Exodus 25. 8-9
Proper order in worship and, indeed, in the affairs of life is exceedingly important to God, ‘for God is not the author of confusion but of peace’, 1 Cor. 14. 33, and He desires that ‘all things be done decently and in order’, v. 40. Satan is the author of deception and confusion, John 8. 44, but God sets in place standards of proper order to confound his attempts to pervert divine truth. The tabernacle is such a standard; it is meticulously designed to present to man the timeless realities of God’s holi-ness and righteousness, as well as His means to reconcile sinners to Himself.
The theme of this final section of Exodus is defined by God’s words to Moses, ‘And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them. According to all that I show you, that is, the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings, just so you shall make it’, Exod. 25. 8-9 NKJV. Accordingly, the next six chapters can be summarized as follows: the construction and furnishing of the tabernacle, 25. 1 – 27. 19; the priest’s attire, provision, and consecration, 28. 1 – 29. 46; and lastly, a description of who may worship in the tabernacle and of how they should worship God, chapter 30. In Exodus chapters 25 to 30, two contrasting themes are presented: first, how God approached the sinner through Christ, and second, how the blood-atoned sinner is permitted to approach God through Christ; C. H. Mackintosh explains:
‘This section is divided into two parts, the first terminating at Exodus 27 verse 19, and the second at the close of Exodus 30. The former begins with the Ark of the Covenant, inside the veil, and ends with the brazen altar and the court in which that altar stood. That is, it gives us, in the first place, Jehovah’s throne of judgement, whereon He sat as Lord of all the earth; and it conducts us to that place where He met the sinner, in the credit and virtue of accomplished atonement. Then, in the latter we have the mode of man’s approach to God — the privileges, dignities, and responsibilities of those who, as priests, were permitted to draw nigh to the Divine Presence and enjoy worship and communion there. Thus the arrangement is perfect and beautiful’.1
The pattern of the tabernacle shown to Moses went well beyond mere ceremonial function; its deeper intent was to reveal the character of God and of man, and to picture the means of man’s reconciliation with God. As a result, the order in which the various features of the tabernacle are presented is a crucial part of the overall pattern and God’s message to man.
The first furnishing mentioned was the Ark of the Covenant, Exod. 25. 10-16, and its covering - the Mercy Seat, vv. 17-22, above which Jehovah would dwell in the midst of Israel. Next, the Shewbread is described, vv. 23-30, and then the Golden Lampstand, vv. 31-40, the curtains, 26. 1-14, the boards which composed the walls of the tabernacle, vv. 15-30, and its separating veils, vv. 31-37. Lastly, the Bronze Altar, 27. 1-8, and the hangings about the courtyard and its entrance, vv. 9-19 are described. Thus, God explains the tabernacle furnishings from the inside out. This is the order of sovereign grace; God venturing from His heavenly throne as the Light of the World and the Bread of Life to the outer door to find the sinner where the sinner resides! This speaks wonderfully of the incarnation of Christ - God became flesh and sojourned with hell-bound sinners in order to offer them His grace.
Only after the sinner has been purified by blood does the privilege of serving and worshipping God become possible. The next items mentioned relate to worship. Jehovah commences by describing the most precious of these: the breastplate of the high priest which was worn over his heart at all times, 28. 4. He then explains the consecration of a priesthood, 29. 4-9, the animal sacrifices, then the holy incense to be offered, 30. 1-10, and the Bronze Laver at which Aaron and his sons were to wash their hands and feet any time they entered the tabernacle, vv. 18-21. This is the order followed by a sinner who responds to sovereign grace - man ventures from his earthly abode into God’s glorious habitation (though under the Law this access was limited). Arthur Pink concisely summarizes the spiritual significance of the tabernacle order
‘Marvellous is the progressive order of teaching in connection with the various objects in the tabernacle. At the brazen altar sin was judged, and by blood-shedding put away. At the laver purification was effected. In the holy place provision was made for prayer, for illumination; while in the holy of holies the glory of the enthroned King was displayed. The same principle of progress is also to be seen in the increasing value of the sacred vessels. Those in the outer court were of wood and brass whereas those in the inner compartment were of wood and gold. So too the various curtains grew richer in design and embellishment, the inner veil bearing the costliest and most elaborate. Again, the outer court, being open, was illumined by natural light; the holy place was lit up by the light of the golden candlestick; but the holy of holies was radiated by the Shekinah glory of Jehovah. Thus the journey from the outer court into the holy of holies was from sin to purification, and from grace to glory’.2
It is notable that the first thing Jehovah revealed to Moses was that He desired to have a habitation, a holy dwelling place, among His people. God had never personally dwelt among men before, but now that the Israelites had been redeemed and knew of His Law, He could do what He had always longed to do, to dwell among them. This desired communion would occur in the tabernacle’s sanctuary, the pattern of which He revealed to Moses. Though some of the craftsmen received guidance from the Holy Spirit, the blueprint for the tabernacle and its furnishings was revealed only to Moses, Acts 7. 44; Heb. 8. 5. Seven times God commanded Moses to follow this pattern; it was from these directions that Jehovah’s home among His people would be erected. Besides a sanctuary where God could dwell among His people Edward Dennett notes two additional purposes of the tabernacle:
‘The first is their object - which is making a sanctuary, ‘Let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them’. The primary idea of the tabernacle therefore is, that it was the dwelling-place of God. The tabernacle may, however, be viewed in another way. The house in which God dwelt must be of necessity the scene of the revelation of His glory. Hence, as will be seen when considering it in detail, every single part of it is fraught with some manifestation of Himself. There is yet a third aspect of the tabernacle. It is a figure of the heavens themselves. There were the court, the holy place, and the holiest. The priest thus passed through the first and second into the third heavens – the scene of the special presence of God’.3
The Israelites were ready to make God a habitation on earth. God had walked with Adam in Eden, He had eaten with and spoken with the patriarchs, but only now was it possible that He would dwell among men. By blood the Jews had been redeemed and by the Law they knew how they could safely approach the holy and eternal God of the universe. The tabernacle would be erected in the centre of the camp and stand as a continual testimony of their redemption, as proof that God had both redeemed and established a relationship with the Israelites. The tabernacle with all of its coverings would be a sign of God’s presence among His people. Similarly, the head covering of the Christian woman serves as a reminder to the church that God is present.
However, God’s habitation on earth had to be constructed in every detail, according to the intricate blueprint He issued to Moses; not just any kind of erected structure would do. Likewise, the church, God’s dwelling-place on earth during the dispensation of grace, is to reflect the glory of God. Paul instructed the believers at Colosse to maintain good order as a testimony of Christ, ‘For though I am absent in the flesh yet am I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ’, Col. 2. 5 NKJV. God’s home on earth must be an accurate extension of His own character and attributes – a testimony for all to see and ponder.
[Extracted with permission from Out of Egypt, published by Gospel Folio Press]
- C. H. Mackintosh, Genesis to Deuteronomy, pgs. 239-240.
- A. W. Pink, Gleanings in Exodus, pg. 187.
- E. Dennett, Typical Teachings in Exodus.