By Melissa McLaughlin
Too Far Away
Oh, how we wept. She was our first child. Following a difficult pregnancy, with many scary bumps along the way, she was finally born. Though five weeks early, our greatly anticipated child was born. At first we were relieved and rejoicing simply that she was alive! Smiles, laughter, tears! Our joy could not be contained!
All too soon, the rest of the details set in. Though in many respects she was doing well, better than we hoped even, she was not breathing adequately. The doctors and nurses whisked her away while I lay alone recovering. After hours of agonizing childbirth, I had no baby to hold in my arms.
With a gentle voice and kind eyes the doctor explained that we would not be able to take our newborn daughter home right away. She would remain in the hospital neonatal nursery incubator for several days and nights.
At first, our simple gratitude that she was alive was enough. We even paid a fee so I could remain in the hospital with her, holding her and feeding her when possible. The rest of the time, we watched her, empty-handed through the glass.
Though we knew the doctor’s decision was based on sound medical practices for our baby girl, our hearts were heavy at the glass that separated us from our precious little one. Heart of my heart. Love of my life. Tiny gift from God. We were so close, just on the other side of the glass, but not close enough.
If I couldn’t cuddle her tiny body in my arms, it was too far. If I couldn’t feel her soft skin against mine, it was too far. If I couldn’t kiss her velvet cheeks, it was too far. If I couldn’t hear the lilting beat of her heart, it was too far. If I couldn’t sing a lullaby to her when she cried, it was too far. If I couldn’t watch her eyes open and look into mine, it was too far.
Though my daughter was just on the other side of the glass, well cared for in the hospital neonatal nursery, safe and sound in an incubator with prescribed oxygen, to me, my daughter was too far away. She may as well have been on the other side of the world. My heart ached to be near her.
How that distance hurt. A first-time mother without her baby is a woeful thing.
Mercifully, she responded to the medical care and treatments and soon enough we were able to bring her home! Though she came home with additional medical equipment, cords and cables, at last she was home!
No more separation. No more longing through the glass. No more distance between us. Finally, my precious daughter was in my arms to hug, hold and treasure as close as close could be. This mother’s heart cried new tears of joy.
God Desires to be Near
Much as we love our children, much as our parents love us, there is One who loves us more. The God who created us, the God who formed us in our mother’s womb, by whose Hands we are fearfully and wonderfully made. This same God who made us, also died for us, so that we could be near Him forever.
God’s desire to be near His people is made evident in the magnificent story of redemption that triumphantly unfolds in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.
God began to draw near His people in a unique way, following their rescue from Egyptian slavery in the Old Testament book of Exodus. The Lord God delivered His people, the Israelites, from slavery and oppression through a series of powerful plagues, followed by one final stunning miracle where He parted the Red Sea so His people could walk across on dry ground. Once the defeated Egyptians were left behind, over the course of forty years the Lord taught His people who He was, as He provided for them there in the wilderness.
Earlier in Exodus 3, God revealed Himself in wonder and grandeur through a burning bush that could not be consumed. In Exodus 19, God met with Moses on Mt. Sinai and the people saw His presence with thick clouds that hovered over the mountain, thunder rolling, lightning piercing and trumpet resounding. The Lord descended on the mountain in fire, the smoke billowed and the mountain itself shook mightily. The people trembled in fear and reverence before their great God.
As God desired to draw near His people, He decided to create a space where He could dwell with them. God sought a special place. A sacred place. A place of meeting. A place of closeness. For God loved His people. Exodus 25:8 – Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. Exodus 29:45-46 – I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God.
What is the Tabernacle?
The word Tabernacle means “dwelling place” or “tent”. The Tabernacle was a portable sanctuary that accomplished two goals. It allowed God’s people to draw near and worship Him, while at the same time clarified and established the magnitude of God’s holiness.
As we consider God’s desire to dwell with us, one thing should be pondered deeply, that God is God. He is transcendent. He is outside of His creation. He is separate, holy, other than us. He is eternal, powerful, sovereign. Therefore, in order for us to draw near and worship Him, we must recognize that above all, God is God and God is holy. The building of the Tabernacle helps us recognize this truth because by its very design, we must worship Him in reverence, fear and awe. And yet, God is also loving and provides a way for us to draw near. He loves us and being near His presence is His greatest act of love for us.
Therefore, the Tabernacle provides a visual image of both characteristics of God – His holiness and His love for us.
Additionally and most astonishingly, each element of the Tabernacle points ahead with breathtaking accuracy toward Jesus.
In Exodus 25-31, God first provides the details for the construction of the Tabernacle. Then in Exodus 35-40, Moses leads the people to build the Tabernacle according to every one of God’s specifications.
I used to wonder at all the details included in this passage. Why so intricate? Why so many chapters? Why so specific?
We read in Hebrews 8-10 that God was helping His people build a physical earthly structure paralleling a heavenly essence that we cannot yet imagine. God, through His people, was bringing a taste of heaven to earth through these intricate, elaborate and finely laid out Tabernacle guidelines. In addition, the excellencies of the Tabernacle magnify His excellency, providing a foreshadow of the ultimate beauty and majesty of Christ as our preeminent Tabernacle.
The Tabernacle represents the tangible presence of God. It illustrates our need for salvation. Even greater than the need to be saved from the Egyptians or any other earthly salvation, we need spiritual salvation, in order to draw near the mighty God who created us, cares for us and loves us.
Many texts refer to the entire curtained off complex as the Tabernacle and the inner enclosed area as the Holy Place. In this article, the terms will be applied this way, as well. It is important to note that the Tabernacle is also referred to as the Sanctuary, Tent of Meeting, Tent of Testimony and Dwelling Place. Prior to the God-designed Tabernacle, Moses had pitched a man-made tent to meet with God outside of the Israelites’ camp. This was known as the Tent of Meeting. Eventually, when the Israelites settled in Canaan, the promised land, they built a Temple to meet with God and this replaced the portable Tabernacle. Many of these terms for the dwelling place of God are used interchangeably. Further, these terms are used symbolically in the New Testament, as the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit is within our physical bodies, or earthly tents.
One of the most intriguing and amazing concepts of the Tabernacle is how each of the eight elements underscore the coming redemption of Jesus.
Let’s begin with the first two items found in the outer court. The border or wall that surrounded the Tabernacle was made of linen curtains and highlighted the separation between God and His people. God is holy and our sin separates us from Him. The recognition of our sin highlights our need for Christ.
There was only one door, gate or entrance to the Tabernacle. This gate represented God’s desire for us to draw near. In John 10:9 Jesus said, “I am the gate”. Everyone was allowed to enter His gates and dwell in the outer courts. Though God invites us to draw near, but there is only way in. Jesus.
As we enter the courtyard of the Tabernacle there are two objects that resound with heavenly echoes of Christ.
3.Altar of Burnt Offering
The first item found inside the Tabernacle was the bronze Altar of Burnt Offering where animals were sacrificed. Only priests made sacrifices. There were two purposes for these sacrifices. One was for the atonement for sins. The second purpose was for thanksgiving, praise or worship to God. The Altar of Burnt Offerings is very significant. As we first enter near God, we realize that He is pure and we are sinful. We need a sacrifice made on our behalf to atone for our sins. Though in the Old Testament a bull, goat or lamb would be sacrificed, in the New Testament we discover that Jesus is the Final Sacrifice, our Sacrificial Lamb.
As we continue forward through the Tabernacle past the Altar of Burnt Offering, we see the bronze Basin for cleansing, also called a Laver. Here the priests cleansed themselves daily before meeting with God. This represents our need for daily cleansing before God. Through the sacrifice of Jesus, we are made right or justified before God. However, we are made clean, sanctified or made holy through daily confession and forgiveness of our sins, as explained here in Hebrews 10:14 – For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. Certainly, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross guarantees our salvation and acceptance into heaven when we receive Him as Lord. However, the daily cleansing of our sins allows us to grow in holiness, reflecting His image while here on earth.
Another way the Basin or Laver illuminates Christ is found in the New Testament, when Jesus explains He is the living water, recorded here in John 4 – Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
The Holy Place
At the back of the Tabernacle courtyard, was an enclosed sacred area called the Holy Place. The Holy Place was covered like a tent with several layers of fine linen, goat hair fabric and waterproof animal skins. Only a priest could enter the Holy Place. This enclosed area was divided into two parts, the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. The Most Holy Place is also known as the Holy of Holies or the Inner Sanctuary. These two parts were separated by a specially woven veil or curtain.
Inside the Holy Place were three more significant elements, all shining the spotlight on the coming Lord Jesus Christ.
5.Table and Bread of Presence
One element located within the Holy Place was the Table with the Bread of the Presence, also called the showbread or shewbread. The Bread of the Presence consisted of 12 loaves of bread placed on the Table as an offering to God, reminding us of His presence with us, His provision for us and that He is our true nourishment. The showbread foreshadows Jesus here in John 6:35 – Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
The golden Lampstand was another element in the Holy Place. The Lampstand provided lighting to the area and represented the light of God’s presence with us. In John 8:12 Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
7.Altar of Incense
The third element in the Holy Place was the Altar of Incense where sacred incense was burned day and night, representing our prayers rising up as a sweet fragrance to God, as described here in Psalm 141:2 – Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!
Because of the sacrifice of Jesus, those of us who are believers are carrying the fragrance of Christ, also represented by the Altar of Incense. 2 Corinthians 2:15 – For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.
The Most Holy Place
Within the Holy Place, there was one final area separated by a veil, the Most Holy Place, also referred to as the Holy of Holies. In this hallowed place, only the high priest could enter and only once per year to bring a sacrifice to atone for the people’s sins. In the Most Holy Place was one last and most sacred item: the Ark, also called the Ark of the Covenant or the Ark of the Testimony.
8.Ark of the Covenant
The Ark (or box) contained Aaron’s rod (which represented God’s grace to deliver), a pot of manna (which displayed God’s power to provide) and the stone tablets with the 10 Commandments also called the Testimony (which defined God’s holiness as we relate to Him and one another).
The Ark of the Covenant was covered with a special lid or top called the Mercy Seat, also called the Atonement Seat or Atonement Cover. It was made of pure gold with two cherubim facing one another and God’s presence dwelt there above the Atonement Seat between the cherubim.
When we think of the Ark of the Covenant and the Atonement Seat, the glory of God is clearly seen in the face of Christ. Jesus fulfilled the 10 Commandments, living a perfect, sinless life. He delivered us with the Great Shepherd’s rod, provided eternal manna from heaven as the Bread of Life and executed judgment, mercy and atonement for our sins through His death and resurrection, all mirrored here in this place of unspeakable reverence.
Adding to these incredible and profound connections to Christ, when Jesus died on the cross, the curtain into the Holy of Holies was ripped in two from top to bottom, symbolizing how we have free access to God’s presence through Jesus who is both our final sacrifice and our great high priest. Hebrews 8
God longed for His people to dwell with Him. He demonstrated His heart for us as He walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden. He demonstrated His heart for us as He provided the design and construction of the Tabernacle. He demonstrated His heart for us as His presence dwelt powerfully with His people in the Tabernacle, in cloud by day and fire by night.
In one sweeping demonstration of love, God demonstrated His great desire to dwell with His people when He sent His Son Jesus, to walk with us, live for us, die for us, rise again for us and ascend into Heaven to rule, reign and intercede for us until He comes again to dwell with His people forever!
As I think back to my deep and intense longing to be near my newborn daughter, I realize that was a small scale picture of God’s great longing for us to be near Him.
God has done it all!
He created us.
Jesus died for our sins, rose again and ascended into heaven.
And finally…Jesus sent His Holy Spirit to live in the hearts of all who believe.
God is not only for us.
God is not only with us.
Through the sacrifice of His Son and the power of the Holy Spirit, God is within us.
8 Ways Jesus is our Tabernacle
The Tabernacle included:
1.Wall – Our sins separate us from God and show our need for Christ.
2.Gate – Jesus is the only way in.
3.Altar of Burnt Offering – Jesus is the final sacrifice.
4.Basin – Jesus provides cleansing of our sins. He is the living water.
5.Table with the Bread of the Presence – Jesus is the bread of life.
6.Lampstand – Jesus is the light of the world.
7.Altar of Incense – Believers carry the fragrance of Jesus.
8.Ark of the Covenant – Jesus fulfilled the commands, delivered us from sin, provided for our greatest needs, met the demands for judgment, atonement and mercy needed for the forgiveness of our sins.
Though God is still holy…because of Jesus, God is close.
Though God is still perfect and true…because of Jesus, God is close.
Though God is still righteous and just…because of Jesus, God is close.
Our holy God provided a way to dwell with and transform His sinful people.
Jesus, our Tabernacle!
God with us!
John 1:14 – The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Sources and Resources
Tabernacle Image courtesy of Bible Gateway