The Curtains of the Tabernacle

“And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them.  And there I will meet with you.” (Exodus 25:8, 22a)

The question was asked: “What must I do to be saved?”  That ques­tion coming from the jailer in Philippi was not a new one.  From the very beginning it has risen from the hearts of those who are bur­dened by their sins.  Sin separates us from God.  How can this broken fellowship ever be restored?  The cry of the jailer must be the cry of every convicted soul that longs to be restored to his Creator.  The answer is given to us in Acts by Paul.  It is not by doing, but it is by believing. “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”

That was the purpose of the Taber­nacle in the Old Testament.  It was intended to show the Israelites the way to the throne of God and have fellowship with God.  Jesus said in John 14:6 “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no one comes to the Father, but through Me.”  The tab­ernacle, its vessels, its implements and its furniture all speak to us of Jesus.

The View From Sinai

In this issue, we start on a tour of a most amazing place.  We come to Mount Sinai, a prominent mountain standing some 6,700 feet in eleva­tion.  As we come up on the side of the mountain we see something of great interest.  Here on the moun­tain-side we look over a vast en­campment—hundreds upon hun­dreds of tents as far as the eye can see.  These are the twelve tribes of Israel encamped at the foot of Mount Sinai.  In an orderly fashion they are camped tribe by tribe, beautifully arranged around a cen­tral meeting place.

As we look down from the moun­tain slope our attention is focused upon the place of meeting around which each tribe is camped, three tribes on each side.  There we see the Tabernacle.  It is closed in by white linen curtains, right in the middle of all the black-topped tents.

As we look down from the moun­tain slope we can see beyond the linen curtains into the tabernacle. There we see the Brazen Altar upon which the sacrifice is burning continually. Beyond the Brazen Altar there is the Laver at which the priest washes his hands and his feet daily  before going into the Holy Place. In the Holy Place he will partake of the bread upon the Table of Showbread and trim the lamps of the seven-fold Candlestick.

The Table of Showbread and the Golden Candlestick are invisible to us.  Contrasting the white curtains of the courtyard, the Holy place, like the Holy of Holies is covered with beautiful ornate curtains of blue, purple, and scarlet.  Here, we are told, the priest goes to the Altar of Incense for prayer.  Further­more, we are told that one day of the year, the great Day of Atone­ment, Aaron the High Priest goes into the completely covered Holy of Holies into the very presence of God.  There he stands before the mercy seat of God with the over­shadowing cherubim.  On that one day of the year God’s presence is manifested.

A Closer Look at the Temple

As we come down the mountain and approach the Tabernacle we see the outer court is some one hundred seventy-five feet in length and eighty-seven and a half feet in width.  It is of this place that Jeho­vah has said:  “There I will meet with you.”  For four hundred years the Tabernacle set forth the steps laid out by God in which sinful people may approach Him.

We come to meet with God.  We approach the Tabernacle.  We see some sixty pillars made of acacia wood.  Those pillars stand some eight feet nine inches in height. They are connected by bars of sil­ver from which hang the fine­twined linen curtains.  We cannot see over the curtains, nor can we see under the curtains.

Somehow, even though the great Jehovah has said, “There I will meet with you,” yet He seems dis­tant from us.  We cannot meet with Him because there is an eight foot barrier between us  and the inside of the Tabernacle.  As we walk around the south side, the west side, and the north side there is no entrance into the Tabernacle.

We stand before that pure white linen curtain we are immediately reminded of our own filthy, desert sand covered clothes.  We are re­minded of the words of Isaiah 64:6 where we are told that all our deeds—even the best of them—are  as filthy rags before God.  We are immediately face to face with the fact that we are sinners and we cannot enter into God’s presence as we are.  God is holy.  God de­mands holiness of us.  God has a standard of righteousness from which sinful man falls far short.

As we see our burden of sin and the desperate wickedness of our hearts, we fall upon our knees.  Are we to be forever shut out  from communion with the Holy God? Has the heavenly architect barred us from entering into His sanctuary to commune with Him and have fellowship with Him?  Are His words, “There I will meet with you,” not meant for us?

The Way of Approach

Oh, no!  There is a way.  God has provided a way.  On the east side of the Tabernacle there is an entrance. Here at the gate we find a beauti­ful three-colored linen curtain.  God has provided a gate thirty feet in length, seven and a half feet in height.  We have not been shut out; God has provided a way for us to have fellowship with Him.  We may enter in through the one gate and come to the Brazen Altar where the sacrifice is burning continually. There the lamb whose blood was shed points us to the sacrifice of Christ who shed His blood, thereby paying the penalty for our sin.

Man is a sinner.  We are doomed to die for our sins for, indeed, the wages of sin is death.  Yet there is the innocent lamb shedding his blood as a sacrifice.  This is for us an Old Testament type of Christ, the Lamb of God who shed His blood on the cross for our sins.  The person who acknowledges his sin enters in thru the one gate—Jesus Christ.  He will feel the burden of his sin lifted as he comes to the sacrifice of the lamb, also Jesus Christ.  In newness of life, given to him thru Christ’s sacrifice, we may then move on to the Laver for cleansing and on to the mercy seat where God will meet with us in sweet fellowship.  All of these things that we find in the Taber­nacle point us to Christ and the once for all sacrifice that Jesus made for us at Calvary.

The Book of Romans shows us that natural man is without hope, without Christ, and without God in this world.  Paul begins already in the first chapter to point out that the scarlet sinner—the drunkard, the adulterer, the murderer, etc— is lost.  God has given them up to their vile affections.  Anyone reading those verses in Romans would immediately agree that such a person is in need of sal­vation.  Yet, without Christ that is where we are.  We are no better than the drunkard, the adulterer, or the murderer. Standing there before those white, fine-twined linen curtains of the Tabernacle we must say, “How can I, devoid of God’s standard of righteousness, enter into the presence of God and meet Him in the Holy of Holies?”

The answer is you must enter in through the gate where the very first thing that you have before you is the Brazen Altar—the sacrifice of the Lamb.  Just as on Good Fri­day we look back to the sacrifice that the Son of God made upon Calvary’s cross, so the Israelites looked forward to the sacrifice that would remove their sin from them. God has so loved His chosen people that He has provided the way for them to approach Him.  It was by going through the only gate and coming to the Altar, both of which pointed to the Christ and His work accomplished at Calvary.  When we come by faith through the gate, we find that God has prepared the way for us to be able to approach Him.  The sin question has been settled.  God has provided an inno­cent substitute for you in His Son, Jesus Christ.

The New Tabernacle

God is not out there somewhere looking down upon us on occasion to make sure that we are good and that we are behaving our­selves.  As we see with the taber­nacle in the midst of Israel’s en­campment, God has chosen to take up residency with us.  In fact, not only does God take up residency with us, but in us.  Paul writes, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God?”

Consider again the white linen.  It puts sinning in a totally different perspective.  There are some things, I am sure you would agree, that are unthinkable in the house of God.  For example, no one would think of setting up a magazine rack that sells pornog­raphy in the narthex of a church. We would not think of opening up a bar in the church’s kitchen so that people could have a drink before they head home after the service.

Now remember this—we are God’s house and those very same things ought to be unthinkable for us.  Thirteen chapters in Exodus describe the details of the Taber­nacle.  Throughout those thirteen chapters Moses was reminded that the pattern was to be followed exactly without the slightest de­viation.  Any deviation from the directions given by God was un­thinkable.

How much of the Bible isn’t dedi­cated to how we as Christians should live?  Those instructions, too, must be followed even to the smallest detail.  James writes, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all” (James 2:10).  Any deviation from the directions given to us by God should be unthinkable.  They are sin.

How necessary for each one of us to remove the sand ridded, sin­stained garments that we wear and cloth ourselves with the righteousness of Jesus Christ.  We have been cleansed by His blood. The joy of the Old Testament Tab­ernacle is that it reminds in every detail that the way to true fellow­ship with God is through His Son, Jesus Christ.

Upon seeing the Tabernacle, be­fore ever even entering in, we are reminded of our sin; and upon en­tering, we are told that our sins are atoned for through the pre­cious blood of Christ.  What must I do to be saved?   Make your temple pure through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  Keep your temple pure by clothing yourself in His righteousness.

Rev. Wybren H. Oord is the pastor of the Covenant United Reformed Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  He is also the editor of The Outlook.

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