We began our study of the exodus by exploring how God delivered His children from slavery in Egypt. After the congregation finally arrived at Mt. Sinai, the LORD started to develop and disciple them by establishing the Mosaic covenant and giving them the Law. By learning and following these commandments, the children of Israel could distinguish themselves from other peoples and eventually become the great nation of God.
Many of the ordinances and statutes that God imparted to Moses pertained specifically to the priests and their ministry in tabernacle. In order for these laws to be properly implemented as intended, the tabernacle would first need to be built and set up. Also, the priesthood itself would need to be established. Therefore God provided Moses with very specific instructions for how to construct the tabernacle and consecrate the priests who would be working there.
The tabernacle was a portable tent that Israel took with them during the exodus. Whenever the group would stop at a particular location for some period of time, they would set up the tabernacle up in the center of the camp. It was there that the congregation would worship, offer sacrifices, and commune with God. The word tabernacle means “tent”, “sanctuary”, or “place of meeting”. For those of us here today, we are currently seated in our modern equivalent of the tabernacle.
For the past several weeks, our sermons have focused upon Moses’ ongoing conversation with the LORD as he ascended and descended Mt. Sinai on at least eight separate occasions. This week we will cover the final six chapters in the book of Exodus which deal specifically with the origin of the tabernacle. Different estimates have been given that suggest it took somewhere between six to nine months to complete the tabernacle.
I. THE COLLECTION (Exodus 35:4-5a,20-21,29; 36:6-7)
Moses took up an offering from among the congregation in order to accumulate the necessary resources to build the tabernacle, all of its furniture and articles, and the priestly garments. The people generously gave precious metals and gems, fine linens and materials, dyed hairs and skins, wood, oil, spices, and incense. All of these gifts were used in various ways to assemble the tabernacle.
This collection was completely voluntary. No one was compelled or forced to contribute anything to it. Only those whose “hearts were stirred” or whose “spirits moved them” gave to the cause. You might think that the people would be hesitant to give, or that it might take a long time gather enough supplies to finish the job. Not so. On the contrary, the children of Israel contributed so abundantly that Moses actually had to ask them to stop giving because they had gathered more than enough. Wouldn’t that be a nice problem to have?
II. THE CRAFTSMEN (Exodus 35:10,30-31,34-35a; 36:1-2)
Moses employed the most skillful men available to build the tabernacle. The two chief designers and architects of the project were Bezalel and Oholiab. Under the leadership and direction of these two men, all of the various pieces that would eventually comprise the finished tabernacle were carefully crafted. Each was made in strict accordance with the specifications that God had given to Moses on Mt. Sinai (see chapters 25-31). Furthermore, each item was a work of art in its own right. These craftsmen were not mere laborers, but were truly artists of the highest degree,
III. THE CONSTRUCTION (Exodus 35:11-18)
The tabernacle’s various parts were each made separately and then assembled after all of them were completed. These pieces included the curtains, coverings, boards, screens, and veil that formed the structure of the tabernacle. They also included the altar of sacrifice, the laver, the lampstand, the table of showbread, the altar of incense, and the ark of the covenant which were located inside the tabernacle.
- (Ex. 36:8-38; 38:9-20) Curtains formed the outer wall of the tabernacle. These curtains were about 7 feet tall and hung on pillars that were staked in the ground. They were to be set up in a rectangular shape that measured 150’ by 75’. On the eastern wall was a large screen that served as the entrance into the courtyard. Inside the compound stood the tabernacle itself. Its walls were made of acacia wood overlaid in gold. The structure was also rectangular measuring 45’ by 15’ and was draped with 4 separate coverings which formed a thick roof. The inside of the tabernacle was divided into 2 rooms which were separated by an immaculate veil.
- (Ex. 37:1-9) The ark of the covenant was made of acacia wood and covered in pure gold inside and out. It was a rectangular box that measured 3¾’ by 2¼’. The lid of the ark, which is called the mercy seat, was also crafted from gold. On it were 2 angels (cherubim) facing each other, their wings spread out as a covering over the mercy seat. Poles extended out from each side of the ark which made easier to transport.
- (Ex. 37:10-16) The table of showbread was also made of acacia wood and covered in gold. Its surface was 3’ by 1½’ and it stood only 2 ¼’ tall. It too had poles that were used to carry it. Various golden utensils, dishes, pans, bowls, and jars was made it be used in conjunction with the table.
- (Ex. 37:17-24) The lampstand was handmade out of pure gold. It had a center shaft with 3 branches on each side, making a total of 7 prongs altogether. The branches had almond blossoms designs. Atop the prongs were seven lamps which held both olive oil and wicks. Snuffers used to extinguish the lamps and trays were also made and used along with the lampstand.
- (Ex 37:25-29) The altar of incense was made of acacia wood that was covered in gold. It stood 3’ high and measured 1½’ square. A horn protruded out from each corner. Poles were used to lift and carry this piece of furniture. Anointing oils and fragrant perfumes were made to be used with the altar of incense.
- (Ex. 38:1-7) The altar of burnt offering or sacrifice was made of acacia wood and covered in bronze. Its length and width were 7 ½’ square, and its height 4½’. It had 4 horns, one on each corner, and a bronze grate upon which the sacrifice could be burned. Like several of the other pieces, it had poles which were used to move it. Several bronze utensils including flesh hooks, firepans, pails, shovels, and basins were used with it as well.
- (Ex. 38:8) The laver was made entirely of bronze. It must had be shiny and reflective because it was made of the same material that was used to make women’s mirrors. Exact measurements are not given, but It was a large bowl or basin that was to be filled with water.
IV. THE COST (Exodus 38:21-31)
Ithamar, one of Aaron’s sons, was charged with numbering all of the articles of tabernacle. In other words, he took an inventory of all of the items that had been built. According to him, over 2000 lbs. of gold and almost 7,500 lbs. of silver were used in the construction of the tabernacle. In addition to this, many other materials - such as bronze, wood, cloth, and do on - were used. A recent estimate puts the total value of the tabernacle in today’s money at well over $60,000,000.
V. THE CLOTHING (Exodus 39:1-31)
Aaron and his sons were chosen by God to serve as the priests. Special clothing was made for them to wear while ministering in the tabernacle. Their attire consisted of linen undergarments, a robe, an ephod with shoulder pieces, a breastplate, a sash, and a turban. The breastplate had 12 different precious stones on it, representing the 12 tribes of Israel. The garments were made with beautiful colored fabrics and included threads of gold.
VI. THE COMPLETION (Exodus 39:32,43; 40:17,34)
After several months of work, all of the items of the tabernacle were completed and brought to Moses for his approval. Finally, under his direction, the tabernacle was set up for the first time. This took place on the first day of the first month of the second year, not quite one full year after the Hebrews had originally departed from Egypt. Each item was placed inside the tabernacle in its specific place just as God had directed. Then a cloud covered the tent of meeting and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. God’s manifest presence took up residence within it.
Many Christians find the details of the tabernacle to be dry, mundane, and boring. Perhaps some of you here this morning have struggled to stay awake during this sermon. Yet the Bible dedicates almost 50 chapters to this topic. Why would God’s Word include this much content, more than many other subjects, if the tabernacle was unimportant? It wouldn’t! Obviously, the tabernacle holds great significance for us today. But why and how?
Perhaps more than any other Old Testament item, the tabernacle prophecies of and foreshadows the coming of the Messiah. When we understand the rich meaning of the tabernacle, we can accurately identify Jesus Christ as the one to whom it pointed. Consider the following truths…
The brazen altar spoke of our need for a sacrifice that would make atonement for our sins.
The bronze laver spoke of our need for purity in order to approach the holy God.
The golden lampstand spoke of a light which would illuminate and expose our sinfulness.
The table of showbread spoke of God’s provision and desire to maintain fellowship with us.
The altar of incense spoke of the intercessory prayers that would be offered on our behalf.
The ark of the covenant and mercy seat spoke to the manifest presence of God and his kingship.
The veil spoke to our separation from God as the result of our sin.
All of these prophetic meanings (and many others) were accomplished, fulfilled, or otherwise resolved in and through the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus often identified himself with titles that can be related to the tabernacle such as the Lamb of God, the Light of the World, the Living Water, the Bread of Life, and the King of kings. The bottom line is this - the tabernacle of Moses was a declaration of the coming Messiah - our precious Lord Jesus.