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Of Tabernacles And Reverence


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The tabernacle. How can any Christian hear the word "tabernacle" without thinking of holy places, sacred acts, and reverence? This is an article about two types of tabernacles. One is described in the Old Testament, and the other is described in the New Testament.

Most Bible readers will immediately recognize the Old Testament tabernacle. It is first mentioned by name in Exodus 25, when Moses was receiving commands from God on Mount Sinai:

The LORD said to Moses, "Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from each man whose heart prompts him to give. These are the offerings you are to receive from them: gold, silver and bronze; blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair; ram skins dyed red and hides of sea cows; acacia wood; olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; and onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breastpiece. Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you" (Exodus 25.1-9, NIV with my emphasis throughout, except where noted).
This passage is followed by chapter after chapter of tabernacle specifications dictated in great detail. Exodus 25.10-40 contains instructions regarding the furnishings of the tabernacle. Measurements are exact; materials are specific. Exodus 26.1 to 27.19 includes instructions for constructing the tabernacle itself, as well as for the tent that is to cover it and the curtain walls that are to surround it. Exodus 27.20 to 28.43 contains instructions about who are to serve as God's priests within the tabernacle, and about what they are to wear. God instructs Moses about how to consecrate His priests in Exodus 29. More instructions about furnishings and worship follow in Exodus 30. In Exodus 31.1-11, God even names the craftsmen that He wants to make His tabernacle, its furnishings, and its sacred garments.

Exodus 35 explains how Moses gathered the Israelites together and delivered God's instructions to them. Materials were collected through freewill offerings, and craftsmen were appointed. The account of the actual construction of the tabernacle begins in Exodus 36 and continues through Exodus 38. Exodus 39 relates how the priestly garments were made. Finally, in Exodus 40, the tabernacle is erected for the first time.

Just imagine how God's tabernacle must have looked! The courtyard was about 150 feet long and 75 feet wide. It was surrounded by curtains that were suspended between posts with bronze bases. "The hooks and bands on the posts were silver, and their tops were overlaid with silver; so all the posts of the courtyard had silver bands."

Within the courtyard was a huge altar for burnt offerings, made of acacia wood overlaid in bronze. It was about 4½ feet high and 7½ feet square. The altar stood in front of the tent that covered the tabernacle. This tent had "a covering of ram skins dyed red, and over that a covering of hides of sea cows."

Then there was the tabernacle itself, surrounded by "ten curtains of finely twisted linen and blue, purple and scarlet yarn, with cherubim worked into them by a skilled craftsman." They had loops of blue material and were joined together with gold clasps. The outer area of the tabernacle was furnished with:

And finally, within the Most Holy Place of the tabernacle was the Ark of the Covenant, gloriously overlaid in pure gold, with "two cherubim [made] out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover.... The cherubim had their wings spread upward, overshadowing the cover with them. The cherubim faced each other, looking toward the cover."

I wonder if any of us can truly appreciate how it all must have appeared? Imagine the splendor! Imagine the majesty! "Have them make a sanctuary for me," God commanded in Exodus 25.8, "and I will dwell among them." And so He did.

It's now time to move on to a type of tabernacle described in the New Testament. It is first mentioned by Paul in 2 Corinthians 5.1-4:

For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life (KJV).
The tabernacle mentioned in this passage is, of course, the human body. The Apostle Peter also talks about this human tabernacle:
Yea, I think it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance; Knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath showed me (2 Peter 1.13-14 KJV).
Many modern versions of the New Testament render "tabernacle" in these verses as "tent." I believe this rendering diminishes the image of sacredness that the use of the word tabernacle was meant to convey. This idea of sacredness is further reinforced by Bible passages that refer to the human body as a "temple":
Then the Jews demanded of him, "What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?" Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days." The Jews replied, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?" But the temple he had spoken of was his body (John 2.18-21).

Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple (1 Corinthians 3.16-17).

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body (1 Corinthians 6.19-20).

What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people" (2 Corinthians 6.16).

Something that must not be overlooked in all of this is that these tabernacles of flesh aren't made by human hands like the Old Testament tabernacle, but instead are made by God Himself:
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them (Genesis 1.26-27).

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well (Psalms 139.13-16).

Know that the LORD Himself is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture (Psalms 100.3 NASB).

Now then, remember the accounts of the Old Testament tabernacle described above? Well, there's more to this story. The Israelites religiously followed the instructions that God relayed to them through Moses. Only the finest materials were used. Measurements were precisely followed. The workmanship was flawless. When the task was completed, the tabernacle was erected. "Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle," just as promised (Exodus 40.34).

Then something truly shocking happened. Rather than being filled with awe and respect at the sight of God's holy tabernacle, the Israelites found that they were ashamed to look at it. In fact, they were so ashamed of it that they decided to fashion coverings from ordinary cloth so that they could conceal this temple of God from their sight. They even went so far as to enact laws forbidding anyone from uncovering the tabernacle in order to prevent others from catching so much as a momentary glimpse of it.

Many who are reading this right now are probably thinking, "Wait a Minute! I've read about the Old Testament tabernacle, and that just never happened!" You are quite right. That's not what happened at all. The very idea that such acts of desecration could occur is almost unthinkable. And yet, I believe this to be a fair characterization of how today's culture seems to regard our sacred, Spirit-indwelled human "tabernacles." Sadly, Christians have been caught up in this cultural practice of concealing the sacred as well.

I find extraordinary irony in the idea of Christians praising God as the glorious Creator of the universe and everything in it, piously acknowledging God's personal involvement in our own creation as human beings, only to then spare no effort in covering this very creation with fabric and shame. This incongruity, I believe, betrays a profound lack of reverence, something defined by dictionaries as a feeling of deep respect mixed with wonder, awe and love. By their very nature, reverence and shame are mutually exclusive.

When describing the Old Testament tabernacle earlier, I purposely included an abundance of detail in order to make a point. Man has shown himself capable of creating some magnificent things with his hands. This is especially true when he does his creating according to God's explicit instructions. But no matter how impressive the creations of man may be, nothing nothing can compare with the awe-inspiring glory of that which God Himself creates, and nothing is more deserving of our reverence.

I recall once reading a thought-provoking line in a book called The Golden Cow. While illustrating a discussion about desecration and irreverence, author John White wrote: "When one man calls another 'a son of a bitch,' he never thinks of the mother he maligns but of the man he wishes to enrage." How true. Similarly, when the human body in its God-created state is labeled as "shameful and unfit to be seen," the question that must be asked is, "How can anyone malign something so highly regarded by the Creator without maligning the Creator Himself?" The answer, of course, is that you can't.

For the Christian, the ancient tabernacle of cloth and wood and precious metals has been replaced with sacred tabernacles of flesh and blood and bones. These human "temples" are eminently worthy of reverence for several reasons: they are His personal workmanship; they are a reflection of His image and likeness; and, perhaps most importantly, His Spirit dwells within them.

To be sure, circumstances do not always allow the sacredness of God's tabernacles to be visible. The Israelites had to dismantle and pack up their tabernacle whenever they moved from place to place during their long trek through the desert on their way to the Promised Land. Its glory was concealed from sight by necessity. As Christians, we too are strangers and pilgrims, sojourning in this "foreign" land. We are subject to the laws and social customs of a worldly culture that is often at odds with manifestations of sacredness. For the most part, necessity requires us to conceal the sacredness of our human tabernacles as we move about on our way to the "promised land," our heavenly reward.

The Israelites were able to set up the tabernacle when they encamped on their journey. Fortunately, we have opportunities to "encamp" as we proceed on our Christian journey, too. Society's laws do not prevent us from uncovering our "tabernacles" in the privacy of our own homes, or in the friendly surroundings of nudist camps and resorts. These places should be our encampments, where the sacredness of our God-given tabernacle need not be hidden from view. It is here that a genuine reverence for our Creator can be seen in the way we honor Him with reverent acceptance of our God-created state nakedness.

I once mused within these pages that rather than being ashamed of their nakedness, Christians might more properly be ashamed of being ashamed of their nakedness. For more and more of God's people, acceptance of their nakedness has been the beginning of a true sense of reverence for Him as their personal Creator. Christian nudists are showing the way.

This article is from Issue 17 of Fig Leaf Forum and was written by the editor.

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