1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “On the first day of the first month you shall erect the tabernacle of the tent of meeting. 3 And you shall put in it the ark of the testimony, and you shall screen the ark with the veil. 4 And you shall bring in the table and arrange it, and you shall bring in the lampstand and set up its lamps. 5 And you shall put the golden altar for incense before the ark of the testimony, and set up the screen for the door of the tabernacle. 6 You shall set the altar of burnt offering before the door of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting, 7 and place the basin between the tent of meeting and the altar, and put water in it. 8 And you shall set up the court all around, and hang up the screen for the gate of the court.
9 “Then you shall take the anointing oil and anoint the tabernacle and all that is in it, and consecrate it and all its furniture, so that it may become holy. 10 You shall also anoint the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, and consecrate the altar, so that the altar may become most holy. 11 You shall also anoint the basin and its stand, and consecrate it. 12 Then you shall bring Aaron and his sons to the entrance of the tent of meeting and shall wash them with water 13 and put on Aaron the holy garments. And you shall anoint him and consecrate him, that he may serve me as priest. 14 You shall bring his sons also and put coats on them, 15 and anoint them, as you anointed their father, that they may serve me as priests. And their anointing shall admit them to a perpetual priesthood throughout their generations.”
16 This Moses did; according to all that the Lord commanded him, so he did. 17 In the first month in the second year, on the first day of the month, the tabernacle was erected. 18 Moses erected the tabernacle. He laid its bases, and set up its frames, and put in its poles, and raised up its pillars. 19 And he spread the tent over the tabernacle and put the covering of the tent over it, as the Lord had commanded Moses. 20 He took the testimony and put it into the ark, and put the poles on the ark and set the mercy seat above on the ark. 21 And he brought the ark into the tabernacle and set up the veil of the screen, and screened the ark of the testimony, as the Lord had commanded Moses. 22 He put the table in the tent of meeting, on the north side of the tabernacle, outside the veil, 23 and arranged the bread on it before the Lord, as the Lord had commanded Moses. 24 He put the lampstand in the tent of meeting, opposite the table on the south side of the tabernacle, 25 and set up the lamps before the Lord, as the Lord had commanded Moses. 26 He put the golden altar in the tent of meeting before the veil, 27 and burned fragrant incense on it, as the Lord had commanded Moses. 28 He put in place the screen for the door of the tabernacle. 29 And he set the altar of burnt offering at the entrance of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting, and offered on it the burnt offering and the grain offering, as the Lord had commanded Moses. 30 He set the basin between the tent of meeting and the altar, and put water in it for washing, 31 with which Moses and Aaron and his sons washed their hands and their feet. 32 When they went into the tent of meeting, and when they approached the altar, they washed, as the Lord commanded Moses. 33 And he erected the court around the tabernacle and the altar, and set up the screen of the gate of the court. So Moses finished the work. – Exodus 40:1-33 ESV
To say that the roughly nine months the Israelites spent at Mount Sinai had been eventful would be an understatement. During their stay in the shadow of Sinai’s peak, they received a divine visit from Yahweh, as He displayed His glory on the mountaintop. Lightning, thunder, smoke, and earthquakes accompanied His presence. And on multiple occasions, they watched as their intrepid leader, Moses, ascended the mountain to speak with God. During those encounters, he received the Decalogue and the Book of the Covenant. God gave him the plans for the Tabernacle and the sacrificial system.
But during one of his more lengthy sessions with the Almighty, the people became impatient and doubtful of his return. So, they demanded that Aaron, his brother and temporary proxy, take over leadership and begin by finding them a new god to worship. Sadly, Aaron had agreed with their demands. This led to a strong rebuke from Moses and the deaths of thousands of Israelites. But God continued to extend grace and mercy to the people of Israel, assuring them of His continued care and protection. But to guarantee His ongoing presence among them, they would have to build the Tabernacle He had designed.
Now, on the first day of the first month, almost exactly one year after the Israelites left Egypt, Moses oversaw the construction of God’s house. After months of laborious work and painstaking craftsmanship, the people were able to see the Tabernacle rise up from the valley floor. This beautiful structure, designed by God Himself, gradually took form before their eyes. From its vantage point in the middle of the Israelite camp, the building site would have been hard to miss, and the people must have watched the project’s progress with eager anticipation. Slowly and with great care, the timber framework was erected. Then, the two heavy layers of the animal-skin outer covering were put in place. Next, the various pieces of furniture that Bezalel had crafted were moved into their proper positions within the inner recesses of the Tabernacle. The Ark of the Covenant was placed in the Holy of Holies. The Table of Shewbread, the Golden Candlestick, and the Altar of Incense were carefully situated in the Holy Place. And everything was done according to the plan given to Moses by God.
This Moses did; according to all that the Lord commanded him, so he did. – Exodus 40:16 ESV
At this point, God was taking no chances. He provided Moses with detailed instructions that outlined the exact order of the entire construction and move-in process. There was a proper sequence for everything, and Moses followed God’s instructions to the letter. And his obedient fulfillment of God’s plan was key to ensuring God’s presence. The Tabernacle was intended to be God’s house and, therefore, it must be perfect and up to His exacting standards. Built by human hands, it was to be the earthly dwelling place of the God of the Universe.
One can only imagine the stress that Moses felt as he oversaw the build-out and move-in process. He must have second-guessed himself a thousand times and questioned whether he had left anything out. And during his inspections of all the various elements that made up the Tabernacle, he must have had a great deal of concern that everything would meet God’s expectations. There was a great deal riding on this project. If anything was unacceptable or incomplete, it could end up postponing or permanently canceling God’s move-in plans. And that would be catastrophic.
But Moses proved to be a worthy project manager. Eight different times the text states that Moses followed God’s instructions flawlessly, doing everything “just as the Lord had commanded him” (16, 19, 21, 23, 25, 27, 29, 32). He took his responsibilities seriously because he knew that any failure to meet God’s expectations would be catastrophic. The Tabernacle was meant to illustrate the holiness of God. Everything about it was designed to reflect God’s glory and greatness. The flawless God of the universe required a residence worthy of His glorious status.
And after careful oversight of the entire project, the day came when the last piece of the puzzle was put in place and the Tabernacle stood completed. Moses and the rest of the Israelites must have stood back and viewed their work with awe and admiration. They had put a great deal of time, effort, and personal resources into this project. Now, it stood complete, but there was still one thing missing: The presence of God. His house was done, but if He failed to move in, the Tabernacle would end up being just another tent in the wilderness. Moses knew that there was one more vital step for the entire process to be deemed a success. God must take up residence in the Tabernacle. But would He be satisfied with their work? Would He give His Good Housekeeping seal of approval?
As the Israelites prepared to begin their second year since leaving Egypt, they were forced to wait on pins and needles to see if God would grace the Tabernacle with His divine presence. But they wouldn’t have to wait long.
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.