Imagine a fifteen-by-forty-five-foot house, constructed of three tons of gold, five tons of silver, four tons of brass, and an assortment of jewels, fine wood, and fancy tapestries.. . .
The unique structure and value of the tabernacle command our attention. Never before nor since has there been such a costly prefab structure. . .?
You will find a drawing of this tabernacle on the previous pages, and you should try to visualise it as the focal point of Israel's worship for at least 300 years - that is, from the time of Moses to the erection of Solomon's temple.?
During those three centuries the liturgies and sacrifices prescribed for the service of the tabernacle were sometimes scrupulously observed, and sometimes almost entirely ignored. Nonetheless, it seems that the tabernacle never lacked an attendant priest, and it remained in more or less continual use right up until the day it was finally dismantled and transferred with all of its equipment to Solomon's temple. It is probable that the Ark of the Covenant was the only piece of the original furniture used in the temple. Solomon rebuilt all of the other furniture, probably on a larger scale, and then stored the original tabernacle, its vessels and its furnishings, in the temple as sacred relics.
There are many problems associated with any attempt to interpret the data given in scripture about the tabernacle. Some parts of the structure are described in extraordinary detail, while the descriptions of other parts are remarkably vague. Confusion exists as to whether there were two structures called "the tent of meeting" and "the tabernacle", or whether both names referred to the same sanctuary. There is debate about the history of the tabernacle, about many of the measurements that are given, about the design and appearance of the main structure and of each item of furniture, about the typical significance of the various objects and ceremonies, and so on.
This study will not enter into these disputes. If you desire more information on the historicity of the tabernacle, its place in the national life of Israel, the difficulties associated with its design and function, its similarity to other portable sanctuaries that were used in Bible lands prior to the time of Moses, the problems which exist in the scripture datum itself, then you should turn to any major conservative commentary on Exodus, or to a comprehensive Bible encyclopedia.
The stance adopted in these notes is:
- the tabernacle was a truly historical structure.
- the biblical records are accurate and reliable in all that they assert concerning the tabernacle.
that difficulties in interpreting the text result from insufficient information, not from textual errors.
that an understanding of the various types should be sought which is cautious and in complete harmony with the teaching of the NT. However, no infallibility is claimed for the explanations and applications offered in the following pages.
Generally I have preferred a fairly standard interpretation, and I have sought to maintain a uniform presentation. Extreme positions have been avoided (although I know that there are some who think that any position is extreme which attempts to give even a modestly detailed application of the tabernacle to present Christian experience.) There are many different ways to approach biblical typology, and what is presented here does not by any means exhaust the available options.
At this point someone may ask, "Why bother with the subject at all?" As one anonymous enquirer put it: "Why should we study an ancient structure used by people long since deceased to perform religious rites no longer observed?"
The answer is given to us by the apostles -
Now these things (the experiences of ancient Israel) . . . were written down for our instruction, upon whom the end of the ages has come (1 Co 10:11) . . . (which) the Holy Spirit indicates . . . is symbolic for this present age (He 9:1-9).
So the tabernacle has a two-fold significance -
The tabernacle with its priests and their ministry was foundational to the religious life of Israel. The basic concept was that which underlays the theocracy itself: the Lord dwelling in visible glory in his sanctuary among his people (Ex 25:8) . . . (It has value) because of its embodiment of important religious and spiritual concepts. It reveals:
- The necessary conditions upon which Israel could maintain fellowship in covenant relationship with the Lord;
- The dominant truth of the presence of God in the midst of his people (29:25), a dwelling that must conform in every detail with his divine character, that is, his unity and holiness. One God requires one sanctuary; the holy God demands a holy people (Le 19:2).
- The perfection and harmony of the Lord's character seen in the aesthetics of the tabernacle's architecture, the gradations in metals and materials, the degrees of sanctity exhibited in the court, the holy place, and the holiest, and the measurements of the tabernacle
The NT repeatedly cites different features (of the tabernacle, and uses them) to teach deep spiritual truth . . . The Mount of Transfiguration experience (Mt 17:4; etc) harks back to the tabernacle of Moses. John in his prologue (1:14) makes much of the Incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ as the tabernacling among men. The testimony of Stephen (Ac 7:44) is unmistakable. Paul directly equates the cross of Calvary as God's mercy seat, or propitiatory, in finalising the redemption of sinful man (Ro 3:25). In speaking of regeneration he had in mind the laver in Tit 3:5. The proper interpretation of Cl 1:19 and 2:9 will relate them to the dwelling presence of God in the tabernacle of old. The epistle to the Hebrews is inexplicable without the teaching of the worship of Israel and their priesthood residing in the tabernacle. Passages such as Re 8:3, 4; 13:6; 15:5; 21:3 are too clear to need comment.?
These things, and many others, are explored in the pages that follow.