As we have noted previously, the construction of the tabernacle is intended to enact the re-creation of the world (e.g. Ex. 25-31). It is to follow the “pattern” which God showed Moses on the mountain (Ex. 25:9, 40, Acts 7:44). That pattern is ultimately the presence of God on the mountain come down to dwell among the people (Ex. 33:7-9, 40:34-38). In other words, the way Moses’ face shone after being in the presence of God on the mountain is a picture of what God wants to do with all of Israel and ultimately the whole world. The pattern of the tabernacle is meant rub off on Israel. But a big part of the story in Exodus is the actual construction of the tabernacle. That work is meant to be a transformative process too.
As the Lord Commanded
Remember that Ex. 25-31 was the record of the initial instructions given by God on the mountain, the seven speeches of the “new creation” of Israel. After the fall at with the golden calf, the following description of the actual work of Bezalel in Ex. 36-39 proves that the “new covenant” is in force and that God’s word does not return void. In the first creation account, “God spoke and it was done.” Likewise, here, God has spoken and now it is being done, “all that the Lord had commanded Moses” (38:22). Another way of looking at this recapitulation of the details of the tabernacle follows the original creation pattern of Gen. 1-2. Just as Gen. 1 is the creation of the world according to God’s spoken word in six days and Gen. 2 follows the creation of man, his situation in the garden, his naming of the animals and finally the creation of the woman, so too these two accounts of the details of the tabernacle accomplish similar goals. In Gen. 2, we see Adam imitating God and following his commands in naming the animals. In Ex. 36:8-39:31 we see Bezalel leading Israel in carrying out the commands of the Lord. Likewise, if the tabernacle is to be seen in feminine terms, the completion of the tabernacle is the creation of a new Eve from the side of Israel, the new Adam-son of God (cf. Ex. 4:22).
The Furniture of the New World
In the Most Holy Place is the ark which is covered in gold, along with its rings and poles (37:2-5) and has a lid of pure gold (37:6) on which two cherubim stand, also pure gold (37:7-9). This is Yahweh’s throne, His footstool above which He is enthroned (25:22, cf. Ps. 80:1, 99:1, Is. 37:16). In the Holy Place is a table for bread that is covered in gold (37:10-12), along with its rings and poles (37:13-15). The utensils and dishes for the table are pure gold (37:13). In the same room is a candlestick of pure gold (37:17). There are six branches on the candlestick, three on either side with almonds and flowers (37:17-19). There are seven lamps, counting the central candlestick that also has almonds and flowers, all pure gold (37:20-23). The incense altar is also in the Holy Place, and it is covered in gold, along with gold rings and poles (37:25-28). The Holy Place reminds Israel of the Garden of Eden, a place of fruitfulness, light, food, and sweet communion with God. It reminds them of the time the elders went up Mt. Sinai and ate and drank and saw God (24:11). Outside the Holy Place in the courtyard is the altar of burnt offering, covered in bronze along with its rings and poles (38:1-7). At the door of the Holy Place was the laver also made of bronze, specifically from the bronze mirrors of the women who would serve at the tabernacle (38:8, cf. 1 Sam. 2:22). The court is lined with linen sheets, hung by silver hooks on pillars connected by bronze sockets (38:9-20). The whole tabernacle complex looks like cloud, billowing and shining in the wilderness. The text says that Moses commanded, Ithamar oversaw, and Bezalel executed what the Lord had commanded Moses (38:21-23). This included the particular skills of Aholiab (38:24), but it was accomplished with the offerings of gold, silver, and bronze and all the wisdom and skills of the entire congregation of Israel (38:24-31, cf. Ex. 35).
Conclusions & Application
The tabernacle is a complex picture of God’s plan to reconcile the world to Himself. It is a real, live, continuous parable of the gospel: sin and sacrifice, cleansing, communion and the glory of God. But His plan always included the involvement of His people: Israel is a new Noah, with a new building project but with the same kind of mission, to be a kingdom of priests for the nations (Ex. 19:5-6).
Our mission is nothing less than what God began with Israel: the renewal of the whole world. We are missionaries to Moscow, and so we are praying that God would give us Moscow. And this means that we are building God’s house here. But we build with the wisdom of God that often seems like foolishness to this world (1 Cor. 3:19). We build by proclaiming Christ and losing our lives gladly for His sake (Mt. 16:16, 24-26). What are you building with? Paul says that it’s possible to build with hay and stubble, but that’s going to get burned up by the Spirit-fire of God. Perhaps hay and stubble are fine, decent methods/preferences that make you feel safe and secure but which are not the power of God (1 Cor. 2:5). We build with what we have been redeemed with (1 Pet. 1:18-19).
A couple of details in the text hint at the idea that this building is actually an act of war: the women serving at the tabernacle are actually “armies” and the offering of silver is taken from those men, twenty years old and up (38:26, 30:14), the age of military mustering (Num. 1:3, 20). In other words, we are building siege engines against the gates of Hell (Mt. 16:18), and it will take an army of men and women giving, serving, sacrificing, building.
And God has been pleased to call us to this mission through building families, community, businesses, schools, the Church, His Kingdom which cannot be stopped.