The tangible, material tabernacle and the service in it are “the copies of the things in the heavens” (Heb 9:23). The tabernacle is not the true dwelling place of God, but represents it. God does not dwell in “a holy place made with hands, a [mere] copy of the true one” (Heb 9:24; 2Chr 6:18).
In Scripture there are three real dwellings of God:
1. heaven (1Kgs 8:39a Psa 115:3,16),
2. the Lord Jesus (Jn 1:14a, where “dwelt” is literally “tabernacled”; Col 1:19; 2:9) and
3. the church (Eph 2:22; 1Tim 3:15; Heb 3:1-6).
The tabernacle is a tent in the wilderness. This can be applied to the church on earth, in which God the Holy Spirit dwells.
The tabernacle is:
1. a picture of the dwelling place of God among His people,
2. a picture of His glory as He revealed it completely in the Lord Jesus and
3. a description of the way of the sinner to God.
The description of the tabernacle is given to Moses by the LORD in one long speech in the Exodus 25-31. This speech – interrupted seven times by “the LORD said” or “the LORD spoke” – can be divided into four parts:
1. Exodus 25-27 contains the parts that in picture give the revelation of God in Christ to man.
2. Exodus 28-29 shows the priesthood as the means by which man can approach God.
3. Exodus 30 contains the parts that show in picture how and with what man can approach God.
4. In Exodus 31 we hear who God designates to build the tabernacle.
1 - 9 Materials to Be Collected
1 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Tell the sons of Israel to raise a contribution for Me; from every man whose heart moves him you shall take My heave offering. 3 This is the heave offering which you are to take from them: gold, silver and bronze, 4 blue, purple and scarlet [material], fine linen, goat [hair], 5 rams’ skins dyed red, porpoise skins, acacia wood, 6 oil for lighting, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, 7 onyx stones and setting stones for the ephod and for the breastpiece. 8 Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them. 9 According to all that I am going to show you, [as] the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furniture, just so you shall construct [it].
For the construction of the tabernacle the LORD wants to use the means that His people make available for it. Those means must be offered to Him as a heave offering. It is not set as an obligation, but is asked “from every man whose heart moves him” (cf. 2Cor 9:7).
If we bear in mind that the tabernacle is the revelation of God to man, we see that this revelation is linked to the mind of the heart. Only those who ‘heave’ what they have above daily use and offer it to God as a “heave offering” share in God’s thoughts about His dwelling place.
In all materials something of God and the Lord Jesus becomes visible. In the seven types of materials needed, we see a number of features:
1. metals – speak of what characterizes God’s Being and nature;
2. fabrics – speak of the glory of the Lord Jesus as Man on earth;
3. skins – are derived from animals, and speak, like the fabrics, of the Lord Jesus as Man on earth, but more specifically in connection with His work on the cross;
4. wood – speaks of the complete humanity of the Lord Jesus;
5. oil – represents the Holy Spirit;
6. spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense – represent the inner, personal glories of the Lord Jesus;
7. precious stones – speak of the glories of God, as they are reflected in the individual believers.
All these materials must be used to make a “sanctuary” in which the LORD can dwell among His people. If it is our desire that the Lord Jesus can dwell with His people, the church, we will give Him our total life and everything we possess. The church is His house, but the picture of the construction of the tabernacle shows us how we can experience this in practice. Total surrender to Him is needed to work out the truth of being God’s house to God’s glory in practice in the gathering and living together of the church.
What the tabernacle should look like is not left to the imagination of Moses. The LORD shows him the model and so he must make it. Thus Ezekiel sees in a vision the form and stature of the new temple which he is to present to Israel: “So that they may observe its whole design and all its statutes and do them” (Eze 43:11; cf. 1Chr 28:19).
10 - 16 The Ark
10 “They shall construct an ark of acacia wood two and a half cubits long, and one and a half cubits wide, and one and a half cubits high. 11 You shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and out you shall overlay it, and you shall make a gold molding around it. 12 You shall cast four gold rings for it and fasten them on its four feet, and two rings shall be on one side of it and two rings on the other side of it. 13 You shall make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. 14 You shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, to carry the ark with them. 15 The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be removed from it. 16 You shall put into the ark the testimony which I shall give you.
God begins with a description of the center of the tabernacle: the ark. It is most hidden from man, but most precious to God. There He dwells. The ark with the mercy seat on it represent:
1. the truth concerning the Person of the Lord Jesus: He is God (pure gold) and Man (wood) in one Person;
2. the truth of the work of the Lord Jesus, of which the mercy seat speaks (verse 17).
The testimony, the law, must be placed in the ark. This represents the Lord Jesus saying: “Your law is within my heart” (Psa 40:8). His lust is to do God’s will. In everything His obedience to God is expressed.
The ark must be carried by the Levites. The care for the ark is entrusted to people who have been appointed by God. Now that are all believers. A special class doesn’t exist in the New Testament church.
17 - 21 The Mercy Seat
17 “You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold, two and a half cubits long and one and a half cubits wide. 18 You shall make two cherubim of gold, make them of hammered work at the two ends of the mercy seat. 19 Make one cherub at one end and one cherub at the other end; you shall make the cherubim [of one piece] with the mercy seat at its two ends. 20 The cherubim shall have [their] wings spread upward, covering the mercy seat with their wings and facing one another; the faces of the cherubim are to be [turned] toward the mercy seat. 21 You shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony which I will give to you.
The mercy seat covers the ark in which the law lies. The law condemns man. On the mercy seat are two cherubs which form a whole with the mercy seat. Cherubs watch over the holiness of God and are the executioners of His judgment (Gen 3:24). Therefore blood is sprinkled on the mercy seat. The blood says, as it were, that God’s holy and just demands have been met. The judgment has been erased, but it has been carried out over an innocent sacrifice, so that the guilty may receive forgiveness and go unpunished.
22 God’s Place of Meeting
22 There I will meet with you; and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak to you about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel.
God dwells between the cherubs (Psa 80:2c 99:1; Isa 37:16). It should not surprise us that this is the place where God will and can come together with the people. God has found His full pleasure in His Son and in the work He has accomplished. The Man Christ Jesus is the “mediator … between God and men” (1Tim 2:5). “God displayed” him as a propitiation” (Rom 3:25), that is the mercy seat.
God wants to come together with His children, the church, where the Lord Jesus is the center point and where is thought about His work. There He also wants to make known His will for the way He wants His people to go. Although the church no longer acts as a whole, God does indicate in His Word how He wants it to be in His church when they assemble (1Cor 14:26). Thus Paul also writes rules of conduct to Timothy, by which we as members of His church know how to conduct in the daily practice “in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth” (1Tim 3:15).
23 - 30 The Table with the Bread of the Presence
23 “You shall make a table of acacia wood, two cubits long and one cubit wide and one and a half cubits high. 24 You shall overlay it with pure gold and make a gold border around it. 25 You shall make for it a rim of a handbreadth around [it]; and you shall make a gold border for the rim around it. 26 You shall make four gold rings for it and put rings on the four corners which are on its four feet. 27 The rings shall be close to the rim as holders for the poles to carry the table. 28 You shall make the poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold, so that with them the table may be carried. 29 You shall make its dishes and its pans and its jars and its bowls with which to pour drink offerings; you shall make them of pure gold. 30 You shall set the bread of the Presence on the table before Me at all times.
The ark stands in the holy of holies, the table stands in the holy place. The priestly service takes place in the holy place. The table is also a picture of the Lord Jesus. The twelve loaves of bread thereon represent the people of God - the twelve tribes. The table with the bread of the Presence on it gives the picture that the people of God are presented to God by the Lord Jesus as food for Him. God rejoices when He sees His people so connected to His Son.
The table is smaller in size than the ark. The community of God’s children is a smaller circle than the circle the ark extends to. The ark as a symbol of the Lord Jesus extends to all people. Everyone is invited to come. The table represents those who have come, with whom God can have fellowship.
The height of the table is the same as that of the ark. Both the sinner and the believer can only come to God through and in the Lord Jesus.
Just like the ark, the table also has poles. That means that we have to carry two things:
1. The truth concerning Christ and His work, presented in the ark; and
2. the truth connected with fellowship3 with God in the world.
31 - 40 The Lampstand
31 “Then you shall make a lampstand of pure gold. The lampstand [and] its base and its shaft are to be made of hammered work; its cups, its bulbs and its flowers shall be [of one piece] with it. 32 Six branches shall go out from its sides; three branches of the lampstand from its one side and three branches of the lampstand from its other side. 33 Three cups [shall be] shaped like almond [blossoms] in the one branch, a bulb and a flower, and three cups shaped like almond [blossoms] in the other branch, a bulb and a flower—so for six branches going out from the lampstand; 34 and in the lampstand four cups shaped like almond [blossoms], its bulbs and its flowers. 35 A bulb shall be under the [first] pair of branches [coming] out of it, and a bulb under the [second] pair of branches [coming] out of it, and a bulb under the [third] pair of branches [coming] out of it, for the six branches coming out of the lampstand. 36 Their bulbs and their branches [shall be of one piece] with it; all of it shall be one piece of hammered work of pure gold. 37 Then you shall make its lamps seven [in number]; and they shall mount its lamps so as to shed light on the space in front of it. 38 Its snuffers and their trays [shall be] of pure gold. 39 It shall be made from a talent of pure gold, with all these utensils. 40 See that you make [them] after the pattern for them, which was shown to you on the mountain.
The lampstand stands, as does the table, in the holy place. No sizes are mentioned for the lampstand, but the weight is. The glory of the Lord Jesus cannot be measured by us, but can be weighed in our hearts.
The lampstand is carrying seven lamps. Herein we can see a picture of the Lord Jesus who carries the seven churches: “As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches” (Rev 1:20). It can be compared to the table that carries the breads. A lampstand gives light, that is also the task of the churches. The churches can only give light in connection with the One Who carries.
This light is spread in the holy place, in the presence of God. The light of the lampstand falls first on the lampstand itself. In the sanctuary we are allowed to gain more and more insight into the Lord Jesus. The light also falls on the table representing the fellowship of the saints.
The arms of the lampstand come out of the shaft and form a whole with it. Thus the church was created by the work of the Lord Jesus and forms one whole with Him. The decoration of the arms of the candlestick speaks of the fruits of the work of the Lord Jesus.
The utensils (verse 38) serve to make the light shine brightly. The Lord Jesus uses all kinds of means to let His own spread a bright light. Above all He gave the Holy Spirit to teach His church about His glory (Jn 16:13-14). The Holy Spirit directs the full light on Christ and wants to focus the full attention of the church on Him. If the church is impressed by Who Christ is, this will be reflected in the lives of the members of the church individually and in the meetings of the church in particular. To this end, the believers are exhorted: “Do not quench the Spirit” (1Thes 5:19).