About 2100 B.C. God selected a man, Abraham, and gave him special promises. The Lord would be Abraham’s God, and the God of Abraham’s descendants. God also told Abraham that his offspring would be enslaved in Egypt for some 400 years. What God predicted happened. A group of Abraham’s descendants, just 70 in number, settled in Egypt. There the family, called “Israelites” after Abraham’s grandson Israel, multiplied rapidly. In time the dominant Egyptians made slaves of the Israelites. Crushed by oppression, the Israelites cried out to the God of their fathers. About 1450 B.C. the Lord used Moses, an Israelite who had been adopted into Egypt’s royal family, to free His people. The story of the miracles God performed for His people is told in Exodus. That book also relates the people’s journey to Sinai, where God gave the Israelites a Law to live by and a tabernacle which symbolized His presence with them. Leviticus focuses on the relationship of God with this chosen people. This book contains special instructions which God gave to Moses during the year the Israelites camped before Mount Sinai. These instructions show how God’s chosen people can stay in intimate, continuing fellowship with the living God. Leviticus is essentially a book about worship, a book about intimacy. Today you and I can apply many of the principles seen in the practices established for Israel to deepen our own personal relationship with the one true God.
“The people are bringing more than enough for doing the work the Lord commanded to be done” (Ex. 36:5).The importance of the tabernacle and its furnishings is seen in the fact that Exodus 35–40 repeats, often word for word, the description of Israel’s worship center in Exodus 25–30. For nearly 500 years Israel worshiped at this portable tent, which with its furnishings symbolized basic truths about personal relationship with God.
Definition of Key Terms
In Scripture a symbol is an object, person, practice, or saying which represents an underlying spiritual reality. While some symbols are unclear, others are powerful and obvious representations of spiritual truths. For instance, the blood spilled on Jewish altars both taught the grim truth that “the wages of sin is death,” and conveyed the glorious promise that God would accept a substitute. The full meaning of that symbol is only grasped in Jesus’ death on Calvary. But the realities symbolized by sacrifice could be discerned in Old Testament as well as New Testament times. The tabernacle and its furnishings, the writer of Hebrews says, are “a copy and shadow of what is in heaven” (8:5). That is, the tabernacle and its furnishings are symbols of spiritual realities. In reading these chapters we want to look not for the obscure, but for obvious representations of spiritual truths.
Materials were gathered and the tent church was constructed (35:1–36:38). Symbolically significant furnishings were prepared (37:1–29), as was the tabernacle courtyard with its altar and laver (38:1–31). Garments were woven for the priests (39:1–31). After Moses inspected the work (vv. 32–43), the tabernacle was set up and dedicated (40:1–33). It was then filled with “the glory of the Lord” (vv. 34–38).
Understanding the Text
“From what you have” Ex. 35:1–29. The materials used in constructing the tabernacle were contributed by the people. Completing any work of God in this world calls for giving by God’s people. “The ability to teach others” Ex. 35:30–36:21. Bezalel and Oholiab symbolize the mature Christian. God gave them the ability to do and, with it, the ability to teach. Spiritually, the two qualities go together, as head and tail of a single coin. The believer must live God’s Word in order to teach faith in a life-changing way, for Scripture is about life. Only when faith and actions go together can we teach others the true meaning of relationship with God. If you and I are doers of the Word, our very way of life will teach others about Him. “All the skilled men . . . made the tabernacle” Ex. 36:8–28. The central symbolic meaning of the tabernacle was as a visible sign of God’s presence with His people. Note here the use of only the best and most expensive materials in its construction. God deserves—and requires-the best we can provide. The ark Ex. 37:1–9. The Old Testament has 22 ways of referring to the ark, including “the ark of the testimony” (25:22), “the ark of the covenant of God” (Jdg. 20:27), “the ark of the Lord” (1 Sam. 4:6), and “the ark of the Sovereign Lord” (1 Kings 2:26). The ark, a gold-overlaid wooden box, was the focal point within the tabernacle where God’s presence rested. Once a year the high priest was to sprinkle blood on the solid gold cover of the ark as atonement for all Israel’s sins. This cover, where the blood was sprinkled, was the specific place where God could and did meet with man. The ark, with its cover, which was called the “mercy seat,” reminds us that human beings can meet with God only because the blood of His perfect sacrifice, Jesus, has been poured out. The golden table Ex. 37:10–16. Loaves of bread were kept on this gold-overlaid table, on which were also solid-gold dishes and bowls. Commentators disagree over the symbolic meaning. The table and its contents represent God’s provision of every need of those who approach Him. The bread also is taken to symbolize Jesus, the Bread of Life (cf. John 6). The golden lampstand Ex. 37:17–24. This object, called a “menorah” by the Jews, was a seven-branched oil lamp that provided the only light inside the windowless tabernacle. The light-giving candlestick is a symbol of the divine illumination provided for those who approach God. The candlestick is also taken as a symbol of Christ, the Light of the world (cf. John 9). The golden altar Ex. 37:25–29. The golden altar inside the tabernacle was a smaller version of the bronze altar that stood outside. Incense was burned on the inner altar; sacrificial animals were consumed on the one outside. The incense represents the prayers and worship of those who have gained access to God by the sacrifices offered without. The incense is also taken to symbolize the perfect life Jesus lived in our world (cf. John 17). “They made the courtyard” Ex. 38:1–31. The curtains that formed the court which surrounded the tabernacle were some seven and a half feet high! No one could see over the fabric walls to glimpse the beauty of the tabernacle. Yet the curtains that formed the court were also made of the finest material. Any contact with God’s dwelling was intended to impress with His beauty. You and I come into daily contact with non-Christians, who may never have caught a glimpse of God. When we do we serve as curtains that surround the holy place. Our task is to impress them with the beauty of the Lord by reflecting Him in our character. “Sacred garments for Aaron” Ex. 39:1–31. The clothing of the high priest also had symbolic significance. As believer-priests the lifestyle we adopt is to clothe us in beauty and reflect the motto engraved on a golden plate that was attached to the turban of Israel’s high priest: “HOLY TO THE Lord.” “Moses did everything just as the Lord commanded him” Ex. 40:1–33. Moses was responsible to supervise and inspect the work of the people. But he himself always remained subject to the word of God. We can only trust leaders who are themselves willing to submit to the Word of God. “The glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” Ex. 40:34–38. The presence of God invaded the completed tabernacle and was visible to the Israelites.
Living Symbols(Ex. 37)
Methodist missionary Larry Rankins, of ALFALIT, tells of a group of Indians in Mexico who kept strictly to themselves, avoiding the whites who ridiculed and downgraded them. Then, aided by ALFALIT, this group of Indians was not only taught to read, but given help to build a bridge across a dangerous river that separated them from town. During a testimony time near the end of the project, one of the older Indians rose, and told how his people had felt worthless and ashamed before the superior whites. Now, not only able to read but also able to design and build their own bridge, they realized that they were a people who could stand tall and be proud. God had used the bridge the Indians had built as a symbol—a symbol that they had personal worth and value. What a foundation for the ministry of the Gospel. For its Good News is that each human being has so much value in God’s sight that Jesus, God’s Son, gave His own life to redeem him or her. God still uses symbols, and the symbol that most frequently serves as a bridge between God and the lost is a human symbol—the believer. If we look closely at Moses’ description of the symbolic articles in the tabernacle, we learn three things about the people who serve God as symbols. Human symbols are intended to be beautiful. The luster of gold reflected every gleam of light on the articles within the tabernacle. We best represent God when His beauty is seen in our lives and in our attitudes toward others. First Timothy 1:5 says that the goal of teaching Christian doctrine is “love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” When we truly love others as Jesus did, His beauty shines through our lives. Human symbols are intended to be complex. Note the complex detail worked into the gold lampstand. Ours is no cookie-cutter religion, turning out production-line Christians. Each believer is a “one of a kind” original. Each of us has different gifts, different personalities, different ways of serving and glorifying God. We need to appreciate each others’ differences, for often it is in the way another Christian differs from us that we discover a fresh spiritual insight. Human symbols are costly. The most expensive metal then known, gold, completely covered the tabernacle furnishings. Yet a redeemed human being is most costly of all, for we have been purchased at the price of Jesus Christ’s own life.
Others do see Christians as representatives of God. We are symbols whether we choose to be or not.
“Heretics are to be converted by an example of humility and other virtues far more readily than by any external display or verbal battles. So let us arm ourselves with devout prayers and set off showing signs of genuine humility and go barefoot to combat Goliath.”—Dominic
“My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (Ex. 33:14).Aaron responded to popular demand and made an idol for the people to worship. Israel was about to discover that punishment as well as divine enablement is a work of God.
God enabled Israel’s craftsmen (31:1–11), and emphasized the Sabbath obligation (vv. 12–18). Yet as Moses met with God on Mount Sinai, Aaron cast an idol (32:1–6), arousing God’s anger and bringing swift discipline (v. 7–33:6). Moses was shown God’s goodness (vv. 7–23) and was given new stone tablets on which God Himself had written His commandments (34:1–35).
Understanding the Text
“Filled him with the Spirit of God” Ex. 31:1–11. It’s a mistake to suppose that all spiritual gifts are listed in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12. Every special ability God gives can contribute to worship and enrich the lives of others. The person with “skill, ability, and knowledge in all kinds of crafts,” as well as the preacher and evangelist, exercises a spiritual gift, and is to rely on the Spirit of God. “Between Me and the Israelites” Ex. 31:12–18. Is the Sabbath for Christians? The text clearly states that the Sabbath is a sign of God’s covenant with Israel. From the beginning Christians have met on Sunday, not the seventh day of the week. While the Sabbath commemorates Creation (v. 17), the first day of the week commemorates Jesus’ resurrection (Matt. 28:1; Acts 20:7). What links the two is that each is a day of rest and worship. And each serves as a weekly reminder to believers of their personal relationship with God. The golden calf Ex. 32:1–33:6. Calf and bull figures cast in metal often served as idols in Syria-Palestine. The figures represented the virile power of the god. In some cases the bull or calf seems to have been viewed as a throne on which an invisible deity stood or was seated. Making such a figure was an overt rejection of God. Even worse, in saying, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt,” the people credited pagan deities with the saving work the Lord had performed! How could such a thing happen in the very shadow of Sinai, where thunder and lightning testified to the presence of the Living God? Our only explanation is that sin so corrupts human beings that anyone is capable of ignoring evidence of God’s existence. Even “proof” cannot change the heart or mind of an individual who is determined not to believe. “Aaron answered them” Ex. 32:2. Aaron and Moses provide us with contrasting insights into spiritual leadership. When the people demanded that Aaron make them gods, Aaron did what they said (vv. 2–3). Leaders are supposed to do what God requires, not what people demand. Aaron went even further. He “saw” their reaction to the golden calf (v. 5). He then took the initiative and constructed an altar. Like a modern politician who relies on polls to discover what people want, and then promises it to them, Aaron sensed where the Israelites were going and hurried to get out in front! At times each of us is tempted to take Aaron’s “easy way out.” Going along with the crowd may appear to be a way to avoid uncomfortable conflict. It isn’t. It’s a way to become guilty of our own and of others’ “great sin” (v. 21). “The Lord said to Moses” Ex. 32:9–14. While Aaron was weakly surrendering to the shouts of the Israelites, Moses was courageously pleading with God. The Lord told Moses what had happened in the valley, expressed His anger, and threatened to destroy Israel. He would establish His covenant with Moses alone. Moses’ appeal reflects two concerns: destroying Israel would cause the Egyptians to misunderstand God’s motives in delivering the Israelites; and God must remain faithful to the promises He made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. “Whoever is for the Lord” Ex. 32:25–35. When Moses saw Israel’s idolatrous worship for himself, his reaction was much like God’s. He was so angry and upset he broke the stone tablets on which God had inscribed the Law (v. 19). Then Moses called those who were “for the Lord” to come to him. When Moses took a stand, he found that he wasn’t alone. It’s the same today. Teens, and adults as well, often feel alone in their commitment to what is right. “I’m the only guy in my class who’s still a virgin,” one 17-year-old complained. Yet when he took a stand for what he believed and stood up to the ridicule directed at him in the locker room, he found that he wasn’t alone after all! Others who had been afraid to speak out came and told him they agreed. Moses took that public stand. His courage moved the Levites, who had not participated in the others’ sin but who had stood by silently, to join him openly. When conscience convinces us that something is wrong, we need to follow Moses’ lead and take an open stand. And if someone else takes the role of Moses, let’s be ready, as the Levites were, to “rally to him.” “Brother and friend and neighbor” Ex. 32:27. Moses told the Levites to pass through the camp and kill those who had engaged in pagan worship. The incident points up a vital Old Testament principle. Believers are responsible to maintain holiness in the community of faith, even when this means standing against those who are near and dear to us. God must come first. No relationship can have priority over our commitment to the Lord. “When the time comes for Me to punish, I will punish” Ex. 32:30–33:6. God forgives. But God also punishes. For the first time Israel, which had ratified the Law covenant and promised to obey God, realized that there is a penalty for disobedience! Stripping off ornaments (33:6) was a sign of mourning and repentance in the ancient world. At last Israel was impressed with the seriousness of sin. Christians are likely to make one of two errors in reacting to personal sins. One error is to be so stricken with guilt and fearful of punishment that we fail to appropriate the forgiveness promised us in Jesus. If this is our tendency, we will punish ourselves unnecessarily. The other error is to so emphasize the love of God that we ignore His holiness, and act as if sins are nothing at all. If this is our tendency, when the time comes for God to punish, He will! “My Presence will go with you” Ex. 33:7–23. The Israelites couldn’t see what transpired within the tent of meeting when Moses met with the Lord. But these verses do tell us. Moses sought to learn God’s ways and know Him better (vv. 12–13). Moses appropriated God’s promises and affirmed his dependence on the Lord (vv. 14–17). Moses expressed his yearning to see God more clearly (v. 18). These are helpful guidelines for our own times of private prayer. When we meet with God face-to-face, we too should focus on being taught His ways, on appropriating His promises, and on knowing Him more intimately. “He passed in front of Moses” Ex. 34:1–9. On Sinai again, Moses chiseled out new stone tablets. God Himself wrote His Law on them. God did show Moses His goodness, summed up in one of the Old Testament’s most famous confessions: The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished; He punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation (vv. 6–7). The second half of this confession is important. God’s compassion and love must be seen against the background of His obligation to punish sin. The God who “does not leave the guilty unpunished” is first of all the God who displays overwhelming compassion and grace. Some have questioned God’s fairness in punishing children for the sins of the fathers. It’s best to understand this and similar expressions as a revelation of reality. The fact is that sin affects not just the sinner but his descendants. Research has shown that those who abuse their children were typically abused when they were young. The pattern established by the parents is repeated in the children. In this way sins of the fathers do bring punishment on their children, for the children tend to commit the same sins. “A veil over his face” Ex. 34:29–34. Being in God’s presence caused Moses’ face to shine radiantly. No visible change may occur when you or I spend time with God. But regular meetings with the Lord do make a real difference!
It’s clear from Exodus 32 that while the Israelites were in awe of Moses, they had little respect for his brother Aaron. As high priest, Aaron had an official religious position. But position alone is never enough to command respect. Many qualities made Moses a strong spiritual leader. He was courageous. He sought to please God rather than men. He was willing to take a stand. He rallied support. He both prayed for sinners, and yet was willing to confront them. But the secret of Moses’ greatness is found in the “tent of meeting,” where Moses met the Lord face-to-face. The text tells us that “whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people rose and stood at the entrances to their tents, watching Moses until he entered the tent.” No one knew what went on within the tent, though the pillar of cloud came down to stand by the tent door when Moses was inside. Yet the very fact that Moses met there with God instilled awe, and the evidence of God’s presence caused the people to worship the Lord. You and I have constant opportunities to influence others. These others include our own children, our neighbors, and coworkers as well as members of our church. Like Aaron, we may have a position, such as “parent,” that implies authority. But the only way we will truly influence others is to follow the path of Moses and meet God regularly face-to-face. Our impact on their lives will be directly proportionate to the time we spend face-to-face with God. Others won’t know what happens in our private time with the Lord. But the aura of God’s presence will go with us. Being with God changes us—and the change God works in us is the key to our ability to influence others to worship and obey Him.
Spiritual power is only a prayer life away.
“I don’t say anything to God. I just sit and look at Him and let Him look at me.”—Old Peasant of Ars
“I will consecrate . . . Aaron and his sons to serve Me as priests” (Ex. 29:44). Only the priests in Israel were qualified to make the sacrifices required from those who approached God. The New Testament teaching that every believer is a priest (1 Peter 2:9) makes these chapters dealing with Israel’s priesthood especially significant.
Definition of Key Terms
Only men from Aaron’s family were permitted to serve as priests. Their function was to present sacrifices to God, to seek God’s guidance for the nation or individuals, to instruct the people in God’s Law, to serve as judges in certain cases, and to serve as guardians of the covenant and of Israel’s sanctuary and sacred treasures. The priests thus were mediators between God and the nation Israel. They represented the people to God by offering sacrifices and incense, by leading worship, and by praying for divine guidance. They also represented God to the people, for the priests instructed Israel in God’s Law, were channels through which God communicated His will, and served as living reminders that God forgives sinning people. Today each Christian is a priest with direct access to God. Each of us can represent others to the Lord in prayer. Each of us can be a channel through whom God’s love and grace reach lost men and women. The high priest. The Old Testament high priest had one duty that set him apart from other members of the priesthood. He and he alone entered the holy of holies on the annual Day of Atonement, carrying sacrificial blood which God promised would cover all the sins of His people (cf. Lev. 16). The New Testament presents Jesus as the true High Priest, who entered heaven itself with His own blood. As our High Priest, Jesus made the one sacrifice of Himself which won all who believe an eternal salvation (Heb. 10:10–14).
Special garments were prepared for the high priest (28:1–43). Aaron and his sons were to be ordained in an impressive ceremony that lasted seven days (29:1–46). Sacred duties were described, and formulas for sacred oils and incense were recorded (30:1–38).
Understanding the Text
“Make garments for Aaron” Ex. 28:1–43. As high priest, Aaron was provided with distinctive clothing to “give him dignity and honor.” Each item Aaron wore also had symbolic significance. The ephod Ex. 28:6–14. This vestlike outer jacket featured two stones, mounted one on each shoulder. The name of each Israelite tribe was engraved on one of these stones. Whenever Aaron entered the tabernacle, he represented all the people of God. Today Jesus, our High Priest, represents the church before God’s throne. The New Testament says “we have One who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). The breastpiece Ex. 28:15–30. This pouch was attached to the ephod with chains of gold. Twelve precious stones were mounted on it, each with the name of a single tribe. The text says that “whenever Aaron enters the holy place, he will bear the names of the sons of Israel over his heart.” The symbolism is powerful. Here each tribe, rather than being engraved with others on a stone shoulder tab, is symbolized individually by an expensive gem. Each is worn over the heart. Jesus does more than represent us in heaven. He carries each individual in His heart. Each of us is known and loved. Each of us is precious to our Saviour. The Urim and Thummim Ex. 28:30. The breastpiece was a pouch called the “breastpiece of decision.” It contained two items called Urim and Thummim, which were used by the high priest to discern the will of God. No one knows just how they were used. Perhaps one represented no and the other yes, and they were drawn blindly by the high priest when inquiries were addressed to God. We do know, however, that God used them to communicate His will to Israel. Today our High Priest has sent us His Holy Spirit. We do not know exactly how the Spirit guides or communicates His will to us. But we do know that, when we honestly seek God’s guidance, the Holy Spirit leads us into His will. Robe, tunic, and turban Ex. 28:21–42. The clothing worn by the high priest was made of the finest material and beautifully worked. We not only need to bring God our best. When we serve God faithfully, He gives us His best. “Incense . . . every morning” Ex. 30:1–10. Revelation treats incense as a symbol of the prayers of God’s saints (Rev. 8:3–4). Aaron “must” burn fragrant incense on a golden altar within the tabernacle “every morning.” The image reminds us that daily prayer is a “must” for Christians, not only for our own spiritual benefit but because it is a vital ingredient in worship of God. “Atonement money” Ex. 30:11–16. A half-shekel tax to be collected from each Hebrew male was used for upkeep of the tabernacle. The tax is described as an atonement, or ransom. In the Old Testament all atonement is associated with sacrifice. This is true here as well, for the “service of the tent of tabernacle” implies payment for the sacrificial animals that were required for daily, Sabbath, and special festival offerings. Note that each Israelite paid the same small amount. Rich and poor had the same access to God through sacrifices offered by the priests. “A bronze basin . . . for washing” Ex. 30:17–21. Water in the Old Testament speaks of purification. Priests were never to approach the tabernacle without first washing in the bronze basin. “Take the following” Ex. 30:22–38. The fragrant oils and spices used on worship were compounded according to special formulas. In Old Testament Law, a clear distinction was maintained between the secular and sacred, and sacred things were never to be used for any secular purpose. Anything one sets apart to God is to be fully dedicated to Him.
Over His Heart (Ex. 29:15–30)
James Dobson suggests in his book Hide or Seek that we must decisively reject the values of a society which dismisses the plain girl and the less intelligent man as having no worth or value. In a society that places so much emphasis on looks, intelligence, athletic achievement, and wealth, the majority grows up with a sense of personal inferiority and even of worthlessness. A low self-image, Dobson says, is the painful product of a society that devalues the individual. But this is society’s view—not God’s. The difference is reflected in God’s design of the high priest’s breastpiece. God specified a different precious stone to represent each tribe in Israel. Each stone bore the name of one person, the forefather who represents the tribe. Each stone was attached with gold filigree to a pouch worn over the heart of the high priest. Each name was carried there, over his heart, into the very presence of the Lord. God views each of us as an individual. Each of us is different, yet each is a precious gem to the Lord. And each of us is close to the heart of Jesus, God’s High Priest. Most of us will be unable to leave our children wealth or riches. But each of us does have an important gift we can give. We can give each of our children a sense of his worth, value, and specialness that reflects God’s values, not the values of our society. First, however, each of us needs to accept the gift God offers us in the symbolism of the jewels worn over the high priest’s heart. The gift of realizing that we are special. Whatever our parents or our society may have implied, we have infinite worth and value to God. We are jewels. And He carries our names close to His heart.
Let any rings or jewels you wear remind you of the high priest’s breastpiece, and of how precious you are in God’s sight.
“If individuals live only seventy years, then a state, or a nation, or a civilization, which may last for a thousand years, is more important than an individual. But if Christianity is true, then the individual is not only more important but incomparably more important, for he is everlasting and the life of a state or civilization, compared with his, is only a moment.”—C.S. Lewis
“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.
“Therefore with mind entire, faith firm, courage undaunted, love thorough, let us be ready for whatever God wills; faithfully keeping His commandments, having innocence in simplicity, peaceableness in love, modesty in lowliness, diligence in ministering, mercifulness in helping the poor, firmness in standing for truth, and sternness in keeping of discipline.”—Bede the Venerable