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Christian Biblical Studies
SHADOW AND SUBSTANCE
The Tabernacle in the Wilderness
First in an occasional series
OF ALL the allegories and word-pictures in the Bible, few are more interesting or more relevant to the Christian than the Tabernacle. It is a goldmine of types, of which the fulfilment, or antitypes, illuminate the salvific teachings of the New Testament, and help to fix in the mind the details of the Gospel message. Seen in this light, the Tabernacle is quite unlike the wilderness environment in which the literal Tabernacle was often situated – it need not be a dry and dusty study, but one alive with meaning for the present and the future of the Christian and will reward attention. We will start off with a quick overview of the structure and elaborate on related aspects in subsequent articles.
Many Christians are inclined to gloss over the Old Testament in favour of the New, sometimes forgetting that the latter does not render irrelevant the ancient records of the patriarchs, prophets, and the exploits of Israel in general. It might be that to modern, Western sensibilities, the Hebrew Testament is ‘unpleasant’ in a number of respects and can raise awkward theological problems. But there is no ‘Old’ God versus a ‘New’ one. The two Testaments are not discontinuous, but inseparably linked by a strong chain of purpose and prophecy, each link of evidence strengthening the assurance of God’s unified plan of salvation. The Old Testament is centred around Christ, not just in its prophecies, but in its types, in which the Tabernacle and its related services play an important role. The writer of the book of Hebrews affirms this in Chapters 8 to 10, drawing clear parallels between the services conducted in the Tabernacle and the present and future ministry of Christ and His Church.[fn1]
Nuts and Bolts
The architecture of the Tabernacle was stipulated in detail by Jehovah in the instructions He gave to Moses in Mount Sinai, at the (second) giving of the Tables of the Law. The complicated account runs from Exodus 35: 4 to Exodus 40: 33. In this article we are using the New International Version (UK edition). Though large, the Tabernacle was constructed in modular fashion, and could be dismantled and packed up when it was time to move on (Exodus 40: 36-38).[fn2]
Illustration of Tabernacle. Dotted lines represent surrounding curtain. Entrance was located on right-hand side.
A Simplified Description of the Tabernacle
As shown in the
illustration, the Tabernacle was made up of several areas. The Courtyard
– the large space inside the curtained area (A). Here was situated the
large main altar and an oversized washbasin on a pedestal. In the approximate
middle of the Court was the Tabernacle proper (B). This rectangular
building was split into two compartments, which for clarity’s sake we will
style as follows: the first, The Holy, and the second, The Most
Holy. These two were separated by a ceiling-to-floor curtain. In The Holy
were several items of furniture: a table containing unleavened bread
(top); an oil-burning lampstand (bottom right); and a small altar
on which incense was burned (bottom left). In The Most Holy there was
just one item of furniture, The Ark. the lid of which
was surmounted by two sculpted figures of angels (cherubim). Inside this
large chest were several items: the two stone slabs of the Mosaic Law, a pot of
manna, and the staff formerly owned by Aaron
(Hebrews 9: 1-5
To Be Continued
Many writers have covered the subject of the Tabernacle, but perhaps one of the most intimate and comprehensive treatments of the subject is Tabernacle Shadows of the Better Sacrifices (IBSA, orig. edition, 1881; revised, 1936, Paul S. L. Johnson, editor). The elements of this article have been drawn from this book.
[fn1] This phrase, ‘the writer of the book of Hebrews’, is a tentative concession to the prevailing opinion among Biblical scholars that the author of this epistle is, firstly, unknown and, secondly, that it was not Paul. However, it is likely that only Paul could have written this remarkable book, having been favoured, above the other Apostles, with visions and profound insights into doctrines essential to the development of the Church during the Gospel Age.
[fn2] The original ‘tent of meeting’ (tabernacle) in Israel was that established by Moses after the Israelites had left Egypt. We are informed of this in the brief account of Exodus 33: 7-10. However, it is the large-scale Tabernacle, precursor to the Temple, which is the subject of this article.
[fn3] A description of the main sections of the Tabernacle is at Exodus 40: 17-33; note that the progression there runs C, B, A. For the purposes of subsequent explanations this article assumes the structure as one would encounter it coming in through the curtain at the far right, through the gate (not shown).
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