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Let’s Go to the Tabernacle
“And the LORD said unto Moses, Depart, and go up hence, thou and the people which thou hast brought up out of the land of Egypt, unto the land which I sware unto Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, Unto thy seed will I give it: And I will send an angel before thee; and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite: Unto a land flowing with milk and honey: for I will not go up in the midst of thee; for thou art a stiffnecked people: lest I consume thee in the way. And when the people heard these evil tidings, they mourned: and no man did put on him his ornaments. For the LORD had said unto Moses, Say unto the children of Israel, Ye are a stiffnecked people: I will come up into the midst of thee in a moment, and consume thee: therefore now put off thy ornaments from thee, that I may know what to do unto thee. And the children of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments by the mount Horeb. And Moses took the tabernacle, and pitched it without the camp, afar off from the camp, and called it the Tabernacle of the congregation. And it came to pass, that everyone which sought the LORD went out unto the tabernacle of the congregation, which was without the camp. And it came to pass, when Moses went out unto the tabernacle, that all the people rose up, and stood every man at his tent door, and looked after Moses, until he was gone into the tabernacle. And it came to pass, as Moses entered into the tabernacle, the cloudy pillar descended, and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and the LORD talked with Moses. And all the people saw the cloudy pillar stand at the tabernacle door: and all the people rose up and worshipped, every man in his tent door. And the LORD spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend. And he turned again into the camp: but his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, departed not out of the tabernacle.” (Exodus 33:1-11)
When Moses came down from the mount, after receiving the law, he saw the children of Israel dancing naked around the calf Aaron had made. He knew the enormity of their sin. Immediately, he destroyed the golden calf. He ground it to powder, scattered it upon the water, and made the children of Israel drink it. — “Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, Who is on the Lord’s side? Let him come unto me.” Before the day was over, the sons of Levi had killed 3000 of those idolaters who refused to repent.
Then Moses made his great, intercessory prayer for Israel, seeking God’s forgiveness for them. The Lord God was merciful. He did not destroy the nation; but he said, “I will not go up in the midst of thee; for thou art a stiffnecked people.” Broken, humbled, fearing the loss of God’s presence, Moses and the children of Israel sought the Lord (vv. 4-7).
There is no physical tabernacle, temple, or holy place of worship on earth today. We do not want one! We worship God in the Spirit, if we worship him at all. We have no need for carnal ceremonies and fleshly rituals. But as we read about the tabernacle, we are taught much about the worship of God.
Actually, the tabernacle was not finished and set up until we get to Exodus 40. The Lord God showed Moses how the tabernacle was to be made while he was in the Mt. Sinai (Exodus 25–31). Then, after Israel’s terrible act of idolatry, before the tabernacle could be completed and set up with all its ordinances of worship, Moses pitched this tent and called it “the Tabernacle of the congregation” (v. 7). This temporary tabernacle was pitched afar off, outside the camp of Israel. The actual tabernacle was set up in the middle of the camp.
Moses’ tabernacle here was a temporary model or representation of the tabernacle he was about to erect for the worship of God. Moses called this temporary structure “the Tabernacle of the congregation” (v. 7). The tabernacle in the wilderness, which this tabernacle preceded, the tabernacle Moses built exactly according to the pattern God showed him in the Mt. Sinai, is the tabernacle which has our attention in this chapter.
Š The outer court was approximately 75’ x 150’. It contained the brazen altar and the laver.
Š The holy place was approximately 15’ x 45’. It contained the table of showbread, the golden candlestick, and the altar of incense.
Š The holy of holies, the most holy place, was separated from the holy place by a thick veil. In the most holy place stood the ark of the covenant with the mercy-seat.
The Tabernacle was the sanctuary of God’s presence, the place where God met with his people in the manifestation of his grace and glory (Exodus 25:8, 22; 29:42-43). In accordance with his promise, when the tabernacle was finished, “a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Exodus 40:34).
What does all of this mean to us? The tabernacle and its furnishings were destroyed long ago. Why should we be interested in it? Everything concerning the tabernacle in the wilderness was highly symbolical and spiritually instructive. The tabernacle is certainly a symbol of the church, which is “an habitation of God through the Spirit” (Exodus 25:8; Ephesians 2:19-22). Without question, the tabernacle represents the believer, who is the “temple of the Holy Ghost” (1 Corinthians 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16). And the tabernacle on earth was a pattern and representation of “things in the heavens” (Hebrews 9:23-24). But, first and foremost, the tabernacle was a beautiful, instructive picture of Christ, teaching us how sinful man can approach the holy Lord God and worship him.
All the “ordinances of divine service,” all the rites and ceremonies, and “the worldly sanctuary” itself, the tabernacle were pictures of Christ. You will never understand the laws regarding the tabernacle and its many services, until you understand that these things are pictures of Christ and of our redemption by him, which is the revelation of the glory of God. The tabernacle was a simple tent of earthly material on the outside; but on the inside it was glorious. Everything inside the tabernacle was overlaid with pure gold. — That is Christ, the meek and lowly man and the great and glorious God!
A Sacrificing Priest
As we approach the tabernacle, the first thing we see, standing by the gate and the brazen altar is a sacrificing high priest. This sacrificing priest represents Christ, our great High Priest (Hebrews 5:1-5) taken from among men, a man without blemish (Leviticus 21:17-18), merciful and compassionate, chosen and ordained of God.
All the garments of the priest speak of Christ. His mitre with its golden plate, “Holiness to the Lord,” typified the holiness and perfection of Christ’s nature. His white linen garments portrayed Christ’s righteousness, the garments of salvation he has given his elect. The priest’s girdle represented Christ our Strength. His breastplate, with the names of twelve tribes of Israel engraved upon it, shows Christ as our Representative before God, with our names engraved upon his heart. His ephod (apron that held the breastplate), with the twelve stones bearing the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, shows us that Christ bears all God’s elect upon his shoulders in all his priestly functions. The work of our redemption is his work alone.
But a priest without a sacrifice is as useless as a bucket without a bottom. Every priest ordained of God was a sacrificing priest. Without a blood sacrifice, no man can come to God. And all the sacrifices offered in the tabernacle by the high priest were typical of Christ our Sacrifice. Strong beasts, males of the first year, tame beasts led, not forced, to the slaughter, beasts without blemish, innocent victims, all were used to portray the Lamb of God, our all-glorious Christ.
The next thing we see as we approach the tabernacle is the brazen altar (Exodus 27:1-8). This altar and the burnt sacrifices offered upon it represent Christ our Altar (Hebrews 13:10). Dying upon the cross, our Lord Jesus was a burnt offering to God. The fire of God’s wrath fell upon him there. As all the excrements and filthy inward parts of the slain beasts were burned upon the altar, so all our sins being laid upon Christ, when he was made sin for us, were purged away, being consumed by the fire of God’s wrath.
Laver of Brass
Third, standing between the brazen altar and the holy place is the laver of brass (Exodus 30:18-25). Every priest, before entering the holy place to do any service for the Lord in the sanctuary, had to wash his hands and feet. This represents our sanctification, regeneration by God the Holy Spirit, creating us new creatures in Christ, creating in us that holiness without which no one shall ever see the Lord (Revelation 1:5; Titus 3:5; Hebrews 12:14).
Before we can serve God, we must personally wash and bathe in the laver of Christ’s blood.
There is a fountain filled with blood,
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains!
This washing involves personal faith in Christ. You must personally appropriate to yourself the merits of Christ’s finished work. All who wash in this laver are holy before God!
As the priests washed in this laver daily, so you and I must bathe daily in the Word of God, applying the blood of Christ to ourselves, asking the Savior to wash us again, that we may be cleansed from the defilements of sin (John 13:2-10).
The Holy Place
Now, go with the priest into the holy place. In Moses’ day none but the priests could go into that sanctuary. All who trust Christ are priests (1 Peter 2:9). So let’s lift up the outer veil and go in. What do you see in the holy place? Three things:
1. On the south side, on your left, you see the golden candlestick with its seven lamps burning (Exodus 25:31).
This golden candlestick represents Christ, the Light of the world. There were seven lamps in the candlestick. Seven being the number of perfection shows that Christ is the perfect revelation of God. The only light in the holy place was the candlestick. And the only light any man has into the things of God is the light Christ gives by his Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14-15). These seven golden candlesticks also represent the churches of Christ holding forth the light of life in this dark world (Revelation 1:20).
2. On the north side of the sanctuary, on your right, is the table of showbread (Exodus 25:23-30).
This is Christ, the Bread of Life. There were twelve loaves on the table, bread provided for all the tribes of Israel. As God’s manna was given to Israel alone, so his grace in Christ is given only to his chosen. The bread was always on the table, representing Christ the Bread of Life always available to our hungry souls.
3. Sitting in the back, against the veil, is the altar of incense (Exodus 30:1-10).
This represents Christ our Intercessor (John 17; Hebrews 7:25; 1 John 2:1-2). Our prayers, sacrifices, and services come to God and find acceptance with him through the sweet incense of Christ our Intercessor and Mediator (1 Peter 2:5; Hebrews 13:15; Revelation 8:3-4). The incense burned perpetually upon this altar because Christ’s intercessions for us, as our Mediator in heaven, are perpetual.
Fifth, standing between the holy place and the most holy place is the veil (Exodus 26:31). God the Holy Spirit tells us that this heavy, thick veil was typical of Christ’s humanity (Hebrews 10:20). This veil was the only way of access to God. Before man could enter in and have access to God, and be accepted of him, this veil had to come down. — Christ had to die before any sinner could ever come to God. When the Lord Jesus Christ died upon the cursed tree at Calvary, the veil was rent in two, from top to bottom. The rent veil means that justice is satisfied, righteousness is established, sin is gone, the law is fulfilled, reconciliation is made. — There is no cause of separation between God and his elect, no cause of separation between God and those sinners redeemed by Christ’s precious blood!
Come to God. The way is open. Coming to God by faith in Christ, you may come with full assurance of acceptance!
“Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin. Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having an high priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:18-22)
Sixth, entering into the holy of holies, we see one glorious, magnificent piece of furniture – The ark of the covenant (Exodus 25:10-22).
“Then verily the first covenant had also ordinances of divine service, and a worldly sanctuary. For there was a tabernacle made; the first, wherein was the candlestick, and the table, and the showbread; which is called the sanctuary. And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of all; which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant; and over it the cherubims of glory shadowing the mercyseat; of which we cannot now speak particularly.” (Hebrews 9:1-5)
The ark was a beautiful type of Christ. It was made of shittim wood, overlaid with gold, representing both the humanity and the deity of our Savior. The ark was the symbol of God’s holiness, power, and glory. It was carried about from place to place upon the shoulders of the priests, by staves. Even so, Christ is carried through the world upon the shoulders of chosen men by the preaching of the gospel. There are three things in the ark…
1. The Golden Pot that had Manna — It was a golden pot. It was a big pot, holding an omer of manna. And it had manna, the bread of heaven. This represented God’s provision for sinners in Christ with life and grace (Exodus 16:33-34).
2. Aaron’s Rod that Budded — This rod represents God’s power, the gospel of Christ. Christ was smitten by Moses’ rod, the law. The water of life flows out to sinners by Aaron’s rod, the gospel. The gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16-17). No wonder Dagon (1 Samuel 5) fell before the ark!
3. The Two Tables of the Law — This represents God’s purpose. The law was written upon tables of stone, representing both the hardness of our hearts and the inflexibility of God’s justice. The law represents our curse and condemnation by reason of sin. The law was always kept in the ark, under the mercy-seat, under the blood (Exodus 25:16, 21). That represents perfect redemption by Christ. And that is the purpose of God (Romans 8:28-31).
Sitting on top of the ark, completely covering it, is the mercy seat (Exodus 25:17, 21-22). The Word “mercy-seat” means “a propitiatory covering.” That is what Christ is to us (1 John 2:2; Romans 3:24-26).
The mercy-seat represented redemption by the blood of Christ, mercy flowing to sinners by the blood of Christ. (Hebrews 9:12). The mercy-seat was the symbol of God’s presence. With the blood upon the mercy-seat, covering the tables of the broken law, we see the glory of God in the pardon of sin by the sacrifice of Christ (Leviticus 9:23-24). So we see the glory of God in redemption (Psalm 85:9-11). God meets sinners upon the mercy-seat (Exodus 25:22), only at the mercy-seat, only in Christ.
We have taken a very brief tour of the tabernacle in this study. But I want more for you than simply for you to understand the typical meaning of those Mosaic ordinances. I want you to come to Christ. Christ is the Priest you need. Christ is the Altar upon which you must do business with God. Christ is the Sacrifice by which you must come to God. Christ is the Laver in which you must wash. Christ is the Light in which you must walk. Christ is the Bread you must eat. Christ is the Mercy-Seat of Propitiation upon which God will meet you!