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By Richard Gunther
I was walking along the street one evening, enjoying the exercise, when I passed a house which was obviously enjoying a loud party. The neighbourhood rang with the beat of rock music, young people shouted to each other, and the smell of a barbecue drifted on the air. I made an assumption, which I may need to apologize for, but it seemed to me, by the quality of the music and the kind of words being shouted, that it was highly likely that the crowd in the house did not comprise a Christian fellowship
Now based on this assumption, I imagined myself walking up to the door and knocking. The door might have opened, some half-drunk teenager eying me curiously
“I wondered if there was anyone here who might like to learn about the Tabernacle and its spiritual applications?
Of course there is the incredibly unlikely possibility that the youth who met me at the door was at that moment experiencing a deep yearning for truth. He or she might have burst into tears and fallen on my neck, thanking God for sending me. But the most likely scenario would be a look of incredulity, and a prompt “No thanks” or something much cruder
Which made me think about what God says in 1 Corinthians 2:14 “But the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness to him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
So the “natural man” reacts in two ways to God's Word: He does not receive it, and he does not know it. The meanings of the two Greek words are quite varied. A “natural” man is sensual, or a man of the natural senses. This is not a bad thing, because it was God who created our senses, but it does put one out of the way of understanding anything other than physical sensations. The youth at the door would have been sensual. He or she would have preferred the drink, the music and the cigarettes at the party far more than a half hour lesson about God's architectural designs.
Another way of looking at this can be drawn from everyday life. A child may enjoy the ride at the entrance to a supermarket far above actually learning about shopping with Mum. A child may prefer playtime to school time. A member of a prayer group may linger for an hour in the living room where light conversation, food and humour is shared, rather than kneel and pray. The flesh is very good at giving us excuses for not working. The flesh demands food, rest, sensations. The flesh never ceases from demanding, and all of us are tempted to pander to its desires, for fleshly pleasure, (which is not a sinful thing in itself), or to escape some harder task which forces the flesh to comply with our will
Another interesting aspect of the Tabernacle is the fact that it remains as one of the great untaught subjects in the Church. All manner of anecdotes, illustrations and so on are used to make Bible teaching more entertaining, or to give it more memorable impact. There is nothing wrong with this of course. A good teacher of the Word must have a broad range of material on hand with which to present God's Word in a more palatable way to his or her listeners. But God has given us the Tabernacle as His own, divinely inspired, perfect illustration of His Son, yet the Tabernacle is usually absent from Church teaching. This is a strange and notable omission.
On the other hand, there are some very good books about the Tabernacle. Some of these books are simple and Scriptural, and well worth the study, but others, unfortunately, tend to veer away into mystical interpretations, which are quite irrelevant and misleading.
The following notes are not presented as a definitive statement on the Tabernacle. There are just my rather unfocused notes on this wonderful subject, and My hope is that readers will use some of my work as a springboard to their own studies. There is no end to the treasures hidden within God's Word, and no single student can ever mine all there is
Most illustrated Bible books include a drawing of the tabernacle. It is a finite structure, with clear measurements. A replica can be built by anyone with the means, and there is very little about it which taxes the imagination. It is simple. All its parts are simple. The whole structure was mobile, and easy to dismantle and reassemble. A similar thing could be said of the devices those people who travel the country with kit-set fairground machines. At face value the tabernacle was just a cloth wall held up by posts, a place to burn things and a tent with a few simple articles of furniture. The materials used for its construction were wood, cloth and metal – not in any way different from the materials used to construct most buildings today. This may draw our attention to a peculiar fact: modern-day Man, with all his high-tech devices is basically no different from the most primitive cultures of the past, in that his materials are still the same, only produced in a different guise. Take the television for example. It is made of plastic – a mineral from the ground (or a liquid depending on how you view it), and metal – a mineral from the ground, and glass – another mineral. It contained organic substances, still common to the plant world today. No matter how cleverly any machine is shaped by modern man, its ingredients are always exactly the same as those used by all people from the year 0.
It was God who created the world, and God who gave the design for the tabernacle to Moses. God could have chosen any manner of design, but in His wisdom He chose a rectangular box-like shape with posts and cloths. Unlike many of the other nations at the time, the tabernacle did not vaunt itself as some glorious building in itself, but instead remained low to the ground, and simple in design. This was no accident.
As a picture of Christ the tabernacle is perfect. It presents Him in simplicity, yet at the same time His glory is hidden in the significance, not the actual sight of the building. In a similar way, when Jesus walked the streets of Jerusalem, the people saw but a man, while those with better sight saw God.
A TYPICAL SINNER
When Israelites sinned, they had a choice. They could refuse to make a sacrifice for their sin, and therefore remain under judgment, or they could bring the proscribed offering to the door of the tabernacle. There was only one entrance and the offering had to be brought to that door and to no other place. In the same way there is only one Saviour, and any attempt to approach God by some other way will not be acknowledged.
But what might it have looked like in those days? Suppose we follow an Israelite from his home. He has sinned, and obediently selected a cattle beats – a bull. He pulls the unwilling creature along the road and not far away he can see the wall of cloth, the side of the tabernacle. As he comes closer he can smell the stink of blood and hear the buzz of flies. He approaches the door, and sees the ground, dark with old and drying blood. The Levites greet him as he stops beside the post.
Perhaps at this point he confesses his sin. He places his hand on the head of the animal and the priest inspects it, to make sure it is a male without blemish. He now takes loops a rope around the legs of the animal and forces it to lie down. Kneeling on the shoulder of the animal he decides where to make the first cut. The bull struggles to stand and the man steadies himself. He brings the knife down and with trembling hands – because it is a ghastly thing to kill an animal unless one is used to this – and the knife cuts into the artery. Blood spurts out and the bull kicks its last, then it lies, in a spreading pool of blood as the flies swirl about. Levites gather some of the blood in their bowls and walk to the altar, where they sprinkle it about the brass or copper structure. The Levites then haul the bull into through the door, across the court of the tabernacle, and take it to the brazen (or copper) altar.
The sinner watches as the head of the bull is cut off and then the body of the beast is cut into pieces. The wood is kindled and the flames begin to lick skywards, then the remaining body parts – the innards and legs - are washed with water and placed on the altar. Satisfied that the sacrifice has been performed correctly, the Israelite walks home again. He trusts, by faith, that God has forgiven him his sins, and he expects to enter God's everlasting kingdom. Implicit in this belief is a conviction that death will one day be swallowed up by life, because that is the only way many of God's promises will ever be realized.
For example, God promised to give the Promised Land to Abraham and his descendants. If there is no resurrection, the promise is not valid. Christians are promised many things also, which are not obtained in this life, hence the absolute necessity for a new world after death.
But why, we may ask, does God present Himself so many times in disguise? He came disguised as a mere mortal, and He gave us His Word disguised as a mere book. He presented Himself disguised as a Tabernacle and as a Temple. In hundreds of smaller ways He presents Himself in symbol and illustration – the wine, the bread, the door, the manna, the budding stick, and in parables and visions, and so on. The mystery of God hides behind what we call reality. It is like a wall of clouded glass, through which humans sometimes see vague images of the other reality – not 'true' reality, because both sides of the glass are real, but another level or quality of reality. Perhaps the other side of the glass is merely one more step up an infinite stairway – and it may be that God has confined us to this side of the glass for our own protection?
One purpose I had in mind when I started this general 'study' (if one may dignify it with such a word) was to try to see what the Bible itself said about the tabernacle. By this mean, I wanted to see what Scripture said about Scripture. I believe the Bible is its own best interpreter, but having said that I would never discount the work of good Bible teachers. We can't have the Bible being an end itself, into which any intrusion by a seeker is unwelcome, but we must not rely on teachers of the Word alone. They frequently make mistakes. God is not like that, and neither is His Word. But it is common to find interpretations of the Bible which are not founded on Bible text, but rather on opinion, therefore they must be judged by things like good sense, logic, consistency and so forth. Much good teaching is interlaced with nonsense, or with teaching which sounds fine but which has no foundation in Scripture. Futurism, for example, a doctrine taught by many of today's well-known Bible teachers, is a fabrication and an embellishment of Scripture which has no foundation in correct Bible teaching, yet it has been accepted by millions of Christians
There is such a thing as interpretative bias, that is, the student has already decided that a certain interpretation is the most important one, and therefore whatever Scripture he studies will somehow conform it to that bias. The student with missionary zeal will tend to see many passages as clarion calls to mission, while the evangelist will see in the same passages nothing but fields white for harvest. The Futurist will be blind to history and see nothing but doom and fire in the immediate future. The social worker will find nothing but needy people and the numerologist will see nothing but patterns and symmetry. It is probably impossible to have no bias, but the ideal would be to start by seeing what the Bible says about itself, and then make tentative interpretations based on this.
The Tabernacle was a collection of pieces which formed a temporary structure, and as such it was purpose built for a nomadic nation which could, at short notice, travel to another location. It was very orderly, with right-angled corners in its frame, and squared cloths and coverings, which hung on vertical pillars. Contrast this with the huge and ornate cathedrals which dot the European landscape, with their stained glass windows, flying buttresses and richly decorated walls, doors and floors. “Built to the glory of God” is written across these wonderful buildings, yet God chose something much simpler and comparatively plain to express Himself. This tells us something about God's character. While He had the potential to build a huge, glittering palace, full of shimmering supernatural beauty, He decided on a rectangle of posts and white cloths, skins and a collection of sparse furniture. Once again God appeals to the seeker of truth, rather than the natural eye. If people had a choice between a glittering cathedral and a plain box-like arrangement of posts and sheets, they would head for the cathedral. It is always a choice between the flesh and the spirit.
All the pieces or parts for the tabernacle can be counted. They were all three-dimensional objects, made from materials solely derived from this planet. There was nothing 'spiritual' about any of the parts, and any skeptic could have looked at them and seen nothing but their face value. But to someone with the key to correct interpretation, each part had a meaning far more important than the perishable object. This ability which we humans have, to derive a concept from an object – to 'decode' things - is quite remarkable, and shows that Man is more than a merely physical being. Man lives in a dual universe, or a universe which has dual realities. It is part visible, part invisible, part material, part spiritual. In every area we may examine, there is always some deeper meaning to be found, above and beyond the material. The reason for this is obvious and logical – because God is both spiritual and material, His essence (or whatever word you may like to use to express this mystery) is always there as a sort of watermark, or designer's trademark, in whatever He makes. This is why Romans 1:20 links the created world (physical, material) with the manifestation of the Godhead (invisible, spiritual).
The tabernacle parts may, to the materialist, seem to be just what they appear to be – a collection of posts, boards, cloths and so on, but to someone who knows there is a designer God behind the architecture, new meanings for the familiar suddenly begin to emerge as revelations of the invisible.
But interpretations must come from what the Bible says, or infers, because Man is instinctively an interpreter, and errors can slip in. It is this inherent desire to interpret which has led many people down the road of superstition, 'reading the signs' in the sky, linking events with 'bad luck', and numerology. The man who sees a raven on his roof may expect a death in the family, but the raven may simply be looking for food. In the same way, before we decide that a certain tabernacle object 'means' something, we ought to check the Scriptures to see if there is sufficient support for this view, otherwise, we are simply making subjective choices and learning nothing useful.
In summary, the main tabernacle parts are the:
Ark, Mercy Seat and Cherubims
Table of Shewbread
Curtains of Tabernacle
Boards and Posts of Tabernacle
Vail for Holy of Holies
Coverings for Tent
and linked to the building were the:
Garments for the High Priest and Levites
As well as these things there were hooks, shovels and other small pieces, or tools, ropes and pins etc, to go with the altars and table and surroundings.
The first thing we should notice is the introduction which God gives to the Tabernacle. He says “Let them make Me a sanctuary, that I make dwell among them. According to all that I show you, after the pattern . . .” Ex.25:9
The Hebrew for “pattern” is tynbttabniyth = structure; by implication, a model, resemblance:—figure, form, likeness, pattern, similitude.
In other words, the Tabernacle is a model of something else, in this case it is God's presentation of some heavenly reality, which He has simplified to make more accessible to humans. In a similar way, the huge British underground railway system has been simplified to the level of a flat diagram on a wall. No-one in their right mind would think the diagram was an exact replica of the actual railway. The diagram must be correctly interpreted to make any sense of the real train system. In the same way, the Tabernacle is a diagram, or simple outline of something much more solid and real than itself.
It is interesting how Man has always used representative language. The letters of our alphabets are merely squiggles, but they represent sounds and meanings. The cave drawings of spear-throwing men and outlined animals represent real battles between hunters and beasts. Artists use representations, symbols and associations of visual effects to convey meanings too. The advertising world tries to persuade by means of image and sound. Children use radiating lines around a circle to indicate a shining sun, and so on. Why should it be a problem to anyone to find that God uses a similar method convey meaning?
God begins with the Ark. This should surprise us because it is like someone buying a couch before they build a living room. Normally people build a house before they furnish it, so why does God begin with the furnishings? One likely explanation is that in order of priority God begins from within, while Man begins from without. The ark represents God's heart, the focus and center of the building. The Ark therefore must be very important, and worth a closer look.
It was a wooden box, covered with gold inside and out, with a ring at each corner. Two wooden staves, covered in gold, were inserted through the rings so the box could be carried. The staves were not to be removed. The top edge of the box had a crown, or raised lip. On the top of the box, was another board, also covered with gold. On this board were two cherubim, made of solid gold, facing each other, with their wings extended. (Ex.25:10-22)
Because gold features so heavily in the whole Tabernacle, it must have some great significance. As with most interpretative problems, there is no direct explanation anywhere in the Bible which says “gold = x” so we must resort to inference. All through the Bible, gold is used as a measure of value. The more gold one has, the wealthier one is. But gold is also used as a symbol of pure character. Job 23:10 says, “But he knows the way that I take: when: he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” so in this case gold means perfection. If the Ark is a picture of Jesus, (and we instinctively think this already), then the gold tells us that God's Son is perfect within and without.
The wood by contrast therefore represents imperfection, or the human aspect of the Saviour, but by 'human' we do not mean 'sinful.” We know that Jesus never sinned, but he definitely had a real human body, so in the Ark we see deity and manhood combined.
But someone might object that to better portray these two things (Manhood and Godhood) the gold should have been covered by the wood, because Jesus was God internally and Man externally, however, the Ark was also covered by a veil, so when it was carried outside the Tabernacle the gold was not visible. In a similar way, when Jesus walked the streets of Jerusalem, his deity was veiled from the eyes of the people by a sort of spiritual veil, because only a few people ever glimpsed the glory of God under the manhood of Jesus– i.e. Thomas, who fell at Jesus' feet saying “My Lord and my God!”
But gold and wood also have something to say about other qualities. Wood is perishable, while gold is an element and cannot be destroyed. Wood cannot be shaped by fire, while gold will melt and pour into a mold. Wood cannot be hammered into shape, but gold can.
The type of wood selected for use throughout the Tabernacle is also interesting. Shittim in Hebrew also means acacia, which was a tough, thorny bush with twisted grain. It was notoriously difficult to work and as a symbol of the fallen, rebellious human race, it shows that God is willing to include people in His plans. As a type of Christ, the Ark shows how Man can be made perfect for God's use.
Into the Ark were placed three things:
The Golden Pot of Manna
Aaron's Rod and
The Tables of the Covenant.
Each of these objects presents another truth. The Manna was a memorial to the 40 years in which God fed His people, some 3-4 million of them, for forty years. Six days a week without fail the food was there to be gathered, and it never ceased appearing until the last day it was needed. Some simple Maths yields an enormous amount of food, and shows the boundless power of God to meet all needs no matter how large. Just one Israelite, times say 2 kg of manna per day, times 365 days (52x6 but twice as much every sixth day), times forty years gives us 29,200 kg of manna per 40 years. The total for 4 million people might be close to 120 million kg, but it was probably more.
Manna is a pure Hebrew word, which means “What is it?” It fell at night (Num.11:9, Ps.78:24). It was small and round, like hoar frost. It was white, and tasted like honey.
From the N.T. We know that Manna was a type of Jesus. He himself made the link. John 6 especially verse 58. He came from heaven, He was humble and simple in appearance, He was “white” and pure in moral conduct, He was sweet to all who tasted of His teachings. Manna was also quick to go rotten, if kept overnight, which may be a way of telling us that we must live minute by minute in communion with Jesus, and not try to survive on mere theology.
Aaron's Rod was a memorial of a past miracle. Korah, a Levite, Dathan and Abiram, Reubenites, had rebelled against Moses. They accused Moses and Aaron of taking too much upon themselves in regard to the religious ceremonies. They thought this work should not be so exclusive. They had no respect for God's order of work, and wanted a more democratic system, whereby anyone could do the priestly work. The story is found in detail in Numbers 16,17. God dealt with the rebels severely, but He also proposed a test in which 12 rods, or dead, dry sticks were selected, each marked with the name of a tribe. Aaron's name was written on Levi's stick.
The dry sticks were placed in the Tabernacle overnight, and in the morning Aaron's stick had grown flowers and fruit. In this way God indicated which person was delegated to do the priestly work, but it also foreshadowed the resurrection, because in Aaron's rod life had blossomed out of death, and it was only Aaron's stick which had blossomed. Aaron is a symbol of Jesus, the Great High Priest of Israel who alone has the power to raise the dead, and who was Himself raised from the grave. His dead body sprang into full and perfect life, and as a result those who believe in Him will one day share in His life. But there is more. God accepted Aaron and indicated His choice by the miracle of life from death, and God accepted Jesus and indicated this by the resurrection.
It is remarkable how unaware most people are to their temporary state. Most people seem to live as if there is no tomorrow. They make long-term plans, and think about things they want to do years ahead, not really accepting that the day is rapidly approaching when all their life will be snuffed out. Life is short. Before we know it we are no longer children physically. The teenage years shoot by and suddenly the small pains of aging begin to appear. We find that the great plans we once had have to be narrowed down to a few smaller plans, and then old age is upon us and we are unable to achieve much more that eat, sleep and get through each day without too much discomfort. How precious does the resurrection become with advancing years! What seemed like a nice idea when we were young suddenly becomes our great hope. Eternity looms, time slips away. Transient things fade and disappear. The solid hope of immortality in God's everlasting kingdom becomes our central hope.
The Tables of the Covenant. “Tables” in Hebrew is 'luach' from a primitive root; probably meaning to glisten; a tablet (as polished), of stone, wood or metal:—board, plate, table. These 'tables' or tablets, were those on which were inscribed the Ten Commandments, given to Moses on Mt.Sinai. Exodus 25:16 calls them “the testimony” which in Hebrew means “the witness”, because they were a witness to the covenant which God made with Israel.
Much could be said about the Ten Commandments. They are rules which Man cannot keep perfectly. Just the first one is impossible, because no-one loves God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30) Some people manage to partially keep the letter of the Law – they don't lie, steal, commit adultery or murder, but no human has a heart so pure that their thoughts are always sinless. All have sinned, in thought, word or deed, and the Ten Commandments bear witness to this as well.
But Jesus never sinned. “He did no sin” 1 Peter 2:22, “In Him is no sin,” 1 John 3:5, and “He knew no sin,” 2 Corinthians 5:21. As a witness to the heart of God, the tables of stone in the Ark represent His perfect righteousness. God designed the Ark as a symbolic representation of Himself, so what better way to portray His moral standards than to include the Ten Commandments?
The Ark contained three symbols – one showed the power of God to provide full and complete sustenance, one showed the power of God to bring life out of death, and one showed the power of God to be morally pure.
On the Ark was placed, on a raised lip, or “crown”, a rectangular board. This was made of solid gold, and called the Mercy Seat. Another way to describe it would be Propitiatory Cover. Once a year the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies and sprinkled blood on this slab of pure gold, and then seven times before it.
Now we already know that God is righteous, that is morally pure, so the pure gold covering for the Ark matches this concept perfectly. We also know that unless God's perfect standard of righteousness is satisfied, there can be no peace for the sinner. God cannot ever forgive an unrepentant sinner. The blood of the Sin Offering, sprinkled on the Mercy Seat was a symbol of the blood of Jesus. When the blood of the animal was sprinkled on the gold God allowed it as a substitute, a temporary measure, until the one great and final sacrifice was made.
We find the Mercy Seat in the N.T.
“And over it the cherubims of glory shadowing the mercy seat.” hilasterion = an expiatory (place or thing), i.e. (concretely) an atoning victim, or (specially) the lid of the Ark (in the Temple):—mercy seat, propitiation.
“”He is the propitiation for our sins.” 1 John 2:2.
“God . . . sent His Son to be the propitiation (hilasmos) for our sins.” 1 John 4:10
The similarity between the two Greek words hilasterion and hilasmos shows that the OT Mercy Seat and the NT 'propitiation' are really one and the same thing.
“Propitiate” means 'to conciliate an offended power'. People have a built in sense of propitiation. Many, if not all non-Christian religions of the world practice some sort of appeasement ceremony, ranging from placing food offerings before a statue, burning incense, spinning prayer wheels, going on long pilgrimages, self-flagellation, killing small animals, and so on. “For the cults, door-knocking, self-denial and strict adherence to rules is another way. For others simply doing deeds of great self-sacrifice, or giving money, or simply doing good works, is another form of appeasement.
But of course none of these this is of any value at all when it comes to meeting God's standard of righteousness. The only completely sufficient sacrifice is that given by Jesus God's Son, and to trust in any other propitiation is folly.
On the Mercy Seat were two cherubims, one each end, wings outstretched covering the seat, faces towards each other and towards the seat. These two solid gold figures were made from solid gold, beaten into shape. Ex.25:18-20.
Cherubim are angelic creatures. No detailed description of them is given other than that they had faces, wings and bodies. The first time we read of them they are stationed as guards at the entrance to the Garden of Eden (Gen.3:24). They were accompanied by a flaming sword, which turned this way and that, threatening anyone who dared approach the Garden. The reason for this guard was the Tree of Life, which, if a sinner ate from, they would gain immortality. In comic form this epitomizes some of the 'evil geniuses' of stage and film, who try to conquer the world. But think what a terror the world would experience if men like Hitler had managed to eat of that Tree – they would still be alive today, thousands of years old, strong, healthy, unkillable, immensely evil, tyrants, cruel.
One wonders what it was like in the years after the fall of Adam and Eve. Did the people who proceeded from them ever attempt to break into the Garden? Was the garden still there through all the years until the great flood?
The cherubims covering the Mercy Seat were not there to supply a beautiful decoration. They may look beautiful, with their spreading wings, and their graceful lines, but they were menacing, and very dangerous. They were creatures of swift judgment, symbolizing God's anger on anyone who tried to approach without the blood.
Cherubims appear again in Solomon's Temple (2Chron.3:13) In this building they were huge, with wings reaching across the entire room.
“The LORD reigns; let the people tremble: he sits between the cherubims; let the earth be moved.” Psalms 99:1
“O LORD of hosts, God of Israel, that dwell between the cherubims, You are the God, even You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth: You have made heaven and earth.” Isaiah 37:16
“Then I looked, and, behold, in the firmament that was above the head of the cherubims there appeared over them as it were a sapphire stone, as the appearance of the likeness of a throne.” Ezekiel 10:1
The Ark was carried by staves. These staves, or poles, were inserted through the four rings, two on each side, and there they stayed. Whether the Ark was resting or being carried, the staves stayed put. Exodus 40: 36 etc tells us that the children of Israel never knew for how long or how short they were to settle, as they trekked intermittently through the wilderness. One imagines a fair few of the people keeping a wary eye on that cloud of glory, or cloud of fire by night, which hung over the Tabernacle. When it moved, the Tabernacle had to be packed up and carried to wherever the cloud went, and when it stopped everyone had to unpack and set up camp again. They never knew when or where. In a symbolic way God was indicating that here in this life we have no permanent base. We are travellers passing through, and we need to be ready to move at a moment's notice. One would not want to press this idea too far, because God certainly needs Christians to live stable lives, but the concept of being a tourist, or nomad, is definitely conveyed.
An interesting sidelight to the construction of the Tabernacle is the omission of certain details. This was probably deliberate, to prevent people from making an exact copy. There are (according to Bullinger) nine omissions:
1. thickness of sides and bottom of Ark, 2. thickness of mercy seat and details of cherubim, 3. thickness of table, 4. dimensions of lampstand, 5. thickness of boards, 6. middle-bar dimensions, 7. size of rams' skins, 8. size of badgers' skins, 9. all thicknesses of brazen altar, (and 10. exact dimensions of laver).
Right here might be a good time to diverge for a moment, to consider the danger of accepting what others say without checking with the Bible to verify. If one looks at the pages in the 'Life in the Spirit' KJ version Bible, (1992 version), one will notice a diagram of the tabernacle. One would naturally assume that something as basic as a diagram of the tabernacle in a study Bible would be accurate. The Holiest place is shown with the Ark, and the second room is shown with the table, lampstand and altar. But if one looks in Exodus for verification one will find none. Hebrews 9:4 clearly states that the altar shared the room with the Ark.
Many years ago I came across a wonderful little book called 'The Tabernacle's Typical Teaching, by A. J. Pollock. On page 33 he has a diagram of the tabernacle, and he too places the altar at in the same room as the table and lampstand. This is even more curious, because I would have thought that Mr. Pollock, who spent considerable time on the subject, seems to have missed this positioning of the altar as well.
So we should be very careful about blindly accepting what otherwise very diligent and careful students of the Word tell us, without checking. In some cases the consequences may be negligible but in others we may be led a long way from the truth.
The Table of Shewbread shared the room next door to the Ark, and stood in a room called the Holy Place, along with a candlestick, or more correctly a lampstand. It stood on the north side. The table was made of acacia wood covered with gold. It was built to hold food for the priests only. It had two raised lips, or “crowns” along its top, and four rings for the two wood covered with gold staves. Along with the table were dishes, spoons bowls and covers, all made of pure gold.
We assume that this table represents the Lord Jesus. Starting from this basis, what can we learn about Him through this object? The construction materials, once again, tell us something of the Manhood and Deity of Christ – wood and gold together. The very shape of the furniture – a table – tells us something of God being set forth as food for His people.
Just a few verses will give us an idea of the purpose and symbolism of a table:
Psalm 23:5 tells us that God “prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” Psalm 78:19 tells us how the rebels in Israel asked “Can God furnish a tale in the wilderness?” and Psalms 128:3 tells us that a blessed man has “children like olive plants” around his table. The table is a symbol of provision. It holds up a meal for hungry people. It presents the food, making in accessible to all who come. A table represents God's bounty.
But only the priests were allowed to eat from the table of shewbread. This is also interesting because as a picture of Christ the table is seen feeding His representatives – the Church. All Christians are called priests (1Peter 2:5 and 9). In the days of Israel, the priests represented all the people, so in a representative way all Israel was able to eat of that table. In a similar way, at times when there is a special award being given, and the nominee is unable to come, someone may “receive the award on behalf of” the other person. Again, there were ceremonies in Israel when blood was sprinkled, but this was a token of something quite impractical – a complete saturation. A few drops of blood was sufficient to represent the total washing required, and even that was another step away from the 'true reality', because blood itself has no power to wash away sins. In another sense, Jesus was a representative of God, in that he said “You have seen me, you have seen the Father,” not that Jesus was anything less than God, but His life here on earth was a token of the full, glorious life of God which the whole earth will one day experience. God repeatedly uses one thing for another, speaking to us with simple things, object lessons, using representations and stories, pictures and miracles, in much the same way a school teacher might present simple diagrams to young children.
On the table of shewbread were placed twelve loaves. Twelve is a number which crops up many times in Scripture. Ishmael had 12 princes in his family tree, Jacob had 12 sons, Israel is said to have 12 tribes, Joshua sent 12 spies, Jesus chose 12 disciples, 12 baskets of food were left over, in Revelation 12 tribes are counted, 12 gates are seen in the descending city, and 12 fruits are produced “for the healing of the nations”, and so on. It seems likely then that the 12 loaves represent 1 loaf for each tribe – not counting the Levites. ( “But the Levites were not numbered among the children of Israel; as the LORD commanded Moses.” Numbers 2:33
“And thou shalt give the Levites unto Aaron and to his sons: they are wholly given to him out of the children of Israel.” Numbers 3:9
“And I, behold, I have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel instead of all the firstborn that open the matrix among the children of Israel: therefore the Levites shall be mine.” Numbers 3:12)
The loaves were made of the best ingredients. The finest flour was used. This would be flour without dirt or grit, pure and soft and smooth. This symbolizes the perfection of Jesus, the Bread of Life (John 6:48, and 51), who called Himself the “living bread” who came down from heaven to give life to all the world.
The process of making the 12 loaves is also interesting. To make flour, one needs grain, such as wheat. To grow wheat one needs seed. No human has ever, or can ever, create a seed which will germinate and grow into a plant, which will produce more seeds. Every time we eat bread we ought to remember that it is the evidence of a miracle, the miracle of creation which occurred some 6000 years ago. Only from life comes life, and even though we seem to be many steps away from the original moment of creation, when the first wheat plants appeared out of nothing, the wheat we grow is still a direct descendant of the original creative act. Perhaps it is the slowness of the growing plant which blurs our sight? Perhaps it is our familiarity with wheat that distracts us from the miraculous origin which lies behind it?
To make flour, the grain must be pounded, and then kneaded, and baked in an oven. In this way the preparation for the bread symbolizes the terrible path Jesus had to walk, through trials of hunger and pain, persecution and loneliness, right through to the 'fire' of death on a cross. “Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears to him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared . . .” Hebrews 5:7 It was through death that Jesus was able to offer Himself as life to all the world. It was always God's intention to bring the good news of the Gospel through His instrument Israel, but we know from their subsequent history that they failed miserably and went instead into captivity to Assyria and Babylon. God's Plan however continued unchecked, and He sent the Holy Spirit to empower the Early Church, which was predominantly of Israelite stock, to begin the great work of evangelizing the world. Thousands of Jews and Israelites became Christians, and their work was one of the contributing factors in the collapse of Rome. (Rom.11:1,2, James 1:1, Mat.19:28, Is.9:7, Luke 1)
The loaves were sprinkled with frankincense. This herb is white, and when burned produces white smoke, as well as having a beautiful smell. It is mentioned in the Song of Solomon as a beautiful thing, and it was presented to the young child Jesus some two years after his birth. (Greek paidion). It would be logical then to say that frankincense sprinkled on the bread represents the fragrance of Jesus as He offers Himself to sinners.
The Altar of Incense. This was made of acacia wood covered with gold, with rings and staves, and as Heb.9:4 shows, it stood in the Holy of Holies before the Ark. (See also Lev.30:1-10) It had a raised lip, or crown, and horns, or points, on the corners. Now we have to be careful how we interpret this altar, because it may be said to represent several things, and we would not want to glibly accept whatever first comes to mind. What does the smoke of the incense represent?
One clue may be found in the fact that the High Priest had to burn some incense on that altar every morning and every evening, when he came in to trim the lamp and top up its oil supply. (In a practical way, it would not be sensible to have the altar burning all day and all night, because of the huge amount of smoke it would produce in the unventilated room.)
Another clue may be that no “strange” or foreign, or different incense was to be offered on it. Another clue is that the High Priest had to touch the horns of the altar once a year with the blood of the sin offering.
We know that, as sinners, none of us could possible stand before God without protection, and we know that Jesus has gone before us, our Mediator and Covering, to shield us from the wrath of God. We also know that Jesus “makes intercession”, or prays for us, (Heb.7:25). The fact that the altar stands before the Mercy Seat is also significant. If we want to approach the Mercy Seat we need to be represented by the intercession of the High Priest, our Lord Jesus. It is His prayers on our behalf which open the way for our approach, so the burning of the incense is symbolic of the work which Jesus does continually for all sinners when they come to God. “Having therefore . . . boldness to enter into the Holiest by the blood of Jesus . . . and having an High Priest over the house of God; let us draw near . . . in full assurance of faith.” Heb.10:19-22.
The warning that the altar was not to be used for anything other than that prescribed is another way of saying God will not accept any alternatives. Throughout the ages Man has continually tried different religious ideas, and doubtlessly many of these new religions and philosophies have brought some measure of happiness and peace, but this is no guarantee of salvation. Only what God prescribes is effectual. The fact that God tolerates alternatives shows his great patience and love, not His acceptance. Eventually God's patience runs out, then judgment follows – witness the many civilizations of the past which have been obliterated, leaving nothing but ruins for people to pick over – all of them nations given to idolatry and false worship, all of them deliberately refusing to obey the light given to them. We say this from the viewpoint that from Adam to Noah the world had ample opportunity to obey God, and from Noah the truth was disseminated as the people migrated, but they chose to forget it, or substitute for it their own religions.
The fact that the altar was touched by the blood of the sin offering also shows us the work of Christ. No human could ever make intercession for the world because all humans are sinners. Only one person is able, and He is the perfect Son of God, who gave Himself as a sin offering. This is why the blood of this offering is represented in the office of the High Priest once a year.
The Golden Candlestick was a lampstand fed by oil. It was made of gold, and hammered out of one piece into the shape of a seven flame lamp. It is sometimes supposed that the lamp was placed in the dark room to illuminate it, but the fact is the lamp was there to illuminate itself. Numbers 8:2 explains that the lamp had a single vertical stem, from which seven branches went out, and it was the work of the seven to shine light on the one. “When you light the lamps, the seven lamps shall give light over against the candlestick.” Num.8:1.
If we suppose that the lampstand is a symbolic representation of Jesus, we have several interesting features to look at. First, it was made of pure gold, without wood or any other addition. This tells us of the purity of Jesus. Second, it was hammered from one piece of gold. This tells us of the terrible trials and pains our Lord went through. Third, each of the six stems, which protruded on a plane out from the main stem, had three “bowls” or calyxes, three knops (or knobs), and three flowers, while the main stem had four calyxes, knobs and flowers. This gives us a numerical relationship of 3 to 4. Some people would see this as 3 representing God, and 4 representing all the world. Fourth, the lampstand was designed to throw light on itself “they shall light the lamps thereof, that they make give light over against it.” (Ex.25:37) “Over against it” in Hebrew means “over the face of it.” This is how Jesus presented the Holy Spirit: John 16:14 – Jesus said “He (the Spirit) shall glorify me.” It is the Spirit's work to draw attention to Jesus and not to anything or anyone else. Fifth, the whole lampstand burned oil to produce its light. This again speak of the Spirit, without which the lamp (Jesus) would not shine. Sixth, the lampstand had two extra tools: tongs and snuffdishes, which equate to tweezers and firepans. Interestingly there was no extinguisher for the lamp. These golden tools represent the work of God as He maintains the brilliance of His Son. In this sense God works within the Church, anointing and empowering Christians to extend the reach of His Son. Seventh, the gold allowed for making this lampstand and tools (Ex.25:39) was 1 talent, which the Geneva Study Bible says was about 120 pounds in weight. Another commentary says 125 pounds (troy), which equates to about 57 kg. And of course no alterations were allowed to be made to the original design given by God.
Reference is made several times to the lampstand decorations being “like almonds”, which reminds us of the stick in the Ark, an almond stick, which budded to mark out Aaron as the chosen High Priest. This connects us with the idea that the work of Jesus is effective because of the resurrection, because He now “ever lives to make intercession for us.” One wonders how many – if ANY – of these types and symbols were ever understood when the Tabernacle was in operation? Perhaps, in almost complete ignorance, the people followed God's directions, and went to their graves without ever really understanding what significance the parts and ceremonies of the tabernacle meant? I suspect that they followed the shadows, and glimpsed some truths, but they never saw the fulfillment in Lord Jesus, or connected the Man with the Building in the same way we can today.
Outside the tent were two objects, one was a large bowl, or pool of water, and the other was an altar for sacrifice. Both were made of “brass” which was perhaps copper, or bronze.
The Brazen Altar was made of acacia wood overlaid with metal. It had a grating, horns and rings for the staves. It was the place where sacrifices were offered – burnt offerings and peace offerings.
The horns on the altar represent something which we need to grasp by faith – the promise of forgiveness. Just as Man designs machines with handles to grasp, God has also given us an altar with 'handles', which indicates His willingness to be available to any who want Him. That the horns were understood this way by Israel is seen in the case of Adonijah, fleeing from Solomon, and Joab fleeing from David (“And Joab fled to the tabernacle of the LORD, and caught hold on the horns of the altar.” 1Kings 2:28)
The fact that the altar was square, 5x5 plan view indicates that it was a place of sacrifice available to the whole world. The earth is said to have “four corners” Is.11:12, Rev.7:1. The earth (and by implication the heaven) is said to have “four quarters” Jer.49:36, and Rev.20:8. There are nine references to the “four winds” which is another way of saying the same thing. God has definitely stamped this expression on His Word to express the number four as a symbol of the whole world. It would therefore not be 'drawing a long bow' to connect the squareness of the altar as a symbolic way of saying the sacrifices were for the whole world.
The placing of the alter was important too. It stood just inside the tabernacle, by the entrance. This indicates that no human may approach God without first passing through the door of death, where the blood of sacrifice is present. As the Bible says, “Without shedding of blood there is no remission.” Heb.9:22 It was because of the sacrifice of Jesus that the gospel was to “go into all the world” and to be preached to “every creature.” Mark 16:15.
The altar was bigger than the Ark. It was twice as high and twice as long in the other dimensions. This may indicate the importance of sacrifice as the first necessity when approaching God. As Joab found to his great disappointment, just grasping the horns of the altar was not enough. He brought no sacrifice, and David killed him. In a similar way, if people embrace Christianity in 'dry' intellectual way, without accepting the death of Christ for their sins, their 'belief' in the story will not help them at all. Theoretical knowledge is no substitute for personal commitment.
The altar came with a collection of pans, shovels, basins, flesh-hooks and firepans, all made of brass. Apart from their practical use, these tools could represent a sort of consistency of purpose. The altar and all its parts are one. There is to be no admixture of materials – this might indicate that the gospel must not be diluted by anything extraneous. There was nothing decorative, nothing attractive about the altar. It was purpose built, unattractive, and in some ways rather ugly. It was like the cross. Utilitarian. Stained the remains of many carcasses and discoloured by dried blood and burnt fat. It smelled of flesh, singed hair, burned wool.
The Vail. There were two curtains, one was called a vail and the other a hanging. The vail hung at the entrance to the Most Holy Place, where the Ark and Incense Alter were, and the hanging hung at the entrance to the Holy Place, where the Bread and Lampstand were. The two curtains were similar, but their differences were important too. And as with all the parts of the Tabernacle, their significance was coded.
The vail was blue, purple and scarlet, and embellished with cherubims. Blue (or violet) was obtained from the cerulean mussel, and used for dying cloth. Purple comes from a non-Hebrew word, and can also mean red. Scarlet was obtained from a scarlet maggot or grub. 'Scarlet' can also mean crimson, which ranges from a purplish red to a vivid red. As with all the parts and details of the tabernacle, the question should be asked: why did God colour code this vail? What do these colours signify?
The High Priest wore and ephod (tunic) entirely of blue. All the tabernacle furniture was covered with a blue cloth when in transit Num.4:11). Mordecai was dressed in “royal apparel of blue” Est.8:15). The Assyrian noblemen and rulers are described as wearing blue (Ez.23:6) By its connection then, blue signifies leadership, authority, and headship.
Purple is similar to blue in significance. Jesus was dressed in a purple robe as part of the mockery by the soldiers, but even then it represented kingship (Mark15:17) The harlot church is pictured wearing a purple and scarlet garment (Rev.17:4).
Scarlet (or crimson) is also mentioned in other places and contexts through the Bible. Interestingly it was a scarlet thread which marked out Rahab's house and led to her salvation (Josh.221), In another context scarlet implies wealth and high station in life (Lam.4:5), When Daniel was made third ruler in the land, he was clothed with scarlet (Dan.5:29), and the harlot church wore scarlet as she tried to steal the honour due to the true church.
Woven into the vail were cherubims. We already know that they signify guardianship and judgment – see the Ark. Jesus is a King, and Lord, and all authority has been committed to Him. He taught with authority (Mark 1:22), he commanded the unclean spirits with authority (Mark 1:27), he worked miracles with authority (Luke 20:2), and he had the authority to execute judgment (John 5:27), and he gave authority to his disciples (Luke 9:1, 19:17). In a symbolic way, no sinner could ever enter the Holy of Holies because the cherubim would instantly repel them, whereas Jesus is able to pass through because there is no sin in Him. In the Tabernacle, only the High Priest could enter this room – likewise on Jesus may approach the throne of God on our behalf with impunity.
The vail was hung on four pillars, made of acacia wood overlaid with gold. Again, four speaks of the universal aspect of the vail in that it was not just Israel who were given the opportunity to be forgiven. Jesus is for all peoples of the world, but all who want to be saved must come through Jesus.
The posts that held the vail had sockets and hooks of silver. This is a familiar pattern. The posts which had brass sockets were the two long sides, going north/south, 20 posts each, and the other two sides, and the posts on the first entrance to the tent (with gold hooks), but they had silver hooks.
Silver is a metal which symbolizes redemption because of its context in other parts of the Bible. In Ex.30:11-16 Israel was numbered, all males 20 years old and upward, and a ransom sought for their souls, otherwise a plague was threatened to wipe them out. The amount required was ten gerahs, which seems to relate to the Ten Commandments, which all Israel had broken (“For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, is guilty of all” James 2:10) Both rich and poor were required to bring exactly the same amount, which indicates how God does not give more attention to the rich and less attention to the poor. All are equal in His sight. The fact that silver was paid for redemption does not mean that salvation can be bought, because no amount of silver would ever be enough. The redemption money was an acknowledgment only.
“Forasmuch as you know you were not redeemed with corruptible things, (such) as silver and gold . . .” 1Pet. 1:18.
When Jesus died, the Vail was torn from top to bottom. This signified that the Savior had given His Body and died to remove the barrier between sinful Man and Holy God. That it was torn from the top down signified that God had reached down to Man to give salvation. By removing the Vail, God also removed the guarding cherubim, taking away the threat to all who want to approach Him. “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy . . .” Heb.4:16
The curtain or Hanging for the entrance to the Holy Place was very similar to the Vail, but with one big exception – no cherubim. It was blue, purple and scarlet, and it hung on five pillars, unlike the vail which hung on four, made of acacia wood covered in gold, and each pillar had as usual silver hooks, and brass sockets. But no cherubim indicates that God offers freely to all, without fear of judgment, the bread and the light = but to get to this bread and light one needs to pass the altar of sacrifice and the laver. As Jesus said “I am the light of the world”, and “I and the bread of life”, the offer has been made to all. God will not strike down any sincere seeker, but He will take action if a sinner tries to approach the Mercy Seat without trusting in the blood of Jesus.
The fact that four pillars held up the Vail, indicates God's willingness to give salvation to all the world, so what do the five pillars for the Hanging stand for? There are many references to five in the Bible, but none but one of them gives any clear teaching on the number by context except this one: “And those that are to be redeemed from a month old shall you redeem . . . for the money of five shekels (or twenty gerahs)” Num.18:16. So if five represents redemption, we may have a picture of the redeemed entering for the bread and light. However five may simply mean an expansion of four. Bullinger and others suggest that five indicates 'grace' but there are many other ways to infer this.
The curtains and coverings. There were two types of curtain. One was made of linen, blue and purple and scarlet, with cherubims, and the other was made of goat skins. The curtains are called “curtains” (Heb ohel) and are distinct from the coverings (Heb. Mikseh) which went over the top of the Tabernacle. The coverings were made of first of all ram's skins died red, and then on top badger's skins. (Some marginal notes say 'seal' or 'dolphin' skin.)
These curtains and coverings also tell us, in code, something about Jesus. The “fine twined linen” relates to righteousness, as in “Let Your priests be clothed with righteousness” Psalm 132:9 and we know that they were literally clothed this way.
“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.”Revelation 19:8
“And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean.” Revelation 19:14
The curtain of goat's hair (or skin) went around the outside of the linen, so the priests would have seen linen from the inside, while anyone looking from the outside would have seen goat skins. Just what does the goat skin signify? The following connections can be made: A goat was offered as a sin offering, and in Lev.16:21 a goat was used as a symbol of forgetting sin – the goat was sent into the wilderness and lost. One commentary on the tabernacle was quite sure the goat skins signified a prophet, but there is no reference in the Bible to prophets wearing goat skins. I think the more likely meaning is that the skins signify Christ's sacrifice of Himself for our sins. Holiness within (the linen) and sacrifice without (the skins). The two go together very well.
The coverings of the tabernacle were twofold. The first layer was made of ram's skins dyed red. The ram was connected to consecration in the following ways: The first ram in Scripture was caught in a thicket by its horns, to replace Abraham's son on the altar. That ram was consecrated for death on behalf of Isaac. (Isaac represented all the people descended from him). The second major use of the ram was in Ex.29 where it is used to consecrate Aaron the High Priest. It was called “a ram of consecration”. That the skins were dyed red probably indicates the extent to which Jesus was consecrated – to death. He even sweated blood in the Garden of Gethsemane. “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” (Mat.26:39)
The covering of badger's skins went over the top of the ram's skins, so when the priests looked up from inside they would have seen a roof of red skin. To the outside observer the roof would have looked quite unattractive, dull, probably rough. There has been some discussion about whether the skins were really those of a badger – some books suggest dolphin, or seal skin. Strong's Hebrew lexicon says, “ 'tachash', probably of foreign derivation; a clean animal with fur, probably a species of antelope.” In Ezekiel badgers' skin shoes are said to be the finest footwear (16:10), but whether this has anything significant to say I cannot tell. My understanding of the choice of badgers' skin is that God wanted to clothe His tabernacle with something that was firstly practical, in that it was durable and weatherproof, but also represented the unattractive aspect of Jesus, who was not, as some Hollywood productions depict, a physically conspicuous individual. He had “no form nor comeliness that we should desire Him . . .” Is.53, John 1:10,11. Most people, when they saw Jesus, saw just another man of the country, dust on his feet, sweat on his face, normal clothes and of no remarkable build. He was, as far as most people could see, just another lower class Jewish man, and, like the roof of the tabernacle, he did not draw people after him because of his appearance.
The Boards of the Tabernacle were all made of acacia wood and covered with gold. They were ten (cubits) high by one and a half wide but no thickness dimension is given. This equates to about 17 feet high by 2 and a half feet wide. This would make them about as wide as a large man at his shoulders, and about twice as high as a basketball player. There were 20 boards, standing upright, on the north and south sides and six across the western end. They sat in silver sockets, two per socket. Now boards would not stand very straight if all they had were silver sockets to keep them in place, so they were doubled at the corners. This gave the corners greater stability. As well as this, five boards were added, horizontally, two at the top, two at the bottom, and one across the middle. As well as this, the open end of the box-shape was fixed to pillars, of which there were five, on which was hung the Vail. The fifth board is a curiosity because the Scripture says “And the middle bar, in the midst of the boards, shall reach from end to end.” (Ex.26:28) This word “midst” is interesting. Strong's Hebrew lexicon says, “'tavek', an unused root meaning to sever; a bisection, i.e. to bisect the center.” It may be that the fifth board sat in a groove along the horizontal plane, or perhaps went through the middle of the boards, so it was invisible.
The total number of sockets for the inner part of the tabernacle was 100. 40 for the south side, 40 for the north side, 16 for the west side, plus 4 for the four pillars across the door. This is another multiple of five and four for those interested in numbers.
The fixing of the boards together so snugly and firmly tells us something about the Church, which ought to be built on the pattern given to us by its Founder. When Christians are walking in the light, fellowshipping as they should, they form a sort of tabernacle - “From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplies, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, makes increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.” Ephesians 4:16 (It is interesting how many NT expressions are actually allusions to OT teaching,)
Just what the five bars, which bind the boards together actually signify is not made crystal clear in the NT. Perhaps they refer to the cross-dependency believers have with each other, perhaps to the shared gifts which the Church is meant to enjoy. Perhaps the bars signify God's desire to pull all believers together into a single unified Body? But the fact that all the boards and bars were covered with gold surely indicates that all believers have been given righteousness, and cannot stand before God without it.
The thought that the Tabernacle is a picture of Christ and His one Church is further emphasized by the fact that all the curtains around the inner part of the tabernacle were made of small areas of cloth, all tied together. The linen curtain was made of five smaller curtains tied together with fifty loops.
The sides of the Tabernacle. The whole tabernacle was 100 (cubits) long (20x5), 50 wide (10x5), and 5 high. It had twenty pillars each long side (4x5). The door into the court of the tabernacle was 20 cubits (5x4) and each side of the door it was 15 cubits (3x5). This makes a total circumference of 200 cubits (10x5). But the total length of the hangings was (100+100+50+30) 280 cubits – because there were 20 cubits open at the entrance. Each piece of curtain was therefore a square of five (5x5).
The curtains of the outside wall of the tabernacle were not coloured or decorated. In other words they were white. This represents the purity of Jesus, who had no sin, and in Whom no accuser could find fault. They were white inside and out, just as Jesus was pure inwardly and outwardly
The entrance to the tabernacle was made of 50 posts (10x5), comprising 15 cubits and 3 posts, 20 cubits and 4 posts, then 15 cubits and 3 posts. The multiples of five are obvious, except for the door, which was marked with a 4, signifying the whole world. The offer of forgiveness through faith in the sacrifice has always been open to all the world, and continues as such today, going out to the four corners of the earth. There were curtains across the four openings at the entrance, all of blue, purple, scarlet and fine linen. There were no cherubims on these curtains, which signifies that God does not want to present his way of salvation with any threats. This one entrance to the tabernacle is just the first in a line of 'ones'. One altar, one laver, one entrance to the bread and light, one entrance to the incense and mercy seat. One High Priest, one Day of Atonement, one cloud of fire, one pillar of smoke, one God of Israel.
Before we look briefly at the garments of the High Priest, it is interesting to notice what was NOT in the tabernacle (some of these have already been mentioned).
There was no lock, or bolt at the entrance, and although it is certain there would have been a watchful eye kept on the contents because of their incredible value, there was no guard posted to prevent sinners from approaching the door.
There were no cherubims on the entrance curtains.
There were no steps up to the altar. This signified that God did not want Man to add anything to God's method of salvation. Steps would be like adding works, or good deeds, or something similar to what God has already provided. (Ex.20:26, Eph.2:8,9)
There was no measurement given for the Laver, or washing bowl. This implies that there is no limit to the amount of washing we may enjoy, as God cleanses us from every sin.
There was no extinguisher for the lampstand. This signifies that God did not intend the flames to be put out at any time. As long as the lampstand was in the tabernacle, it had to burn day and night continuously. This is so important to believers, who sometimes need the assurance that God remains steady and constant at all times.
There were no windows in the tabernacle because God Himself provided the light – just as He did when Noah was in the Ark. Christ is the light of the Church, and believers are children of light. In the darkest times, Christ continues to give us light.
There were no seats. The High Priest and the Levites could not sit anywhere – as Hebrews says, “Every priest stands daily ministering . . .but this man (Jesus) after He had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God.” Heb.10:11,12. This standing and sitting teaching shows us that the first model as a temporary one, a shadow of the coming completed work.
The Garments of Aaron the High Priest and his sons are called “holy garments” for “glory and for beauty.” (Ex.28) This is worth a moment's reflection. First of all we are not left to decide for ourselves about these garments. God tells us they are holy, glorious and beautiful. As a designer of clothing, God is perfectly sure that His work meets these three standards, and we are compelled to accept His decision without question. Much the same could be said about the tabernacle. As architecture, compared to many of Man's great monuments, it lacks what we might call a certain sense of 'style', but in the mysteries of revelation, because God designed it, we must see it as something perfect. Extending this thought a little further, Nature is also a designed thing. By this we mean all the living and non-living structures of the world, all the billions of stars and other objects, all the 'forces of nature' which operate continuously in around and through us. All designed by God, and despite the fact that Creation is fallen, there is still immense perfection there. The tabernacle is part of this 'shadow of things to come' and so are the garments of Aaron. As C.S.Lewis put it, we live in the “shadowlands” today, awaiting the full substance of the truth which throws those shadows.
“Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.” Hebrews 4:14
This is the only time in the whole Bible that Jesus is called the 'great' high priest. All other times he is called the “high priest”. The man Aaron was but a poor symbol of the great high priest to come. Aaron was a sinner, who had to wash his feet and bring a sin offering for himself. Jesus was never in need of cleansing from sin, or forgiveness.
The high priest wore seven things:
The Mitre (with its Plate of gold with “Holiness to the Lord” engraved on it.)
The Ephod(with the shoulder stones)
The Drawers (or breeches, like trousers)
The Broidered coat
God begins His list with the Ephod, which was a loose-fitting, sleeveless garment extending to the knees, worn like an apron over the priest's robe. There are five things worked into the ephod – gold, blue, purple, scarlet and fine linen. Five is a common number in the tabernacle too – this links Aaron to the building. Gold is mentioned here for the first time in relation to clothing and symbolizes righteousness, as it did in the tabernacle furniture. On the practical level, the fine gold wires threaded through the cloth would have caught the light and made the material quite beautiful to look at. The other colours of the ephod have already been examined.
Three people in the Bible are said to have worn the ephod: Aaron the high priest, David the king (2Sam.6:14), and Samuel the prophet (1Sam.2:18). Jesus holds all three offices combined.
The shoulder stones are not mentioned in the list of articles, so it is likely that they were included as part of the ephod, linked to it by gold chains. The stones had the names of the tribes of Israel engraved on them, six per stone, and the stones were set into “ouches” or sockets. Strong's Hebrew Lexicon says 'onyx' was probably the beryl, a pale green precious gem. But why were the two stones fixed to the shoulders? Because it is a place of power or strength. Is.9:6 says Jesus will carry the government on his shoulder, also the “key of the house of David” Is.22:22, and Ez.34:21 speaks of the enemy pushing with his “shoulder.” We have a modern expression about “putting the shoulder to the wheel”, and we sometimes hear people say that so-and-so carries the 'world on their shoulders.” The high priest wore the names of Israel on his shoulders, and today Jesus bears Israel up.
The breastplate of judgment was worn over the chest. It was square and made of the same material as the ephod. It had twelve sockets and twelve different precious stones, one for each tribe of Israel. Interestingly, the heavenly city in Revelation 21 has twelve precious stones in its foundation, and 12 stones were taken from the river Jordan (Josh.4:3), and in 1Kings 18:31 Elijah built an altar with 12 stones in his demonstration to the prophets of Baal. In Mat.19:28 Jesus said the 12 apostles would one day sit on 12 thrones judging the 12 tribes of Israel, so despite the alternative ways to count the tribes, and the fact that much intermarriage has taken place, God sees them as 12.
The fact that the names were “engraved is important too. It is a very enduring way to mark something, because to remove an engraving, a whole surface layer must be removed, down to the bottom of the grooves. Contrast this with paint, which can be wiped or rubbed off. The Ten Commandments were engraven in stone, God said of His people “Behold, I have graven you upon the palms of My Hands . . .” (Is.49:16), and Israel was forbidden to make “graven images.”
Three things on the high priest had engravings – the head, the shoulder and the chest. These three positions could equate to the mind, the strength and the heart.
The Urim and Thummim. Into the breastplate, which must have also constituted a pocket, went the Urim and Thummim. It was because of these two items that the breastplate was called that “of judgment” - the breastplate was used as a source of judicial decisions. There is no command to make Urim or Thummim, but from what we know about their use, they were probably two precious stones, used as a “yes” and a “no”, or a “guilty” or “innocent”, which were drawn out by the priest, either one or the other, in order to know the mind of God. See Prov.16:33 - “lap” in Hebrew means “bosom”. The drawing out of the Urim or Thu,Thummim were useful when the alloted areas of land were given to the tribes, and in many other cases when a decision was needed. “He shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall ask counsel for him after the judgment of Urim before the Lord.” (Num.27:21. “And of Levi He said, 'Let your Thummim and your Urim be with your Holy One . . .” (Deut.33:8). In the Church, when Christians do not have a specific text to refer to for guidance, they must seek the Lord until the Holy Spirit gives them a definite reply, and the assurance we have is that God can give very clear replies.
The Robe was all blue. It had a hole in the top so the priest could reach into the pocket behind the breastplate to grasp the Urim or Thummim. The top of the hole was sewn to prevent it from ripping. There is no verse in the Bible which directly links the colour blue to anything in particular, but there are many verses which speak of “heaven”. If we assume that the heavens are typically blue, then the idea that blue represents heaven could be made. Jesus is therefore symbolized by the blue robe as the One who came from heaven.
Along the hem of the robe were alternately bells and pomegranates, with the colours blue, purple and scarlet. The bells and pomegranates are symbols of two different things. The bells would make a beautiful sound, a gentle tinkling, and alert anyone close by that the high priest was on the move. His presence would be heard as he walked. This may indicate that at all times when the high priest was 'on the job' all the attendants knew where he was because the bells betrayed his movements. It may seem that we are labouring this point, but God does make mention of the bells twice. In the second reference He says “(Aaron's) sound shall be heard when he goes into the holy place before the Lord, and when he comes out, that he die not.” (Ex.28:35) In other words, the bells were part of Aaron's obedience and they also testified to where he was, so if he disobeyed (i.e. Went into the Holy of Holies at the wrong time) he would have been caught 'red-handed'.
There is a divine irony at work here. Aaron the earthly high priest, a sinner who needed to die was preserved because he did what God told him, but the heavenly High Priest, who was not a sinner, was pronounced worthy of death by Caiaphas (John 11:51) the high priest at that time.
The pomegranates on the hem probably symbolize fruitfulness. So we have a combination of gold (righteousness) bells and fruits of righteousness – both qualities are found in Jesus, and, hopefully, in all who follow Him.
The Girdle was an interlaced length of cloth, or woven belt. In another time Jesus appears before John on the Isle of Patmos as a glorious High Priest, wearing a “golden girdle”. The girdle went round the coat, the ephod and the robe, thus binding all three together, so it is symbol of unity, or harmony, making the whole set of clothes “one” set, just as the tabernacle is tied and linked together with blue laces or silver hooks and pronounced “one”. The girdle emphasizes the way God makes things complete.
The Drawers, or breeches were to be worn to “cover their nakedness” (Ex.28:42).They reached from “the loin to the thigh.” The loin is the area from the hip upwards to the bottom of the ribs. The thigh is the leg area above the knee. Aaron and his sons were commanded to wear these breeches whenever they ministered, “lest they die” so this was no small thing. The Oxford Dictionary says the “loin cloth was worn for decency . . .” Just as God covered Adam and Eve when they sinned, God also wants His Christian priests to practice decency, and modesty. (1Tim.2:9)
The Broidered coat was made of fine linen. There is almost nothing more said of it until we come to the Great Day of Atonement where (Lev.16:23,24) it seems that Aaron puts off all his clothes except the linen coat to offer the sacrifice for the Great Day or Feast of Atonement. After he has made the offering he takes the linen clothes off and washes before putting on his former clothes of glory and beauty. This seems to be a picture of our Saviour, who stripped Himself of His glory and beauty when He went to the cross. When Jesus became the great Atonement for Israel and the world, He left behind His rightful glory and died ignominiously, humiliated before the many eyes of the people.
The Mitre (or turban) with its “plate of the holy crown” (Ex. 28:36 and 39:30)The turban was made of “fine linen” which was probably white. The “plate” of gold on the turban was tied with blue lace to the turban. The word for “plate” in Hebrew can also mean “bright-coloured flower”, “burnished metal” and the “gleaming wing of a bird” as it flies by. All this tells us that when the High Priest walked about in the sun, the golden plat on his turban caught the sun, flashing the bright star of light in all directions. He was probably visible from a great distance.
The symbolism of the golden plate. The words “HOLINESS TO THE LORD” express clearly that the High Priest was a picture of pure righteousness, a perfect man ministering on behalf of sinful people. The beauty of the plate and the fact that it was always worn on the turban tell us that Jesus is always not only beautiful, but also righteous. The combination of these two words “glory” and “beauty” crops up in other places in the Bible (1Chron.16:29, Job 40:10, Ps. 29:2 and Is.28:5) showing that there is a relationship between them which can be shared by Christians.
No Christian by themselves could ever claim to be righteous, but Jesus has gone before and made a way for God to pronounce believers righteous. Heb.10:21,22 expresses this clearly, “And having a high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.”
Throughout the descriptions of the tabernacle, there are four very brief mentions of the “pins and cords”, which I assume refers to the tent pegs and ropes which were used to anchor the whole building to the ground. (Ex.35:18, 39:40, Num.3:37, 4:32) What might these ropes and pegs represent? It is possible that they represent the Holy Spirit, whose influence is everywhere in the Church, or perhaps the Word of God which always supplies a strengthening and stabilizing influence. No believer can stand upright without an outside influence, so the cords and pegs may refer to God's invisible power which works throughout the Church, holding it steady.
More could be said of the consecration ceremonies for Aron and his sons, and of the different kinds of offering, and of the Feasts of the Lord and the Great Day of Atonement, but these are outside the scope of this essay. One comment I would like to make however, concerns the “scapegoat” because the true meaning of this ceremony seems to have been buried under tradition, and needs to be clarified.
Before we look at this, we need to briefly cover the end of Lev.14. In this part of the law, two birds are selected to signify that a house is clean of sickness. One bird is slain, the blood sprinkled, the the living bird set free. The free bird signifies that the house is clean.
The two goats. In Leviticus 16:5-22 God commanded the High Priest to select two goats for a sin offering (plus a ram and a bullock). The two goats were brought to the door of the tabernacle as all sin offerings were, and “Aaron . . . cast lots upon the two goats; one for the Lord and the other for a scapegoat.” The Urim and Thummim are consulted and God makes the decision as to which goat is to be killed.
So the goat condemned to death is offered as a sin offering. This is made perfectly clear. Then, “But the goat on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the Lord, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness.” (Ex.16:10) The Hebrew for “with him” is actually “for him”. In other words, this second goat is atoned for, and because of this it was allowed to go free.
After dealing with the blood of the bullock and first goat, the High Priest lays “both his hands” on the head of the scapegoat – and this is the only time this expression is used, denoting great solemnity – then he pronounces over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and sends the goat away into the wilderness.
There are some who believe the scapegoat represents Satan, but where is the proof? Here in Scripture, we are told the scapegoat was one of two goats, both of which were offered for Israel, and no mention of Satan is given. It it highly improbably that God would include a sacrifice for a fallen angel, over which He has already pronounced everlasting death (Rev.20:10 etc)
Another tradition holds that the scapegoat was loaded with sins and sent away with them into “the land of forgetfulness”, but this cannot be so because this goat was atoned for, so it is a symbol of being set free without sin, not of being left to wander still loaded with them. Atonement means forgiveness. The scapegoat was atoned for, and is therefore a symbol of freedom from sin, not one of wandering in the wilderness with sin.
The High Priest sends the scapegoat away, or “lets go” of the goat. The two goats represent Jesus in that the first goat is a symbol of His death for our sins, an act which canceled all sin (to the believer), but that in itself was not enough. The sinner had to be assured that those sins would never be remembered. This is where the second goat comes in - it is a symbol of liberty. Our sins have been taken away and “lost” for ever, in the wilderness of forgetfulness, so to speak. The goat is gone and never seen again, just as our sins are, when we trust in Jesus.
I must say, after checking with several commentaries on the tabernacle, and researching the subject on the Internet, how often I came across comments which were not based on Scripture. Some commentaries were inclined to indulge in mystical interpretations which had very little bearing on the subject, others rambled aimlessly about true, but unrelated matters. I hope I have avoided these traps, and I urge any Reader of this essay to 'do their own homework' and make sure their own studies are accurate. It is all too easy to swallow teachings because they sound good, or because they come from reputable teachers. Everything must be checked, and if it is not solidly based on what the Bible says, it is not all that important.
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