We cannot think of Christ properly apart from the church. All the offices he exercises as head over all things, he exercises on behalf of the church. If we think of the church apart from Christ, or transfer to the church prerogatives that belong only to Christ, then we are guilty of idolatry. But if we think of Christ apart from the church, then we are guilty of a dismemberment that severs what God has joined together. We are divorcing Christ from his only bride. The central doctrine of the Christian faith should remind us of the evil of such divorce, for this doctrine is that ‘Christ loved the church and gave himself up for it’ (Eph. 5:25). —John Murray, The Church—It’s Identity, Functions, and Resources
The symphony of Exodus has four movements: Egypt, Exodus, Sinai, and Tabernacle. Of the last sixteen chapters of this book thirteen deal with the tabernacle. The remaining three are are so intertwined with the tent that they cannot be understood apart from it. The tabernacle is the climactic focus and conclusion to this epic book.
The major theme of the tabernacle is God dwelling with His people in covenant love by mediation and sacrifice. This theme is carried over from chapters 25–34 into chapters 35–40, but in chapters 35–40, an additional minor motif is added, that of the Spirit-wrought and Spirit-gifted obedience of Israel.
Some homiletics professors (homiletics is the study of the art of preaching) will tell you that your sermon must have only one laser-focused point. Good homiletics instructors will tell you that the point of your sermon must be the point of the text. Indeed, this is excellent advice for clear and effective communication, but I have a fear in this. What if God intended a text to have multiple points? Or a main point with various side points. In other words, I fear trying to wrap up God’s words in too pretty of a bow with our little words. Let the text be lord, for the Lord is Lord of the text, not us. If a text appears to have multiple points, declare them. Certainly, the minister should be able to state these clearly and succinctly, and show how they relate. No doubt there will be unifying factors, but again, these unifying factors may be multiple and varied.
And so here, in Exodus 37 one could pick up on either the major or the minor themes and faithfully preach the text. Or, they could preach them both and show the harmony between them. It is such preaching, preaching “in harmony” rather than “in unison,” that I believe is most glorious.
So how do these two themes harmonize? Here are just two thoughts. First, by emphasizing that this tabernacle was built according to God’s commands by the power of the Spirit it reminds us that the tabernacle isn’t something man is doing for God, rather, it is something God is doing for man. All of this—the plan, the materials, the construction, the function, the sacrifices, the feasts, the priesthood, the ceremonies—all of this is a gift from God. The second thing is that none of this was sufficient. The tabernacle wasn’t enough. The Spirit-wrought and Spirit-gifted obedience of Israel wasn’t enough. All of this is a shadow of the One, who by His perfect Spirit-powered ministry and obedience would make all things new in the ultimate hope of a new creation where all is temple. How do these two motifs harmonize? In the single symphony of the Scriptures titled Jesus Christ. So perhaps the professors were right, every sermon should have a single point. Not only so, but every sermon should have the same ultimate point—Jesus Christ.
When you’re going on vacation the final bits of packing might seem haphazard and chaotic, but two things could be happening.
1. Things really are a mess. You’ve run through the house last minute gathering up tidbits you either forgot to pack or now think you might need and just throw them in.
2. There has been a strategic ordering and packing up of things and you’ve simply come to remaining smaller items that could only be packed last and for which there was no room in any other bag.
God didn’t pack the tabernacle instructions like you might pack for vacation. Everything has been highly organized. Chapter 25 concerned the furniture of the tabernacle, chapter 26 the tent itself, chapter 27 the courtyard, chapter 28 the priest’s garments, and chapter 29 the priest’s consecration. Now it’s time to pack some remaining items. Remember that the chapter divisions are inserted by man. These chapter divisions have been very good in seeing some natural divisions, but we must remember that they’re divisions within a section all concerning the tabernacle. The smaller items that make up chapter 30 don’t cohere together the way the items in chapter 28 do, but they do cohere with chapter 29 the way that chapter 25 does.
How do these all things go together? The way everything in chapters 25–31 go together. All these chapters are about the tabernacle. All these chapters are packed into the same place, or rather, are about the same place.
Even if a neighbor looked in on a crazily packed family car and asked what all that randomness was about, they could reply, “Vacation.” It’s not unrelated randomness. It is all about vacation.
This chapter is neither unrelated or random. All concerns the tabernacle.
When Israel would sojourn through the wilderness, all of these things wold be packed together and carried by the Levites. All of these things relate to the tent. The tabernacle is diverse, but not because it speaks of a great many different things, but of the great depth and diversity of a single thing, Christ and His redemption—that thing which binds not only the tabernacle together, but everything together. All concerns the tabernacle, and the tabernacle concerns all. Jesus’ redemption is so big that it not only unites all the tabernacle, it also is uniting all creation as a tabernacle.
God doesn’t give busy work. The consecration of the priests was a big to do, but what was all the doing for? Why were the priests and the altars consecrated so? Two answers are given, and the first one flows and swells into the second like a river bursting forth into a grand delta.
The priests and the altar are consecrated for the daily offerings (Exodus 29:38–42). In the morning, a lambs offered with wine and flour; in the evening, the same. A full meal is to be cooked up to Yahweh on the altar twice daily.
But why all of this? Why the priests, the altar, the tabernacle, the daily offerings? The answer God gives is Himself. These daily offerings are to be made at the tent of meeting where Yahweh meets with Israel (Exodus 29:42–43). How does the Holy God meet in covenant love with a sinful people? By the priest, the altar, and the tabernacle.
None of this smacks of man trying to pull himself up to heaven. Nor is this God giving man secret carful instructions to climbing a heavenly stairway. All this action is a display of God’s action. The tabernacle and all the priest’s action is a reflection of heavenly realities. Ultimately it is God who consecrates the tent and the priests (Exodus 29:43). The tabernacle is no display of man’s wisdom, but God’s. It speaks nothing of man’s work, but God’s redemption. The tabernacle is not about man ascending, but God descending.
God’s meeting His people here is not to be thought of as the event of a lifetime, but a lifetime event. God meets with His people here because He dwells here (Exodus 29:45). He dwells in their midst as their God for they are His people. He dwells with them in covenant love.
Still this isn’t the end of the blessedness that the tent testifies to. God is not content just to be their God; He wants them to know that He is their God (Exodus 29:46). Specifically, He wants them to know that Yahweh (all caps LORD), the one who has revealed Himself as sovereign, self-existent, eternal, infinite, immutable and incomprehensible, is their redeemer, the one who has delivered them.
The way that God wants Israel to know all of this is by a tent and priesthood that testify of Christ. Don’t shun knowledge of the tabernacle. Don’t think a study of the priest’s consecration moot. All of this is so that you might know Jesus, whose name means “Yahweh Saves.”
“The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. For modern man the roles are reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock. He is quiet a kindly judge: if God should have a reasonable defense for being the God who permits war, poverty, and disease, he is ready to listen to it. The trial may even end in God’s acquittal. But the important thing is that Man is on the Bench and God is in the Dock.” —C.S. Lewis
Three times Yahweh has tested Israel in the wilderness (Exodus 15:25–26; 16:4; Psalm 81:7). When you take a test three times, you hope to see some progress. Israel scores worse. Discontent to merely grumble, she quarrels and tests. God is testing her, and she tries to flip the tables. She tries to put God in the dock.
The word “test” has a legal flavor to it, a flavor that grows more pronounced as one advances through the text. God tells Moses to go ahead of the people with the elders. Why the elders?
“If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they discipline him, will not listen to them, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, and they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear (Deuteronomy 21:18–21 ESV).”
The elders function as judges and witnesses. A rebellious son is brought before the elders, seen guilty, and then judged. Israel tried to judge God and was on the cusp of sentencing. Of course she couldn’t kill God, so the mediator would have to do (Exodus 17:4). God takes His rebellious son out before the elders. He instructs Moses to bring the staff with which he struck the Nile. Every time this staff falls, it falls with salvation and judgment. Previously, Egypt was judged; Israel was saved. Here Israel is the guilty one. Israel is guilty, but she isn’t struck. The rock is struck so that she might drink. Paul tells us that this rock was Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4).
God is indeed in the dock, but He remains on the Judge’s bench as well. The Father still sat over the court judging our sins, but the Son willingly takes our place so that water might flow.
Think of all that God gives you when you put a piece of bread in your mouth. He’s given you wheat. He’s given you a farmer, his health, and hours and hours of a season of sowing, growing, and harvest. He’s given you rain and sun. He’s given you a tractor with a plow and seed drill. He’s given you a combine to harvest it and trailers to transport it. He’s given you diesel, oil, grease and the refineries that produce them. He’s given you rubber, tires, and sleepy truck drivers. He’s given you factories with hundreds of laborers: factories to produce the farm equipment, factories to make the bread. He’s given you thousands of years of history, for, behind all of this are centuries of sweat and labor to invent, innovate, and refine. He’s given you a grocery store and stockers. He’s given you a job, life, and health to purchase and eat the bread. And we’ve only dealt with the wheat. We haven’t considered the salt, the water, the butter, the sugar, or the yeast. When you eat one bite, just one bite of bread, you are immeasurably wealthy and incomprehensibly blessed. There are tons of grace in ounces of bread. The only proper response to such lavish generosity is gratitude. Even when we are grateful, our gratitude never matches up to His generosity. Sadly, were often presumptuous. Worse yet, we grumble. And yet, the bread is still there.
God saves. Then, Israel grumbles. Yet, God is gracious. Still, Israel grumbles. Still, God is gracious.
When Israel eats this manna, think of all that God is giving them. This manna is epic. This lengthy account doesn’t begin to match their lengthy experience. “The people of Israel ate the manna forty years, till they came to a habitable land. They ate the manna till they came to the border of the land of Canaan (Exodus 16:35 ESV).”
Yet, the true magnitude of the mann isn’t found in it’s duration, nor it’s delicacy, but it’s meaning. Like the Supper, the true feast can only be had by faith. Manna was spiritually enriched and nutrient loaded.
Jesus feeds the five thousand in the wilderness. Later he tells the crowds that the bread and the manna both testify of Him, the true bread from heaven (John 6). How do they respond? With grumbling. The crowds leave. Many of His disciples leave. Jesus turns to the twelve and asks if they will leave also. Peter responds, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God (John 6:68–69 ESV).”
This was the test of the manna.
“And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” —Deuteronomy 8:2–3 (ESV)
Jesus is the Word of God. Jesus is the Bread of Life. The manna was epic. There were tons of grace in every ounce.
The Lord Jesus Christ, sent from God on a merciful errand to a lost world, did not come empty; no, he is fraught with all blessings suitable to all persons, extending to all times, enduring to all eternity. —John Newton, Works