For those brave enough to embark on a Bible reading plan, the gears grind to a screeching halt around the second half of Exodus.
The tabernacle furniture doesn’t grab us the way the liberation of God’s people from Egypt does.
Our eyes may glaze over at building materials and measurements, but the intricate detail of God’s first home with the Israelites and the description of how Israel is supposed to act with God in this new space shows us the lengths to which God will go to be with his people. This isn’t just Israel’s story—it’s our story too.
God makes the purpose of this portable worship complex clear to Moses in Exodus 25:8: “They are to make a sanctuary for me so that I may dwell among them” (emphasis added). God will “dwell”—sakan in Hebrew—in the tabernacle similarly to how he “settled”—sakan—on Mount Sinai to give the Law to Moses in Exodus 24:16.
What Moses experienced up on Mount Sinai—talking with God and seeing his glory—God now wants to make accessible, in part, to all his people in the camp. The mountain-top experience will come down to the people wandering in the wilderness. God doesn’t ask his people to climb up to meet with him—he stoops down to live with his people. Starting to sound familiar?
The Tabernacle Then
When God moves into our space and time, he changes everything. With the tabernacle, the space between God’s heavenly home and Israel’s earthly existence didn’t just get closer—the two places overlapped and became something new. This new space points back to God’s presence with humanity in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 1–2—the original dwelling place of God and people. God will make his presence known, like he did with Adam and Eve, in this new space where heaven and earth collide—a heaven-and-earth space.
The Garden of Eden imagery shows up throughout the tabernacle instructions. The entrance to the tabernacle was a curtain of blue, purple, and crimson fabrics (Exodus 27:9, 16)—colors not naturally occurring in linens but apparent in nature. There are cherubim—the same angelic beings who prevented Adam and Eve from returning to the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3:24—worked into the design of the curtains. These colors and images of angels signified that those entering the tabernacle were stepping into an otherworldly place. Importantly, however, instead of preventing humanity’s meeting with God in the garden, cherubim welcomed the people into God’s presence.
Another literary parallel to the Garden of Eden involves the progressively ornate materials the closer one gets to the center. The materials used in the outer courtyard are bronze and silver (Exodus 27:1–8; 30:17–21), and the materials used inside the tent are gold (Exodus 25:10–40). But inside the tent, there’s an even more special place—the holy of holies with more gold objects (Exodus 25:10–22). This was the place where God would manifest his presence and meet with the people. The purposeful move from bronze to gold—from the courtyard to the holy of holies—parallels Genesis 2. The creation story moves from the land of Eden—the region God chose to plant a garden—to the actual garden itself and even further to the tree of life “in the middle of the garden” (Genesis 2:8–9). The closer to the center, the more concentrated the divine presence.
So what? What does it matter that the tabernacle reminds us of the Garden of Eden? What is God doing through Israel with the tabernacle?
Just like God created humanity to be with him and to multiply his rule over the earth, God was doing a new work of creation in and through the people of Israel. God was remaking humanity—and the world—through the people of Israel with the tabernacle. When we see the Garden of Eden imagery while reading the “boring” parts of Exodus, we are reminded of God’s initiative to be with his people and to have his people share his presence with the whole world.
The Tabernacle Now
We can be tempted to miss the flashbacks to the Garden of Eden in the tabernacle instructions. But we should not only notice that God moved toward his people in the past; we should also notice that God is still moving toward his people now in the newest heaven-and-earth space—the church.
The same God who ordered Israel to build these precise structures now lives continuously with us through the presence of the Holy Spirit.
We don’t have to build precise structures to meet with God like the Israelites. The mountain-top experience that came down to Israel’s wandering camp has now, in the presence of the Spirit, been made available for everyone who trusts Jesus.
Our existence as the new tabernacle—the new meeting place—points toward the ultimate heaven-and-earth place—the renewed creation of Revelation 21–22. One day, God will completely fill the earth with his Spirit and live with us forever in an entirely renewed creation. Upon seeing a vision of God’s restorative plan, John exclaims, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth . . . Look, God’s dwelling is with humanity, and he will live with them” (Revelation 21:1, 3).
The tabernacle in Exodus points us to the renewed creation—the ultimate heaven-and-earth space. And when we doze off reading about the different metals and linens, we can remind ourselves that behind those instructions stands a God who not only wants to be with his people but will stop at nothing to be with them.
Until we reach that ultimate “tabernacle,” Exodus reminds us that the same divine presence that was with Israel now exists in us—the church made up of diverse brothers and sisters trusting Jesus as we wander in the wilderness.
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