10 January 2012

A Survey of the Old Testament Law--Picturing the Tabernacle

(For a more visual look at this subject, go to my earlier posts: Part 1, and Part 2)

Today we are going to continue in Exodus 36. But we’re actually going to begin in Exodus 27, looking at the tabernacle, or “tent of meeting.” It was the tent of meeting where the priests burned incense and kept the lampstand lit. It was, in fact, the central place where YHVH was worshipped by the people of Israel under the old covenant. But before one could enter the tent (and bear in mind, only Levites could set foot in the tent), they had to enter into the outer court, which was formed by a series of large curtains. And the details for these curtains are found in Exodus 27:18“The length of the court shall be one hundred cubits, the width fifty cubits throughout, and the height five cubits.” Now, I'm sure the question on everybody’s mind after reading this is…what’s a cubit? Anybody know, off-hand, how long a cubit is? Well, there were two different lengths that were called "cubits", but the one used here was about a foot and a half long (about 18 inches). So, basically, the courtyard would have been roughly 150’ long on the north and south sides, about 75’ wide on the east and west, and near 7½’ high. We ain't even gonna try converting it into metric.

The courtyard and tent were set up in an east-west direction. And to get inside the court, you had to go to the gate located on the east end. Like so:

So all the tribes are camped around the tabernacle according to their tribe (Numbers 2:1-34). Not only that, but there was to be a great space between the people and the tabernacle. And it was that space that was given to the Levites to dwell, since they were not given any land. Now, the distance between the people and the courtyard itself was probably about 3000 feet (1000 yards). Most sources I've read arrive at that measurement from Joshua 3:3-43 When you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, and the priests, the Levites, bearing it, then you shall set out from your place and go after it. 4 Yet there shall be a space between you and it, about two thousand cubits by measure.” So if you were camped on the west, with Ephraim and Manasseh and Benjamin, not only did you have to walk more than half a mile to the fence, you had to walk clear to the other end of the court—just to get into the courtyard. Now, let’s consider another factor. How many people do you think there were in the entire camp of Israel? Numbers 1:45-4645 So all who were numbered of the children of Israel, by their fathers' houses, from twenty years old and above, all who were able to go to war in Israel—46 all who were numbered were six hundred and three thousand five hundred and fifty. That was just the number of males from 20 years old and up. This did not include women, this did not include children. This did not even include the tribe of Levi, which would have been about another 50,000. But that’s for another day. Numbers 23:10“Who can count the dust of Jacob, or number one-fourth of Israel?” This did not include the tribe of Levi. They were not to be numbered. They were not to go out to war—they were simply to minister for the people. Which is why God did not allow David to build a temple to worship Him, 1st Chronicles 22:8"But the word of the LORD came to me, saying, ‘You have shed much blood and have made great wars; you shall not build a house for My name, because you have shed much blood on the earth in My sight.’" But I digress. 

So there were, conservatively speaking, over ONE MILLION PEOPLE camped around this court that was 150’ long by 75 feet wide by 7½ feet high. Let me put it to you this way: imagine TEN Neyland Stadiums—flattened out and spread out. Now, imagine all those people--those ONE MILLION PEOPLE--camped out around a McDonald’s. And not only did you have ONE MILLION PEOPLE, but what did those ONE MILLION PEOPLE bring with them? Animals! They did not have a “one pet per household” rule. Not every family had livestock or sheep, but adding these animals to the crowd—now you see what a miraculous work God did in providing for these people out in the middle of the desert. Now, once you go inside the eastern gate, what’s the first thing you see? The first thing you would come upon would be the altar of burnt offering. And what would be going on around this altar? The Levites and priests would be killing, cutting up and burning animals. You ever watch the folks in the meat department at Kroger’s or Ingles? How long it takes for them to cut up even small cuts of meat? Imagine being out in the desert, knowing that you have committed some breach in God’s Law, and you have to drag your animal more than half a mile to the court of the tent of meeting. And once you get there, you find a sea of people and animals. And then it hits you—“We might be here a while.” 

Anybody ever stand in line for concert tickets? You would be standing in the heat of the day, in the desert, waiting for the priests to kill, cut up and burn one animal after another after another after another. Imagine the stench of the blood and the waste from having to clean out the entrails, and the smell from the burning flesh and burning fat. All day long this goes on. And then they may finally get to you. What happens if they don’t? You get to come back the next day. It ends at sundown. Let’s say you finally get inside the gate, and there stands the priest. And behind him is the altar of burnt offering. And beyond that is the laver for washing and finally the tent itself. Like so:

Now, let’s take a look at this tent. The entire 36th chapter of Exodus echoes chapter 26, and describes what was used to make the tent and how the tent was to be constructed. We’re not going to do a verse-by-verse study of this chapter—and aren't you glad? We are going to get kind of an overview of it. When we think of a tent, what comes to mind? Some aluminum poles for the frame, covered by some kind of synthetic, waterproof, polyester/nylon fabric. This ain't that. They didn’t have the option of pulling into Bass Pro Shops and asking the associate if they carried Coleman tabernacles. They didn't go online to Cabelas.com either. I really want us to see the ingenuity behind the construction of the “tent of meeting.” But instead of going in order of the verses, we’re gonna work our way from the ground up. And once we’ve seen how the tabernacle was put together, there is a really good application for the church today.

Exodus 36:20-2820 For the tabernacle he made boards of acacia wood, standing upright. 21 The length of each board was ten cubits, and the width of each board a cubit and a half. 22 Each board had two tenons for binding one to another. Thus he made for all the boards of the tabernacle. 23 And he made boards for the tabernacle, twenty boards for the south side. 24 Forty sockets of silver he made to go under the twenty boards: two sockets under each of the boards for its two tenons. 25 And for the other side of the tabernacle, the north side, he made twenty boards 26 and their forty sockets of silver: two sockets under each of the boards. 27 For the west side of the tabernacle he made six boards. 28 He also made two boards for the two back corners of the tabernacle. What’s a cubit? About a foot and a half. So according to verse 21, how long was each board? About 15 feet. How wide was each board? Little tricky, huh? 2¼ feet. And in verse 22 we see a funky little word, a word we don’t use too often. It’s the word ‘tenon’. The Hebrew literally means “hands.” Think of tongue-in-groove for siding, or dovetail two boards together. Only this was 100 times better. So ingenious. What they would do would be to carve out niches in the ends of the boards, like curved “hands.” When these “hands” were set inside one another, one after another after another, they would look like one continuous piece, even though it was made up of many smaller units. Kinda like the church should be today, true? That’s for later. This is what these "hands" might have looked like:

When these boards were fitted together, then the whole wall was lifted up. And keep in mind, these boards were overlaid with a layer of pure gold. So this one continuous wall would have an almost mirrored appearance. This would reflect the light from the menorah or lampstand. And because it reflected the light from the lampstand, it would increase the amount of light inside the tent. Now, twenty boards on the long sides at 2½ feet per board equals 50 feet long. Then six boards on the short side times 2¼’ would be 13½ feet wide for the western wall. Now on the east side, they used two boards to make the door. One board on the north corner, one board on the south corner, and the screen in between. All these boards would be set in sockets or foundations, hooked together by the tenons or hands, and fastened together by the bars we read about in Exodus 36:31-33. So, standing up, they would look like this:

Now that was the frame for the tent. As far as the covering, Exodus 36:8-10“8 Then all the gifted artisans among them who worked on the tabernacle made ten curtains woven of fine linen, and of blue, purple, and scarlet thread; with artistic designs of cherubim they made them. 9 The length of each curtain was twenty-eight cubits, and the width of each curtain four cubits; the curtains were all the same size. 10 And he coupled five curtains to one another, and the other five curtains he coupled to one another.” This was no lightweight tent you could fold up into a backpack and sling over your shoulder. Each one of these curtains was 42 feet long and six feet wide. There were 10 of these linen curtains that were joined together on their long side, making for a total length of 60 feet. So this would hang over the frame on each end. There were 10 individual curtains, joined together to make one curtain. Kinda like the church today should be, huh? But that’s for later. This curtain of linen was only the first layer that would cover the frame we just put together. Exodus 36:14-16“14 He made curtains of goats' hair for the tent over the tabernacle; he made eleven curtains. 15 The length of each curtain was thirty cubits, and the width of each curtain four cubits; the eleven curtains were the same size. 16 He coupled five curtains by themselves and six curtains by themselves.” Eleven curtains made of goats’ hair. Each one 45 feet long, so they lapped over the linen curtains underneath them And they were six feet wide joined together on their long side for a total length of 60 feet. There were 11 individual curtains, but they were joined together to make one curtain. Kinda like the church today should be, huh? But that’s for later. Are you sensing a pattern?

This curtain of goats’ hair was only the second layer that would cover the frame we just put together. Exodus 36:19“Then he made a covering for the tent of ram skins dyed red, and a covering of badger skins above that.” Now, if you notice, every aspect of the construction of this tent is remarkable. It could be put together and taken apart relatively quickly. It was heavy enough to withstand the high winds that often came up in the desert. Yet it was also weatherproof, the rams skins and badger skins, when prepared properly, were—for all intents and purposes—waterproof. Good luck finding something like that at Cabela’s. This is what the layers may have looked like:

Now, I could go all Perry Stone and spiritualize each layer and why God said to use this animal instead of that animal, and why blue and purple and scarlet. I could go Zola Leavitt on you and explain why the third letter in the word for “tabernacle” has significance in end-times prophecy. But I don’t have that much time on my hands. So I'll leave that to men who have been called to that work. But there are two very important points I want to make while we’re here. First: If you did not belong to the order of Aaron, or even to the tribe of Levi, you do not go into that tent. If you step foot in that tent, what happens to you? You die. Did the magistrates drag you out and stone you? Or did God Himself strike you down? They may have had to drag your dead body out of there, but God would take care of you Himself. You did not approach God on your own. You came to a priest who was standing in the outer court who went before God on your behalf. Without that priest going to God on your behalf, God did not hear you. You were dead to God.

Now, did you come to that priest without blood? If you were poor you could redeem yourself with money, but why did you need to bring blood? Because when we sin, something has to die. Romans 6:23The wages of sin is death. From the very first sin, when God covered Adam and Eve with the skin of an animal God Himself killed, sins could not be taken away—or even covered over—unless something died. And even though many people refer to this old covenant as a “covenant of works” it was really a covenant of grace, seeing as how God even allowed something else to die for your sins. He didn’t even have to give them that. And when you have ONE MILLION PEOPLE in one place, you're going to have a lot of sin. And when you have a lot of sin, that calls for a lot of death and a lot of blood. When you sinned, you brought an animal to be killed. That was life under the old covenant.

But now, under the new covenant, how many animals do we have to bring every time we sin? God Himself made one sacrifice on behalf of all who will believe. He sacrificed His own Lamb, so that He can forgive the sins of all who come to Him in repentance and plead to Him. John 1:29“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” When we cry out to God and confess that we are a sinner and ask Him to accept Christ’s blood on our behalf, God looks at the blood Jesus shed and forgives our sins because Christ’s blood paid for those sins. Could we come to God before we knew Christ? We were like Gentiles when Israel was under the old covenant. We could not take part in any kind of worship of God.

BUT—that is why Paul said what he did in Ephesians 2:11-1811 Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands—12 that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. Ouch! That’s harsh! Know what Paul is saying there in not so many words? He’s saying “You guys were headed for Hell. You were unclean Gentiles, you couldn’t worship God even if you had wanted to!” 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, 15 having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, 16 and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. 17 And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. 18 For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. In verse 15, where it says having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances. What that means is that yeah, Israel was given commandments by God. But did God say, “Hey Moses, take My Law to the Gentiles so I can save them”? If you wanted to be saved you had to become a Jew. BUT now, both Jew and Gentile are saved in the same way—by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Not by works of the Law. We don’t have to kill, cut up and burn lambs of the first year at dawn and at twilight every day. We don’t have to bring bulls and goats and slaughter them day after day. Christ made one sacrifice, and that sacrifice was sufficient for anyone who draws near to God in faith. And we don’t have to keep bringing Him back up and perpetually sacrificing Him continuously like in the Catholic Mass. Hebrews 10:14By one offering He has perfected forever those who are sanctified. A verse which, by the way, speaks to the fact that if a person is truly saved, they are saved forever and cannot be “lost” again.

The second aspect I want us to see from the example of the tabernacle is this: The frame consisted of many individual boards clasped together. The curtain over the top of the tabernacle was made of many layers of curtain which were, in turn, made up of many different curtains clasped together. And what do you think is the application for the church today? Suppose they left one of the linen curtains in Kirjath, or they left a couple of the sockets for the pillars in Ai. “Well, I guess we’ll just have to do without.” Not so much. How well do you think that tabernacle would have held up in the middle of a windstorm or a sandstorm? They needed every single little part in order for the tabernacle to function properly. And they needed even the smallest utensils for things like the lampstand and the altar of incense. Keeping that concept in mind, listen to Ephesians 4:11-1411 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. How many offices did God ordain under the old covenant? Two: priest, and high priest. Under the old covenant, there were many high priests. Why so many? They died. Why did they die? Simple—they sinned. Under the new covenant, how many high priests are we ever gonna have? One (Hebrews 6:20). Now, as for the priests—look in that passage from Ephesians. You see offices like apostle and prophet and evangelist and pastor and teacher. Do you see a separate office of priest? No. Why is that? Are we kings and priests to God (Revelation 1:5-6)? Are we a chosen generation, a royal priesthood (1st Peter 2:9)? YES! We’re all priests! Paul did not mention the office of priest, but Peter did! And he tells us that there is no separate office for priest--that is, there is not this special group of men who alone can be called "priest"--because each and every believer is a priest to his God and King!

Should we all be working toward the same goal? Should we share in that labor with others of like faith? Some churches have a ministry, and they have this mindset that “This is our ministry! You can't have any part of it!” Does that make sense? Luke 9:49-5049   Now John answered and said, "Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow with us." 50 But Jesus said to him, "Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is on our side." Does this mean we join with just anyone who says they're a Christian church? Like those who call themselves Saints of the Latter-Day? Or Witnesses of Jehovah’s kingdom? No. But like those individual parts of the tabernacle, we should all be working together for the building up of the church. We should treat every member of the church the same, because we are not supposed to be separate and unequal. Like the boards of the tabernacle, we should join with each other and lift each other up. As those boards that formed the walls, we should be joining hands with other boards, if you will. Grace Community Church should be, as it were, joining hands with—well, we’ve got a couple families downstairs from Basswood Baptist Church. They want to “join hands” with us to build up the tabernacle called “the church.” Like Jesus said, if they are not against us, they are for us.
Jesus Christ is Lord.