The Purpose of the Wilderness Tabernacle
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 can be discovered in the particulars of the wilderness tabernacle.
It's About a Covenant Relationship
While reading the details of these instructions, it is easy to gloss over them without awareness of a New Testament connection to a relationship with God through Christ.
I hesitate to use the word "relationship," because of its broad and adulterated use in the present culture that most often brings a lot of fickle "no strings attached" associations. As we shall see in this structure, and throughout the entirety of Scripture, a covenant relationship, by God's standards, is a life and death matter and worthy of our comprehension and loyal application.
This Biblical portion of temple details can seem a bit redundant and unnecessary if we view it as merely historical and Old Testament. But Paul informs us that there is a great reason to study these very things.
For whatever was written in the past (Old Testament) was written for our instruction, so that we may have hope through endurance and through the encouragement from the Scriptures.
— Romans 15:4
These things (Old Testament) happened to them as examples, and they were written for our instruction upon whom the ends of the age have come
— I Corinthians 10:11
"These things" are about the experiences of the children of Israel in their wilderness journey to the promised land. These experiences all related to their relationship with the God who delivered them.
Fifty chapters of the Bible are devoted to the wilderness tabernacle that was central to that relationship, which, I think we can safely assume, makes it a relatively important topic as far as God is concerned.
"These things" also contain the blueprint for faith. Residing within each material and measurement is a lesson in the necessities of being in fellowship with the God of creation. And Jesus is central to all.
Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices. Therefore it is necessary that this One also have something to offer. For if He were on earth, He would not be a priest, since there are priests who offer the gifts according to the law; who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, “See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.”
— Hebrews 8:1-5
The writer of Hebrews makes it clear that the Tabernacle is a shadow and type of heavenly things. There are divine spiritual lessons that pertain to our spiritual life that can be discovered within the parameters of this template.
Jesus Himself also made it clear to His followers that He was, in fact, the subject matter of "these things."
And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.
— Luke 24:27
John, too, makes the connection with Christ and the Tabernacle.
And the Word became flesh, and did tabernacle among us, and we beheld his glory, glory as of an only begotten of a father, full of grace and truth.
— John 1:14
The Cross Is Key
From an introductory topical perspective, we can see how this structure connects us with Jesus, beginning with the arrangement of the furnishings in the shape of a cross. This iconic shape was evident in the arrangement of tribes around the Tabernacle in their North, South, East, and West positions. All things in this meeting place will point to Jesus Christ and His crucifixion, that we might experience a restoration of relationship with God. Paul, the author of a good portion of the New Testament, considered this His most valuable goal.
I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified
— I Corinthians 2:2
The Pattern Is Everywhere Throughout Scripture
According to Glen Carpenter, in his book Connections, there are seven physical structures in the Bible built obviously and specifically for worship, beginning with The Tabernacle of Moses.
- The Tabernacle of Moses
- The Tabernacle of David
- The Temple of Solomon
- Zerubbabel's Temple
- The Temple of Herod
- The Temple of Ezekiel's Vision
- The Temple which is the Body of Christ
Dinah Dye, the author of The Temple Revealed in Creation, and an expert on this topic, teaches that the number seven in Scripture strongly connects with the fulfillment of house-building. This revelation helps correlate the creation account with a less visible macrocosm of a temple structure to build a kingdom family.
Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them were finished. And on the seventh day, God ended His work which He had done, and He rested (took His seat upon the throne) on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.
— Genesis 2:1-2.
Notably, similar language is applied to both creation and house- and tabernacle-building in the book of Proverbs.
By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established. And by knowledge, rooms are filled with all riches, precious and pleasant.
— Proverbs 24:3-4 LEB
Yahweh in wisdom founded the earth; he established the heavens in understanding. With his knowledge, depths broke open, and clouds dropped dew.
— Proverbs 3:19-20 LEB
This phraseology applies to a prophecy of the coming Messiah recited by the prophet Isaiah.
And a shoot will come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from its roots will bear fruit. And the spirit of Yahweh shall rest on him— a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of counsel and might, a spirit of knowledge and the fear of Yahweh.
— Isaiah 11:1-3 LEB
As it applies to the wilderness tabernacle, Bezalel, meaning "in the shadow of God," son of Uri, meaning "light," is assigned by God the task of skillfully designing this structure. Aholiab also is included in this assignment. His name means "tent of my father."
And Bezaleel, and Aholiab, and every wise-hearted man, in whom Jehovah hath given wisdom and understanding to know to do every work of the service of the sanctuary, have done according to all that Jehovah commanded.
— Exodus 36:1 YLT98
The meanings of the names of those involved in its construction relate to the Tabernacle's purpose. It was to serve as a shadow of the Son of God, the Light of the world, who would connect us back to the tent (Tabernacle) of the Father.
In rabbinical literature Bezalel possessed such great wisdom that he could combine those letters of the alphabet with which heaven and earth were created; this being the meaning of the statement (Exodus 31:3): "I have filled him . . . with wisdom and knowledge," which were the implements by means of which God created the world"
— Wikipedia on Bezalel
The Bible also ends with this very same purpose. God creates a space and place to dwell and be in a relationship with the man that He has created.
And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.
— Revelation 21:3
Everything in between these bookends of the Genesis creation to the Holy City in Revelation is the fundamental mechanism of that accomplishment.
"Connections" by Glen Carpenter
"The Temple Revealed in Creation" Dinah Dye
"The Tabernacle of Moses" Kevin J. Connor
Questions & Answers
What did the tabernacle teach us about God?
The Tabernacle teaches us that God is loving, merciful, and forgiving. It shows us that He made a great sacrifice on our behalf in order to dwell with us. All of the symbols and types in this structure point to the work that He did through His one and only Son Jesus in order to make dwelling with Him possible. He fulfilled every necessary detail.Helpful 4
What is the Ark of the Covenant?
The Ark of the Covenant was a box in the Holy of Holies of the wilderness Tabernacle. This space was only accessed by the high priest once a year on behalf of Himself and the people.
The Ark contained the copies of the commandments which were seen as the relational agreement between God and man. There were two other items in the ark, an almond branch that budded, recognizing the right of the Aaronic priesthood, and a golden pot of manna as a memorial of God's provision for His people during their wilderness journey.
The Ark has also been referenced in Scripture as God's footstool and His presence was said to have dwelt between the two Cherubim. These were a part of the mercy seat that covered the box as types of guardians of His presence.Helpful 4
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