“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. 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 theologically reckless to launch into an ocean of conjecture. Lacking navigational tools, no doctrinal destination can be safely reached.
As the Mediator of a better covenant, Christ’s ministry is further contrasted with the superseded Levitical system.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.
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 “blueprint”, he proves the old covenant is as transitory as the entire Levitical system. 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 variously referred to as 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), and tabernacle of the Lord (Num. 17:13). The Levites were in charge of dismantling, transporting, and re-erecting it while the tribe of Levi camped nearby 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 meticulous details regarding tabernacle construction and ceremonialism.
Central to the encampment and always facing the rising sun, this structure stood as the perpetual visual reminder that Jehovah is in their midst. The twelve tribes encamped around the tabernacle, three tribes on each side (Num. 2). It was positioned so that when anyone emerged from a tent, the first thing viewed was this wonderful emblem of God’s residence among them.
Supernatural fire lit the tabernacle courtyard at night and throughout the day a cloud covered it (Num. 9:16). The Israelites broke camp 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 were on the march (Num.10:33).
The Tabernacle Materials
The artisans who built the various furnishings were required to be highly skilled (Ex. 35:30-32). The initial plans for this elaborate edifice required a unified effort. The materials for the tabernacle were given by the free will of the people. To reflect God’s glory, what was placed within was elaborate and valuable. The people freely provided their gold, silver, brass, badger and ram skins, goat hair, and fine linen. In fact, they were so generous 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 area 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. Desert sand was the flooring – a reminder that everything concerning the tabernacle was connected with this earthly life.
The actual structure was 15’ x 45’ – 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). These precise restricted spaces proved that, under the former covenant, the closer one came to the presence of God, the more restricted was the access.
There were also two items located in the courtyard. Because the writer’s focus concerns only things inside the tabernacle, he does not refer to these. However, in order to complete the portrait of the entire tabernacle area, descriptions of the brass altar, the laver, and their typical significance is provided.
The Brass Altar of Sacrifice
The first piece of furniture one encountered as they entered the courtyard involved sacrifices (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 repentance. 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 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 man’s need for inner purity.
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 to shed light in that area. 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 twelve loaves (showbread) were placed on a special table (Ex. 25:23-30). It was made of acacia wood overlaid with gold. Each loaf was identical in size and weight, for every tribe was equal before Jehovah (Lev. 24:5). This bread also reminded the people that God would always supply their needs. Each Sabbath, the priests ate the old loaves and replaced them with fresh ones (Lev. 24:9 & Ex. 25:30). This ever-present food was emblematic of God’s provision and
fellowship. The table and sustenance foreshadowed 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, purple represents royalty, scarlet symbolizes the blood, and white bespeaks purity and sanctification. It hung by golden hooks upon four pillars of gold-covered acacia wood, which separated the Holy Place from the Holiest of All (Ex. 26:33). This inner veil 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 fourfold:
<> It enclosed the ark inside the Holiest of All.
<> It ensured the ark was attended by authorized personnel only.
<> 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 centuries later 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 dead saints arose from their graves. Matthew’s account adds the word “Behold”, calling special attention to what occurs next. The inner veil in the temple – separating the Holy Place from the Holiest of All – was dramatically ripped in two from top to bottom (Mt. 27:50-53). This inner veil hung in the current temple in Jerusalem, not the former tabernacle in the desert. 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
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 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.