The Price of God’s Presence

1 The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the people of Israel, that they take for me a contribution. From every man whose heart moves him you shall receive the contribution for me. And this is the contribution that you shall receive from them: gold, silver, and bronze, blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, goats’ hair, tanned rams’ skins, goatskins, acacia wood, oil for the lamps, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, onyx stones, and stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece. And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it.” – Exodus 25:1-9 ESV

With the giving of the Law, God provided His people with clear guidelines for how they were to live their lives before Him. Now, beginning with chapter 25, God will give them His plan that will ensure His ongoing presence among them.

Ever since leaving Egypt, the people of Israel had grown accustomed to God’s presence in the form of the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. These two manifestations of God’s glory had led them from the Red Sea all the way to Mount Sinai. Then, upon their arrival in the wilderness of Sinai, God’s glory had taken up residence at the top of the mountain, in the form of a storm cloud. This atmospheric display of God’s glory, with its crashing thunder and flashes of lightning, had so intimidated the Israelites that they refused to draw near the mountain.

On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. – Exodus 19:16 ESV

Moses makes it clear that God was in the midst of the cloud.

The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain – Exodus 19:20 ESV

And God had explained to Moses why He had chosen to reveal Himself in this way.

“I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever.” – Exodus 19:9 ESV

And God had Moses place boundaries around the base of the mountain, to prevent them from coming anywhere near His divine presence, upon pain of death.

“…you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, ‘Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death. No hand shall touch him, but he shall be stoned or shot; whether beast or man, he shall not live.’” – Exodus 19:12-13 ESV

It was this holy, majestic, and all-powerful God who had just given them His Law. He was not to be trifled with. Rather, He was to be feared and obeyed. His glory was so great that it caused an entire mountain to tremble. His presence was so awesome that it could only be displayed by flashes of lightning and peals of thunder. Smoke and fire rose from the top of Mount Sinai as if it was an active volcano, but these fear-inducing displays of power were visual manifestations of God’s glorious presence.

The Israelite’s concept of God had been dramatically influenced by these supernatural climatic phenomena. God had been in the mobile pillar of cloud that had led them through the wilderness. He had been in the static storm cloud that for days had darkened the peak of Mount Sinai. But at this point in the narrative, God announces His plan to create a new place for His glory to dwell.

“Have the people of Israel build me a holy sanctuary so I can live among them. You must build this Tabernacle and its furnishings exactly according to the pattern I will show you. – Exodus 19:8-9 NLT

For the next seven chapters, God will His detailed plans for the construction of the Tabernacle. This new structure was to be a “sanctuary” (מִקְדָּשׁmiqdāš), a sacred or holy place, reserved solely for God’s use and to serve as His temporary dwelling place on earth. This unique structure was designed to be transportable so that the people of Israel could move it from place to place as they made their way to Canaan. It was to be the “tabernacle” ( מִשְׁכָּןmiškān) or dwelling place of God. In a sense, it was a large tent designed to accommodate the presence of Yahweh. When the Israelites broke camp, they were to dismantle God’s “tent” and move it to the next location. Once they arrived at their new camp, the first thing they were to do was to erect God’s tent and then place their own tents around it. It would become the focal point of their community.

But for now, God was giving His plans for its construction, and it would begin with each Israelite making a personal sacrifice to see that the Tabernacle became a reality. God was giving the details for its design, but the people would provide the resources for its construction.

“Tell the people of Israel to bring me their sacred offerings. Accept the contributions from all whose hearts are moved to offer them. – Exodus 25:2 NLT

These gifts were to be given voluntarily and not under some sense of obligation. They were to be heartfelt and not guilt-driven. It was important that the gifts reflect the attitude of the giver, demonstrating their willingness to place a higher priority on God’s glory than on their own financial security.

God was asking for a lot. The cost to construct this “tent” for God was going to be high and it would require a great deal of sacrifice on the part of God’s people. They were going to have to dig deep and give away the very best of what they had. Even by today’s standards, the list is staggering.

“…this is the contribution that you shall receive from them: gold, silver, and bronze, blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, goats’ hair, tanned rams’ skins, goatskins, acacia wood, oil for the lamps, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, onyx stones, and stones for setting…” – Exodus 25:3-7 ESV

It’s important to remember that these people were former slaves who had left Egypt in a hurry. During their more than 400-year stay in Egypt, the Israelites had not been wealthy landowners and successful merchants, but they had made their living as shepherds. In the latter years of their Egyptian exile, they had been little more than indentured servants, working as an unpaid labor force for the Pharaoh. So, how were they supposed to come up with this formidable list of building materials? Where did God expect them to get these kinds of luxury items in the middle of the wilderness?

The truth is, God had already provided all the resources they would need. Years earlier, at the very same spot in the wilderness of Sinai, God had called Moses to be the deliverer of His people, and He had given His servant the following promise.

“I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and when you go, you shall not go empty, but each woman shall ask of her neighbor, and any woman who lives in her house, for silver and gold jewelry, and for clothing. You shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians.” – Exodus 3:21-22 ESV

And God kept that promise. Just before leaving the land of Egypt, Moses passed along God’s instructions to the Israelites.

The people of Israel had also done as Moses told them, for they had asked the Egyptians for silver and gold jewelry and for clothing. And the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. Thus they plundered the Egyptians. – Exodus 12:35-36 ESV

They literally stripped the Egyptians of their wealth – just by asking. And it seems that the Egyptians had been compelled to give up far more than just their silver, gold, and clothing. In their desperation to see the Israelites leave so that the deadly plagues would end, the Egyptians handed over everything of value. And this was all in keeping with the promise that God had made to Abraham hundreds of years earlier.

“Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions.” – Genesis 15:13-14 ESV

So, when Moses unveiled the list of building materials required to construct God’s tent, the people didn’t panic or express disbelief. They gave – willingly and sacrificially.

All whose hearts were stirred and whose spirits were moved came and brought their sacred offerings to the Lord. They brought all the materials needed for the Tabernacle, for the performance of its rituals, and for the sacred garments. Both men and women came, all whose hearts were willing. They brought to the Lord their offerings of gold—brooches, earrings, rings from their fingers, and necklaces. They presented gold objects of every kind as a special offering to the Lord. All those who owned the following items willingly brought them: blue, purple, and scarlet thread; fine linen and goat hair for cloth; and tanned ram skins and fine goatskin leather. And all who had silver and bronze objects gave them as a sacred offering to the Lord. And those who had acacia wood brought it for use in the project.

All the women who were skilled in sewing and spinning prepared blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine linen cloth. All the women who were willing used their skills to spin the goat hair into yarn. The leaders brought onyx stones and the special gemstones to be set in the ephod and the priest’s chestpiece. They also brought spices and olive oil for the light, the anointing oil, and the fragrant incense. So the people of Israel—every man and woman who was eager to help in the work the Lord had given them through Moses—brought their gifts and gave them freely to the Lord. – Exodus 35:21-29 NLT

The people responded with eagerness and unselfishness. They freely gave up their most valued possessions so that God might dwell in their midst. The very materials they had been transporting through the wilderness in hopes of constructing their own future homes in Canaan, would become the resources for building the dwelling place of Yahweh. And little did they know at the time, that this “temporary” tent would serve as God’s house for nearly 500 years. It would not be until the reign of Solomon that a permanent Temple would be constructed to house the presence of God. Their gracious gifts of gold, silver, cloth, oil, and wood, all plundered from the Egyptians, would be transformed into a sacred structure to house the glory of their sovereign God and ensure His presence among them.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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