God has delivered His people from slavery in Egypt. At Mt. Sinai God adopted the Israelites as His own people, a special treasure. Now we see the fulfillment of the promise to dwell with His people. But a plain, ordinary tent would not do for God’s dwelling. God needed a place to dwell and a place for His servants to minister to Him. So, He gave Moses instructions for a tabernacle, and set apart the tribe of Levi to serve Him as priests. As we read through the Book of Genesis, we saw God walking with His people, Adam and Eve, Enoch, Noah, and the patriarchs. Now He would dwell with them. That would be a great privilege for the Israelites. No other people or nation had the one, true, living God dwell with them. However, this privilege brought responsibilities. The camp of the Israelites would have to be a holy place because their God was holy.
Building the tabernacle came with many directions. God wanted His dwelling to be just right. But the tabernacle also needed to be portable because each time the Israelites moved, they had to take the tabernacle down, pack it, and move it to the next place. That too came with detailed instructions and a listing of who was supposed to do what. Once the Israelites arrived at their next camp the tabernacle was set up again. The whole process began with an offering. Again, there was a specific list of what was needed. Blue, purple, and scarlet were royal colors. And those fabrics were expensive due to the dying process. The blue and purple dyes came from shellfish found in the Northeast Mediterranean region. In fact, the dying industry was so important to the region, the land was known as Canaan…land of purple. Phoenicia in the Greek meant the same thing. Fine linen was an exceptionally high-quality cloth used by Egyptian royalty. It was woven from the fibers of flax straw. It was woven very tightly, so tightly that examples that have been found cannot be distinguished from silk without a magnifying glass.
It has been estimated that a ton of gold and three tons of silver were used in the tabernacle, making this anything but a lightweight worship place to move around the wilderness. God saw to it they had everything they needed to build the tabernacle, just as He designed it. There were six pieces of furniture associated with the tabernacle. The first piece mentioned is the Ark of the Covenant. It began as a wooden chest made out of Acacia wood. It is darker and harder than oak and is avoided by wood eating insects. This Ark was 45 inches long and 27 inched wide and high. The Ark was placed in the holy of holies, behind a curtain. The Ark was covered inside and out with pure gold. Provision was made so that the Ark could be carried without touching it. On top of the Ark was the cover. It too was solid gold with two cherubim on the top, wings spread upward. This is the mercy seat of God. This is where God dwelt. It is where He spoke to Moses and Aaron. The Ark represented the power and authority and glory of God in the camp of the Israelites. Many point to Matthew 6:33 here, believing the Ark teaches us about Jesus. The ark was made of wood which speaks to Jesus humanity. But it was covered with pure gold which speaks to His divinity. This holiest of places was where the High Priest went once a year to ask for the forgiveness of the people’s sins. He would sprinkle blood on the mercy seat, making atonement for Israel’s sins for another year. Jesus fulfilled this once and for all with His death and resurrection. It was His blood that was shed to make the last payment ever needed for the forgiveness of our sins.
The next piece of furniture was the table. Some call it the table of the presence. Others call it the table of showbread. This too was made of acacia wood and covered with solid gold. The table was 3 feet long, 18 inches wide, and 27 inches high. On this table there was always twelve loaves of bread, one for each of the tribes of Israel. The bread was baked each week in preparation for the sabbath. The old bread would be removed to be eaten by the priests and the new bread would be placed on the table. Again, we see a picture of Jesus, who is the Bread of the world. The bread is called showbread, literally the bread of faces. Not only did this bread remind the priests that they were serving God, but it also reminded them they were serving the Israelites too.
The lampstand was hammered out of 75 pounds of pure gold. We do not have dimensions but detailed instructions of how it is supposed to look. Lamps at that time were usually little clay boats with a spout on one end and an opening to add oil when necessary. The wick floated in the oil. Here the priests were to tend the lamps which were to burn all night, and the people were to supply the oil. The lamps were ornate, beautiful, and they were to be kept burning constantly. There was no way for light to get into the holy place of the tabernacle, so this light was most important. And it reminds us that Jesus is the light of the world. Without this light the priests could not have carried on their work. And we cannot carry on the work God has given us to perform if we do not have the light of the world. The candlesticks were also a reminder to the Israelites that they were to be the light of the world to the gentiles.
The altar for sacrifices was made of bronze over wood. Bronze was often associated with judgment. This altar was seven and a half feet wide and four and a half feet tall. Two and a half feet inside the box was a bronze grating on which the priests kept a fire burning, and through which the ashes fell. These ashes were part of the offerings dedicated to God and they were considered clean. So, they were collected on the east side of the altar and periodically they were taken outside of camp to a clean place. We will encounter the altar of incense in another reading. That was in the holy place and used for a very different purpose than the bronze altar of sacrifice. The bronze altar was a place of bloodshed and death because without the shedding of innocent blood there is no atonement for sin. And thus, no forgiveness. The way to the presence of God began at the brazen altar where innocent victims shed their blood for the atonement for sin. The innocent died for the guilty. The brazen altar takes us straight to Calvary where the Son of God died for the sins of the world. Innocent blood shed for the guilty.
When a worshiper came to the tabernacle to offer a sacrifice, the first thing they were met with was a white linen fence, 150 feet long and 75 feet wide. This surrounded the tabernacle and created a courtyard where the priests ministered. At the entrance, the priests met the people who came to offer sacrifices. The priests examined their animal to make sure it was an acceptable sacrifice. The worshiper put his hand on the animal’s head to identify the offering and the priest would then take the animal and slay it. There was only one entrance to the enclosure and therefore one entrance to get to the altar of God. Again, we see Jesus who tells us He is the door…the way to God. And He is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Him. For the Israelites, the tabernacle was the way to God. For you and me Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W