You may have heard that God’s holiness keeps him from getting close to sinful humanity, but in the Bible we see God regularly doing the opposite, drawing near to dwell with human beings. We encounter this reality again and again, including in a surprising place—the tabernacle blueprints. In this episode, join Jon and Tim as they walk through the opening act of the third movement of Exodus and explore the relationship between the tabernacle, the garden of Eden, unconditional love, and eternal life.
[The tabernacle] flips a well-known Christian phrase that is a dangerous half-truth, which is that God can’t have anything to do with sin, or sin cannot be in the presence of God. The tabernacle actually turns that over and says, “No, God’s purpose is to live among his people.” That means God moves into sin. God stakes out a claim in the region of sin and dedicates it and redeems it by his holy presence.
In part one (00:00-13:00), Tim and Jon begin discussing the third and final movement of Exodus (Exod. 25-40). In the first movement, we followed the theme of the name of Yahweh, and then explored the theme of the test in the second movement of Exodus. In this movement, we’ll be tracing the theme of the temple.
The third movement of Exodus centers around Moses’ experience with Yahweh atop Mount Sinai, where he has a vision, or apocalypse, and sees the heavenly temple. God wants to dwell with his people on the land, so he instructs Moses to build a tabernacle that mimics his dwelling place, the heavenly temple.
In part two (13:00-45:45), Tim and Jon discuss the literary structure of the third movement of Exodus, which divides evenly into three parts, just like the scroll as a whole. In the first part of movement three (Exod. 25-31), Moses receives the tabernacle blueprints. The narrative advances only when Yahweh speaks in this section—something he does seven times. These seven speeches convey the idea of completion in the tabernacle blueprints, but they also conjure the image of Eden for readers.
Yahweh instructs the Israelites to collect gold and precious stones, animal skins, and fine fabrics, and then tells Moses why.
Exodus 25:8 Let them construct a sanctuary (miqdash) for me, that I may dwell (shakhan) among them.
Miqdash is related to the word qadosh, which means holiness. A miqdash is a holy place—in this case, a place unique and set apart for the elohim above elohim to dwell within. Shakhan means to dwell in a tent. Yahweh shows Moses the heavenly temple and then gives him a pattern to follow as he organizes the construction of the earthly tabernacle.
When humans enter this earthly tabernacle, they are meant to realize they’re inhabiting two spaces at once, both heaven and earth. Every element of the tabernacle structure represents some element that would draw people back to the Eden narrative, from its three-tiered structure that mimicked the ancient Hebrew conception of the garden, to the cherubim carved by its entrance, to its furniture that represented different elements of the garden.
In a way, when we see moments in the Bible where a place represents Eden, this is actually Eden reappearing. Eden isn’t just a place where heaven and earth symbolically meet—it’s a place where literally heaven and earth are one, which is why it rematerializes in other geographic locations throughout the story of Scripture. It exists in such a way that it can touch down in many different earthly locations, including in the tabernacle. However, in the tabernacle, only a priest selected once a year could enter into God’s presence in the Holy of Holies—a sharp contrast to the garden in which humans walked freely with Yahweh. The priests’ activities in the tabernacle are an enactment of humanity’s eventual return to Eden to dwell with Yahweh. The rituals and tabernacle articles are part of how God makes a way for humans to come into his presence. The tabernacle is truly Eden, but a limited Eden.
The tabernacle overturns a popular misconception in Christianity, that God’s holiness prevents him from being near human sin. On the contrary, God makes it his purpose to live among his people, and he draws nearer and nearer throughout human history.
In part three (45:45-1:03:30), the guys continue exploring the relationship between the tabernacle and Eden, both of which are places where heaven and earth unite.
If you’re familiar with the story of the Bible, you know where the story is going: God dwells with humans first in Eden, then in the tabernacle and temple, and then finally in the presence of Jesus, who announces he is the greater temple. Consequently, it’s easy to downgrade the significance of God’s presence in the tabernacle and temple as a mere symbol, when it’s actually a reality. God is dwelling with humans in these sacred places.
Eden is a space that operates outside the laws of the four dimensions we are familiar with, including time. In this way, Eden and eternal life are closely linked. Eternity is not a future state we are solely meant to look forward to, but a quality of existence that can be accessed at any time.
In part four (1:03:30-1:16:12), Tim and Jon conclude with a final look at how we should understand eternal life within the framework of the temple/tabernacle.
At its most basic level, eternal life is unconditional life. In other words, the reality in which we currently live is conditional—the existence of children is conditioned upon the existence of their parents. Conditional beings cannot generate their own existence, but rather they are generated by the eternally existent, unconditional God, Yahweh. When Yahweh gives unconditional life as a gift to conditional beings, that is eternal life. Our eternal life is participation in Yahweh’s own life.
The temple and tabernacle remind us we can participate in God’s life and dwell with him even now. Jesus demonstrates to us that one day we will share in a fuller, resurrected human life like he does. Jesus’ life is that of a human fully surrendered to the love of God.
Show produced by Cooper Peltz. Edited by Dan Gummel and Frank Garza. Show notes by Lindsey Ponder. Annotations by Ashlyn Heise.
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