Hebrews 9:1-3

“It is true that the first covenant had regulations regarding ceremonial worship and a sanctuary belonging to this material world. The tabernacle was constructed in two sections. In its outer compartment were the lampstand and a table for the sacred loaves. This part was called the holy place. And behind the second curtain was an inner sanctuary called the Holiest of All.”  (paraphrased) 

In this chapter, the writer continues his theme of the superior high-priestly ministry of Christ. He shows that the real value of the tabernacle was its typical significance. He lists the furnishings, but refrains from explaining their typology. Although extremists attempt to spiritualize every detail in God’s Word, it is doctrinally reckless to launch into an ocean of conjecture. Lacking navigational tools, no destination can be safely reached. 

As the Mediator of the better covenant, Christ’s ministry is further contrasted with the superseded Levitical system. The writer begins this section by referring to the equipment connected with the worship of God in the “worldly” (kosmikon) sanctuary. Kosmikon refers to that which is visible and tied to this earth, as contrasted with the unseen, heavenly ministration of Christ. We will follow the writer’s path, providing relevant details concerning each of these furnishings.

The Tabernacle
This edifice was designed for worship. It was designated as the place man could respond to God’s blessing, protection and residence among them. Although the writer respects their divine origin and design, he proves the old covenant is as transitory as the tabernacle itself. He leads his readers toward “the greater and more perfect tabernacle” in the heavens (9:11).

Man’s desire to fellowship with God and his limited access to Him are both represented by the tabernacle. It is sometimes called the sanctuary (Ex. 25:8), tabernacle of testimony (Ex. 38:21), tent of the testimony (Num. 9:15), tabernacle of the congregation (Ex. 33:7), or tabernacle of the Lord (Num. 17:13). The Levites were in charge of dismantling, transporting, and re-erecting the tabernacle. The tribe of Levi camped nearby in order to protect it (Num. 1:50-53). The Levitical guardianship was a definitive statement of the restricted approach to Jehovah.

In essence, the tabernacle was a classroom where man learned how to approach God. “The law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ” (Gal. 3:24). Because the Israelites were surrounded by polytheistic nations, God saw fit to begin their spiritual education by means of this tangible representation of His monotheistic presence. Jehovah’s magnanimous character was reflected in detail via the tabernacle’s materials, colors, and activities. Over fifty chapters in God’s Word are devoted to the particulars regarding tabernacle construction and ceremonialism.

Facing the rising sun and central to the encampment was this perpetual visual reminder that Jehovah was in their midst. The twelve tribes encamped around the tabernacle, three tribes on each side (Num. 2). The tabernacle was positioned so that anytime people emerged from their tents; they would see this wonderful emblem of God’s presence among them.

Supernatural fire lit the tabernacle courtyard at night and throughout the day a cloud covered it (Num. 9:16). The Israelites dismantled the tabernacle and their tents and journeyed day or night, as the cloud or fire directed them (Num. 9:17-23). Hand carried by the descendants of Levi, the ark was always in front when the people broke camp and marched (Num.10:33).

The Tabernacle Materials
The artisans who built the various furnishings were required to be highly skilled (Ex. 35:30-32). The construction of this elaborate edifice was a unified effort. The materials for the tabernacle were given by the free will of the people. To reflect God’s glory, the primary furnishings were elaborate and valuable. But the people freely provided their gold, silver, brass, badger and ram skins, goat hair, and fine linen. They were so generous that a halt was called to their giving (Ex. 36:5-7). The wood used for tabernacle construction was acacia (shittim) wood from the Sinai region. Chosen by God for its durability, this tree yields a valuable, hard, close-grained wood not easily attacked by insects. Each piece of tabernacle furniture was designed to help define the way sin was expiated under the covenant.

The Tabernacle Dimensions
The outer courtyard surrounding the tabernacle is not mentioned in this passage because it is not relevant to the author’s line of reasoning. This courtyard was 75’ by 150’ and had a spacious thirty-foot wide entryway facing east. Its walls were comprised of curtains 7 1/2’ high, precluding even the tallest man from peering over it. The floors were desert sand, a reminder that everything concerning the tabernacle was connected with this earthly life. The entire tabernacle enclosed an area that was 15’ x 45’. This was divided into two rooms by a curtain. The word “tabernacle” in verse two refers more properly to the outer sanctuary called The Holy Place (15’ x 30’). The inner sanctuary, the Holiest of All, was the room on the west which formed a perfect cube (15’ x 15’). Inside this sacred area was placed the Ark of the Covenant (Ex. 26:34).

Because the writer’s focus concerns articles inside the tabernacle, there are two furnishings he does not mention. The brass altar of sacrifice and the laver were located in the courtyard. However, in order to complete a picture of the entire tabernacle area, a description of these two articles and their typical significance is provided.

The Brass Altar of Sacrifice
The first piece of furniture one encountered as they entered the courtyard was the solid brass altar of sacrifice (Ex. 27:1-8). Just inside the gate, the question of sin must be settled. The approach to God begins by accounting for transgressions against Him. Because the necessity to pay for sin was continuous, the fire on this altar burned perpetually (Lev. 6:13). Hot coals were taken from it immediately after the morning sacrifice and transferred to the golden altar of incense. The purpose of the brass altar was to show the only way man comes to God is through sacrifice. A lamb was slain and burned there every morning and evening to graphically illustrate the innocent bearing the sins of the guilty (Ex. 29:38-39). This vessel was essential, for the blood of animals must be offered as payment for the sins of men.

The Laver
The second furnishing one would see as they approached the tabernacle was the laver. Its primary function was to remove impurities that would disqualify a priest from performing his ministerial duties. Its water was often replenished, for perpetual washings were mandated as part of the preparation for tabernacle ministry (Ex. 30:18-20; Lev. 11:25; 13:6). Formed from the brass mirrors of the women, its purpose was for cleansing and self-examination. External cleanliness was emblematic of a clean heart before God.

The Candlestick
Light was essential in the windowless tabernacle. Often called the menorah, the candelabra was made from a talent of pure gold (Ex. 25:39). Based on the Hebrew talent, this was an extremely heavy object. It was positioned on the south side of the Holy Place near the main entrance, shedding its light on the Holy Place. Each of the seven stems ended in an almond-shaped bowl for oil. Its ornamentation was reminiscent of Aaron’s rod that budded and produced almonds (Num. 17:8). Priestly duties included trimming the wicks of the menorah, cleaning it, and replenishing the pure olive oil daily.

The menorah was man-made and useful, but only God can provide spiritual illumination. Jesus referred to Himself as the Light of the World (Jn. 8:12 & 9:5). His presence dispels darkness, lighting the entire city of God (Rev. 21:23). Only His supernatural light can reveal spiritual truth.

The Table of Showbread
On the north side of the Holy Place stood the table which held the sacred showbread (Ex. 25:23-30). It was made of acacia wood overlaid with gold. Each of the twelve loaves was the same size and weight, for each tribe was equal before God (Lev. 24:5). Representing the presence of the twelve tribes, the bread also reminded the people of God’s provision. Each Sabbath, the priests ate the old loaves and replaced them with fresh ones (Lev. 24:9 & Ex. 25:30). This ever-present bread was emblematic of God’s provision and His fellowship. The table and bread foreshadow communion with Christ as the bread from heaven (Jn. 6:32-33).

The menorah and the showbread were housed in the Holy Place, the first division of the tabernacle. The writer now takes his readers through the second veil into the most sacred area.

The Inner Veil and the Holiest of All
“And you shall make a veil of blue and purple and scarlet and fine twined linen of cunning work: with cherubim shall it be made” (Ex. 26:31). It is also called the Veil of the Covering or the Veil of the Sanctuary (Ex. 35:12 & Lev. 4:6). Blue is emblematic of heaven, the purple represents royalty, the scarlet symbolizes the blood, and white bespeaks purity and sanctification. It hung by golden hooks upon four pillars of gold-covered acacia wood, separating the Holy Place and the Holiest of All (Ex. 26:33). It differed from the main entry curtain and the veil into the Holy Place, for images of angelic cherubim were skillfully woven into it (Ex. 26:31). Its purpose was three-fold:

<> It enclosed the ark inside the Holiest of All.
<> It separated the inner and outer sanctuaries.
<> It covered the ark when it was transported (Ex. 40:3 & 21).

Twice daily, for hundreds of years, priests came near this veil as they ministered at the golden altar of incense. But they dare not enter the Holiest of All (Hagia Hagion). That privilege was reserved for the High Priest once each year (Heb. 9:6-9). This innermost sanctuary is also called The Holy of Holies or The Most Holy Place. It is so designated because the divine presence of Jehovah hovered between the cherubim over the ark (Ex. 25:22).

When Jesus died on the cross, He cried, “Father, into Thy hands I commend My Spirit” (Lk. 23:45-46). His death was accompanied by dramatic signs. The sky grew dark, rocks split apart, and the dead arose from their graves. Matthew’s account adds the word “Behold”, calling special attention to what occurs next. The veil separating the Holy Place from the Holiest of All in the temple was dramatically ripped in two from top to bottom (Mt. 27:50-53). Note this was the inner veil in the temple, not the tabernacle. This curtain was very different than the former tabernacle veil, for it was some sixty feet high and several inches thick. Human hands could never have torn it asunder.

Jesus’ death occurred during Passover week late Friday afternoon (Mt. 27:46). At this same time, the priests were officiating in the temple area, offering incense and preparing lambs for the evening sacrifices. Vast numbers of people were praying outside the temple. The top-down separation of the veil indicates the tearing originated from heaven. The only place on earth where God annually manifested His presence was hereafter made public. The entrance to the Holiest of All is now open to both Jews and Gentiles. With the veil ripped apart, the view of the ark was unobstructed. The writer of the book of Hebrews defines Jesus’ death in terms of the rent veil, comparing it to His torn flesh (10:20). This supernatural event makes it impossible to miss the symbolism regarding the sacrifice of the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world (Jn. 1:29). We now have boldness to enter into the Holiest of All through the blood of Jesus, for He has procured eternal redemption for us (Heb. 9:12).


QUESTIONS:  THE TABERNACLE

Hebrews 9:1-3

1. From what sacred place did Jehovah promise to commune with man? (Ex. 25:22)

2. Name the two rooms or compartments in the tabernacle.

3. What two items were in the tabernacle courtyard?

4. According to Hebrews 9:2, what two items were in the Holy Place?

5. What tribe was totally responsible for the tabernacle?

6. What does Paul refer to as our “schoolmaster” (Gal.3:24)

7. According to Numbers 9:16, what hovered above the tabernacle?

8. The menorah can be compared to:
A. spiritual illumination
B. Christ as the light of the world
C. overcoming spiritual darkness
D. that which reveals spiritual truth
E. All of the above

9. When Jesus died, what happened to the veil in the temple?

10. List new things you have learned from this study regarding the symbolism of:

The altar of sacrifice______________________________________________
The laver_______________________________________________________
The menorah____________________________________________________
The showbread__________________________________________________
The inner veil___________________________________________________
The Holiest of All________________________________________________

11. Discuss ways in which you can make your home a holy place, a sacred environment.
List those things you need to eliminate or appropriate.


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