We’ve spent a number of weeks on the book of Exodus; and we’ve seen how the Lord God was revealing through these events the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ, because just as the Lord saw the Israelites in their misery when they were slaves in Egypt, so he saw us in our misery when were were enslaved to sin and Satan and death. And just as the Lord sent Moses to lead his people out of their slavery, so he sent the Lord Jesus Christ into the world to lead us out of our sin and misery. And just as the Israelites had to slaughter the passover lamb so that none of them would die when God passed through the land, so our Passover Lamb, Jesus Christ, has been slaughtered so that all who trust in him might be saved from the wrath of God and live for ever.
And just as the Israelites crossed the Red Sea on dry land, leaving behind their old life of slavery to begin a new life of freedom, so all who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ leave behind their old life of unbelief and sin to begin a new life of faith and obedience. And just as the Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness, between the time they escaped from Egypt and the time they entered the Promised Land, so believers today live in the in-between time: between the time we first believed in Christ and the time when we’ll come at last to our heavenly home. We live in the in-between time, as pilgrims on our way to heaven. And just as the Israelites had to go through all kinds of trials and troubles and temptations in the wilderness, so believers in the in-between time have to endure all kinds of trials and troubles and temptations as we make our way to heaven.
And just as the Lord brought his people through the River Jordan and into the land of Canaan, where he would dwell in their midst, so the Lord will surely bring his people through every danger, toil and snare so that, at last, we’ll come into his presence in the new heavens and the new earth where we will enjoy perfect peace and rest for ever and for ever. Through the history of Moses and the people of Israel and their salvation from the hands of Pharaoh, God was revealing the history of Jesus Christ and his people and our salvation from sin and Satan and death. And so, as we read this book, we must always look upwards to Christ our Saviour, who has set us free from our sin and misery by his life and death and resurrection and ascension and who is even now leading us on to our heavenly home. We must look to him, and trust in him, and we must give thanks to him continually for all he has done for us in order to bring his people into the place he has prepared for us.
And then, of course, as we’ve read this book together, we’ve seen how God was keeping his promise to Abraham. Do you remember? God promised to make Abraham into a great nation. So, he promised to give him a people; and he promised to give Abraham’s people a place of their own to live in; and he promised that when that people where in the right place, they would enjoy God’s presence with them. So, he promised Abraham a people and a place and his presence with them. And so, at the beginning of Exodus, we read how the Israelites had multiplied and become a great and numerous people. But they were in the wrong place, because at the beginning of the book of Exodus, they were slaves in Egypt.
And so, in the remainder of the book, we read how God brought them out of their slavery and he began to lead them through the wilderness in order to bring them to the right place. And, of course, when they eventually arrive in the land of Canaan — that land flowing with milk and honey, that land like the Garden of Eden — God would dwell with them in the temple in Jerusalem. So, the book of Exodus is about how God was keeping his promise to Abraham of a numerous people, living in the right place, enjoying his presence with them. God was keeping his promise; and that promise, we know, will be fulfilled in an even greater way when all of God’s people will enter the new heavens and the new earth where God will dwell with his people for ever. So, as we read the book of Exodus, and as we read about all of these things, we should look forwards in faith and hope to the time when all of these things are fulfilled perfectly and completely and when we shall join all of God’s people in the life to come to worship the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb who was slain for us.
And, over the last few chapters, we’ve been reading how God gave his people the law, so that they would know how to live as his people. And included in that law were instructions about building the tabernacle, which was to be a dwelling place for the Lord among his people. And in chapter 25, which we studied last time, we read how, inside the tabernacle, there was to be the ark of the covenant, and the table for the Bread of Presence, and the lamp stand.
And, of course, by instructing his people to make these pieces of furniture, the Lord was revealing the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ, because the mercy seat on the ark speaks to us of how Christ died for our sins and how his blood covers over all our guilt; and the table speaks to us of the time when we will be invited to the Wedding Supper of the Lamb and when we will enjoy a heavenly-banquet with the Lord in the life to come; and the lamp stand speaks to us of how Jesus Christ 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. The pieces of furniture which were to go into the tabernacle reveal to us the good news of the gospel.
And today, we come to chapters 26 and 27. Chapter 26 is about the construction of the tabernacle — with its curtains and upright frames and crossbars — while chapter 27 tells us about the altar for sacrifices, and the courtyard which went around the tabernacle and the oil for the lamp stand. And what I want to do this evening is to go through the two chapters as quickly as possible before pointing out the significance to these things and how they reveal to us the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
And so we read in verse 1 of chapter 26 how the Lord instructed Moses to make a tabernacle. The Hebrew word for tabernacle means ‘living place’ or ‘dwelling place’ and so the tabernacle was to be God’s dwelling place among his people. Just as the people lived in tents at that time, so the Lord was to dwell with them, in a special tent.
If you look at verses 1 to 6, you’ll see that the tabernacle was to be constructed from ten curtains, made of linen and blue, purple and scarlet yarn. These were to be decorated with images of the cherubim, those winged angelic creatures who stand in the presence of the Lord in heaven. The curtains were joined together to form two sets of five curtains. And by means of gold loops and clasps, the two sets of curtains were joined together to form the roof and sides of the tabernacle.
Look now at verses 7 to 13 and you’ll see there was to be a second layer of curtains, made of goat hair. This second layer went over the first layer. Once again, they were joined together to form two sets: one set with five curtains; the other set with six curtains. These two sets were joined together with loops and clasps made of bronze.
Then, in verse 14, we read how there were to be two further layers: one layer was made of ram skins, dyed red; and the other was made of the hides of sea cows — although we’re not entirely sure how to translate the Hebrew word translated ‘sea cows’. It’s likely that this outer layer, made of some kind of leather, was meant to protect the other layers from the elements.
So far, we know the tabernacle was to be made from curtains. However, curtains need something to hang on; and that’s what the next verses are about. So, in verses 15 to 25 we read about the wooden frames which were to support the curtains. There needed to be 48 frames in total: 20 to form the south wall; 20 to form the north wall; six to form the west wall, or the back of the tabernacle; and another two were placed at the corners of the back wall, presumably to give more support to the structure. There weren’t to be any of these wooden frames at the front of the tabernacle, because that’s where the entrance was. Each of the wooden frames was positioned on two silver bases. Then, in verses 26 to 28 we read that there were to be 15 wooden crossbars. And in verse 29 we read that the wooden frames and crossbars were to be overlayed in gold.
And then, before going any further, we’re told in verse 30 that Moses was to set up the tabernacle according to the plan which God showed him on the mountain. In other words, the Lord didn’t simply describe what the tabernacle should look like; he also showed Moses what it should look like; he showed Moses what we might call the blueprints for the tabernacle. Well, when we read these chapters, often we’re puzzled and we want to know more, because we don’t have all the details of how all the parts fitted together. But Moses didn’t need to write down everything, because the Lord had shown him what it should look like and how it all fitted together; and Moses was able to pass on this information in person to those who would design and build it.
However, we should also bear in mind what we read in Hebrews 8:5 where it says about the Old Testament priests:
They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: ‘See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.’
God instructed Moses to make everything according to the pattern, or the plans, which God showed Moses on Mount Sinai. And God warned him to follow the pattern or the plans carefully, because the earthly tabernacle was to be a copy and shadow of God’s heavenly temple. The earthly tabernacle was a small-scale model of what’s in heaven. And I’ll say more about that later.
But let’s move on, because in verses 31 to 35 we read how there was to be another curtain, made of linen and blue, purple and scarlet yarn, which was to be hung with gold hooks on wooden posts overlaid with gold; and these wooden posts were set on silver bases. And this curtain was to divide the tabernacle into two rooms: one room was the Holy Place; and the other room was the Most Holy Place. The ark of the covenant was placed in the Most Holy Place, while the table and the lamp stand were placed in the Holy Place. And then, in verses 36 and 37, we read about the entrance to the tabernacle, which was to be covered in a curtain made of linen and blue, purple and scarlet yarn which was to be hung with gold hooks on wooden posts overlaid with gold. And the posts were placed on bronze bases.
So, that’s the tabernacle: this tent which was divided into two rooms. The Holy Place was 30 feet by 15 feet and it was 15 feet high. The Most Holy Place was 15 feet by 15 feet and it was 15 feet high. In other words, the Most Holy Place was a cube. The Most Holy Place was separated from the Holy Place by a curtain; and another curtain hung over the entrance to the tabernacle.
In verses 1 to 8 of chapter 27 we read how the altar for the burnt offerings was to be constructed. It was made from acacia wood and had horns on all four corners. The whole thing was overlaid with bronze. Various utensils were needed, and these were made of bronze. The altar could be carried by means of wood poles, overlaid with bronze, which were inserted in bronze rings attached to the altar.
The altar was to be placed in the courtyard which surrounded the tabernacle and which we read about it verses 9 to 19. It was to be 150 feet long and 75 feet wide. The walls of the courtyard were made from curtains, which were hung with silver hooks. And these curtains were supported by posts which were placed on bronze bases. A curtain was to be hung at the entrance to the courtyard. The people would gather in this courtyard to worship the Lord and to eat the fellowship meals which they enjoyed after offering sacrifices to the Lord on the altar.
And finally, in verses 20 and 21 the Lord instructed Moses to ensure that olive oil was always available to keep the lights of the lamp stand burning all the time.
So, we have the tabernacle itself, which was divided into two rooms. And we have the courtyard, which contained the altar. Only the High Priest could enter the Most Holy Place; and only once a year on the day of atonement, and with the blood of the sacrifice which he sprinkled on the mercy seat of the ark. Only the priests could enter the Holy Place, where they kept the lights on the lamp stand lit, and where they kept bread on the table of presence. The rest of the people had to stay in the courtyard, where sacrifices were offered on the altar and where fellowship meals were held. So, that’s the tabernacle and the courtyard; what can we learn from these things about the gospel of Jesus Christ?
The first point is God’s willingness to identify himself with his people. In those days, the Israelites were a pilgrim people, moving from place to place, on the way to the Promised Land. They did not live in houses, but in tents, which they were able to put away and carry whenever it was time to leave; and whenever it was time to stop and make camp, they could quickly and easily unpack their tents and live in them. The people lived in tents; and by instructing Moses to construct the tabernacle, which was a fancy tent, he was showing his willingness to identify with his people and to live in a tent beside them. And, of course, since the Lord is the one who made the heavens and the earth, who lives in a high and holy place, far above all that he has made, then it’s also evidence of his grace and mercy that he was prepared to come down from the highest heavens to live with them like this.
And, of course, God’s willingness to come down among his people and to identify himself with them points forward to the time when God the Son left the glory of heaven and came down to earth as a man. John, in his Gospel, puts it like this:
The Word [John’s name for the Son of God] became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.
Though he was the Eternal Son of God, equal to the Father and the Spirit in glory and power, he was willing to come down to earth and identify with us completely by becoming one of us. He was made like us in every way; and yet he was made without sin. And the reason he came down to earth to tabernacle among us was in order to take our place on the cross and to suffer and die as our substitute, so that we might receive the forgiveness of our sins and the hope of everlasting life. The Son of God dwelt among us so that one day would would dwell with God for ever in glory.
The first point is God’s willingness to identify himself with his people. The second point, though, is how God and his people were separated from one another. Everyone was allowed to gather in the courtyard; but the entrance into the tabernacle was closed off by a curtain; and only the priests could go through the curtain into the Holy Place. And then, the way into the Most Holy Place, which was really God’s throne room, was closed off by another curtain. In fact, though it was a beautiful room — with the gold ark and the gold cherubim, and the lovely curtains made of linen and blue and purple and scarlet yarn — no one — apart from the High Priest — was ever able to see it. And the High Priest was only ever able to enter the Most Holy Place and see it once a year.
And so, although the tabernacle was God’s dwelling place and symbolised his presence with his people, the curtain at the entrance to the Most Holy Place was a reminder that they were unable to approach God or come near him. And since there were four layers of curtain all around the tabernacle, then that too speaks to us of how unapproachable the Lord was; and how he was separated from his people, because he alone is holy, whereas they were sinners and unfit to come into the presence of a holy and perfect God.
Some of the commentators think that the reason the curtains around the tabernacle were to be decorated with images of cherubim was to remind the Israelites of the time when Adam and Eve were sent out of the Garden of Eden. And the Lord placed cherubim on the east side of the Garden to guard the way back to the Tree of Life. Well, inside the Holy Place was the lamp stand, which was made to look like a tree. It perhaps represents the Tree of Life; but the cherubim on the curtains were a reminder to the Israelites that they had been cut off from the Tree of Life and from eternal life because of sin. And so, we can imagine the Israelites, standing in the courtyard; and perhaps the curtain into the Holy Place was lifted for a time, to let the priests come and go. And the Israelites were given a glimpse of what was inside; and perhaps they caught a glimpse of the lamp stand, this Tree of Life, burning brightly, in the dark interior of the room. But then the curtain was closed once again, and their way to the Tree of Life and their way into the presence of the Lord was once again blocked.
So, while the tabernacle spoke of God’s willingness to identify himself with his people, it also reminded them of how they were cut off from God because of sin. —
However, the third point this evening is that the altar in the courtyard speaks to us of Christ’s sacrifice for our sins. All the people were able to gather in the courtyard; and when they came, they were able to offer to God a sacrifice for their sins. And on the great day of atonement, the High Priest was able to take the blood from the sacrifice and enter the Most Holy Place, God’s throne room, where he sprinkled the blood on the mercy seat of the ark to cover over the guilt of their sins. And all of these sacrifices, which the people offered at that time, pointed forward to the even better sacrifice which Jesus Christ, our Great High Priest, offered to God, when he offered himself as the once-for-all, never to be repeated, perfect sacrifice to pay for our sins completely. And do you remember? When the Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross to pay for our sins, the curtain in the temple, which covered the entrance into the Most Holy Place was torn in two, from top to bottom, to show that the way into God’s presence has been opened by the death of Christ on the cross; and by his blood, shed on the cross, we may come into God’s presence in worship; and one day, we’ll come into his presence in glory.
And that takes me to the last point today. Back in verse 30 of chapter 26 we learned that Moses was to set up the tabernacle according to the plan God showed him on the mountain. And the writer to the Hebrews teaches us that the tabernacle was a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. So, the tabernacle on earth points upwards to heaven where God dwells. In the days of Moses, the priests served God in this copy of the real thing; and the sacrifices they offered there were only for the time being only; they were to fill in and to make do until the Lord Jesus came to earth and offered himself as the perfect sacrifice to take away our sins. And after his death, Jesus Christ our Great High Priest has gone, not into the copy of heaven, not into the man-made tabernacle, but he has gone into heaven itself, where he stands before his Father and intercedes for us. And if we believe in him, then we know that one day he will come again and bring us — in body and in soul — into the presence of the Lord to be with him for ever and ever.
The Israelites had to make do with a copy of the real thing; and even then, they weren’t able to enter it because of their sin. But the Lord has something greater in store for us and for all who believe in his Son, because Jesus Christ will come again and he’ll bring us right into God’s presence in the new heavens and the new earth where we’ll worship the Lord for ever.
And so, everything about the tabernacle is designed to teach us about the good news of the gospel and to awaken and strengthen our faith in the Saviour. God’s willingness to dwell in a tent speaks to us of Christ who came and dwelt among us, identifying with us by becoming one of us, so that he could suffer in our place the punishment we deserve for our sins. The curtains speak to us of our sin which separates us from a holy God. The altar speaks to us of Christ’s perfect sacrifice for sins and of his blood which covers over our guilt. And the tabernacle itself, which is a copy and shadow of heaven, speaks to us of the great hope God has given us through Jesus Christ our Saviour of being able to come into God’s presence to be with him for ever. And when that day comes, then God’s promise to Abraham will be fulfilled, because all of God’s people will be in the place he has prepared for us; and for ever and for ever we’re enjoy the presence of God in our midst.