Three Reasons for the Repetition
At Sinai’s summit, when they constructed the tabernacle and prepared the vestments for the priesthood, and again here by way of summation, the instructions for the tabernacle are repeated. There are three or four good reasons for this. First, if we take the broadest view, Exodus began with slavery and it now ends with worship. Or said another way, the Lord delivered his people from bondage so that they might worship him. This same principle applies to us, as Peter wrote (1 Pet. 2:9). This is a grace we forget at our peril. Second, God does not change, but he knows how very fickle we are. Can we modify worship here and there? What about doctrine? By repeating the same directions, the Lord was telling them that his will must reign supreme when it comes to worship. They should not deviate in the slightest (Deut. 12:29). And, closely related, we should make it clear that God is very concerned about the kind of worship we give to him. With the coming of the Spirit, it is thought that God cares less about the outward parts and more about the heart, but this is true only to a certain limit. He was far more concerned about the heart than outward observances under the old covenant (Isa. 29:13; Jer. 2:27; 32:33). The more exact details about the form and function of his old covenant temple is undoubtedly due to the fact that they did not have the Spirit or completed Scriptures as we do. These greater blessings do not free us from what the Lord once said, for he has no more love for “will worship” today than he did then (Col. 2:23). This is a phrase that means worship that man devises for himself. It is vain to follow men’s commandments and traditions, thinking that God will accept this worship and service (Matt. 15:9; Mark 7:7).
God’s glory was the goal for all these directions, giving for the construction of the tabernacle, and actual construction of it, and now the setting up of the whole. When the people were doing these things under Moses’ direction, they did not know what would happen – that once Moses had obeyed the Lord’s commands, the shekinah cloud of his glory would permanently indwell the tabernacle. But we know what happened, and therefore should take the lesson to heart that God’s glory with us requires proper preparation and obedience. Enjoying God’s presence and blessing and promises is far more than walking into a service, hearing some music, getting that “feeling,” and then walking away claiming to have been in the presence of God. His glory abides with us more now, for we are God’s temple. The tabernacle of his presence has come down out of heaven to dwell with us, our Lord Jesus Christ. And since the Spirit’s indwelling makes us God’s temple and dwelling place (Eph. 2:20-22), we should be careful to prepare for glory – when it comes to worship, repenting of our sins so that we do not offend him with our presumption, and obeying his word from loving hearts that rejoice in his grace.
Tabernacle, Furniture, and Priests
The order of tabernacle set up is from the inside out – from the ark of the testimony, Holy of Holies and its furniture, the Most Holy Place, and finally the courtyard. What is most important and gives vital significance to the rest is God’s presence with his people. This is symbolized by the ark, and we should not forget that within was kept a copy of the covenant, which was God’s pledge of grace, nearness, and love. After the tabernacle curtains were raised, the whole tabernacle was then anointed with oil, symbolizing the graces of the Holy Spirit and that what we offer to God must be cleansed. Then Aaron and his sons were brought before the door to be washed, anointed, and officially clothed. This was all done on the first day of the month, in the second year, about a year after they left Egypt. It remains a testimony to us of the greater glory of the new covenant order of worship and ark of God’s presence, God with us, Jesus Christ our Lord. All that we offer to God must be cleansed by faith in his blood and offered with the unction of the Holy Spirit. For we are not come to an earthly tabernacle or temple, but to the heavenly Zion, heaven itself, where our Savior appears in God’s presence for us – we are invited to go there, to the very throne of grace, with the Spirit’s help and our Savior’s heavenly mediation. We must be more conscious about this when we draw near as God’s temple to worship him.
Moses Obeys God’s Orders (vv. 17-33)
17 And it came to pass in the first month of the second year, on the first day of the month, that the tabernacle was raised up. 18 So Moses raised up the tabernacle, fastened its sockets, set up its boards, put in its bars, and raised up its pillars. 19 And he spread out the tent over the tabernacle and put the covering of the tent on top of it, as the LORD had commanded Moses. 20 He took the Testimony and put it into the ark, inserted the poles through the rings of the ark, and put the mercy seat on top of the ark. 21 And he brought the ark into the tabernacle, hung up the veil of the covering, and partitioned off the ark of the Testimony, as the LORD had commanded Moses. 22 He put the table in the tabernacle of meeting, on the north side of the tabernacle, outside the veil; 23 and he set the bread in order upon it before the LORD, as the LORD had commanded Moses. 24 He put the lampstand in the tabernacle of meeting, across from the table, on the south side of the tabernacle; 25 and he lit the lamps before the LORD, as the LORD had commanded Moses. 26 He put the gold altar in the tabernacle of meeting in front of the veil; 27 and he burned sweet incense on it, as the LORD had commanded Moses. 28 He hung up the screen at the door of the tabernacle. 29 And he put the altar of burnt offering before the door of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting, and offered upon it the burnt offering and the grain offering, as the LORD had commanded Moses. 30 He set the laver between the tabernacle of meeting and the altar, and put water there for washing; 31 and Moses, Aaron, and his sons would wash their hands and their feet with water from it. 32 Whenever they went into the tabernacle of meeting, and when they came near the altar, they washed, as the LORD had commanded Moses. 33 And he raised up the court all around the tabernacle and the altar, and hung up the screen of the court gate. So Moses finished the work.
As the Lord Commanded (vv. 17-32)
Seven times “as the Lord commanded Moses” appears in these verse. His people might be disobedient and stubborn, but Moses their leader was determined to obey God in everything. This is the best commendation for every servant of the Lord – that he does not take liberties with the Lord’s word or in any way trusts his own judgment against what the Lord has commanded or forbidden. We tend to value personal charisma or personal agreement with our preferences as the marks of a good leader, but Moses teaches us otherwise. In serving God, a faithful leader in church, home, and state must be determined to obey God no matter what obstacles he faces – not follow his own heart, obey the demands of others, but do what God has said in his word. And yet, this degree of obedience, which Moses was led by the Spirit of Christ to record, cannot exist unless there is an unshakable conviction that God has spoken and that his word is trustworthy. Whenever we see widespread disobedience to God’s word, we can be sure that men are not struck by the majesty of God speaking in his word and have lost faith that his word is living because he is. Satan stokes the spirit of disobedience by undermining confidence that the Scriptures are the living voice of Jesus Christ. We must plug our ears against his insinuations and study the word which is able to save our souls and bring us to our heavenly inheritance (James 1:21). If we are to be devoted to obeying God, we must live before his face, grow in our estimation of his glory and grace, and pray for his Spirit to fill our otherwise cold hearts with joyful wonder at his great love for us (Rom. 5:5).
So Moses Finished the Work (v. 33)
As we look at Moses setting up the tabernacle, placing all its furniture where the Lord directed, lighting the lampstand for the first time, and placing the washing bowls for the priests between the altar and door, what a strange sight it is! Here was the man who had just spent all that time in God’s presence on the mountain, hearing God’s voice, and enjoying his fellowship, now engaged in following God’s detailed worship instructions. Setting up God’s worship – building Christ’s house (Heb. 3:1-6) – was a crowning act of Moses’ life to this point. He considered it an honor to make sure that God was worshipped according to his will. He would let nothing distract or hinder the work of worship. Should we not, following this eminent servant of God, also consider zeal for his house and worship the fruit of fellowship with him? The height of our calling and redemption from slavery? If we thought of worship more as the goal of our redemption, we would not seek to be entertained or exhilarated by our forms of worship, for this is to turn the attention upon us – to invert worship’s purpose, from God to man. Instead, we should be concerned that our forms and tone of worship be God-centered – to tell him how great he is in a way that he likes to be told, that we hear from him more of the great things he has done for us, so that we might then in turn give him more thankful worship.
And if we remember who he is that has redeemed us, who has now condescended to dwell with us in far more glorious ways than in the tabernacle, we shall consider it our privilege to worship him according to his will and to serve him in whatever place and way he directs. Moses forsook the possibility of being a Pharaoh to set up God’s tabernacle on earth – the world laughs, but Moses rejoiced. Moses forsook riches and pleasure for the wilderness and the tabernacle. The world can never understand these choices, for men are blind until quickened by the Spirit of God. Thus, we should not expect the world to love what we love or to understand our pleasure in God’s truth, service, and worship. Instead, let each of us be diligent in finishing the work to which God calls us, whether loving one another and training our family in his word, doing our work heartily unto him, or speaking his truth with love. Let us not forsake the worship of his church (Heb. 10:25) but attend upon it constantly, for in the assembly of his saints God is known, glorified, and does great works (Ps. 20:2; 77:13; Heb. 2:12). He has saved us to worship; he brought us up out of slavery to worship him.
Glory Fills the Tabernacle (vv. 34-38)
34 Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. 35 And Moses was not able to enter the tabernacle of meeting, because the cloud rested above it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. 36 Whenever the cloud was taken up from above the tabernacle, the children of Israel would go onward in all their journeys. 37 But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not journey till the day that it was taken up. 38 For the cloud of the LORD was above the tabernacle by day, and fire was over it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys.
Indwelling: God Kept His Word (v. 34)
When all was ready, the shekinah glory cloud, some visible representation of God’s glory, likely brilliant, multi-colored fire and light, came down and filled the tabernacle of meeting. Its full name is given here, for at the tabernacle God would meet with his people. In fact, this indwelling glory was God fulfilling his promise to “dwell with them and walk with them, and to take them as his people.” Unlike heathen deities, the Lord God of Hosts, the one and only God, does not look to make men his slaves but his friends. He does not leave them slaves of sin provided they unquestioningly submit to him. He redeems them from sin and slavery so that they are his willing, his voluntary servants (Ps. 110:3) – from love, rejoicing in his grace, and enjoying his fellowship. Men today look to the state to save them, like all the social justice warriors, or to brutal deities like Mohammed’s delusions, they should understand that their gods have but one tendency – to make men slaves to lies and therefore enemies to each other. God showed in his ancient people a different way – that the God and Maker of all, the Redeemer of his people, drew them from idolatry’s blindness and sin’s slavery to live with them, to enjoy them, even as they live to glorify and enjoy him. He loves us. This is unheard of – a God who loves, who fellowships with his people, who delights in the prosperity of his people, who is so generous, kind, and merciful! Let us delight so much more in him since he dwells with us in greater fullness and glory than he did then.
Concealment: Moses Unable to Enter (v. 35)
Indwelling glory fulfilled God’s promise to be with his people; it was the fuller pledge that he had forgiven them and would not destroy them. But the glory also concealed fellowship; even Moses could not enter the tabernacle. This is surprising, for Moses had been with God on Sinai. But there was a difference between God’s grace to Moses as his servant and God’s glory officially in his dwelling place. God might bring Moses up on the mountain into his presence, but even there, he said that Moses could not see his face and live. There was a separation, a concealment, that, as Paul would later write, “the way into the Most Holy Place was not yet made clear while as yet the first tabernacle was standing” (Heb. 9:8). God was near, but he was also unapproachable, except in a very restricted way. He was near, but he was distant. This is one of the ways the older covenant is distinctly inferior to the greater glory and privileges of the new – that we may now approach the consuming fire with confidence through God-with-us, Jesus Christ our Lord. His atoning sacrifice has obtained our redemption and allowed for the casting of our sins into the bottom of the sea of satisfied justice. His blood has washed us clean. We may enter the glory of heaven confidently, even boldly (Heb. 4:16). Jesus Christ is the reason for our boldness. The more we understand and believe this, the greater will be our joy and peace, as well as our love and consecration as his disciples.
Guidance: I Will Never Leave You (vv. 36-37)
They were also taught by the cloud of glory that God would never leave them but always guide them. When the cloud went up from the tabernacle, they knew it was time to break camp and move forward; when the cloud remained; they stayed in the same place. We need not spiritualize this overmuch to learn the important truth that “God will be our guide, even until death.” And his glory is leading us – his glory now manifested in Jesus Christ, so that in a very real sense, our daily “march” is a living for his glory, enjoying and glorifying him in all we do, from eating and drinking to the larger things we think of as more important (1 Cor. 10:31). But we shall never be given the privilege to do the greater or have the strength to do it unless we learn to wait for his glory, to wait upon the Lord, in all things, and to follow him in faith and obedience (Col. 3:17,23). It is true that they had a visible manifestation of God’s glory, but do we not see Jesus (Heb. 12:1)? If we have eyes to see him, the glory is clearer for us than for them, for now there is no veiling, but we see mercy and peace, grace and truth, love and power, all sealed to our hearts by the Holy Spirit. As we rejoice in these things and serve the Lord with loving, trusting hearts, we are following his lead – his glory is leading us. The reason we do not appreciate this as we should, and therefore rob ourselves of great joy, is that we struggle to walk by faith. One reason we struggle is unbelief, for how hard it is to be persuaded and live persuaded that what we see by faith looking at the word is more vivid and lasting than what they saw with their fleshly eyes. Not hearing the word with faith, they could not handle the glory we now have. The word did not profit them as it might have done.
But does it profit us? We should like for there to be a visible cloud leading us, an audible voice saying, “Go here, but do not go there.” But would we follow the light and voice? Israel did not. And do we not have the light and the voice? It does not say, “Avoid that traffic jam,” but it does say to be patient in the traffic, which is a much higher lesson! We have our Savior’s own living voice in his word, the light of his presence to guide us as we yield ourselves to his Spirit, through the Word, submitting to the government and discipline of his church through the pastors, teachers, and elders, and in the fellowship of the saints. We have so many more helps than they did. They needed something “in your face” because they were so stubborn and unbelieving and infantile. Jesus Christ has come. And if you ask any maturing believer, he will tell you that the brilliance and wisdom he finds in the Scripture is itself so blinding and inspiring that he can barely gaze upon it, almost as if he were looking upon the face of God in Christ, which we are, if we look by faith. So I, and I hope you will join me, will not turn the covenants upside down by saying that their fiery cloud was better than our indwelling Savior, who is the light and wisdom and power of God. We do not feel our greater privilege because we do not give ourselves more consistently to the greater grace we have in Christ, do not what our Savior said, “Abide in his word,” and look about for something else to guide us than his Spirit leading us through the Word. And when we do this, he will guide even in the particulars – calling, family and financial decisions, guidance in every form – because we are waiting upon him and looking at his glory in Jesus’ face.
Protection: Until You Enter Rest (v. 38)
Exodus concludes with the great promise that the glory of God will be the protection of his people. God’s enemies cannot triumph over this glory, either the visible glory of the older covenant or the heavenly glory we possess in the new covenant. God was with Israel through all their journeying – a remarkable promise given their rebellion. Sometimes God was with them in chastening and judgment, but he never left them but brought them to their promised rest. Consider what this means for us: that whatever we experience in this life, however hot the fires of trouble and affliction, the Lord will protect us from every enemy: sin, Satan, our careless and worldly hearts, ungodly men and their schemes. He is our shield, our rock, and our fortress. These truths are much more pressing and carry a heavier weight of glory for us. God has shown us the way he protects us, through his mighty armor empowered through constant prayer (Eph. 6:10-18). Do we take him seriously? We hear that he will protect us and be with us, but we must also take seriously that he uses means to do so, not means that are separate or operate independently from his wisdom and power, but means that he has revealed because we are closer to him, enjoy more truth, and are brought into his counsels through Jesus Christ so that we are his active, knowledgeable servants and friends. God will protect us; we must take seriously the ways he protects us, the helps he provides, so that we never trust ourselves or fret that he has left us to our own strength. Never will he leave or forsake us (Heb. 13:5).
Greater Glory: God Indwelling in Jesus Christ
And thus, since Jesus Christ has come, we have the promised glory, for he is the glory of God, the incarnate Son of God. When we look upon him in faith – and we shall one day look upon him with heavenly sight and resurrected eyes – we see the glory of God – blinding but bearable, majestic yet gracious, wonderful beyond words but inviting and comforting and assuring – too much to take in. And the way to enjoy that glory – we must draw near, but how? Leviticus. Moses could not enter, but Leviticus showed the way – through the shed blood of God’s appointed substitute. And here is the wondrous thing, our Exodus was led by Jesus Christ – the glory of God was crucified for us – not ontologically, but covenantally in our mediator. Jesus Christ is our Leviticus, our shed blood, our open door into the heavenly glory. Armed with this, we may count upon him to protect us. Yes, the enemies of God’s church and gospel are many, but our weapons are mighty in Christ through the pulling down of every stronghold and thought that arises in rebellion against Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 10:4-5). We must look more at the glory, less at men’s faces. We must hear our Savior’s voice in his word, trust his promise to guide and protect, and then fearlessly use the weapons he has provided. He has delivered us from slavery and brought us to glory. He will guide us to our final inheritance, where we shall see his glory and be forever changed into his image. Hallelujah!
Profiting from the Word and Searching Our Hearts
1. Why are the tabernacle instructions repeated?
2. What does this teach us about preparing for glory? Carefulness in worship?
3. Why is obedience the defining mark of faithful leadership? How does Moses teach us this truth?
4. What does determination to obey God require?
5. What does it mean to say that God has saved us from slavery to worship him?
6. How did the Lord keep his promise when his glory indwelled the tabernacle?
7. Why was Moses unable to enter?
8. How may we enjoy the clear light of God’s guidance?
9. What is the connection between Exodus and Leviticus?