The Generations Leading to the Tabernacle - Part 2
Read the previous article in the series:
The tabernacle is not (at least in my church experience) a much discussed topic in Sunday services. This is unfortunate as it is vital in revealing parts of God’s character and aspects of how mankind is to connect with Him. In order to fully appreciate the construction of the tabernacle we must first know the answer to the following questions. Who built the tabernacle? What was its purpose? I will expound upon the answers to these questions throughout the series, but will provide a foundation in this article. Also (as a matter of house-keeping) I will be referring to God by the name He gives to Moses from the burning bush, Yahweh. I have chosen to do this since we are discussing a specific God. The God of the Torah. The God of the Bible. The God who led the Hebrews out of Egypt. As we will be looking at His tabernacle, it is crucial that His space is not associated with other gods. For more information on Yahweh, watch the video below.
The Road Out of Eden
The necessity for the tabernacle arose from Man’s exile from the Garden of Eden. Eden served as a convergence of Heaven and Earth. It was a place where man walked with Yahweh (Genesis 3:8). A place where man was able to see Yahweh face-to-face. When Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the-tree-of-the-knowledge-of-good-and-evil they broke their relationship with Yahweh. They chose something inside of themselves. They put their trust in their own knowledge. Where Yahweh is life (Genesis 2:7), Adam and Eve chose death (Genesis 2:16-18). Yahweh sacrificed animals for the sake of Adam and Eve to cover their shame and then exiled them from Eden. While man is still able to pray and make offering to Yahweh, they could not enter a space with Him. This is the relationship most people had with Yahweh for the majority of Genesis.
A Summation of the Generations Leading to the Tabernacle
After Eden, Genesis has a list of genealogies. There are a few reasons for the genealogies to be listed, but (as far as the tabernacle is concerned) I will only mention three of the generations; the times of Jacob, Joseph, and Moses.
Jacob was a follower of Yahweh, the God of his father, Isaac. He was one of the few in the Old Testament to experience a theophany, wherein he came into contact with God in a physical form. He so pursued Yahweh that he actually wrestled with Him for a blessing. He was persistent in pursuing Him. He would not let go until Yahweh blessed him. While being blessed, Yahweh changed Jacob’s name to Israel (Genesis 32:22-32).
Israel had twelve sons, one of whom was Joseph (Genesis 35:23-26). Joseph was enslaved in Egypt and was raised to the rank of second in command. Only Pharaoh could question his authority. Due to a famine, all of the people in the surrounding lands amassed in Egypt to receive food, including Joseph’s father, brothers, and their families (Genesis 37-50). After Joseph’s passing, a succeeding Pharaoh grew scared of the non-Egyptians in his land. The Israelites were enslaved in Egypt.
Many generations pass. Then, the Torah introduces Moses. Yahweh uses Moses to free the Israelites from Egypt. Since Pharaoh refuses to free the Israelites, Yahweh brings the ten plagues on Egypt. On the tenth plague, He prepares the Israelites for Passover, led them in the exodus from Egypt, and parted the Red Sea (Exodus 1-15).
Who built the tabernacle?
After the Red Sea, Moses and the Israelites met with Yahweh at Mount Sinai. A census was taken. Jacob’s sons served as the namesake for the twelve tribes of Israel: Reuben, Simeon, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Benjamin, Dan, Asher, Gad, Naphtali, and (Joseph’s sons) Ephraim & Manasseh (Numbers 1).
The Israelites were scared of Yahweh’s presence and so they nominated Moses to speak to Him. Moses spent forty days and forty nights on Mount Sinai, in Yahweh’s presence, where he received very detailed instructions on how to build the tabernacle (Exodus 24-31). Yahweh also helped by sending His Spirit to Bezalel and Oholiab. These men from the tribes of Judah and Dan, respectively, received divine wisdom on how to craft the fixtures and furnishings which would fill the tabernacle (Exodus 31).
What is the tabernacle?
The Hebrew (and later, Greek) words for tabernacle are used for nomadic tents, like the tents used by the Israelites in the wilderness years. Yahweh tells Moses to, “…have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.” (Exodus 25:8-9) The word dwell in verse 8 is the Hebrew shakan. In verse 9, the Hebrew word for tabernacle is mishkan. These share a root in the Hebrew language. The use of these words show that Yahweh does not plan to stay a night or two. Yahweh plans to be in the center of his people. He plans on dwelling in a portable sanctuary. This is a temporary sanctuary made out of a tent and other furnishings which the Israelites would take down and set up at the direction of Yahweh as they traveled across the wilderness on the way to the promised land. The tabernacle would eventually be replaced by a temple.
Why was the tabernacle built?
The tabernacle served as a physical meeting place between Yahweh and his people. In essence, it served as another Garden of Eden. A place where Yahweh and Man could meet face-to-face. Of course, as much as sin is not a part of the Garden, sin cannot enter Yahweh’s tabernacle either. Yahweh wanted to provide a way to form a relationship with man, and so put rules in place so man does not die in His presence. By having a dwelling among His people, Yahweh is taking His holy presence into an unholy space.
Holy. Such a small word with such a big meaning. Words like holy, atonement, and love have something in common. They come with baggage. When you hear mention of “God” you have preconceived notions of whom the speaker is talking about. This is part of the reason why I am using Yahweh in this series. You are more likely unfamiliar with the name and therefore have less baggage to overcome to understand certain aspects. For holy, an interesting translation I came across is “set apart”. If something is holy to Yahweh, it is set apart for His purposes only. In the story of Moses and the burning bush (Exodus 3), Yahweh warns Moses to remove his sandals because he was sanding on holy ground. The ground was made holy due to Yahweh’s presence. This is why the tabernacle has so many rules and specifications. Yahweh instructed Moses on how to create a space on earth which would be kept holy in order for Him to meet with them. While the space of the tabernacle was to be holy, the priests whom entered needed to be holy as well.
Some of the Levitical laws revolve around being clean vs unclean. Dennis Prager highlights some contexts on the term “unclean” in The Rational Bible: Exodus.
As discussed in detail in Leviticus, the Torah regards that which represents death as tameh, a word usually translated (imprecisely) as ‘unclean’ or ‘impure’. Perhaps it should be translated as ‘death-related.’ The Torah and later Judaism, therefore, enacted numerous ritual laws to separate that which represents death from that which represents life.
Because of these laws, the priests strove to stay full of life (in a pure state) as they acted as a representation of the people to Yahweh while also representing Yahweh to the people. In the first scenario, the priest would need to be pure in order to be in Yahweh’s presence in the tabernacle. In the second, the priests were fulfilling Yahweh’s covenant as an example to the people. The covenant being the one Yahweh mentions in Exodus 19:5, “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possessions…” Prager also notes the Egyptian gods, and therefore the Egyptian people, were preoccupied with death. Death was revered in Egypt, from the great tombs known as the pyramids to the roles of certain gods (Osiris and Anubis to name two). “Much Torah law and teaching is a rejection of the values of Egypt, most particularly the emphasis on death and the worship of nature.” (Prager) This is why, after the exodus, laws were broken down into clean/unclean…of life/of death terms. In order to enter Yahweh’s presence, priests must keep his covenants which are life giving…as it was in the Garden of Eden.
Watch this video on Leviticus for more information on holiness.