25:1-31:18 THE TABERNACLE AND THE PRIESTHOOD
Purpose of the tabernacle
The cloud on the mountain was only a temporary sign of God's presence with his people. Now that Israel was beginning a new era, God gave the people a tabernacle, or tent, as a permanent sign that he dwelt among them and was part of them. He was the very centre of their national life. This tabernacle was known as the tent of meeting (39:32), for it was the place where God met with his people. It was also called the tent of the testimony (38:21), to remind the people that within it, in the ark, was the testimony of God, the law, that was to guide and control their lives.
Yet while God dwelt among his people, he also, in a sense, dwelt apart from them, for they were sinful and he was holy. They could not come to God directly. They had to come first to the priests and offer sacrifices, then the priests approached God on their behalf. The contrasts between the limitations of this old covenant and the perfections of the new covenant through Jesus Christ are presented in the New Testament book of Hebrews. But until God's purposes were fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the laws and ceremonies of the old covenant helped people to understand God and to understand themselves.
God did not design these laws and ceremonies as a means by which people might earn salvation. Rather they were part of the developing plan of God that showed people, stage by stage, how he was able to forgive those who trusted in him, yet be just in doing so. This revelation reached its climax in Jesus Christ, and on the basis of his death God could forgive all who had faith in him, even those who lived in Old Testament times (Romans 3:25-26; Hebrews 9:15).
Then, as now, people were saved only by faith in the sovereign God who in his mercy forgave them and accepted them. Faith, not understanding, was the requirement for salvation. A person's understanding of how God's work of salvation operated depended on how far the divine revelation had progressed in its movement towards completion in Jesus Christ. But in any era the repentant sinner who turned in faith to God could be forgiven.
Design of the tabernacle
The tabernacle was designed so that it could be easily put together, taken apart and transported, for the people of Israel took it with them on their journey to Canaan and set it up at camps along the way.
Simply described, the tabernacle consisted of a wooden box-like frame covered with a cloth and protected from the weather by a tent that covered the whole. In outward appearance it was a tent (which is the meaning of the word 'tabernacle'). The timber framed structure hidden under this tent consisted of two rooms. The front room, which was entered through a curtain, was called the Holy Place and contained three pieces of furniture - a table, a lampstand and an altar for burning incense. A second curtain separated the Holy Place from the smaller rear room, which was called the Most Holy Place or Holy of Holies. This room was the symbolic dwelling place of God and contained the ark of the covenant.
This tabernacle-tent was set in a large court surrounded by a fence. In this enclosure were two articles, the most important of which was an altar on which all the animal and food sacrifices were offered. The other article was a laver, or large basin, in which the priests washed. The tabernacle complex was in the centre of the camp, with the people's tents pitched in an orderly arrangement around it (see Numbers 2:1-31; Numbers 3:21-38).
As a structure, the tabernacle was entirely suited to Israel's circumstances. A tent over a prefabricated frame was suitable for a travelling people, and its construction could withstand the desert winds. Many of its articles of furniture were fitted at the corners with rings, through which poles were placed to make the articles easy to carry. The wood to be used was plentiful in the region, did not warp or rot easily and was light, which helped further towards easy transport. Metals were of the kind that would not rust. Timber was overlaid with metal, bronze being used to cover articles in the open courtyard, and gold those inside the tabernacle-tent. Cloth hangings were suitable for the entrances and partitions of a tent.
The brilliance of the metals and the richness of the cloth hangings increased as one moved from the outer court, through the Holy Place to the Most Holy Place. This helped emphasize the glory and majesty of Yahweh, the King of Israel (cf. 28:2).
Materials given by the people (25:1-9)
All the building materials used in the tabernacle came from the voluntary offerings of the people, who at the time were enjoying a degree of prosperity because of their recent gains from the Egyptians and the Amalekites (25:1-7; see 12:36; 17:13). The people gave so generously that Moses had more than he needed and asked them not to bring any more (see 36:5-7). In order that the visible (symbolic) dwelling place of God might be a help and not a hindrance to the people's spiritual growth, everything had to be built according to God's instructions. The people were not to try to 'improve' God's plan by introducing ideas they may have got from similar kinds of structures they had seen in Egypt (8-9).
Ark of the covenant (25:10-22)
The ark (GNB: covenant box) was a gold covered wooden box, two and a half cubits long, one and a half cubits wide, and one and a half cubits high. (A cubit was about forty-four centimetres or eighteen inches.) It was the only piece of furniture in the Most Holy Place (see 26:34). Inside the ark were the two stone tablets on which the law was written, as a constant reminder to the people of Israel that the God who dwelt among them was also their law-giver (10-16; Deuteronomy 10:1-5). (Later Aaron's rod and the golden pot of manna were also placed in the ark; see Hebrews 9:4.)
A specially sacred part of the ark was its richly ornamented lid, called the mercy seat. The two cherubim (GNB: winged creatures) attached to the top of the mercy seat apparently symbolized divine protection of the seat, the ark and the contents (17-21). This mercy seat appears to have been a visible throne for the invisible God. It was the place where God spoke with Moses and where the high priest made atonement for the sins of the people when he entered the Most Holy Place once a year (Leviticus 16:1-19; Leviticus 16:29-31; Hebrews 9:7). The name mercy seat emphasized to the people of Israel that when they finally reached the heart of their religion they were still sinners, dependent entirely upon the mercy of God for their salvation (22).
The table and the lampstand (25:23-40)
These two pieces of furniture were placed opposite each other against the side walls of the Holy Place (see 26:35). The table was made of wood overlaid with gold, and the vessels associated with it (used in the ceremonies of the Holy Place) were all made of gold (23-29). On the table were twelve small loaves of bread (called 'presence bread') arranged in two rows of six. Each Sabbath the priests placed twelve fresh loaves on the table and ate the old loaves (Leviticus 24:5-9). The symbolism of the presence bread is not explained. Possibly it was a reminder that the whole of Israel, in its twelve tribes, lived constantly in the presence of God. God was their provider, and the bread was a fitting and constant acknowledgment of this before him (30).
No dimensions are given for the lampstand. It weighed about thirty-five kilograms, held seven lamps, was made of one piece of gold, and was richly ornamented. Its trays and other utensils were also of gold. This seven-headed lamp provided continual light in the otherwise dark Holy Place, and was tended by the priests morning and evening (31-40; cf. 27:20-21).
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Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Exodus 25". "Brideway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany