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Teaching Tools in the Tabernacle

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Exodus 27–28

When we meet with fellow believers for corporate worship, our forms and practices should reflect and reinforce truths God has revealed in the Bible. This is why God was so careful to give Moses such specific instructions regarding worship in the tabernacle.


God is now going to instruct Moses on the construction project known as the tabernacle. It’s going to be built in the wilderness, and it will be the place where the Lord uniquely dwells among His people. The tabernacle will be the centerpiece of their worship. 


But this tabernacle is also going to be filled with teaching tools for the Israelites to learn about forgiveness and redemption.


The outer courtyard is described for us here in Exodus chapter 27 as a rectangular plot of land about 150 feet long by 75 feet wide; it’s enclosed by a fence of white linen curtains seven and a half feet tall. By the way, this courtyard has only one gate—one entrance—on the east side. This will teach every Israelite that the Lord God has made only one way in to worship Him: You can’t climb over the fence or tunnel under ground; you enter by faith through the one door the Lord provides. 


This reminds us of Jesus Christ, who said, “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved” (John 10:9). There’s no other way in but through Christ.


Here in this courtyard is where a great bronze altar, nearly eight feet square, will stand. God instructs Moses to make it of wood and overlay it with bronze. Each corner on the top of the altar will have a pointed extension called a “horn.” Horns typically represented power, and this altar represented the power of God’s redemption.


This altar will be the busiest place in the courtyard because it’s where animal sacrifices will be made. It’s where every faithful Israelite father can teach his children, and be reminded himself, that God demands a blood sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins.


In verse 20 of Exodus 27, God says to Moses: 


“You shall command the people of Israel that they bring to you pure beaten olive oil for the light, that a lamp may regularly be set up to burn.” 


Just like that altar and the outer court with one doorway, this perpetual supply of oil the people provide to keep the lamps inside the tabernacle burning is instructive. It teaches that God’s people are responsible to not let the light of God’s presence among them go out. If there’s no oil, there’s no worship. 


A steady supply of oil means the people want to worship the Lord and want to confess their sins and offer sacrifice for their sin. But if the oil runs out, they are obviously choosing to walk in the darkness of sin and rebellion against the Lord. 


And let me tell you, while the church is not pictured here in the tabernacle, it’s still true that many churches today have effectively run out of oil. They are no longer worshiping the true and living God and no longer trusting in the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus for salvation. They are in darkness and unbelief. Jesus warned the Ephesian church in Revelation 2 that if they strayed from the truth of the gospel, He would remove their lampstand. In other words, they might be meeting, they might have beautiful buildings, but if they no longer followed the truth, they had no testimony and were as much in the darkness as the world around them.


Chapter 28 focuses on God’s instructions concerning the garments for the high priest. In verse 1, the Lord assigns Aaron and his sons to serve as the priests. 


And Moses writes in verse 3 that the Lord is going to appoint some seamstresses whom He has filled with “a spirit of skill.” And they’re going to make beautiful, awe-inspiring clothing for Aaron, the high priest, to wear. Later, we will learn that Aaron’s sons are also given special clothing to wear as they serve under him.


These gifted people are going to make six different articles of clothing for just the high priest to wear. Verse 6 describes his outer garment, called an ephod. It looks like an apron that hangs from his shoulders front and back, down below his waist. On each shoulder a large stone is attached, and the Lord says to Moses in verse 9, “Engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel,” six names on each stone in their birth order.  


Verse 15 describes the “breast-piece of judgment.” This was a square piece of fabric, folded in half. The breast-piece had twelve precious gems secured to it in four rows of three—each stone engraved with the name of one of Israel’s twelve tribes. So, the high priest essentially represents all twelve tribes as he goes into the presence of the Lord inside the tabernacle.


The breast-piece was folded in such a way that it created a pouch in which something very special was kept. We read in verse 30: 


In the breastpiece of judgment you shall put the Urim and the Thummim, and they shall be on Aaron’s heart, when he goes in before the Lord.


The Urim and Thummim were stones of some type, although we’re not told what kind. Moses isn’t even told here how to use them; he’s just told to put them inside the pouch of the breast-piece.


Later, in the Old Testament we will see that through the Urim and Thummim the Lord communicated a yes or no answer to a direct question. I believe these stones actually lit up, or began to glow, as the Lord communicated His answer.


The Hebrew words Urim and Thummim mean “lights” and “perfections,” and you can imagine a yes answer causing one of the stones to begin glowing or a no answer causing the other stone to light up. Imagine how significant this was as God communicated through the high priest.


Next, God begins describing another part of the high priestly outfit:


“You shall make the robe of the ephod all of blue. It shall have an opening for the head in the middle of it, with a woven binding around the opening.” (verses 31-32)


This is a long, solid blue, one-piece, sleeveless robe to be worn under the ephod. We’re told in verse 34 that bells are to be attached to the bottom of his robe. These bells will be heard as a reminder to everybody outside the Holy Place that the high priest in in there ministering before the Lord on their behalf. 


The final pieces of the high priest’s garments are described next. They include a checkered coat, a sash to tie everything together, and a turban. And the crowning touch is detailed in verses 36-38:


“You shall make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it … ‘Holy to the Lord.’ And you shall fasten it on the turban by a cord of blue…it shall be on Aaron’s forehead, and Aaron shall bear any guilt from the holy things that the people of Israel consecrate as their holy gifts. It shall regularly be on his forehead, that they may be accepted before the Lord.”


So, think about this fearful responsibility; the high priest is all dressed up, but what’s he doing? He’s representing the people, effectively carrying their guilt into the presence of a holy God. The high priest will be making an offering on their behalf—and his own—through the blood of the sacrifice.


What a great picture this is of our High Priest, the Lord Jesus, carrying our guilt before a holy God. Indeed, He is both our High Priest and the sacrificial Lamb; and through His own sacrifice on the altar of that wooden cross, we can be cleansed from our sins and saved forevermore. 

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