The Purpose of the Wilderness Tabernacle: The Temple of Creation
On Mount Sinai, Moses received more than just the Ten Commandments. Also included were the detailed instructions for building a meeting place for God and His people. The Tabernacle was a temple of worship that involved specific protocols and procedures. These protocols purposely provided a possible means for God's people to dwell with Him per God's request.
Let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.
— Exodus 25:8
From the fall in Genesis up until the Tabernacle construction, the Bible records people occasionally walking and talking with God but not dwelling with Him. As we shall see, it is within the framework of this Old Testament sanctuary that God draws His people closer to Himself through an intricate sacrificial system. This arrangement can speak volumes to us today about the specifics of such a great salvation and indescribable gift.
. . . how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation . . . ?
— Hebrews 2:3
Every detail that Christ accomplished to restore our relationship with God finds its discovery in the particulars of the wilderness tabernacle.
This study will discover how the wilderness tabernacle reveals to us a broader spiritual temple concept that has been the blueprint of worship from eternity, and a creation perspective begins in Genesis chapter one.
The entirety of Scripture in its Hebrew form begins with the letter "bet." This letter is pictographically identified with the floor plan of a household structure that illustrates the idea of temple, kingdom, household, and family. All of these are related concepts.
It has been God's plan all along to build a kingdom house and family that functioned as a royal priesthood and would reflect all of His goodness and glory.
A side note before we get started—any Hebrew word fonts used in this writing will be used in a "right to left" reading format, as is done in the original Hebrew text. Knowing Hebrew won't be necessary, but being able to see how certain words share the same letters in their root form might be useful.
In the Beginning . . .
The very first sentences of the Bible, in Hebrew, reveals the relational purpose for which the heavens and the earth were created by telling us what it initially was not.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void (Tohu va-bohu - תֹ֙הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ) and darkness was on the face of the deep.
— Genesis 1:1-2
Both "without form" (Tohu-תֹ֙הוּ֙), and "void" (bohu-בֹ֔הוּ) have their root in the same Hebrew word "hu" (הוּ) which is why they sound so much alike. This root word means sorrow and is only used once in Scripture in the book of Amos.
Amos was a shepherd and fig farmer who was instructed by God to prophesy a lamentation to the "House of Israel," expressing God's sorrow and grief over their sins. "House" is the keyword in this account. The fifth chapter of Amos opens up with this very phrase "House of Israel" and is given four total mentions within this chapter.
Hear this word which I take up against you, a lamentation, O house of Israel
— Amos 5:1
The next part of Amos' discourse uses the root word "hu" (הוּ), of "without form" and "void," in reference to the desperate call for the "House of Israel" to also sorrow and grieve over their rebellion and indifference to the Lord and Master of the "House."
Therefore the Lord God of hosts, the Lord, says this:
“There shall be wailing in all streets,
And they shall say in all the highways,
‘Alas! ("hu"- הוּ) Alas!’("hu"- הוּ)
They shall call the farmer to mourning,
And skillful lamenters to wailing.
— Amos 5:16
"Hu"(הוּ) is also the root of the Hebrew word translated "woe." In definition, it comes with the same associations of astonishing grief and emptiness. It is seen once again in Amos' warning to this household of God's people. Creation themes of light and darkness are also present.
Woe (hoi - הוֹי) to you who desire the day of the Lord!
For what good is the day of the Lord to you?
It will be darkness, and not light.
— Amos 5:18
Amos ends God's speech with a type of being kicked out of, or separated from, the "House" for breaking their covenant with God in adulterously serving other gods.
“Did you offer Me sacrifices and offerings
In the wilderness forty years, O house of Israel?
You also carried Sikkutha
And Chiun, your idols,
The star of your gods,
Which you made for yourselves.
Therefore I will send you into captivity beyond Damascus,”
Says the Lord, whose name is the God of hosts.
— Amos 5:25-27
Tohu va-bohu (תֹ֙הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ) "without form and void," at its root, expresses the magnitude of deep and dark sorrow. The prefixes to this root, as is used in Genesis chapter two, reveals the reason for that grief, and it has to do with the lack of a covenant house and family.
The first Hebrew letter of "to-hu" is a "tav" (תֹ֙). The pictograph image associated with this letter is a cross, and it refers to the sign of a covenant. The second-word "bo-hu" begins with a "bet" (בֹ֔). A picture of a tent symbolized it and meant to capture the concepts of a home and family.
If we could paraphrase the verse with these things in mind, we could say that the earth was without a covenant (tav-תֹ֙) family (bet-בֹ֔). To be without a covenant and family is a dark, empty, and grievous (hu-הוּ֙) state.
All of these taken together, communicate the idea that the purpose of creation was to make a covenant kingdom family. This idea necessitated an environment to do so. It is immediately following the earth's lonely, empty, and dark state that the Spirit of God comes on the scene to bring order to and establish these very things.
And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light
— Genesis 1:2-3
The rest of the creation narrative depicts that a house called "the heavens and the earth" is designed as a functional space and sanctuary, of sorts. Both are for a human and divine kingdom/family to dwell together.
Creation Tabernacle Connection in the Book of Job
The above section shows how all of creation was arranged so that we may meet and have fellowship with the God of all creation in a kingdom/family setting.
The book of Job also makes this connection with the pattern of Tabernacle and creation. God confronts Job about his arguments concerning his suffering with a series of questions that all have to do with God's wisdom in "the beginning" account.
“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Tell Me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements?
Surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
To what were its foundations (eden) fastened? (On what have its sockets been sunk?) YLT
— Job 38:4-6
The above word translated "foundations" in the above verse is "eden" in Hebrew, not to be confused with Eden as in the garden of Eden. The two words sound the same but spelled differently. This particular word could be more accurately translated "sockets," as did Robert Young in his literal translation of the Bible. Why this is significant is because it connects creation language with temple building language, considering that this Hebrew word for a socket is used a total of 39 times in Scripture. Thirty-seven of them are about the construction of the Tabernacle. One mention of this word is in the above portion of Job that discusses the creation account, and the only other mention of this word is in the book of Song of Solomon when the Shulamite is describing her lover, who is primarily about an intimate relationship.
The Tri-Part Structure
The wilderness tabernacle consisted of a tri-part plan comprised of a Holy of Holies, a Holy place, and an outer court as did virtually all Ancient Near Eastern temples. This pattern is not surprising considering that the creation narrative begins with a tri-part design. All things would naturally pattern after their creator.
The creation account is broadly expressed in a three-part configuration, according to Exodus.
For in six days the Lord made
- and earth,
- the sea . . .
— Exodus 20:11
This three-part space is reiterated in the New Testament in the book of Acts.
they lifted up their voice to God with one accord and said Lord, thou art God, which hast made
- heaven, and
- earth, and
- the sea
— Acts 4:24
If viewed from a temple perspective, we have a divine space called heaven (Holy of Holies), an earthly life space (Holy Place), and the chaotic seas representing the outer court.
One of the verses that use the template of "heaven, earth, and seas" also discusses an even larger tri-part structure as it concerns the heavens.
You alone are the Lord;
You have made heaven,
The heaven of heavens, with all their host,
The earth and everything on it,
The seas and all that is in them
— Nehemiah 9:6
Many Bible scholars agree that these three heavens refer to the earth's atmosphere, the universal space above earth's atmosphere, and a "third heaven" is the sacred space or Holy of Holies where God dwells.
The apostle Paul affirms this view when he mentions the third heaven.
I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven
— II Corinthians 12:2
Eden: A Holy of Holies
In Genesis chapter two, this schema becomes even more refined with the introduction of a sacred space called Eden and a garden in the earth.
The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden . . .
— Genesis 2:8
The above verse discusses two connected spaces, Eden, with a garden. A third uncultivated space called the field is identified in verse five just before it, which also depicts the overlapping theme of the three spheres of heaven, earth, and the field.
In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, no shrub of the field was yet on the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted
— Genesis 2:5
Eden was essentially a Holy of Holies. It was a sacred heavenly space on the earth. And the garden was a holy place that connected the material world through the man God created, with the heavenly realm. The field was the outer world or common space.
Adam: King and Priest of the Garden
Adam served as the very first priest of this sanctuary. A little original language interpretation helps illustrate this for us.
. . . there (the garden) He (the Lord God) put (suwm) the man whom He had formed.
— Genesis 2:8
The Hebrew word translated "put" in the above verse means to "ordain," "appoint," "station," "set over," and "place in charge of." It describes the delegation of kings, princes, and judges in other places in Scripture. The book of Deuteronomy contains a great example of this with God's instructions for appointing a king.
When you have come into the land which the Lord your God gives you and possess it and dwell there and then say, “I will set (suwm) a king over me just like all the nations that are around me,” you must set (suwm) a king over you whom the Lord your God will choose.
— Deuteronomy 17:14-15
This term is also used in the appointment and ordination of the priesthood.
Aaron and his sons shall go in, and appoint (suwm) them every one to his service and to his burden:
— Numbers 4:19
It is clear from the context of this word's usage in other places that the placing of Adam in the garden wasn't just about location or simple horticulture. It was about God appointing him as king and priest of that territory.
This commission is further detailed in verse fifteen of this same chapter.
Then the Lord God took the man and put (yanach) him in the garden of Eden to tend (serve-abad) and keep (protect-shamar) it.
— Genesis 2:15
Notice that the word translated "put" in this verse is a different Hebrew word than the one used in Genesis 2:8. This word (yanach) means to leave off or alone. What is Adam left off to do? He is to serve and protect the sacred space he has been assigned. He placed as a vice-regent or vassal king over the kingdom of the garden.
G.K Beale notes in his book The Temple and the Church's Mission that these two words together "abad" and "shamar" meaning "serve and protect" is only used as it refers to the Israelites keeping God's Word and in connection to the priests who keep the service of the tabernacle.
Adam's Failed Mission
It might be a valid question to ask if Adam's mission included protecting the sacred space how is it that a "beast of the field" in the form of a serpent was resident within it?
Adam was not left without provision, as is noted in the verses sandwiched between these two assignment passages. (Genesis 2:8 and Genesis 2:15)
. . . out of the ground the Lord God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Now a river went out of Eden to water the garden . . .
— Genesis 2:9-10
From the above Scripture, we see that Adam's eternal life as a co-ruler under the leadership of the Lord God is bountifully supplied and sustained. The fruit is connected with the Holy Spirit.
. . . the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and self-control.
— Galatians 5:22-23
Flowing rivers in Scripture are known as living waters, literally translated, which is also a metaphor for the assistance and empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.” By this He spoke of the Spirit . . .
— John 7:38-39
God had meticulously furnished Adam with all that he would need to rule the territory he was given charge over.
However, Adam chose poorly, and his choice alludes to a type of adultery. The pattern of adulterous defection occurs in many other instances in Scripture. The books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and many of the minor prophets use the language of marital unfaithfulness when describing God's people who turn to other things besides Him. The result is always banishment. These foreign and unclean substances that have been allowed to enter and defile cannot dwell in God's presence.
A Divorce and a Separation of Spaces
The Hebrew word for Tabernacle is "mishkan." Its root "shakan" means to dwell. "Shakan" makes an interesting first appearance relative to the idea of the habitable creation containing an appointed space and place where God and man dwell together. It also includes the garden eviction scene. The use of "shakan" in the following verse is in verb form, but it still communicates the idea of sacred habitation.
So he drove out the man, and he placed (shakan) at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.
— Genesis 3:24"
When Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden, the Hebrew word used to describe it alludes to the concept of divorce. It was an irreparable separation on the human side. Heaven and earth become disconnected. We don't see much of Eden or the garden after this event except in the temple building instructions.
With this idea, we see that Adam is no longer present in the place where heaven and earth meet and the place where he once dwelled with God. This sacred space would now be guarded and inhabited by the Cherubim. The next Biblical mention of the Cherubim is in the instructions for the Tabernacle construction of the ark of the covenant displaying for us God's restorative intentions in the assembling of this structure.
And they shall make an ark . . .
. . . And thou shalt make two cherubims of gold, of beaten work shalt thou make them, in the two ends of the mercy seat (ark cover) . . .
. . . And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubims which are upon the ark of the testimony . . .
— Exodus 25:10-22
It is evident from God's perspective that human failure is not the end of the story. In the details of the Wilderness Tabernacle, we can see the icons of Eden illustrate the beginning of The strategic restoration of God's redemptive plan.
"The Temple and the Church's Mission" by G.K. Beale
© 2017 Tamarajo