Gleanings In Exodus
33. The Tabernacle
We have now arrived at the longest, most blessed, but least read and understood section of this precious book of Exodus. From the beginning of chapter 25 to the end of 40—excepting the important parenthesis in 32 to 34—the Holy Spirit has given us a detailed description of the Tabernacle, its structure, furniture, and priesthood. It is a fact worthy of our closest and fullest consideration that more space is devoted to an account of the Tabernacle than to any other single object or subject treated of in Holy Writ. Its courts, its furniture, and its ritual are described with a surprising particularity of detail. Two chapters suffice for a record of God’s work in creating and fitting this earth for human habitation, whereas ten chapters are needed to tell us about the Tabernacle. Truly God’s thoughts and ways are different from ours!
How sadly many of God’s own people have dishonored Him and His Word by their studied neglect of these chapters! Too many have seen in the Tabernacle, with its Divinely-appointed arrangements and services, only a ritual of the past—a record of Jewish manners and customs which have long since passed away and which have no meaning for or value to us. But "all Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable" (2 Tim. 3:16). The Christian cannot neglect any portion of the Word without suffering loss: "whatsoever things were written aforetime (in the Old Testament) were written for our learning" (Rom. 15:4). Again and again in the New Testament the Holy Spirit makes figurative reference to the Tabernacle and its furniture, and much in the Epistle to the Hebrews cannot be understood without reference to the contents of Exodus and Leviticus.
"The tabernacle is one of the most important and instructive types. Here is such a variety of truths, here is such a fullness and manifoldness of spiritual teaching, that our great difficulty is to combine all the various lessons and aspects which it presents. The tabernacle has no fewer than three meanings, In the first place, the tabernacle is a type, a visible illustration, of that heavenly place in which God has His dwelling. In the second place, the tabernacle is a type of Jesus Christ, who is the meeting-place between God and man. And, in the third place, the tabernacle is a type of Christ in the Church—of the communion of Jesus with all believers" (Adolph Saphir).
The first of these meanings is clearly stated in Hebrews 9:23-24: "It was, therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these (i.e. sprinklings of blood see Hebrews 9:21-22); but the heavenly things themselves with bettor sacrifices than these. For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into Heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of Clod for us." "The tabernacle was a symbol of God’s dwelling. There is a Sanctuary, wherein is the especial residence and manifestation of the glorious presence of God. Solomon, although he confesses that the heaven of heavens cannot contain God, yet prays that the Lord may hear in heaven His dwelling-place (2 Chron. 6). Jeremiah testifies, ‘A glorious high throne from the beginning is the place of our sanctuary’ (17:12). The visions of Ezekiel also bring before us the heavens opened and the likeness of a throne, and the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord; the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon the throne (1:26). Of this heavenly locality David speaks, when he asks, ‘Who shall abide in Thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in Thy holy hill?’ (Ps. 24:3). In the book of Revelation we receive still further confirmation of this truth: ‘And after that I looked, and, behold, the temple of the tabernacle of testimony in Heaven was opened’ (15:5) . . . Almost all expressions which are employed in describing the significance of the tabernacle are also used in reference to Heaven" (A. Saphir).
Secondly, the Tabernacle is a type of the Lord Jesus Himself, particularly of Him here on earth during the days of His flesh. Just as the Tabernacle was Jehovah’s dwelling-place in the midst of Israel so are we told that "God was in Christ reconciling a world unto Himself’ (2 Cor. 5:19); and again, "In Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily" (Col. 2:9). Beautifully was this application of our type manifested at the Incarnation. The Tabernacle was not something which originated in the minds of Israel, or even of Moses. but was designed by God Himself. So the Manhood of Christ, which enshrined His Deity, was not begotten by man—"A body hast Thou prepared Me" (Heb. 10:5). He said. This second aspect of the type will be developed more fully below.
But the tabernacle has yet a third aspect. "There God and His people met. The ark of the covenant was not merely the throne where God manifested Himself in His holiness, but it was also the throne of relationship with His people. In all the offerings and sacrifices God was manifested; just as regards sin, merciful as regards the sinner; there also God and the sinner met. So throughout the tabernacle there was the manifestation of God in order to bring Israel into communion with Himself. In the Tabernacle man’s fellowship with God was symbolized through manifold mediations. sacrifices, offerings. But in Jesus we have the perfect and eternal fulfillment" (A Saphir). This third aspect of our type is more than hinted at in Revelation 21:3: "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and thy shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God."
The key to the Tabernacle, then, is Christ. In the volume of the Book it is written of Him. As a whole and in each of its parts the Tabernacle foreshadowed the person and work of the Lord Jesus. Each detail in it typified some aspect of His ministry or some excellency in His person. Proof of this is furnished in John 1:14: "And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us" (R. V. margin). The reference here is to the Divine incarnation and first advent of God’s Sea to this earth, and its language takes us back to the book of Exodus. Many and varied are the correspondences between the type and the anti-type. We take leave to quote from our comments on John 1:14.
1. The Tabernacle was a temporary appointment. In this it differed from the temple of Solomon, which was a permanent structure. The Tabernacle was simply a tent, a temporary convenience, something that was suited to be moved about from place to place during the journeyings of the children of Israel. So it was when our blessed Lord tabernacled here among men. His stay was but a brief one—less than forty years; and, like the type. He abode not long in any one place, but was constantly on the move, unwearied in the activity of His love.
2. The Tabernacle was for use in the wilderness. After Israel settled in Canaan, the Tabernacle was superceded by the temple. But during the time of the pilgrimage from Egypt to the promised land, the Tabernacle was God’s appointed provision for them. The wilderness strikingly foreshadowed the conditions amid which the eternal Word tabernacled among men at His first advent. The wilderness-home of the Tabernacle unmistakably foreshadowed the manger-cradle, the Nazareth-carpenter’s bench, the "nowhere for the Son of man to lay His head," the borrowed tomb for His sepulcher. A careful study of the chronology of the Pentateuch seems to indicate that Israel used the Tabernacle in the wilderness rather less than thirty-five years!
3. The Tabernacle was mean, humble, and unattractive in outward appearance. Altogether unlike the costly and magnificent temple of Solomon there was nothing in the externals of the Tabernacle to please the carnal eye. Nothing but plain boards and skins. So it was at the Incarnation. The Divine majesty of our Lord was hidden beneath a veil of flesh. He came, unattended by any imposing retinues of angels. To the unbelieving gaze of Israel He had no form or comeliness; and when they beheld Him their unanointed eyes saw in Him no beauty that they should desire Him.
4. The Tabernacle was God’s dwelling place. It was there, in the midst of Israel’s camp, that He took up His abode. There, between the Cherubim. upon the mercy-seat He made His throne. In the holy of holies He manifested His presence by means of the Shekinah glory. And during the thirty-three years that the Word tabernacled among men. God had His dwelling-place in Palestine. The holy of holies received its anti-typical fulfillment in the person of the Holy One of God. Just as the Shekinah dwelt between the two Cherubim, so on the mount of transfiguration the glory of the God-man flashed forth from between two men—Moses and Elijah. "We beheld his glory "is the language of the tabernacle-type.
5. The Tabernacle was, therefore, the place where God met with man. It was termed "the Tent of Meeting." If an Israelite desired to draw near unto Jehovah he had to come to the door of the Tabernacle. When giving instruction to Moses concerning the making of the Tabernacle and its furnishings, God said, "And thou shalt put the mercy-seat above upon the ark, and in the ark thou shalt put the testimony that I shall give thee. And there I will meet with thee, awl I will commune with thee" (Ex. 25:21-22). How perfect is this lovely type! Christ is the meeting-place between God and man. No man cometh unto the Father but by Him (John 14:6). There is but one Mediator between God and men—the Man Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5). He is the One who spans the gulf between Deity and humanity, because Himself both God and Man.
6. The Tabernacle was the center of Israel’s camp. In the immediate vicinity of the Tabernacle dwelt the Levites the priestly tribe: "But thou shalt appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of testimony, and over all the vessels thereof; and over all things that belong to it; they shall bear the tabernacle and all the vessels thereof: and they shall minister unto it, and shall encamp round about the tabernacle" (Num. 1:50); and around the Levites were grouped the twelve, tribes, three on either side—see Numbers 2. Again; we read that when Israel’s camp was to be moved from one place to another. "then the tabernacle of the congregation shall set forward with the camp of the Levites in the midst of the camp" (Num. 2:17). Once more, "And Moses went out, and told the people the words of the Lord and gathered the seventy men of the elders of the people, and set them round about the tabernacle. And the Lord came down in a Cloud and spake unto him" (Num. 11:24-25). How striking is this! The Tabernacle was the great gathering-center. As such it was a beautiful foreshadowing of the Lord Jesus. He is our great gathering-center, and His precious promise is that "where two or three are gathered together in My name there am I in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20).
7. The Tabernacle was the place where the Law was preserved. The first two tables of stone, on which Jehovah had inscribed the ten commandments were broken (Ex. 32:19); but the second set were deposited in the ark in the tabernacle for safe keeping (Deut. 10:2-5). It was only there, within the holy of holies, that the tablets of the Law were preserved intact. How this, again, speaks to us of Christ! He it was that said, "Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of Me; I delight to do Thy will, O My God: Yea, Thy Law is within My heart" (Ps. 40:8). Throughout His perfect life He preserved in thought, word, and deed the Divine Decalogue, honoring and magnifying God’s Law.
8. The Tabernacle was the place where sacrifice was made. In its outer court stood the brazen altar, to which the animals were brought, and on which they were slain. There it was the blood was shed and atonement was made for sin. So it was with the Lord Jesus. He fulfilled in His own person the typical significance of the brazen altar, as of every piece of the tabernacle furniture. The body in which He tabernacled on earth was nailed to the cruel Tree. The Cross was the altar upon which Pod’s Lamb was slain, where His precious blood was shed, and where complete atonement was made for sin.
9. The Tabernacle was the place where the priestly family was fed. "And the remainder thereof shall Aaron and his sons eat: with unleavened bread shall it he eaten in the holy place; in the court of the tabernacle of the congregation they shall eat it . . . The priest that offereth it for sin shall eat it: in the holy place shall it be eaten" (Lev. 6:16-26). How deeply significant are these scriptures in their typical import! And how they should speak to us of Christ as the Food of God’s priestly family today, i.e., all believers (1 Pet. 2:5). He is the Bread of life. He is the One upon whom our souls delight to feed.
10. The Tabernacle was the place of worship. To it the pious Israelite brought his offerings. To it he turned when he desired to worship Jehovah. From its door the voice of the Lord was heard. Within its courts the priests ministered in their sacred service. And so it wins with the anti-type. It is by Him we are to offer unto God a sacrifice of praise. (Heb. 13:15). It is in Him, and by Him, alone, that we can worship the Father. It is through Him we have access to the throne of grace.
11. The Tabernacle had but one door. Think of such a large building with but a single entrance! The outer court, with its solid walls of white curtains, was pierced by one gate only; telling us there is, but one way into the presence of the holy God. How this reminds us of the words of that One who said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man cometh unto the Father but by Me!" Access can be obtained only through Him who declared "I am the Door" (John 10:9).
12. The Tabernacle was approached through the tribe of Judah, This is a most striking detail not obvious at first sight, but which is clearly established by a comparison of scripture with scripture. Numbers 2, records the ordering of the twelve tribes of Israel as they were grouped around the four sides of the Tabernacle, and verse 3 tells us that Judah was to pitch on the east side. Now Exodus 27:12-17 makes it clear that the door of the Tabernacle wins also on the east side. Thus, entrance into the Divine sanctuary was obtained through Judah. The significance of this is easily discerned. It was through Judah that the true Tabernacle obtained entrance into this world. Therefore is our Lord designated "the Lion of the tribe of Judah" (Rev. 5:5).
13. The Tabernacle hints at the universal Lordship of Christ. This may be seen from the fact that every kingdom in nature contributed its share toward building and enriching the Tabernacle. The mineral kingdom supplied the metals and the precious stones; the vegetable gave the wood, linen, oil and spices; the animal furnished the skins and goats hair curtains, in addition to the multitude of sacrifices which were constantly required. How this reminds us of the words of Him whom the Tabernacle foreshadowed," The silver is Mine, and the gold is Mine" (Hag. 2:8); and again, "The cattle upon a thousand hills are Mine" (Ps. 50:10).
14. The Tabernacle was ministered unto by the Women. Their part was to provide the beautiful curtains and hangings: "And all the women that were wise-hearted did spin with their hands, and brought that which they had spun, both of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, and of fine linen. And all the women whose hearts stirred thorn up in wisdom spun goats’ hair" (Ex. 35:26). How beautifully this foreshadowed the loving devotion of those women ‘mentioned in the Gospels who ministered to Christ of their substance: see Luke 7:37; 8:2-3; John 12:3; Luke 23:55-56.
Thus we see how fully and how perfectly the tabernacle of old foreshadowed the person of our blessed Lord, and why the Holy Spirit, when announcing the Incarnation, said, "And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us." It should be pointed out that there is a series of striking contrasts between the wilderness tabernacle and Solomon’s temple in their respective foreshadowings of Christ.
(1) The tabernacle foreshadowed Christ in His first advent; the temple looks forward to Christ at His second advent.
(2) The tabernacle was first historically; the temple was not built until long afterwards.
(3) The tabernacle was but a temporary erection; the temple was a permanent structure.
(4) The tabernacle was erected by Moses the prophet (which was the office Christ filled during His first advent): the temple was built by Solomon the king (which is the office Christ will fill at His second advent).
(5) The tabernacle was used in the wilderness—speaking of Christ’s humiliation; the temple was built in Jerusalem, the "city of the great King" (Matthew 5:35)—speaking of Christ’s future glorification.
(6) The numeral which figured most prominently in the tabernacle was five, which speaks of grace, and grace was what characterized the earthly ministry of Christ at His first advent; but the leading numeral in the triple was twelve, which speaks of government, for at His second advent Christ shall rule and reign as King of kings and Lord of lords.
(7) The tabernacle was unattractive in its externals—so when Christ was here before, He was as "a root out of a dry ground": but the temple was renowned for its outward magnificence—so Christ when He returns shall come in power and great glory.
The careful reader will have noticed that there are two full accounts given in Exodus of the construction of the Tabernacle. This is indeed noteworthy, and evidences once more the accuracy and fullness of the type. First we have a description of the Tabernacle and its furniture as it was given to Moses in the Mount directly by Jehovah Himself. Then, as a parenthesis, in chapters 32, 33, we have the record of Israel’s transgressing the holy covenant in the sin of idolatry. Finally, from chapters 35 to the end of the book we have the actual erection of the Tabernacle. What was foreshadowed by this we shall now endeavor to indicate.
First, there is the tabernacle as it was originally planned in Heaven anal then shown as a pattern to Moses on the Mount. What did this adumbrate but Christ set forth from eternity in the counsels of the Godhead? The great Sacrifice was no afterthought on the part of God. He was not taken by surprise, nor was His eternal purpose interfered with when Adam transgressed His commandment. The Lamb was "foreordained before the foundation of the world" (1 Pet. 1:20)! Then in Jehovah showing to Moses the pattern of the Tabernacle which was to be erected, we have prefigured the successive types and prophecies which God gave to His people before His Son became incarnate. Just as Moses later built the Tabernacle according to the actual model which God had shown him during the forty days on the Mount, so Christ was born, lived and died, in exact accord with the prophetic plan which God gave during the forty centuries that preceded.
Second, in chapters 32 and 33 we are introduced to a dark interval of rebellion, when Israel sinned grievously against their Divine Benefactor. How accurately this depicts the fall and failure of man during the whole of the Old Testament period, and how it witnessed to the need of that redemption which God, in His marvelous grace, had prepared! "Christ had been already provided, but man must feel the need of the Divine salvation by the actual experience of sin. It is touching beyond degree to know that all the time that man was rebelling against God, God’s remedy was waiting in that mount of grace" (Christ in the Tabernacle, by A. B. Simpson). Despite Israel’s fearful transgression in the interval, the Tabernacle was erected; even so the fearful wickedness of men and all their countless abominations did not turn God from His purpose of mercy. When the fullness of time was come, God sent forth His Son. Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.
Third, in the last six chapters we have the inspired record of the actual erection of the Tabernacle. Here we see the counsels of God perfectly executed, and most striking is it to note the provision He made for carrying out His design of a sanctuary. In 35:30-31, we read, "And Moses said unto the children of Israel. See, the Lord hath called by name Bezeleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; and he hath filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship."
Thus we learn that it was by, the gracious agency of the Spirit of God that the Tabernacle was brought into existence! What anointed eye can fail to see here that which made possible and actual the Divine incarnation, namely, the supernatural operations of the Spirit of God—see Luke 1:34-35! And how remarkable (and yet not remarkable) that the instrument used belonged to the tribe of Judah: so Mary was of the royal stock! Thus, in type and anti-type, the Divine plan was secured through the operations of the Spirit of God. Thus, also, do we see all the three persons of the Godhead in connection with the Tabernacle.
How unspeakably blessed is the word recorded in 40:34. "Then a cloud covered the tent of the congregation and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle." Mean as was the outward appearance of that Tent, yet within, abode the Divine glory. So it was with the Antitype. When He appeared before men, He had "no form nor comeliness" (Isa. 5:2). yet in Him dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.
What has been said above in no wise conflicts with the closing paragraphs of the preceding article. David was inspired to write "Thy commandment is exceeding broad" (Ps. 119:96). Well, had it been if expositors and commentators had borne this more in mind. There is not only a depth, but also a fullness to the Scriptures which are worthy of their Divine Author. God’s Word is many-sided in its application. Some times a single parable (that of the Sower, for example) contains important practical lessons, doctrinal instruction, a prophetic forecast and a dispensational picture. How many of the prophecies, perhaps all of them have a double—a minor and a major, a germinal and a terminal—and sometimes a threefold fulfillment. Thus it is also with the types. Some Old Testament characters are equally types of Christ, of Israel, and of the Christian. So with the Tabernacle: many of its details have more than one typical significance. May the Holy Spirit be our Teacher as we endeavor to take them up.