Last week we spent our time on chapter 24 which tells us about the occasion when the covenant established between the Lord and his people was confirmed with the offering of sacrifices and with the eating of a meal in the presence of the Lord. And then do you remember? Moses ascended to the top of the mountain and entered the glory-cloud and spent 40 days and 40 nights in the presence of the Lord. And we focussed our thoughts last week on the mountain and the meal.
The meal, I said, which Moses and his companions enjoyed in the presence of the Lord on Mt Sinai points forward to the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper which we’re able to enjoy in the presence of the Lord in church on Sundays. And it also points forward to the Wedding Supper of the Lamb which we read about at the end of the book of Revelation when we will be glorified and made perfect for ever; and when we will sit down and enjoy a heavenly banquet which our Saviour has prepared for us and for all who trust in him.
And then, last week, we thought about the mountain and how it was a kind of temporary temple. And as a temporary temple it points upwards to heaven, and to the real temple, the heavenly-temple, where God sits enthroned over all, surrounded by worshipping angels and by the church triumphant. And the church triumphant is able to enter that heavenly-temple because of Jesus Christ who was able to offer a better sacrifice than Moses when he offered himself as the once-for-all, never-to-be-repeated perfect sacrifice for sins.
And so, as we studied the account of what happened at Mt Sinai all those years ago, we realised that the Lord was revealing to us, through these events, the truth of the gospel and the great hope he gives to all his people.
When Moses was with the Lord at the top of the mountain, he received from the Lord all the instructions which are set out for us in chapters 25 to chapter 31. And if you glance forward in your Bible, you’ll see that the Lord instructed him about the construction of the tabernacle, that moveable temple which they carried with them in the wilderness and which they pitched whenever they made camp. The Lord instructed Moses about the construction of the tabernacle and about what was to go inside it; and about what the priests should wear and how they should be consecrated. So, he gave Moses all these instructions so that they would know how to worship and serve him.
Of course, it you glance forward to chapter 32, you’ll see that while Moses was with the Lord on Mt Sinai, receiving all these instructions about how to worship and serve the Lord, the rest of the Israelites were down below, constructing a golden calf to worship and serve. And the incident of the golden calf, happening at the same time as Moses was receiving God’s instructions about true worship, is a reminder — isn’t it? — it’s a reminder to the Lord’s people in every generation that we must not think we’re wiser than God and that we can work out on our own how to worship and serve the Lord; but instead we must always, always, always turn to God’s word and read what he has revealed about the right way to worship him and the right way to serve him. Unless we’re guided by God’s word, unless we abide by all that he has revealed, then we will go astray, just as Aaron and the Israelites went astray.
So, we must pay careful attention to what the Lord has said. And as we turn to the Lord’s instructions to Moses about how to worship and serve him, we need to remember that the tabernacle and everything that it contained was for the time being only; it was to make do until the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, who would offer himself as the true Lamb of God, the perfect sacrifice for sins.
Everything about the tabernacle was designed to point forward to the coming of Jesus Christ into the world. It was designed to point forward to him; or it was designed to point upwards, upwards to heaven, and to the heavenly temple where the Lord sits on a throne, and where he’s surrounded by worshipping angels and by the church triumphant. So, as we turn and study how the tabernacle was to be constructed and what it should contain, we need to remember that by giving Moses these instructions, the Lord was revealing to us the gospel of Jesus Christ and the great hope he gives to all his people; and so, that’s what we’re to look for as we study these things together.
And today’s passage can be divided into four sections. In verses 1 to 9 there are laws about the gifts needed for the tabernacle. In verses 10 to 22 there are laws about the construction of the ark. In verses 23 to 30 there are laws about the construction of the Table for the Bread of the Presence. And in verses 31 to 40 there are laws about the construction of the lamp stand. Let’s turn to the passage now and see what we can learn.
Verses 1 to 9
In verses 1 to 9 we have laws about the gifts needed for the tabernacle. The Israelites were to bring to the Lord an offering of metal, fabric, animal skins, wood, and oil for the light, and spices for the incense, and precious stones for the priest’s garments. We’ll see as we go along why these materials were needed. But notice from verse 2 that these were to be freewill offering. So, they were to give what their own heart prompted them to give. Later we’ll read about the tithe, which was a requirement on all the Israelites and which was provided for the benefit of the priests, serving in the temple.
These offerings, however, were freewill offerings: no one was required to bring an offering, but they were invited to give as their hearts prompted them. And so, it’s like our own offering which we bring to church which is a freewill offering to the Lord to support his church and to express our gratitude to him for his kindness to us. And that’s the key, isn’t it? Bringing these gifts was not a burden on the Israelites; it was not a burden, but a delight, because the Lord had done so much for them and they wanted to express their gratitude. And, if you turn to chapter 35, you’ll see that many of the Israelites were moved to give and to give generously so that they had all that they needed to construct the tabernacle.
Notice as well, that they were giving to the Lord what he had already given to them. You see, everything they gave to the Lord at Mt Sinai had come to them from the Lord in a special and unique way, because nearly everything they owned at that time they had received from the Egyptians before they left Egypt. Do you remember? Back in chapter 12 we read how the Lord had made the Egyptians favourably disposed towards them so that the Egyptians gave them whatever they asked for: silver and gold and clothing. Well, it was the Lord who made the Egyptians willing to give so generously to the Israelites. And now the Israelites were able to return to the Lord some of what they had received from him.
And then look at verses 8 and 9. The Lord told Moses to ask the people for the materials they needed; and then the Lord said:
[H]ave them make a sanctuary [or holy place] for me and I will dwell among them.
This tells us that this tabernacle was to be a temple, a holy place for the Lord. And the purpose of constructing this holy place was so that the Lord will dwell with his people. Throughout their wilderness wandering, they were to carry the tabernacle with them and pitch this tent wherever they camped. And the presence of the tabernacle in their midst was a sign for them that the Lord was with them and would never leave them. Well, years later, the Eternal Son of God came into the world. And at the beginning of his gospel, the Apostle John announced:
The Word [which is the title John uses for the Son of God] became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
More literally, John wrote that the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us. In the days of Moses, the Lord lived among his people by means of this tent, this tabernacle. But years later the Lord lived among his people by means of the incarnation, because the man Jesus was none other than the Word of God, the Eternal Son of God, who had become flesh, and who once lived among us. God dwelt among us by his Son. And, of course, God dwells among us now by his Spirit, who is in every believer and who is working in us to make each one of us holy, a holy temple to the Lord. God dwells in every believer personally by his Spirit. But God dwells in his church as well, because whenever we meet for worship, God is with us by his Spirit.
So, just as God was with his people in the tabernacle, so he was with his people in the person of his Son; and he’s with us now by his Spirit. And one day, and this is our sure and certain hope, when the Lord Jesus Christ returns, he’ll gather his people together and bring us into the new heavens and the new earth, where we will be with the Lord forever. And so, this tabernacle, this moveable temple in the wilderness, was a foretaste of the incarnation of the Lord Jesus; and it was a foretaste of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the church and in the life of the believer; and it was a foretaste of everlasting life in the presence of the Lord in the life to come.
And there’s one last thing to notice here before we move on. In verse 9 the Lord instructed Moses to make the tabernacle and all its furnishings ‘exactly like the pattern I will show you’. You see, this earthly tabernacle was only a copy of the real thing. The real thing is heaven, where the Lord sits enthroned. But Moses and the Israelites had to make do with a copy. And that’s important, because it reminds us once again that what we read here about the tabernacle in the wilderness is designed to teach us about heaven and about God the Son who came from heaven to save us from our sins.
Verses 10 to 22
The Israelites were invited to bring gifts to construct this tabernacle as a holy place for the Lord so that he could dwell among them. Let’s move on now to the second section and to the laws about the construction of the ark. And so, in verse 10, the Lord instructed Moses to have the people make a chest of acacia wood: this was the ark of the covenant or the ark of the Testimony.
It wasn’t a large object: only two and a half cubits long; a cubit and a half wide; and a cubit and a half high. That’s roughly one metre long and three quarters of a metre wide and high. So, it’s not a big object. However, this wooden ark was to be overlaid with pure gold, inside and out. And it wasn’t to be a plain box, because there was to be a gold moulding or trim around it. The ark was to have four feet; and attached to the feet, there were to be four gold rings, two on each side. Two wooden poles, also covered in gold, were to be inserted in these rings to serve as handles for carrying the ark. Of course, they needed these handles because no one was able to touch the ark itself and live. In fact, in 2 Samuel 6 we read about a man called Uzzah who reached out to steady the ark when it was being moved; and we read how the Lord’s anger burned against him because of this irreverent act and he died beside the ark. These handles were needed because no one was allowed to touch the ark.
And then, in verse 16, the Lord told Moses to place in the ark the Testimony. Now the Testimony was the two tablets on which were written the Ten Commandments. There were two copies, because these commandments summarised terms of the covenant between the Lord and his people; and, as with any covenant or contract which we might draw up, you always need to prepare two copies of the terms: one for both parties in the agreement. So, the Testimony was placed in the ark, which is why it’s referring to as the ark of the Testimony or the ark of the covenant.
And then the Lord commanded Moses to have the people make a cover for the ark. So, we’re looking at verse 17 now. It was to be made, not of wood covered in gold, but of solid gold. And it was to be the same length and width as the ark, so that it fitted perfectly on top. And at either end of it, there were to be gold statues of two cherubim, those winged angelic beings which we read about in Ezekiel 1 and in Revelation 4, where they’re depicted as worshipping the Lord continually. Well, remember that the tabernacle was a copy of heaven. In heaven, the Lord is seated on his throne, and he’s surrounded by the cherubim who worship him continually, night and day. That’s what is happening in heaven. And in the tabernacle, this copy of heaven, or this little model of heaven, we have gold images of the cherubim. And the cherubim are placed at either end of the ark, because the ark represents God’s throne in heaven.
And look at verse 22. The Lord said to Moses that there, above the cover between the two cherubim, I will meet with you, Moses, and give you all my commands for the Israelites. So, here’s the Lord, inviting Moses to come into the Tabernacle to meet with him at the ark, which was a copy of his throne room in heaven.
The Lord doesn’t say anything further about the ark and its cover now. But later he’ll explain the purpose of the cover. You see, it was known as ‘the mercy seat’ or ‘the atonement cover’. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest would slaughter a bull and goat as a sin offering for himself and for his family and for the people. And he would take the blood of the sacrificed animals into the Most Holy Place in the Tabernacle where the ark was kept; and he’d sprinkle the blood on the mercy seat. And the High Priest was to do this, because this was the way he would make atonement for the people, so that God would no longer be angry with them for their sins. The priest would pour the blood out before the presence of the Lord; and the Lord would see the blood and he would turn from his great anger and pardon his people for all the ways they had broken his commandments which were sealed up inside the ark.
All of those Old Testament sacrifices were designed to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord Jesus, because he offered himself on the cross as the perfect sacrifice to pay for our sins. And after his resurrection and ascension, he has gone, not into the tabernacle, as Moses did; he hasn’t gone into a copy of the real thing, as Aaron and all the Old Testament priests had to do; he’s gone into the true heavenly-temple, where God is seated on this throne, and where he’s surrounded, not by golden images of cherubim, but by real cherubim, who are worshipping him continually.
The Lord Jesus Christ has gone into the true heavenly-temple; and by blood, shed on the cross, he has forever turned away God’s anger from us so that we might receive the forgiveness of sins and peace with God for ever. Do you see? Moses and all the earthly priests were only ever able to come into an earthly temple; and they could only ever come to an earthly ark; they could only ever come to the copies of heavenly things; and they could only ever come with the blood of bulls and goats. But Jesus Christ our Saviour has entered heaven itself with his own blood, shed on the cross, for the forgiveness of our sins. And God has looked upon his blood and has pardoned us.
Verses 23 to 30
But let’s move on to verses 23 to 30 which contain laws about the construction of the Table for the Bread of the Presence. And so the Lord commanded Moses to have a table made. It was to be made of acacia wood and was to be two cubits long, a cubit wide, and a cubit and a half tall. So, just under 1 metre long, and about a half metre wide and just under three quarters a metre high. Not big. It too was to be covered in gold with a gold moulding or trim around it. There was to be a rim all the way around, possibly to prevent whatever was on the table from rolling off it. Like the ark, the table was to have four gold rings attached to it; and poles were inserted into the rings to carry the table. There were to be plates and dishes and jugs and bowls made for the table; and everything was to be gold.
Incidentally, everything was to be either covered in gold or made of gold because the inner part of the Tabernacle was meant to represent heaven; and all of these golden objects were to represent the glory of heaven. Imagine going into the inner part of the Tabernacle, and everything you saw shone and glimmered and sparkled because it was gold. It would have been like heaven on earth; and that’s precisely what it was meant to be: heaven on earth.
So, back to this golden table. Once the table was made, they were to put the Bread of the Presence on it. In fact, look at verse 30: there was to be bread there ‘at all times’. Later we read that there were to be 12 loaves of bread on the table. And each week, one batch of loaves was removed and another batch was put in their place.
There are two main interpretations to explain the purpose of this bread. One is that they were gifts which the Israelites were to present to the Lord as a sign of their gratitude to him. So, the way we might bring a gift to a friend whenever we visit, the Israelites were to bring a gift to the Lord. And since the bread was to be there ‘at all times’, it was a sign of how our thanks and praise should be never-ending.
However, I prefer the second interpretation. The Tabernacle was God’s dwelling place, his home. And when anyone went into God’s house, they would find the table set, with food laid out on it, because the Lord was always ready and willing to enjoy fellowship with his people.
And so, it points forward to the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, when all of God’s people are invited by God to gather around the table of the Lord and to enjoy a meal in his presence where we remember all that he has done for us. And the Bread of the Presence points beyond that to the Wedding Supper of the Lamb, which all of God’s people will enjoy in the life to come.
So, the table and the Bread of the Presence speak to us of God’s willingness to enjoy fellowship with us. However, later we’ll discover that the Bread of the Presence in the Tabernacle could only be eaten by the priests; no one else was allowed to eat it. However, now that Christ has died and has risen, all of God’s people are invited to the table of the Lord for communion; and all of God’s people will be invited to the Wedding Supper of the Lord. There are no restrictions now on who may come, because everyone who believes is invited to come.
And before we leave the Bread of the Presence, we should remember that this fellowship with God, which the table and bread point to, is only possible because of Jesus Christ, who is the Bread of Life, who came down from heaven to earth to give life to the world. And whoever believes in him, receives the free gift of eternal life.
Verses 31 to 40
We’ve looked at the gifts the people were to bring. And we’ve looked at the ark, and the table. Now we come to those laws about the construction of the lamp stand. There was to be one lamp stand. It was to be made of pure gold. And it was designed to look like an almond tree, with six branches extending from the main trunk, each decorated with cups which would hold the oil and which were to look like flowers. According to verse 37 there were seven lights. How could there be seven lights when there were only six branches? Well, because not only was there a light on the end of each of the six branches, but there was also light at the end of the main trunk.
Some commentators think that this lamp stand represents the lights in the sky and it’s a reminder that God is the one who created all things. It also points to the Lord Jesus Christ who is the Light of the world. Other commentators suggest that, since its a tree, it reminds us of the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden. If Adam hadn’t sinned, he would have been able to eat from the Tree of Life and live for ever. But he did sin, and was sent away from the Garden and the Tree of Life. But then, the Tree of Life also appears at the end of the Bible, where it holds out to us the promise of enjoying eternal life with God.
So, perhaps the lamp stand represents the Tree of Life. However, the fact that the lamp stand has seven lights reminds me of the seven golden lamp stands which we read about in Revelation 1. There, the seven golden lamp stands represent the church. And in John’s vision he sees the Risen Lord Jesus, walking among the lamp stands to signify how he knows his people and is guarding us and guiding us at all times. And so, perhaps that’s the significance of this lamp stand in the Tabernacle. It speaks to us of Christ’s church; and since the lamp stand was placed in the inner part of the Tabernacle, it speaks to us of the way the Lord in heaven keeps watch over his people at all times.
It’s all very interesting to be able to see the connections between the tabernacle and the Lord Jesus Christ. However, these things are written, not to be interesting, but to awaken and to strengthen our faith.
For when we read about the tabernacle which was a dwelling place for the Lord at that time, it should awaken and strengthen our faith in Christ who died and was raised so that we might one day come into God’s presence in the life to come.
And when we read about the ark with its mercy seat, it should awaken and strengthen our faith in Christ who offered himself as the perfect sacrifice for sins; and by means of his blood, shed for sinners, we have peace with God for ever.
And when we read about the Table and the Bread, it should awaken and strengthen our faith in Christ who died to reconcile us to God so that one day we’ll be invited to the Wedding Supper of the Lamb and enjoy a heavenly-banquet with the Lord.
And when we read about the lamp stand, it should awaken and strengthen our faith in Christ who loved the church and gave himself for her to make her holy, so that one day we’ll be presented to him in glory as a radiant church, shining brightly, and for ever and ever.