The tabernacle offers real access to God, but it is limited access. Not everyone can go into the tabernacle and only a very select few can enter the Most Holy Place on a restricted basis. The priests would both serve God (28:41), and represent Israel when they did so. We see the representative part of their job description when they are directed to wear the names of the tribes of Israel engraved on stones on their chest (Ex. 28:9-12). The priests would offer sacrifices that were pleasing to God and also ones that were used by God as a means of atoning for the sin of the people. As we read these passages, we see the elaborate preparations of the priests – the beauty of their clothes and the rituals to set them apart. But we also see the precarious position that they minister in as we hear the constant reminder, “lest they die.”
Reflect and Connect: The OT practice of priesthood is fulfilled in Jesus. The book of Hebrews explains that Jesus is the great high priest who represents us before God and gives us access to the power of God. Because Jesus is our high priest, we no longer need a human being to formally represent us before God, we can all enter the presence of God through Christ. At the same time, we serve as “lowercase-p” priests when we pray for other people. Consider these NT passages in light of the OT practices we read about today:
Hebrews 4:15-16 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Hebrews 10:19-22 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
I Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Exodus 25-26, 40
We are now starting to skip over some sections of material. When we skip a section of the Bible it is noted by an "*" in the reading chart. As we read through Exodus and beyond, we will try to achieve a summary of the material that is found there, but in many books, we will have to present a “condensed reading.” Our goal is to achieve an overall vision of the grand picture of redemptive history. In order to see the whole forest in its proper perspective we will need to skip past a few of the trees. For our reading today, we combined chapters that describe the role of the tabernacle, including chapter 40 - the last chapter in the book.
For the purposes of Biblical continuity, the tabernacle is essentially a “portable temple.” It is pictured the same way as the temple, except that it is made of tent material. (The temple will be built later in the history of Israel, under King Solomon and a rebuilt form would continue to be used into the time of Christ.) The tabernacle also functions the same way as the temple in that it provides a meeting place for God with his people. God introduced the tabernacle construction project with the words, “Let them make for me a sanctuary that I may dwell in their midst” (Ex. 25:8). The whole structure and all of the items placed within it were meant to be a visible symbol of how we relate to God. The sacrifices, the separate spaces, and the elaborate rituals of cleansing all combined to show that God is holy and humans are not. In the back room of the tabernacle was the Most Holy Place, where the Spirit of God was tangibly present above the Ark of the Covenant. As the book of Exodus ends, the Spirit of God descends on the tabernacle and God is really living with his people (Exodus 40:34-38). This answers a question that has been lurking ever since the Passover. That is, If God is so exceedingly holy, but his people are prone to grumbling, disobedience and even rebellion - how can he live among them? The immediate answer is: “very carefully.” The long term answer is: “Jesus.”
Reflect: Humans are prone to create religious ideas out of their own imagination. When we do this, our version of the divine is always more approachable and human-like than the living God. The structure and practices associated with the temple highlight God’s separateness and our need for mercy. How do your human concepts of God need to be recalibrated by the tabernacle?
Connect: God was made known to his people through the tabernacle, but it a limited access and a limited revelation. When God chose to reveal himself to us definitively, he made himself known through Jesus, whom John said, “tabernacled” among us. This is what the Greek text literally says, but since that is not an English word, the ESV translates John 1:14 as “dwelt among us.”
John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
This blog is part of the ministry of City Reformed Presbyterian Church. Unless otherwise noted, the entries are written by Matt Koerber. This is part of a project that our church is doing as we read through the narrative sections of Scripture between early January and Easter 2020. New entries will be scheduled to drop automatically at 5:00 am on the scheduled day.