OTE 9: THE TABERNACLE

EXODUS 25:1-9

SEPTEMBER 13, 2015

Rev Dr. Richard Meyer

(Play Audio)

 

            One Sunday morning an old cowboy entered a church just before services were to begin. He wore jeans, a denim shirt and a pair of scuffed and well-worn boots. In his hands he carried a worn out old hat and an equally worn out bible.

            The church he entered was in a very upscale and exclusive part of the city. It was the largest and most beautiful church the old cowboy had ever seen. The people of the congregation were all dressed with expensive clothes and accessories. No one greeted him, spoke to him, or welcomed him. They were appalled at his appearance and did not attempt to hide it.

            The preacher gave a long sermon filled with fire and brimstone and a stern lecture on how much money the church needed to do Gods work. As the old cowboy was leaving the church, the preacher approached him and asked the cowboy to do him a favor.  "Before you come back in here again, have a talk with God and ask him what He thinks would be appropriate attire for worship."

            The old cowboy assured the preacher he would.

            The next Sunday, he showed back up for the services wearing the same jeans, shirt, boots, and hat. Once again he was completely shunned and ignored.

            The preacher approached the man and said, "I thought I asked you to speak to God about what you should wear before you came back to our church."

            "I did," replied the old cowboy.

            "If you spoke to God, what did he tell you the proper attire should be for worshiping in here?" asked the preacher.

            "Well, sir, God told me that He didnt have a clue what I should wear. He says Hes never been here before."

            The Bible repeatedly stresses, If God isnt here, its not church. If God isnt here we are wasting our time. The most important thing we can have in worship and in all of life is God in our midst.

            That was the principle message of the Tabernacle, the ninth Old Testament essential in our overview of the Hebrew Scriptures. In the days of the Exodus the Tabernacle was placed directly in the middle of the Israelite encampment so the people would never forget that God was in their midst. 

            In fact, more than anything else, the Tabernacle was the reason the Hebrews never developed a Moses-centered religion. It could of been so easy to fall into that trap.  After all, Moses was the one who repeatedly confronted and bested Pharaoh, the one who led the procession out of Egypt, the one who found his people dry pathways, drinking water, and a constant food source, the one who generally seemed to be in direct contact with God every step of the way. How is it that Moses himself escaped virtual deification?

            It had to do with the Tabernacle. Our Old Testament text for this morning has been identified by scholars as a critical hinge moment in the lives of the Israelites. What had been a covenant relationship between God and the people now begins to develop into a tabernacle relationship, an organized religion, with the institutionalization of worship. The simple covenant promise given originally to Abraham begins to formalize into a complex hierarchy of relationships and symbolic rituals that will serve to keep the people in touch with God. There will no longer be any need for smoke-covered mountains with a solitary chosen leader Moses blazing a trail up to its peak. The tabernacle, attended by a cadre of priests, will serve that purpose.

            Since most of us are somewhat unfamiliar with the Tabernacle, lets turn our attention to the key elements of it. First, it was a tent, a very ornate tent.  Gods dwelling was a tent because his people were living in tents, and not yet established in the land.  It was ornate, not unlike a kings tent, because God was the ruler of Israel.  It was located in the center of the camp, surrounded by bodyguards specifically, the priestly Levites and we will say more about those bodyguards in just a bit. The innermost center of the tent was the most holy part of all. There the Ark of the Covenant, made famous by Indiana Jones, and thought to be the footstool of God, was placed. If you want a physical description of the Ark look at verses ten through twenty-two of the chapter we read earlier. In fact, if you want a physical description of the Tabernacle itself, its described in this chapter and the following two chapters of Exodus. Let me say just a little bit about the physical aspects of the Tabernacle.

            Look with me at the first verse of the 26th chapter of Exodus. Here we get a sense of the ceiling of the Tabernacle. Do you have that in front of you?

 

            Moreover you shall make the tabernacle with ten curtains

 

            By the way, each curtain was to be roughly fifteen feet by six feet so multiply that by ten to get the size of the ceiling. what is that 150 feet by 60 feet?

 

            of fine twisted linen, and blue, purple, and crimson yarns; you shall make them with cherubim skillfully worked into them.

 

            My soon to be twelve year old grandson is taking six weeks of sewing. Hes not excited about it, and this would be way above his abilities.  Belindas a great seamstress. So is Connie Karasek. They could probably pull this off.  Anyway, after connecting the ten curtains together, the ceiling of the tabernacle would be a deep blue with cherubim figures, evoking a picture of heaven, symbolizing that the tabernacle was heaven on earth. 

            And while we could say all kinds of things about the furniture of the tabernacle, one piece relates to religious symbolism today. Its the candlestick that provided illumination for people in the tabernacle. Look with me at Exodus 25:31.

 

            You shall make a lamp stand of pure gold. The base and the shaft of the lamp stand shall be made of hammered work; its cups, its calyxes thats the protective layer around a budding flower and its petals shall be made of one piece with it; and there shall be six branches going out of its sides, three branches of the lamp stand out of one side of it and three branches of the lamp stand out of the other side of it

 

            Sound familiar? We see mini replicas around Chanukah. Its a menorah, and it suggests a flowering tree. The image would remind people of the Garden of Eden, a place where humanity met freely with God. The tabernacle would be the place where the Hebrews would meet freely with God once again.

            The tabernacle served as the holy place of the Hebrews for four centuries, from the time of Moses to the time of Solomon. When Solomon became king, he began the construction of the temple that would replace the tabernacle as the Hebrews primary meeting place with God.

            So first it was a tent, a very ornate tent. Second, the tabernacle was serviced by specially designated priests, first Aaron and his sons, and then by men from the tribe of Levi not the jeans company, but the Levites, one of twelve tribes of Israel. Chapters 28 and 29 outline the garb of these priests.  This is probably where clergy robes originated. Look with me at Exodus 28:2.  God is speaking to Moses, and note Gods incredible attention to detail.

 

            You shall make sacred vestments for the glorious adornment of your brother Aaron. And you shall speak to all who have ability, to whom I have endowed with skill, that they make Aarons vestments to consecrate him for priesthood. These are the vestments that they shall make: a breast piece, an ephod, a robe, a checkered tunic, a turban, and a sash and verse five they shall use gold, blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and fine linen.

 

            So first, the priests were made up of Aaron and his descendants, but not for long. Do you remember why the Levites took over the task? Remember the golden calf incident when Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the commandments, and the Israelites got bored waiting for Moses to come back down from the mountain and they talked Aaron into constructing an idol in the form of a golden calf? When Moses came down from the mountain and saw the golden calf, and the Israelites dancing around it like they were at a rave, and he was livid. He asked Aaron what happened and Aaron offered a lame excuse saying the people forced me to do it. Well, Moses didnt buy it, and he threw down the stone tablets, breaking them and if you saw the Mel Brooks movie on this incident Moses comes down from the mountain and announces, The fifteen and one of the stone tablets slips from his hands, and he says, The Ten Commandments. Funny, but not biblically accurate, and Moses issues a call for all on the Lords side to come to him. The Levites responded, and Moses commanded them to go out among their fellow idol-worshipping Israelites and execute Gods judgment. The Levites strapped on swords and killed three thousand calf worshippers.

            Afterward, Moses announced, You have been set apart to the Lord today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day. At this point the Levites became the priestly class of Israel, protecting the sanctity of worship among Gods people.

            Third, the tabernacle was mobile symbolizing a God always on the move.

          The God of the Exodus is a God who deigns to travel with his people on the dusty roads of life and meet with his people in the common places of life. This God will migrate with his people through the wilderness. This God will be present even when the water runs dry and food becomes scarce, when the old people die and when children get cranky.  This God will be present in the face of their sin and in their moments of hungering hope. The God who chooses to make himself known in a pop-up tent of praise is a God on the move. This is a God with us. The Israelites get a foretaste of what we have in Jesus Christ.

            And my what a difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Do you know what the tabernacle has morphed into today?  The Apostle Peter makes it clear.  Peter often said a lot of dumb things, but boy was he ever on the mark with this statement. Listen to what he says. Im referring to his statement in I Peter 2:5. Its on page 984 of your pew bible.  I dont want you to miss it.

 

            Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house or tabernacle of the Spirit to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices according to God through Jesus Christ.

 

            In other words, we are Gods tabernacle today. You and me. We are the holy priests. We are where Gods spirit resides. We are guardians of Gods holiness. You and me!  What was God thinking choosing us? Was he nuts? But God did choose us. God chose you and me to remind the world that God is in their midst.

            Amen.