And it came to pass in the first month in the second year, on the first day of the month, that the tabernacle was reared up . . .
Then a cloud covered the test of the congregation, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.
It was during the first forty-day stay on the mountain that God revealed to Moses the plan for His holy tabernacle. It was a wonderful plan for a beautiful tent constructed of the richest materials through which Israel would be able to worship its God in truth. With the plan came the gracious promise that Jehovah would dwell among the children of Israel and would be their God. While Moses had rejoiced in the beauty of the plan unfolded by God, Israel had not been ready to receive it. Much had yet to transpire before the people would be able to appreciate the institution of the tabernacle and its worship. First there had to take place the sin of the golden calf and its grievous results. It was a sad and disappointing history through which they had to pass, but it was necessary for Israel to come to a full consciousness of its own innate wickedness and corruption. Once the people had come to a humble awareness of their own unworthiness’ they would be able to, appreciate the fact that God had made His dwelling in their midst; but not before.
Now this had all happened. Israel had sinned its great sin by imitating the orgies of the heathen in the very shadow of God’s holy mountain. Only by the faithful intercession of Moses had they been saved from the judgment of God and eternal destruction. At the same time Jehovah had made clear that as He continued to go. on in their midst, it would be in perfect holiness. He would have mercy upon whom He would have mercy, but He would also judge whom He would for the hardness of their hearts. This had been made perfectly clear to Moses during the second period of forty days when the glory of God passed before him on the mountain. This time when he returned he did not find Israel again engaged in sin. The consciousness of guilt weighed too heavily upon their hearts for them to be able to give themselves again to open abandonment and sin. When Moses appeared before them the very reflection of the holiness of God from his face was more than their guilty hearts could endure. They pleaded with him to cover his face with a veil. The sinfulness of Israel was not yet gone, but they had come to a new spirit of humble repentance. Now they were ready to receive the holy tabernacle of the Lord, for the tabernacle was designed to be a blessing only unto those who came to it with humble and repentant hearts.
Calling the people together, Moses laid before them the need which they had for materials to build the tabernacle of God. Only the best and richest of materials could be used, for Jehovah could not be served through anything that was inferior and marred. Even more it was required that all that was brought for this cause should be given with a willing and God-fearing heart. God could accept no gift that was given for any motive less than pure and undefiled love. Soon the many different materials needed for the tabernacle were being brought to Moses in abundant supply. All manner of jewelry made of gold, and silver and precious stones was brought as willingly as it had been brought to Aaron before for the golden calf, but with a much deeper joy and confidence. The golden earrings given to Aaron had been offered recklessly in an abandonment to just. Now all was being brought with hearts joyful and free, thankful for the privilege of giving their best to the Lord. In addition there was brought fine linen of blue and purple and scarlet, goat’s hair, and skins of rams and badgers, shittem wood, brass, spices and oil. All that was needed for the tabernacle was presented before Moses and much more besides.
Soon a great bustle of activity was to be seen throughout the camp of Israel. A feeling of vital concern for the sanctuary of God had entered and filled the hearts of the host of God’s chosen people. It stirred them with a zeal of holy dedication. The dwelling place of Jehovah had to be built, and it was a work that had to be done exactly according to the pattern revealed upon the mountain. Everyone according to his or her personal ability wanted to serve this cause. Some worked in preparing the materials, metal and’ wood and fine twined threads. Some worked in fashioning the material, molding, carving, weaving and embroidering. Finally there were two men, Bezaleel and Aholiab, who were especially qualified by God to put the last finishing touches upon each piece that was made that it might conform in closest detail to the pattern that Moses had received from God. No piece could be too carefully wrought; no standard was too exacting; this was God’s work and it had to be good. Days and weeks and months passed by as Israel applied itself with diligence to the beauty of this task; but the people did not tire. So great was the zeal that the time came when more than enough work had been done, and they had to be ordered to stop. At last each completed piece was deposited before Moses in the form that had been designated by God, and Moses declared it to be right. All had been done just as the Lord had commanded them, and Moses blessed the people for the faithfulness of their labor.
Nearly six full months had been spent in preparing the beautiful tapestry and furnishings for the tabernacle; but as yet none of the parts had been assembled. It remained for the day appointed by God that the tabernacle should be raised as a completed and holy sanctuary unto Jehovah. That date was of monumental importance, for God appointed it to be the day which marked the first anniversary of Israel’s departure from Egypt. It was a day well chosen to remind Israel of the great blessings it had received.
Early in the morning of the appointed day the children of Israel began to gather about the space that had been allotted for the tabernacle. As the people watched in solemn silence, the walls of the tabernacle were erected and the beautifully woven coverings of the tent were draped over them. Into the inmost sanctuary the ark of the covenant with the carefully fashioned mercy seat was placed, and the fine twined linen veil was hung before it that henceforth no human eye but those of the high priest might gaze upon its glory. Next the golden furnishings of the foremost sanctuary, the table of shew bread, the candlestick, and the altar of incense, were carefully put in place. Fresh bread was placed on the table; the lamps were lit; incense was offered upon the altar; and again a veil was stretched before them. Before the door of the tabernacle the altar of burnt offering was set up, and a burnt offering and a meat offering were offered upon it. Between the altar and the tabernacle the laver of washing was placed, and around the tabernacle and its court a fine linen curtain was hung upon pillars of silver. Many, many different pieces were involved in this all; but there was a place for everything and each piece fit precisely into its place. There was wonderment just in watching the sanctuary rising smoothly and in order from the maze of materials that had been setting all around. Finally, when the whole of the building had been erected, Aaron and his sons were called forth to be clothed in their rich, flowing robes so that they might serve as a holy priesthood unto the Lord. The last finishing touch was applied when Moses took the oil of consecration and sprinkled it over all, over the tabernacle, over its furnishings, and over the family of Aaron which henceforth was to spend its life in holy consecration to the Lord. This oil was a symbol of the Holy Spirit by whose power alone this tabernacle could be dedicated in complete consecration to the pure and holy service of Jehovah God.
The blessing of God rested upon the work of Israel, they knew, for as soon as all had been consecrated the cloud of His presence descended upon the tabernacle, and, His glory filled it throughout. Henceforth He would make His dwelling place in the inmost sanctuary upon the mercy seat. Jehovah had come to make His dwelling place in their midst. So great was His glory revealed in the tabernacle that day that even Moses could not enter in Israel could only stand at a distance and worship.
Henceforth the tabernacle, and the temple that succeeded it, would be one of the richest blessings that the Old Testament Church would ever have. In the tabernacle the Gospel was set before them in terms, which they, in their day of limited revelation, could understand.
In the tabernacle the truth of God’s covenant of grace was symbolized, and from the tabernacle the actual experience of the covenant went forth. In the tabernacle God dwelt upon the mercy seat, between the golden cherubim. His dwelling was in the very heart of Israel’s camp. Whenever the children of Israel would look to the tabernacle, they received from its very presence the testimony that God was with them. Whenever the individual believer felt in his heart a need for spiritual strength and assurance, he could go to the tabernacle and commune with God through the ceremonial means that were instituted; and receive the testimony that he was accepted. It was as though God were continuously repeating His covenant promise to everyone who had eyes to see and a heart to understand, saying, “And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee” (Gen. 17:7). God’s faithfulness in friendship and love was set before their eyes to be seen through the power of faith; God was with them.
But the tabernacle was more than that. It set forth the Gospel as a Gospel of grace. It testified that the blessings of the covenant were a free gift of grace from God to His people and not the other way around. As they came to the tabernacle, each step of the way testified of that. No sooner had they entered the court but they stood before the altar testifying that because they were sinners they could stand before, God only through a sacrifice of atonement in the shedding of blood. Even at that they could go farther only through their representative, the priest, who was washed in the laver and could serve typically as their mediator before God. For them the priest could enter the sanctuary where were the visible representations of the bread of life sufficient for the whole of God’s Church in the twelve loaves on the golden table, the light of covenant life shed abroad by the Holy Spirit in the seven golden lamps filled with the consecrated oil, and the intercessory means of acceptance for the prayers of God’s people in the altar of incense which gave forth a sweet smelling savor before the face of God. Even more, within the inner sanctuary there was the ark of the covenant with its mercy seat upon which rested the cloud of God’s presence. The Angel of Jehovah dwelt there filling the tabernacle with the glory of God. Once every year the high priest as the mediator and representative of the people of God was permitted to enter that holy sanctuary with the blood of the great day of atonement as a testimony that some day when the blood of atonement was perfectly shed the people of God would be brought into the very presence of God. The whole of the tabernacle gave a visible expression to the wonder of grace and blessing which one day would be fulfilled in the promised seed yet to come. In type and shadow it testified of Jesus Christ.
Considering all this, we can understand the Psalmist who wrote, “One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I. seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in his temple” (Ps. 27:4).