After finishing up my series on how Titus Chu portrays the stages of the Christian life using the story of Creation, I found myself really struck by God’s grand view. He isn’t simply interested in us getting saved, or serving faithfully, or giving to the poor, or going on missions trips, or leading good Bible studies. His interest is in His beloved Son, Jesus Christ. All that God has spoken and done, and all of the various people He has worked with and on and through within the pages of scripture is intended to point us towards this person. It is like the Father is funneling His children towards His only begotten. There is one picture in the Bible which I feel strongly captures the image of “funneling” us towards God in Christ Jesus, and that is the topic of this next series: The Tabernacle.
What is it?
But before we get into all the nitty gritty of all the different stages we can see in the tabernacle, I feel like we should lay some groundwork by answering a question many of you may have: what is the tabernacle?
Well, this is:
Of course, that doesn’t explain very much. So let’s go to the book of Exodus. The description of the tabernacle basically takes up the entire second half of this book, which should really underscore just how important this was to God. So let’s look at where the tabernacle is first mentioned in order to find its purpose.
Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Tell the sons of Israel to raise a contribution for Me; from every man whose heart moves him you shall raise My contribution. This is the contribution which you are to raise from them: gold, silver and bronze, blue, purple and scarlet material, fine linen, goat hair, rams’ skins dyed red, porpoise skins, acacia wood, oil for lighting, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, onyx stones and setting stones for the ephod and for the breastpiece. Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them. According to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furniture, just so you shall construct it.
(Exodus 25:1-9, NASB, emphasis added)
According to this passage, God desired the sons of Israel to construct a sanctuary for Him so that God could dwell among them. This dwelling place is called “the tabernacle.”
It is where God chose to dwell among His chosen people. In the New Testament, this dwelling was realized in a new and more fantastic way when “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14a, ESV).
We could spend a whole article just talking about the significance of that verse from John, but that is not the focus here. If you want to read more on how Christ Jesus is the real tabernacle, I recommend reading our Read with Me article on the very topic!
The Parts and Pieces
Our goal today is to introduce all of the terminology and layout of the tabernacle so we can be better equipped for speaking about its various parts over the coming weeks. I found this neat diagram which shows the basic layout of the whole thing.
The tabernacle consisted of three parts:
- The outer court, which surrounded the structure, was a large area (150ft x 75ft) enclosed by curtains held up by bronze pillars with a linen gate as an entrance on the eastern side. Any Israelite was permitted to enter this part, and it is where many of the sacrifices were made. The altar of burnt offering and the laver were both found in the eastern half of the outer court, near the entrance, and the tent of meeting (the main structure of the tabernacle) was on the western half of the court.
- The tent of meeting is the large structure on the western side of the outer court. It is sometimes called the tabernacle itself. It was made of gold-plated wood covered with various layers of cloth and animal skins. Inside, the tent of meeting formed two “rooms” which make up the remaining two parts of the tabernacle
- The holy place was the first “room” of the tent of meeting and contained three pieces of furniture: the golden lampstand, the showbread table, and the golden incense altar. Only the priests were allowed to enter this holy chamber, which was separated from the outer court by a linen screen.
- The holy of holies, also called the “most holy place” or the “holiest place” or the “holiest of all,” was the “back room” of the tabernacle. Separating the holy place from the holy of holies was a fine linen veil embroidered with cherubim. As its name implies, the holy of holies was the most holy place in the whole camp. It was here that the ark of the covenant was kept. Only the high priest could enter the holy of holies, and even then only once per year, on the Day of Atonement.
Distributed throughout the three parts of the tabernacle were six pieces of furniture:
- The altar of burnt offerings, which is where the Israelites offered up their sacrifices and offerings to Jehovah
- The bronze laver was essentially a large bronze water basin. It was placed in the outer court, between the altar and the tent of meeting. The priests would wash their hands and their feet before either entering the tent of meeting or ministering at the bronze altar.
- The showbread table, which held the bread of the presence in the holy place. Every week the priests would replace the 12 loaves of bread, eating the old and sanctifying the new.
- The golden lampstand was a lampstand made of pure gold and kept in the holy place. The priests were responsible for keeping oil in the lamps and its wicks trimmed so that it burned continually.
- The golden incense altar stood in front of the veil to the holiest place. It is here that the priests burned fragrant incense to the Lord.
- The ark of the covenant was the only furniture which was in the holiest place. Inside of the ark was a jar of manna, the stone tablets which contained the ten commandments, and Aaron’s budding rod. On top was the mercy seat. On the Day of Atonement each year, the high priest would sprinkle blood on the ark. It represented the glory of God among the nation of Israel.
The tabernacle was the sanctuary for God to dwell among Israel before they came into the Promised Land. It was the place where the glory of God dwelt among His chosen people, and also where His people served Him and offered sacrifices and offerings to Him. Hopefully this overview gives us a basic idea of the layout and structure of the main parts of the tabernacle. In this series we will look more closely at each part of the structure and each piece of furniture to understand how it relates to our Christian life. First up: the Outer Court.