The Tabernacle: God’s Plan and Purpose
January - 2005
|God is the greatest communicator that man has ever known and it is His desire to have fellowship with man. He gave us pictures and stories to capture the minds and hearts of children and adults alike. In the Tabernacle you have pictured the separation between a holy God and fallen man and how to approach God. The stories of Adam & Eve, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and Moses are a progression of people and events that capture the hearts and minds of all and illustrate God’s desire to communicate with us. God only used two chapters in Genesis to explain the creation of earth and the heavens while He spent another 50 chapters to unfold the tabernacle.
The first purpose of the Tabernacle begins with the fall of mankind and the promise of God that were given to Satan, as well as to Adam and Eve who where present concerning the Seed of the woman in Genesis 3:15. God promised one who would crush Satan and remove the curse of sin. God narrows that promise down to one family in Genesis 12, with the call of Abraham, where He states that all the world will be blessed through Him (Gen 12:1-3). Later He narrows it down to the tribe of Judah (Gen 49:10) and again to the descendents ofDavid (1 Chron 17:10-14). Yahweh, in His Written Torah (law), gives a three-fold purpose for the Tabernacle: (1) to reveal Himself; (2) to reveal man’s condition apart from God; and (3) to reveal the means by which man may be reconciled to God. The purpose is realized in the themes of Scripture involving three specific subjects: God, Man and Redemption. All three of these themes come together in the Tabernacle. The picture of the Tabernacle in Yeshua (Jesus) brings together the three themes of Scripture in one person: God the Son who became a Man, to redeem man and fulfill the promise of God to all the redeemed.
The second purpose of the tabernacle was to teach and train Israel. God used the form of picture to demonstrate his holiness and reveal the only way that He can be approached by sinful people which was through a prescribed worship and sacrificial system. Israel needed to be taught that because they had been polluted by the idolatry of Egypt. Through observing the Passover Seder in Jewish homes Israel recounts, not just their physical redemption from Egypt, but the total and complete defeat of the gods of Egypt. Israel saw and experienced each one of the plagues upon Egypt, which God aimed at destroying the validity of the Egyptian gods before Israel, so that they would come to love, trust, worship and fellowship with Him with the heart, soul and mind (Deut 6:5). The Book of Exodus sets forth the deliverance from Egypt in the context of a spiritual struggle with the pagan Egyptian gods. The ten plagues not only became a judgment upon the polytheistic Egyptian religion, but they were also a clear contest between Yahweh and the Egyptian gods in order that allIsrael might understand who is Lord. Israel saw the futility of idol worship as each of the lifeless gods of the Egyptians were defeated and humiliated. In contrast, no man made idol can stand before the living God, Yahweh, for He alone is God.
Grace in the Torah
We usually speak of the doctrine of grace in the New Covenant, but Yahweh shows His grace in the Torah. In the ancient world there was confusion as to how to respond to their gods because they did not know what the gods expected. Time and space, in this article, will not allow for the quoting of an ancient prayer written in Sumerian, dating back to the second millennium, which was preserved in the library of Ashurbanipal, one of the kings of Assyria in the seventh century B.C. However, in summary, the threefold theme behind this ancient prayer is as follows:
(1) He did not know which god he had offended;
(2) He did not know what the offense was; and
(3) He did not know what it would take to satisfy the god or gods.
Can you imagine the total confusion of the worshipper of the god or gods in the ancient world? Compare that with the God of Israel. First, when Israel sinned they knew who they offended. Second, there was no question as to which god they were to worship because their God, Yahweh, was one LORD, there were no others. The defeat and humiliation of the Egyptians gods made that very clear. Lastly, Israel knew exactly who God was and what He expected of them when they sinned against Him, and that was God’s demonstration of grace in the Torah.
By giving the Torah to the Jewish people, Yahweh removed all questions as to who they worshipped and what displeased Him. When Moses received the instructions for the Tabernacle, Israel was very aware of the fact that Yahweh was meeting with Moses on Mt.Sinai. God gave the Torah to Moses, and part of that Torah was the Tabernacle and the sacrificial system.
There are several points that should be observed in Exodus 25. In verse 8 it is Yahweh’s desire for them to make a sanctuary for Him so that He could dwell with them. God’s desire to fellowship with Israel is clearly spoken. Notice, it is not Moses’ suggestion but God’s initiative to come and dwell among His people. Again, this was a unique thing in the ancient world. In verse 9 God shows Moses exactly what He wants them to build. In His instruction God gives the “pattern” of what was to be constructed from His position or from His presence outward. When man approaches Yahweh, he is coming from without and into God’s presence. Notice, Moses was to make the Tabernacle according to what was shown to him on Mt.Sinai. The writer of Hebrews (8:2, 5) specifically states that Moses built it according to the “pattern” of what he had seen, and then the author of Hebrews quotes Exodus 25:40.
From the construction of the Tabernacle, God gives Israel a picture of who He is and what He expects from them as sinners when they approach Him. Time will not permit me to go into detail, but consider the following to develop a mental image.
The Outer Fence and Gate:
The Tabernacle was surrounded by a white linen curtain showing the purity of God. As sinful people, Yahweh could be approached solely through the one and only entrance on the east side. The gate had linen of blue (the abode of God, heaven) purple (kingship) and scarlet (sacrifice). Yeshua came and dwelt with man (John 1:18), and He expressly said that no one could come to the Father but through Him. He was the entrance way to the Father (John 14:6).
Brazen Altar and Laver:
Upon entering into the courtyard one would be faced immediately with the brazen altar. The brass of the altar is symbolic of judgment. There the doctrine of substitution was taught. God’s holiness demanded judgment for sin. A lamb, goat, ram, or oxen would take the place of man and receive God’s judgment and die in place of that individual (Gen 18:12-13; Lev 1:4). Yeshua took our sins upon Himself and died in our place (Isa 53, Rom 5:8-10). Next would be the laver which the priests used for daily cleaning. Even though sacrifice was made, the priest still had to do washing or cleansing of their feet and hands before approaching the Tabernacle where God dwelt.
The priest would then enter the actual Tabernacle, a building 15’ by 45’ and divided into two rooms. The construction was of wood (symbolic for man) on a foundation of silver sockets (symbolic of redemption) and over head were a series of coverings in blue, purple, and scarlet, the same as at the front entrance to the courtyard of the Tabernacle. The first room was 15’ by 30’ and had three pieces of furniture: the seven-branch Menorah or Golden Candlesticks (pure gold), Altar of Incense and the Table of Shewbread (both covered with gold). The Menorah provided the light for the room, and Isaiah and John both proclaimed that Yeshua was the light of the world (John 8:12, Isa 42:6: 49:6). Psalm 141:2 (Rev 8:3) records that the prayers of the saints are as incense before Yahweh. The Table of Shewbread had on it twelve loaves of bread, one for each tribe of Israel. Remember Yeshua’s words in John 6 (vs 35, 48, 51-58) that He is the Bread of Life. The wood, gold, silver of the furniture, the blue, purple and scarlet of the cloth material all pictured Yeshua. Yeshua was the God (gold) Man (wood), from heaven (blue) who provided redemption (silver), through His blood (scarlet), for sinful man, who will return as the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords (purple for royalty).
Holy of Holies:
In the second room was the Ark of the Covenant, which was a wooden box (humanity of Messiah) overlaid with Gold (symbolic of God). On the top of the box lays the Mercy Seat, or the place of propitiation (Rom 3:25; I John 2:2, 4:10; Heb 9:5-7; Isa 53:10), which was used on the Day of Atonement once a year. On the Mercy Seat were two cherubim with wings outstretched, and between the cherubim was the Shechinah glory of God, the very presence of God as He dwelt among man.
It is important to remember that John said he had handled the Word of Life (1 John 1:1). Yeshua, who was and is the “Word of Life” and is also “the Bread of Life” (John 6:35), and stated that He is the “Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25).” These three statements recorded by John parallel the three items within the Ark of the Covenant: the Torah (Word), Manna (bread) and Aaron’s rod that budded (resurrection). All of the pieces of furniture in the Tabernacle complex, as well as all the materials used, were symbols or types of Yeshua, the Messiah of Israel, who would come and provide redemption and fulfill Genesis 3:15.
Each one of the sacrifices, the burnt offering, the trespass offering and the sin offering, are expressed in a general sense. They were to teach the Israelite people that the result of sin is separation from God. God states that only through a blood sacrifice can the sin issue be resolved and fellowship with a holy God be restored. Leviticus17:11 specifically states:
“. . . for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.” Yeshua picks up that theme in Matthew 26:28 when He states: “For this is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” God illustrated the need for redemption with every sacrifice. Sin cannot be removed by the death of an animal; only by God incarnate. He became a man and was the perfect, spotless, unblemished, sinless substitute, who died on the cross of Calvary for the sins of mankind.
All of the materials used are symbolic of God taking up residence with sinful man. John 1:1-18 is very clear in stating that Yeshua was God incarnate who came and dwelt with mankind. The ultimate purpose of the Tabernacle and the sacrificial system was to point to the coming of Him, in whom all object lessons were fulfilled. As Yeshua so aptly said “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me (John 5:39).” Yeshua continues by referencing Moses in saying “For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me (John 5:46).” The author of Hebrews (9:8-12) was challenging the first century Jewish believers to move on to maturity. The final, once and for all sacrifice for sin, had been made in the person of Yeshua, who is pictured in the Tabernacle and the sacrificial system.
In reading through the book of Leviticus one will be impressed with words such as consecration and defilement from sin. God made it very clear that the Tabernacle and later the Temple, where He dwelt with His people, must not be defiled. His people must not defile themselves but must live and act with the life style that is consecrated to the living God. Paul picks up that theme in 1 Corinthian 3:16-17 and 6:19-20. In these verses Paul parallels the Old Testament Tabernacle and Temple with believers in Messiah. Since the Tabernacle andTemple were not to be defiled so believers who are God’s dwelling place or temple, are not to defile themselves. Just as God was to receive glory in the Old Testament, God is to receive glory by our undefiled physical temples as we live before Him and the world.
 Levy, David. The Tabernacle: Shadows of the Messiah (Bellmawr, NJ: Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, 1993, 18.
McCord, Iris, I. The Tabernacle (Chicago: Moody Press, 1927), 11.
 McCord, Iris, I. The Tabernacle, intro.
 Zehr, Paul M. God Dwells with His People (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1981), 18
 Block, Daniel L, “The Grace of Torah: The Mosaic Prescription for Life (Deut. 4:1-8; 6:20-25)” Bibliotheca Sacra Vol. 162, no. 645 (January – March 2005): 3-22.
 Slemiming, C. W. Made according to Pattern (Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1971), 20.
 Olford, Stephen. The Tabernacle: Camping With God (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Bros, 1973), 33.