Some of you may be relieved to learn that after a few weeks, we now move away from the laws of Exodus. But before you get too excited, you should know what we’re moving into and that is the instructions for the tabernacle.
Just as with some of the ceremonial laws that are found in the book of Exodus, it might be easy to wonder what the point of the details of the tabernacle serve. I will admit that some details are more interesting than others but the details are quite important as they take up almost a third of the entire book of Exodus. This does not mean that we’ll be spending a third of our time on them however as we are given the details in these chapters starting in Exodus 25 and then the details are repeated as they are implemented by the builders. We won’t be repeating those details in those chapters, so don’t worry about that.
The heart of the instructions for the tabernacle comes down to worship. Each detail is not a random selection but rather it is carefully chosen by God Himself. He is the architect of the tabernacle. Many of the details that we are given point to Jesus as we’ll see over the coming weeks. That is why the details are important.
Let’s start our journey into the tabernacle by looking at the first 9 verses, Exodus 25:1-9
1 The LORD said to Moses, 2 “Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from each man whose heart prompts him to give. 3 These are the offerings you are to receive from them: gold, silver and bronze; 4 blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair; 5 ram skins dyed red and hides of sea cows[a]; acacia wood; 6 olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; 7 and onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breastpiece.
8 “Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. 9 Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.
The tabernacle isn’t built by virtue of some sort of tax or any kind of demanded collection. Instead it is built from the freewill offerings of the people of Israel. The obvious question though is where the Israelites got all of the gold and other things that are offered up as an offering. As the Israelites were slaves, they probably didn’t have much of their own. Some of them are probably wealthier than others but a lot of this has to come from the plundering of Egypt. This might have made the offerings easier to part with as it wasn’t theirs to begin with, but nevertheless, this is a tremendous offering that is taken up.
The tabernacle is also built by those who are willing and able to do so. God has gifted certain people with the ability to the beautiful and intricate objects of worship that are in the tabernacle. Careful work is done to sew together every stitch of fabric that will make up the walls of the structure. Less skilled or even unskilled labor would be used in the sawing of trees and pressing of olive oil for the use in the tabernacle.
These gifts of time and ability are every bit as important as the physical gifts that are given in the offering that is taken. The offering would be worthless without people to transform the pile of materials into something beautiful that was designed by the Lord.
The Israelites went from breaking their backs to build a structure that they had no use for and would take no pride in to using their gifts in service to the Lord and doing so as a labor of love.
In the construction of the tabernacle we have a reminder of what it takes to run the church. It obviously takes the finances necessary but without willing and gifted workers, those finances are useless. We need both in the church and God has gifted each of us differently. Some are blessed with finances, some are blessed with unique skills, and some people are only blessed with time and love. Without a willing heart all of these gifts are useless but God can do great things when these gifts are used in love.
10 “Have them make a chest of acacia wood—two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high.[b]11 Overlay it with pure gold, both inside and out, and make a gold molding around it. 12 Cast four gold rings for it and fasten them to its four feet, with two rings on one side and two rings on the other. 13 Then make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. 14 Insert the poles into the rings on the sides of the chest to carry it. 15 The poles are to remain in the rings of this ark; they are not to be removed. 16 Then put in the ark the Testimony, which I will give you.
17 “Make an atonement cover[c] of pure gold—two and a half cubits long and a cubit and a half wide.[d] 18 And make two cherubim out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover. 19 Make one cherub on one end and the second cherub on the other; make the cherubim of one piece with the cover, at the two ends. 20 The cherubim are to have their wings spread upward, overshadowing the cover with them. The cherubim are to face each other, looking toward the cover. 21 Place the cover on top of the ark and put in the ark the Testimony, which I will give you. 22 There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the Testimony, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites.
The ark is the most sacred item of all. It is the only object that resides within the Most Holy Place of the tabernacle. It consists of two pieces and serves three functions. First, the ark would serve as a container for the stone tablets that the Ten Commandments are written on. A jar of manna would be placed inside, and Aaron’s staff would also go into it.
Secondly, the atonement cover – that’s the top part with the angels on it – was sprinkled with blood once a year on the Day of Atonement.
Finally, the ark was seen as the site of God’s presence. Although not literally, it symbolically served as the throne of God on earth. Hezekiah even prayed to the God of Israel who was “enthroned between the cherubim.”
The ark is carried throughout the desert and resides within the tabernacle whenever Israel rests. Once Israel enters the Promised Land, the tabernacle is set up first at Shiloh and then Bethel. In the days of Eli and Samuel the ark is lost in battle to the Philistines. They return it after a seven month plague strikes them.
David brought the ark to Jerusalem when he made it his capital city and it remained there with the construction of the temple by Solomon. What became of the ark though? There have been numerous searches made for the ark in Israel and in Egypt where some believe the ark was taken for hiding. In 586 BC when Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem the ark was lost. A popular movie that you might have heard of – Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark – was made about a fictitious search for the ark.
The truth is that the ark probably won’t be found because it likely no longer remains on earth. In Ezekiel 8-11 a narrative is told that ends with Ezekiel witnessing the glory of the Lord departing from the Mount of Olives and returning to heaven. As the glory of the Lord leaves, most likely the ark goes as well as the next time we see the ark, it is in heaven. Revelation 11:19 says,
Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a great hailstorm.
Just a couple of other facts concerning the ark of the covenant. The ark is not solid gold but was gold on the outside and gold on the inside and acacia wood in the middle of it. It is possible that acacia wood is the what the burning bush was. Acacia wood was covered in large “touch me not” thorns that represent the unapproachableness of God. Moses had to take off his shoes when God spoke to him in the burning bush and the ark could only be approached in the Holy of Holies on one day a year.
The atonement cover is replaced by Jesus in the New Testament. In the Old Testament the blood of the atonement sacrifice is sprinkled onto it. Romans 3:25 tells us:
God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.
What is translated as sacrifice of atonement from the Greek is exactly the same as atonement cover in Hebrew. So we could translate this verse as “God presented Jesus as an atonement cover, through faith in His blood.”
In John 14:6 Jesus declared “I am the way and the truth and the life.” In the picture of the ark, the way to God is to the atonement cover. If you lift the lid, inside of the ark you have the truth and the life. The truth is found in the Ten Commandments. Life is found both in Aaron’s staff that budded and in manna which was the bread of life.
We’ve just scratched the surface of ways that the ark pictures Jesus but we should move on.
23 “Make a table of acacia wood—two cubits long, a cubit wide and a cubit and a half high.[e] 24 Overlay it with pure gold and make a gold molding around it. 25 Also make around it a rim a handbreadth[f] wide and put a gold molding on the rim. 26 Make four gold rings for the table and fasten them to the four corners, where the four legs are. 27 The rings are to be close to the rim to hold the poles used in carrying the table. 28 Make the poles of acacia wood, overlay them with gold and carry the table with them. 29 And make its plates and dishes of pure gold, as well as its pitchers and bowls for the pouring out of offerings. 30 Put the bread of the Presence on this table to be before me at all times.
There’s a word that is missing in our English translations here and it’s an important one. At the beginning of verse 23 should be the word “and.” The ark of the covenant and the table are connected. The ark is about worship of God and His presence with man. The table is about fellowship with God. Or we can look at it another way – Jesus, the atonement cover, is the source of our fellowship with God and the table shows us the substance of our fellowship.
The bread that sat on the table was a pierced bread. It was placed on racks in an oven that crossed and left a burnt cross on the back of each loaf of bread. Here we have the image of a cross as well as a reminder of Isaiah 53 that “He was pierced for our transgressions.”
This bread is made from fine flour. Flour comes from wheat is must first be crushed into flour. But of course this flour alone is unpalatable. It must also be baked. In these images we have not only the crushing of Jesus or our iniquities but also exposure to the fire of God’s wrath on our behalf.
You’ll note that there are no chairs to sit down at this table. The table isn’t big enough to sit down around anyway as it’s only big enough to hold twelve loaves of bread and the utensils. The bread must be eaten while standing. It is a reminder that the priests are in the place of worship and that worship isn’t a matter of rest but of service.
This isn’t meant to be a contradiction with what I taught last week about the commanded celebrations. Instead it is a reminder that even celebrations are serious things. A modern American equivalent might be the celebration of the 4th of July. You should enjoy the celebration but that doesn’t mean that you should do something stupid that would injure yourself with fireworks nor should you drink alcohol and drive. So worship is a time of celebration but also of service and reverence. There is a balance.
Before we run out of time, let’s touch on the lampstand.
31 “Make a lampstand of pure gold and hammer it out, base and shaft; its flowerlike cups, buds and blossoms shall be of one piece with it. 32 Six branches are to extend from the sides of the lampstand—three on one side and three on the other. 33 Three cups shaped like almond flowers with buds and blossoms are to be on one branch, three on the next branch, and the same for all six branches extending from the lampstand. 34 And on the lampstand there are to be four cups shaped like almond flowers with buds and blossoms. 35 One bud shall be under the first pair of branches extending from the lampstand, a second bud under the second pair, and a third bud under the third pair—six branches in all. 36 The buds and branches shall all be of one piece with the lampstand, hammered out of pure gold.
37 “Then make its seven lamps and set them up on it so that they light the space in front of it. 38 Its wick trimmers and trays are to be of pure gold. 39 A talent[g] of pure gold is to be used for the lampstand and all these accessories. 40 See that you make them according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.
The lampstand should not be confused as a candle holder. Modern menorahs and even candelabras that are used for ceremonies have candles in them but candles weren’t actually invented until the Roman era. Instead, this lampstand would have contained oil. Oil is typically used to represent the Holy Spirit in scripture.
The lampstand is not just a picture of Christ but also of believers and the Holy Spirit residing within us. The lampstand has one main spire and six branches coming off of it. Six is the number of man according to the book of Revelation.
In John 15, Jesus tells us “I am the vine and you are the branches.” This is a picture of that as believers are connected to Christ. In John 9:5 Jesus says “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” But we know that Jesus is no longer in the world. So where does that leave us? The Sermon on the Mount gives us the answer in Matthew 5:14-16:
14 “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
We are now the light of the world. We are the branches of the lamp connected to Christ. And the light that shines is the fire of the Holy Spirit burning within us.
Obviously I could say more on this but we’ve gone over a lot this morning. Consider this your application for today in the midst of a lot of theology. We are a part of the lampstand and our job is to light the world. We only succeed in that job as we are connected to Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit. Let your light shine wherever you go this week.