What Indiana Jones Was Looking For

Exodus 24-40

February 26, 2006 | Brian Bill

As we come to our passage this morning, it will become very clear that the Almighty is extremely concise and that He gets everything right.  I think it’s fair to say that until you look at the Tabernacle in detail, you might be tempted to skip over this section of Scripture.  We’re not going to do that because the Tabernacle dominates the first five books of the Bible, and is mentioned in over 50 chapters throughout both the Old and New Testament.  Did you know that there’s more space devoted to the Tabernacle than to any other subject in all of Scripture?

Before the Tabernacle can be built, God wants His people to bring generous and voluntary offerings in verse 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.”  The key here, and whenever we give to God, is to give as we are prompted.  This is the same principle taught in 2 Corinthians 9:7: “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”  According to Exodus 36:3-7, the people were so moved and gave so much that they had to be asked to stop: “And so the people were restrained from bringing more, because what they already had was more than enough to do all the work.” Can you imagine if our ushers wouldn’t let you reach for your wallets on a Sunday?  Don’t worry, that’s not going to happen.  That leads to a question. Do we have hearts of love that long for ways to give towards God’s work?

Flip ahead to Exodus 35, where we’re introduced to Bezalel, who was “filled with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of…artistic craftsmanship” (verses 30-34).  In Exodus 36:2 we see that Bezalel and others were given their skills and abilities by God.  Not only that, they were “willing to come and do the work.”  Some of you have been given some incredible talents and abilities but maybe you think that they are not that important so you’ve been holding back.

After they gave generously, God tells Moses in Exodus 25:8: “Then have them make a sanctuary for me and I will dwell among them.”  The key point to remember when thinking about the Tabernacle is that God’s desire was to dwell among His people.  It was at the Tabernacle that God displayed His glorious presence and it was where He made a way for sinners to approach Him.  It was a place of grace and mercy and according to Exodus 29:45 it was connected with His promise to be present with His people: “Then I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God.”

In essence this was a temporary tent where God dwelt and a portable place for people to come to Him.  This is the main difference between the Tabernacle and the Temple, which later became an actual building in Jerusalem.  Please take out your blue-colored insert to trace the travels of the Tabernacle through Old Testament history.  This was God’s way of saying that He goes from place to place with His people, guiding and directing them along the way.

Verse 9 helps us see that the building of the Tabernacle was to have no bloopers: “Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.”  God wanted it to be constructed and furnished according to the divine blueprint.  There were to be no corners cut and no substandard materials used.  Seven times we’re told that Moses was to make the Tabernacle after the precise pattern shown to him on the mountain (Exodus 25:9, 40; 26:30; 27:8; Numbers 8:4; Acts 7:44; Hebrews 8:5).

Whenever we study Scripture, we must be cognizant of the context in which it was written and strive to understand each text in light of how it was intended to be understood in the unique historical and cultural situation.  Having said that, we need to recognize that there are some prophetic passages in the Old Testament that are predictive of events that are fulfilled in the New Testament and some events that have yet to take place.  Likewise, much of what we will study related to the Tabernacle is filled with sweet symbolism and has its ultimate completion in Christ.    

While it’s dangerous to approach the entire Bible as allegory, apart from Christ, the meaning of the Tabernacle is incomplete because it was designed by God to be fulfilled by Jesus according to Hebrews 9:11: “When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation.” Hebrews 9:24 says that the first Tabernacle is only a “copy” of the true one and Hebrews 10:1 lists the Law as but a “shadow of the good things that are coming.”  As we walk through the Tabernacle, I will do my best to explain the original purpose of each item and then describe how each part corresponds to Christ.  Before I do that, let’s draw our attention to two verses in the New Testament that should give us “Spiritual Goosebumps.” 

Matthew 1:23: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel -which means, ‘God with us.’” 

John 1:14: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”  The word “dwelling” literally means, “Tabernacled.”  Jesus pitched His tent among us. 

We can come to God only on His terms, not on our own

The Tabernacle was to be at the center of their life.  We can see this by looking at the other side of the insert which shows how the 12 tribes were to camp around it, with three on each side of the sanctuary.  God had His people center their lives, physically and spiritually, around the Tabernacle.  When they marched, the pieces of the Tabernacle were carried in the middle of the congregation.  Each element of the Tabernacle was part of an intricate visual aid to let the people know that God was holy, that He was present, and that He had made a way for them to have a relationship with Him, provided they followed His blueprint.  This is a good lesson for us as well: We can come to God only on His terms, not on our own.

If you read through Exodus 25-40, you’ll notice that the instructions begin with the Ark of the Covenant, because this was the most important piece of furniture in God’s house.  God moves from the interior to the exterior; He goes from His throne right up to the outer door where the sinner is invited to come in.  In the second description of the Tabernacle in Exodus 36:8, the construction begins not with the Ark but with the curtains of the outer court, which the common people saw.  Here the order is from without to within.   

The Tabernacle took up about as much space as half of a football field but would not have been as wide.  The white linen curtains of the outer court would have stood out against the drab colors of the camp and served as a separation between what was ordinary and what was holy.  These curtains were supported by pillars set in sockets of bronze and capped off with silver.  Interestingly, there was only one entrance into the Tabernacle, found on the east side.  This door was really a large curtain colored with blue (symbolizing heaven and was the color of the tassels on the fringe of their garments), purple (signifying kingship), red (representing blood) and white (standing for purity). 

Jesus made it very clear that He is the only way to the Father in John 14:6: “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  When describing Himself in John 10:9, He no doubt had Tabernacle imagery in mind when He said: “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.”  Like Jesus, this door to the Tabernacle is inviting and attractive.  That’s what’s behind the picture in Psalm 100:4: “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.”  But you have to do more than just admire this entrance as Matthew 7:13-14 makes clear: “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.” Have you found the gate and have you entered in?

There were three main sections to the Tabernacle.  

Let’s begin with what is called the Outer Court.  

1. The Bronze Altar. 

The first thing a person would notice after entering the Tabernacle was an altar with horns on each side.  We see this in Exodus 27:1-2: “Build an altar of acacia wood… Make a horn at each of the four corners, so that the horns and the altar are of one piece, and overlay the altar with bronze.”  This was the most used piece of furniture in God’s house and literally meant “slaughter place.”  On this altar, animals would be butchered and then burned.  The smell of blood and smoke would fill the air, reminding the worshipper that it was only through the death of another that one can approach the Almighty.  It showed the Israelites that the first step in approaching God was to be cleansed by the blood of an innocent creature according to Leviticus 1:4: “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.”  

In the Bible wood is a symbol for man (Jeremiah 5:14) and acacia wood was better than oak and would not rot or become infested with insects.  This signifies the humanity of Jesus.  Bronze in the Bible speaks of God’s judgment.  We are under condemnation for our sins but Jesus bore our punishment on a wooden cross.  These sacrifices taught that one day a final sacrifice would be offered for sins.  Until then, the sacrificial system reminded people of the cost of sin and the hope of cleansing.  Not only is Jesus the gate, according to John 10:11, He is the Good shepherd who gave His life for the sheep.  Speaking prophetically, Isaiah 53:10 says: “Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering.”  Hebrews 9:14 adds, “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!”  

2. Bronze Laver. 

The next item in the outer court was a basin made entirely out of bronze.  Exodus 30:17 tells us that this basin was placed between the altar and the Holy Place so that the priests could be cleansed before they went into the Tent of Meeting.  This is a picture of being clean in the sight of God.  The priests sacrificed at the altar and they were cleansed at the laver.

Likewise, you and I are forgiven at the cross and then we are washed through His Word.  Listen to Ephesians 5:25: “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word.”  The writer to the Hebrews picks up on this imagery in 10:22: “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.”  When you sin, make sure you confess so that you can be made clean again.  We stay clean by standing on Scripture as Psalm 119:9 states: “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word.”

There was another curtain separating the outer court from the Holy Place, or Sanctuary.  This was similar to the outer court curtain, using the same colors, but it was designed to keep the common people out and to give the priests privacy within.

We move next to the section called the Holy Place. 

This area was restricted to just the priests and contained three pieces of furniture.

1. The Golden Lampstand. 

As the priests would come in they would see a Lampstand, made out of gold (Exodus 25:31).  It had a central branch from which three branches extended from each side, forming a total of seven branches.  It functioned as the source of light for the Tabernacle.  According to Leviticus 24:1-4, the priests’ job was to keep it burning continuously through the night.  Like leaving a porch light on to send a message that someone’s home, God wanted Israel to know that He was always available.  It reminds me of the commercial for Motel 6 where the spokesman would end by saying, “We’ll leave the light on for you.”  The Lampstand is a common symbol even today for Jewish people as they celebrate the Feast of Hanukah, which recalls that in 156 B.C., the Lampstand burned miraculously for eight days straight.  

Jesus came into the world so that we wouldn’t have to stumble around in the dark.  Just as the Lampstand was placed in God’s dwelling so the priests could approach God, John 1:9 says that Jesus is the “true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.”  In John 8:12 Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  Jesus also declared in John 9:46: “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.”  As believers, we are called “children of light” in Ephesians 5:8 and we are to let our light “shine before men” in Matthew 5:16.

2. The Table of Showbread. 

This table, located on the right side of the Holy Place, was wooden and overlaid with gold (Exodus 25:23-30).  Every week the priests were to bake twelve loaves of unleavened bread, representing the 12 tribes, and place them on the table.  This shows us how much God wants to have relationship with us.  For the Israelites, bread symbolized God’s desire for communion and community with His people.  Have you ever been to the bread store in Bloomington that smells so good?  I like how you’re greeted when you come in.  As soon as you open the door, one of the workers asks, “What can I slice for you today?”  The assumption is made that you want some bread and they can’t wait to serve you a free slice.  Also called the “Bread of Presence,” on this table we’re reminded of God’s warm, sweet presence.  If you listen carefully enough, you can almost hear Him say, “What can I give you today?”  This is also referred to as “the bread of the face,” which means that this bread was always before the face of God.

God provides for us just as He supplied manna each day for His people in the wilderness.  The invitation to fellowship with God is always open.  Jesus demonstrated this by eating with tax collectors and the sinners of society, and referring to Himself declared in John 6:35: “I am the bread of life.  He who comes to me will never go hungry…”

3. The Altar of Incense. 

The final stop in the Holy Place was the Altar of Incense, positioned in front of the veil concealing the Holy of Holies (Exodus 30:1-10).  The priests were to burn incense on the golden altar every morning and evening, at the same time the daily burnt offerings were made.

Incidentally, Zechariah was burning incense in the Temple when the angel Gabriel told him that his wife Elizabeth would have a son (Luke 1:8-25).  Remember too that the Magi brought incense to Jesus (Matthew 2:10-11).  In the Bible, incense is a symbol of the prayers of God’s people.  Psalm 141:2: “May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.”  Revelation 5:8: “…they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” Just as incense has a sweet smell, so our prayers rise up as a fragrant aroma to God.  This Golden Altar also represents Christ, who is our intercessor before God the Father in Romans 8:34: “Christ Jesus, who died-more than that, who was raised to life-is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”

Anyone could come into the outer court, but only priests could come into the Holy Place.  Separating the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place was a thick barrier, keeping all the priests, except the High Priest and then only once a year, from entering this restricted area (Exodus 26:31-33).  The colors of blue, purple and scarlet encapsulated a woven image of cherubim into the veil.  Remember that it was cherubim that guarded the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden, denying access to the presence of God.  When Jesus died on the cross, Matthew 27:51 says that “at that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.”  From top to bottom indicates that God tore it in order to give open and immediate access to everyone to come into the Most Holy Place.  According to Jewish tradition, the veil in Herod’s temple was four inches thick and was so heavy that it took 300 priests to hang it.  As Hebrews 10:19-21 says, “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God.”

The Most Holy Place. 

This was a room of great intimacy and contained the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat.

1. The Ark of the Covenant. 

This is the centerpiece of the entire Tabernacle and served as the theme of Raiders of the Lost Ark.  This is what Indiana Jones was looking for.  We read about Noah building an ark, which was a big boat, but this ark looked more like a chest or a box and was made of acacia wood, overlaid with pure gold inside and out.  Within the ark were three items: a golden pot of manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded, and the two stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments.  Each of these three objects represented the failure of God’s people and yet they are placed so close to God’s splendor.  Don’t miss the fact that they are hidden, covered by the atonement cover.

2. The Atonement Cover. 

This was the lid for the ark.  This whole structure was made out of pure gold.   On its top at the ends were two carved cherubim facing each other, their wings outstretched and their faces bowed down.  This was where God dwelt as seen in Exodus 25:22: “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.”  It was above the ark and the atonement cover that God appeared in His Shekinah glory in a cloud of fire by night and a cloud of smoke during the day.

According to Leviticus 16, on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies, carrying incense to shield his eyes from directly looking at God’s glory.  He would then sprinkle blood from a bull onto the atonement cover for his sins and then sprinkle blood from a goat for all the sins of Israel.  When God saw the blood he would “cover over” their sins, which is what atonement means.  He would then place both hands on a scapegoat, confess all of Israel’s sins, and send the goat away into the wilderness.

Jesus has become our permanent atonement cover.  His sacrifice has been accepted, His blood applied to us, and we are fully forgiven.  In fact, the Greek word used to translate “mercy seat” is essentially the same word used to describe what Jesus did in 1 John 2:2: “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins…”  Here’s a cool thing to think about.  When Mary Magdalene bent over to look into the tomb on Resurrection Day, John 20:12 tells us that she “saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head, and the other at the foot.”  This reminds us of the two cherubim at either end of the Mercy Seat.  It’s as though God is saying, “There is now a new mercy seat!  My Son has paid the price for the forgiveness of sins and the way is now open for you to come into my presence.”  Jesus is where we find mercy and grace according to Hebrews 10:19: “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus” and Hebrews 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.” 

The imagery in the Tabernacle is inexhaustible but I don’t want exhaust you so I’ll mention just a few more exciting illustrations.  There is an increasing value to the sacred vessels as you move from the courtyard to the Holy of Holies.  The altar and basin are made out of brass and wood while the inner compartments are made of wood and gold.  Items that are plated with gold become solid gold when you come to the Mercy Seat. The curtains grow richer in design as well, with the inner veil being the costliest and most elaborate.  The outer court was illumined by natural light; the holy place was lit by the Lampstand; while the Holy of Holies radiated the Shekinah glory of God.

Another point is that the Tabernacle is approached through the tribe of Judah.  This striking detail is not obvious at first sight but when you compare Numbers 2 with Exodus 27, the entrance to the Tabernacle went through Judah.  Jesus was from the tribe of Judah, and in Revelation 5:5 is designated the “Lion of the tribe of Judah.”  One last point is that some commentators have pointed out that that if you study the layout of the Tabernacle from above; its objects are in the shape of a cross.

Exodus 39:43 says that the “work had been done just as the Lord had commanded.”  When the Tabernacle was set up in chapter 40, reverence and rejoicing and a sense of holy anticipation filled the camp.  When everything is in place, we read in verse 34 that the “cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle.”

The Tabernacle Today

God’s tabernacle is in the heart of the believer!

Here’s a good question to ponder.  Where is the Tabernacle today?  The better question is this: Where does God dwell now?  He dwelt in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple.  When Jesus was on earth, God dwelt with Him according to Colossians 2:9: “…in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.”  Are you ready for the stunning answer?  If we could grasp just a portion of what this really means, our lives would change in an instant.  Today, God’s tabernacle is in the heart of the believer!  1 Corinthians 3:16: “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?”  Since God dwells within us, this should have tremendous implications related to how we live, and how we treat our bodies.  Paul hammers this home in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?  You are not your own; you were bought at a price.  Therefore honor God with your body.” 

That means that Indiana Jones didn’t have to go on a dangerous journey in search of the Ark.  All he really needed to do was find a Christian to find God’s dwelling place today.  But maybe that was the problem.  Maybe he knew some Christians but they weren’t displaying God’s glory through their lives.  

Friend, if you’re a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, God has come to dwell within you.  That means you should be different!  That means you should forgive others.  That means you should take care of your body.  That means you should be a peacemaker.  That means you should strive to be pure.  That means that you should love God and love others.  That means you should grow in your love for the Bible. That means you should be involved in serving.  That means you should be a generous giver.  That means you should be worshipping as a way of life.  That means you should be caring for others.  That means you should be praying.  And that means you should be telling others about Him.

We all make bloopers, and worse than that, we’re all sinners.  The good news is that we can be forgiven if we will but enter the gate and have our sins atoned for.  Are you ready to enter His gates with praise and His courts with thanksgiving?

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?