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Exodus 25-27: Where God Dwells Print E-mail
Sunday, 06 September 2009

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I am one of these people who normally follows written directions closely.  When I put our swing together on our back porch, I followed the directions.  When Isaiah gets a new toy or new furniture, I follow the directions.  I am a man who follows the directions.  Not everybody is like me and they can normally get things done a whole lot faster than I can.  I lack the experience to be able to see how certain parts will fit together and form whatever it is I am trying to make.  I can look at the box and identify the goal, but without some help, I am not very good at getting there by myself.  Thus, I start with step one and slowly work through the directions, trusting that they will lead me to the desired goal.

Exodus 25-27 is a set of directions.  God has redeemed His people out of Egypt, led them through the Red Sea, brought them to Mount Sinai, and given them the Ten Commandments and the Law.  Moses goes up the mountain to meet with the Lord again at the end of chapter 24.  This time the Lord gives him instructions for building the Tabernacle.  He tells Moses the purpose and the goal of this structure and commands him to follow the instructions carefully.  He gives him directions for building the ark (25:10-22), the table (25:23-30), and the lampstand (25:31-40).  Then He tells him how to build the actual structure in chapter 26, including the veils and screens.  In chapter 27 He adds the altar (v. 1-8) and the outer court (v. 9-19), concluding with directions for keeping oil in the lamp (v. 20-21).  More will be added next week along with instructions for the priests.

Now, if you read these chapters this week, you may have struggled a bit to get through them.  They are detailed directions and they read like that.  So then, what do we do with these directions?  Some have offered more ‘spiritual interpretations’ by looking for parallels between all of the different articles and the work of Christ (ie., the lampstand points to Him being the light of the world).  I understand the tendency to do that and some of the comparisons may have more validity than others.  Yet, the direction that I want to take is more general.  Instead of asking what each little piece represents, why not ask what the Lord was teaching to Israel with the whole of the Tabernacle?  Thus, this morning I want to try and answer this question from our text and then close by considering how the work of Christ impacts these lessons.  So then, what is God teaching Israel with these directions for the Tabernacle?

First, God dwells with His people.

What is the goal of the Tabernacle?  Why is Israel commanded to build this structure?  The goal of these directions is found in 25:8.  Look at that verse with me.  After the Lord tells Moses to collect all the materials needed, He tells them that they are to build a sanctuary, which is a reference to the Tabernacle.  Why are they to build this?  God answers: that I may dwell in their midst.  God directs them to build this structure so that He can dwell among them.  At this point in Israel’s history, they are a nomadic people, walking around the wilderness dwelling in tents.  The Tabernacle is the Lord’s tent.  He has them pitch it in their midst, in fact directly in the middle of their camp (see Numbers 2). 

The Lord has redeemed His people so that He can dwell among them.  Granted, the Bible teaches that the Lord is omnipresent (in all places at all times).  Yet, we also see in passages like this that there is a ‘manifest presence’ of God among His people.  Yes, He is in all places at all times, but He is especially with His people.  At this point in the history of Redemption, He is especially with the people of Israel through the Tabernacle. 

The goal of God’s presence is made again in the instructions concerning the building of the Ark.  The Ark is to be a rectangular box, covered with gold and having rings so that it can be carried.    On top of it is to be a mercy seat of pure gold (25:17) and on this mercy seat is to be two cherubim, or angels, that face each other.  Inside the ark they are to put the testimony that God has given them, probably referring to the tablets of the Law.  These are the instructions for the Ark. 

Then look at what God says in 25:22.  The Lord will meet with Moses from above the mercy seat, which is why the Tabernacle is often called the tent of meeting.  Look at 27:21.  The Tabernacle will be where Moses meets with God.  He will represent the people before God and God before the people.  In this way, God’s presence will dwell with His people.  The table and bread also point to this reality.  Look at 25:30.  Israel is to build a table that will hold the bread of the Presence.  God will be present with His people.

The goal of the Tabernacle is to build a tent for the Lord to dwell with His people.  He is teaching them (and us) that He delights in being present with His own.  Yet, there is at least one other lesson that the Lord is teaching us in this passage.

Second, God commands His people to obey.

Of course, this should not surprise us.  We have seen the importance of obedience in the book of Exodus.  In fact, we will continue to see its importance (see chapters 32-34).  But how do we see this call to obedience in this text?

First, the Lord tells them to be exact in their building of the Tabernacle.  Look at 25:9.  The Israelites are not to take liberties with the building of God’s sanctuary.  They are to be exact.  They are to follow His directions to the letter.  Just so that you see the stress on this point, look at 25:40, 26:30, and 27:8.  The Lord gives the people the directions and expects them to follow.  Yet, why would the Lord command this?  Let me just mention a couple of possible reasons.  First, as we saw last week, the Lord expects obedience even in the details.  His people are not to be lax about any of His commands.  They are called to obey Him, not so that they can be saved, but because they are already His people.  Second, the people are to be exact so that the plan for a dwelling place of the Lord will work.  The Tabernacle has to be mobile so that they can carry it to the Promised Land. 

Thus, they need to make the rings and the poles and use the materials that the Lord instructs.  Likewise, it needs to be durable.  If they skimp on the materials then the structure will not hold.  Finally, it needs to be functional.  The sides need to fit together and the veils need to cover what they are supposed to cover.  In order for all this ‘to work’, Israel must follow the Lord’s directions.  Of course, pragmatism is not the ultimate goal, as some believe it to be today, but it does play a role in God’s directions concerning the Tabernacle.

The second way we see the emphasis on obedience is in the command to provide for the Tabernacle.  In 25:1-7 the Lord commands the people to give sacrificially.  The materials are not cheap: gold, silver, bronze, fine twined linen, spices, yarns, etc.  The people must give in order for the Tabernacle to be built.  Likewise, in 27:20-21, God instructs the people to provide oil for the lamp to burn continually.  The oil required would also demand sacrifice on the part of the people.  The Lord commands their obedience for the building of His sanctuary.

The Tabernacle teaches us that the Lord will dwell with His people and that He expects them to obey.  These are the lessons that Israel was to learn.  Yet, what about us?  How does the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ impact these truths?  I mean, the Tent of Meeting no longer exists, so where does God especially dwell now?

God dwells with those who repent of their sins and trust in Christ through the gift of His Holy Spirit.  So you know that I am not making this up, look at 1 Corinthians 3:16-17.  Paul tells us that believers now make up the temple of God.  The pronoun ‘you’ is actually plural, as the ESV footnotes.  Thus, as believers we are the dwelling place of God through the Spirit.  If you have repented of your sins and placed your faith in the finished work of Christ, then you are part of the dwelling place of God on earth.  Just as He was especially present at the Tabernacle, so is He especially present with the Church.  Christ came and ‘tabernacled’ among us (see John 1:14) so that we might become the dwelling place of God. 

Paul makes this point explicit in the passage that we read as our call to worship (Ephesians 2).  In that one chapter we go from being dead in (our) trespasses and sins to being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.  The Tabernacle foreshadowed this great reality: God dwells with His people.  He pitched His tent among the Israelites and has now done the same with all of those in Christ through the Spirit.

Likewise, God commands those in Christ to obey.  Look at 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.  Since we are now the dwelling place of God, Paul expects us to glorify God in your body.  We are given the gift of God’s presence through the Spirit so that we can faithfully obey all that He commands us to do.  We must follow His instructions individually and corporately.  Just like Israel, we do not have the right to come with our own directions or to stray from God’s.  He has graciously redeemed us through the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, or as Paul says: You are not your own, for you were brought with a price.  We belong to the Lord and we are called to obey Him in all that we do. 

Thus, may we conduct our lives in the way that He instructs.  May we read His word and do what He says.  As a Church, may we do and be what He has called us to do and be.  May we provide for the ministries of the Church and for the mission of taking the good news to the nations.  May we take our covenant with one another seriously.  May we be willing to always reform in light of the Word so that by His grace we might be a faithful witness to His glory to the watching world.

The Lord has chosen to dwell with His people.  We see this in the history of Israel with the Tabernacle and later with the Temple.  We also see it in the New Covenant through the gift of the Spirit.  If you are not a believer in Christ, then I implore you to repent of your sins and trust in what Jesus has done for you.  By doing this, you too can receive the promised Holy Spirit and be a part of the dwelling place of God.  If you are a believer, then let me encourage you to be ever mindful of the fact that God has chosen to dwell with you through the Spirit.  Labor by the Spirit’s power to live your life in such a way that God is glorified and honored.  Labor in the Church to see that other believers are edified and that Christ is lifted up as He deserves.  To Him be all the glory in the Church, were He so graciously dwells among His people.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 15 September 2009 )

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