God chose the people of Israel to be a special people for Himself, and He Himself would be their King. Therefore, He desired a royal dwelling-place to be set up among them for Himself, called the sanctuary. In this place, He showed His presence in their midst. And because His people were dwelling in tents in the wilderness, this royal sanctuary was to be a movable tabernacle, so that it might journey along with them. By a voluntary offering, the people were to provide Moses with the materials to build and furnish this Tabernacle. You may wonder how they were able to contribute all the precious metals and jewels that were needed for this project, especially since they had only recently been impoverished slaves. But that question is soon answered when we recall that before they left Egypt, the Lord caused the Egyptians to amply pay for the hard labor that they had exacted from them by providing them with all the valuables that they asked for (chapter 11:1-3). But whatever the people contributed to this project, they were to give it cheerfully, and not grudgingly; for God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7). The best use that we can make of our worldly wealth is to honor God with it in works of piety and charity.
In this chapter, we are given some of the details for a few of the pieces of furniture that were to be inside the Tabernacle. The first of these was called the Ark of the Covenant (illustrated on the next page). This was a wooden chest, overlaid with gold, measuring about 3¾’ x 2¼’ x 2¼’ (1.1 x 0.7 x 0.7 m); and in it, the two stone tables of the law were to be kept. This Ark was to be placed in the Holy of Holies, which was the innermost room in the tabernacle. Once a year, the blood of the sacrifices was sprinkled upon it; and above it, the Shekinah – a visible symbol of the glory of the Divine presence – could be seen.
The Ark of the Covenant was covered with a golden lid called the mercy-seat. Two cherubim of gold were positioned on top of this mercy-seat; they looked toward one another, and both looked downward toward the Ark. This represented the angels’ attendance upon the Redeemer, their readiness to do His will, their presence in the assemblies of saints, and their desire to look into the mysteries of the Gospel. The Lord was said to dwell or sit between the cherubim, upon the mercy-seat – like a king on His throne, giving His law and hearing the petitions of His people.
A table measuring 3’ x 1½’ x 2¼’ (0.9 x 0.5 x 0.7 m) was also to be made of wood, and then overlaid with gold. It stood in the front room of the Tabernacle, and the weekly portion of showbread was placed upon it. This table represented the communion which the Lord holds with His redeemed people in His ordinances. It also represents the food for their souls, which they may always find when they are hungry for it.
There was a candlestick in the front room of the Tabernacle, consisting of a central shaft with three “arms” branching off either side of that shaft. It was made of beaten gold that was hammered into shape – not melted and poured into a mold. It was made from “a talent” – that is, about 120 pounds – of gold (worth nearly $3.8 million*). This candlestick represents the light of God’s Word and Spirit, in and through Jesus. In this dark world, this light is given to Christ’s believing people, in order to direct their worship and obedience, and also to provide them with consolations. The Church is still somewhat dark (just as the interior of the Tabernacle was) in comparison with what it will be in heaven; but the Word of God is a light shining in a dark place (2 Pet. 1:19), and a dark place indeed would the world be without it!
Brothers and sisters, there is something here for us to think about. The same Holy Spirit inspired Moses to write the description of the Creation of the world in Genesis 1, as well as the details for the making of the Tabernacle in the wilderness. We recollect that the narrative of the Creation of all things is given in a single chapter; but here in the Book of Exodus, the details of the making of the Tabernacle and its associated items takes up much more than one chapter. What could be the reason for this? Even though both topics are clearly of great importance, since they are both recorded in the Scriptures; it would surely seem that our God desires for us to know much more about the latter than of the former. In the historical account of the Creation, we learn something of the mighty power and glorious wisdom of God our Maker; but in the details and symbols of the Tabernacle and its services, we learn something of the tender compassion and forgiving love of God our Savior! Yes, the Tabernacle was a picture of Jesus’ finished work or redemption! It is a very good thing indeed to spend one’s life in studying the Lord’s wonders in Creation, for the Biblical history of the origin of the world is absolutely foundational to the message of the Gospel. But even the profitable study of the subject of Creation will have done us no good when we depart from this earthly life, if we have never taken the time to go further in the Scriptures and seriously immerse ourselves in the riches of redeeming love!
Gracious God! Help us to admire and adore Your grace in the appointment of the Tabernacle, the mercy-seat, the Ark of the Covenant, the showbread table, and the candlestick. Precious Jesus! As we behold these shadows of the good things that were yet to come in the days of Israel, give us grace to understand that it was You alone Who was foreshadowed in them all! Amen.
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illustration by Pamela Maxwell | Lightstock.com
*based on the current value of gold on March 13, 2022