By guest blogger, Phil Hovatter

If you’ve been reading through the Bible with us this year (a.k.a. “Resting at the River’s Edge”) you might be thinking of the last part of Exodus as “fly-over country.” Can we be honest with each other for a moment? I have lots of favorite portions of Scripture. By extension that means that there are some portions that are – shall we say – not so favorite. I bet you have a bunch of these as well: lengthy, dreary prophecies against Moab or Edom; all those bits in Leviticus about mold and pus and hairs; and of course the dreaded genealogies. (I actually like the genealogies, but that’s a topic for a future blog.) I think it’s a safe bet to lump in the specifications for the building of the Tabernacle found in Exodus 25 through 40.

Consider this for a moment: the record of God’s creation of the heavens and the earth gets boiled down to one verse in Genesis 1:1. The details of that creative effort consume the remainder of that one chapter. In contrast, God spends sixteen chapters in Exodus specifying the plans and execution of the construction of the Tabernacle and its furnishing, then goes on for all 27 chapters of Leviticus giving instructions for how it is to be used. Call me crazy, but I think there might be more here than meets our 21st century eyes.

I didn’t want to just gut it out and grind my way through this lengthy passage of Scripture. Not when God has gone to such pains to preserve these details in His eternal Word. So I determined that I would make a little effort to scratch beneath the surface and see what I could learn. And I knew just where to start.

In my personal library I have a little volume about the Tabernacle that was written years ago by one of my favorite Bible teachers, Dr. J. Vernon McGee. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard any of his radio broadcasts of Thru the Bible, but in them he goes through the entire Old and New Testaments in five years. Dr. McGee has been dead for over 20 years, but these broadcasts are replayed on Christian radio around the world and are available online. But I digress. I own an old copy of a booklet he wrote entitled The Tabernacle: God’s Portrait of Christ. This excellent publication is now available for free as a PDF download from Thru the Bible’s website

I was arrested by the very first sentences of the book:

“The problem of establishing a dwelling place with man is of supreme importance with God. In the pages of Scripture it is of chief concern to Him.”

There it is in a nutshell. God created us for fellowship with Him, but through Adam’s sin all of mankind has been separated from Him. Sinful man is totally incapable of restoring that fellowship. If it is to be done at all, it has to be entirely God’s doing to bring restoration.

The whole story of the Bible is the account of how God is progressively bringing mankind back to Him, with the culmination found at the end of the book in Revelation.

Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God.
                                              Revelation 21:3 (NIV)

But this process is progressive and stretches throughout all of human history. It started in Genesis with God walking and talking with men such as Adam and Enoch. It continues with God revealing Himself to Moses and giving him detailed instructions for how a sinful nation can live with and approach a holy God without being incinerated along the way. It gets fleshed out (literally!) by the coming of the Son of God to pay the total penalty for the sins of all mankind. And it comes to fulfillment at a wedding feast in the New Jerusalem.

The Tabernacle is a critical waypoint along that historic journey.
It speaks of the holiness of God who yearns to be among His people, but who has to keep them safe in His presence. In the details for the construction of the Tabernacle there is no room for human creativity and imagination. Every detail is specified by God. Nowhere will you find the word “or.” God gives no place for human input or suggestion. He has provided a way – one way – for His people to approach Him for worship and fellowship.

In the Old Testament, it was through the offerings and sacrifices at the altar. In the New Testament era, it is through the forgiveness and Lordship freely offered by Jesus Christ. If our creativity or ingenuity or initiative rebels against God’s prescribed procedures and seeks a way to Him of our own devices, that is sin.

There is significance in every detail in the blueprint for the Tabernacle. Every tent peg, every curtain clasp, every seacow hide is part of the portrait of Christ. Here are just some tidbits that rock my world:

  • Notice how in the Holy of Holies and the Holy Place, everything is covered in precious gold. The Holy of Holies is where the presence of God would dwell. As you get further from the presence of God, metal items go to silver, and finally to bronze.
  • The altar of burnt offerings is the starting place for the sinner in his approach to God. A sacrifice is made to satisfy God’s holiness.
  • Then one proceeds to the brass laver to wash himself, a picture of the sanctification that follows forgiveness of sins.
  • From there, only the priests could enter into the Holy Place where they would find the table of bread. The bread got changed every week, with the old bread being eaten by the priests, with wine. (Did I hear you say “communion”?)
  • There was the altar of incense, which is an image of prayer, and the golden lampstand that illustrates the presence of the Holy Spirit.
  • And finally the Holy of Holies, where only the High Priest could enter and only once a year, where the presence of God rested on the Ark of the Covenant.

When we finish Exodus at the end of February, we’ll move on to Leviticus, where we’ll learn the roll of offerings, festivals and laws about how to live together as a people of God. Let me encourage you not to fly over this precious territory.

3 Responses to “Building of the Tabernacle – Not “Fly-Over Country””
  1. Dan Ghramm says:

    Good stuff, Sandy!

  2. Dan Ghramm says:

    Oops, I mean, Phil!

  3. Steve Shwetz says:

    Thanks so much for the mention of our ministry in your blog!

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