Tents, Tabernacles and Testimonies

Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you. – Exodus 25:1-16 (8-9 shown)

Greener Grass is No Grass

After 400 years, Israel was finally out of Egypt. Freedom was good, on the one hand, but challenging on the other. Pharaoh chasing them down and pinning them in at the Red Sea; Crossing the Red Sea in victory, only to go another few days to grumble about having no water. They find water but it’s bad… God heals the water, but then they have no food… situation after situation, crisis after crisis, they were not seeing their departure from Egypt as all that it was cracked up to be. What they didn’t understand was that God did not release them from Egypt just to bring judgment upon Egypt, nor did he do it solely to keep a promise to a patriarch. God’s plan was the same one he has always had: to gain a people for himself.

Then Moses went up to God and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.” – Exodus 19:3-6

Coming away from the majesty of Egypt, God took a different approach to what was important to him, and to what he wanted to establish with the children of Israel. Similarly, God works in our lives, not just to fulfill his promises, or to get us from point A to point B, but calls us away to gain us – to gain our hearts, and to establish in us a place of dwelling.

Spend Time With Me

God called the Israelites to the mountain and spoke to them about his laws, about how they were to treat each other, even about how they were to treat the land when they planted. God’s standards were very different than Pharaoh’s, advocating fairness, justice and community. Had the Israelites just done this, they would have been a very different society than any other – people would have noticed something about them that was favorable. God however was not done with them.

The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and stay here and I will give you the tablets of stone with the law and commandments I have written for their instruction.” – Exodus 24:12

 God had things for Israel that he couldn’t just tell Moses. He needed to show him. Not because Moses couldn’t follow instruction, or because what he was asking for was too complicated. It was because what Moses would see was the very representation of the life God wanted to have with his people, and how each person of God was to see himself or herself.

When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it and the glory of God settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from within the cloud – Exodus 24:15-16

God asked Moses to come up to him, but when he did God was silent for 6 days. Moses could see the cloud of God, but there was no voice. God’s instruction to Moses was clear: come and stay here. It was not just about getting instruction, fulfilling the next task. For God, it was just as important for Moses to simply rest in His presence. No agenda, no set timeframe, just get used to being together. God did have a plan for Moses, but that was not all that he wanted from Moses.

Similarly for us, God calls us to things, to tasks, to hear him, but we can also be sure that He calls us to simply be with him. When God is silent, it is not always because there is sin or disobedience. Sometimes it is because he just wants us to enjoy his presence.

Setting Up Shop

After 6 days Moses entered the cloud, and God began to reveal his plan.

Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive an offering for me from everyone whose heart prompts them to give. These are the offerings you are to receive from them: gold, silver and bronze; blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair; ram skins dyed red and another type of durable leather; acacia wood; olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, and onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breastpiece. Then have them make a sanctuary for me and I will dwell among them. – Exodus 25:2-8

The Israelites had come from a society where they were forced to bring items to be used to make a “death palace”. They had no choice in the matter. God was now asking Israel to participate in a living sanctuary. For God there was no shame in not doing it. It was an invitation and a prompting.

Have them make an ark of acacia wood – two and a half cubits long, and a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and half high. Overlay it with gold both inside and out, and make a gold molding around it – Exodus 25:10-11

Moses was to take the offerings and use them to build a tabernacle – a small, simple box of wood – a box of wood that was covered in gold. Even covered in gold, this must have been quite the request, having come from having to build the massive structures that existed in Egypt.

After David was settled in his palace, he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of the covenant of the Lord is under a tent.” – I Chronicles 17:1

David had built for himself a palace fit for a king, but as he started looking at his dwelling and “God’s dwelling” he recognized things were out of order. David had in mind to build something that was befitting the God that he knew.

After six days Jesus took with him Peter James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Lord it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” – Matthew 17:1-4

Peter and David had an image of what was acceptable to God, what was befitting him. Their hearts were in the right place, but had God accepted the actions of their heart, it would have reduced God down to their level and understanding. God wanted to do just the opposite: bring them up to his level.

The Lord called to Moses from within the cloud 

God was not concerned with the size of the tent, with whether David’s house was bigger or not, whether he had wood paneling or not. As a matter of fact, it was God who specified the size, shape and materials for the tabernacle. For God, the tabernacle was to be made from a pattern, meaning it was a replica of something that already existed – truth that existed in God’s kingdom that he wanted to reveal on earth.

Inside and Out

Then put in the ark the tablets of the covenant law [the testimony], which I will give you… place the cover on top of the ark and put in the ark the tablets of the covenant law [the testimony] that I will give you. There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the covenant law [the testimony], I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites. – Exodus 25:16, 21-22

Israel was not only to make the box, but the box was to be a container for things that God would give


God told Moses he would give them the Testimony. Not just any testimony, but His testimony, that was to be contained within the ark. For God, all aspects of the tabernacle were important, but the things that were the most desirable: the gold, the testimony, the fine linen and blue were all hidden. To get to those things, you had to go through the dyed ram’s skin and goat hair – not the most attractive of images.

Who has believed our message, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. – Isaiah 53:1-2

Continuing to read through Isaiah, it is clear that this refers to Jesus. As Israel did in his day, we would think that he would come with beauty, majesty, strength and power, but he came in “rams skins dyed red”. What was special was what was inside – who he was, and his love for us.

Covered Crates

The Blue and linen, representing true wealth, prosperity and means, were covered by old skins. The Testimony was covered by wood and gold. There was something else that was also covered: the wood itself. The wood was not to be seen without the gold. Also, you could not get to the testimony contained in the wood except to see it by the gold. God said that it is in this tabernacle that he would meet Moses, and thereby all of Israel (and us as well). This tabernacle is us:

The Tabernacle

The Child of God
The Testimony The Word of God
The Wood Our human, temporal life
The Gold The presence of God
Blue/Linen The provision of God
Goat’s Hair (commonly used to make tents Connection to the world/commonality
Ram’s skin dyed red Our salvation through the body and shed blood of Christ

David wanted to build a palace. God wanted to build a dwelling place – a place that meant something to Him and to his people.  God chose this image to teach Israel who they really were to be. To give them an understanding of what a “kingdom of priests” really was. They were to be people who walked with the understanding that they carried the testimony of God inside of them, that to the world they may not look like anything, but upon closer examination people would see that there was much more than they expected.

Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof and said to them, “I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you.” Joshua 2:8-9

Rahab goes on to speak of the testimony of God, which went before Israel. God’s testimony that is within us also goes before us, so he is glorified.

We are God’s tabernacle. We are his dwelling. It does not matter what the outside looks like. We need to make it a practice to “go inside the curtain” to be with God who is waiting to meet us there.

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