Worship in the Tabernacle

Exodus 25-40

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
May 2017

We have been studying Exodus for a long time and today we come to the final section of Exodus.  There have been several big themes in Exodus so far.  The first big topic was REDEMPTION.  God delivers His people.  That is found in Exodus 1-18.

The second big topic is COVENANT.  We see that in Exodus 19, although it is not officially ratified until Exodus 24.  After redeeming His people, God makes a covenant with them.  We have been redeemed and we are also under a covenant, the New Covenant.  God relates to us in a covenant as well.

The third theme in Exodus is LAW.  We see that in Exodus 20-23. It is called “The Book of the Covenant” in Exodus.  After God redeemed His people, He told them how to live.  He still does that today.  We are redeemed with the precious blood of Christ.  We are bought with a price and are to glorify God in our body.  The One who redeemed is holy and we are to be holy.

The last theme in the book is WORSHIP.  It is a big deal because so many chapters in the book deal with it.  God wants to be in relationship with us and desires to be worshiped.

Today, we come to the topic of the Tabernacle which is all about worship.  I want to look at worship in the Tabernacle.  In some ways, it is very similar to worship today.  In some ways, it does not look anything like worship today in the average church.

I have to begin with a confession. Pastor James MacDonald used to say, “All for honesty in church.”  I have been dreading these chapters.  Many who read some of these chapters begin to fall asleep.  They do not seem very practical.  They do not seem very exciting.

No one would call these their favorite chapters in the Bible. I have never heard anyone say that they have been transformed by these chapters  or that they have changed their life.  This section seems dry and boring. It deals with construction designs for furniture and rooms and tents.

What I want to do today is to simplify it and break it down and make some applications.  Some of you may know nothing about the Tabernacle.  Moses spends about fifteen chapters on the Tabernacle.  Albert Einstein said, “The definition of genius is taking the complex and making it simple.” The Tabernacle is a complicated topic.  I want to try to simplify it today.

This week, I want to look at the big picture.  Next week, we may look at some of the details but we do not want to miss the forest for the trees.  When you look at the big picture, you will see that the Tabernacle is fascinating. There are many ways the Tabernacle points people to Jesus.  What exactly was the Tabernacle? Why was it important?  How was it different from church?

Four Important Tabernacle Truths

1) The Tabernacle was a place where people could worship God.

The Tabernacle was a place of worship.  It was the center of Jewish worship for hundreds of years.  It was very different from the worship we have today.  We do not worship God in a big tent, a big portable tent.  The Tabernacle was not built to hold religious meetings and to have large gatherings of fellowship with other believers.

There was no preaching in the Tabernacle.  There was no music in the Tabernacle.  There is no mention of musicians or worship singers in the Tabernacle, although there were some in the Temple later. It was a place where people could come to meet with God.  God was in the Tabernacle.  In fact, when the Tabernacle was finally built in the last chapter of the book, the Shekinah glory filled it.

Then Moses set up the courtyard around the tabernacle and altar and put up the curtain at the entrance to the courtyard. And so Moses finished the work. 34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 35 Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.

36 In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; 37 but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out—until the day it lifted. 38 So the cloud of the Lord was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the Israelites during all their travels. (40:34-37)

Not only could people worship God in the Tabernacle, this worship was divinely directed. It was not Moses’ idea.  It was not Aaron’s idea.  It was God’s idea.  God told Moses to build the Tabernacle and told him exactly HOW it was to be made.  God was the architect.  Moses was not to be original and creative.  He was not to be a great innovator but to follow a “pattern” (25:9). He was to follow the architectural blueprint God gave him.

Noah was told to follow a pattern when he built the ark.  God gave him the exact dimensions to the thing and even told him what kind of wood to use.  He did not design the ark himself.  There is incredible detail here in the instructions. Apparently, God is detail oriented.  If you did not know that before, you learn it from these chapters.  They show how detail oriented God is.

Moses and Aaron were not to worship God the way they thought He should be worshiped or the way he wanted to worship Him.  They were to worship Him the way God told him to worship Him.  That is still true today. We are not supposed to worship God any way we want to worship Him.  We are supposed to worship him the way that He tells us to worship him.  God cares about HOW He is worshiped.  Aaron’s sons found this out.

Leviticus 10:1-2 says, “Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to his command. 2 So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.”

Who were Nadab and Abihu?  They were Aaron’s oldest sons, which made them also Moses’ nephews, because Aaron was Moses’ brother. Nadab and Abihu were part of the group of seventy that went up on the mountain and saw God.  They had connections to Moses.  They received special revelation that few in the nation received.  That had special privileges.

They were leaders themselves.  They had been ordained.  They were just consecrated as priests.  They were Israel’s first’s priests and they died the first day on the job.  They were killed in church while they were worshiping God.  They did not do it in the right way.  They offered a strange fire and died.

Jesus said that God MUST worshiped IN SPIRIT and IN TRUTH (John 4:24). You have to have both.  It is not enough to have truth.  You have to have spirit.  You have to worship God with your whole heart.  It is also not enough be sincere and passionate about worship.  You can be passionate about worshiping a golden calf.  Many are on fire for a false god.  Worship must be in spirit and in truth.

2) The Tabernacle was the place where God manifested His presence.

God desires to dwell with his people.  It is the theme of the whole bible.  Adam and Eve walked with God in the garden.  Because of sin, there has been a barrier between God and man.  In the eternal state, God will once again dwell with His people.

Revelation 21:3 says, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God” (NIV).

In the last chapter of Exodus that we studied, Moses went up on Mount Sinai directly into God’s presence.  He went into a cloud and stayed there for forty days and forty nights.  He went up on the mountain to meet with God.  In Exodus 25, we see that God does not just want to dwell with Moses.  He wants to dwell with His people.

The Tabernacle teaches us something very important.  God does not just to REDEEM His people.  He wants to FELLOWSHIP with His people.  God is a person.  He wants a personal relationship with each one of us.  He also wants to DWELL among his people.  He does not just want a relationship.  He wants to LIVE with us. Exodus 25:8 says, “Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them” (NIV).

Exodus 29:45-46 says, “So I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar and will consecrate Aaron and his sons to serve me as priests. 45 Then I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God. 46 They will know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of Egypt so that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God” (NIV)

The Tabernacle was where God was manifesting His presence in a visible way in a way that He does not do today.  We come to church to worship God.  We come to meet God but we do not see Him in a visible way in church. They did in the Tabernacle because God lived there.

God condescended to live among his people on earth in the Tabernacle.  He is not just hanging around.  He is setting up residence.  The Jews lived in a tent and God lived in a tent with them. That made the Tabernacle the most important place in the world.

No other nation in the world had this.  Someone said that the Jews did not have the Pyramids like the Egyptians.  They did not have philosophy like the Greeks.  They did not have armies like the Romans but they had God dwelling with them in their midst. No other nation in the world had that. The Tabernacle was God dwelling among his people. It is a picture of Christ.

That is what happened at the Incarnation. John 1:14 says, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (NASB).  The word “dwelled” in Greek (σκηνόω) is the word tabernacle.  Jesus tabernacle or dwelt with his people during the incarnation.

This raises an important question.  We do not have a tabernacle anymore.  The NT tells us that God does not dwell in temples made with hands.  Paul said this (Acts 17:29) and so did Stephen (Acts 7:48).  Where is God’s dwelling place today?

In the OT, God dwelled in a physical house.  Today, He dwells in the church.  We are the Temple of the Holy Spirit.  A temple is where God lives.  Temples are sacred buildings.  That means our bodies are sacred.  The Holy Spirit lives inside each one of us, if we are saved.  He does not live inside a physical building.  He lives inside of people. The church is described in the NT as a building.

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22 NIV).

Notice that the church is called “a dwelling in which God lives.”  It is described as “a dwelling for God” or as the KJV says “a habitation for God.”

3) The Tabernacle was a place where God was worshiped through the shedding of blood

You cannot come into God’s presence and worship him if you do not deal with sins.  That is the problem with religions today.  They have no answer to the sin problem.  There are humanistic ways to reach God through man-made religion but they do not solve the sin issue.

The Bible says that you cannot deal with sins that apart from the shedding of blood.  The only way you can approach God is through blood.  There has to be death, an innocent victim and a substitute.  This is just another way that the Tabernacle pointed to Jesus.

Hebrews 9:22 says, “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is NO FORGIVENESS.” (NIV)  That is still true today.  We can only approach God through the blood of his Son.  We cannot approach Him any other way.

Once a year, the high priest would go into the Holy of Holies.  He represented the whole nation.  He had two stones with the names of all of the twelve tribes engraved on his ephod (28:8-12).  He went into the holy of Holies with incense burning and a bowl full of blood.

He would splash blood on the mercy seat for his own sins and for the sins of the nation splatters that blood on the mercy seat and walks out (Leviticus 16).  We will look at that more next week.  Jesus is our high priest but he was different from these OT high priests.

Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.” (Hebrews 7:27).

The whole Tabernacle system was based on sacrifice.  It was there where the sacrifices were made.  When you entered into the Tabernacle, the first thing you saw was the bronze altar.  That was where the sacrifices were made.

Pastors talk about having an altar in the front of the church but they do not look anything like the altars in the Bible.  The word “altar” in Hebrew means “slaughter place.”  It was the place where animals were sacrificed and blood was shed.  It comes from a verbal root meaning “to slaughter.”

4) Access to God’s presence in the Tabernacle was restricted.

God’s presence has restricted access. How was it restricted?  It was restricted in a number of ways.  This Tabernacle had three parts.  It was divided into three sections.  It had an OUTER COURT.  It had an INNER COURT and it had a MOST HOLY PLACE.  Anyone could go into the outer court.

The only ones allowed into the inner court were the priests.  Not anyone could be a priest.  It didn’t matter how much you felt that God was leading you to be a priest or you felt called to the work of the priesthood. You had to be born a priest.  You had to be born in the tribe of Levi.

If you were born in any of the eleven other tribes, you could not be priest but not all of the Levites could be priests.  You had to not only be a Levite; you had to be a descendant of Aaron but even that did not guarantee that you could be a priest. To be a priest, you had to pass a physical exam.  There were some physical requirements to the priesthood.

“No man who has any defect may come near: no man who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed; 19 no man with a crippled foot or hand, 20 or who is a hunchback or a dwarf, or who has any eye defect, or who has festering or running sores or damaged testicles. 21 No descendant of Aaron the priest who has any defect is to come near to present the food offerings to the Lord.

He has a defect; he must not come near to offer the food of his God. 22 He may eat the most holy food of his God, as well as the holy food; 23 yet because of his defect, he must not go near the curtain or approach the altar, and so desecrate my sanctuary. I am the Lord, who makes them holy.’” (Leviticus 21:18-23 NIV)

That is strange.  That doesn’t sound fair.  If a church did not let some of these kinds of people be pastors today, there would be all kinds of lawsuits from the ACLU.  Doesn’t God love the handicapped?  Does He only like people who are physically flawless?  No.

Jesus healed people who had all kinds of disabilities.  He healed the blind.  He healed the deaf.  He healed the lame.  The Bible forbids even people to take advantage of the disabled (cf. Leviticus 19:14).  The priesthood was symbolic.  It required a perfect sacrifice and perfect priest.

Only the priests could go into the inner court and only the High Priest could go into the Holy of Holies where God’s presence was manifested. No one else could go into the holiest part of the Tabernacle.  It was limited to one man and only he could do it once a year.  It was limited to ONE MAN at ONE TIME.

Most of the Jews never had access to the Most Holy Place.  Only the priests could do this but even the priests could not go into the Holy of Holies.  There was limited access to God.  How does that apply today?

The NT teaches that we are all priests.  It is not just the pastor or all of the leaders of the church.  Every single Christian is a priest.  The Catholic Church teaches that only certain people are priests.  The Bible teaches the universal priesthood of believers.  That means that we all have access to God.  We do not have to go through a mediator to get to God.  I Timothy 2:5 says that there is one mediator and it is Jesus.

Hebrews 10:19 says, “Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus” (NIV)

Ephesians 2:17-19 says, “He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. 19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household” (NIV)

We are priests.  We are part of the priesthood.  I Peter 2:9 says, “But you are a chosen people, A ROYAL PRIESTHOOD, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”  Peter says that we are priests.  We are not Levitical priests or Aaronic priests but we are still priests. We are priests of the New Covenant and not the Old Covenant.

They had direct access to God and so do we.  They were anointed and so are we.  OT priests were anointed with oil.  We are anointed with the Holy Spirit.  They offered sacrifices to God and so do we.  They made intercession for people and so do we.

The tragedy of the church is that many Christians do not take advantage of this great privilege. Worship is not important to us and we rarely take the time to come directly into God’s presence.  Some do it less than once a year.

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