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Note: This picture is not found in the book, but is more of a “catch-all” picture for the tabernacle. Because of this verse, you have some ground to talk about any of the parts of the tabernacle as a picture of Christ. The book’s next pages will only focus on two specific pictures with direct New Testament references, but I wanted to at least introduce the overall tabernacle. Thus this is a bonus page!
Fact About Christ: Christ is the true tabernacle
And the Word became flesh, and did tabernacle among us– John 1:14a, Young’s Literal Translation
The tabernacle is the primary topic of the second half of the book of Exodus, spanning from chapter 25 to the last chapter of the book, chapter 40. It is so important a picture that both the instructions given and the construction process are recounted with extreme detail. This post will only be a simple introduction to the tabernacle. Those interested in more detail about the tabernacle, it’s furnishings, and its significance for the believer can find many, many more resources on this site to satiate their curiosity.
We begin our story in the third month after the sons of Israel leave the land of Egypt, three days after they reach the wilderness of Sinai.
On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.– Exodus 19:16-20
Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.– Exodus 20:18-21
Moses brings the Israelites out of their camp to meet God, for the Lord has descended on Mount Sinai. There is smoke and fire, thunder and lightning, and the sound of a loud trumpet. The mountain itself quakes. What is the people’s response? This is too much for them! God Himself is present. This is different from the signs and miracles and plagues. God comes to meet with the people, but the people do not want to approach Him. Instead, they ask Moses to be a mediator for them, that he would speak to God on their behalf.
Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the Lord dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.
The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the people of Israel, that they take for me a contribution. From every man whose heart moves him you shall receive the contribution for me. And this is the contribution that you shall receive from them: gold, silver, and bronze, blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, goats’ hair, tanned rams’ skins, goatskins, acacia wood, oil for the lamps, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, onyx stones, and stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece. And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it.– Exodus 24:15-25:9
Despite the Israelites’ response, God tells Moses an interesting thing―“I want to dwell among the people!” From the very people who are too afraid to go up the mountain to meet God, He asks for a free-will contribution to make a sanctuary so He can dwell in their midst. This is the tabernacle. Even without this sanctuary, there is no hindrance to the display of God’s glory and greatness, yet His desire is to be among them.
Then all the congregation of the people of Israel departed from the presence of Moses. And they came, everyone whose heart stirred him, and everyone whose spirit moved him, and brought the Lord’s contribution to be used for the tent of meeting, and for all its service, and for the holy garments. So they came, both men and women. All who were of a willing heart brought brooches and earrings and signet rings and armlets, all sorts of gold objects, every man dedicating an offering of gold to the Lord. And every one who possessed blue or purple or scarlet yarns or fine linen or goats’ hair or tanned rams’ skins or goatskins brought them. Everyone who could make a contribution of silver or bronze brought it as the Lord’s contribution. And every one who possessed acacia wood of any use in the work brought it. And every skillful woman spun with her hands, and they all brought what they had spun in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen. All the women whose hearts stirred them to use their skill spun the goats’ hair. And the leaders brought onyx stones and stones to be set, for the ephod and for the breastpiece, and spices and oil for the light, and for the anointing oil, and for the fragrant incense. All the men and women, the people of Israel, whose heart moved them to bring anything for the work that the Lord had commanded by Moses to be done brought it as a freewill offering to the Lord.– Exodus 35:20-29
And Moses called Bezalel and Oholiab and every craftsman in whose mind the Lord had put skill, everyone whose heart stirred him up to come to do the work. And they received from Moses all the contribution that the people of Israel had brought for doing the work on the sanctuary. They still kept bringing him freewill offerings every morning, so that all the craftsmen who were doing every sort of task on the sanctuary came, each from the task that he was doing, and said to Moses, “The people bring much more than enough for doing the work that the Lord has commanded us to do.” So Moses gave command, and word was proclaimed throughout the camp, “Let no man or woman do anything more for the contribution for the sanctuary.” So the people were restrained from bringing, for the material they had was sufficient to do all the work, and more.– Exodus 36:2-7
How do the Israelites respond to what is on God’s heart? Everyone whose heart stirred him and those whose heart moved them bring freewill offerings to the Lord. They bring every sort of material required to build the tabernacle, so much so that Moses even has to stop them, for they bring more than is needed. Wow! What a change this is! Despite their initial fear and trembling, after hearing that God desires a sanctuary that He could dwell among them, hearts were moved. God could have just commanded it from them, and surely they would have obeyed. But isn’t this a much sweeter picture? God reveals His desire and in turn, men’s hearts are moved and they freely, willingly, joyfully offer what they have to carry out that desire.
And he erected the court around the tabernacle and the altar, and set up the screen of the gate of the court. So Moses finished the work.
Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out. But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys.
The Lord called Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying– Exodus 40:33 – Leviticus 1:1
After the people of Israel willingly offer all the materials needed for the construction of the tabernacle, it gets built exactly according to the pattern shown to Moses. And upon completion of the building work, the glory of the Lord fills the tabernacle. God is finally among His people! His glory could be right there in their midst. There is still a cloud and fire, but this depiction is not nearly as terrifying as the mountain. With this story in mind, the first verse in Leviticus, the very next book, becomes so meaningful. The Lord calls Moses and speaks to him from the tent of meeting. No longer does Moses have to climb up to the top of the mountain to speak with the Lord, but the Lord has His sanctuary there among his people.
What does the New Testament say about it?
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.– John 1:14
The book of John begins with a grand statement: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Then, verse fourteen continues with another striking statement: And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The word translated “dwelt” in Greek is ἐσκήνωσεν (eskēnōsen), which is derived from σκηνόω (skénoó) and defined by the Strong’s Concordance as to have one’s tent, dwell. Young’s Literal Translation renders it as tabernacled. The Lord Jesus didn’t just dwell with men, He tabernacled among them.
So what does this picture say about Christ?
There’s almost too much that can be said. Each detail in the picture of the tabernacle is rich with meaning. We’ll settle for just a few overall points: glory, fellowship, and building.
The eternal Word tabernacled among men, and what did they see? Glory. Glory full of grace and truth. Before the tabernacle was built, God’s presence and glory brought fear and trembling. But through the tabernacle, man was able to see God’s glory in an approachable way. In those days, the tabernacle was only for the children of Israel, yet Christ is for all men. Through Christ today, Christians and seekers all over the world can behold God’s glory and see it is full of grace and truth.
From the verses in Exodus, we can also have a small taste of the deep heart of God to be with and among His people. After Adam sinned, the fellowship he had with God, walking together in the cool of the garden, was broken, but God’s desire to fellowship with man remained. The Israelites were afraid of His speaking from the mountain, but the tabernacle was a step toward the full fellowship we can have with God through the Spirit.
Lastly, the tabernacle is also a picture of the church, God’s corporate building. Our God is a God who builds. Throughout the ages, He has been involved with a lot of building work. In Moses’s day, He built the tabernacle. In our day, He is building His church (Matthew 16:18). What can be seen about the church here? From John 1:14, we see the tabernacle is Christ. The church, when it is built, is also just Christ. Just as the entirety of the tabernacle is of Christ, so the constitution of the church can be nothing other than Christ. To build the church ultimately isn’t a matter of creeds and doctrine, of programs or community, but of believers being transformed into gold, silver, and precious stones by the nature of God, the redemption of Christ, and the work of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:12).
What does this mean for me as a Christian?
When God, through Moses, revealed His plan for a sanctuary to be built so that He could dwell among His people, their hearts were moved. This is the first and foremost need. God desired that those whose hearts stirred within them could bring freewill offerings of whatever they had that was needed to build the tabernacle. Do you see that God’s desire to dwell among His people hasn’t changed from their time to ours? His building work today is still one of freewill offerings! Oh, dear reader, that you could see and know the depths of God’s heart! Your portion, all your heart and soul and strength and mind, is needed to build the church of Christ!
Although Christ tabernacled among men and this allowed men to see His glory, full of grace and truth, God’s desire for all mankind is yet unfulfilled. Today, the church is an extension of this wonderful Christ! Through the built-up church, God can have full fellowship with men in spirit, and His glory can be displayed to all men and even to all the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places (Eph 3:10)! And you have something that God needs for His building! May your heart be moved to offer yourself freely for His building work today!
Have any inspirations or questions about the content of the article? Or do you just want to say hello and introduce yourself? We’d love to hear from all our readers! Leave a comment or send an email to email@example.com with the title of this post in the subject line. If you are burning to engage with us, but don’t know what to say, here are some questions that could be a help:
- God’s glory shone forth through the tabernacle in a way that was more approachable to the people of Israel. It shone through the incarnate Christ in a way that’s full of grace and truth. Has God’s glory ever shone through His church in a way that could really reach you?
- Fellowship with God through the tabernacle was still a limited thing. There were many regulations to worship properly at the tabernacle, and many portions were limited to priests or even the high priest only. Today, we can have much freer fellowship with God in our spirit. How have you had fellowship with God today?
- The tabernacle required many different materials and many different kinds of skills to build. Without the freewill offering of many different Israelites with different portions given, the tabernacle in its entirety could not have been completed. What is your unique portion you can offer for God’s building work today, His church?