Purpose and Position
H Rhodes, Leeds
Thus far, we have considered the preparation and the pattern of the tabernacle; we here consider its purpose and its position.
This was two-fold. Firstly it was erected that God might dwell among His people, and secondly that He might meet with them, Exod. 29. 42-46. Because of God’s holy presence, sacrifice was to be offered morning and evening; the smoke was to ascend and the fire burn continually. Moreover, every detail of the tabernacle had to be suited to the mind of God because He alone knew Christ in all His fulness; hence the tabernacle speaks eloquently of Him.
Among others, there are five principal dwelling-places of God in the Scriptures:
- The tabernacle, Exod. 25.
- The temple, 1 Kings 8.
- The Lord Jesus Christ, John 1. 14; 2. 19-21.
- The church of God, 1 Cor. 3. 9-17; 2 Cor. 6. 16.
- The New Jerusalem, Rev. 21.
The first and last answer to each other - both involve perfect cubes, thus teaching the equality of God’s ways. The temple answers to the church of God, the latter being referred to as the temple of the living God, Eph. 2. 21; 1 Tim. 3. 15. The central one is pre-eminent - Christ Himself - to whom the Old Testament types point forward, and the One in whom the New Testament realities have their foundation. The truth that Christ Jesus was found in fashion as a man had penetrated human consciousness, as seen at the end of John 1, namely Christ as the supreme dwelling-place of God for the accomplishment of world redemption.
Secondly we consider the tabernacle as a meeting place. While it was impossible for God to tolerate man in his sin, He made it possible for man to draw near by way of sacrifice and sanctification, that he might experience the satisfaction that the presence of God alone can bring. God meets with the sinner at the brazen altar, displaying His wondrous grace. When God gave instructions for the building of the tabernacle He started with the ark and finished with the brazen altar but we must begin where God concludes. Hence Christ is not only the dwelling-place of God but He is also the meeting place for His people; John 3 and 4 reveal this.
Whenever the tabernacle was erected the entrance was always towards the east and the tribes were set in order round about three tribes on each side. The tribe of Levi pitched their tents in the immediate vicinity on the north south and west sides; the tents of Moses and Aaron were pitched before the entrance gate on the east side. God is a God of order and every one of His people had a place and position relative to the tabernacle which was always pitched in the centre - not to be protected by the people but that it might protect them. Moses could say “For what nation is there so great who hath God so nigh unto them” Deut. 4. 7. They had the presence of God with them and this struck terror and fear into the hearts of their enemies.
Each of the four camps had a standard traditionally taken as follows: Judah (east) lion; Dan (north) eagle; Ephraim (west) ox; Reuben (south) man. These are the four faces of the cherubim and speak of Christ in all His different glories. Whenever the tents were to be pitched these standards were set up and every Israelite rallied to his standard. We too should know how to do this when faced with the world around us and we should know too our place in the assembly. Christ must be given priority and if He is central and everything is ordered by God then there is the place where the presence of God will be truly known and where men will learn to meet with Him.
The divine order extended to the occupations of the tribes. No warriers were taken from the tribe of Levi - they were consecrated to the service of the tabernacle. Into their hands were committed the silver trumpets and they handled holy things. Hence they were not to be defiled by conflict. God has warriers and He has workers; He also has worshippers as demonstrated by the priests. Believers today must live similar balanced lives in the service of God.
In Numbers 24, Balaam looked down upon this divinely ordered camp, extending to ten or twelve square miles and covered by the white cloud of God’s presence, and he could say, “How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel”, v. 5. How much more pleasure does God find in the gatherings of the assemblies of His saints today. It follows that we should know in a more experimental way the presence of God with us as well as His power in us, and that we should know something of what it means to find men meeting Christ.