Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A Few Thoughts on the Tabernacle

As a church we're reading through the Bible this year.  So recently we hit the section in Exodus which describes the plans for the building of the tabernacle, its furnishings, and the requirements for the priests.  This section of scripture can be especially frustrating because it seems as though the Lord tells them how to build the tabernacle in Exodus 25-31 and then in chapters 35-40 the text details how the tabernacle was actually build.  In that this can be one of those sections that is difficult to read and even more difficult to apply I thought it might be interesting to look as some random thoughts regarding the tabernacle.

1.  The crucial verse in this section of scripture is Exodus 25.8 which states:
Let them construct a sanctuary for me, that I may dwell among them.
The whole purpose for the tabernacle is so that God's presence may dwell among his people.  The tabernacle is, essentially, an incarnational symbol.  Philip Rosenbaum has written an interesting book entitled How to Enjoy the Boring Parts of the Bible and in his discussion of the tabernacle he writes the following in regards to Exodus 25.8:
Dwell among us? This is something new.  God told Abraham He would be a God to him and his descendants.  After the Exodus He promised, "You shall be a special treasure to Me above all people... a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Exodus 19:5-6).  Now at the first mention of the tabernacle, He says that He will dwell among us!  To put this statement in its proper perspective, consider that the rest of the Bible is essentially the outworking or fulfillment of Exodus 25:8.  Does that seem too much to claim for one little verse at the entrance to the boring parts?
"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory..." (John 1:14).  A literal translation of this passage is, "the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us."  When the Old Testament was first translated into Greek (well before the time of Christ), the Greek noun derived from this verb was used to express the Hebrew words for tabernacle.  Furthermore, the Hebrew word for tabernacle in Exodus in 25:9 is derived from the word dwell in 25:8 and Christ's dwelling among us could hardly be stronger.
John 1:14 is the first biblical use of that Greek word for dwell; its last use is equally instructive:
Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, "Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God.  (Revelation 21:2-3, emphasis added)
The Interlinear Bible reads, "Behold, the tabernacle of God with men!  And He will tabernacle with them..."  The Greek noun and verb are that closely related.  The point of all this linguistic exercise is that the coming of Christ and the coming of His heavenly Bride are inseparable f rom Exodus 25:8.  If you want to understand the end of Exodus you must read your New Testament.  And if you want to understand the New Testament... (pp. 59-60)
This theme of God's presence dwelling with his people in the tabernacle is repeated in this section of scripture.  Consider these passages:
You shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony which I will give to you.  There I will meet with you; and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak to you about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel.  Exodus 25:21-22 
It shall be a continual burnt offering throughout your generations at the doorway of the tent of meeting before the Lord, where I will meet with you, to speak to you there.  I will meet there with the sons of Israel, and it shall be consecrated by my glory.  I will consecrate the tent of meeting and altar; I will also consecrate Aaron and his sons to minister as priests to me.  I will dwell among the sons of Israel and will be their God.  They shall know that I am the Lord their God who brought them out of the land of Egypt, that I might dwell among them; I am the Lord their God.  Exodus 29.42-46
2.  The tabernacle had a certain physical beauty as was befitting God's good presence.
You shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty.  Exodus 28.2 (also see v. 40)
This was no sloppily thrown together uniform.  God's priestly representative was to be glorious and beautiful which spoke of God's glory and beauty.

Part of this beauty is described in the way the priest's garments were to be adorned.  Here is how Exodus 28.33-34 describes the hem of the priestly robe:
You shall make on its hem pomegranates of blue and purple and scarlet material, all around on its hem, and bells of gold between them all around: a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, all around on the hem of the robe. 
This has some interesting implications for artistic pursuits as Francis Schaeffer illustrates:
But there is something further to note here.  In nature, pomegranates are red, but these pomegranates were to be blue, purple, and scarlet.  Purple and scarlet could be natural changes in the growth of a pomegranate, but blue isn't.  The implication is that there is freedom to make something which gets its impetus from nature but can be different from it, and it too can be brought into the presence of God.  In other words, art does not need to be "photographic" in the poor sense of photographic!  Francis Schaeffer Art and the Bible in The Complete Works (vol. 2, p. 380).
3.  The details of the tabernacle's construction are an indicator of the historicity of the narrative.  Real people who are given the task of building something need specific instructions in order to complete the task.  Again, the words of Schaeffer are instructive:
It is tempting sometimes to read the Bible as a "holy book," treating the historical accounts as if they were upper-story situations that had nothing to do with down-to-earth reality.  But we must understand that when God commanded these works of art to be built, some artist had to make them.  There are two sides to art.  It is creative, yes, but art also involves the technical details of how things are to be made.  In Exodus 37:7 we are given something of these technical details: "And he made two cherubim of gold; of beaten work made he them at the two ends of the mercy seat."  The cherubim on the ark didn't suddenly appear out of the sky.  Somebody had to get his hands dirty, somebody had to work out the technical problems.  The very thing that a modern artist wrestles with, these artists had to wrestle with.  Art and the Bible, p. 380.
There is much more to say--so much more!--but I'll finish up for now.