Opening Prayer: Gracious Father, you are determined to build the kingdom of your Son in this world. We ask that as we consider the construction of the tabernacle, you would teach us wisdom to be faithful in the tasks you have given to us. Through Jesus, Amen!
Remember that the Covenant with God has to do with being near to God. It has to do with God being in their midst and their being able to be near to God (23:21, 24:1-2, 16-18). The “nearest” an Israelite could get was at the foot of the mountain, while the elders could go part way up, and only Moses could go into the midst of the cloud/fire (24:18). Here Yahweh is outlining and giving instructions for how he will dwell with his people.
An Offering and the Pattern
Yahweh tells Moses to have Israel bring an offering (a T’RUMAH), a “high up thing” (25:1). This is a striking parallel to what we have just seen on the mountain, where Moses went into the presence of God high up, on top of the mountain. The fact that this offering is for the tabernacle suggests that whatever happened at the “mountain of meeting” will in some sense be repeated at the “tabernacle of meeting” (27:21, 28:43, etc.). As Yahweh was present at the top of the mountain for Moses to draw near to him, he will be present “in their midst” in the tabernacle (25:8, cf. 23:21, 24:1-2, 16-18). Moses is to construct the tabernacle according to the pattern that Yahweh showed him at the mountain (25:9, 40, 26:30) which is the “pattern” of chapter 24. The following instructions are the “pattern” in more detail (25:9). In other words, the tabernacle is meant to be a replica of the mountain. Yahweh will draw near to Israel at this tent just as at the mountain. The offering itself is likely taken up primarily from the spoils of Egypt (Ex. 11:2, 12:35).
The Coffin, the Ransom, and the Cherubim
The “ark” that Yahweh has Moses build is a wooden box overlaid in gold (25:10-11). The only previous use of this word for ark (ARONE) was for Joseph’s coffin (Gen. 50:26). But this is a coffin made to be carried; it’s permanently portable (25:12-15). The “testimony” is supposed to go inside this golden coffin (25:16). In fact, the ark is often called the “ark of the testimony” (25:22, 26:33-34, 30:6, etc.). The lid of this golden coffin is called the “mercy seat” in most translations, but the word does not directly mean “mercy” or “seat” (25:17). While it may be related to the verb for cover/cover over (cf. Gen. 6:14), it appears to be more associated with actions of ransom and redemption (Gen. 32:21, Ex. 21:30, 30:10, Lev. 4:20ff, esp. 16:30, Num. 16:47-48, 35:31). It can sometimes even refer to a bribe (e.g. Pr. 6:35, Amos 5:12). The New Testament calls it the “propitiation” (Heb. 9:5). Two cherubim stand on top of the lid, all one piece of pure gold (25:17-20). This is a clear allusion to the Garden of Eden where two cherubim were stationed at the entrance to prevent access back into the garden (Gen. 3:24). Perhaps significant is the fact that these cherubim are not armed with a sword, but it’s striking that they are permanently attached to the lid. Their wings spread out covering over the “ransom” (cf. Ps. 5:12, 91:4) and their faces are toward one another and toward the “ransom” (25:20). It is above the cherubim that Yahweh will meet with Moses and Israel (25:22).
The Table and Lampstand and Tabernacle
There is much that might be considered in the rest of the passage we are considering today, but I want to concentrate on the big picture. Exodus 25-26 are the instructions for the Tabernacle proper, the tent which housed the holy place and most holy place (e.g. 26:33). We should notice that there is gold covering everything: The ark is gold, the ransom-lid and cherubim are gold, the table and the lampstand are also made of “pure gold” (25:24, 31, 36, 38-39). Notice that the boards of the tent and the rings for the curtains are all gold as well (26:6, 29, 32, 37). This is Yahweh’s royal throne room, but all this gold would reflect the burning lamps creating a fiery light throughout the tent, picturing the top of the mountain where Yahweh’s presence was a “consuming fire” (24:17). There are also cherubim throughout: (26:1, 31); Yahweh is still guarded by angels. Humanity is being invited back closer to the garden, but it is still guarded. Not only is the structure and curtains and veils meticulously ordered, but the furniture is put in particular places as well (26:33-37). God’s house is both beautiful and orderly.
Conclusions & Applications
One on the important things to note is the overall context of what’s going on here. Immediately following the Sinai covenant God gives the instructions for building the tabernacle from chapters 25-31. There are seven speeches in this section of Exodus (25:1, 30:11, 17, 22, 34, 31:1, and 31:12), and this might not seem too striking except for the fact that the seventh speech is a command to keep the Sabbath and a reminder of the creation week (31:17). The point is that building the tabernacle is parallel to the creation of the world. But the opposite is true as well: Israel building the tabernacle is God’s way of beginning to remake the world. Israel will begin to remake the world by building a house of worship and taking that beauty and order into the world.
The “pattern” that Moses saw ultimately points to Jesus who is the true tabernacle (Jn. 1:14). The image/pattern of God has been distorted in humanity and in the world, and it is being refashioned through the work of Christ and his Spirit. This is why worship is so important. Here God reshapes our words, our actions, our thoughts, our lives in order that we might go out there and reshape the world according to this pattern. We learn to confess sin here and seek forgiveness so that we can do it out there. We learn to give thanks for all things here so that we can do it our there. We learn to love God’s story here so that we can see and love God’s story out there. We learn to pray here so that we can pray out there. We learn to eat together here so that we can fellowship and rejoice together out there. We are blessed here so that we can go out bless others. This is God’s way of remaking the world: this is the pattern of the mountain that God intends to impress upon the world. So what’s your house like? What’s in the center?
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Closing Prayer: Almighty and gracious God, we have come to a mountain that cannot be touched, to mount Zion the city of the living God where all the saints in heaven and earth meet worship you. Grant us faithfulness to be faithful Adams and Eves in this world that we might follow your example impressing your glory on this world.