Having in our previous article ascertained the pattern and structure of the tabernacle, let us now lay hold on its meaning and design by considering the time of its erection, the names that it bore, its anointing and furniture.
The instruction for the making and erection of the tabernacle were given to Moses by divine revelation immediately after God’s establishing His covenant with Israel as a nation at Sinai. The details of this act may be briefly stated. The Lord had called unto Moses out of the mountain saying that he tell the people of Israel that if they would obey His voice and keep His covenant, they should be a peculiar treasure unto Him above all people, a kingdom of priests, and am holy nation. Moses laid before the faces of the elders of the people, these words of the Lord. The elders communicated them to the people, who said, upon hearing, “All that the Lord hath spoken we will do,” meaning, ‘we will to be a people holy unto the Lord our Redeemer.’ Moses returned this reply of the people to the Lord. The nation, having thus declared its intention, was now told to stand at attention at the foot of the sacred Mount, while the Lord, from out of the smoke and fire by which the summit of the mount was enveloped, proclaimed to it His Law—the Law of the Ten Commandments, “And God spake all these words, saying, I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage,” and a number of other commands that, taken as a whole, form no addition to but rather an exposition of the ten commands. When the Lord had done speaking, Moses came and told the people all the words and judgments of the Lord. And the people again responded with one voice and said that all the words which the Lord had spoken they would do. Thus for the second time they declared themselves to be willing that Jehovah by whom they had been delivered, be their God and that they be His people, to walk with Him in the way of His commands and so to keep His covenant. Moses wrote all the words of the Lord in a book, which was given the name of “The book of the covenant.” The following morning he rose up early and builded an altar under the hill and erected twelve pillars, each for one tribe. He next sent twelve young men of the children of Israel who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen unto the Lord. Having sprinkled the altar with half of the blood, Moses took the book of the covenant and read from it in the hearing of the people. Again they said that all the Lord had commanded they would do and be obedient. Moses thereupon took the other half of the blood and sprinkled it upon the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant which the Lord hath made with you concerning all these words.”
Whereas the nation had now declared its willingness to keep Jehovah’s covenant, and thus to own Him as its covenant God, run the way of His commands, hearken unto His voice, and, as walking before His face, have fellowship with Him, its redeemer-God, there was now need of a complete and constant revelation of the covenant, that is, of the glories of God as Redeemer, of His will, of His achievement consisting in His saving His people from all their sins, and of His people as empowered by His mercies to praise and adore Him. There was need, seeing that His covenant had been accepted, of a definite place of communion between God and His people, of a sacred precinct where this people could stand before His face and in that face behold His perfections and, as so beholding, cry out His praises. Now this need, as will be made plain, was actually met by the tabernacle. And the reason was that this structure was the instrument of the revelation of God’s glories. Thus without it there could be no fellowship with God on the part of the ancient worshipper. And it is no different now. Only, whereas Christ has been exhibited in the flesh, our tabernacle is now Christ, the incarnate Word. Our fellowship with God is now through Him. Thus when Fairbairn states the immediate object and design of the tabernacle to have been “the bringing of God near to the Israelites in His true character, and keeping up intercourse between Him and them,” we can agree. But the statement he makes a little further on, sets forth a view that strikes us as being of a questionable character: “To some extent this end (the bringing of God near to the Israelites) might have been reached without the intervention of such an apparatus (the tabernacle); for in itself it (communion with God) is a spiritual thing, and properly consists in the exercise of suitable thoughts and affections toward God, calling forth in return gracious manifestation of His love and blessing.” Now this is not expressing the matter correctly. The writer places communion with God in juxtaposition with the tabernacle. His reasoning is that just because communion with God is an action that consists in the exercise of suitable thoughts toward God, communion with God would have been possible, to some extent, at least, without the tabernacle, so that the principal reason that it was brought into being was that, in the language of the writer, “under a dispensation so imperfect as to the measure of light it imparted, the Israelites would certainly without such outward and visible help as was afforded by a worldly sanctuary, have either sunk into practical ignorance and forgetfulness of God, or betaken themselves to some wrong method of bringing divine things more distinctly within the grasp and comprehension of their minds. It was thus that idol worship arose, and was with such difficulty repressed in the chosen family itself.” It was simply therefore with the view “of meeting this natural tendency, or of assisting the natural weakness of men in dealing with the divine and spiritual things, that God condescended to provide for Himself a local habitation among His people.”
The view here expressed is not wholly unobjectionable. Communion with God, consisting, as it actually does, in the exercise of right thoughts toward Him, would have been wholly impossible without the tabernacle (I now think of this structure as including Israel’s entire symbolical worship). And the reason is that it was so far from being a mere visible help, without which the Israelites would have sunk unto ignorance, as to be the very thing by which God revealed unto His people the truth about Himself—the very truth that had to form the suitable thoughts to be directed toward Him, so that without this object the Israelites would have lacked the very knowledge that was necessary for the exercise of these thoughts. The tabernacle formed a kind of language—the language of symbol—that, together with the explanatory word, comprised the one, special, revelation of God which in the Scriptures bears the name of law. Thus communion with God in the Old Testament dispensation was as utterly impossible without the tabernacle, as without His self-revelation in the face of Christ. The necessity of the tabernacle sprang not, in the first instance, from the weakness of men in dealing with divine and spiritual things, but rather from man’s need of the word of God. What the weakness of men necessitated is the kind of habitation with which God in the Old Dispensation provided Himself.
Between the letting down from heaven of the pattern of the tabernacle and the actual erection of it lies the sin of the people consisting in their making the golden calf. The order of the events are as follows: The promulgation of the law by Jehovah. The response of the people to the effect that they will do all that the Lord has commanded. The ceremony that consisted in Moses sprinkling the blood of the covenant upon the people. The revelation of the pattern of the tabernacle. The sin of the making of the golden calf. The repentance of the people. The erection of the tabernacle.
When the people demanded of Aaron that he make them gods, they committed a great sin. In the language of the Psalmist (106) “They changed God’s glory into the similitude of an ox that eateth grass. They forgot God, their Saviour, which had done great things in Egypt.” Their serving the idol was enmity of God, a rejection of Jehovah. As a result of his lifting the restraints of God’s law, Aaron had unbridled their vile lusts, with the result that they ran to their idol and gave free reign to their base desires in pagan song and dance. They gave themselves up to the wild license with which the worship of Apis had been associated in Egypt. It is not true, as some writers have maintained, that those apostates had no thought of rejecting the Lord but that their purpose was to bring Him nearer to them. This is evident from their subsequent behavior. Moses destroyed the idol. The apostates permitted this, but with hearts that burned with resentment. So, taking his stand in the gate of the camp, Moses cried out, “Who is on the Lord’s side” ‘and (such is the implication of this utterance) against the idol,’ “let him come to me.” The apostates were thus placed under the necessity of openly choosing between Jehovah and the idol, their devil-god. And they chose the idol, consciously. They did so through their refusal to come to Moses. How enormously great was their sin! “Now let me alone,” said the Lord to Moses,” that my wrath may wax hot against them that I may consume them. . . .” A great sin had indeed been committed, a sin greater than the nation had thus far committed. Consider what had taken place. Though deserving to perish with the Egyptians, the Lord (had spared them and delivered them from bondage. They had gazed on the symbols of His holiness—the fire in which the Lord had descended upon the mountain—and had trembled. They had been sprinkled with the blood of the covenant; and for them the Lord had prepared a table in the presence of their enemies. Yet in the very shadow of a mountain flanked with the symbols of His majesty, they forsook Him and cried for the idol, and this despite the fact that Jehovah had just betrothed Himself to them, had spread His skirts over them and covered their nakedness. Verily, a great sin has been committed. And Moses fails to perceive how this sin can be forgiven. “Peradventure,” that is, by chance, it may be, “I shall make an atonement for you.” So he said to the Lord, “Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin” ‘it is well’. . . .; “but if not,” if thou canst not forgive except one die for and in their stead, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book.”
Now the committing of this great sin immediately preceded the erecting of the tabernacle. Why had the Lord so willed? Why had the Lord so arranged His counsels that before the tabernacle could be erected, the people had first to commit this great sin? And the answer? That it might appear what His people are by nature, namely children of disobedience and this on account of their being dead through sin, people with affections set upon the devil-gods of their own fabrication. This had to appear before the tabernacle could be erected in order that His people might perceive that His dwelling among them was an act of love necessitated not by anything of native goodness in them but solely by His will to love them in Christ and that their willingness to be His people and to dwell with Him in His tabernacle was due solely to His mercy, to His will to save them from all their sins.
If now the precinct of the tabernacle was to be the one place where God’s people would be standing in presence of His reflected glory, also the very interior of this structure, in so far as it was visible to the eye, had to consist of such materials as formed the symbol of His spiritual beauty—materials, costly, rich, and beautiful. And such was indeed the case. The walls of the tabernacle were composed of planks overlaid with gold, which rose perpendicularly from sockets of silver, held together by transverse bars of gold, passing through rings of gold. Likewise was all the furniture of the tabernacle plated with gold. And the mercy seat together with the cherubim made into the ends of it were of solid gold, as also the pipes of the candlestick. The pillars upon which the vail hung were overlaid with gold and their hooks were of solid gold. And what is said of the high priest’s garments, namely, that they were made “for glory and for beauty,” applies also to the vail that made division between the holy place and the most holy and to the inner tent cloth that formed the tabernacle proper. They were beautifully made, the colors employed being white, blue, purple and scarlet. As to this clothe and the veil, they were composed of these colors, twisted together. The variegated yarn was woven into the white linen, so as to form figures of cherubim. As to the breastplate of the high priest, it, too, was a thing of beauty. It was made of twelve precious stones set in four rows: sardius (flesh color), carbuncle (red), figure (pale—variegated), beryl (yellow-green), topaz (golden-yellow) , sapphire (sky-blue), agate (glistening-variegated), onyx (greenish), emerald (brilliant green), diamond (transparent or reddish-yellow), amethyst (mostly violet), jasper (dull red, cloudy).
Now since all these costly materials denoted, certainly the variety, manifoldness and totality of the spiritual gifts bestowed on the people of God, and united in the one spirit of heavenly preciousness, the earthly beauty of these materials, as consecrated to sacred use, was at once the symbol of the effulgence of God’s perfections. That these materials thus formed a kind of glass in which could be seen the glory of God is a view that rests on firm ground—on the ground that everywhere in the Scriptures the earthy appears as a symbol of the heavenly. So in the Song of Solomon. In this song, being as it is, Messianic, the descriptions of the natural beauty of the two main characters are in the Anal instance descriptions of the glory of Christ and His church. Now in describing this beauty, the inspired writer employs the name of the very precious metal that was used in the construction of the tabernacle and the name of two of the stones of the breastplate. “His head,” so declares the bride, “is as the most fine gold. . . . His hands are as gold rings set with the beryl: his belly is as bright ivory overlaid with sapphires. His legs are pillars of marble, set upon sockets of fine gold” (chap. 5:11-15). When Isaiah jubilantly exclaims, “The multitude of camels shall cover thee, the dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; all they from Sheba shall come: they shall bring gold and incense; and they shall shew forth the praises of the Lord. . . .Surely the isles shall wait for me, and the ships of Tarshish first, to bring thy sons from far, their silver and their gold with them,” (Isa. 60) it cannot be otherwise than that in this prophetic utterance, the words gold and silver as well as the word incense, denote in the final instance some spiritual gifts with which God’s people appear in His sanctuary. Let us notice in this connection the pillar of cloud, which went before, the children of Israel, when they marched. Often if not usually this cloud would assume a beautiful aspect. In its face would then be seen, it must be assumed, all the colors that appeared in the veil and in the inner covering of the tabernacle. Now in the book of Exodus the beauty of this cloud is called “the glory of the Lord.” “Then a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter into the tent of the congregation, because the cloud abode therein, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Ex. 40:33). Just because the above materials, on account of their richness, costliness and beauty, signified the heavenly glory of God and His kingdom, the apostle John saw in his vision the New Jerusalem a city of pure gold, like unto clear glass; a city, further, whose light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal; whose wall was of jasper; whose foundations were garnished with all manner of precious stones—the very stones that appeared upon the breastplate of the high priest; whose twelve gates were twelve pearls and whose streets were of pure gold. That the beauty of these metals and stones must be taken as the symbol of the radiance of God’s perfections, appears from the statement immediately preceding the description, “And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city. . . .having the glory of God” (Rev. 21:11).
The tabernacle was an instrument of the revelation of the glory of Christ’s God and Father, and thus the one place or house of intercourse between God and the people of Israel, not only as to the costly materials of which it was constructed but also and especially as to and on account of the symbolical-typical things contained in it and the symbolical actions associated with it. As has already been explained in former article, these things and actions bespoke the glory of the Heavenly. First to be mentioned are the sacrifices by blood. Through the death of the victims for these offerings sin was atoned, and, as atoned, forgiven. These sacrifices therefore declared the perfections of God, in particular His justice and mercy. And likewise all the other things connected with the tabernacle, they all set forth the loveliness of Christ and the church and thus the beauties of God in whom the life of the church together with Christ is hidden. The meat-offering set forth the truth that the church is a new creature in Grist, holy harmless, undefiled, separated from sinners, a creature anointed with Christ’s Spirit and joying in God and thus a body agreeable to God’s palate and holy nostrils. As to the shewbread, it, too, was a symbol of the church in its state of perfection. Its being placed in God’s immediate presence, signified that in this state the church is God’s eternal refreshment and delight. The holy incense was the symbol of the prayers of God’s believing people. The burning lamps of the golden candlestick again signified the spiritual beauty of the church, her purity, the ardor of her holy passion and her intellectual and moral enthusiasm. The Holy place, flooded, as it was, by the light of the seven lamps, was a figure of the eternal city, the new Jerusalem, which will have no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it, in that the glory of God will lighten it, and the lamb will be the light thereof. And as to the Holiest place, even in its very dimensions—it formed a perfect cube—it symbolized the perfection of Him Who dwelt there. Here in this place occurred the highest and most distinct revelations of Himself as Israel’s redeemer-God. The sacred things for which this place was properly set apart was the ark of the covenant, which contained the tables of testimony, the pot of manna and the budding rod of Aaron, and upon which rested the mercy-seat with the cherubim on the two ends thereof, stretching forth their wings on high and with their faces looking one to another toward the mercy-seat. How marvelously these things revealed the spiritual and holy nature of God. The law, which is holy, just and good, disclosed to the people of Israel their religious and moral duties toward God—duties in the face of which God was seen as a being altogether worthy of the praise and adoration of His people. The manna testified of God’s power and faithfulness to care for His people in the most destitute circumstances and thus was ready to witness against them in all the future, should they forsake Him and trust in the creature. The budding rod testified of the appointment of Aaron to the priesthood, and of him alone. It therefore through the ages speaks against all those who despise Christ—to choose for themselves other modes of access to God. And the mercy-seat was God’s throne. And this throne was placed over and upon the testimony. Righteousness was thus its foundations. However, so we wrote in a former article, if there was nothing for the eye of God to rest upon but His law, no man could stand before Him and live. For “a fire goeth out before Him, and burneth up His enemies round about” (Ps. 97. 33). But there are men who do live—live with Him in His house as His sons. Men they are whom He forgives and receives back into His favor, yet not without law but with law; in the way of right. Here we stand before the mystery” which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to the saints: . . . .which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” The mystery is Christ, who satisfied the demands of the law through His suffering and death, and entering in by His own blood once into the Holy place, entering in as the atonement covering of His people. They therefore draw near to Him and live. Thus the throne of God is the dwelling place alike of righteousness and mercy—righteousness upholding the claims of the law, and mercy, bridging for God’s people the immeasurable gulf between the sanctuary and hell.
How glorious, this earthy tabernacle! And whose glory did it have? As the great city, the heavenly Jerusalem, it has the glory of God. This statement is of the greatest significance. Consider that the tabernacle pre-figured Christ and His church. If so, this structure, together with all the things and actions connected with it—the sacrifice, the holy incense, the shewbread and the golden candlestick—showed forth, as has just been made plain, the spiritual perfection, the glory, also of Christ and His body. What now follows from this? Firstly that of the glory of Christ and His church, God is the creative fountain and secondly that of God’s glory, the glory of Christ and His people is but the reflection.
The tabernacle, being what it was, to wit, the symbol of the radiance of God’s perfections, was chosen by Him as His place of residence. It had been prepared by Him for this very purpose and thus also for the purpose of intercourse between Him and His people. Said the Lord to Moses, after having revealed to him the pattern of the tabernacle, “And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, of all things which I will give thee in commandment unto the children of Israel” (Ex. 25:22). When thus an end had been made of the rearing of the tabernacle and all its furniture and articles were standing in their places, a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Ex. 40:34).
The tabernacle (temple), being the habitation of God, and exhibiting the things concerning His nature and glory, was the holiest and the greatest thing in Israel. It was the one seat and symbol of the kingdom of heaven on earth, and thus loudly proclaimed the oneness and invisibility of God. In heathen lands and especially in Canaan, every hill and grove had its separate deity and peculiar ceremonies of worship. But God gave His people to understand that he was essentially and absolutely one through His providing Himself with one habitation and one seat of government and through His commanding them to transact with Him in the things concerning His covenant here and not elsewhere. Here it was that they had to present all their sacrifice and service. The tabernacle (temple) then was the one structure to which the believing Israelites could and did point and say, “There dwells our God.” Hence to have access to this chosen residence of Jehovah was justly regarded by the devout as the greatest privilege; and exclusion from this was like being banished from the presence of God. It is only in the light of these statements that the profound grief of the exiles can be explained, “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down. Yea, we wept when we remembered Zion. We (hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us, required of us mirth, saying, sing us one of the songs of Zion. How shall we sing the Lord’s songs in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning” (Ps. 137). And when the time of their return was come, their joy knew no bounds, “When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream. Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing. . . . (Ps. 126). Being children of God, these exiles were in the need of a definite place, where they could be conscious of being in the immediate presence of God, of a place where they could see God’s face and walk and talk with the Lord. And this need, as was said, had been met by the sanctuary. Hence with the sanctuary in ruins, they felt themselves alone and forsaken of God. For they knew not where to locate Him. Their grief was akin to that of a child whose home burned down and who cannot locate its parents. We find Zion therefore complaining as an exile in Babylon, “The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me.” To this the Lord replied, by the mouth of the prophet, “Can a woman forget her suckling child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have engraven thee upon the palms of my (hands” (Isa. 49:14-16). It is thus not correct to say that the believer’s need of this sanctuary sprang solely from the weakness of men in dealing with divine and spiritual things. For, though the worldly sanctuary waxed old and vanished away, this need persisted and is also being met now by the true tabernacle, Christ Jesus. Hence also the New Testament Scriptures speak of the one house of God, the sanctuary, to which believers have the right of excess, and in which they meet with God and have fellowship with Him. “Having therefore, brethren, boldness (right) to enter into the Holiest. . . .” (Heb. 10:19). And a little further on the Holy Spirit, by the pen of the same writer, asserts that the church has now “come to Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. . . . and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant. . . .” By His inhabitation in Christ and in Him alone God is still presenting Himself to His people as essentially and absolutely one. And the true tabernacle, as well as the one that vanished away, is an object of sense, that can be seen and handled by glorified sense organs, so that all the knowledge of God of the saints in glory will everlastingly be taking its beginning in sensuous perception, and this, of necessity as the children of Zion in glory are creatures of body and spirit.
That the tabernacle was God’s house, reared for purposes of communion between Him and His people, is also literally stated, “And let them make me a sanctuary,” said the Lord to Moses, “that I may dwell among them” (Ex. 25:8). Thereupon follows a description of the parts, after which the general design is again indicated thus, “And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, that brought them out of the land of Egypt, that I may dwell among them: for I am the Lord their God” (Ex. 29:25, 46). They were to know this from this very structure to be reared, as in the language of symbol and type it set forth the mediation of Christ. Thus, being God’s chosen residence, also the name used to designate it is one that corresponds to our word dwelling. Other terms used are house, or tent. During the wanderings of the people of Israel in the wilderness, the dwelling was a tent, that is, a collapsible structure that could be taken apart and set up again. The nomadic existence of the church in this period called for just such a dwelling. And at each new encampment, the Lord would again take up His residence in it, so that, in His own language (I Chron. 17:5), He went, during those years “from tent to tent and from one tabernacle to another. So did He follow His people or rather lead them (the ark went before the marching host) all those years, until they dwelt in the promised land of their abode. Then eventually this tent was supplanted by an immovable structure—the temple of Solomon. This was God’s rest (symbolically)—a rest which He entered with His people. But, as this was not the true rest, God’s believing people and thus also the Lord in His association with it, was still a pilgrim and sojourner on the earth. Of this David seemed not to have been sufficiently mindful. So the word of the Lord came to him saying, “. . . .Thou shalt not build me an house to dwell in. . . .I will ordain a place for my people Israel, and will plant them, and they shall dwell in their place, and shall be moved no more; neither shall the children of wickedness waste them any more as at the beginning. . . .” (Chron. 17). From the language here employed, it is plain that the promise here made concerns in the final instance the rest eternal. Thus the temple, being but a shadow, was also spoken of as a tent.
Besides these names, there were still others given to it, descriptive of its use. It was called the tent of meeting (which has been erroneously translated congregation), on account of its being the place where God ‘was to meet and communicate with His people. It was also, to be sure, the place where the people of Israel were to congregate, but solely because it formed “the point of contact and the channel of communion” between God and them. In Ex. 29:42, 43, this is clearly brought out. Here the Lord gives an explanation of the “tent of meeting,” by His saying concerning it, Where I will meet with you, to speak there unto thee: and there I will meet with the children of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by my glory.”
Tabernacle of the testimony, or tent of witness is another name applied to the tabernacle. It took this name from the law of the two tables, which were contained in the chest or ark that stood in the Holiest place. These tables were called “the testimony.” And they gave their name to the ark and even to the whole tabernacle, which were thus called respectively the ark of the testimony and of the tent of the testimony. These tables and their witness were thus identified, in a way, with the ark and with the entire tabernacle. Now the witness of the law, is that God is holy and by implication that His people are guilty and thus ill- deserving and condemnable before Him. Such was the witness that was perpetually proceeding from the tabernacle. However, on account of the presence of the blood upon the mercy-seat, the tabernacle in the language of symbol spoke also of better things; it spoke of divine mercy and forgiveness and thus exhibited God’s believing people as restored to His favor and blessing. More must be said, on account of the presence of the shed blood on the mercy-seat, the tabernacle, as viewed in its connection with this blood, formed the very means by which God was reconciling (symbolically) His people to Himself. Thus this dwelling was not simply for imparting the knowledge of God’s will, or holding communion with Him, in general, it was also for the purpose of imparting knowledge respecting sin and redemption, of bringing under the conviction of sin, and of serving as the means of saving sinners from their sins.
(to be continued)