Thomas J. Mowery
"Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount." (Heb 8:5 KJV)
"For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope." (Rom 15:4 KJV)
To many, the Tabernacle which was erected in the wilderness by the Israelites under the leadership of Moses, is a distant thing in the past which might not be of much interest. However, the Tabernacle (as all things in the Scriptures) can be related to the believerís life. While all things recorded in the Scriptures cannot be applied Doctrinally to the present day Believer who is "rightly dividing the word of truth" but, all things recorded can be applied Spiritually. The Tabernacle is a beautiful picture of things which directly affect the Believer today! Dr. M.R. DeHaan said "There is no portion of Scripture richer in meaning , or more perfect in itís teaching" (Olford 15). As the Apostle Paul pointed out in the above verse to the Romans, God provided us with His written Word for our learning that we might know more about ourselves, Him, His promises, His attributes and most importantly His desire to redeem us. A study of the Tabernacle, and the symbolism associated with it, is most beneficial to any serious student who desires to know more of our God and the future prepared for us. Very clearly, God intended for us to spend some time reading on this subject as "It is most remarkable to discover that no less than fifty chapters in the Old and New Testaments are devoted to the construction, ritual, and priesthood of the Tabernacle and the meaning ... (whereas) ... the whole story of creation takes up only two chapters of the book of Genesis" (ibid 22).
Exodus 25:8,9 says: And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them. According to all that I shew thee, after the pattern of the tabernacle, and the pattern of all the instruments thereof, even so shall ye make it.(KJV). The Tabernacle had three purposes which were designed by God. The first purpose was for the Tabernacle to be a place of worship. God instituted the tabernacle as a place where He could meet "His people". This was the first time since the days of "walking in the garden" that God had a place where the people could congregate before Him. In Exodus 29:43 God said that this was to be a place where He could "meet" with the children of Israel and in verse 45, God said that it was a place where He could "dwell" among the people. Secondly, the Tabernacle was to be a place of witness. It witnessed of the presence of God..."and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle" (Ex. 40:34 KJV). Ex. 40:38 For the cloud of the LORD was upon the tabernacle by day, and fire was on it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys. (KJV). The tabernacle also witnessed to the purity of God. Everything having to do with the tabernacle had the strictest of regulations concerning their construction, materials used , their consecration for use and also, their method of use. Everything about the tabernacle suggested holiness and was a picture of a holy God who will accept nothing less than the very best. Even the priests garment was to have a gold plate which read: "HOLINESS TO THE LORD." (Ex.28:36) The ultimate purpose of the tabernacle was "to point to the coming of Him in whom all object lesson are fulfilled" (Olford 33). As the book of Hebrews tells us, the tabernacle was "a figure for the time then present...until the time of reformation." (9:9,10). The tabernacle was a place where God would dwell among His people and symbolized the relationship that He would one day have where He would indwell His people. The tabernacle symbolized the body of Jesus Christ in itís two basic materials: gold and wood. "The gold, of course, speaks of Christís deity, while the wood typifies His humanity" (ibid 34).
The actual Tabernacle was surrounded by a linen outer wall which made up the perimeter of the outer court. This outer wall is said to be 75 x 150 x 71/2 feet in measurement. Interestingly enough, back in the day of the tabernacle, there was in the middle of the wilderness this structure that could been seen for miles, presumably. This white linen wall stood tall enough that no one could see into it. Anyone looking upon this wall could see a symbolic picture of righteousness. It was white, a long time symbol of purity, and was made of linen which is spoken of in Rev. 19:8 "And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen , clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints." (KJV). Here could be seen a picture of Jesus Christ for it is recorded that our righteousness is as "filthy rags" by the prophet Isaiah and that we should have righteousness through "faith of Christ" (Phil3:9). If one were to enter into this outer court they would have found that just as there is only one way to the Father, God in heaven, there was only one entrance into the outer court. God specifically said that the entrance was to be on the east side and that the approach to God was westward. Always in the scripture the way of God is from east to west. "When you enter the Tabernacle, you enter from east to west. The approach to God on the ground is east to west; the approach to God in the universe is south to north. On the ground itís east to west. When God drove Adam and Eve out of the garden of Eden, He drove them west to east. When Cain left the presence of the Lord, he went west to east. When Jacob backslid, he went west to east. When the Jews went into captivity, they went west to east. When God called the Jews out, He called them out east to west. When they came out of Egypt, he wouldnít even let them come into the promised land south to north. After the incident at Kadesh-barnea, they had to go clear around Jordan and come in east to west. The approach to God is east to west." (Ruckman 3). Upon oneís entrance into the outer court, the first thing to be seen was that of a perpetual burning fire upon the brazen altar. This altar is symbolic of the sacrificial substitution of Jesus Christís body and blood at Calvary. The very first thing that one sees in the Tabernacle is a symbol of their sin and the penalty for it. "For the wages of sin is death.." and right there facing the entrance is the substitutionary death of an animal. It is the same way with the believer today. One cannot come to God until he enters in first of all by Godís entrance, and that is followed by facing his own guilt and sin which before God must be paid for. Much like salvation, the fire upon this altar was instituted by God, kindled by God and was always available: Lev 6:12-13 And the fire upon the altar shall be burning in it; it shall not be put out: and the priest shall burn wood on it every morning, and lay the burnt offering in order upon it; and he shall burn thereon the fat of the peace offerings. The fire shall ever be burning upon the altar; it shall never go out.(KJV) Lev 9:24 And there came a fire out from before the LORD, and consumed upon the altar the burnt offering ...(KJV). This altar was made of shittim wood covered with brass which shows a potential corruptibility in the wood and yet strength in the brass coating . "The altar , like Christ, the Son of Man, must have a twofold nature. The type is perfect; the wood speaks of the truly human sympathy of Jesus, while the brass speaks of the strong, enduring character of the Divine One - these two elements in One, and that for the salvation of man." (Smith 28). After the brazen altar, the next item in the outer court is the laver. The laver also is brass and it contains water for purification. This is not a picture of "baptismal regeneration" for it obviously follows the altar which pictures the blood sacrifice at calvary for regeneration of the believer. This water is that of purification of the believer in his daily walk . "The laver was filled with water, the water is a type of the Word; the laver, of the Spirit. The great truth here is the ministry of the Word in the power of the Holy Ghost." (ibid 33). This truth was expressed by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians:, speaking of Jesus: "That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,"(KJV).Just as the priest would get his feet dirty from walking in and out and in and out on the dirt floor, the believer gets dirty from the corruption of this world and so he must daily wash himself in the word (Ps 119:9 Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word. KJV).
Now then, the actual Tabernacle is a structure within the outer court, on the west end. It is 45 x 15 feet in measurement. In this tabernacle were two places. The first was the Holy Place and the second, the Holy of Holies. Inside the Holy Place were the Table of Shewbread, the Golden Candlestick, and the Altar of Incense. This structure was covered with four different coverings. These were each significant in that they all were complete in and of themselves yet four separate parts as our Saviour is many different characters yet wholly one. The four coverings were badgerís skin, ramís skin dyed red, goatís hair and fine twined linen, from the outer layer to the inner layer. "In the badgerís skin covering we see in Matthewís Gospel Christ as a King in disguise; in the covering of rams skins dyed red we have in Markís Gospel Christ as the suffering Servant. In the third covering of goatís hair (white) we may see in the Gospel of Luke Christ as the Son of Man , pure and holy, obedient and pleasing to God. In the innermost covering of fine-twined linen we recognise in the Gospel of John Christ the Son of God and the image of the Invisible One" (Smith 15). It has often been alluded to the fact that badgerí skin is not attractive to look upon and the co-relation of Jesus Christ as described by the prophet Isaiah( he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. Is 53:2 .KJV). And yet, Jesus possessed an inner beauty which is unmatched by any other person to walk the face of this planet, which is much like the inner beauty of the "fine twined linen" covering which could only be seen from the inside of the Holy Place. To many, Christianity looks from the outside, to be a tough life and lacking so many "things" yet those who ever have the experience of true Christianity find that it is beautiful on the inside. There are many other beautiful symbols that can be reached when the coverings are actually looked at in detail considering their colors and materials; which space will not allow.
Upon entering the Holy Place, on the right hand side of the room was the Table of Shewbread which had twelve loaves on it. The twelve loaves represented each of the twelve tribes of Israel and they were baked daily. In this we can see a picture of Godís daily provision as can be supported in Matthew 6:11 (Give us this day our daily bread.KJV). There are times in many peopleís lives when they just donít see how they will get through, but God said He would supply all our needs. Just as God provided manna in the wilderness, He gave the Table of Shewbread to "shew" them that He would provide for them daily. This table was made of shittim wood and overlaid with gold which shares the same characteristics as the brazen altar. There is wood representing humanity and pure gold representing Jesusí purity and deity. For the Christian today this also takes application as Jesus is the "bread of life" who sustains and saves us.
The second item in the Holy Place was the Golden Candlestick made of solid gold. "Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." (John 8:12 KJV). This candlestick takes interesting value in the new Christianís life as he has come to Jesus for salvation, he has to look for Jesus to show him the way because it is new and difficult. In the Tabernacle, the priest entering the Holy Place may have just come in from the bright sunlight and finds new illumination from this golden candlestick. to light his way. "There was fine twined needlework of blue, purple, scarlet, silver and gold with cherubim and palm leaves all over that thing. The thing was beautiful inside. Inside. See? I mean, the Lord comes in there and turns on the lights!" (Ruckman 11).
The final item in the Holy Place before entering the Holy of Holies is and item dealing with prayer. This is the Altar of Incense which is also made of gold covered shittim wood. This altar could stand for two types of prayers. The first is the prayers of the saints coming up before God (Ps. 141:2 Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice. KJV). This altar was not one of sacrifice, but rather one showing the fellowship between the believer and God in communication. Just as can be seen in the Revelation, incense is symbolic of prayers. Rev 8:3-4 "And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand."(KJV). Secondly, the altar of incense could represent the prayers of Jesus as He makes intercession for us as He did in the "High Priestly" prayer of John chapter 17.
Finally, before entering the Holy of Holies, which was the most sacred dwelling place of God, there was a veil separating the two rooms. Through this veil, only the High Priest was allowed to pass but once a year on the Day of Atonement. It was behind this veil that the Ark of the Covenant rested where the Mercy Seat was. It was behind this veil that the High Priest would pass annually to place the blood on the Mercy Seat. Hebrews 10:20 speaks of the veil as being Jesusí flesh, which He passed through and placed the blood of redemption at the Mercy Seat of God in heaven. When Jesus died and his human flesh was destroyed, the veil in the temple was torn in two. The job was completed for all those who would believe. The final sacrifice was placed on the Mercy Seat.
The Ark of the Covenant which had the Mercy Seat on it was here in the Holy of Holies. Interestingly enough, the height of the Mercy Seat was one and a half cubits just as the grate in the brazen altar. The point is that if you were to stand before the brazen altar, you could not see the mercy seat or the presence of God without first looking directly through the brazen altar (symbolically, the shed blood of Jesus). Just as Jesus said " No man cometh unto the Father, but by me." Hebrews 9 tells us that this "way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing: Which was a figure for the time then present..." Jesus Christ, at Calvary shed His own blood , the only blood capable of washing away sins and became the final sacrifice for all mankind. As Paul wrote in Romans 5 1:2 Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (KJV). To the Jewish people this idea of "access" to God was a new concept as only the High Priest had access to the very presence of God. Whereas, the believer today can "come boldly unto the throne of grace" and find forgiveness, love and victory.
The Tabernacle, although very necessary to
the nation of Israel, was a sign of things to come. Some of these we can
see in our own Christian life today. Some we can see in history through
the life of Jesus Christ. And some we will see in the future when we meet
our God and Saviour one day in heaven. Regardless, the study of the
Tabernacle is for anyone a valuable experience in the life and works of
Holy Bible, King James 1611, Authorized Version.
Kiene, Paul F. The Tabernacle of God in the Wilderness of Sinai. Grand Rapids, Mich. Zondervan Pub. 1977.
Olford, Stephen F. The Tabernacle, Camping with God. Neptune, N.J., Loizeaux Brothers. 1971.
Ruckman, Peter S. The Tabernacle Pensacola, Fla. Bible Baptist Bookstore, 1985.
Smith, James Handfuls On Purpose. Grand Rapids, Mich., Wm. B. Eerdmanís Pub Co. 1971.
John 10:9 I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.