Have you ever heard someone allegorizing portions of Scripture? Some will look at the Old Testament altar and say that it represents Jesus. Others go further to assign meaning to each part of the tabernacle and its furnishings. A website (which I will not cite here) stated that the door covering which measured 10 by 10 represented both perfection and Jesus. This kind of thinking is reaching for meaning where none was intended and leads to making up things instead of finding the clear meaning God has for us in the Bible.
This morning, we will survey God’s instructions to Moses for building the tabernacle and its furnishings. While not all of us have experience in constructing buildings, the descriptions given in these chapters will give us an idea of the size and beauty of the tabernacle. Following this description, we will look at five thoughts conveyed in these chapters that are also mentioned in the New Testament for us.
- What was Moses to build for Old Testament worship?
a. The Ark of the Covenant (25:10-16)
The Ark of the Covenant was “a rectangular chest (2′ 3″ wide, 3′ 9″ long and 2′ 3″ high, based on the cubit as 18″) made of acacia wood and overlaid inside and out with … gold” (Hannah 148). The Lord later told Moses to put the stone tablets in it along with a pot of manna and Aaron’s rod that budded. It was to be carried with gold covered poles inserted into the rings on its side.
b. The Mercy Seat (25:17-22)
The Mercy Seat was a gold lid placed on top of the Ark of the Covenant. On top of it were two golden cherubim on either side facing the center of the lid. “Apparently these golden cherubim were to resemble winged angels in God’s presence” (Hannah 148). The Ark and the Mercy Seat were to be kept in the Holy Place of the tabernacle where the priest would come once a year to sprinkle blood to atone for the sins of the nation (Lev. 16:1-19).
c. The Table for Showbread (25:23-30)
The table was “1′ 6″ wide, 3′ long, and 2′ 3″ high … made of acacia wood (like the ark, v. 10), covered with … gold and was to be carried by gold-covered poles in the same manner as the ark. A frame about 3″ wide (a handbreadth) around the edge of the table would keep objects from falling off” (Hannah 148).
On this table, the priests were to place 12 loaves (cakes) of bread sprinkled with frankincense every Sabbath day (Lev. 24:5-9) in the presence of the Lord in the holy place. The priests were later to eat this bread in the holy place.
d. The Golden Lampstand (25:31-40; 27:20-21)
The lampstand (menorah) was to be made of a talent of pure gold (about 75 pounds). The instructions given to Moses included ornamental knobs and flowers. It must have been very beautiful.
“On each side of an upright shaft were three branches extended upward. Each branch had three … almond flower-shaped cups (v. 33), and the center shaft had four such cups (v. 34). At the top of the center shaft and each of the six branches was a lamp (v. 37). The seven lamps in the lampstand provided light in the tent (v. 37)” (Hannah 149).
In Leviticus 27:20-21, the Lord commanded the Israelites to provide olive oil to keep this lamp burning continually. The priests added oil every morning and at sunset.
e. The Tabernacle (26:1-37)
“The portable building was 15′ by 45′ with a wooden framework at the sides, top, and back. Over the top and back of the structure were placed 10 curtains which served as a large tent” (Hannah 149).
The tabernacle was made of gold-covered acacia wood boards, fine linen curtains, goats hair curtains, bronze clasps, a roof made of rams skins died red and badger skins, silver sockets to hold the vertical boards, a woven veil of blue, purple and scarlet thread with cherubim on it, and a screen to cover the doorway of the same colors.
f. The Altar of Burnt Offering (27:1-8)
Outside of the tabernacle was the altar of burnt offering. This is where the animal sacrifices were to be burned.
“It was to be made of acacia wood, was 7 1/2′ square and 4 1/2′ high, with a horn ( a projection that looked like an animal horn) at each of the four corners, overlaid with bronze” (Hannah 150).
“The grating, or bronze network, placed on a ledge within and halfway up the altar (a little more than 2′ up) … may have been the place where the animal meat was cooked” (Hannah 150).
g. The Court of the Tabernacle (27:9-19)
The final section was a fence surrounding the tabernacle and creating the Court of the Tabernacle. The rectangular fence was 75′ by 150′ and was made of linen curtains supported by bronze pillars. The entrance gate was covered by a screen made of blue, purple, and scarlet thread.
“The height of the surrounding curtainwall was 7 1/2′ (27:18). This was high enough to prevent casual onlookers from peeping in; yet it was only half the height of the tabernacle itself so that the tabernacle could be seen” (Hannah 151).
The Lord told Moses exactly what to build for the place where the Lord would live and receive worship from the Israelites. The tabernacle and its furnishings must have been both beautiful and sobering as the Israelites recognized God’s presence with them. But… Christians don’t have a tabernacle nor do we offer sacrifices anymore. This leads us to our next question.
- What do New Testament Christians learn from these chapters?
a. The Lord loves a cheerful giver (25:2; 2 Cor. 9:7).
Did you notice what the Lord said about the offering of gold, silver, bronze, cloth, wood, and animal skins? He wanted the people to bring the items needed for the tabernacle from willing hearts. In other words, the Lord loves a cheerful giver. Does that sound familiar?
2 Cor. 9:7 – “So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.”
When we lived in Wickliffe, a neighbor told me that his church was always asking for more money. It became a turnoff to him that kept him from wanting to go to that church. Because of this (and perhaps this Bible verse), some churches have moved from an offering plate being passed to a box in the back where people can quietly give as they desire to do so.
God has not changed since Moses’ time. He wants us to give to His work not because we feel pressured, but because we want to.
b. The Lord wants to be with His people (25:8; John 14:23).
In Exodus 25:8, God specifically told Moses that the sanctuary/tabernacle was to be built so that He could live among the Israelites. The Lord wanted to be with His people.
This same idea is also mentioned in the New Testament.
John 14:23 – “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.'”
Jesus made it clear that God wants to live with Christians. Not only does the Holy Spirit indwell every Christian, but God the Son and God the Father want to be “at home” with us. This close relationship is something that the Lord has always wanted.
c. The Lord is specific about what he wants (25:9, 40; 26:30; 1 Cor. 14:22-40).
One of the things you may have noticed in Exodus 25-27 is the repeated command for Moses to follow the exact instructions given to him on the mountain. Apparently, the Lord had shown Moses a pattern for how to build the tabernacle when he was on the mountain. For an unexplained reason, the Lord was very specific about how things were to be done.
The New Testament gives no description of how church buildings are to be built. In fact, the early church met at the temple in Jerusalem or in people’s homes. It wasn’t until the 3rd century that church buildings became popular.
However, there is something we can learn from God’s repeated commands. The Lord is specific about our worship. We must worship him in spirit and in truth (John 4). And there are certain instructions about how church services are to be run. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 14:22-40, Paul had to give the Corinthian church some instructions on how the Lord wanted things to be done. Apparently, the services had become out of control and were not pleasing to the Lord.
How should we worship the Lord today? “Every Bible-believing church body must be regulated by the authority of Scripture. If it does not, it has ceased to be a New Testament church” (GotQuestions). Let us be careful that our church services today are honoring to the Lord and that they do not bring in practices that detract from true worship as God desires.
d. The Lord deserves to be honored with our best (25:13, 17, 24, 31; Col. 3:23-24).
You may have noticed that a lot of gold and expensive materials were used in constructing the tabernacle. If we were required to gold plate the church building, we could not afford it! Just remember that the building materials were donated by an entire nation of several million people.
I think the point that we should take from this is that the Lord deserves to be honored with our best. We should not give the Lord our hand me downs but our best. This thought is given in the New Testament as well.
Colossians 3:23-24 – “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.”
Whether it is giving toward church ministry, missionaries, building projects, or a camp offering, we should consider how we can honor the Lord with our best. This doesn’t mean that we stop paying our bills or that we extend ourselves beyond our means. However, with all that the Lord has done for us, shouldn’t we consider him worthy of our best?
e. The Lord made all of this obsolete by his death on the cross (Heb. 9:11-12).
As we looked at the altar of burnt offering, the tabernacle, and the mercy seat, it was a bit sobering for me. Although the Lord wanted to be with His people, there was definitely something keeping them from a close relationship to Him. What was it? It was their sin. Quite often, the people would need to offer a sin offering to restore their relationship with the Lord. And being that people sin often, this continued repeatedly throughout the year.
Thankfully, the Lord put an end to that by sending Jesus who died on the cross and gave his blood to pay the final, once-for-all cost for our sins.
Hebrews 9:11-12 – “But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.”
As a result, each of us can be forgiven by God through faith in Jesus who died for us and rose again.
In both the Old and New Testament times, God’s people knew that the Lord wanted to be with them. But they also knew that they did not deserve a good relationship with God because of their sin. Old Testament believers believed God and offered sacrifices as He directed them. New Testament believers also believe God but no longer bring offerings to God. Instead, they trust in the finished work of Jesus who died on the cross for them and rose again.
Are you trusting Jesus to forgive your sins and bring to you to God? If not, will you trust Him today? Secondly, if you are a Christian, are you giving your best to the Lord, or are you holding back for some reason? Will you give of your best this week and seek to serve Him with the time and talents He has given you?
Hannah, John D., “Exodus” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1989, 147-151.
“Question: “Regulative vs. normative principle of worship – which viewpoint is correct?” as viewed at https://printer.gotquestions.net/GeneratePF?articleId=9545 on 8/13/2022.