaven is like. For example, in the Tabernacle, God is enthroned. He is surrounded by angels. His throne is a mercy-seat. Sacrifices are made to Him, prefiguring the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. Incense is burnt before Him, signifying the worship and prayers of the Church (see Revelation 8v3-40).

The instructions that God gave to Moses are extremely detailed. Here are a couple of examples:

Exodus 25v31-36
"Make a lampstand of pure gold and hammer it out, base and shaft; its flowerlike cups, buds and blossoms shall be of one piece with it. Six branches are to extend from the sides of the lampstand three on one side and three on the other. Three cups shaped like almond flowers with buds and blossoms are to be on one branch, three on the next branch, and the same for all six branches extending from the lampstand. And on the lampstand there are to be four cups shaped like almond flowers with buds and blossoms. One bud shall be under the first pair of branches extending from the lampstand, a second bud under the second pair, and a third bud under the third pair six branches in all. The buds and branches shall all be of one piece with the lampstand, hammered out of pure gold. Then make its seven lamps and set them up on it so that they light the space in front of it."

Exodus 26v1-14
"Make the tabernacle with ten curtains of finely twisted linen and blue, purple and scarlet yarn, with cherubim worked into them by a skilled craftsman. All the curtains are to be the same size twenty-eight cubits long and four cubits wide. Join five of the curtains together, and do the same with the other five. Make loops of blue material along the edge of the end curtain in one set, and do the same with the end curtain in the other set. Make fifty loops on one curtain and fifty loops on the end curtain of the other set, with the loops opposite each other. Then make fifty gold clasps and use them to fasten the curtains together so that the tabernacle is a unit.
"Make curtains of goat hair for the tent over the tabernacle eleven altogether. All eleven curtains are to be the same size thirty cubits long and four cubits wide. Join five of the curtains together into one set and the other six into another set. Fold the sixth curtain double at the front of the tent. Make fifty loops along the edge of the end curtain in one set and also along the edge of the end curtain in the other set. Then make fifty bronze clasps and put them in the loops to fasten the tent together as a unit. As for the additional length of the tent curtains, the half curtain that is left over is to hang down at the rear of the tabernacle. The tent curtains will be a cubit longer on both sides; what is left will hang over the sides of the tabernacle so as to cover it.
"Make for the tent a covering of ram skins dyed red, and over that a covering of hides of sea cows."

The Tabernacle had to be made just right because it showed people something of the glory of God's home in heaven.

Imagine if you were a passing tribesman, riding your camel through Sinai, and you saw the Tabernacle. It would be the most magnificent thing you'd ever seen.

Imagine you were an Israelite who just had a really bad day. You'd had a row with your husband or wife, you were feeling unwell, you were short of money, the desert was as hot and boring as ever, you didn't get on with the person in the next tent. Imagine you looked out of your tent and saw the Tabernacle. You would see its magnificence, sense its holiness, and remember that God had freed you from slavery and was travelling with you on your journey to the promised land.

As we said at the start of this article, the Tabernacle prefigured the Temple, and the Temple prefigured the Church. And the Church needs to understand that, even more than the Tabernacle and the Temple, we too can show people what God's dwelling in heaven is like, if we who make up the Church are willing to live together according to God's design.

The Church - the new Tabernacle - has been designed by God to tell passers by that God is real, that He is magnificent, and that He is here.

And the Church - the new Tabernacle - has been designed by God to remind Christians that God has set them free from sin, adopted them as His children, and promised never to leave them or forsake them.

But is the Church just as the Lord had commanded? We all know the answer to that is "No". You and I can't fix the whole, world-wide Church. We probably can't fix the local congregation of which we're members. But we can ask God to start with us. We can try to live the way God wants us to live. And that will make a difference:

1 Peter 2v5
you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

Each of us can do the bit we can do. As individual Christians - individual living stones - we can try to live according to the pattern shown you on the mountain. Can't we?

As well as requiring the Tabernacle to be built and furnished according to the pattern of Heaven, he also required it to be build skillfully. These chapters refer to the work being done by skilled craftsmen. It says this nine times (Exodus 26v1, 26v31, 28v6, 28v15, 36v8, 36v35, 38v23, 39v3, 39v8).

Imagine being the person God had equipped and called to make the gold covering for the ark, or to embroider cherubim into the curtains, or to construct the seven-branched gold lampstand. What a privilege to be allowed to get involved in making something so beautiful for the glory of God, for His dwelling-place on earth!

Well, the Church is now God's dwelling place on earth:

Ephesians 2:221-2
In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

And God intends that the Church will be vastly more beautiful and magnificent that the Tabernacle or the Temple ever were.

What part has God gifted and called you to play in the construction of His holy Tabernacle - the Church?