God provided a place for His people to draw near to Him.
God’s dwelling with His people has been the plan from the very beginning. This is the story of Scripture, from the first page to the last, from the garden to an eternal garden city where we will finally dwell with our God and see Him face to face (1John 3:2). Sadly, this union was hindered by sin’s entrance into the garden. Even still, the faithlessness and rebellion of those He has created cannot nullify the faithfulness and grace of their Creator. Following God’s unfolding plan to restore His dwelling place among His people is essential to understanding the tabernacle.
Reaching back almost 3500 years into history, we discover a significant move of the God of Israel to re-establish a physical dwelling place to be with His people. This portable, earthly tent was used by the Israelites between their exodus from Egypt and the conquest of Canaan. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had not forgotten His people, and so He once again came to meet with what at the time was a small tribe of recently freed slaves wandering in the desert. Their faithlessness and idolatry did not prevent Him from remembering His covenant and providing a way for His people to dwell with Him. He instructs Moses, “They are to make a sanctuary for me so that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8).
Through the sacrificial laws that would be fulfilled inside its walls, God more fully revealed to them the nature of their rebellion and need for atonement. Through each rich detail, God’s people would have been reminded of the garden, the paradise where humanity once dwelled with their Creator God, their true King. The entrance to the holy of holies, the ark of the covenant and the altar, the colors, shapes, materials, smells, and even the priest and his garments—everything pointed to their God.
In the days and weeks to come, we’ll read how this place for God’s presence transitioned in time to the temple in Jerusalem, and then most broadly to His presence among His people from every tribe, tongue, and nation, and by the Holy Spirit through their union with Christ. At each stage in this grand, unfolding, redemptive plan, God has not stopped pursuing His people, continuing to make a way to dwell with them.
Throughout our lives we are likely to experience diverse seasons. At some points we may sense a garden’s lushness and at others times the confusion and barrenness of the desert. Regardless of what season we find ourselves in, we must remember that our God has never been satisfied for us to remain in lonely isolation, separated from Him and in a perpetually broken relationship. When we reflect back on the narrative of Scripture to read about the tabernacle, what we’re really being reminded of is that God has always longed to restore His people to Himself, so that we might dwell with Him forever. Through Christ, the work of the tabernacle has been completed, bringing us back to a place of unity and peace with our God and one another. We now wait longingly for His return, when we will dwell with Him in perfect harmony.
Written by Robert Wheeler