The Wondrous Tabernacle
After several months break, we continue today with the seismic morning project we began last year; namely the applied study of the major blocks of teaching found in Scripture.
For those new to the church, this project began with a series titled “God’s Presence in History”. In it we traced one of the many rich biblical themes encompassing the history of the redemption of God’s people. We noted how the presence of God is entwined throughout this wonderful history, which runs from the first to the last things.
Having taken in the scope of this history, we then began to retrace it, camping out at the most significant stopping-off points along its route. In the first rest area, we considered together in 12 sermons the Ten Commandments. We don’t progress very much further through Exodus before coming to our next stopping-off point: the Tabernacle (Exod. 25:1-31:11; 35:4-40:38).
Valuing the Tabernacle
It is perhaps especially important that we consider the Tabernacle (and, in the next morning series, the sacrificial system), for we tend to be too weak in our biblical knowledge and appreciation of the relevance of major blocks of Old Testament teaching. Writes Peter Trumper:
“Of all the mighty themes of Scripture, this one [the Tabernacle] is alarmingly neglected today, and to the detriment of the elect. Many of the errors of the modern church would have been avoided, the awesome holiness of God and the Gospel of Christ better understood, had Christians been regularly led on a guided ‘tour’ around ‘the tent of the congregation’. Pastors there is still time!” (Eternal Majesty Penetrating Time [StewART, UK, 2006], 9).
Although it took a year to construct the Tabernacle, it was used for 500 years. It is mentioned, reputedly, in 50 chapters of Scripture. Not only does Moses record the pattern God gave him for the Tabernacle (Exod. 25:1-31:11), he also repeats the detail when recording its construction (Exod. 35:4-40:38). All these factors evince the importance of the Tabernacle in God’s instruction and building up of his people. It is the very weighty significance that God attaches to the Tabernacle that forewarns us against dismissing it as a mere relic of the infancy of the church. Christ has fulfilled in his person and work the meaning of the Tabernacle and its elements (Jn 1:14), but this does not mean that it no longer has significance for us. This significance is seen not only in its generalities, but also in its specifics: the collection of the materials (the Heave Offering), the Ark of the Testimony, the Table of Showbread, the Gold Lampstand, the Altar of Incense, the Altar of Burnt Offering, the Bronze Laver, the Court of the Tabernacle, the Priestly robes etc.
Learning from the Tabernacle
While the degree to which we learn from the series on the Tabernacle is dependent on the blessing of God’s Spirit, we know that God uses means to bring home to us the lessons He has for us. Notably, He calls those of us who preach to do so to the best of the abilities He’s given us. This entails being faithful to the text of Scripture and clear in our presentation. He also expects us to apply the message boldly, and in a way that captures the major focus of the meaning of the Tabernacle (in this instance). All this said, there are also expectations on congregants.
First, be challenged. Bear in mind that God called for the Tabernacle to be built as a visual aid. He intended it to serve as a grand illustration of the gospel, so that the church in the days of her infancy could comprehend its chief elements. To say that we Christians of the new covenant era ~ the era of the church’s maturity ~ cannot comprehend the Tabernacle is akin to claiming that we are unable to read the books of our infant children or grandchildren! We need to search within, then, when claiming we don’t understand. While the preacher may be at fault, is it not also possible that the problem may be ours: a want of love for God, His Word, and His ancient people, which leaves us satisfied with the superficial and bemoaning the call to engage our minds. If you’re accustomed to paddling in the shallower end of God’s Word, but have yet to plunge into its deeper waters, might not God be calling you to venture out a little deeper into God’s Word? You’ll not regret it! Has there ever been a swimmer who wanted to go back to paddling?
Second, be focused. For all the intricate details of the pattern and construction of the Tabernacle, its message is very basic, and revolves around three critical facts: the awe-inspiring majestic holiness of God, the reality and gravity of human sin, the wonderful life-saving grace and mercy of God understood and received by means of priestly atonement.
Henry Law (1797-1844) writes of ‘the wondrous Tabernacle’ (The Gospel in Exodus [London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1967], 97). When we take up the challenge of the study and embark on it with the right focus, will we look back on the series in days to come acknowledging not only the relevance of the latter chapters of Exodus and the material elegance of the Tabernacle, but above all its life-changing message; namely, that the God who rules in heaven and earth has taken the initiative to meet with us. This begs the question, What have we done with that initiative?