There was fire, and blood, and smoke. There was stunning artistic design that communicated something otherworldly was taking place. If you walked up on this scene in the desert you would see thousands of tents circled around the rising smoke and you would gasp at the tower of fire hovering over a small structure in the nighttime sky at the center of camp.
Before Israel had a temple, they had the Tabernacle of Moses. It was a place to worship God that was portable. It could be packed up and moved as they journeyed through the wilderness moving towards the land promised to Abraham.
God had said to Moses, I want you to build me a Tabernacle that I may dwell with my people. Dwelling with His people has always been the heart of God, to gather His people and draw them close was the dream of God.
Ex 25:1 The LORD said to Moses, 2 “Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from each man whose heart prompts him to give. 3 These are the offerings you are to receive from them: gold, silver and bronze; 4 blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair; 5 ram skins dyed red and hides of sea cows; acacia wood; 6 olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; 7 and onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breastpiece. 8 “Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. 9 Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.
As in everything God does, there was a message embedded in the Tabernacle. It spoke of three truths:
1. God wants to be near His people
2. Sin was a barrier, and even though God was drawing near, there remained a barrier
3. The ultimate solution to the sin barrier was the one who would one day take the full punishment for sin, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, and remove its division between God and man through His blood shed on the cross
The Tabernacle was relatively small, 45ft x 15ft. Its construction was a wood frame with layers of fabric draped across. It was divided into two room, The Holy Place, and the Holy of Holies.
The Holy Place
The Holy Place was the first room as you entered the Tabernacle. It had three pieces of furniture. To your right was the Table of Showbread. On this table was 12 pieces of bread that were replaced each week by the priests with fresh. The bread was called the bread of the Presence. When the priest replaced the bread, they ate the old bread in the presence of the Lord. This was all commanded of God and served to teach that God wanted to be near and have relationship with His people.
To the left was the Golden Lampstand. It had seven lamp flames burning oil day and night. It was the priests job to make sure the oil never ran out – teaching that God is the true and only light for His people.
The third piece of furniture was the Golden Altar of Incense. This was also assigned to the priests to make sure the incense was always burning before the Lord. The sweet smell of the incense would fill the entire tabernacle and illustrate the prayers of God’s people rising before Him.
Separating the Holy Place from the second room, The Holy of Holies, was a veil. The veil served to remind the people that although God wanted to be close to them, there remained a problem that was an obstacle to relationship – it was sin.
The Holy of Holies
The Holy of Holies had just one piece of furniture in it, The Ark of the Covenant. This was a small box, made of wood, and overlaid with gold. Its dimensions were 4ft x 2ft. The lid of the box was called the Mercy Seat. It was flat and had an angel called a Cherubim, on each end. The mercy seat was very important and served several purposes. First it was the place where the high priest would sprinkle sacrificial blood once a year on the Day of Atonement. This sprinkling would cover the sins of the people for one year.
Secondly, the Mercy Seat would serve as the place where God’s Presence would rest as a kind of throne for His feet. It would represent the idea that God was among them.
Thirdly, the Mercy Seat was the place where God spoke with Moses.
Ex 25:17 “Make an atonement cover of pure gold– two and a half cubits long and a cubit and a half wide. 18 And make two cherubim out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover. 19 Make one cherub on one end and the second cherub on the other; make the cherubim of one piece with the cover, at the two ends. 20 The cherubim are to have their wings spread upward, overshadowing the cover with them. The cherubim are to face each other, looking toward the cover. 21 Place the cover on top of the ark and put in the ark the Testimony, which I will give you. 22 There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the Testimony, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites.
The colors, dimensions, pieces of furniture, all pointed to Jesus who would come hundreds of years later to open the way between God and man and remove all barriers by becoming our Mercy Seat. The sprinkling of His pure and sinless blood would pay for the sins of many for all time.
In Moses day, it pointed forward to the awaited Messiah.
There was yet another message of the Tabernacle. This can be illustrated by what I will call, “The Moses Walk Through”.
The Moses Walk Through
To understand this last message of the Tabernacle we must imagine what it would’ve been like for Moses to go meet with God in the Tabernacle.
This will teach us a very important truth that not only did God want to dwell among His people, but He wanted His people to long for and love His Presence.
So. Let’s walk with Moses out to the Tabernacle and into the Presence of God.
As Moses approached the Tabernacle court he would see the curtain surrounding the courtyard. Over 300 ft. of white linen symbolizing the purity of God. The gate of the court yard was purple, blue, and red fabric, symbolizing the royalty, priestly ministry of Christ, and His future blood sacrifice.
As Moses entered the gates of the courtyard he would be immediately in front of the Brazen Altar. Smoke would be rising as the priests offered sacrifices there.
He would notice the pools of blood poured out at the base of the altar as he walked by. This again signifying the blood of Christ that would one day be poured out for the sins of the world.
He would pass by the bronze lavers full of water that the priests would symbolically wash in before going into the Tabernacle. This reminding them and us of a sin nature in need of cleansing and pointing forward to the washing of water by the word through Jesus that would make us clean in the sight of God.
Moses would come to the door of the Tabernacle and enter in. To his right he would see the Table of Showbread signifying God’s presence with Israel and to his left the Golden Lampstand. In front of him would be the Golden Altar of Incense, the soothing fragrance rising and wafting behind the curtain into the Holy Holies.
As Moses stood there preparing to enter the Holy of Holies to speak with God, he was bathed in flickering light from the lampstand that created an almost frightening atmosphere. After a deep breath, he entered the most sacred place that contained only one piece of furniture, the ark of the covenant. There was no light in the Holy of Holies. Moses stood there in the darkness and waited for the presence of God to come and rest on the mercy seat above the ark.
Think about what this would feel like. The intense anticipation standing in the darkness knowing that any moment the room would be filled with the most glorious light you had ever seen. I believe God designed the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place like this to heighten the anticipation of His presence and send a message. The message is that not only does God want to dwell with His people, but He wants His people to desire His presence more than anything else in their lives.
Today God longs for us to desire being with Him, to breathlessly anticipate being in His presence as the most exciting and pleasurable experience of our lives. Now without veil, priesthood, and constant sacrifices that speak of separation, but instead, unrestrained communion in the Holy Spirit because the cross of Christ has removed all barriers. Let us run to the throne of Grace in time of need and find His presence full of light, light, and help, saying over and over to us, I am near.
Heb 4:16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.