Nurturing/ Teaching Courses
The Tabernacling of God
Text: Hebrews 9:1-15
Dr Alex Tang
God wants to dwell with His people. Jesus Christ’s sacrifice and blood on the cross made it acceptable for God to dwell with us. It is a great privilege.
I. Introduction: Book of Hebrews
G. Campbell Morgan (1863-1945), pastor of Westminster Chapel, London wrote that the Epistles to the Hebrews was God’s last word to man. “Through Christ, God has spoken, and He has nothing more to say. There is no need for more. There is need that we understand what He said more perfectly”.
The Epistle to the Hebrews is a logical and passionate appeal to a group of persecuted Jewish Christians to rescue them from relinquishing Christianity and to return to Judaism. Historical records showed that by 70 AD, the Jewish Christians was expelled from worshipping in a synagogue. An unknown author shows the Jewish Christians the superiority of Jesus Christ as High Priest and the superiority of Christianity over Judaism in order to exhort them to endure persecution rather than to return to their former life under Judaism. Hebrews has been called the fifth Gospel. Whereas the four Gospels relate what Christ did while on earth then, Hebrews supplements them by relating what Christ is doing in heaven now.
It contains 5 warnings or perils against despising the new order and to return to the old order. There are six dangers highlighted in Hebrews: drifting (2:1-4); doubting (3:7-4:2); disobedience (4:11-13); degeneration (5:11-13); despising (10:19-29) and denying (12:25-29). It shows that the New Covenant is better than the Old Covenant.
II. Text Exposition (Heb.9:1-15)
9 1Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary. 2 A tabernacle was set up. In its first room were the lampstand, the table and the consecrated bread; this was called the Holy Place. 3 Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place, 4 which had the golden altar of incense and the gold-covered ark of the covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant. 5 Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory, overshadowing the atonement cover. But we cannot discuss these things in detail now.
The tabernacle is a sacred tent (Heb. mishkan, “the dwelling-place”); the movable tent-temple which Moses erected for the service of God, according to the “pattern” which God himself showed to him on the mount (Ex. 25:9; Heb. 8:5). It is called “the tabernacle of the congregation,” rather “of meeting”, i.e., where God promised to meet with Israel (Ex. 29:42); the “tabernacle of the testimony” (Ex. 38:21; Num. 1:50), which does not, however, designate the whole structure, but only the enclosure which contained the “ark of the testimony” (Ex. 25:16, 22; Num. 9:15); the “tabernacle of witness” (Num. 17:8); the “house of the Lord” (Deut. 23:18); the “temple of the Lord” (Josh. 6:24); a “sanctuary” (Ex. 25:8). The significance of the tabernacle to the Israelites is that 13 chapters in Exodus were devoted to it compared to 3 chapters for the accounts of creation and the fall.
The whole tabernacle was completed in seven months. The tabernacle was erected about a year after the Exodus from Egypt: on the first day of the first month in the second year. The Exodus occurred on the 14th day of the first month (Ex.12:2, 6, 33-34). Since the people arrived at Sinai three months after the Exodus, they were at Sinai eight and one-half months. Part of that time (at least 80 days) Moses was on the mountain (40 days, 24:18; and another 40 days for the covenant renewal, 34:28). So perhaps about six and one-half months were involved in gathering the materials and constructing the tabernacle. Those months were from about mid-September to late March.
The tabernacle was a rectangular enclosure, in length about 45 feet (i.e., reckoning a cubit at 18 inches) and in breadth and height about 15. Its two sides and its western end were made of boards of acacia wood, placed on end, resting in sockets of brass, the eastern end being left open (Ex. 26:22). This framework was covered with four coverings, the first of linen, in which figures of the symbolic cherubim were wrought with needlework in blue and purple and scarlet threads, and probably also with threads of gold (Ex. 26:1–6; 36:8–13). Above this was a second covering of twelve curtains of black goats’-hair cloth, reaching down on the outside almost to the ground (Ex. 26:7–11). The third covering was of rams’ skins dyed red, and the fourth was of dugong’s skins (Heb. tahash, i.e., the dugong, a species of seal), (Ex. 25:5; 26:14; 35:7, 23; 36:19; 39:34.)
Internally it was divided by a veil into two chambers, the exterior of which was called the holy place, also “the sanctuary” (Heb. 9:2) and the “first tabernacle” (6); and the interior, the holy of holies, “the holy place,” “the Holiest,” the “second tabernacle” (Ex. 28:29; Heb. 9:3, 7). The holy of holies, a cube of 10 cubits, contained the “ark of the testimony”, i.e., the oblong chest containing the two tables of stone, the pot of manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded. The veil separating these two chambers was a double curtain of the finest workmanship, which was never passed except by the high priest once a year, on the great Day of Atonement.
The holy place was separated from the outer court which enclosed the tabernacle by a curtain, which hung over the six pillars which stood at the east end of the tabernacle, and by which it was entered. The holy place was the western and larger chamber of the tabernacle. Here were placed the table for the shewbread, the golden candlestick, and the golden altar of incense.
Round about the tabernacle was a court, enclosed by curtains hung upon sixty pillars (Ex. 27:9–18). This court was 150 feet long and 75 feet broad. Within it were placed the altar of burnt offering, which measured 7 1/2 feet in length and breadth and 4 1/2 feet high, with horns at the four corners, and the laver of brass (Ex. 30:18), which stood between the altar and the tabernacle.
(1) The entrance
One entrance that faces east.
(2) The brazen altar
When an Israelite presented a sacrifice, he first placed his hands on the head of the animal and confessed his sins. He was thereafter forever identified with that animal. He then had to kill that animal, thereby indicating that the penalty of sin is death. The priest then took the blood from the sacrifice and applied it in the proper place. At this point, the animal was placed on the altar.
(3) The laver
Before entering the Holy Place, the priests washed their hands and feet at the laver.
(4) The lampstand
The purpose of the lampstand was to give light needed by the priests as they went about their duties and worship in the Holy Place.
(5) The table of showbread
The showbread consist of twelve cakes, baked of fine flour, placed fresh on the table every sabbath day (Lev. 24:5-8). The old cakes were eaten by the priest in the holy place. No layman may eat of it.
(6) The altar of incense
The altar of incense (Ex. 30:1–10), called also “the golden altar” (39:38; Num. 4:11), stood in the holy place “before the veil that is by the ark of the testimony.” On this altar sweet spices were continually burned with fire taken from the brazen altar. The morning and the evening services were commenced by the high priest offering incense on this altar. The burning of the incense was a type of prayer (Ps. 141:2; Rev. 5:8; 8:3, 4).
(7) The ark of the Testimony
The lid of the ark was a golden slab called the “mercy seat” or place of atonement. The ark symbolises God’s presence. It contains:
(a) jar of manna
(b) Aaron’s rod which has budded
(c) Stone tablets which Moses put there in Horeb, when Yahweh made a covenant with the people of Israel, when they come out of the land of Egypt (1 Kings 8:9)
6 When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. 7 But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance.
Whereas the outer room of the tabernacle could be entered regularly by the officiating priests, it was only on the Day of Atonement (cf. Lev. 16) that the high priest entered the inner room (i.e., the “holy of holies”) and then only with sacrificial blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. On the Day of Atonement, the high priest entered the holy of holies twice. First to sprinkled blood of the bull (atonement for the high priest and his family) and the second time for the blood of the goat (sin offering for the whole nation of Israel) on the mercy seat and in front of it. God undertook to appear as a “cloud upon the mercy seat” (Lev.16:2). Then he comes out and confessed the national sins over the head of a second goat to Azazel which was then driven into the wilderness.
8 The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing. 9 This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. 10 They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order.
This restricted access clearly demonstrated that a true entrance into God’s presence (symbolized by the most holy place) had not yet been disclosed. That at least was the message the Holy Spirit intended to communicate by this arrangement. That in the Old Covenant there is no direct access to God. The Levitical arrangements were designed to convey the idea that the true way to God did not lie in them. What this indicates for the present time is that the Old-Covenant sacrificial system did not meet human need at its deepest level. It could not clear the conscience of the worshiper. Hence the regulations which formed part of the observant worshiper’s adherence to this system were chiefly concerned with externals which were only meant to apply until the time of the new order.
11When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. 12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. 13 The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! 15 For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.
The animals used for sacrifice were required to be physically unblemished; the life which Christ presented on the cross was a life free from inward blemish. Only He who knew no sin can die for the sin of others. He who is outwardly and inwardly without blemish.
(1) The entrance
There is only one way to God and that is by His Son, Jesus Christ.
(2) The brazen altar
The altar pictures the cross where Jesus Christ poured out His blood as an atonement for all mankind.
(3) The laver
The laver represent our being cleansed from sin before entering into fellowship with God. It means applying 1 John 1:9, that is confessing our sin and claiming forgiveness and cleansing that God promises through the shed blood of Jesus Christ.
(4) The lampstand
(a) The lampstand suggest the church, the body of Christ. Jesus said we are to be the light of the world (Matt 5:14). As we allow His light to shine through us we become His candlesticks.
(b) The oil needed for fuel is representative of the Holy Spirit who provides means and power for Christians today.
(5) The table of showbread
(a) Christ is the Bread of Life (John 6:35), i.e. He is our portion, our eternal provision.
(b) It is our spiritual food, God’s word “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word of God” (Luke 4:4)
(6) The altar of incense
Incense speaks of worship and prayers of the saints (Rev.5:8; 8:3,4)
It is the only altar which appears in the heavenly temple (Isa. 6:6; Rev. 8:3,4).
(7) The ark of the Testimony
The Holy of Holies is where God is in heaven. The throne in heaven (Rev. 4). Jesus is there interceding for His people.
III. Christ and the Tabernacling of God
(1) God want to dwell with His people
A scarlet thread thru the Bible: God always wants to be with His people. He wants to build His tent (tabernacle) with His people.
§ Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Gen.3:8,9)
GE 3:8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man, "Where are you?"
§ The call of Abraham (Gen.12:1-3)
GE 12:1 The LORD had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you.
GE 12:2 "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you;
I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.
GE 12:3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."
§ Reason why Israel was brought out of Egypt (Ex. 29:45)
45 Then I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God. 46 They will know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of Egypt so that I might dwell among them. I am the LORD their God.
§ Tabernacle (Ex. 40:35)
35 Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.
§ Temple (1 Kings 6:11-13)
1KI 6:11 The word of the LORD came to Solomon: 12 "As for this temple you are building, if you follow my decrees, carry out my regulations and keep all my commands and obey them, I will fulfill through you the promise I gave to David your father. 13 And I will live among the Israelites and will not abandon my people Israel."
§ End Times
15 Therefore, "they are before the throne of God
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them.
3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."
(2) God intends His people to worship Him according to His Will and not to their whims and fancies. The Blood of Christ is the means that sinners can come to God.
The Old Covenant worship of God is structured. We move from the world into the courtyards. In the courtyards are the sacrifices and the cleaning. Then we move into the Holy Place where the lampstand, the table of showbread and the altar of incense was. After that was the veil and the Holy of Holies where the ark of the Covenant and mercy seat is. The way into the Holy of Holies is through sacrifice and blood of animals.
The New Covenant is also by sacrifice and blood; sacrifice and blood of Jesus Christ. God wants us to worship Him according to His Will. When Christ came, by His blood, He has made possible for us to move directly into the inner sanctum, the Holy of Holies, into the Presence of God. That is why Christ can be considered a ‘living tabernacle’. That is why there is no other way to be saved except through His Son, Jesus Christ.
(3) What a privilege it is to be considered as God’s people.
It is indeed a rare privilege. Here is a God that desires to be with His people. A God that takes the initiative to mend a broken relationship caused by the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The Bible tells of His work of redemption, sacrificing His Son so that His people can be redeemed from their sins. Often we do not appreciate this privilege. We complain and struggle with our faith instead of thanking and praising God.
IV. Closing Remarks
Left Behind: The Movie, which is based on the best selling novel of the Left Behind series written by Tim Lahaye and Jerry Jenkins, is a fascinating movie to watch. It is about the rapture. Directed by Victor Sarin, the movie tried to show how it will be like when the rapture takes place. Suddenly, people are missing from a plane, cars, offices and homes. It also shows the fear and chaos amongst those left behind. While I was watching the movie, I thought to myself. Here is a God who comes for His people. What a great demonstration of everything the Bible said is true. That God wants to dwell with His people. That we get to be His people by believing in the completed sacrifice and blood of Jesus Christ on the cross. That God will dwell with His people for the rest of eternity. We will see this event taking place. Just don’t get left behind.
Soli Deo Gloria
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