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The Wilderness Tabernacle

The Wilderness Tabernacle

Throughout the pages of Scripture, we see God’s desire for fellowship with man, and His efforts to establish a place where we can dwell together. Scripture opens in Genesis with God coming down to walk in the garden with Adam in the cool of the day; it concludes with man fellowshipping with God in the New Jerusalem. The tabernacle is a significant link in the golden chain stretching from Genesis to Revelation.

When God united in a marriage bond with Israel, He descended upon the mountain of Sinai, and spoke to Moses and His people. God’s presence was manifested as a consuming fire on the mountaintop. The people saw flashing lightning and a great cloud of smoke. They heard great thundering and the sound of a very loud trumpet. The whole mountain shook violently. They had been instructed to wash their garments and be consecrated before He came. Any man or beast, touching the mountain, without being called by God would die. After experiencing such an awesome encounter with God, who can question their reaction? The people trembled, stood at a distance, and asked Moses to relay God’s messages to them. They actually feared that they might die if God kept speaking directly to them. This fear was well founded because God had warned Moses that many would perish if they gazed upon Him.

The great contrast between the holiness of God and the depravity of man presents a real dilemma that must be overcome in order for God and man to dwell together. Even though God promised them that He would go with them, and help them conquer and possess the Promised Land of Canaan; He could also separate himself from the people by the boundaries set upon the mountain. In order, for His presence to dwell among them, a special place would have to be prepared and consecrated. A special group of people, known as priests, would have to be selected to serve before the Lord, and act as mediators between Him and His people. For this reason, the Lord instructed Moses to collect a special contribution, and also gave him a detailed list of things to acquire.

“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Speak to the children of Israel, that they bring Me an offering. From everyone who gives it willingly with his heart you shall take My offering. And this is the offering which you shall take from them: gold, silver, and bronze; blue, purple, and scarlet thread, fine linen, and goats’ hair; ram skins dyed red, badger skins, and acacia wood; oil for the light, and spices for the anointing oil and for the sweet incense; onyx stones, and stones to be set in the ephod and in the breastplate. And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them. According to all that I show you, that is, the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings, just so you shall make it'” (Ex. 25:1-9).

The tabernacle has at least three meanings which we must quickly examine: 1) It was to be a dwelling place for the presence of God; 2) It was to be the sanctuary of all religious ceremonies; and 3) It was to be a typical picture of Christ who would come to redeem man from his depravity.

Moses was given every minute detail of the plan for the tabernacle; even colors, threads, designs, and related trimmings. After the specifications were given, God filled craftsmen with the Holy Spirit (See Ex 31:3-5), so they could be guided in all manner of workmanship. Why are all these details regarding perfection in workmanship necessary? Why did God demand perfection in the construction of this wilderness tabernacle? The answer lies in verse nine of chapter twenty-five. God told Moses to build the tabernacle “According to all that I show thee, after the pattern of the tabernacle” (Ex. 25:9, KJV).

Notice that the wilderness tabernacle was to be patterned after another tabernacle. In Hebrews chapters 8-10, the writer makes it clear that the wilderness tabernacle was patterned after the Lamb of God who is in heaven. Let us not forget that Christ, the Lamb of God, was slain in the mind of God before the foundation of the world ( 1 Peter 1:19-20). It is fitting that the wilderness tabernacle was patterned after Christ, and that it foreshadowed Christ and the work that He was to complete on the cross. The writer of Hebrews makes this statement concerning Jesus: “Who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, ‘See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain'” (Heb. 8:5).

In a symbolic manner, the extremely detailed wilderness tabernacle, the ministering priests, and the related offerings and sacrifices foreshadow God’s great plan of redemption for His people, Israel. God planned to keep alive the hope of a coming redeemer in the hearts of the people through religious ordinances. All the sins of Israel were being rolled forward to the “Cross of Calvary” where final redemption was to be completed. When the final payment was made, the veil of the temple, which separated the Holy place from the Holy of Holies, was rent from top to bottom symbolizing that mankind could, at last, have direct fellowship with their Creator.

It is difficult for us to visualize the magnificent beauty, grasp the many exquisite details, and appreciate the enormous material value of the wilderness tabernacle. It has been estimated that the construction materials would approach a value of one and a quarter million dollars – many times this amount in present day dollars.

While studying the tabernacle, God gave me a visual panorama of the tabernacle as it was being assembled. From the top of a hill each day, I would comprehend more and more of the exquisite details and their meaning. Now I want to share that visual panorama with you so that you may better understand the details of the tabernacle.

The visual panorama follows the format of Moses giving a guided tour as he makes an inspection tour of the tabernacle as it nears completion – approximately nine months after construction was begun.

Imagine being with Moses on a hilltop east of the Israelite camp as the first rays of the morning sun begins to pierce the darkness. Below, we see the flicker and smoke of cooking fires in twelve massive clusters. Each cluster represents an Israeli tribe; there are three distinct clusters on each of the four sides of the great camp. People are moving around; there appears to be two distinct patterns developing from the movement. Many people are moving into the surrounding fields that are flecked with white; they seem to be gathering food. Others are moving toward the center of the camp where the outlines of a rectangular courtyard are becoming visible; these are the craftsmen bent upon completing their work.

As the sun, which is behind us, becomes brighter, the night mist seems to rise and vanish above the camp. The sunrays capture our attention, as they seem to dance upon the golden surface of a structure at the rear of the courtyard. Workmen are working busily to cover the structure as if to hide its brilliance from our prying eyes. We stand there in awe, realizing that God has shined a brief spotlight upon His future dwelling place. We saw a glimpse of the fullness of its beauty and richness before it was hidden from the eyes of the Gentiles.

For a short period of time, we stood and meditated as we remembered the sight that had dazzled our eyes and our imaginations. As Moses turns and starts down the hill, we follow him into the camp. Quietly, we work our way through a maze of tents and trappings, and greet the many individuals who question our presence.

Soon we reach the heart of the camp, and find ourselves approaching the courtyard fence. It is seven and one-half feet high, and restricts both our access to and our view of the inner courtyard. As we pace the two sides of the fence, we determine that the courtyard is seventy-five feet wide and twice as long. The top of the dazzling structure, which is in the rear of the courtyard and had caught our attention, is still visible, however, the fence itself is the marvelous work of art that presently commands our attention. Made of fine twisted linen, its cloth hangs on silver hooks connected to brass pillars that are set in brass sockets. Workers are still going in and out of the gate on the shorter eastern side of the courtyard; the gate itself is a thirty-foot-wide screen of fine twisted linen woven with three brilliant colors – blue and purple and scarlet – and set upon four brass pillars and sockets. We are reminded that brass speaks of judgment, silver of redemption and linen of righteousness. Blue reminds us of heaven, scarlet depicts shed blood, and purple indicates the presence of royalty.

Many workmen pause from their tasks as we pass through the wide gate, and start toward the rear structure, which attracts us like a prize at the end of a rainbow. A load of wood halts our progress as it is carried to the great brass altar near the gate. Moses tells us that the altar is built of acacia boards covered with brass making it light enough to transport. It is seven and one-half feet square and four and one-half feet high; soon, it will serve as a place of sacrifice of many animals. It reminds us that no human has access to God except sinners who are atoned by blood. Fire will be kindled upon it miraculously, and it will burn continually even as the camp moves from place to place.

Again, as we move toward the golden structure located in the rear of the courtyard, much activity is taking place. Once again, we are stopped by a procession of men; this time they are carrying water to a great brass bowl that is located between the altar and the entrance to the gold structure. Priests will ceremonially wash their hands and feet at the brass laver before ministering at the brass altar.

One man allowed us to slip through the line so we could see what we had been so eagerly anticipating. As we approach the golden structure, we see that it is larger than we had realized. It stands fifteen feet tall and is fifteen feet wide. The walls are made of hard acacia wood overlaid with pure gold. Workmen are still making final adjustments to the layers of cloth, and skins that will cover the box-like structure, which is forty-five feet long. The bottom layer of covering was made of fine linen – blue, purple, and scarlet; it was exquisitely made with intricate cherub designs. We recall that cherubs are angels who are given the responsibility of guarding the absolute holiness of God. The linen cover consists of ten separate curtains coupled together with golden clasps.

Over the linen layer, the workmen are placing three additional covers made of materials, which are new to us and form a tent over the tabernacle. The first layer of the tent consists of eleven curtains of goat’s hair clasped together with loops of brass. The next layer is made of leather from ram’s skin, which is dyed red, and the last layer is made of porpoise skins.

We step through the opening and see workmen busy hanging a veil that will separate the interior space into two rooms; the front room will be fifteen feet wide and thirty feet long and the back room will be fifteen feet wide and fifteen feet long. The veil is made of the same three-colored linen (with interwoven cherubs) that formed the first layer of covering which is now visible as the ceiling of the structure. Again, the workers pause as we step behind the veil into the back room. An involuntary gasp can be heard as we first behold the majestic scene before us.

We are standing within a fifteen-foot cube, which is the future dwelling place of the presence of God. Awestruck, in hushed silence, we feast upon the stunning beauty of the place. This, the Holy of Holies, has three walls of shining gold indicative of His deity. The predominant cherub figure on the veil and ceiling reminds us that we are standing in a most holy and sacred place that will be off-limits to everyone except the high priest when the presence of God comes in. Even the priest will enter only once each year bringing the atoning blood of a sacrifice before God for the covering of the nation’s sins.

As we stand spellbound in contemplation of the future, workmen bring in the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat – the most sacred of all furniture. The first piece represents the holiness of God; the second is a memorial of His grace. The Ark is a small box-like chest constructed of acacia wood overlaid with gold. Its primary purpose is to serve as a container for the two tablets of commandments that form the basis of the covenant between Jehovah God and Israel. After the Ark is dedicated, God’s presence within it will be so hallowed that sudden death will come upon any unauthorized person who for any reason touches it. Lying on the ground before us are the carrying poles, which will pass through loops on the Ark’s feet.

The Mercy Seat, made of solid gold, forms a lid or cover for the Ark. Cherubs rise from the mass of the lid on each end. They overshadow the seat and their wings form a canopy for this royal throne. In this covered spot, the Shekinah, which is the visible manifestation of God’s glory, will rest and meet with the High Priest as he represents the people of Israel. It is here, between the cherubs, that the High Priest will sprinkle the blood of a goat, which will cover the sins of the people until the blood of God’s only Son can wash them away.

In stunned silence we stand, as if frozen in time, until we realize that someone is gently pulling us and saying it is time for us to go. We then re-enter the larger room, called the Holy Place, where in the future only the priests will be able to enter and minister. As we linger, we notice that workmen have brought three pieces of furniture into this room.

On the right side, they placed a large golden lampstand containing seven lamps. Lit daily, using olive oil as fuel, they will provide light and symbolize God’s witness before man. The table of showbread, which is placed on the left side of the room, is made of acacia wood and overlaid with pure gold. The table will hold twelve loaves of unleavened bread – one for each tribe of Israel. These loaves symbolize gratitude to God for His daily provisions. The priests will replace the stale bread with fresh bread each Sabbath. In front of the veil, separating this room from the Holy of Holies, workmen are now placing the altar of incense. This altar is also made of acacia wood and overlaid with pure gold. The burning of incense each morning and evening on this altar will signify a perpetual prayer before the Lord.

As we left the Holy Place, we noticed that the workmen had hung a second veil, called a screen, over the exit to the courtyard. We noticed that there was one difference between this veil and the one separating the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place – the Cherubs are missing from the screen separating the courtyard. Whereas, Cherubs always guard the presence of God in the Holy of Holies, here, in the Holy place, the priests, who minister on behalf of the people, are free to come and go at all times. However, no commoner will be allowed to enter the golden structure.

Even Moses will be barred from entering the premises once the tabernacle has been dedicated. Hurrying, as we exit through the courtyard for the last time, we realize that we had walked through places that many could never hope to go.

As we leave the courtyard, we turn and look back at the portrait of Christ. The sanctuary, containing the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies, is a reflection of His Deity. The courtyard and its furniture reflect Jesus’ incarnation as man. He was just as much God as He was man; however, it was as a sinless man that He became the sacrifice for sin. The altar and laver of brass reflect judgment, and as man, Christ was judged for the sins of all mankind. The fence reflects the work that He completed on the cross. In the fence, we see judgment in the brass posts, redemption in the silver hooks, and righteousness in the linen cloth.

Coming back to our world, we ponder the new meaning that has been discovered in old familiar things. Praise be to the glory of God!