The Tabernacle: God’s House.

Exodus 25 - 26

 

The Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from everyone whose heart prompts them 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 another type of durable leather; 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 themMake this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you. 10 Have them make an ark of acacia wood—two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high. 11 Overlay it with pure gold, both inside and out, and make a gold moulding around it. 12 Cast four gold rings for it and fasten them to its four feet, with two rings on one side and two rings on the other. 13 Then make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. 14 Insert the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark to carry it. 15 The poles are to remain in the rings of this ark; they are not to be removed. 16 Then put in the ark the tablets of the covenant law, which I will give you. 17 Make an atonement cover of pure gold—two and a half cubits long and a cubit and a half wide. 18 And make two cherubim out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover. 19 Make one cherub on one end and the second cherub on the other; make the cherubim of one piece with the cover, at the two ends. 20 The cherubim are to have their wings spread upward, overshadowing the cover with them. The cherubim are to face each other, looking toward the cover. 21 Place the cover on top of the ark and put in the ark the tablets of the covenant law that I will give you22 There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the covenant law, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites. 23 Make a table of acacia wood—two cubits long, a cubit wide and a cubit and a half high. 24 Overlay it with pure gold and make a gold moulding around it. 25 Also make around it a rim a handbreadth wide and put a gold moulding on the rim. 26 Make four gold rings for the table and fasten them to the four corners, where the four legs are. 27 The rings are to be close to the rim to hold the poles used in carrying the table. 28 Make the poles of acacia wood, overlay them with gold and carry the table with them. 29 And make its plates and dishes of pure gold, as well as its pitchers and bowls for the pouring out of offerings. 30 Put the bread of the Presence on this table to be before me at all times. 31 Make a lampstand of pure gold. Hammer out its base and shaft, and make its flowerlike cups, buds and blossoms of one piece with them. 32 Six branches are to extend from the sides of the lampstand—three on one side and three on the other. 33 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. 34 And on the lampstand there are to be four cups shaped like almond flowers with buds and blossoms. 35 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. 36 The buds and branches shall all be of one piece with the lampstand, hammered out of pure gold. 37 Then make its seven lamps and set them up on it so that they light the space in front of it. 38 Its wick trimmers and trays are to be of pure gold. 39 A talent of pure gold is to be used for the lampstand and all these accessories. 40 See that you make them according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.

 

          Home sickness: I think all of us here today, both missionaries and or students at UAUT know what this is. We all experience it, this sick feeling that seems to eat away at us, as we crave familiar surroundings, a place where you feel you belong. Why?

          Well, probably because we have all felt at one time or another the sensation of being in a very comfortable place. For me, it is being in a warm bed while outside my house it is freezing cold. For Tanzanians, it may be lying in a nice comfortable dry bed while outside it has been raining for days.

          We all have this very real desire to be ‘home’ to be ‘secure’ to be ‘comfortable’. These are feelings which God has created in us. Many childcare professionals say that one of the things all children really want, and need, is a home that offers a safe and secure environment. That is why God has a special concern for the widows and the orphans. They are the members of any society that are the most vulnerable.

          Now, what God has essentially said here in this passage is that “I am going to make a dwelling place, I am going to make a house where I am going to be with you.

          As we come to this chapter in Exodus which describes the furnishings in the tabernacle and chapter 26 after which describes the construction of the tabernacle structure (That is God’s ‘home’ so to speak, where He is) we encounter all these strange requirements. We don’t build our churches like this nor do we have furnishings like this in them. So, how do these things become relevant to us?

          Our first clue is, God said that the Israelites where to build it exactly, ‘according to the pattern He showed them on the mountain’. Everything was to be made to God’s exact specifications. And notice that He repeats this very instruction many times throughout this chapter.

          It is important to note that God is not giving us an exact specification for every place of worship that was to be built afterwards. Just look at all the different styles of churches around us. They are all different designs using different building materials. Some are very basic, and some are very, very, elaborate. God has not spoken from Mount Zion and said, “build a church like this”.

          However, this is not the case with the tabernacle. God is giving the Israelites a pattern. In last week’s sermon, I mentioned that the Book of Hebrews is very helpful in interpreting the ultimate meaning of the Old Testament. What it tells us about the tabernacle is that God is telling them to build a ‘copy’. A copy of the heavenly tabernacle, the heavenly dwelling place of God. This is why God tells them to make everything exactly as He tells them. Today, we are going to consider the furnishings that God said must be put in the tabernacle and what it is that they symbolize. And then we will look at the tabernacle itself and what it illustrates.

          So, here in chapter 26, God tells them that there are some things that must be present in this portable temple. Through these furnishings that we will look at in more in detail next, God would be present among humanity.

          First there is the Ark of the Covenant. (*Here is a picture of it). If you remember, from last week’s sermon that, another word for covenant is testament, it is essentially the law of God. So, what God is saying to the Israelites is that a very crucial thing that must be in the tabernacle is the Law of God. Those regulations and commands that He has just given to the Israelites through Moses.

          In fact, in the most holy place of the tabernacle are to be the very Words of God. His revelation about who He is. This revelation, this law is not just some random group of laws that the Israelites can choose to follow or not. For the Israelites, if they want to approach God in His dwelling place then, they need to do it according to His standards of holiness.

          The ark was so holy that even to touch it would invite immediate death. That is why poles needed to be used to move it. In 2 Samuel we read about the unfortunate Uzzah who reached out and took hold of the ark after the oxen who were pulling the cart on which it was placed, stumbled. Maybe Uzzah tried to do the right thing in His thinking and prevent it from falling to the mud. Unfortunately, by doing so Uzzah was being disobedient to God’s command, to not touch the Ark and therefore defile it, and God struck him down, “because of his irreverent act”. God’s commands are not to be ignored no matter what. This should make us all think of what we do with God’s Word that we read.

          The next indispensable item is the Atonement Cover. It serves as the lid of the ark of the covenant. Even as they build this dwelling place of God, the Israelites need to be reminded that they are still sinners. In this holy place they are still reminded that they need God’s mercy to enter. It is very important to acknowledge that no sin can enter the presence of God. Now that does not mean that God cannot be where there is sin. God is Holy, all powerful and everywhere. If that where the case then none of us would ever hope of being saved.

          The main purpose of the atonement cover is revealed in verse 22. It is where God and sinners would meet, and God would give them His commands. This meeting could only take place once a year, and blood was necessary. The High Priest was a reminder that mankind could only come to God through a mediator. Of course, thanks to Jesus this no longer applies because, according to Hebrews 2:17, For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.

           

            The specifications that God gives for this atonement cover states that there are to be two golden cherubim placed on top. What are Cherubim? They are angels. But they are not how we usually think of angels. Like chubby infants with wings sitting on a cloud, playing a harp.

          That is not how Cherubim are described in the Bible. They are terrifying fiery creatures. Our first picture of a Cherub is found in Genesis. After Adam and Eve are driven out, by the Cherub, from the garden of Eden, from God’s presence, from His dwelling place on earth. A cherub is then placed outside the garden of Eden, protecting it with a flaming sword from the return of sinful man and women.

          Their purpose in the tabernacle is the same as their purpose at the entrance to the garden. To prevent sinful humanity from coming into the holy presence of God. The Israelites are being reminded again that the tabernacle is the place where God is.

          The next essential item that is to be present in the ‘Holy Place’, which is outside of the Most Holy Place, is the Table for the Bread of the Presence. On this table was to be placed 12 loaves of bread which would represent the people of Israel. It would remind them that every tribe had a place at the table, and in God’s family.

          This seems like a strange thing to have in a place where a God is. Why does God tell them that they need to have bread in the tabernacle? He is reminding them once again that He is the one who feeds them He is their provider. That is what we mean when we call God Yahweh Jireh.

          We too are daily sustained by God’s grace. In John 6, Jesus told us that God is the One who gives bread from heaven, and the true bread is Jesus Himself. Ultimately, Jesus is the bread of life and those who come to him will never hunger or thirst again.

                   Next, to the table they are to have a * lampstand. Now this is not just an ordinary stand. God is very exact that this stand is to look like a tree. With seven branches upon which light is to be placed. Light is a very important thing in the Bible. The first thing that God created by His Word was light when He said in Genesis chapter 1 verse 3, “Let there be light”. Whenever God is present there is light as His glory is displayed. The apostle John calls the Gospel the light when He says about Jesus in John 3:19, “Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil”. The apostles call Jesus, “the light of the world”. We call Jesus, ‘light of the world’ when we sing, “Here I am to worship”.

          This lampstand is also a very important symbol as it illustrates the presence of God. Remember, in this passage, God said it will look like a tree. Where else in the Bible are trees very prominent? That’s right the garden of Eden. There are two trees mentioned specifically in the garden. Can you tell me what they are? Let me give you a hint…the first one is the ‘Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil’ and the other is the ‘Tree of Life’.

          Adam and Eve were driven out of the garden by the flaming sword away from the ‘Tree of Life’. What God is reminding the Israelites of here in the tabernacle is that He will one day bring them back to the Tree of Life. We see this promise fulfilled in Revelation chapters 21 and 22 when at the end of history, we are brought into the very presence of God and we see the Tree of Life, giving healing to the nations.

         

          Also, when Jesus is talking to the churches in revelation 2 and 3, He says to the churches if you disobey me, I will…. What will he do? I will remove your lampstand. What He is warning the churches who disobey His teachings is that He will remove the presence of God from you. This reminds us that a church can turn away from the teachings that were given to the apostles and the prophets and from the love that we are commanded to give.

          Now that doesn’t mean that those physical places will cease to exist, but that they will be ineffective because, there will be no light, no truth, no life, the presence of God will no longer be there. That is why I stress the importance of reading, studying, and knowing the Word of God. Everything we think, say, and do, must go through the furnace of God’s Holy, completely trustworthy, Word.

          There is more to the tabernacle than just the furnishings. Chapter 26:1-37, which we did not read at the beginning, likewise describes in great detail how the curtains which make up the tabernacle structure are to be constructed. *This picture shows how they were to be put together in order to make the tabernacle structure into which the furnishings we just described were to be placed. It is important to see that, there were two parts to the tabernacle. The holy place and the Most Holy place.  We already have read how the ark of the covenant along with its lid, the atonement seat, were to be placed in the Most Holy place. Then the rest of the furnishings, including the altar of incense which is described later in chapter 30, are to be placed in the Holy Place. There was to be a curtain separating these two parts of the tabernacle. God was teaching them that only through blood sacrifice could they approach him and that for now His holiness must be covered.

          So, in reality the curtains were not designed to keep us out of God’s presence, but to actually protect the people of God from His presence. Being sinners, if they did not approach Him in the prescribed way then, His glorious presence would consume them.

 

          In order to really understand the importance of what, as New Covenant believers, we are reading here in Exodus 25 and 26, then all we need to do is read John chapter one verse fourteen. The apostle John speaks of Jesus’ coming into the world like this, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling (his tabernacle) among us”.

          Jesus is the exact fulfillment of what God is planning here through the design of the tabernacle. Just as in the tabernacle God’s presence was with this wandering people, in the same way Jesus is with us through His atonement, as He promises us in Matthew 28:20, “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age”.

           The tabernacle is a picture of what it will look like when we and God dwell together in eternity. The furnishings give us a picture of, where God speaks, where God forgives, where God feeds, where God gives light, so that we can one day stand boldly before Him in Christ.

          Of course, what all of this is showing to us is the gospel. The good news that, God wants to have a relationship with the people of His creation. Unfortunately, we are sinners and none of us can come to Him on our own under our own strength. But in His great mercy God provided a way so that we could have access to him. He provided the life-blood required through the sacrifice offered by our Great High Priest, Jesus.

 

Let’s Pray, Lord, we do not have the words adequate enough to describe how wonderful, how majestic, how merciful, how Holy you are. Thank you for this picture of your home that you give us here in Exodus. Lord even that earthly tabernacle, no matter how detailed and perfect, will pale in comparison with your heavenly home and the majesty and glory that are there because You are there. Thank you, God, that you have provide to those you call, a real and everlasting way, through the Blood of Your Son Jesus, into your very presence. May we, through the power of your spirit, live lives that are holy and worthy of living with you in eternity. Lord Jesus we look forward eagerly to the day when you will return and establish your kingdom and take us to be where you are.  We long for the time when we can enjoy your presence fully and see you face to face. We pray through the almighty name of Jesus, Amen.