FREEDOM AS A SYMBOL Exodus 24–27
“Then have them build a sanctuary for Me, and I will dwell among them” (Ex. 25:8).Someone has observed that it took God 6 days to create the world—and 40 days to give Moses the blueprint for the tabernacle. Much has been written on the symbolic meaning of the tabernacle’s design and materials. But the central theme is this: the portable worship center served as a visible reminder that God dwells among His people.
The Israelites committed themselves to keeping God’s Law (24:1–8). Moses was instructed to build a portable house of worship, the tabernacle, which would serve as a symbol of God’s presence with Israel (vv. 9–18). The instructions covered materials (25:1–9), furnishings (vv. 10–40), the design of the tent (26:1–37), its courtyard and its altar (27:1–21).
Understanding the Text
“Everything the Lord has said we will do” Ex. 24:1–8. God did not simply impose His Law on Israel. Moses carefully explained what God expected of people who would live in personal relationship with Him (Ex. 20–23; 24:3). Israel’s ratification of the Law marks a change in relationship with God. The people committed themselves to keep God’s commands, and were then fully responsible for their acts. The event also tells us something about God. He carefully, graciously, and thoroughly explained what relationship with Him involved before asking for commitment. “Moses alone is to approach the Lord” Ex. 24:1–18. The chapter conveys a powerful sense of the special relationship Moses had with the Lord. Moses alone approached the Lord. Moses told the people God’s words and laws. Moses wrote down everything the Lord said. Moses supervised the sacrifices to be made to the Lord. Moses called the people of God to full commitment. Moses not only came to the Lord on the mountain, but “stayed there” in God’s presence. It’s amazing to realize that today you and I share privileges then accorded only to Moses. Through Jesus, God invites us to approach Him freely (Heb. 4:16). We too can share the Word of God with others (cf. Acts 8:4). Rather than writing down the Word of God, our hearts are tablets on which God Himself writes (2 Cor. 3:3). We join with others in offering God spiritual sacrifices (Rom. 12:2). We have been commissioned as God’s ambassadors, to reconcile others to our Lord (2 Cor. 5:18–20). In Jesus, God has not only invited us to come to Him, but to abide with and in Him always (John 15:4, 7). Moses was a great man. But you and I have even greater privileges. “Make a sanctuary for Me” Ex. 25:1–27:21. The Old Testament emphasizes the importance of the tabernacle, a portable tent, in Israel’s worship. Exodus takes seven chapters (25–31) to list tabernacle specifications, and then devotes six more to its construction (35–40). The New Testament touches on some of the symbolism, saying that the tabernacle design and use was intended to reflect heavenly realities (cf. Heb. 9–10). Books have been written on the symbolic meaning of the tabernacle furnishings, and of the materials used. Gold is said to represent God’s glory; silver, redemption; and bronze, judgment; while the color blue represents heaven; purple, royalty; and scarlet, sacrifice. However, because the Old Testament does not interpret the symbols, we can’t be sure what the materials really signify. Several significant realities reflected in the tabernacle are: (1) The tabernacle was a visible reminder that God is with His people. (2) The tabernacle had only one door, for there is only one way to approach God (John 14:6). (3) The altar just inside the door of the courtyard showed that a sinner could only approach God by sacrifice. (4) The curtain between the holy front room of the tabernacle and the “holy of holies” inner room was a reminder that human beings did not then have free access to God. When Jesus died, the curtain in the Jerusalem temple was torn from top to bottom, a sign of the free access to God we now enjoy (cf. Heb. 10:8–10). “Each man whose heart prompts him to give” Ex. 25:2. Relationship with God in Old Testament times was far from formal and legalistic. Then as now, true obedience and real worship was a matter of the heart. How significant that all the materials used to construct the tabernacle were provided by people moved by love for God to give spontaneously. God still wants our gifts and service to be expressions of love that are given freely, not acts motivated by fear or a sense of obligation (see 2 Chron. 29:5; 1 Cor. 9:17; 2 Cor. 9:7; 1 Peter 5:2). “Make the tabernacle” Ex. 26:1–37. Moses was told to make the tabernacle and its furnishings “exactly like the pattern I will show you” (25:9). Chapter 26 shows us how detailed God’s instructions were. We may be bored reading passages filled with such “trivia.” Yet they remind us that God is the God of details. What a comfort this is, for it reassures us that God is concerned with every aspect of our lives. “Build an altar” Ex. 27:1–8. A bronze altar was placed just inside the one door that opened into the courtyard around the tabernacle proper. This altar was intended for one purpose—as a site for sacrifice. The flow of Exodus helps us see why the altar was so important. God had freed Israel from slavery. He brought them to Sinai and gave His people a Law to live by. While Law did provide clear standards, it also made those who broke it guilty. And guilt drives a wedge between God and people! Immediately God acted to provide a way for sinners to approach and worship Him. He had Moses construct a tabernacle that symbolized His presence. And there, at its entrance, the Lord had Moses place an altar for sacrifices. Israel would sin, but blood would cover the offerer’s sin and permit him to approach God. The reality symbolized by the altar is Christ’s death on Calvary. Because of Christ’s blood, our sin is gone, and we come to God freely, knowing that forgiveness is ours. God never intended sin to forever isolate human beings from Him.
Intelligent Commitment (Ex. 24:1–8)
Looking back, Carol realized what had happened. Deep inside she had seemed to hear a voice telling her not to marry Stan. But she had wanted him so much. Ten years later, after a devastating divorce that left her with two preschoolers, Carol was struggling with her pain but growing as a Christian. Then, when it was too late, she realized that the inner voice she heard had been the Holy Spirit, warning her. “But you know,” she says, “back then I didn’t even realize there was a Holy Spirit.” Today Carol teaches a class of divorced women in her local Methodist church. And she’s amazed at how little most of them know about the Bible or life in Christ. I can’t help thinking of Carol and the many other true believers like her when I read these verses. God took such care to have Moses explain exactly what commitment to the Lord would involve. Moses “told the people all the Lord’s words and laws” (v. 3). He then wrote down everything the Lord had said (v. 4). The next morning he got up and “took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people” (v. 7). God invited commitment. But He wanted to make sure that the Israelites understood just what life with Him would involve. It’s true, of course, that people can put their trust in Christ without a deep understanding of the Gospel or of the Bible. But unless we go on to hear all God’s words, to read them over, and the next day to listen again, we will fall far short of that intelligent commitment God desires. Intelligent commitment, featuring a growing understanding of God’s will, would have protected Carol and will guard you and me.
Intelligent commitment means to know and to do the Word of God.