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God’s Tabernacle — God’s Salvation
“And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, On the first day of the first month shalt thou set up the tabernacle of the tent of the congregation…And it came to pass in the first month in the second year, on the first day of the month, that the tabernacle was reared up. And Moses reared up the tabernacle, and fastened his sockets, and set up the boards thereof, and put in the bars thereof, and reared up his pillars. And he spread abroad the tent over the tabernacle, and put the covering of the tent above upon it; as the LORD commanded Moses…Then a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle…For the cloud of the LORD was upon the tabernacle by day, and fire was on it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys.” (Exodus 40:1-38)
One year after the Lord God brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt, one year after he set his captive people free from the bondage, affliction, and tyranny of Pharaoh and the Egyptians, one year after the children of Israel crossed over the Red Sea and sang Jehovah’s praise in the fresh, sweet experience of divine deliverance, the Lord God commanded Moses to set up the tabernacle and to set in order the things to be set in order. And on the first day of the first month of Israel’s first new year, “Moses finished the work. Then a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.”
I remind you once more that the tabernacle and everything connected with it was typical of our Lord Jesus Christ and of God’s salvation in and by him. Everything we read here refers to things spiritual. In the book of Hebrews, the Spirit of God tells us that all these things were the “shadow of heavenly things” (8:5), “patterns of things in the heavens” (9:23), and “figures of the true” (9:24). Those blind to spiritual things see neither beauty nor meaning in this wonderful arrangement; but the tabernacle was God’s own picture to his people of “good things to come (Hebrews 9:11; 10:1). When we read about it, we ought to always pray, “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law” (Psalm 119:18), for the law of God relating to the tabernacle is full of truly wondrous things.
The very purpose for the tabernacle was wondrous. It was to be a sanctuary for God, that the holy Lord God might dwell among men (Exodus 25:8). The triune Jehovah so loved his people, the people of his choice, whom he had redeemed and delivered out of the hands of Pharaoh, that he desired a place for himself, that his presence might abide with them.
That tabernacle typified the incarnate Christ, our blessed Savior, the Lord Jesus, Immanuel, in, with, and by whom God dwells with us and we with him, both now and forever (Hebrews 9:11). — Imagine that! The Almighty desires to dwell with us; and in Christ he does! — “Ye are the temple of God!” O, Spirit of God, make my heart truly a sanctuary for my God!
In verses 12-16 we read about Aaron and his sons, God’s priests. Here are five things that were done for Aaron the high priest and for his sons, who were made priests with him. Without these five things, they could not minister before God, they could not serve in the tabernacle, they could not function in the priest’s office. These five things were done for Christ and are done for all he makes priests unto God.
1. The priest was chosen by God.
2. The priest was washed with holy water and made clean.
3. The priest was clothed with holy garments.
4. The priest was anointed with holy oil.
5. The priest was sanctified.
There seems to be something very singular about the time God appointed for the tabernacle to be raised. We are told in verse 17, “In the first month in the second year, on the first day of the month, that the tabernacle was reared up.” The house of God was to be set up on Israel’s “New Year’s Day.” The erection of the tabernacle symbolized a new beginning, a new beginning and more. — It symbolized a new beginning with God (2 Corinthians 5:17).
The tabernacle was a very simple structure. Yet, its very structure was wondrous. Everything had to be made and set in order according to the pattern shown to Moses on the mount. In the worship of God everything must be done according to his order.
The sockets which formed the foundation (v. 18) were made of solid silver. That silver came from the “atonement money” (Exodus 38:25-27). So those golden boards all around the tabernacle, representing as they do God’s elect standing before him, stood upon that which represented redemption by blood atonement, redemption by the precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Those boards, built upon the sockets of ransom money, were “fitly joined together” and strengthened by the “bars thereof” as encircling arms of omnipotent power and grace, represent our standing in Christ and our union one with another within the everlasting arms of divine strength and faithfulness. The bars encircling the boards speak of us in Christ. The middle bar, shot through the boards, speaks of Christ in us. — “Christ in you, the hope of glory!”
All the contents of the tabernacle spoke of things truly wondrous. The tabernacle itself was divided into three parts: “the holiest of all,” “the holy place,” and “the court.”
In the “holiest of all,” Moses was commanded to place the ark of the covenant, which contained the tables of the broken law, broken by us and repaired, fulfilled and satisfied by Christ. The lid covering the ark was called “the mercy-seat.” There God promised to meet with his people.
“And he took and put the testimony into the ark, and set the staves on the ark, and put the mercy seat above upon the ark: And he brought the ark into the tabernacle, and set up the vail of the covering, and covered the ark of the testimony; as the LORD commanded Moses.” (Exodus 40:20-21)
“And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubims which are upon the ark of the testimony, of all things which I will give thee in commandment unto the children of Israel.” (Exodus 25:22)
Christ is our Mercy-seat. He is our propitiation. God meets, accepts, approves of, smiles upon, and delights in sinners in Christ (Romans 3:24-26; 1 John 2:1-2).
In the “holy place,” Moses set the table of showbread (v. 22) and set the bread in order upon the table. That table and its bread spoke of the believer’s fellowship with God in Christ, the Bread of Life. The candlestick, with its branches and lights (vv. 24-25), pointed to Christ, the Light of the world, and his churches and people, by whom the light is held forth in this world. The golden altar (vv. 26-27) with its sweet incense, speaks of our acceptance with God in Christ and more. It speaks of the acceptance of our works and worship through the sweet incense of Christ’s perfection. We offer up prayers and praises, sacrifices and services “acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).
Outside the door of the holy place stood the “altar of burnt-offering” (v. 29). This was the place of sacrifice, declaring that there can be no approach to God, but by blood. God will not allow fallen, sinful, corrupt man to come to him without atonement. The altar points to the cross of Christ. Between the altar of sacrifice and the door of communion, Moses set the laver (v. 30) with its water for cleansing, teaching the need of the Holy Spirit’s cleansing by the Word of Christ. There must be both substitution and sanctification before the sinner can walk in fellowship with God.
The tabernacle had a wondrous glory about it. In verse 34, we read, “The glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.”
“Then a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter into the tent of the congregation, because the cloud abode thereon, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. And when the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the children of Israel went onward in all their journeys.” (Exodus 40:34-36)
The glory of the tabernacle was the manifest presence of God. This cloud of glory is the same pillar of cloud that appeared to Israel and led them out of Egypt and across the Red Sea. But now it appeared in a different form, not so much as a pillar as a great covering, an umbrella over the camp of Israel, with its shaft dropping down on the tabernacle and filling it. This cloud filled the tabernacle with a glory, a brightness, a glorious stream of light. Clearly, the glory of the Lord that filled the tabernacle was representative of Christ, the Light if Life, the Brightness of the Father’s Glory and the express Image of his person, the Shechinah, the Divine Majesty embodied in humanity (Colossians 2:9).
As the completed tabernacle typified the whole of God’s salvation in Christ, the glory of the Lord that filled the tabernacle, the Shechinah into which Moses could not enter, was symbolic of the revelation of the glory of God shining forth in the face of Jesus Christ, our Savior (2 Corinthians 4:6). When Christ appears in the dazzling glory of his accomplished redemption, Moses cannot enter the house with him. — The law fulfilled must step aside.
The Pillar of Cloud
Clearly, the pillar of cloud was a type of the incarnate Son of God. God was in the pillar; and God was in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:19). In both we see the union of weakness and power. It was as weak as a cloud and as strong as a pillar. — “Great is the mystery of godliness. God was manifest in the flesh!” To those outside, the pillar may seem only a column of smoke, but to those who through the atoning blood had witnessed the glory within, it was the visible presence of the eternal God. To some, Christ is “without form or comeliness;” but we rejoice to confess that he is “the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matthew 16:16).
God in the pillar may also be a foreshadowing of Christ in the Scriptures. — Our Savior declares, “They are they which testify of me” (John 5:39). There is a living, divine personality abiding and breathing through this holy pillar. — “His name is called The Word of God” (Revelation 19:13). Let us bow before the Sacred Volume and with obedient hearts follow this Pillar of Light.
This pillar of cloud was to the children of Israel the presence of a personal God. The cloudy pillar was the visible evidence of the invisible God. — “God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved” (Psalm 46:5). Jesus Christ is to us what the pillar was to Israel, the visible revelation of the invisible God (Hebrews 1:3). He says, “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30). The glory was hidden until the veil was rent, the veil of his flesh. Then the glory shined forth in his resurrection and ascension, and in the coming of the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven.
The pillar of cloud was an abiding testimony of fellowship and communion with the living God. — “These words the Lord spake unto all your assembly in the mount out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and of the thick darkness, with a great voice” (Deuteronomy 5:22). He was a sojourner with them. Wonderful condescension this! — “Lo, I am with you alway” (Matthew 28:20). Out of the pillar of his Word, God still speaks to his people. The Holy Spirit guides us by the Word of Light and Christ the “Urim and Thummim” within. He takes the things of Christ and shows them to us. Our fellowship is with the Father, with the Son, and with the Holy Ghost.
The pillar was also the guarantee of abundant supply. While abiding with the pillar, all their needs were met. Here the manna fell daily from Heaven. The waters also from the smitten rock followed the guiding pillar. — “They drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:4). All the promises of God are yea and amen in him.
The presence of the pillar also meant unfailing divine protection. At the Red Sea the pillar came between the Israelites and the Egyptians (Exodus 14), delivering Israel and destroying the Egyptians. It was light to Israel and darkness to Egypt. — “The Lord looked…through the pillar,…and troubled the host of the Egyptians” (Exodus 14:24). The Lord God looked through Christ and saved us. He still looks through him to protect and keep us. He will one day look through him in judgment upon the ungodly. — “He will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained” (Acts 17:31). And in that day, the Lord will look through him and declare us “holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight!”
The pillar was a shelter to Israel. It was a huge umbrella overshadowing the whole camp, with its shaft resting in the midst, upon the mercy-seat. They could truly sing, “the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand” (Psalm 121:5). The presence of Christ with the believer has a wonderful shading and comforting effect when the hot, fierce rays of adversity are falling upon us. — “In the day of adversity consider” (Ecclesiastes 7:14), consider that the Lord keeps you. The Lord is your shade. He shelters from sin and wrath by his blood, and from sadness and sorrow by his comforting Spirit. Abide under his shadow, and you will have great delight
The pillar was their source of light. It was a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. They had no light of their own. Apart from the cloud, they had no light to lighten their darkness. Christ is the Light of the world. “He that followeth me,” he says, “shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”
The pillar was their guide, too (vv. 36-38). When it moved, they moved. When it rested, they rested, whether it was for a day, or a month, or a year. To go without the pillar was to go without God. That meant without light, shelter, protection, or provision, and without a promise. This guide was infallible, because it was God in the pillar who guided.
The court of the tabernacle was a hundred and fifty feet long, seventy-five feet broad, and was enclosed by a wall, or hangings of “fine-twined linen,” seven and a half feet high. But there was only one way of access to God in the tabernacle. It had just one gate.
The tabernacle was erected by one man, Moses. And our salvation was accomplished by one man, the Lord Jesus Christ. The whole tabernacle was erected by one man in one day. And our salvation was accomplished by God our Savior in one day (Zechariah 3:9).
The tabernacle had just one gate, one door of entrance. At the east end there was the gate through which the worshippers entered and approached the altar of burnt offering. Thank God, there is a gate! What a dark world this would have been had there been no way of entrance into the knowledge of and into fellowship with God! — “Behold, I have set before thee an open door” (Revelation 3:8).
But there was but one gate. Christ alone is the Gate, the Door by which poor, needy sinners enter into God’s salvation. The Gate said, “I am the Way” (John 14:6). The wall of curtains said, “There is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby ye must be saved” (Acts 4:12). These hangings were suspended from “rods of silver” made from “redemption money,” hanging on atonement!
How suggestive. They seem to occupy the place and do the work of the evangelist. They were made of “fine linen,” representing the righteousness of saints. They depended entirely upon the price of ransom (rods of silver) for their support (Exodus 30:12-16). They bore a united testimony that the only way to God was by the altar of sacrifice, the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
This was a wide gate. — “Whosoever will, let him come!” The gate of atonement is as wide as the breadth of our sin (1 John 2:2). The way of substitution is as broad as our need, as broad as the very righteousness, justice, and truth of God.
The tabernacle gate was a strongly supported gate. It hung on four pillars. The gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is supported by four infallible pillars: the mercy of God and the truth of God, the grace of God and the justice of God.
The gate was of the same material as the veil. — “Fine-twined linen, blue, purple, and scarlet.” Christ is the Way. Christ opened the way. Christ puts us in the way. Christ guides us in the way. Christ keeps us in the way. And Christ is at the end of the way!
This gate was the way into life. Immediately in front of the gate stood the altar of sacrifice. It was impossible to enter the tabernacle without seeing and coming through God’s provision for the guilty sinner. — God’s sacrifice, Christ Jesus! There is no way to God, no salvation, no acceptance with God, but by the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ!
“I must needs go home by the way of the cross,
There’s no other way but this. —
I shall ne’er get sight of the gates of light,
If the way of the cross I miss!
The way of the cross leads home! —
It is sweet to know as I onward go,
The way of the cross leads home!”