“Beginning of the Tabernacle”
Lesson Text: Exodus 40:16-30, 34, 38
Background Scripture: Exodus 35 – 40
Devotional Reading: Hebrews 9:11-15
Exodus 40:16-30, 34, 38 (KJV)
16 Thus did Moses: according to all that the Lord commanded him, so did he.
17 And it came to pass in the first month in the second year, on the first day of the month, that the tabernacle was reared up.
18 And Moses reared up the tabernacle, and fastened his sockets, and set up the boards thereof, and put in the bars thereof, and reared up his pillars.
19 And he spread abroad the tent over the tabernacle, and put the covering of the tent above upon it; as the Lord commanded Moses.
20 And he took and put the testimony into the ark, and set the staves on the ark, and put the mercy seat above upon the ark:
21 And he brought the ark into the tabernacle, and set up the vail of the covering, and covered the ark of the testimony; as the Lord commanded Moses.
22 And he put the table in the tent of the congregation, upon the side of the tabernacle northward, without the vail.
23 And he set the bread in order upon it before the Lord; as the Lord had commanded Moses.
24 And he put the candlestick in the tent of the congregation, over against the table, on the side of the tabernacle southward.
25 And he lighted the lamps before the Lord; as the Lord commanded Moses.
26 And he put the golden altar in the tent of the congregation before the vail:
27 And he burnt sweet incense thereon; as the Lord commanded Moses.
28 And he set up the hanging at the door of the tabernacle.
29 And he put the altar of burnt offering by the door of the tabernacle of the tent of the congregation, and offered upon it the burnt offering and the meat offering; as the Lord commanded Moses.
30 And he set the laver between the tent of the congregation and the altar, and put water there, to wash withal.
34 Then a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.
38 For the cloud of the Lord was upon the tabernacle by day, and fire was on it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys.
To understand the preparation and construction of the tabernacle.
To understand the significance of God’s presence among His people.
To recognize that God directs His people, as well as assures us of His presence in our lives!
Building the Building and the Body
Church building programs can be exciting experiences. Ideally, the process will unite the congregation in joyfully completing the task. But some congregations find the process to be a source of strife. In one church, the men on the board—good businessmen with good hearts—made fiscally responsible decisions on some aesthetic matters that aroused the ire of the artistically minded women of the church. In another church, the battle over the color of the carpet in the women's lounge caused several families to leave!
The source of such conflicts may be as simple as was stated by one combatant: "If this church is being built with my money, then I'm going to have a say in how it is built!" Danger looms when such a cantankerous spirit presents itself, and the damage can be significant.
Moses had lots of challenges in dealing with a fickle people, but dealing with a building committee was not one of them. God himself decided the sizes, shapes, colors, and materials of the tabernacle's architecture and furnishings. As for the building fund, the Egyptians had made a major contribution! Whether we are building a church building or the body of Christ, the continuous challenge is to keep our focus on what the divine architect, the master builder, would have us do. That's really the only way to keep our personal preferences in check.
The Book of Exodus opens with Moses seeing God's glory in the burning bush (3:1-5), and it closes with the glory of God descending into the camp and filling the tabernacle. The presence of the glory of God in the camp of Israel was not a luxury; it was a necessity. It identified Israel as the people of God and set them apart from the other nations, for the tabernacle was consecrated by the glory of God (29:43-44). Other nations had sacred buildings, but they were empty. The tabernacle of Israel was blessed with the presence of the glory of God.
Time: 1445 B.C.
Place: Sinai desert
Ancient Israel's tabernacle can be thought of as a portable temple. Exodus 40 is a conclusion to all the instructions regarding the tabernacle proper (Exodus 25-31) and how it was built (Exodus 35-39). We may call these multi-chapter sections "the two narratives of the tabernacle." Exodus 40:1-11 parallels the instruction narrative of Exodus 25-31, while Exodus 40:16-33 parallels the construction narrative of Exodus 35-39. Exodus 40:12-15 is not exactly a parallel; it deals with Aaron (Moses' brother) and his sons, about whom details are given in Exodus 28, 29 and Leviticus 8:1-13.
The golden calf story of Exodus 32-34 has been placed between the two narratives of the tabernacle. Knowing the reason for this deliberate placement helps us appreciate more fully the tabernacle's purpose.
Moses' delay on the mountain (Exodus 32:1) resulted in the Israelites becoming anxious, so they expressed to Aaron a desire to have a visible representation of deity ("gods"). Previously, the people had been very afraid even to listen to God lest they die, and they had implored Moses to intercede (see Exodus 20:18-20; Deuteronomy 5:23-27). Being impatience and stubborn, the people demanded of Aaron a material, visible entity, a substitute for God (a god in the form of a calf). To make matters worse, the people then gave the idol credit for bringing them out of Egypt! (Exodus 32:1-4). Exodus 32-33:1-4 therefore represents false worship and God’s displeasure. By contrast, the tabernacle and its furnishings represented true worship where God's presence was rightly displayed (Exodus 35:4 - Exodus 40) as well as His glory!
The Tabernacle Is Set Up (Exodus 40:16-19)
Following God’s Instructions (Exodus 40:16)
1. Who was responsible for carrying out the instructions in setting up the tabernacle? (Exodus 40:16)
At the beginning of God’s instructions to Moses, He said "let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them. According to all that I shew thee, after the pattern of the tabernacle, and the pattern of all the instruments thereof, even so shall ye make it" (Exodus 25:8, 9). The work itself is done primarily by many skilled workers (see 31:1-11; 35:4-38:23), but Moses is in charge of making sure the tabernacle furnishings are made according to the instructions given to him on Mount Sinai (25:40), as well as erecting the temple (26:30).
Now, with all the tabernacle’s components completed, God announced to Moses that the time had come to set it up (Exodus 40:1). It is about a year after the Israelites left Egypt, and on the first day of the first month, Moses was to erect the sacred tent (v. 2).
After God gave instructions on how to place the tabernacle items, He told Moses to anoint the sacred tent and everything in it with the consecrated anointing oil (vs. 9-11). The act of anointing signified that that person or object was being set aside for God’s purpose. The Lord stated that once all the objects of the tabernacle had been sanctified, it would be time to set apart the priests whose responsibility it was to administer the tabernacle. So God told Moses to bring Aaron and his sons to the entrance of the sacred tent, to wash them, to put the specially made garments on them, and to anoint them so they could initiate their priestly duties (vs. 12-15). Verse 16 reveals that Moses did exactly what the Lord “commanded.” In fact, seven other times in chapter 40, Moses is said to have methodically heeded God’s instructions (see vs. 19,21,23,25,27,29,32).
What Do You Think?
What are some benefits of complete obedience to God? What may be the cost of such obedience?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Matthew 19:27-29; John 13:14-17; Acts 5:27-29, 40, 41; James 1:25, Other
2. What was significant about this tabernacle, and the date of its completion? (Exodus 40:17-19)
God had given Israel the law to guide and prepare them (Exodus 34:1-28). “Now the final phase of that divine preparation is focused in a tent—the dwelling-place of God. The tabernacle was to be the focal point of Israelite worship and spiritual encounter. From this time until the days of Saul it would be the focal point of national life. It would serve as a rallying and unifying point among the twelve tribes scattered throughout the land of Canaan” (Davis, Moses and the Gods of Egypt, Baker).
The day had come to set up the tabernacle (Exodus 40:17). “The first month in the second year, on the first day of the month” is a reference to the beginning of the exodus from Egypt. The raising of the tabernacle on the one-year anniversary of the exodus reinforces the idea that the Israelites are a distinct people. What a New Year's Day!
Now Moses made sure the foundation and walls of the tabernacle were in proper place (v.18). Once this work was finished, he had laborers spread out the inner cloth over the “tabernacle” (v. 19), and then the outer “covering” was placed on top of the structure to form a second protective layer (Ex. 36:19) from weather.
Furnishing the Tabernacle (Exodus 40:20-30)
3. What important articles were placed in the tabernacle? Where specifically did Moses put them? (Exodus 40:20-21)
Next, Moses placed the testimony into the ark. The “testimony” (40:20) refers to the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments that Moses had been given by God (25:16). Other things will be put in later (Exodus 16:33, 34; Numbers 17:10, 11; compare Hebrews 9:4). Moses then attached the “staves” (or poles) through the rings on the sides to the covenant box (so the priests could carry it), and set the “mercy seat” on it.
The mercy seat also had cherubim on it, with wings that meet each other, and their faces look down on the mercy seat, the place where God will meet with Moses (Exodus 25:22; compare Numbers 7:89). The Israelites will come to envision the mercy seat to be God's "footstool," the place of His feet, while His throne is in Heaven itself (see 1 Chronicles 28:2; Psalm 99:5; 132:7; Lamentations 2:1). God establishes the sprinkling of blood on the mercy seat for forgiveness of sins (Leviticus 16:14-16). This foreshadows what Christ does for us (Hebrews 9; 1 Peter 1:2).
Next, Moses brought the ark into the tabernacle, and hung up a vail (veil, or curtain) as God had commanded to conceal the ark of the testimony so that only the priests could enter there. Only once a year will the high priest be allowed to enter into the holy of holies (Leviticus 16). Jesus' death and atonement for our sins has enabled every believer to enter into God's presence today; the veil has been torn asunder (see Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38; Hebrews 9:11-14; 10:19-25; and 1 Peter 3:18).
What Do You Think?
Thinking of the veil or curtain that Christ tore down in Mark 15:38, how can we ensure that we do not put up veils that may hinder relationships (ours or others') with God?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Veils of wrong priorities | Veils of traditions | Veils of legalism | Other
4. What was the purpose of the table in the tent of the congregation? What did the bread on the table represent? (Exodus 40:22-25)
The table in the tent of the congregation, located on the north side of the Holy Place (Exodus 25:23-30; 37:10-16), is primarily for the "bread." This consists of 12 cakes made of "fine flour," each cake representing a tribe (Leviticus 24:5-7). That is the reference of set the bread in order.
The bread represents God's provision in the wilderness. It is to be replaced every Sabbath with fresh bread (Leviticus 24:8). Only priests are allowed eat this bread and only in the holy place (Leviticus 24:9; see an exception in 1 Samuel 21:4; compare Matthew 12:3, 4). The table also includes utensils used in offerings (Exodus 37:16).
The candlestick is made from a solid piece of gold; it is hammered out so that the candlestick rises from a base to form a middle stem with three branches on each side, modeled as a flowering almond tree (Exodus 25:31-36; 37:17-24). Thus, there are seven oil-filled bowls that provide light in the tabernacle (25:37; 27:20, 21).
The candlestick is probably about three and a half feet tall. (There is a depiction of it carved into the Arch of Triumph in Rome; the carving depicts the successful conclusion of the siege of Jerusalem by Titus Flavius in A.D. 70.) The candlestick is located on the south side, opposite the table of the bread. It was also there that Moses had the “lamps” (Exodus 40:25) lit in the presence of the Lord.
So, in the first room were the candlestick and the table with its consecrated bread; this was called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place, which had the golden altar of incense and the gold-covered ark of the covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant (see Hebrews 9:1-4).
5. What was the function of the golden altar placed in front of the veil? (Exodus 40:26-29)
The golden altar is for burning incense; it is not to be used for burnt offerings (Exodus 30:1-10; compare 37:25-28).
Ver. 26.—The golden altar was placed before the veil—i.e., outside it, in the Holy place, midway between the table of consecrated-bread and the golden candlestick. The aroma of sweet incense wafts into the Most Holy (see Exodus 30:34).
Ver. 28.—Moses set up the hanging at the door. He hung on the five pillars at the entrance to the tabernacle the “hanging” or “curtain,” which had been made for the purpose (see 36:37).
Ver. 29.—He put the altar of burnt-offering by the door (outside) of the tabernacle and offered upon it the burnt-offering and the meat-offering—i.e., in his priestly character inaugurated the altar by offering upon it the commanded sacrifice. (See 29:38–41.)
6. What was the other article outside, and what was it used for? (Exodus 40:30)
The other item that was important in the sacrificial system was the big, round laver, or basin, in which the priests washed regularly. The laver is a large bowl with a stand, both of brass (Exodus 30:17-21).
The priests have to be "clean" each time they enter the tabernacle or offer sacrifices, so this laver is for washing in that regard. The penalty for priests not washing their feet and hands is death (Exodus 30:20, 21)! So the altar of burnt-offering, and laver go together (compare Ephesians 5:26; Titus 3:5).
The Lord’s Glory Fills the Tabernacle (Exodus 40:34, 38)
7. How did God manifest His presence after the tabernacle was set up and consecrated? (Exodus 40:34, 38)
Although God is everywhere, He chooses to dwell among His people in a tent in a special way. No tent or temple can contain the Creator God, of course (Acts 17:24). But the purpose of the tabernacle is to have a symbol of God's presence. So after Moses sets up the tabernacle, God manifests Himself in a cloud that envelopes the tent, and thus His glory fills the tabernacle. God's divine presence is in the midst of His people, and His people can see it!
“God is Light; our God is a consuming Fire. Yet so dazzling was the light, and so dreadful the fire, that Moses was not able to enter into the tent of the congregation, till the splendour was abated (Exodus 40:35). But what Moses could not do, our Lord Jesus has done, whom God caused to draw near; and who has invited us to come boldly, even to the mercy-seat” (Matthew Henry Concise Bible Commentary).
For the Israelites, the fire and cloud hovering over the tabernacle was a visible, awe-inspiring symbol of God's presence in their midst. No one can deny it. All they can do is follow it. God is on a journey with His people and His people with Him (see Numbers 9:15-23; 10:11-28).
What Do You Think?
What "visual aids" have you found to be helpful reminders that Jesus is leading you on your journey?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Artwork displayed year round in your home | Seasonal displays in your home
The elements of the Lord's Supper | Other
POINTS TO PONDER
1. Submission to the Lord requires full obedience to His Word. (Exodus 40:16)
2. Our daily activities should be performed in a way that honors the Lord—
our very best, and attention to detail. (vs. 17-19)
3. We should always carry the Word of God in our hearts. (vs. 20-21)
4. Our God is a God of order! A certain order had to be observed. God determined the order. (vs. 22-30)
5. God is seen by those who unfeignedly love him as pure light. “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12; 9:5). “In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4). (Exodus 40:34, 38).
Living in God's Presence
Sin in the Garden of Eden resulted in humanity's losing the privilege of living in God's presence. But God has acted to reverse that situation. Freed from Egyptian bondage, Israel had God's presence in her midst by means of the tabernacle. Instead of cherubims turning away God's children by means of a sharp sword to guard the way to the tree of life (Genesis 3:24), the Israelites had images of cherubims marking the place of God's presence. Perhaps the candlestick stood for the tree of life as it illuminated the Holy Place.
The manifestation of God's presence was experienced anew when Solomon dedicated the temple (see 1 Kings 8:1-9:9; 2 Chronicles 7). That temple was destroyed in 586 B.C. because of sin. Rebuilt by the returned exiles, the temple was later enhanced by Herod the Great. Standing in its courts, Jesus declared himself to be the true temple (John 2:19-21; compare Mark 14:58). The apostle John declared "the Word was made flesh, and dwelt [literally, "tabernacled"] among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). That was Jesus.
God made His presence known again on the Day of Pentecost. The result was the new temple described in 2 Corinthians 6:16 (see also 1 Corinthians 3:16, 17; Ephesians 2:19-22). Christ is the eternal high priest and the perfect sacrifice in an everlasting tabernacle (Hebrews 8:1-10:18). Today all Christians have access to the Most Holy Place (Hebrews 10:19-22). Our future is to live in God's immediate presence forever!
Heavenly Father, help us realize Your presence as we worship. May we ever see our body of believers as Your dwelling place. In Jesus' name, amen.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER
Recognize and value God's presence in your life.