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Exodus 26:3033; 29:4346; 40:3438comment (0)

June 27, 2013

By Jeffery M. Leonard

Related Scripture: Exodus 26:3033; 29:4346; 40:3438


Bible Studies for Life
Assistant Professor of Religion, Samford God Dwells Among His People

Exodus 26:30–33; 29:43–46; 40:34–38

Follow God’s Plan (26:30–33)
One of the great oddities of the Bible is that it so rarely describes what things look like. The land of Israel profoundly affects the culture and religion of the Israelite people, yet the biblical authors spend almost no time at all describing the landscape. Even important characters only rarely have features of their physical appearance described. Four Gospels tell the story of Jesus, yet we are told little more about His appearance than that He wore a seamless robe prized by His Roman executioners.

When a person’s features are described in the Bible, those features are almost always vital to the character’s story. King Saul is said to be head and shoulders taller than his countrymen, an important qualification for one chosen to look Israel’s enemy Goliath in the eye. Absalom’s luxurious locks are described, and rightly so, since his long hair would lead to his untimely death. Physical descriptions, when they are given, signal us that something important is at hand. What then must Exodus be telling us when 13 chapters are devoted to the description of a tent?

It seems unlikely that interest in the tent’s physical appearance alone can explain this lengthy description. While sometimes intricate in detail, the text is also sufficiently vague in places as to leave scholars in profound disagreement over the structure’s layout. More important than appearance is function. What the tabernacle does is apparently more important than what it looks like.

Encounter God’s Presence (29:43–46)
One of the functions of the tabernacle was to serve as a portable Mount Sinai. The connections between the tabernacle and Sinai are quite striking. Both are partitioned into three precincts. The people are allowed to come to the foot of Sinai and the leaders to go partway up, but only Moses is to go to the top. Similarly, the people are invited to the tabernacle courtyard and the priests to the holy place, but only the high priest could enter the holy of holies. Both give central place to God’s Word. Centered between the inauguration and conclusion of the Sinai ceremony in Exodus 19 and 24 is the giving of the Law in chapters 20–23. Symbolically centered in the tabernacle are the tablets of the Ten Commandments, stored inside the Ark of the Covenant inside the holy of holies.

Both place heavy emphasis on the presence of God. A lampstand, incense altar and showbread table were placed in the holy place, each recalling an element of God’s presence at Sinai. The fire that covered Sinai at God’s approach is preserved in the lamps that are lit. The smoke that billowed from the mountain continues in the smoke from the incense altar. The meal shared with God at the end of the Sinai experience (Ex. 24:11) is recalled in the showbread set on the table. Each time the Israelites met with God at the tabernacle, they encountered anew the God they met at Sinai.

Acknowledge God’s Glory (40:34–38)
A second and equally important function of the tabernacle was to serve as a divine throne room. The trappings of the tabernacle bear a striking resemblance to those of a palace. Gold furnishings; expensive blue, purple and scarlet fabrics; precious gems — all of these royal accoutrements adorn this structure. Even the layout of the holy place and holy of holies, the two rooms that form the tabernacle proper, resemble a palace. One first enters the holy place, the antechamber to the actual throne room — the holy of holies in which God would allow His divine presence to dwell. Appropriately, the Ark of the Covenant found in this throne room is even described as the divine monarch’s footstool (1 Chron. 28:2). 

When the high priest as representative of the people entered the holy of holies, he did so as a subject entering the presence of a sovereign. With the same balance of familiarity and respect that one would have given a David or a Solomon, the priest exemplified the tension between our being allowed to approach God as father and friend but being called to show the fear and respect due a sovereign and Lord.

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