On one side of Sinai stands Egypt, on the other, the tabernacle. Sinai itself is volcanically exciting, but we’re prone to think less exciting what awaits us east of Sinai than what was west. We’ll read the ten plagues twice before we make it through the instructions for the tabernacle once. The sunrise of the new day is more glorious than the sunset of days past. Sinai is the fullest revelation God has given His people of His glory up to this point, and the aim of the tabernacle is to make Sinai portable. The tabernacle was patterned after heavenly things (Hebrews 9:23–24) and I want to show you that Sinai was a revelation of those heavenly things.
First, Moses receives instructions to go partway up the mountain with some select men, and then to proceed further up alone. This results in a thrice-partitioned mountain corresponding to the thrice-partitioned encampment of Israel around the tabernacle. Around the foot of the mountain are the people, further up are the elders, Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and then at the top, Moses. Israel will camp around the tabernacle, the Levites and priest will be immediately around and in the tabernacle, and then only the high priest may enter the most holy place.
Second, Moses is ascending this mountain to receive the tablets, containing the ten commandments; which are representative of the covenant (Deuteronomy 4:12–13). He is up on the mountain forty days and nights. Even if Moses is chiseling and engraving the tablets himself, which he is not, this seems like a long time. What’s the holdup? While Moses is up there, he also receives the pattern for the tabernacle. After naturally receiving instructions concerning building materials, what is the first thing Moses is instructed about? The ark of the covenant, which is to house the tablets of the testimony (Exodus 25:16, 21). Moses receives not only the tablets, but first, he is given the pattern for where they are to be housed. These tablets that come from the mountain heights are to go to the camp core. The Tablets are to go as far in as they were high up.
When Moses ascends with the elders they see God. It seems they look up, and the sky becomes a kind of translucent sapphire pavement, and they see, as it were, God’s feet resting on his footstool (Exodus 24:10; cf. Isaiah 66:1). Soon thereafter a cloud descends on Sinai and Moses, as it were, ascends up closer to God’s throne to receive the pattern of that which is patterned after heavenly things.
SPOILER ALERT: Here is how Exodus closes:
Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out. But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys.
As God dwelt on Sinai (Exodus 24:15–16), so he dwells in the midst of His people in this tent over the ark containing the tablets of the covenant (Exodus 25:8). This is a picture of heavenly things—things that you see and enjoy more clearly in Christ. Do not envy them. The more glorious manifestation of God dwelling with His people in covenant love came not in cloud, but in flesh. God the Son has tabernacled among us in the flesh (John 1:14). If we have seen Jesus we have seen the Father (John 14:8–9). Jesus came down to bring us up to the heights. Jesus went outside the camp to bring us to the most holy place. In Jesus, we are brought further up and further in.
This is the pinnacle of God’s salvation; not what we were saved from, but Who we are saved to. The greatest thrill of God’s redemption isn’t Exodus, but the tabernacle.