The Tabernacle


1. The Ten Commandments and the tabernacle

When Moses received the tablets of stone inscribed with the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, God showed him the tabernacle in heaven. As Moses came down from the mountain, he delivered the words of God to the people of Israel. There was a need to build a tabernacle where the tablets of the Ten Commandments would be kept. So Moses called on the people to gather materials to make the tabernacle, such as gold, silver, linen and cotton. The people brought freewill offerings every day, and the materials gathered to build the tabernacle were more than enough for all the work which had to be done, so Moses told them not to bring any more (Ex 35:4-36:7).

Bezalel and Oholiab and the other craftsmen, whom God had gifted with wisdom, skill and intelligence, began to build the tabernacle; and on the first day of the first month of the second year, the tabernacle was set up. Then they placed the ark of the covenant, which contained the stone tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments, in the Most Holy Place (Ex 40:1-38). Since the tabernacle was made with curtains of finely twisted linen and yarn, it was also called a “tent.” The tabernacle was not stationary, but it was a kind of moveable temple; for the Israelites wandered and traveled around the desert.

After David’s death, Solomon became king of Israel and began to build the temple of God in the fourth year of his reign, following the last will of his father David. After seven years and six months, the temple was completed and the ark of the covenant was placed in the stationary temple (1 Ki 6:1-38; 2 Ch 5:1-7:1).

2. The structure of the tabernacle

The tabernacle was a portable rectangular temple, 50 cubits in width and 100 cubits in length (※cubit: an ancient linear unit based on the length of the forearm from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger, usually 17.5 inches; the length varied from place to place and from time to time).

The entrance of the tabernacle faced east, and the Most Holy Place, where there was the throne of God, faced west. The altar of burnt offering was placed in front of the entrance to the tabernacle, and the wash basin was put between the tent of meeting and the altar so that the priests would wash their hands and feet with water from it before entering the sanctuary. The sanctuary wall was divided into the inner and outer sanctuary. The outer sanctuary was called the Holy Place, and the inner sanctuary was called the Most Holy Place.

In the outer sanctuary [the Holy Place] were the golden altar of incense, the gold lampstand, and the table for the bread of the Presence. In the inner sanctuary [the Most Holy Place] was the ark of the covenant which contained the tablets of the Ten Commandments. There was a curtain which separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place; the curtain blocked the way into the Most Holy Place. However, when Jesus Christ died on the cross, the curtain which divided between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place was torn in two from top to bottom, and the way into the Most Holy Place was opened (Mt 27:50–51).

3. The tree of life and the Ten Commandments

The priests offered sacrifices to God in the tabernacle according to the regulations. Among the furnishings in the tabernacle, the most important piece of furniture was the ark of the covenant which contained the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments. The ark of the covenant was placed in the Most High Place. No one could enter the Most Holy Place except the high priest; even the high priest was allowed to enter it just once a year, only after making atonement for himself by sprinkling the blood of a bull on the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:6-34; Heb 9:1-7). The cover of the ark of the covenant was called the atonement cover or the mercy seat. On the mercy seat there were two cherubim facing each other with their wings stretched out. These cherubim represented the cherubim guarding the way to the tree of life in the Garden of Eden. This shows that God gave His people the Ten Commandments instead of the tree of life in the Garden of Eden. If anyone entered the Most Holy Place, where the Ten Commandments [the tree of life] were kept, he was put to death. Aaron’s two sons were consumed by fire from God when they offered unauthorized fire before God (Lev 10:1-2). Uzzah was also instantly killed as he took hold of the ark of the covenant (2 Sa 6:6-8). It was because the cherubim protecting the tree of life in the Garden of Eden had a flaming sword (Ge 3:24).

4. The earthly sanctuary and the heavenly sanctuary

The earthly sanctuary built by Moses was a shadow of the heavenly sanctuary where Christ would offer the true sacrifices as the mediator between God and His people. When we pray to God at the regular daily prayer times and on the Sabbaths, our prayers go up with acceptance before God’s throne, carried by the smoke of the incense, since Christ ministers as our High Priest in the heavenly sanctuary. We communicate with God at the prayer times on the commanded feasts of God as well, because Christ serves as our High Priest and Mediator in the heavenly sanctuary at the feasts, too. (A mediator is someone who intervenes between two parties or persons to reconcile them.) Christ became a peace offering to reconcile us to God. He also established the new covenant, so that He would serve as the mediator between God and His people, turning the heart of God to His children and the hearts of the children to God (Heb 9:15; Ro 3:25).

The Apostle Paul wrote: The feasts of God kept by the Old Testament saints in the earthly sanctuary were done on earth, and the feasts of the new covenant celebrated by the New Testament saints are done in heaven (Heb 12:22-23). Therefore, through all the regulations of the earthly sanctuary, we can understand the heavenly sanctuary and the meaning of the feasts done in the heavenly sanctuary. Unless we understand the heavenly sanctuary, we can neither understand the feasts of the new covenant nor observe them.

Christ, our High Priest, is still mediating for us in the heavenly sanctuary. Through the mediating work of Jesus Christ, our prayers reach the throne of God at the regular prayer times, the Sabbath day services and the feasts. Let us give thanks to Christ for His mediation and keep the decrees and laws of God with reverence, so that all our sins can be forgiven.