Dr. Mark Scott wrote this treatment of the International Sunday School Lesson. Scott teaches preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College, Joplin, Missouri. This lesson treatment is published in issue no. 2 (weeks 5-8; February 2-23, 2020) of The Lookout magazine, and is also available online at www.lookoutmag.com.
Lesson Aim: Appreciate the tabernacle as a type of the redemption and sanctification available in Christ alone.
By Mark Scott
How should we speak of “sacred space?” On the one hand, all space belongs to God, and therefore it is all sacred. Since God is infinite, what house could be built for him or contain him (1 Kings 8:27; Acts 17:24)? He is, after all, omnipresent. On the other hand, God elects to especially inhabit certain spaces (e.g., the Garden of Eden, individuals, tabernacles, temples, the incarnation of the Messiah, churches, and Heaven—Genesis 3:8; 28:16, 17; Exodus 33:7-11; 40:34-38; 1 Kings 8:62-66; John 1:14; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19; Revelation 21:1-4). The “new nation” of Israel would need such a sacred space. The tabernacle, of which almost half of the book of Exodus is devoted, would meet that need.
The idea of God taking up residence (sacred space) in parts of his creation helps us comprehend the story of the Bible better (i.e., understand its continuity) by what is known as typology. This is a person, thing, or event in the Old Testament that prophetically prefigures something or someone in the New Testament. While this interpretive construct can lead to assigning meaning to a text that was not originally intended, it can help us see how things in this world become a “copy and shadow of heavenly things” (Hebrews 8:5, English Standard Version).
Much has taken place since our last lesson about the giving of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20). God gave Israel other laws that would help them live out the specifics of those commandments (Exodus 21–23). The covenant that God gave Israel would be renewed (Exodus 24) before the contributions and instructions about the tabernacle would be given (Exodus 25–31). The tabernacle narrative would be interrupted by Israel’s unfaithfulness, Moses’ leadership desires, and the giving of the new tablets of commandments (Exodus 32–36). Finally, the actual construction of the tabernacle would take place (Exodus 37–40).
The Blueprint of the Tabernacle | Exodus 40:1-8
The design of this portable sanctuary had been given in previous chapters in Exodus. Now it was time for the final set of instructions (blueprints) to be given specifically for the furniture that would go in the tabernacle. The Lord told Moses to “Set up the tabernacle.” Previous to the construction of the tabernacle God met with Moses in what was called the tent of meeting (Exodus 33:7-11). From this point forward the tent of meeting would almost be synonymous with the “tabernacle.” This word means dwelling or tent and occurs at least 11 times in our printed text. “Tent of meeting,” occurs at least eight times. Was it the furniture that made the tabernacle sacred or was it the tabernacle that made the furniture sacred? Both were part of the blueprint.
About one year after the exodus, Israel started putting this portable sanctuary together. The ark (box or chest) was the most significant piece of furniture and was kept behind the curtain (veil) in the Holy of Holies. It was to contain the Ten Commandments, a jar of manna, and Aaron’s staff that had budded (Hebrews 9:4), but by the time of the building of Solomon’s temple it seemed that only the Ten Commandments were contained in it (1 Kings 8:9). Near the veil that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies was the table of incense. Just beyond that was the table that held the 12 loaves of bread (one for each tribe of Israel). Opposite that table was the lampstand (the only light in this area). Outside of that area was the altar of burnt offering (where sacrifices were given) and the basin (laver)—where the priests would wash.
The Reality of the Tabernacle | Exodus 40:17-33
Finally! Blueprints give way to buildings. The larger area of the tabernacle was described first with its bases, frames, crossbars, posts, coverings, and courtyards. But most of the text was devoted to the placement of the furniture in the tabernacle since the furniture symbolizes nuances of our redemption, prayers, holiness, enlightenment, provision, forgiveness, and purity. The Holy of Holies was in total darkness, but when Jesus died on the cross, the veil that kept it in total darkness was torn in two and God’s love was laid bare in total light (Mark 15:38). This box that contained the law was covered by the mercy seat, since, with God, mercy always triumphs over judgment (James 2:13).
Moses did everything that God commanded him to do with regard to the tabernacle (something mentioned seven times in Exodus 40). The tabernacle was intended to be a portable Garden of Eden, a portable Mt. Sinai experience, a portable Heaven on earth, and not surprisingly, was positioned smack-dab in the middle of the Israelite encampment.
Lesson study ©2019, Christian Standard Media. Print and digital subscribers are permitted to make one print copy per week of lesson material for personal use. Lesson based on the scope and sequence, ©2019 by Christian Standard Media. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.
Image: A print (circa 1728) from the Phillip Medhurst Collection of Bible illustrations; courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.