When our Bible study focuses intently on each passage, one after another, we may find it difficult to step back and see how they fit together. But we must remember the Bible is a work of literature. It was not written to be scrutinized in bites; it was written to be devoured in gobbles. We should remember to read the Bible as we’d read any other book: moving through it at a reasonable pace and recognizing ongoing themes, climax, resolution, and character development. When we hit milestones in the text, we should take the opportunity to survey where we’ve been and how it fits together.
So, now that we’ve heard all the Lord’s detailed instructions for his dwelling place among the Israelites, it’s a good time to catch our breath. From this point in Exodus, we’ll see what happens when a righteous God tries to live among a sinful people. But where have we been so far?
Let me list the main points I’ve proposed for each passage in this section:
- Exodus 25:1-40: For God to dwell with his people, mercy must cover the law, bread must be provided, and light must shine.
- Exodus 26:1-37: When God dwells with his people, it’s a paradise better than Eden.
- Exodus 27:1-19: The mountain where God meets his people—the place where heaven comes to earth—requires a place for sacrifice and has only one entrance.
- Exodus 27:20-28:43: For God to dwell with his people, there must be an authorized person to perpetually represent these people before him.
- Exodus 29:1-46: The price of a ticket to paradise is approved men in approved garments, eating approved food in an approved place.
- Exodus 30:1-38: Yahweh provides every resource required to take his show on the road: purifying both people and priest, so he can be united with them day after day.
- Exodus 31:1-18: For God’s new creation dwelling place with his people, the climax comes when the right people join the work and trust in the unique ability of God to get them through.
In addition, my overview of the whole book led me to this overall main point:
Who is Yahweh, and why should you obey him? He is the God who 1) demolishes the house of slavery (Ex 1-15), 2) prepares to rebuild (Ex 16-18), and 3) builds his house in the midst of his people (Ex 19-40).
The main idea of Act I (Ex 1:1-15:21) was that Yahweh demolishes the house of slavery. He does this in two parts:
- He trains up a qualified mediator to deliver (Ex 1:1-7:7).
- He delivers his people from their enemies into a frightful joy (Ex 7:8-15:21).
The main idea of Act II (Ex 15:22-18:27) was that Yahweh prepares the house of his people by showing them they need his law to know him.
And Part 1 (Ex 19:1-24:18) of this third act shows us God preparing the conditions for a perfect paradise with his people, where they can draw near to him through the blood of a substitute.
Pull It Together
Now what do these things show us about the flow of thought in chapters 25-31? We are in between the making of the covenant and the breaking of it. In giving the tabernacle instructions, how does God build his house?
- Act I describes God’s deliverance of his people. Act II shows how God prepares them for a covenant relationship with him. Act III now constructs that covenant relationship.
- Part 1: Exodus 19-24 open the gates of paradise by drawing the people close through the blood of a substitute and endowing them with a utopian vision.
- Part 2: Exodus 25-31
- Exodus 25:1-27:19 describes a place where God and people can live together, because it’s filled with mercy, life, light, and substitute judgment.
- Exodus 27:20-29:46 promises authorized people who keep the peace between God and people.
- Exodus 30:1-31:18 resources this project in both the short- and long-term.
These chapters are presented in a series of 7 speeches, linking the tabernacle instructions to the creation of the world. I’ll put the clearest connections in bold text.
- Speech #1: Ex 25:1-30:10 – basic structure, furniture, and priests
- Speech #2: Ex 30:11-16 – census ransom to pay for the people’s lives
- Speech #3: Ex 30:17-21 – water basin for washing
- Speech #4: Ex 30:22-33 – anointing oil to mark off special people and places
- Speech #5: Ex 30:34-38 – incense
- Speech #6: Ex 31:1-11 – Spirit-filled people to do the work
- Speech #7: Ex 31:12-17 – Sabbath rest
In building this tabernacle, the Israelites will recreate the world in God’s image. It represents a fresh start, a new relationship. The closeness with God we’ve always wanted. And it all begins with these extensive words spoken from the mouth of Yahweh.
Act I: Yahweh demolishes the house of slavery (Ex 1-15).
Introduction: Nobody can prevent Yahweh from keeping his promises, but we’re not sure how he’ll do it (Ex 1).
Part 1: Yahweh appoints a mediator and ensures he is fully qualified and trained for the task of deliverance (Ex 2:1-7:7).
Part 2: Yahweh delivers a deserved destruction to his enemies and a frightful joy to his people (Ex 7:8-15:21).
Act II: Yahweh prepares to rebuild by exposing how deeply his people need his law to know him (Ex 16-18).
Act III: Yahweh builds his house in the midst of his people (Ex 19-40).
Part 1: God architects a perfect paradise for the community of his people, so he can bring them near through the blood of a substitute (Ex 19-24).
Part 2: God explains how his people can re-create this paradise on earth (Ex 25-31).
Gaze Upon Jesus
Of course, the main thing here is not the tabernacle itself, but what it represents. God wants to dwell with his people, and he will surely do it. Therefore Jesus, the Word, “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). “They shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us)” (Matt 1:23). His parting word was “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20). And we now live, not in a cloth tabernacle in the wilderness, but in the New Jerusalem. “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man” (Rev 21:3).
John’s Gospel is saturated with showing us how Jesus is the full and final tabernacle of Yahweh. I will dedicate next week’s post to tracing this out.
Head: Don’t glaze over when you hit the detailed architectural stuff in Exodus. Consider how many pieces must fall into place for a righteous God to dwell among his sinful people!
Heart: Do you long for any other paradise, besides drawing near to the Father through Christ?
Hands: Be the tabernacle. As an individual, be a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:15-20), with a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith (1 Tim 1:5). As a community of believers, be a special place for God, unlike any other place on earth (2 Cor 6:16-7:1).
Click here to see what I’m doing with this sample Bible study and why I’m doing it.