TGP: The Lawgiver's Tabernacle
Did you grow up in a home in which an adult was skilled at a craft that included following a pattern? What was the skill? Did you learn this craft from him or her?
What templates do you currently follow in any area of your life for work or for leisure? How important is it for the pattern to be followed carefully?
In this session, the concept of following a pattern comes into focus as we consider the tabernacle that the Israelites constructed at Mount Sinai. We will see the divine design of God’s plan for the tabernacle and how He used His people to build it. Then we will see how the tabernacle itself was a pattern that pointed to something in the future. According to the New Testament writers, God sent His Son to earth, God in the flesh, to “tabernacle” with us. Further, as the people in whom God’s presence dwells, believers today serve as mini-tabernacles, manifesting His presence in the world in which we live.
After centuries of seeming silence from God, the Israelites were on their way to becoming the holy nation the Lord had promised to make from Abraham’s descendants.
They had population because they had multiplied in Egypt
God redeemed them from slavery through Moses
They had crossed the Red Sea and arrived at Mount Sinai
God the Lawgiver gave the Ten Commandments to a people who had already received His salvation.
These laws taught the Israelites how God expected them to live
God is going to provide the people with a land in another generation under Joshua’s leadership
While Moses was alone with God on Mount Sinai, God showed him what was next on the divine agenda. God asked for a tabernacle—a sacred tent—to be constructed as the place where His presence would be manifested. This would make it possible for a holy God to dwell among His people.
In this place their sinfulness would be addressed (through animal sacrifices) and their status as God’s holy, set-apart people would be established. Up to this point, the Lord had not mentioned a place for worship. Thus, His words must have puzzled Moses at first. Here is the opening of in verses 1-7...
“The Lord spoke to Moses: “Tell the Israelites to take an offering for me. You are to take my offering from everyone who is willing to give. This is the offering you are to receive from them: gold, silver, and bronze; blue, purple, and scarlet yarn; fine linen and goat hair; ram skins dyed red and fine leather; acacia wood; oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; and onyx along with other gemstones for mounting on the ephod and breastpiece.” (, CSB)
These instructions were about gathering the raw materials that would be used for the construction project. The Lord began by emphasizing that these gifts were to be voluntary. They were an “offering” by those who were “willing.” Thus, at the beginning of the tabernacle section of Exodus, we find a reminder that although God deserves our worship, He wants people to come to Him willingly, not grudgingly.
Why do you think God wanted the offerings to be voluntary?
The precious metals mentioned would be designated for specific parts of the tabernacle and its furnishings. Gold would be used for furniture inside the tent. Silver would be used in the bases for the frames that held up the tent and in certain other places. The bronze would be used for the outside furniture (the altar and the basin) as well as in certain other places.
The dyed yarn, linen, and goat hair would be used for various curtains; the skins were for the roof of the tabernacle; the acacia wood, native to the Sinai Peninsula, would be used for the floor and for the frames supporting the tent curtains. 2 Oil would be necessary for the lamps, and spices would be compounded into the incense burned at the gold altar. The gems would make their way into the priest’s garb.
How did ex-slaves come to have such wonderful materials? No doubt these were part of the plunder that the Israelites took with them during their flight from Egypt.
describes how the people rose to the challenge of offering these materials, culminating with verse 29: “So the Israelites brought a freewill offering to the Lord, all the men and women whose hearts prompted them to bring something for all the work that the Lord, through Moses, had commanded to be done.”
On the mountain, God began explaining to Moses what all these fabulous materials would be used for. Here’s how continues in verse 8...
““They are to make a sanctuary for me so that I may dwell among them. You must make it according to all that I show you—the pattern of the tabernacle as well as the pattern of all its furnishings.” (, CSB)
The term translated “sanctuary” (Hebrew, miqdash) means “holy place” and is based on the Hebrew term meaning “set apart” or “holy” (qadash). Like the “holy ground” at the burning bush, the tabernacle and its furnishings were sacred not because of any inherent value but because God’s presence would be there.
God is omnipresent, in the classic language of theology. Yet God chooses to manifest His presence, open to the senses, among human beings in specific times and places. The tabernacle in the wilderness would become just such a place. In a way, the tabernacle was merely a spectacularly odd tent with some very expensive furniture placed inside and out. What made it a sanctuary was that “the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” as we see in
The term “pattern” (Hebrew, tabnith) meant “model” or “plan,” much like a sewing pattern or architectural model. The author of Hebrews implied that heaven itself—God’s throne room—was the great real sanctuary that the Israelites were copying (). The tabernacle became a little bit of heaven on earth where Israel would perceive His presence.
Sometimes plans go awry. But for the tabernacle, everything worked out perfectly. After the raw materials were gathered, two master craftsmen—Bezalel and Oholiab, as well as those working under them—set about constructing the tent and crafting all the furnishings. The inspired biblical writer noted that their skills were God-given (). The Scriptures provide exact details about each aspect of the construction:
• The tent (36:8-38)
• The ark (37:1-9)
• The bread table, the lampstand, the incense altar, and the oil for the altar (37:10-29)
• The basin and altar for sacrifice (38:1-8)
• The courtyard curtains (38:9-20)
• The garments for the high priest Aaron and his sons (39:1-31)
The Scriptures also provide an exact “materials inventory” for the tabernacle (38:21-31). The weight of the precious metals is staggering: more than a ton of gold; more than three tons of silver, and more than two tons of bronze were required (see ,,). After the materials inventory, we find these words in verse 32...
“So all the work for the tabernacle, the tent of meeting, was finished. The Israelites did everything just as the Lord had commanded Moses. They brought the tabernacle to Moses: the tent with all its furnishings, its clasps, its supports, its crossbars, and its pillars and bases;” (, CSB)
The following points are important to notice in these verses:
• God expected His work to be accomplished through His people: “The Israelites did everything…”
• It is indeed possible for a God-ordained task to be completed, and completed well: “The tabernacle…was finished.”
• Human beings, at least on some occasions, are able, with God’s help, to obey Him willingly and completely: “The Israelites did everything just as the Lord had commanded.”
• God used human leaders as divine instruments. Bezalel and the others completed the work, which had to pass human inspection: “They brought the tabernacle to Moses.”
What are some tasks we are called to fulfill as “divine instruments” of God’s will?
As continues, we read about the completion of the various parts of the project. The list begins with the tent itself and then the furnishings for the most holy place and for the holy place, that is, the items inside the tent, which ordinary Israelites would never see, Let’s continue in verse 33...
“They brought the tabernacle to Moses: the tent with all its furnishings, its clasps, its supports, its crossbars, and its pillars and bases; the covering of ram skins dyed red and the covering of fine leather; the curtain for the screen; the ark of the testimony with its poles and the mercy seat; the table, all its utensils, and the Bread of the Presence; the pure gold lampstand, with its lamps arranged and all its utensils, as well as the oil for the light; the gold altar; the anointing oil; the fragrant incense; the screen for the entrance to the tent;” (, CSB)
Next we read about the furnishings for the courtyard, that is, the items outside the tent. Special attention was also given to the vestments for the high priest and his sons. Again, nothing was accidental. In verse 39...
“the bronze altar with its bronze grate, its poles, and all its utensils; the basin with its stand; the hangings of the courtyard, its posts and bases, the screen for the gate of the courtyard, its ropes and tent pegs, and all the furnishings for the service of the tabernacle, the tent of meeting; and the specially woven garments for ministering in the sanctuary, the holy garments for the priest Aaron and the garments for his sons to serve as priests.” (, CSB)
Then, as a way to re-emphasize verses 32-33, we find this conclusion to the entire construction process in verses 42 and 43...
“The Israelites had done all the work according to everything the Lord had commanded Moses. Moses inspected all the work they had accomplished. They had done just as the Lord commanded. Then Moses blessed them.” (, CSB)
Note the last phrase: “Moses blessed them.” Certainly in this instance Moses was acting as Yahweh’s agent. There is always blessing to be found in faithful obedience to His commands. This text provides a biblical example of this principle.
Thus, on one hand, the tabernacle was the place where God’s redeemed and therefore holy people could encounter His presence with great confidence and joy. On the other hand, the tabernacle was a place to remind the people that they were sinful because it is where the sacrifices for tehir sin would be made.
In what ways do you approach God as one needing to repent often of your sins?
In what ways do you approach God as one whom He has redeemed and thus has set apart as holy?
When everything was ready, Moses caused the tabernacle to be set up “in the first month of the second year, on the first day of the month”. The tent was erected in the very center of the Israelite encampment, and they followed this same pattern throughout their wilderness travels. Moses took the lead in consecrating—setting aside for its sacred purpose—each article of the tabernacle, anointing it with oil. Aaron and his sons were similarly set apart as priests. provides multiple reminders that Moses did everything concerning the tabernacle’s dedication that the Lord commanded.
God had manifested His presence earlier to the Israelites through a pillar of cloud. A cloud was visible over the temporary tent of meeting outside the Israelite camp, where Moses and the Lord talked (; ). But now something new and fantastic happened. God visibly showed up in the heart of the camp above the tabernacle, the newly constructed tent of meeting, as , verses 34 and 35 shows us...
“The cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses was unable to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud rested on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” (, CSB)
Twice in these verses “the glory of the Lord” is emphasized. The term translated “glory” (Hebrew, kabod) carried ideas of both “weightiness” and “brightness.” With reference to the God of Israel, glory referred to the overwhelming manifestation of His presence.
How would God’s presence filling the tabernacle have affected your understanding of God’s character? Of His greatness?
Ultimately, the brilliance subsided so that the priests could fulfill their responsibilities inside the tent of meeting. The cloud, however, remained above the tabernacle as permanent evidence of God’s presence in the Israelite camp. The entire Book of Exodus concludes with this summary in verses 36 through 38...
“The Israelites set out whenever the cloud was taken up from the tabernacle throughout all the stages of their journey. If the cloud was not taken up, they did not set out until the day it was taken up. For the cloud of the Lord was over the tabernacle by day, and there was a fire inside the cloud by night, visible to the entire house of Israel throughout all the stages of their journey.” (, CSB)
These verses anticipate the travels of Israel as they made their way toward Canaan, toward the promised land. Leviticus and provides further laws and episodes about activities at Mount Sinai. at last tells about the beginning of Israel’s journey away from Sinai, with the cloud finally lifting from above the tabernacle “during the second year, in the second month on the twentieth day of the month.”
The entire tabernacle section of Exodus, but particularly these concluding verses, proves conclusively that God wanted to be with His people, and He wanted them to know that He was with them. The same is true today. The greatest evidence of this truth is the incarnation—God Himself took on human form.
In conclusion, consider the following ways in which Scripture helps us think about the concept of tabernacle as the dwelling place of God among His people:
• The garden of Eden was a tabernacle where God manifested Himself to Adam and Eve.
• The tent in the wilderness was a tabernacle where God demonstrated Himself to Israel.
• Jesus was (and is) the preeminent tabernacle, where God displayed Himself in fullness to humanity.
• Believers today are a tabernacle that manifests God’s presence in the present age.
• The New Jerusalem will be the tabernacle where God is forever present to His people.