By J.R. Miller
The tabernacle was not built after the plans of any human architect. Moses did not design it himself. It was made according to the pattern shown in the Mount. We must worship God, not according to our own ideas of propriety and taste--but according to the Divine directions.
The Divine instructions for building the tabernacle were definite and minute--but the work was to be done by human hands. The people were to contribute to the cost. Offerings were to be invited from the people--gems and jewels, precious metals, skins and yarns, spices and oils. Everyone among the people should have the privilege of contributing. The tabernacle was to be built with free and voluntary gifts.
The tabernacle was not like our modern churches, either in its form or in its purpose. It was not a place where the people came together to sing and pray and hear God's Word. Indeed, the people never entered the tabernacle at all. None but the priests were allowed inside the sacred tent. It was really God's dwelling-place.
The tabernacle was a type or illustration of Christ. God dwelt in a tent in the midst of His people. When Christ came He was the Word, God Himself, dwelling not then in a tent but in human flesh. His name was Emmanuel, God with us. There is an evident allusion to this first tabernacle, in the words of the writer of the Fourth Gospel: "The Word became flesh, and dwelt, tabernacled, among us." We do not need the symbol any more, since we have the reality.
The tabernacle also showed the way of access to God. There the people came with their sacrifices and offerings, their prayers, their needs and sorrows, finding God ready to answer and help.
The tabernacle also taught God's holiness, for none but the priest was permitted to enter it. We can come to God only through Jesus Christ our High Priest. "No man comes unto the Father--but by Me."
The furniture of the tabernacle consisted of four pieces:
the ark of the covenant,
the table with its bread and wine,
the seven-branched candlestick,
and the golden altar of incense.
First there was the ark of the testimony. This was only a box or chest, made of acacia wood--but it was the center of the whole sacred shrine. In it were placed the two tables of stone on which the Ten Commandments were written. The covering of this ark was not a mere lid--but a most sacred part of the furniture. It was made of pure gold, indicating its sacredness. It represented the very throne of God, and there He sat to receive the confessions and the praises of all the people.
It was a mercy seat, for God is a God of mercy. When people come to Him they are not coming to a God who is angry, who will not forgive, whose look is a consuming fire. He is a holy and righteous God--but also a God who is gracious and compassionate. The approach to the mercy seat was made always by the high priest with blood, which told of atonement. The cross of Christ is now our mercy seat!
Above the mercy seat appeared the Shekinah-glory, the Presence of God, on which no eye could look except when beneath it, hiding the accusing law, is the mercy seat. Just how much all this meant to the worshiping Hebrew, we cannot tell; to us, however, the meaning is clear. Christ is our High Priest. He made His offering of Himself on the altar and then passed through the veil and appeared before God with His own blood, which He offered there and thus obtained eternal redemption for us.
The high priest went into the Holy of Holies, not for himself only, but for all the people. He bore the names of the twelve tribes on his breastplate and thus represented them all. When he passed into the Holy of Holies, and stood before the Shekinah, all the people stood there in him. There is access for us to the mercy seat--but only through Christ.
The priest could stand before the mercy seat only when he had made an offering on the altar and bore the blood of the sacrifice to sprinkle on the golden lid. That is, access to God could be had only after atonement had been made. This, too, has its plain teaching for us. Jesus Christ could open the way for us into God's presence--only by making an atonement for us. When He was dying on the cross, the veil which, until this time, had shut men away from God's presence was torn apart. This rending of the veil was not accidental--but symbolized the truth that now the way to God had been fully opened. There is no longer any need of a priest--Christ Himself is our great High Priest, ever standing before God and making intercession for us.
There was also a table in the tabernacle. "You shall bring in the table, and set in order the things that are upon it." This was the table of the show-bread. It was overlaid with pure gold, surrounded with a border of gold. The table was furnished with dishes, on which, every Sabbath, twelve loaves of bread were laid. These remained there for seven days, and when replaced by new loaves were given to the priests to be eaten by them. Besides the bread, there were vessels on the table, no doubt containing wine. These provisions had their spiritual meaning.
A table is spread for God's children wherever they are. Christ not only redeems His people by His blood--but He offers Himself also as bread, the bread of life. In the Lord's Prayer we are taught to pray for our daily bread, and the promise is given that our Father will provide for all our needs. The tabernacle was God's House, and the table spread in it gave it the character of a home. It tells of the fellowship of love. Oar Father brings us into His very family and causes us to sit with Him and commune with Him. The table suggests also the abundance of the provision which Christ makes for us. We have the same picture perpetuated in the Lord's Supper. Friends of Christ gather as a family and sit down together with their Lord. All this points forward to still another scene, when all God's children one day shall gather as one family in heaven.
Another article of the furniture in the tabernacle was a candlestick or lampstand. The lampstand represented the Church. There was only one central stem, indicating the unity of the Church. Then there were seven branches, each one with its lamp, indicating the multiplicity of God's people. The lighted lamps burning in the darkness of the tabernacle symbolized believers, who shine as lamps in this dark world.
Jesus says to His disciples: "You are the light of the world." Every Christian should shine to make one little spot of the earth brighter. We are brightened, that we may brighten. All this was beautifully and impressively taught here at the beginning, in this Divine picturing of religion. We have it made clearer still in the vision of Zechariah. The oil is supplied without human agency--but the light shines in the lamps; that is, in the human lives which are Divinely lighted. The Church is to shine as the aggregate of all its individual members. If one little lamp goes out or shines dimly, one spot in the world is left unlighted or only dimly lighted.
Another thing in the furniture of the tabernacle was the golden altar for the incense. Incense was an emblem of prayer. There are several suggestions. For one thing, there was a Divine prescription for making the incense. "Take fragrant spices--gum resin, onycha and galbanum--and pure frankincense, all in equal amounts, and make a fragrant blend of incense, the work of a perfumer. It is to be salted and pure and sacred." Any compound different from that described was not acceptable.
There is also a Divine prescription for prayer. We are clearly taught how we must pray, of what ingredients we must mix our incense.
The fire used on the golden altar must be holy fire from the altar of burnt offering. Prayer is not a sweet savor unto God, unless it is kindled by the fire of God's love and by the Holy Spirit. Burning incense was fragrant; true prayer was sweet perfume before God. As the fragrance of flowers is pleasing to us, arising from forests, meadows, fields and gardens in the summer days; so is the prayer of earth which ascends from the homes and sanctuaries, from secret closets and from supplicating hearts.
The incense was offered by the priest within the Holy Place, while the people were praying without. Christ in heaven offers our prayers before God, purifying them and adding to them the incense of His own sacrifice, and then presenting them, sweetened by His own intercession.
Outside the tabernacle there was another altar--the altar of burnt offering. This altar was the first object the worshiper saw as he approached the sacred tent. It stood guard over the way to the Holy Place. No one could enter the tabernacle, to reach God's presence, except by the way of the altar of burnt offering. It thus pictures Christ's cross. Before we can gain access to God--we must stop at the cross and find forgiveness of sins. An unforgiven soul--has no access to God. The cross is the gate and the only gate, which opens to new life and to glory.
There was also a laver outside the tabernacle. It was placed between the altar and the tabernacle door. After sacrificing upon the altar, the priest must stop at the laver and wash before he entered the Holy Place. We need not only the blood of Christ to atone for our guilt--but also the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit. The altar of burnt offering told of justification, and the laver told of sanctification.
When the tabernacle was set up, it and all its vessels and furniture must be anointed. Nothing was ready for use, though all things had been made after the Divine pattern, until anointed with holy oil. There was a Divine prescription also for the making of this sacred oil: "Collect choice spices--12 pounds of pure myrrh, 6 pounds each of cinnamon and of sweet cane, 12 pounds of cassia, and one gallon of olive oil. Blend these ingredients into a holy anointing oil." With this oil, the tabernacle and its furniture were to be anointed. This anointing made the place holy. After this it would have been sacrilege to use the tabernacle or any of its vessels for any common service.
Our lives, when anointed by the Holy Spirit, are sacred to God, and should not be used in any profane or unholy service.
There is a story of an artist who had made a noble representation in marble of the Redeemer and who afterwards refused to make any figures of any but sacred subjects. He was requested to make statues of heathen goddesses for ornaments--but he said his art was now consecrated to God. "The hands that have cut the figure of the Christ in marble," he said, "must not carve anything that is not holy." So we may say that the lips that speak Christ's name in prayer--should utter none but holy words. The hearts which are temples of the Holy Spirit--should not entertain any impure or unworthy guests. Whatever is touched by the consecrating oil of Divine grace--must never be profaned by any unholy use.
Aaron and his sons were appointed priests. They were washed with water, symbolizing their spiritual cleansing in preparation for their sacred work. Then upon them were put the holy garments. These garments had their typical meaning.
For example, on each shoulder, in the golden clasp that fastened the two parts of the ephod, was an onyx stone, on which were engraved the names of six of the tribes of Israel--six on one stone and six on the other. Thus the high priest bore all the people on his shoulder--the place of strength and upholding.
Again, the priest's breastplate had in it twelve precious stones, with the names of the twelve tribes cut in them, on each stone the name of one tribe. This breastplate the priest wore over his heart, the place of love. Thus he bore the people in this typical way on his shoulders for support and upholding, and on his heart for affection and cherishing. Thus Christ, who is our High Priest, bears all His people on His shoulder for uplifting, and on His heart in tender, unchanging love.