The symbolism of the Tabernacle has much to teach us about worship

Covenant of Promise  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  30:38
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A wilderness journey can seem like an empty time.
A wasted time of aimless wandering, a time of not really knowing why or where to next.
A time when little is achieved.
Most people I talk to who have reflected on a wilderness time in their life actually tell me that at the time it seemed exactly like that, empty and barren.
But as they have had opportunity to examine what happened they have realised that somewhere within that time there was something of profound significance.
An understanding of self.
An understanding of meaning.
And most importantly a greater understanding of the nature of God and his desire for relationship.
The wilderness experience is an opportunity to see life from God’s point of view.[1]
Sadly so many waste the opportunity when it comes across their path.
An opportunity when so much can be learnt.
The people of Israel had such an opportunity in their wilderness experience.
The miracles of deliverance from Egypt, deliverance from starvation & dehydration.
The incredible revelation of the Holiness of the Lord and the giving of his law on Mt Sinai.
The instructions for the building of the tabernacle and its consecration as a place where God’s presence dwelt.
In the wilderness there was so much to learn, so much that was meant to guide them through the future.
But so quickly, even with these things right in front of them they forgot the lessons.
Three & a half thousand years later, when we look at the tabernacle many of us find it hard to understand its significance.
It wasn’t just a portable church, where Israel could come and worship.
Nor was it just a place where God dwelt, a focal point for the community as they camped in the wilderness.
It was also an object lesson, a physical structure whose symbolism was to be a constant reminder of how to approach God in worship and the attitude of heart that he desired.
1/ The generosity of provision for the tabernacle is a challenge to our attitude of worship.
Do we give the best of ourselves & our possessions to God?
Or do we wear ourselves out with business and turn up out of duty and give what is left over of ourselves rather than the best of ourselves?
Israel had possibly been in the wilderness for a couple of years before the tabernacle was built.
It was a time of preparation.
There were many things that needed to be sorted out.
But above all was the question of their attitude towards God.
Were they willing to dedicate their time to him?
Listen to his command in Exodus 35:1-3
Exodus 35:1–3 NLT
1 Then Moses called together the whole community of Israel and told them, “These are the instructions the Lord has commanded you to follow. 2 You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day must be a Sabbath day of complete rest, a holy day dedicated to the Lord. Anyone who works on that day must be put to death. 3 You must not even light a fire in any of your homes on the Sabbath.”
A second way that this question of their attitude to worship was expressed was in their giving for the Lord’s work.
Listen to this incredible request for materials.
Read Exodus 35:4-21
Exodus 35:4–21 NLT
4 Then Moses said to the whole community of Israel, “This is what the Lord has commanded: 5 Take a sacred offering for the Lord. Let those with generous hearts present the following gifts to the Lord: gold, silver, and bronze; 6 blue, purple, and scarlet thread; fine linen and goat hair for cloth; 7 tanned ram skins and fine goatskin leather; acacia wood; 8 olive oil for the lamps; spices for the anointing oil and the fragrant incense; 9 onyx stones, and other gemstones to be set in the ephod and the priest’s chestpiece. 10 “Come, all of you who are gifted craftsmen. Construct everything that the Lord has commanded: 11 the Tabernacle and its sacred tent, its covering, clasps, frames, crossbars, posts, and bases; 12 the Ark and its carrying poles; the Ark’s cover—the place of atonement; the inner curtain to shield the Ark; 13 the table, its carrying poles, and all its utensils; the Bread of the Presence; 14 for light, the lampstand, its accessories, the lamp cups, and the olive oil for lighting; 15 the incense altar and its carrying poles; the anointing oil and fragrant incense; the curtain for the entrance of the Tabernacle; 16 the altar of burnt offering; the bronze grating of the altar and its carrying poles and utensils; the washbasin with its stand; 17 the curtains for the walls of the courtyard; the posts and their bases; the curtain for the entrance to the courtyard; 18 the tent pegs of the Tabernacle and courtyard and their ropes; 19 the beautifully stitched garments for the priests to wear while ministering in the Holy Place—the sacred garments for Aaron the priest, and the garments for his sons to wear as they minister as priests.” 20 So the whole community of Israel left Moses and returned to their tents. 21 All whose hearts were stirred and whose spirits were moved came and brought their sacred offerings to the Lord. They brought all the materials needed for the Tabernacle, for the performance of its rituals, and for the sacred garments.
Listen to the incredible inventory of supplies received.
Read Exodus 38:24-31
Exodus 38:24–31 NLT
24 The people brought special offerings of gold totaling 2,193 pounds, as measured by the weight of the sanctuary shekel. This gold was used throughout the Tabernacle. 25 The whole community of Israel gave 7,545 pounds of silver, as measured by the weight of the sanctuary shekel. 26 This silver came from the tax collected from each man registered in the census. (The tax is one beka, which is half a shekel, based on the sanctuary shekel.) The tax was collected from 603,550 men who had reached their twentieth birthday. 27 The hundred bases for the frames of the sanctuary walls and for the posts supporting the inner curtain required 7,500 pounds of silver, about 75 pounds for each base. 28 The remaining 45 pounds of silver was used to make the hooks and rings and to overlay the tops of the posts. 29 The people also brought as special offerings 5,310 pounds of bronze, 30 which was used for casting the bases for the posts at the entrance to the Tabernacle, and for the bronze altar with its bronze grating and all the altar utensils. 31 Bronze was also used to make the bases for the posts that supported the curtains around the courtyard, the bases for the curtain at the entrance of the courtyard, and all the tent pegs for the Tabernacle and the courtyard.
Now while we are not exactly certain of the weights that are mentioned our best estimate is that this represented.
994 kg of gold.
3420 kg of silver
2407 kg of bronze
Plus gemstones and vast quantities of fine threads such as purple & scarlet and blue.
As well as significant quantities of animal skins for the outer coverings
And in Exodus 35:25-26 there is special attention given to the work of the women in spinning the yarn; their natural abilities and skills were devoted to serving God.[2]
Exodus 35:25–26 NLT
25 All the women who were skilled in sewing and spinning prepared blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine linen cloth. 26 All the women who were willing used their skills to spin the goat hair into yarn.
When finally the request for the people to give offerings for the construction of the tabernacle came they were so generous that in the end the craftsmen had to tell them to stop bringing gifts.
READ Exodus 36:2-7 The building project was over subscribed.
Exodus 36:2–7 NLT
2 So Moses summoned Bezalel and Oholiab and all the others who were specially gifted by the Lord and were eager to get to work. 3 Moses gave them the materials donated by the people of Israel as sacred offerings for the completion of the sanctuary. But the people continued to bring additional gifts each morning. 4 Finally the craftsmen who were working on the sanctuary left their work. 5 They went to Moses and reported, “The people have given more than enough materials to complete the job the Lord has commanded us to do!” 6 So Moses gave the command, and this message was sent throughout the camp: “Men and women, don’t prepare any more gifts for the sanctuary. We have enough!” So the people stopped bringing their sacred offerings. 7 Their contributions were more than enough to complete the whole project.
It is also a reminder of the attitude required towards where we invest our time & our wealth.
Management of life is an aspect of our worship which helps us have time for God.
How often is it too easy to simply stay in bed on a Sunday morning because we have done too much in the week and not used our time as productively as we could?
There is constructive and productive relaxation, such as watching a favourite sporting event on TV or interacting with friends on facebook.
Or just going for a walk, simply sitting in a peaceful spot and appreciating God’s creation.
Or engaging in a hobby.
Then there is unproductive use of our time.
Things that rob us of time and add to tiredness and result in things being left undone.
Things like watching mindless stuff on TV, or facebook, or you tube.
Or simple procrastination.
Management of our wealth is an aspect of worship which helps us to give generously.
There is nothing wrong with making money, ethically.
Nor is it wrong to enjoy that which the Lord has given you.
Then there is extravagant waste and a lack of generosity towards God and others.
Waste and extravagance such as that represented on a TV show about the world’s most expensive foods.
Or articles about exclusive resorts in the Pacific.
Places with a staff to guest ration of 8 to 1.
Places with less than 40 bungalows on a tropical Isle with 5 or more restaurants to cater for those guests.
A right attitude towards the management of our time and our wealth will help us to enter into God’s presence.
But the wrong attitude leads to idolatry as those who had worshipped the golden calf in Exodus 32 discovered.
Those who had fallen into idolatry and had given gold for the golden calf lost it all.
But those who invested in the tabernacle had the joy of seeing their wealth used for the glory of the Lord.[3]
2/ The second lesson we can learn from the Tabernacle is that it’s design is a guide for our approach to worship.
Every element of the tabernacle had significance in the journey towards the Holy Place.
Every element of the tabernacle has a New Testament parallel in the work of Christ.
Let’s start in from the outside & work our way in and through the tabernacle.
Exodus 38:9 speaks of a curtained courtyard which enclosed the tabernacle.
From the outside you could not see in.
It was a place that you intentionally entered.
Like all ancient temples it was a place that you went to individually or in small groups for a specific reason.
We to need to intentionally enter into God’s presence.
It is no use just wandering along; you have to intentionally desire to seek his presence.
As you entered through the entrance curtain of fine embroidered linen you entered into a large courtyard, enclosed on all sides.
Directly in front of you is the Altar of burnt offerings, which is described in Exodus 38.
Made of the incredibly hard Acacia wood it was overlaid with bronze.
Here the sacrifices would be laid and burnt before the Lord.
The blood of the animals was sprinkled on the 4 corners or “horns” of the altar serving to wash away the sins of the people.
As a person’s & a nation’s life was forfeit because of sin, so a life given atoned for that sin.
Paid for it and took its place.
Here we see a parallel to Christ.
Instead of the endless offerings of the Old Testament, there is one offering once for all.
Just as our lives are forfeit because of our sin, so they are redeemed by the atoning work of Christ on the cross.
Just as the blood of the animals was shed, so Christ’s blood was shed to wash away our sins.
Beyond the altar of burnt offerings was the bronze laver.
It was made from the bronze mirrors that the women who ministered at the tabernacle had used as their mirrors.
Highly polished bronze that was then shaped by master craftsmen into a giant bowl.
The Priest were required to wash before performing any service in the Tabernacle.
Ephesians 5:26 picks up on this idea when it speaks of the Church being washed by the word in Christ.
Our actions, our walk needs to be clean as we approach the Lord.
We do this as we come to the sacrifice of Christ accepting his once for all work on the cross as in a similar way the priests accepted the work of the sacrifice on the altar.
Just as they washed themselves in the bronze laver in preparation for entry into the Holy Place within the tabernacle.
So we to accept the washing of the word which in Christ makes us ready to enter into God’s presence.
Beyond the bronze laver was the curtain, which leads into the Holy Place, inside the actual tent.
This was a place of actual worship, where a number of items symbolically expressed the worship of Israel, the provision of God and his light to the nation.
Exodus 37 tells us that as you entered the Holy Place on one side was a table and on the other side a lamp stand.
Directly in front of you was an altar burning incense.
The table was made of Acacia wood overlaid with pure gold, each Sabbath 12 loves of unleven bread were placed on this table.
These loaves spoke of God’s provision for each of the 12 tribes of Israel.
His presence with them on their journey.
These loaves were made without yeast; they represented being uncontaminated and as such were symbolic of the bread of the Passover.
Opposite the table was the lamp stand, made from one piece of pure Gold.
The lamp stand and its accessories weighted 34 Kg.
It was to be kept constantly lit and while we are not exactly sure of what the light originally represented it was most probably a sign of the Lord’s presence.
It also served a very useful feature of providing light inside what would have otherwise been a very dark tent.
For us the lamp reminds us of Christ as John 8:12 tells us he is the true light of the world or the Holy Spirit who illuminates Christ’s word.
Then in the middle of the Holy place directly in front of the curtain into the Holy of Holies there was the Altar of incense.
Once again made of acacia wood overlaid with pure gold.
Specially blended incense made from the finest materials was offered before the Lord on the Altar.
This was to be a sweet aroma before the Lord.
Perhaps this incense represents the continued intercession of Christ for us before the Father.
Only once all these things had been attended to then the High Priest could enter through the curtain into the Holy of Holies.
It was an especially sacred place, where the very presence of God dwelt.
The most Holy place where the Ark of the Covenant was kept.
The Ark of the Covenant was a chest made of acacia wood, overlaid inside and out with pure gold.
Inside the Ark was kept the stone tablets on which the Lord had written the 10 Commandments, a jar of manna and Aaron’s rod which budded.
If applied to Christ, these things speak of Him as the One who said, “Your law is within my heart” (Ps. 40:8b); as the bread of God come down from heaven (John 6:33); and as the Priest of God’s choosing, risen from the dead (Heb. 7:24–26).
Above was the mercy seat, the lid of the Ark of the Covenant and on that lid were two cherubim.
These cherubim looked down upon the mercy seat and they saw only the blood of sacrifice sprinkled on the mercy seat which cleansed the people from their sins.
Today in Christ there is no curtain separating the place of worship from the place of the very presence of God.
There is no sacrifice repeated to make us clean.
There is the once for all sacrifice of Christ.
Hebrews 10:19-23 tells us
Hebrews 10:19–23 NLT
19 And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. 20 By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. 21 And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, 22 let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise.
Now we could go on and speak of the priestly garments and all of the symbolism which they carry; but time does not permit.
Instead let’s remember the journey, the path which is freely open to us.
The path of Christ.
Let’s intentionally seek to enter into God’s presence.
Let’s avail ourselves of the atonement of our sins through his sacrifice.
Let’s be washed through the sanctification which comes through his word being applied to our lives.
Let’s enter into his light and his presence as a fragrant offering to the Lord.
Let’s come before the mercy seat of God, knowing that our sins are washed away and we can dwell in his presence.
Let’s understand that there is no barrier, no curtain which prevents us from doing so; except that which we put in place.
4/ Let’s also remember that the building of the tabernacle and all its associated items is a reminder of the need for obedience.
Note the refrain “just as the Lord commanded Moses” over and over again.
38:22, 39:1, 39:5, 39:7, 39:21, 39:26, 39:29, 39:31, 39:32, 39:42, 43.
Moses did just as the Lord had commanded.
Here for us is a very valuable lesson.
Wether in the symbolism of the Tabernacle, or the direct command of Christ & his apostles.
The way is open for us to enter into the presence of God through Christ. So let’s do it!
[1] Bill Gothardin Morgan, R. J. (2000). Nelson’s complete book of stories, illustrations, and quotes (electronic ed., p. 772). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers. [2]Carson, D. A., France, R. T., Motyer, J. A., & Wenham, G. J. (Eds.). (1994). New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 119). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press. [3]MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 127). Nashville: Thomas Nelson. [4]Durham, J. I. (1998). Exodus (Vol. 3, pp. 389–390). Dallas: Word, Incorporated. [5]MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 130–131). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
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