Why does God seem to care so much about the furniture within the tabernacle? The instructions for the tabernacle furniture are about far more than aesthetics. They were means of dealing with Israel’s moral brokenness, they served as reminders of Eden, and they were designed to form Israel into a people of perpetual surrender. In this episode, join Tim and Jon as they continue to trace the theme of the temple in the third movement of Exodus.
This altar and its sacrifices are filled with language from both Passover and from the story of Isaac on Mount Moriah. It’s an act of perpetual surrender before Yahweh, and when Yahweh’s people surrender in asking for forgiveness, he will happily release from the source of life blessing toward his people.
In part one (00:00-16:45), Tim and Jon recap our last episode, where we talked about the significance of the tabernacle as a symbol of eternal life.
God is the eternal, unconditional source of all life. The story of the Bible is all about God creating humans and sharing his own life with them. As Yahweh sustains human life, they sustain his image on the earth because he made humans to be his image bearers. When humans forfeit God’s blessing and presence in the garden of Eden, God chooses the nation of Israel to bring his Eden blessings to the rest of creation again. The tabernacle is a micro-Eden, where he dwells with his people again. In the tabernacle, the God who is present in all of time and space limits himself to one physical space in which he dwells with humanity.
In this sense, we can experience eternal life in our present reality. As our lives are united to Jesus’ own, we too become temples where heaven and earth are one. But there’s more to come: the resurrected Jesus shows us we should expect to dwell eternally with God in bodily, physical form.
The Israelites needed a way for their moral brokenness to be dealt with before heaven and earth could be reunited, and that’s where the tabernacle articles and furniture come in—they’re mechanisms for restoring the fallout of human folly.
In part two (16:45-39:30), Tim and Jon explore the design behind the literary structure of the third movement of Exodus.
Yahweh gives seven speeches, which make up the major segments of the entire third movement. On top of that, the movement begins and ends with a list of seven items. The movement also contains instructions for the seven-day ordination process for priests and the seven items the priests ought to wear. In his final speech, Yahweh reminds Israel to honor the seventh-day rest, the Sabbath. (In other words, there’s a lot of sevens.)
The description of the tabernacle is one in which God’s priestly image bearers rule and maintain order, as they obey him and listen to his voice. Sounds a lot like Eden, right? The whole movement is conveyed in structures and patterns of seven, and every element of the tabernacle is designed to remind us of Eden.
For example, at the center of the tabernacle is the ark of the covenant and the mercy seat, where God’s presence dwells, guarded by two carved cherubim. The narrator describes the ark of the covenant in language almost identical to the description of Noah’s ark, drawing our minds back to the “floating Eden” boat of Genesis 6-7 and to the garden itself. Not only this, but God also placed cherubim at the entrance to the garden of Eden (Gen. 3:24). In the Bible, they are the guardians of the boundary line between heaven and earth.
In part three (39:30-48:00), the guys discuss the significance of the rest of the tabernacle furniture.
After the list of materials and description of the ark comes a golden table for bread, a menorah (lamp), and the altar of incense, all of it rich with symbolic meaning. For instance, the priests arrange 12 loaves of bread on the table—one for each tribe of Israel. The menorah is a lampstand with seven lights on it that never go out, but constantly shine on the loaves of bread as an image of God’s light shining perpetually on his people. The altar of incense also burns constantly and represents the prayers of God’s people rising up before him.
If you were to walk through the tabernacle, you would pass through two outer courts en route to the Holy of Holies. The entrances of each court, guarded by cherubim, would remind you that each boundary you pass brings you into greater proximity to God’s own presence and the location where heaven and earth are one.
In part four (48:00-1:00:30), Tim and Jon conclude by talking about the altar in front of the Holy of Holies. Its position served as a reminder that a sacrifice had to be made before humans could enter God’s presence.
The surrounding Canaanite nations had similar systems, with totally different goals in mind. The Canaanites made sacrifices to their gods to appease them and to try to catch their fickle attention.
Yahweh’s attention toward his people is far from fickle, and he doesn’t need to be appeased. Rather, he creates the Israelite sacrificial system to form their identity as people—to remind them of their own sin and moral brokenness, but also to impress upon them Yahweh’s desire to dwell with them. The sacrificial system taught Israel to be a people of perpetual surrender.
Show produced by Cooper Peltz. Edited by Dan Gummel. Show notes by Lindsey Ponder.
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