The Tabernacle in the Wilderness
September 20th, 1959 @ 10:50 AM
THE TABERNACLE IN THE WILDERNESS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-20-59 10:50 a.m.
You who are listening on the radio are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and you are sharing with us a happy and glorious hour. Somebody said to me, “Did you know this new singer you have, Lee Roy Till, has that choir do a little thing about their books?” I said, “No, what little thing do they do about their books?” “Well, you just ought to see it,” they said. “You sit with your back to the choir and you do not know.” Well, I hate for the choir to be doing things to my back that I do not know, so I asked Lee Roy Till just now, “What is it you do?” Well, he said, “You just look and see.” So I turned around to see. And isn’t that just the prettiest little maneuver you ever saw in your life, the way they stand up with their books and all of them hold them up at the same time and open them up at the same time and for the most part, sing at the same time? Oh, it is a great group! You know I would give anything in the world if I could sit out there in the service one time and look at this choir while they sing and hear me preach while I preach. I wish I could. Oh, this is a glorious place and a glorious hour!
Did you hear the service at 8:15 o’clock this morning? I am sure a good many of you did. I got to preaching this morning, didn’t have it in the sermon, but just got chasing around a rabbit, you know, going off on a tangent; got to preaching this morning about how it is that our great God and Savior does for us. Not by law, not by resolution, not by prescription, not by mandate, but out of the fullness of our souls, out of the gladness of our hearts, here we are because we want to be, like to be, rejoice to be; glory that we can be. And I happened to mention about my preaching; remind me of a ball player, one of these famous ones, playing right a couple of hours from now. He said, “I love to play baseball. It is fun to me, and just to think, I get paid for it.” I said, “That is the way I am about going to church and about preaching the gospel; I would rather do it than anything in the world, and just to think, I get paid for it.” Oh, it is a glorious day and a glorious hour when God’s day comes and God’s hour is here.
Now as most of you know, for fourteen years I have been preaching through the Bible and have come to the ninth chapter of the Book of Hebrews: Hebrews chapter 9. And in my vacation study this summer, I went through this whole book meticulously, minutely. And I came to see that without an intimate knowledge of the background of God’s revelation in the Old Testament there is no such thing at all of understanding the marvelous, incomparably blessed message of the Book of Hebrews. In fact, the language of the Bible is the language of the Old Testament service of sacrifice and worship: the nomenclature they used, the descriptions, all of its figures and types and spiritual meanings are found back there.
There is not anything new in the New Testament that is not there in the Old Testament. It is just this: that there it was by picture, it was by symbol, it was by type, it was by pattern, it was by paradigm. Here, it is by reality and by substance. But it is the same thing. God taught His people in the beginning as you would have to teach a child, with big box letters, with pictures and symbols. So God taught His people the great, deep, spiritual things of heaven. He first had to give them a language in which He could speak to them, and it had to be in terms that they could understand. All of the spiritual realities that are known to us today were first revealed back there in sign, in type, in picture. So when the author of Hebrews writes to this little Jewish Palestinian congregation, he takes those great revelations in the Old Testament, and he shows them how God was preparing His people for the marvelous, full revelation that we have in the spiritual realities in Jesus Christ.
Now, I’m going to read a part of the ninth chapter. And the title of the sermon this morning is The Tabernacle in the Wilderness:
Then verily the first covenant had also ordinances of divine service, and a worldly sanctuary—one down here.
For there was a tabernacle made; the first, wherein was the candlestick, and the table, and the showbread: which is called the sanctuary—the Holy Place.
And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of all;
Which had the golden censer—before it, and behind it—the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant—the two tables of stone;
And over it the cherubim of glory shadowing the mercy seat—the propitiatory;
of which we cannot now speak—haven’t got time.
The Holy Spirit this signifying—that’s in the eighth verse—the Holy Spirit this signifying . . .
[Hebrews 9:1-5, 8]
Now, for several Sundays we are going to follow this author here, as he takes these things in this sanctuary that God made in this world, and he uses them to portray the spiritual reality of which it was the shadow in Jesus Christ. The tabernacle that he mentions here—the tabernacle is the theology of redemption, and grace, and truth, and salvation. The theology of the tables of stone is one of judgment and condemnation, but the theology of the tabernacle is one of redemption, and grace, and salvation. And if I am true to the Bible in preaching the message of the Book, I would have certain emphases by which I would try to portray before us and to lay upon our hearts the spiritual revelations of God.
For example, God took one verse to tell us that He created the heaven and the earth—one verse [Genesis 1:1]. God took two chapters to describe the recreation of the earth that was ruined in a primeval catastrophe [Genesis 1-2]. God only took nine chapters to describe, to delineate, to portray the story of the entire human race from Adam, wherever that day was, until 2000 BC, the age of Abraham [Genesis 4:1-12:20]. And yet, from the twenty-fifth chapter of Exodus through the fortieth chapter of Exodus, God is describing the pattern of the tabernacle [Exodus 25:1-4:38]. Evidently, there is a meaning. God is not taking all of that space in His Holy Word just to give us mathematical measurements of a tent that was soon to be depleted and dilapidated and falling into decay and no meaning. God had a purpose in taking that much time out to give to us the exact, meticulous minutia of the building of that earthly sanctuary. “God said, Let there be light: and there was light,” light, light [Genesis 1:3]. And yet He takes paragraphs and chapters just to tell us how to make the lamps that are to burn in the house of God, how to compound a pure olive oil that is to burn through its pipes [Exodus 25:31-40, 27:20].
All of these things have a meaning. And the meaning is very patent and apparent when you study the Holy Book, the Holy Scriptures. There in the tabernacle we have the redemptive message in the person and life of Jesus Christ our Lord. Before God sent the person, God gave us a picture. And sometimes it would take longer to teach a child than to command an army. So it is by fiat, by commandment, by word, God creates the heavens and the earth [Genesis 1:3, 6, 9, 14, 20, 24, 26]. But to teach His people the great redemptive purpose in Christ, He took time, as we take time with a child, and so we’re prepared for the marvelous spiritual language from heaven and revelation of God in the purpose of Christ. The tabernacle is Christ, and the service and its ministry there is the service and ministry of our Lord. And the worship of the people there is the worship of God’s people before the Son of heaven. The tabernacle is grace and glory in Jesus our Savior.
Now, this morning, as we have time—and I hope I can somehow present a part of this at least before twelve o’clock—we are going to take some of the things in the tabernacle, “the Holy Spirit thus signifying” [Hebrews 9:8], some of the things of the tabernacle which are patently pictures of Jesus our Lord. The first: the tabernacle had a heavenly and an earthly origin. That is a beginning picture of our Lord, who has, in His origin, a heavenly and earthly—I cannot say beginning. In the origin of the tabernacle, we have a heavenly and an earthly; so it is in Christ, there is, in Him, of heaven and of earth. By that I mean this; the Lord God gave the pattern of the tabernacle from heaven: heavenly [Exodus 25:8-40, 26:1-37; Hebrews 8:5]. The people of the Lord gave the material for its construction: earthly [Exodus 25:1-9]. Our Lord is a heavenly and an earthly being. God contributed—heaven contributed His personality, His deity [Colossians 2:9]. We—humanity, contributed His body [Galatians 4:4]. He is both of heaven and of earth.
The tabernacle in its origin is heavenly. God gave every minutest detail. There was not the least little hasp, or fastener, or bar, or socket, or curtain, or hanging, or plank, or piece that was not meticulously delineated by God [Hebrews 8:5]. The tabernacle was not what a man’s wisdom would contrive or construct. The tabernacle was not what a man might think ought to be. The tabernacle was wholly in the wisdom and revelation of God [Exodus 25:9]. Even the men who made it were filled with the Spirit of God [Exodus 31:1-6, 35:30-31]. Aholiab and Bezaleel were filled with the Spirit of God, as Peter and John were when they were baptized on the day of Pentecost [Matthew 3:11; Acts 2:16-17]. It has a heavenly origin.
It also has an earthly origin. The people, when they were delivered out of Egypt, were given acceptance in the sight of the Egyptians. And the wealth of the gifts that were placed in their hands—back pay for the years of servitude—was taken with them out of the land of bondage [Exodus 12:35-36]. And there, in the wilderness, when Moses made appeal for gifts [Exodus 35:4-9], they so laden the man of God down until Moses dissuaded them from bringing any longer [Exodus 36:3-6], like the spirit of the people in Macedonia, who beyond anything Paul expected, gave of their heart freely and willingly [2 Corinthians 8:1-5]. So the tabernacle was made according to the pattern of God from heaven [Exodus 36:8-38:31] and according to the gifts of the people in earth [Exodus 35:4-9, 36:6-7]: heavenly and earthly.
Now, the pattern is a picture of Christ and a type of Christ also in its form [Hebrews 9:11]. What it was, the tabernacle was, as the word says, a tent, a tent—tabernacle, tent. You could translate skēnē, “tabernacle,” “tent,” either one—same thing. Now, the form of the structure was a picture and a type of our Lord. In John 1:14: “And the Word was made flesh”—”and the Word was made flesh and skenaō”—skēnē, tabernacle—skenaō, to tabernacle, to tent, to dwell. “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us”—tabernacled among us, was standing among us—”and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father.” The children of Israel dwelt in tents, and when God made His dwelling place, He made His dwelling place like His people [Hebrews 8:5]. As the author of Hebrews says here in the second chapter: “It behooved Him, our God in heaven—it behooved Him to be made like unto His brethren” [Hebrews 2:17]. We dwell in a house of flesh: He dwelt in our midst, just like us. They lived in tents. God’s home is a tent [John 1:14].
That passage you read this morning in Exodus 25:9—God walked with Adam in the garden [Genesis 3:8], God visited Abraham [Genesis 3:18:1]. But in Exodus 25:8 God said; “Let them make Me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them.” So the tabernacle in the midst of the people is a picture of the tenting of our Lord, the tabernacling of our Lord in our midst [John 1:14]. He lives in the same kind of a house, one made of flesh—same kind of a house that we live in [Philippians 2:7].
Another thing: by its very name, by its very form, by its very nature, the tabernacle is temporary. It is not a permanent home. The stakes were driven down in the sand and the dust of the wilderness. It was made to be folded up and carried on the march. It was a marching wilderness piece. The very name, I say, indicates the temporality, the temporariness, the lack of permanency—the tabernacle. So the author of Hebrews speaks of the people of God. “They confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims in the earth [Hebrews 11:13]. They were looking for a city which had foundations, whose builder and maker is God” [Hebrews 11:10]. The dwelling place is temporary. It is not permanently there or here. So with the tabernacling of our Lord, here for awhile; so with our tabernacling, our living in this house, here for awhile. But we are pilgrims, we are in a wilderness on a march and a journey, and our faces are toward God’s Promised Land. The old song that we sing:
I am a stranger here, Heav’n is my home;
Earth is a desert drear, Heav’n is my home;
Sorrows and dangers stand round me on every hand;
Heaven is my fatherland, Heav’n is my home.
[adapted from “I’m But a Stranger Here,” Thomas R. Taylor]
We dwell in a tabernacle and our Lord was with us, tabernacling just as we live [John 1:14], but our home is in glory.
Now that tabernacling is also a picture of Christ dwelling in His church [Matthew 18:20]. The body of Christ is His people [Ephesians 1:23]. And here again, it is a temporary residence here. In the interval between the rejection and the reception of the great King, in the interval between the cross and the crown, in the interval between the upper room and the upper air, in the interval between His humiliation and His exaltation, in the interval between the parousia of grace and the parousia of glory, we are here temporarily in the earth, the body of Christ, His dwelling place [Ephesians 1:23]. But our ultimate and final and glorious destiny and home is across the river in the Promised Land, in the glory that is yet to come [John 14:3]. The tabernacle: a figure of the dwelling place of Christ [John 1:14].
Before I leave it, may I make just one observation? Even though it was temporary, yet there was the same glorious effort and costliness and preciousness woven into every part of it, as though it were made, not for the service of men to be soon fallen into decay and dilapidation, but it was made as though the cherubim in heaven were going to worship in it forever. And isn’t that like God to bestow upon the ephemera that die in the sunbeam the same marvelous, meticulous care and loving workmanship that He would make in forming and framing the cherubim in glory? That’s God. Pour upon us, we who are dying people, made out of the ground—pour upon us all of the loving care in the workmanship of the house in which we live, in the construction of our souls and spirits and bodies [Thessalonians 5:23]. That’s God: our dwelling place [2 Corinthians 5:1].
Now another thing: not only the tabernacle a picture of our Lord in its origin, a heavenly and earthly being [Colossians 2:9; Galatians 4:4]; not only in its form, a tent, a tabernacle; here for awhile, our home in glory [2 Corinthians 5:1]; but also a picture of our blessed Lord in the construction of it, in the looks of it, in the appearance of it. The tabernacle looked on the outside very rough and very unattractive and unimposing, very much so. The outside of it was covered with rough badger skin, to shield it from the storm and the weather [Exodus 26:14]. But the inside of the tabernacle was gloriously, gloriously beautiful. Everything in it, even the planks, the boards that made the sidewall, were covered with pure beaten gold [Exodus 26:29]. And the tapestry that formed it, that made it on the inside was woven ingenuously and mysteriously out of blue and purple and scarlet and fine twined linen [Exodus 26:31]. That is an exact picture of our Lord. On the outside, who would ever have thought that this One is the Son of God, the Messiah, the King of Israel, God manifest in the flesh? [1 Timothy 3:16]. And they were amazed and overwhelmed at Him.
When the magi came from the East, seeking Him who was born King of the Jews, where did they go? They went to the court of the king, naturally. Wouldn’t you? And before Herod they said, “Where is He that was born King of the Jews?” [Matthew 2:1-9]. And when finally they bowed before Him, He was in a stable—a stable! [Luke 2:16]. This is the God of heaven, incarnate in flesh? [Matthew 1:23]. Oh! The outside; who could believe it?
Same way about His townspeople: and they said one to another—Jacob said to Abe and Abe said to Ike and Ike said to Esau, all around: “Listen at Him, listen at Him, listen at Him, why, I grew up with Him. Isn’t that the carpenter’s son? [Matthew 13:55]. Haven’t you been with them thirty years? Isn’t that His sister there? Isn’t that His brother there, and isn’t that His brother there and His brother there?” And they were offended in Him, so much so, they took Him to the brow of the hill upon which their city was built to throw Him down, cast Him headlong to destroy Him [Luke 4:29]. Same way with the rabbinical schools, the theological seminaries of the day; they listened to Him and said: “How knoweth this Man letters, having never learned?” [John 7:15]. He never sat at the feet of Gamaliel, He never sat at the feet of Hillel, He never sat at the feet of Rabbi anybody, “and they were offended in Him” [Matthew 13:57].
What did Isaiah say? Isaiah, the fifty-third chapter, the second verse: “He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him” [Isaiah 53:2]. The outside was made of rough badger skins [Exodus 26:14], but the inside was glory and beauty. Listen, John 1:14 again: “And the Word was made flesh, and tabernacled among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” He had been inside the tent. Have you? Have you? [The world sees] the outside; and the atheist scoffs and he laughs, and the pseudoscientist makes fun and he scorns, and the unbeliever laughs and ridicules these things—God in the flesh, that God should be a man; the Son of God, that God should have a Son. All of the creative workmanship of this whole universe in the hands of that Man?” And they are offended in Him; the outside [Matthew 13:57]. But, oh! my brother, come in and look upon the beauty [Exodus 26:15-37], the sublimity, the glory, glory, glory of the Son of God our Savior—come in and look!
Now, I’m beginning this morning—I haven’t time to speak of it. I just want to make an observation and to illustrate it. And then I go to the next thing. Every part of that tabernacle—every piece, every thread, the web, the woof, the warp—all of it spoke of Jesus our Lord. Now, I will just illustrate it. There were four coverings that made, four curtains that made the tabernacle [Exodus 36:8-19]. The outside one was rough, the badger skin of which I have just spoken [Exodus 36:19]. That represented His humiliation. He came to be despised and rejected and humiliated. He humbled Himself, died a felon’s death [Philippians 2:8]—the badger skin. The next curtain underneath was made out of ram’s skin dyed red; ram’s skin [Exodus 36:19]. Ram: immediately I think of Abraham, when he was about to lift the knife to plunge it into his son Isaac, and God stayed his hand. And he looked around and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. And he offered the ram instead [Genesis 22:10-13]. Ram’s skin dyed red: a picture of the sacrifice of God’s Son [Exodus 26:14]. The third covering was goat’s hair: goat’s hair [Exodus 36:14]. On the great Day of Atonement [Leviticus 16:1-34], two goats—lots cast: one of them was slain and his blood carried into the Holy of Holies once a year by the high priest [Leviticus 16:15]. And the other goat, over its head the high priest holds his hands and confesses all of the sins of the nation, and then it is sent out into the wilderness and driven away; the scapegoat [Leviticus 116:10], the picture of God’s Son, who poured out His blood for us, that our sins might be taken away [1 Corinthians 15:3; 1 John 1:7]: the covering of goat’s hair [Exodus 36:14]. And then the inside covering was made of blue from heaven [Exodus 26:31-33]; purple, His royal kingship; scarlet, His suffering and blood; fine-twined linen, the purity of His character and life. O blessed, blessed Savior! Now, we will look at more of that later on.
Another of the pictures of the tabernacle as it is in Christ; in its construction it was made to stand all the way around, both the courts and the tent itself, in sockets of silver. And the sockets of silver were made out of redemption money, one half-shekel for each one who belonged to Israel, one-half shekel. The rich paid no more, the poor paid no less; all were alike. The tabernacle was founded on redemption money! [Exodus 30:11-16]. The great message of Jesus Christ is founded upon redemption, the price He paid for us [1 Peter 1:18-19]: for the rich man, for the poor man, the lettered, the untutored, all of us the same price, all of us alike.
And just one other just brief word; and it spake of Christ in its arrangement, how the tabernacle was made. When you pick up your Bible and read the pattern that God gave to Moses, God starts from where He is and goes out [Exodus 25-27]. He starts on the inside of the sanctuary, where God is, the shekinah glory, and He starts with the mercy seat and the altar and the cherubim [Exodus 25:10-22]. And then He describes on out, as God goes out from the inner sanctuary [Exodus 25:23-40].
When a poor lost sinner would come in, he would do just the opposite. He’s on the outside. So when we come into the dwelling place of God, there we come in through the gate, then the altar [Exodus 27:1-8], the sacrifice, and the cross of Jesus, always by the cross [1 Peter 2:24]. Then the laver [Exodus 30:17-21], the washing of regeneration and of the Word [Titus 3:5]; then those beautiful tokens of worship: the seven-branched candlestick, candle-stands. It ought to be the lampstand—the seven-branched lampstand [Exodus 25:31-40], the light of the glory of God in our hearts, and the tables of showbread [Exodus 25:23-30]—manna for our souls, and then the golden altar of incense [Exodus 30:1-10]—our prayers unto God [Revelation 5:8]. And then the sinner stops—has to stop. For there before him is the veil that shuts out the sinner from the presence of God [Exodus 26:33; Hebrews 9:7]: He—there; we—here.
The veil, the author of Hebrews says, is the beautiful life of Christ [Hebrews 10:20], unapproachable and unattainable by us. How we may admire its beauty and speak of its loveliness, what man is there that could rise and say, “I can follow it, like that beautiful and glorious life, I can be?” To attempt it is to fall into despair. And as long as that veil is there, no priest can enter in, the people cannot enter in, we cannot enter in—it’s between us and God [Leviticus 166:1-34].
But in the breaking of His body, in the tearing of His flesh, in the nails that were driven into His hand [Matthew 27:32-50], and in the spear that was thrust into His side [John 19:31-34], that veil was rent, was torn from top to bottom, pulled aside! [Matthew 27:50-51]. And there, the innermost presence and sanctuary of God was opened to a poor, lost sinner. Just walk in [Hebrews 4:16, 10:19-23]. So it is with our lives! We are never saved by the holiness and blessedness of His life. It is by His stripes that we are healed [Isaiah 53:5]. Had our Lord continued to this day going through the cities of Israel, preaching the gospel of the great kingdom of heaven, we still would be shut out, lost, the veil hanging there in the temple [Exodus 26:31-33].
But when He breathed His soul unto death, and bowed his head and said, “It is finished” [John 19:30], the way through the sacrifice of Christ, through the offering of His life, was made open and possible to us who are lost and shut out; the veil of His flesh rent and torn, through which we enter into the presence of God [Hebrews 10:19-23]. And the tabernacle is Jesus. Its story is the story of grace. And while the children of Israel, in their own self-righteousness and self-confidence, were down there in the valley, dancing around the golden calf [Exodus 32:1-8, 19], God, who knew what was in man, was on the top of the mount giving to Moses the pattern of the grace and salvation through Christ [Hebrews 8:5], by whom and through which we have entrance into heaven and into the presence of our great God and Savior [Hebrews 10:19-20].
Oh! is there a sinner here today who stands in the presence of the great God in heaven, shut out—shut out? No man shall see the face of God in unforgiven sin, shut out, shut out [Hebrews 12:14]. Do you stand in the presence of the veil, shut out? [Exodus 26:31-33]. Listen, fellow, the veil has been rent and torn, and the entrance into God’s holy sanctuary is open wide [Matthew 27:50-51; Hebrews 10:19-23]. Walk in. Come. Come. Come. By faith I do receive the grace and merit of Jesus for my own, and I trust Him as God and Savior [Ephesians 2:8-9]. I do now. I will until I die. And here I come.” Come. Enter in.
In this balcony round, down one of these stairwells, “Here I am and here I come.” On this lower floor, a family you or one somebody you, “Here I am and here I come, by faith. By faith, through the sacrifice and blood and wounds and tears of Jesus [Matthew 27:32-50; 1 Corinthians 15:3], I do come. Here I am.” Would you this morning? Would you? As God shall say the word and open the way, would you make it now? While we stand and while we sing.
TABERNACLE IN THE WILDERNESS
of the tabernacle used to set forth the things of Christ
of the tabernacle is one of redemption, grace, salvation
behind emphasis placed on tabernacle in Scriptures
1. The redemptive
message of Christ
2. Before God sent the
Person, God gave us a picture
II. Its origin both heavenly and earthly
– God made the plan, pattern
Not what man’s wisdom could contrive or construct
Earthly – the people gave the materials for its construction
1. The best the people
a heavenly and earthly being – God contributed His personality, humanity
contributed His body
III. Its form a tent, tabernacle
dwelt among them as one of them(Exodus 25:8,
John 1:14, Hebrews 2:17)
not a permanent home
1. We are strangers and
pilgrims in the earth(Hebrews 11:10, 13)
building His dwelling place today among men – in His church
Even though temporary, same effort, cost, preciousness woven into every part as
though it were forever
IV. Its appearance
rough, unattractive, unimposing; inside gloriously beautiful
Like the Lord – those who looked at Him from the outside did not see a Messiah,
God manifest in the flesh(Isaiah 53:2)
1. Those who had eyes
to see(John 1:14)
speaks of Himin every shade of color, every thread
in sockets of silver, made out of redemption money
V. Its arrangement
from God for its building are given from God’s point of view
Sinner enters the opposite way
in the tearing of the veil, the tearing of His flesh, do we have access to God(John 19:30)