The following is from one of our Sabbath (Friday evening) Bible studies.

Many Christians today have never read any of the Old Testament Scriptures because they have been mistakenly taught that because we are now under grace, the Old Testament and its rules have no real meaning for us. But you have to understand that ALL of the New Testament was taken from the Old Testament. Reading the New Testament without comparing it to the Old Testament is like reading a Bible Commentary without reading the Bible! A wise man once said that we cannot know where we’re going unless we first know where we came from. The Old Testament shows us where we came from so we can know where we’re going.

tabernacleThe tabernacle of Moses is a lesson of unquestionable authority

The tabernacle was more than just a dwelling place. All the components of the tabernacle were part of an intricate visual aid to illustrate God’s relationship with His people. One aspect of this relationship was God’s requirement for complete obedience. God told Moses to create the tabernacle exactly the way He commanded. It was not to stray from God’s blueprint.

Ex. 25:9 “According to all that I shew thee, [after] the pattern of the tabernacle, and the pattern of all the instruments thereof, even so shall ye make it.”

Ex. 25:40 “And look that thou make them after their pattern, which was shewed thee in the mount.”

Ex. 27:8 “Hollow with boards shalt thou make it: as it was shewed thee in the mount, so shall they make it.”

Act 7:44 “Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as he had appointed, speaking unto Moses, that he should make it according to the fashion that he had seen.”

Heb. 8:5 “Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount.”

So the material and physical tabernacle that God told Moses to build was a copy. So what are they copies of, and where is the original? According to the context of the Scriptures, Moses’ Tabernacle in the wilderness was a copy of the Tabernacle in heaven.

This is why God gave Moses very specific instructions about the size of each component and the materials the Israelites were to use, as we will see in the following sections of this discussion. These rules were not intended to burden the people, but to show God’s unquestionable authority and holiness, and emphasize that people really could only come to God on God’s terms, not on their own. They had to obey reverently not only in the construction of the tabernacle, but also in the way they worshiped. Any irreverence or ritual uncleanness could result from an individual being cut off from his people.

For example, the anointing oil for the tabernacle and the incense for the altar of incense (made from God’s own prescribed formulas of spices) were both declared holy by God and could only be used for the purpose of the tabernacle; anyone else using the same formula for their own consumption would be cut off from Israel. (Exodus 30:34-38) The special garments for the priests were holy; if they did not wear the right clothing in serving the Lord, they could die. (Exodus 28:2, 43) [We will discuss the priest’s garments in another study]

The wilderness tabernacle is a prophetic look into God’s redemptive plan

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.’ ” (Rev. 21:3)

In the New Testament, John writes: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (John 1:14) This word “dwelling” is the Greek word, ‘σκῆνος’ (skā-no’-ō) and is the same word used for “tabernacle” (שָׁכַן- mish·kän’) in the Old Testament. In other words, Jesus came as a human being to pave the way for God to bring His Tabernacle among His people. In that and many other ways, the Tabernacle really was a prophetic projection of God’s redemptive plan for His people.

Now, let’s look at the basic layout of the tabernacle:

The Tabernacle proper (150 feet by 75 feet) consisted of a tent-like structure covered by rug-like coverings for a roof, and an external courtyard. The whole compound was surrounded by a wall made of linen hangings held by wood pillars. The Tabernacle proper was divided into the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies and was made of acacia wood boards overlaid with gold and fitted together to form the walls, measuring 45 by 15 feet. On top, four layers of curtains acted as a roof to shield the tabernacle from sun and rain. The innermost layer was woven with fine linen and embroidered with figures of cherubim (angels), the second layer was made of goat’s hair, the third layer was made of rams’ skins dyed red, and the outermost layer was made of other animal skins. (תַּחַשׁ – takh’•ash) There are many interpretations of what these skins were. Some believe they were skins of dolphins or seals but most likely they were skins from badgers or a now extinct animal. The curtains were pinned to the ground with gold loops and clasps.

The specific layout of the tabernacle and its courtyard is significant because it illustrates God’s prescribed way for us to approach Him. The whole compound was surrounded by a high wall with only one entrance. A person could not just come from any direction into the tabernacle as he pleased — they had to enter through the one gate, which was always located to the east. (So that people were facing west when they entered the tabernacle — a direct opposition to the pagan sun worshipers of the day who always faced east) Upon entering the gate, one encountered the brazen altar, where they would present an animal offering, and then hand it over to the priests, who make atonement and intercession for them in the tent.

This setup informed the Israelites that they could only come to God in the way He prescribed. There was no other way. As we will see even more clearly in the following sections, God is using the Old Testament tabernacle to tell us that we, too, must come to Him only through the way He has provided for us — Jesus Christ.

The Gate

The gate was 30 feet wide and was located directly in the center of the outer court on the east end and was the only way that people could enter into the tabernacle courtyard. The gate was covered by a curtain made of finely twisted linen in blue, purple and scarlet. (Similar to the tassels called tzit-tzit on the bottom of the Hebrew tallit)

The one and only gate is a representation of Messiah as the only way through which one can fellowship with God and worship Him. To do this, we must enter in through the gate to the place where God dwells. Jesus said: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.” (John 10:9) He also said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)

Jesus also alludes to this symbolism in the Parable of the Wedding Banquet. (Matthew 22:1-14) The parable tells how the King arrived to see the guests who wanted to be at the wedding feast for the Son. But he found a man who was not wearing the proper wedding clothes. The outcome of this man’s situation informs us of the true meaning of the symbolism. The proper attire would correspond to all that Jesus said was the only way into the Kingdom of Heaven–true repentance from sin and faith in Messiah, (the gate) and then a commitment to love and obey the Lord as evidence of saving faith. In Jesus’ day many people certainly wanted to enter the kingdom, but when Jesus started telling them to come to him and take his yoke upon them and learn of him, they went away. And in the day of judgment many will claim to have done good deeds, but Jesus will turn them away because they will try to enter through another way and have not dealt properly with the basic issue of salvation–they will not be prepared properly and spiritually to be received by the King at the wedding of the Son.

The act of entering the gate to the tabernacle was significant to the Israelites. By entering, one could find forgiveness of sin and fellowship with God. The first thing that one saw upon coming through the gate was the brazen altar, which served as a reminder of man’s sinfulness and his need for a blood sacrifice in order to be in fellowship with God. One needed to repent and offer sacrifices for their sin. Those who did not repent were not entering this “narrow way.”

The Brazen Altar

The brazen altar, or altar of sacrifice was situated right inside the courtyard upon entering the gate to the tabernacle. The Hebrew root for altar means “to slay” or “slaughter.” The Latin word alta means “high.” An altar then, is a “high place for sacrifice/slaughter.” The altar stood raised on a mound of earth, higher than its surrounding furniture. This is a projection of Messiah, our sacrifice, who was lifted up on the cross — God’s altar, which stood on a high hill called Golgotha.

The altar was made of wood from the acacia tree and overlaid with bronze (usually symbolic of judgment on sin in the Bible), measuring 7.5 feet on all four sides and 4.5 feet deep. Four horns projected from the top four corners and a bronze grating was inside to hold the animal.

In Revelation 9:13 we read: “The sixth angel sounded his trumpet, and I heard a voice coming from the four horns of the golden altar that is before God.” (Remember, the Tabernacle was a copy of the one in heaven) Some think the four horns represent the four evangelists, or the Gospels sent into the four parts of the world. Since animals (esp. bulls) defend themselves with their horns, the horns are also a symbol of strength and courage.

The altar was the place for burning animal sacrifices. It showed the Israelites that the first step for sinful man to approach a holy God was to be cleansed by the blood of an innocent creature. For a sin offering, a person had to bring a male animal — one without blemish or defect from the flock or herd — to the priest at the tabernacle gate.

“He is to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him.” (Leviticus 1:4)

By laying his hand upon the head of the offering, the person was identifying with the sacrifice. His sin and guilt was being moved from himself to the animal. The priest would then slaughter the animal, sprinkle its blood in front of the veil of the Holy Place, burn the sacrifice, and pour the rest of it at the bottom of the altar. Blood is a significant agent of atonement (i.e., covering for sin) and cleansing in the Old Testament.

“For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.” (Leviticus 17:11)

“The law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” (Hebrews 9:22)

The Hebrew word kaphar means “to cover over” such as a lid and is used for the lid of the Ark of the Covenant. (Though many translations translate this as mercy seat) Figuratively, it means “redemption price” or “ransom.” This word uses the same consonants as “kippur,” meaning atonement, as in “Yom Kippur”. (Day of Atonement) It should come as no surprise that this word occurs more frequently in Leviticus than in any other book. In Leviticus 16, a chapter about the “Day of Atonement,” the term “atonement” is found at least 15 times.

Kaphar is also translated as pitch — similar to what was spread over the ark in order to make it water tight. “Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch.”(Genesis 6:14)

Kaphar is not only used for the asphalt pitch that covered the Ark for protection, but the same word is used for atonement, mercy, and reconciliation. It is also means “to purge.” Our trespasses against God’s Torah are mercifully atoned for by Jesus’s blood and we are purged from sin, making every effort to be found spotless and blameless.

Notice that the “pitch” kept Noah and his family afloat and protected them from anything on the outside getting in. By being cleansed within, sin is purged from us and the atonement of Jesus protects us like pitch from anything on the outside getting inside of us. So now we do not persist in dead works, but live to serve the living God. We should be appearing as lights to the world around us. We should be living a life that demonstrates that we are covered with “pitch” inside and out and sheltered by Jesus’s atonement.

  1. Dear Sir: Is your Tabernacle picture free to copy? I am writing a book on Solomon’s Temple Was Not a HYBRID…to be distributed free of charge to Christain Bookstores for distribution. I have no sponsors or assistance and no degree except a diploma from PBI, ’58 (Cairn University). Please let me know if I can use your picture without charge except the source of copy. Love Jesus!
    G. W. Clayton – email: DIGWENDL@AOL.COM

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