Making The Tabernacle
1. Today we read from the beginning of Exodus chapter twenty-five. From this chapter on down, directions for the making of the tabernacle, the ark of the covenant, and the fabrication of the ceremonial tools and equipment are given. Then from chapter thirty-five on down, the circumstances in which the Israelites actually made the tabernacle and prepared the ceremonial tools in accordance with the directions given are found in the text. As the details are given at such length, some may think it a bit dry; [especially in] contrast to the dramatic account of the escape from Egypt that we've had so far. When a person tries to read all the way through the Bible, this is the first place he or she will trip over. But, even the passages like this one are a part of the Bible. We shouldn't discount them off. I would like for us today to keep in mind three things in particular about the descriptions given here.
According To The Way That I Show You How To Build It
2. First, we must keep in mind that it says that the making of the tabernacle and the construction of the temple tools were "done in accordance with the command of God." The scriptures put it like this, "Exaclty according to the way that I show you how to build it, build the tabernacle and all of the temple tools that go with it," (verse nine). A tabernacle is a place of worship, a tent. The temple tools are the things used in the [tabernacle] services. The services are God's business. God is most deeply interested in the way that he is worshipped and served. To the point that he gave them detailed instructions through Moses!
3. It is worth paying attention to the descriptions related to the service taking up the last big section of Exodus. When we say Exodus, we are reminded of the plagues that God let fall on Egypt and the miracle of the Sea of Reeds, but a section even bigger than that is set apart for the detailed descriptions for the service of worship. It is obvious that this part is where the main points of Exodus are. The Israelites had certainly been set free from their slave labor. However, the reason God lead the Israelites out of Egypt was not just to set them free from hard labor. God gave the Israelites the ten commandments. However, the purpose of the exodus was not just to produce a people obedient to the law. The reason God set the Israelites free from a godless pharaoh's control was to give them the commands found from chapter twenty-five on. That is, it was to make them a people who would worship the Lord as the true king that he is. He saved them to make them a people who worshipped the Lord.
4. To those made to be a worshipping people of the Lord, the Lord instructed them on how to build the tabernacle and temple vessels. They were not allowed to build them according to their fancy to satisfy their own religious wishes. They were stringently required to build it according to God's orders. It is because, as I already brought up before, when it comes to worship God's requirements come first. Therefore, what God requires must come to pass. In other words, it means that in the service of worship the fulfillment of humankind's wishes and needs or even hopes and aspirations is not the first thing.
5. Yet, it is so true that this priority of worship is often forgotten. We think that whether or not our wishes and wants are met in worship is the most important thing. [This] leads to thinking only about "what 'I' hope to get out of worship."
6. The Israelites were the same way. It is a typical pattern of failure, and it can be found in another passage soon after this one. The Israelites built the cast of a bull and adored it in worship, (Exodus chapter thirty-two). It was not because God commanded them that they built the bull. This idol was something they built for themselves. They set up an altar before the bull and went into a frenzy. They called this, "a festival to the Lord," (32:5). But, that was nothing but a pagan festival no matter how passionately it was carried out as a festival to the Lord. Moreover, this same error was repeated over and over in the history of Israel.
7. There are instructions in regard to worship and there are reasons for them written at length through out the Bible. Of course, what is written down in this passage is not carried out today exactly as written as we all know. But, we need to closely read passages like this one in order for us to recall that there are certain things that God requires when it comes to worship.
I Will Dwell Among Them
8. Next then, I would like for us to keep in mind that the place of worship, "the holy place," was in particular called "a tabernacle, a tent." The word translated as "tabernacle" comes from the word for "dwell." The Japanese word, "a dwelling," may be the most precise in our language.
9. God was looking for "a dwelling." What's more, he was looking for a dwelling to be built by the hands of the Israelites. The Lord even gave them instructions on how to build it. However, the building going up in accordance with the construction plans was not a huge kind of temple at all. As the translation "tabernacle" truly reveals, it was like a tent with a portable style of assembly. Of all the [temples] possible, why did the Lord require that kind of dwelling place?
10. To begin with, it is odd enough itself that God would find need for a dwelling. In the prophet Isaiah's book, the following words are recorded: "Thus, says the Lord. Heaven is my throne, the earth is my foot stool. Where will you build for me a temple (literal translation is 'house')?," (Isaiah 66:1). Isn't this true? Humanity by its own nature is not expected to be able to build a house for God to dwell in. In spite of that though, [God] was looking for the Israelites to construct a portable dwelling place as the Lord so said. And then he said, "I will dwell among them."
11. The reason the Lord was looking for a dwelling was obviously not for himself. God didn't need some kind of living quarters built by human hands. It was not God who had need of the dwelling place, but humans instead. The Israelites would soon set out from Sinai and head for the promised land. They would continue on traveling in the wilderness. They would have to make a living out of the great wilderness expanse. There would be hunger. There would be thirst. There would be battles. They would suffer because of someone else's sin or their own. Making a living camped out on a great expanse would be filled with hardships. But, the Lord said that he would live in the tent constructed in that same great expanse of land. You might say the Lord would keep company with them in day to day tent dwelling. By having them build an earthly tabernacle the Lord showed Israel that he completely and one hundred per cent cares about day to day life on earth.
12. This is the picture of the Lord God that the Israelites have been telling us about. And furthermore, we find the same picture of the Lord God in Jesus Christ. In Christ we encounter the God who walks this earth. In Christ we find the God who shares an earthly life filled with hardships and pain. Oh and more, we encounter a God who even shares in death as a punishment for sin. The Lord cares totally and completely for us as we live in this great spread of earth.
13. Furthermore, we find the same picture of the Lord God in the church. The fellowships of believers while on earth are truly tents with many tears in them. There is no doubt many an eyesore in the church more so than any wilderness tent. Yet still the Lord says that he will dwell in the church that exists on this earth and in the fellowship of the believers. "Don't you know that you are the Lord's temple and that the spirit of the Lord dwells in you?," (First Corinthians 3:16). The Lord, who traveled the wilderness with Israel, also makes his dwelling within us. There is an unbounded humility from the Lord in this. And there is an unlimited mercifulness in this. Because of that, this tent becomes "a holy place" and it is also possible for it to become our place of worship and service as we live in this earth.
Let Them Bring Their Donations
14. Finally, I would like for us to keep in mind that the Lord commands, "Let them bring their donations to me." They are for the making of the tabernacle and the holy equipment. The tabernacle and the equipment for it are to be built from the donations that the people come up with out of their heart.
15. As would be expected, the act of "stepping forward and giving from the heart" is one that emerges from a heart thankful to God. Thankfulness to God is a response to God's gift of salvation. As we've already seen, God's dwelling will be built according to God's orders. But, the materials for it will have to be arranged through their thankfulness. The house of God will be built where thankfulness and obedience are one.
16. In verse three and so it says that "Gold, silver, bronze, and so forth" ought to be donated voluntarily as a response to salvation. Each of the various materials are precious ones. When we read the passage that gives the account of the state in which the people give their offerings, one example of it goes like this: "Everyone whose heart stirred within came with their donations for the Lord to use for the work of the tent of the presence and for all the production and for the temple garments. Everyone who gave from the heart, both men and women, came one after the other with donations of brooches, ear rings, rings, necklaces, all decorated with gold, and they presented them to the Lord all as golden offerings," (35:21-22). They didn't bring things they didn't need or just extra leftovers. In giving offerings voluntarily it meant to offer up their very best possible.
17. But, when you think about it, what may be the best possible to a person, no matter how precious it may be in this world, cannot be good enough for God's glory. In the first place, why must materials from humans be supplied for a dwelling for God who is the maker of heaven and earth and the true owner of it all? Even more so than their being able to supply them, that the Israelites would prepare good quality materials! But still, the Lord made use of the donations that the people gave up from their hearts. When the Lord receives an offering, this act itself is God's grace. When God uses [something] for the building of his dwelling, this itself is the abundant grace of the Lord.
18. "[That] you yourselves, be used as lively stones and be built up into a spiritual house. And as holy priests offer up spiritual sacrifices joyously in God through Jesus Christ," (First Peter 2:5). Peter would later write that. If we go by these words from Peter, it is we who are the materials for the building of the house of God. In thanks for the grace of God's salvation, it is we who [are the materials] that we offer up to God from the heart. Of course, since God is building the house of God in the first place, he himself will prepare the best of materials. Still and all, the Lord will use us as the stones to construct the house of the God. Oh, how our being made a part of God's dwelling on this earth is so filled with such honor and privilege!