Exodus 40(34–38)


It’s been a while since we last studied the book of Exodus together. And since we’ve now reached the end of the book today, let me once again review what we’ve seen so far. And let me begin again by reminding you of the three Ps which we encountered first of all in the book of Genesis and which have continued to be important in the book of Exodus: people; place; and presence. In the book of Genesis, God promised to make Abraham and Isaac and Jacob into a great people, so that their number would be like the stars in the sky and like the sand on the seashore, too many to count. He also promised to give this people a place to live in: he promised to give them the land of Canaan as their very own. And then, when God’s people are in the place he has prepared for them, they would enjoy his presence in their midst. So, people, place and presence.

Of course, we can go back even further than Abraham, can’t we? We can go back to the time of Adam and Eve. What do we find in Genesis 2? Well, you have God’s people: Adam and Eve. And we have them living in the Garden of Eden which was the place God had made for them. And God was with them, because the Lord used to walk in the Garden in the cool of the day. So right there, at the beginning of the Bible, you had God’s people, in the place God had prepared for them, enjoying his presence in their midst. But because of their unbelief and sin, Adam and Eve were sent away from the Garden of Eden. So, they lost the place God has prepared for them. And God withdrew from their midst and went to dwell in heaven above. So, they lost God’s presence with them.

But God had a plan to put right what went wrong because of Adam and Eve’s unbelief and sin. He had a plan to make a new people for himself; and to give them a place to live, where they would enjoy his presence. And he revealed that plan to Abraham and he began to put it into action so the by the time we get to the beginning of the book of Exodus, they had become a great nation. The number of Abraham’s descendants have multiplied and they had become exceedingly numerous and they filled the land where they were living.

However, there was a problem: they were in the wrong place. Instead of living in the land of Canaan, the Promised Land, a land like the Garden of Eden, flowing with milk and honey, they were slaves in Egypt. And so, the opening chapters of Exodus are about how the Lord rescued his people from Pharaoh and from their captivity in Egypt; and he brought them through the Red Sea to lead them to the Promised Land. And as we studied those chapters together, I was trying to show how they foreshadow the gospel of Jesus Christ, because just as God sent Moses to deliver his people from their bondage in Egypt, so he sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to deliver us from our bondage to Satan. And just as the Israelites passed through the waters of the Red Sea, leaving behind their old life of slavery to begin a new life, so believers pass through the waters of baptism, leaving behind our old life of unbelief and slavery to sin to begin a new life of faith and of obedience to God. So, through the history of the Exodus the Lord was foreshadowing what he would do for his people by his Son Jesus Christ.

And, of course, although the Israelites had been rescued from Egypt, they were still a long way from the Promised Land. They had been set free, but they had not reached their destination. Having been rescued, they became pilgrims on the way, living in the in-between time: the time between their deliverance from Egypt and their arrival in the Promised Land. And they discovered that living in the in-between time, as pilgrims on the way to the Promised Land, was a time of testing. It was a time of testing, because they didn’t have any food to eat or water to drink; and they had to trust in the Lord to provide for them. And they had to face powerful enemies and trust the Lord to protect them.

And, of course, their experience in the wilderness also foreshadows our experience as well, because we too are living in the in-between times, because through faith in Christ we’ve been delivered from our sin and misery and from this present evil age. And we’re now pilgrims on the way, waiting for the time when we will enter the new heaven and the new earth to be with the Lord for ever and ever. That’s our final destination. But we’re not there yet; we’re only pilgrims on the way, living in the in-between time. And it’s a time of testing for us too, because we face many dangers on the way, and troubles and trials which test our faith and our commitment to the Lord. And so, we need to trust in the Lord to provide us with all that we need to endure; and we need to trust in him to protect us from his enemies; and we need to learn to persevere so that we don’t give up or stumble and fall, but will continue on the way until we come at last to our eternal home.

And then from chapter 19 onwards we read about the covenant which the Lord made with his people at Mount Sinai. So, they all gathered at the foot of the mountain; and the Lord came down in the glory-cloud and met with them. He reminded them of how he had rescued them; and he promised that if they did all that he commanded, then they would be his treasured possession: he would love them and protect them and keep them always. And they responded by saying:

We will do everything the Lord has said.

In other words, they agreed to the terms of covenant and promised to obey the Lord who had so graciously rescued them. And so, the Lord gave Moses the Ten Commandments which summarised his moral law and how he wants his people to live. And we saw how that covenant which God made with his people in the days of Moses points forward to the new covenant which God announced in the Old Testament and which was put into effect in the New Testament with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Israelites broke the old, Mosaic covenant, because they could not keep God’s laws; so God promised to make a new covenant with his people. And so he promised to write his law on our hearts, hearts which have been made new so that we’re able to love God like never before; and he promised to give us his Spirit to help us to walk in his ways; and he promised to forgive our sins and to remember them no more. And this new, better covenant was put into effect by Jesus Christ.

And then, after the Lord made his covenant with the Israelites at Mount Sinai, and after he gave them the Ten Commandments to show them how they were to live as his people, the Lord gave them all those additional laws and instructions concerning the tabernacle, which was to be God’s dwelling-place among his people at that time. So, there were instructions about what was to go into the tabernacle; and about how the tabernacle was to be built; and about the clothes Aaron and the priests were to wear; and about how to consecrate the priests; and there were other instructions as well, all to do with how they were to worship the Lord in those days.

So, from chapter 25 to chapter 31 the Lord gave them instructions on how to make these things. And then, from chapter 35 to chapter 40 we read how they obeyed those instructions and made the Tabernacle and everything else just as the Lord had commanded. So, chapters 35 to 40 repeat the material that’s in chapters 25 to 31. That’s why we’re skipping over those chapters this evening, because in a sense we’ve already dealt with them when we were studying chapters 25 to 31. And when we were going through chapters 25 to 31, I tried to show how all of those instructions about that earthly tabernacle point forward to Jesus Christ, our Great High Priest, and to the true, heavenly sanctuary where God dwells in glory, and where we will one day come if we believe in Jesus Christ and remain faithful to him. And so, when we read about the tabernacle and all the things in it, it should awaken and strengthen our faith in the Saviour, because all those instructions about the tabernacle are designed to point us upwards to heaven and to Jesus Christ our Saviour.

But then, we saw that even while God was instructing Moses about all these things, the people were rebelling against the Lord. Because of their unbelief and sin they made for themselves a golden calf to be their god and they bowed down before it and worshipped it. Already they had turned away from the Lord and rebelled against him. Already they had broken the covenant that he had made with them. And the Lord was angry with them, and he threatened to destroy them. But Moses interceded for the people: he prayed for them and he pleaded with the Lord to show them mercy.

And sure enough, the Lord who is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, did not treat them as their sins deserve and he did not deal with them according to their iniquity. Instead he renewed his covenant with them which they had broken and he promised that he would not destroy them, but would go with them to bring them at last to the Promised Land. And we thought about how God always provides his people with a Mediator, someone who is able to make peace between God and sinners: he provided the Israelites with Moses, but he provides us with Jesus Christ his Son, who made a lasting peace between God and sinners when he paid for our sins by his death on the cross.

The Bible began with Adam and Eve, God’s people; living in the place he provided for them, the Garden of Eden; where they enjoyed his presence in their midst. But because of their unbelief and sin, Adam and Eve lost the place God had prepared for them and they lost God’s presence in their midst. But God had a plan to put things right, a plan which he revealed to Abraham and which he put into action when he multiplied Abraham’s descendants and made them a mighty nation.

And in the book of Exodus we’ve seen how the Lord began to lead his people out of their captivity to bring them to the place he had prepared for them, the Promised Land of Canaan where they would enjoy his presence in their midst. And, of course, God’s plan for Abraham and his descendants foreshadows his plan for Christ and his church, because right now the Lord is multiplying the members of the church of Jesus Christ. Through the preaching of the gospel and by the power of the Holy Spirit he’s converting men and women and boys and girls to faith in Christ and he’s bringing them into his kingdom. And one day, when the time is right, he will bring the members of the church — while will be a multitude of people from every nation — into the place he has prepared for us, the new heaven and the new earth where we will enjoy the presence of the Lord for ever and for ever.

So that’s a review of what we’ve seen so far: And now we come to the end of the book of Exodus, the climax to this book. So, the Lord has renewed his covenant with the people, the covenant they broke. They have constructed the Tabernacle and everything else according to all God’s instructions. And so we read at the end of verse 33 that Moses finished the work the Lord gave him to do. What happened next? —

Verses 34 and 35

In verse 34 we read that the cloud — and this is the glory-cloud which signified God’s presence and which up to now had appeared at the top of Mount Sinai — it moved from the top of Mount Sinai to cover the Tabernacle’s Tent of Meeting and to fill the Tabernacle with God’s glory. The Tabernacle, you see, was designed to be God’s dwelling place, his home among the Israelites. Just as the people lived in tents at that time, so the Lord was going to dwell among them at that time in a tent. And now that his home was built, he was able to move in.

And so, this glory-cloud revealed God’s presence; it showed that God was with his people and he would not leave them or forsake them, but that he would continue to be with them on their way to the Promised Land. And you see there in verse 35 that God’s glory is so overwhelming that not even Moses was able to enter the Tent of Meeting whenever the Lord moved in. Like everyone else, he had to remain outside, because the Lord was there.

The Lord dwelt among his people in those days in the Tabernacle. Later, whenever the Israelites were settled in the land of Israel, the Lord dwelt among his people in the Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple was made of stone and was a more permanent version of the Tabernacle. And so, in those days, when the people wanted to worship the Lord and offer him sacrifices, they would come to his house in Jerusalem and appear before him there.

So, in the days of the Old Testament, the Lord dwelt among his people in the Tabernacle and in the Temple, But then, years later, God dwelt among his people in a very different way. He dwelt among them in the person of his Son. Do you remember how the Gospel of John begins?

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made…. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

The words translated ‘dwelt among us’ can also be translated ‘tabernacled among us’, because when the Eternal Son of God became incarnate — when he became one of us — it was God, tabernacling with us, dwelling with us. And John went on to say:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Moses and the Israelites saw the glory-cloud of the Lord; but John and his contemporaries saw the glory of God in the face of Christ.

God dwelt among his people in the days of Moses in a cloud which rested on the Tabernacle. Later he dwelt among his people in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ. What about now, now that the Lord Jesus has ascended to heaven? Well, now he dwells in his people by his Spirit, because after the Lord Jesus died and was raised and ascended to heaven, he poured out upon his people the Holy Spirit. So, the Lord God now dwells in each one of his people by his Spirit; and he works in us by his Spirit to renew us more and more in his likeness so that we might obey him and walk in his ways and bring glory to his name. So, he’s in every believer. But he’s also in the church. According to Paul in his letter to the Ephesians, the church of Jesus Christ is God’s dwelling place, where he lives by his Spirit. Once he dwelt among his people in the Temple; but now he dwells among his people when they meet together as the church to worship him.

Where can God be found? Well, he’s found here, every Sunday, because whenever God’s people meet together, God is among us by his Spirit. He’s here to receive our praise and to hear our prayers. And through the reading and preaching of his word, he speaks to us to make his will known to us and to awaken and to strengthen our faith in him. And then he works through the sacraments to strengthen our faith and to help us to persevere.

In the days of Moses, the Lord appeared in that glory-cloud and he was present with his people in that one place, in that one Tabernacle. But now he’s with every one of his people by his Spirit; and he’s present with his people across the world whenever they meet for worship. And God is able to dwell among us like this because of the work of Christ, who died to pay for our sins. Through faith in the Lord Jesus, our guilt is taken away and we have peace with God; and so he’s able to dwell in us and among us and to be with us always.

Verses 36 to 38

But turn back to the text, because while verses 34 and 35 tell us how God was present with his people at that time, verses 36 to 38 make clear that they still hadn’t finished their pilgrimage and they still hadn’t completed their journey; they were not yet at their destination. And so, in verse 36 it speaks about their travels. They were travelling through the wilderness, as pilgrims on the way to the Promised Land. And in all their travels, whenever the glory-cloud lifted from above the Tabernacle, they would set out. They would pack up their tents and everything else and continue their journey. If the cloud did not lift, they remained where they were. But when the cloud lifted, that was the sign to pack up and move on. And, as verse 38 tells us, the cloud of the Lord was over the Tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel during all their travels. So, they were still pilgrims on the way, travelling to their true home.

And we too are pilgrims on the way to our true home. Although the Lord dwells in each of his people personally by his Spirit, and though he was dwells among us whenever we meet for worship, we haven’t yet reached our final destination. We’re only pilgrims on the way to the new heaven and the new earth where all of God’s people will enjoy perfect peace and rest for ever and for ever. The Israelites were on their way to the land of Canaan; and we’re on our way to the new creation.

In the book of Hebrews, the Lord refers to the people of Israel in the wilderness in order to warn believers today who are pilgrims on the way to the new heaven and the new earth. And so the writer says:

Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’

Most of the Israelites who had escaped from Egypt died in the desert. They didn’t make it to Canaan, because of their unbelief and sin. They didn’t make it to the Promised Land. And so, the Lord is warning us to be careful lest we become like them. And so he continues to say to us:

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

That’s the message for us today and every day. Do not harden your hearts to God. Watch out that you don’t have an unbelieving heart that will cause you to fall away from the living God. Exhort and encourage one another so that none of us will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. You see, sin can deceive us: it promises us so much, but in the end it leads to destruction. And so, we’re to encourage one another so that we’re not taken in by sin and temptation, but will always pay attention to God’s word and obey his commands and do his will and walk in his ways and trust in him with all our heart.

The Israelites heard the gospel, the Lord says in Hebrews. They heard the gospel, but it did them no good because they did not receive it with faith. So we must always trust in the Lord and believe his gospel, the gospel of Jesus Christ who died for sinners to bring us to God. And if we believe in him and keep believing in him, then he will bring us to God; and he’ll bring us into the new heaven and the new earth, if we will only trust in him and walk in his ways. And if we do that — if we trust in him and walk in his ways — then we can look forward to the day when our pilgrimage will be over and we’ll come at last to the new creation. And on that day, all of God’s people — a great multitude which cannot be counted from every nation — will be in the place God has prepared for us; and then we’ll enjoy his presence with us for ever and for ever.

The book of Exodus ends with Moses and the Israelites on their way to the Promised Land. And we too are on our way to the Promised Land. But we must keep believing, and we must walk in the ways of the Lord, and we must encourage one another to do the same, so that we will not stumble and fall away, but will keep going to the end.