Sin in the Camp

13 “If the whole congregation of Israel sins unintentionally and the thing is hidden from the eyes of the assembly, and they do any one of the things that by the Lord‘s commandments ought not to be done, and they realize their guilt, 14 when the sin which they have committed becomes known, the assembly shall offer a bull from the herd for a sin offering and bring it in front of the tent of meeting. 15 And the elders of the congregation shall lay their hands on the head of the bull before the Lord, and the bull shall be killed before the Lord. 16 Then the anointed priest shall bring some of the blood of the bull into the tent of meeting, 17 and the priest shall dip his finger in the blood and sprinkle it seven times before the Lord in front of the veil. 18 And he shall put some of the blood on the horns of the altar that is in the tent of meeting before the Lord, and the rest of the blood he shall pour out at the base of the altar of burnt offering that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 19 And all its fat he shall take from it and burn on the altar. 20 Thus shall he do with the bull. As he did with the bull of the sin offering, so shall he do with this. And the priest shall make atonement for them, and they shall be forgiven. 21 And he shall carry the bull outside the camp and burn it up as he burned the first bull; it is the sin offering for the assembly.” – Leviticus 4:13-21 ESV

The next mandatory blood sacrifice was in the case of the entire community committing an unintentional sin. It seems that it would have been a rare occurrence for the entire nation to be guilty of having committed the same inadvertent sin. How could an entire multitude of people have unknowingly participated in a violation of God’s law without knowing it? It’s difficult to imagine every single Israelite unwittingly or accidentally participating in the very same violation of God’s law.

But the Hebrew word for “congregation” carries a range of meanings that includes a family, crowd, assembly, or gathering. Yet the context of this passage would seem to indicate that God has the entire Israelite community in mind. The actual sin committed might be the work of a few within the community, but God would hold the entire nation responsible. Sin is like an infectious disease and has a way of spreading throughout the entire body if left undetected and untreated. So, even if the violation had been committed by only a handful of the Israelites, the entire nation would find itself impacted by their actions. The impurity of a few would leave the whole congregation in a state of impurity and in need of cleansing.

So, God provided a means of receiving atonement. He wanted His people to take seriously any form of sin within the camp, and there is a powerful example of this in the book of Joshua. When the people of Israel eventually entered the land of Canaan, God gave them a miraculous victory over the city of Jericho. But this was followed by an unexpected defeat at the hands of the much-smaller city of Ai. Joshua chapter 7 opens up with the statement: “But the people of Israel broke faith in regard to the devoted things…” (Joshua 7:1 ESV).

Before they began their siege of Jericho, God had given the people clear instructions concerning their post-victory celebrations.

“Jericho and everything in it must be completely destroyed as an offering to the Lord. Only Rahab the prostitute and the others in her house will be spared, for she protected our spies.

“Do not take any of the things set apart for destruction, or you yourselves will be completely destroyed, and you will bring trouble on the camp of Israel. Everything made from silver, gold, bronze, or iron is sacred to the Lord and must be brought into his treasury.” – Joshua 6:17-20 NLT

But one man decided to ignore God’s command and enrich himself with some of the plunder from the city. And yet, Moses records, “Israel violated the instructions about the things set apart for the Lord” (Joshua 7:1 NLT). God held the entire nation culpable for Achan’s actions. In fact, Moses notes that “the Lord was very angry with the Israelites” (Joshua 7:1 NLT).

Joshua and the rest of the Israelites were completely oblivious to Achan’s sin. So confident of certain victory over the smaller city of Ai, Joshua sent a contingent made up of 3,000 Israelite soldiers, but their mission ended in defeat. And Moses records that “the Israelites were paralyzed with fear at this turn of events, and their courage melted away” (Joshua 7:5 NLT). Joshua, shaken by this unexpected turn of events, called out to God for an explanation. He couldn’t understand why God had failed to intervene on their behalf against the Amorites living in Ai. But what Joshua didn’t know was that sin had entered the camp of Israel. Achan’s violation of God’s command had left the entire community contaminated and worthy of God’s judgment, and God pulled no punches in declaring the seriousness of the situation.

Israel has sinned and broken my covenant! They have stolen some of the things that I commanded must be set apart for me. And they have not only stolen them but have lied about it and hidden the things among their own belongings. That is why the Israelites are running from their enemies in defeat. For now Israel itself has been set apart for destruction. I will not remain with you any longer unless you destroy the things among you that were set apart for destruction. – Joshua 7:11-12 NLT

While Achan’s sin had been anything but accidental, the rest of the nation had been unaware of its occurrence. They were ignorant of Achan’s crime but were just as responsible before God as if they had all taken part. And God made it clear that the entire community would be considered impure and responsible for the crime until the guilty party was sought out and exposed.

“Get up! Command the people to purify themselves in preparation for tomorrow. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Hidden among you, O Israel, are things set apart for the Lord. You will never defeat your enemies until you remove these things from among you. – Joshua 7:13 NLT

Purification was part of the process. The entire community needed to purge itself of the sin that had left them contaminated and worthy of God’s judgment. The next day, God revealed the identity of the guilty party and ordered his execution.

“The one who has stolen what was set apart for destruction will himself be burned with fire, along with everything he has, for he has broken the covenant of the Lord and has done a horrible thing in Israel.” – Joshua 7:15 NLT

In this case, Achan and his entire family were stoned to death and then burned with fire. The sin was purged from their midst and the nation was spared God’s judgment. But the atonement came at a high price.

And all the Israelites stoned Achan and his family and burned their bodies. They piled a great heap of stones over Achan, which remains to this day. That is why the place has been called the Valley of Trouble ever since. So the Lord was no longer angry. – Joshua 7:25-26 NLT

When it came to the sin/purification offering, God provided a means by which the nation could receive a different form of atonement for inadvertent or unintentional sins committed among them. When someone violated one of God’s laws and it ended up impacting the entire community, there was a way to restore fellowship and receive forgiveness. But it involved a blood sacrifice. A life had to be given so that the guilty might be spared. In this case, it was to be “a bull from the herd” (Leviticus 4:14 ESV). This animal must be free from defects and in perfect health. It represented a payment of high value and illustrated the gravity of the crime committed. Atonement could not be achieved without considerable cost to the guilty party.

As representatives of the people, the elders were to lay their hands on the sacrificial animal, symbolizing its role as their substitute or stand-in. The guilt of the people was symbolically transferred to the bull, then the life of the animal was taken. Its blood was shed so that the Israelites could live and enjoy God’s forgiveness. But before atonement from sin could be enjoyed, the blood of the animal had to be taken by the priest and sprinkled on the veil that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. The people’s access to God had been impacted by their sin. The entrance into God’s presence, represented by the veil, had been contaminated by sin, and needed to be purified by the blood of the sacrificial animal. As the author of Hebrews reminds us, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV).

Having purified the veil, the priest was to take the remainder of the blood and purify the bronze altar as well as the altar of incense. This ritual cleansing of the two altars of sacrifice was intended to restore their holiness and reestablish their use for worshiping God. And by following all the details of this pre-established ceremony “the priest shall make atonement for them, and they shall be forgiven” (Leviticus 4:20 ESV).

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.

Blessed and a Blessing

1 “If his offering is a sacrifice of peace offering, if he offers an animal from the herd, male or female, he shall offer it without blemish before the Lord. And he shall lay his hand on the head of his offering and kill it at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and Aaron’s sons the priests shall throw the blood against the sides of the altar. And from the sacrifice of the peace offering, as a food offering to the Lord, he shall offer the fat covering the entrails and all the fat that is on the entrails, and the two kidneys with the fat that is on them at the loins, and the long lobe of the liver that he shall remove with the kidneys. Then Aaron’s sons shall burn it on the altar on top of the burnt offering, which is on the wood on the fire; it is a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.

“If his offering for a sacrifice of peace offering to the Lord is an animal from the flock, male or female, he shall offer it without blemish. If he offers a lamb for his offering, then he shall offer it before the Lord, lay his hand on the head of his offering, and kill it in front of the tent of meeting; and Aaron’s sons shall throw its blood against the sides of the altar. Then from the sacrifice of the peace offering he shall offer as a food offering to the Lord its fat; he shall remove the whole fat tail, cut off close to the backbone, and the fat that covers the entrails and all the fat that is on the entrails 10 and the two kidneys with the fat that is on them at the loins and the long lobe of the liver that he shall remove with the kidneys. 11 And the priest shall burn it on the altar as a food offering to the Lord.

12 “If his offering is a goat, then he shall offer it before the Lord 13 and lay his hand on its head and kill it in front of the tent of meeting, and the sons of Aaron shall throw its blood against the sides of the altar. 14 Then he shall offer from it, as his offering for a food offering to the Lord, the fat covering the entrails and all the fat that is on the entrails 15 and the two kidneys with the fat that is on them at the loins and the long lobe of the liver that he shall remove with the kidneys. 16 And the priest shall burn them on the altar as a food offering with a pleasing aroma. All fat is the Lord‘s. 17 It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations, in all your dwelling places, that you eat neither fat nor blood.” – Leviticus 3:1-17 ESV

The peace offering was a voluntary sacrifice that came in three different forms. First, it could be given as a freewill offering as an expression of gratitude to God for His gracious provision and protection. The seventh chapter of Leviticus describes the second kind of peace offering. This one was also a freewill offering but it was associated with the fulfillment of a vow or commitment made to God. An example of this kind of peace offering is found in the book of 1 Samuel where we see a woman named Hannah making a vow to God. Unable to bare children, Hannah pleaded with God to intervene on her behalf.

Hannah was in deep anguish, crying bitterly as she prayed to the Lord. And she made this vow: “O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, if you will look upon my sorrow and answer my prayer and give me a son, then I will give him back to you. He will be yours for his entire lifetime, and as a sign that he has been dedicated to the Lord, his hair will never be cut. – 1 Samuel 1:10-11 NLT

And God fulfilled her request.

the Lord remembered her plea, and in due time she gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, “I asked the Lord for him.” – 1 Samuel 1:19-20 NLT

In response to God’s gracious provision of a son, Hannah offered a peace offering as an expression of her gratitude for His goodness.

When the child was weaned, Hannah took him to the Tabernacle in Shiloh. They brought along a three-year-old bull for the sacrifice and a basket of flour and some wine. – 1 Samuel 1:24 NLT

And Hannah clearly articulated the purpose behind her offering to God.

“I am the very woman who stood here several years ago praying to the Lord. I asked the Lord to give me this boy, and he has granted my request. Now I am giving him to the Lord, and he will belong to the Lord his whole life.” – 1 Samuel 1:26-28 NLT

Not only did Hannah offer the bull, a grain offering, and some wine to God, but she also dedicated her son to His service. In gratitude for God’s answer to her prayer, Hannah consecrated her infant son to Yahweh – for life. As far as she was concerned, Samuel belonged to God and would spend his life ministering on Yahweh’s behalf.

The third type of peace offering was to be given as an expression of thanksgiving for God’s gracious deliverance from a difficult situation. This voluntary gift to God was a way of saying, “Thank you” for His providential activity in one’s life. Having experienced God’s divine intervention in his life, the giver willingly offered his gift as a way of expressing his gratitude. God had delivered him from trouble, and the least he could do was thank God for His undeserved intervention in the affairs of his life.

One of the things that set the peace offering apart from all the other sacrifices was that a portion of the meat that was offered was made available to the giver.  The actual sacrificial ceremony followed the same basic pattern as that of the burnt offering. The individual brought his sacrifice to the priest, slaughtered it, then the priest sprinkled some of its blood on the altar. The one presenting the gift was expected to “remove the fat that covers the entrails and all the fat that surrounds the entrails, the two kidneys with the fat on their sinews, and the protruding lobe on the liver (Leviticus 3:3-4 NLT). This portion of the sacrificial animal was then burned upon the altar “as a gift of a soothing aroma to the Lord” (Leviticus 3:5 NLT).

The remaining meat was made available to the one who presented the offering, but it was to be consumed according to strict guidelines and a regimented schedule. For the peace offering of thanksgiving, the meat was to be eaten on the same day it was sacrificed.

“The meat of the peace offering of thanksgiving must be eaten on the same day it is offered. None of it may be saved for the next morning.” – Leviticus 7:15 NLT

But the timeline for the peace offering given as part of the fulfillment of a vow could be extended one day.

“If you bring an offering to fulfill a vow or as a voluntary offering, the meat must be eaten on the same day the sacrifice is offered, but whatever is left over may be eaten on the second day.” – Leviticus 7:16 NLT

While the fat and blood of the sacrificial animal were strictly prohibited. the rest of the meat was made available so that the one making the sacrifice could share a meal with God. Evidently, this was a communal meal shared between the priests, the congregant, and Yahweh. But certain portions of the meat were reserved for Aaron and his sons.

“When you present a peace offering to the Lord, bring part of it as a gift to the Lord. Present it to the Lord with your own hands as a special gift to the Lord. Bring the fat of the animal, together with the breast, and lift up the breast as a special offering to the Lord. Then the priest will burn the fat on the altar, but the breast will belong to Aaron and his descendants. Give the right thigh of your peace offering to the priest as a gift.  The right thigh must always be given to the priest who offers the blood and the fat of the peace offering.” – Leviticus 7:29-33 NLT

God explained that these special portions of the sacrifice were the rightful property of Aaron and his sons because they had been set apart for His service.

“The special gifts presented to the Lord have been reserved for Aaron and his descendants from the time they were set apart to serve the Lord as priests. – Leviticus 7:35 NLT

God would provide for His people, and He expected them to respond by offering their freewill peace offerings as a tangible expression of their gratitude. When they did so, they would also receive the blessing of enjoying fellowship with God in the form of a meal. And their voluntary expression of thanksgiving would also provide for the needs of the priests. God’s goodness, when responded to with gratitude, would end up blessing all those involved. In blessing God for His goodness, the giver would be blessed and a blessing to others.

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.

The Bread of Life

1 When anyone brings a grain offering as an offering to the Lord, his offering shall be of fine flour. He shall pour oil on it and put frankincense on it and bring it to Aaron’s sons the priests. And he shall take from it a handful of the fine flour and oil, with all of its frankincense, and the priest shall burn this as its memorial portion on the altar, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord. But the rest of the grain offering shall be for Aaron and his sons; it is a most holy part of the Lord’s food offerings.

“When you bring a grain offering baked in the oven as an offering, it shall be unleavened loaves of fine flour mixed with oil or unleavened wafers smeared with oil. And if your offering is a grain offering baked on a griddle, it shall be of fine flour unleavened, mixed with oil. You shall break it in pieces and pour oil on it; it is a grain offering. And if your offering is a grain offering cooked in a pan, it shall be made of fine flour with oil. And you shall bring the grain offering that is made of these things to the Lord, and when it is presented to the priest, he shall bring it to the altar. And the priest shall take from the grain offering its memorial portion and burn this on the altar, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord. 10 But the rest of the grain offering shall be for Aaron and his sons; it is a most holy part of the Lord’s food offerings.

11 “No grain offering that you bring to the Lord shall be made with leaven, for you shall burn no leaven nor any honey as a food offering to the Lord. 12 As an offering of firstfruits you may bring them to the Lord, but they shall not be offered on the altar for a pleasing aroma. 13 You shall season all your grain offerings with salt. You shall not let the salt of the covenant with your God be missing from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.

14 “If you offer a grain offering of firstfruits to the Lord, you shall offer for the grain offering of your firstfruits fresh ears, roasted with fire, crushed new grain. 15 And you shall put oil on it and lay frankincense on it; it is a grain offering. 16 And the priest shall burn as its memorial portion some of the crushed grain and some of the oil with all of its frankincense; it is a food offering to the Lord. – Leviticus 2:1-16 ESV

The three different burnt offerings the Israelites were instructed to bring before the Lord involved the sacrifice of animals created by God. Bulls, sheep, lambs, goats, and birds were God’s handiwork, and when offered as sacrifices to Him, they reflected the reality that the atonement received by the giver was made possible by God. In essence, God had paid for the sins of the individual by providing the sacrificial animal. Man could breed and care for his flocks and herds, but he played no significant role in their actual creation or procreation.

In the original creation account, God gave man responsibility for cultivating the crops that were to be the primary source of sustenance for both humans and animals.

“Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” – Genesis 1:29-30 ESV

Mankind had been tasked with the job of planting, cultivating, and harvesting the various plants and trees that filled the garden. They were to play a part in God’s creative order, using the seeds of the plants God had created to expand the garden beyond its original boundaries. And the produce from these plantings would provide an abundance of food for all future offspring, both human and animal. And this process would require effort on the part of man. But it was not until the fall that this effort or work became laborious and difficult. Because of his role in breaking the command concerning the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and his future descendants were placed under a curse by God.

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
    and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
    ‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
    in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
    and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
    you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
    for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
    and to dust you shall return.” – Genesis 3:17-19 ESV

From that moment on, the task of carrying out his God-given responsibility would be marked by pain and difficulty. Planting and harvesting crops would become a chore that was accompanied by pain, suffering, and disappointment. And it was not until after the flood that God gave humanity the right to consider animals as a source of food. But even this concession came with conditions.

“Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.” – Genesis 9:3-4 ESV

Since each of the grain offerings described in this chapter was intended to follow the burnt offerings outlined in chapter one, they were intended to be a response to God’s gracious provision of atonement. These offerings were to be expressions of gratitude for God’s forgiveness, made possible by the animals He had created. Their blood had been shed in order to cover or atone for the sins of the one giving the offering. As an act of worship and a demonstration of thankfulness, the newly forgiven Israelite was to offer the work of his hands to Yahweh.

The meat of the burnt offering was followed by the “bread” of the grain offering. Both were “a pleasing aroma to God” and “a most holy part of the Lord‘s food offerings” (Leviticus 9:2-3 ESV). Together, they formed a “meal” for Yahweh. But in the case of the grain offerings, God reserved a portion of the sacrifice for His servants, the priests.

“…the rest of the grain offering shall be for Aaron and his sons.” – Leviticus 2:3 ESV

Aaron and his sons were graciously permitted to eat from the table of the Lord. God cared for His own, rewarding them for their faithful service in His house and meeting all of their physical needs.

God provides options when it came to the grain offerings. The first involved grain that had been milled into finely ground flour. This would have required effort on the part of the one making the offering. Fine flour would have been of the highest quality and a fitting gift to Yahweh. A portion of the flour was to be mixed with oil, salt, and frankincense, then burned on the altar. The addition of these ingredients to the gift increased the cost to the giver while enhancing the value of the gift. The burnt offering had cost the animal its life. Its blood had been shed so that the giver might live and not die. And the one whose life had been spared was to express his or her gratitude in a manner that signified the true value of God’s gracious gift.

God gave the Israelites options when it came to the form of the grain offering. They could offer it in the form of flour, baked loaves of bread, or flat cakes cooked on a griddle. But regardless of its form, the flour was to be free from yeast or honey. The grain was to be pure and free from adulteration of any kind. To the Israelites, yeast was a symbol of sin’s permeating presence within the life of the individual and the community. It’s likely that honey was excluded because its high sugar content would have caused the grain to ferment, another sign of corruption or sin.

God’s gift of atonement, made possible through the burnt offering, was to be followed by the grain offering. By offering the “bread of life,” the giver was thanking God for redeeming his life from death. Because of their sin, every Israelite stood before God as condemned and worthy of death, but the sacrifice of the unblemished bull, lamb, or bird provided atonement and forgiveness. The grain offering was a tangible demonstration that God was the ultimate provider and sustainer of life. The death of the animal had extended the life of the giver. The offering of the grain was the giver’s way of acknowledging that, even in the absence of bread, God could sustain life.

It was John the Baptist who declared of Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV). And the apostle John would later record Jesus’ claim concerning Himself: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35 ESV).

Jesus would become the sacrificial lamb and the bread of life. He would offer Himself as the sinless substitute who offers atonement for sin and freedom from death. But He would also be the ongoing sustainer of life. Jesus boldly declared His intention to provide eternal life in the hereafter but also life more abundantly in the here and now (John 10:10). Jesus provides atonement for sin and freedom from death. But He also offers to sustain all those who place their faith in Him. As the bread of life, He provides the nourishment necessary to live in this life while waiting for the one to come.

“…this is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those he has given me, but that I should raise them up at the last day. For it is my Father’s will that all who see his Son and believe in him should have eternal life. I will raise them up at the last day.” – John 6:39-40 ESV

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.

Cost and Commitment

“If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish. He shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the Lord. He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. Then he shall kill the bull before the Lord, and Aaron’s sons the priests shall bring the blood and throw the blood against the sides of the altar that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting. Then he shall flay the burnt offering and cut it into pieces, and the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. And Aaron’s sons the priests shall arrange the pieces, the head, and the fat, on the wood that is on the fire on the altar; but its entrails and its legs he shall wash with water. And the priest shall burn all of it on the altar, as a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.” – Leviticus 1:3-9 ESV

In his book, Holiness to the Lord, Allan P. Ross stated, “Sacrifice is at the heart of all true worship.” The book of Leviticus deals with the fine art of sacrifice that God ordained so that the Israelites might be able to enjoy His presence. This compilation of regulations regarding sacrifice was meant to dictate how the Israelites should express their gratitude for God’s goodness and their reverence for His holiness.

Yahweh was not some mindless, man-made idol that would accept any and all sacrifices offered on His behalf.  He was holy and righteous and entrance into His divine presence required purification and proper protocol. Sin had long separated humanity from God. Ever since Adam and Eve had violated God’s command not to eat the fruit of the one prohibited tree in the garden, mankind had been on a downward moral trajectory, away from God deeper into a lifestyle marked by independence from Him. Once sin entered the world, Adam and Eve lost their direct access to God. They would no longer enjoy unbroken fellowship with God in the garden. Instead, they were ejected from the former home they shared with the Almighty and were forced to live outside the garden and apart from His presence. Yet, God didn’t destroy Adam and Eve for their disobedience. Instead, He covered their spiritual “nakedness” with garments of skin. As they stood before God, literally exposed by their sin, He showered them with grace, offering the first blood sacrifice by taking the life of an innocent animal in order to properly atone for their sins.

Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them. – Genesis 3:21 ESV

The Hebrew word for atonement is kāp̄ar and it means “to cover over.” Adam and Eve stood before God exposed by their sin and worthy of His condemnation. But rather than facing the penalty of death, they were spared and given a new lease on life. Yet, blood was spilled so that they might live.

Generations would come and go, and the sinful bent of humanity would display itself through a deepening love affair with sin and rebellion against God. While Adam and Eve had enjoyed God’s undeserved forgiveness, they went on to populate the earth with more of their kind – sin-prone human beings who chose to live in open rebellion to the will of their Creator. Things became so bad, that at one point, God looked down on the earth and determined to put an end to the rampant wickedness that had enveloped humankind, the apex of His creation.

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” – Genesis 6:5-7 ESV

Things had gotten so bad that God prepared to destroy all that He had created and deemed to be good. Yet, there was one man who found favor with God. Genesis reveals that “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God” (Genesis 6:9 ESV). In all the unrighteousness that marked the world of his day, Noah stood out as a man who had remained faithful to God. He wasn’t perfect or sinless, but his life was characterized by obedience to God. Therefore, God determined to spare Noah’s life. But in doing so, God sacrificed the lives of the rest of humanity as well as all living creatures that did not end up on the ark. Once again, lives were sacrificed so that Noah and his family could live.

After the flood that destroyed all living things, God started over with Noah and his three sons. But even though Noah was a righteous man, it didn’t take long before mankind’s love affair with sin raised its ugly head again. Things picked up right where they left off. Humanity continued to move away from God and toward independence. Noah’s three sons produced offspring and filled the earth with more of their kind. Their progeny spread over the earth, producing nations that propagated further rebellion against God. And from one of these nations, God chose another man from which to begin again. This time, He chose Abram, a pagan idol-worshiper from the faraway land of Ur. God designated this undeserving Chaldean as the one through whom He would create a brand-new nation that would become a model of righteousness in a sea of sinfulness.

God revealed Himself to this undeserving and unsuspecting man from distant Ur and proffered the following command and promise.

“Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” – Genesis 12:1-3 NLT

And Abram obeyed. His first encounter with Yahweh produced in him a willingness to take God at His word and step out in faith. Moses records that “Abram departed as the Lord had instructed” (Genesis 12:4 NLT). And this tendency toward willful obedience would show up repeatedly in Abram’s life over the years. He would continue to live in obedience submission to the will of God, regardless of the circumstances. From this one man, God would produce an entire nation, the people of Israel. And it was the descendants of Abram whom God redeemed out of slavery in Egypt and led to the valley beneath Mount Sinai. He had spared their lives through the sacrifice of blood.

“Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.” – Exodus 12:3-6 NLT

Each Israelite household was instructed to take the blood of the lamb and spread it on the doorpost and lintel of the door to their home.

“The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.” – Exodus 12:13 NLT

The blood became a covering or source of atonement, causing the death angel to pass over those homes and sparing all the firstborns found inside. Once again, God used blood to produce life. The Israelites had been undeserving of God’s grace and mercy. They had done nothing to earn His favor or merit His salvation. But by obeying His command, they received His protection and enjoyed His unmerited favor in the form of life and freedom.

It was those same Israelites who stood outside the newly constructed Tabernacle and listened to the voice of God as He declared His rules and regulations concerning the sacrificial system. If they wanted to dwell in His holy presence and continue to enjoy His favor, they would have to make sacrifices. Obedience was a non-negotiable requirement if they wanted to enjoy their status as His chosen people.

“Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” – Exodus 19:5-6 ESV

Their status as His chosen people would require sacrifice. It would involve cost and commitment. And God provided them with exacting details concerning the nature of the investment He expected them to make. The first involved the offering of cattle, and God made it clear that He would not accept any animal as a sacrifice.

“If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish. He shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the Lord.– Leviticus 1:3 ESV

The animal must be free from flaw or injury. God would not accept damaged goods. If an Israelite expected his offering to be accepted, it had to have come with a cost. He could not offer an injured or diseased animal and expect God to be pleased with his offering. This animal was intended to serve as a substitute for the sins of the individual and, therefore, it must be healthy and whole. The blood of the animal would serve as atonement, covering the sins of the one offering the sacrifice.

He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. – Leviticus 1:4 ESV

The goal behind all the sacrifices was a restored relationship with Yahweh. Sin caused a break in the relationship between God and His people, and sacrifice was required to atone for those sins. For the sinner to be accepted as “a pleasing aroma to the Lord” (Leviticus 1:9 ESV), a payment had to be made. The author of Hebrews reminds us that blood sacrifice was essential if the sinner expected to receive forgiveness from God.

…under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. – Hebrews 9:22 ESV

Sin was inevitable and unavoidable for God’s people. They were chosen, yet still fallen and predisposed to disobedience. So, God provided the sacrificial systen as a means by which they might be restored to a right relationship with Him. Their sinfulness separated them from God. But sacrifice was the God-ordained means for being made right with Him. And it came with a cost and required total commitment.

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.

When God Speaks…

1 The Lord called Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When any one of you brings an offering to the Lord, you shall bring your offering of livestock from the herd or from the flock.” – Leviticus 1:1-2 ESV

As part of a five-book set known as the Pentateuch, the book of Leviticus picks up where the book of Exodus left off. The first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures were originally one book that was referred to as the Book of the Law or Torah. The Greek word Pentateuch was eventually used to refer to this five-volume set. It comes from a combination of the Greek word penta, meaning “five” and teuchos, which can be translated as “scroll.” These five individual scrolls were written by Moses sometime between the time when the Israelites left Egypt and when they entered the land of Canaan. When Moses originally penned the words recorded in the Pentateuch, he had one audience in mind: The Israelites whom he had helped deliver from captivity in Egypt.

Like much of what is contained in the book of Exodus, Leviticus is a record of God’s direct revelation to His chosen people. It contains detailed instructions regarding the priesthood and the sacrificial system that would become integral to their worship of Him. The final chapter of Exodus records the completion of the Tabernacle, the portable sanctuary that God had designed and ordered Moses to construct.

“There I will meet with the people of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by my glory. I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar. Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate to serve me as priests. I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God.” – Exodus 29:43-46 ESV

But in order for God’s glory to dwell within the Tabernacle, the Israelites and the “house” they had constructed would have to remain pure. But God knew this would be impossible because the Israelites had already proven their propensity for sin and their inability to remain faithful to their covenant commitment to Him. Not long after receiving the Ten Commandments and verbally acknowledging their commitment to obey them, the Israelites blatantly violated the first two on the list. God had clearly warned them, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3 ESV). Then He followed that prohibition with the additional warning, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them…” (Exodus 20:4-5 ESV).

Yet, Exodus records that the people of Israel willingly broke both of these commandments. While Moses had been up on Mount Sinai receiving God’s plans for the Tabernacle, the people of Israel became worried about his welfare. Fearing that he would never return, they demanded that Aaron take his brother’s place, and then ordered him to provide them with a new god to guide and protect them. Sadly, Aaron obliged their request and crafted an idol out of the gold they donated. Then he ordered an official feast day, complete with sacrifices and marked by a raucous celebration.

But the party was interrupted by Moses’ return and the deaths of the 3,000 Israelite leaders who had instigated the whole affair. And despite this egregious display of open rebellion against Him, Yawheh remained faithful to His people. While a plague took the lives of all those who had participated in the insurrection, God spared the rest of the Israelites and allowed them to complete the construction of the Tabernacle. He would keep His promise to dwell among them. But His presence would come at a cost. The Tabernacle was beautiful in appearance and designed to reflect the glory of God,  it would be a place marked by sacrifice and associated with death and blood. In order for the Israelites to remain ceremonially and ethically pure, they would be required to have their sins atoned for by offering repeated sacrifices within the courtyard of the Tabernacle, and the priests would oversee this ongoing purification process.

Exodus ends with the inaugural assembly of the Tabernacle, and as it stood before the people for the very first time, God sanctioned it by filling the Holy of Holies with His presence.

…the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. – Exodus 40:34-35 ESV

The book of Leviticus picks up at this point. In fact, the very first word in the Hebrew version of Leviticus is the conjunctive: wayyiqra’, which is translated “And He [the Lord] called” (Leviticus 1:1 ESV). This is meant to reflect the ongoing nature of the narrative. The Tabernacle is finished but God is not. He has much more to say. In fact, Leviticus contains more direct quotes from God than any other book of the Bible.

“There is no book in the whole compass of that inspired Volume which the Holy Spirit has given us, that contains more of the very words of God than Leviticus. It is God that is the direct speaker in almost every page; His gracious words are recorded in the form wherein they were uttered.” – Andrew A. Bonar, A Commentary on Leviticus

God had far more to say to His people and the book of Leviticus reveals His thoughts concerning a wide range of topics, all related to the Levitical priesthood and the sacrificial system that would accompany and regulate their worship of Him.

“Though the covenant arrangement up to this point clearly specified the need for Israel, the vassal, to appear before her Lord on stated occasions and singled out first Moses and then the priesthood as mediators in this encounter, there yet remained the need to describe the nature of the tribute to be presented, the precise meaning and function of the priesthood, the definition of holiness and unholiness, and a more strict clarification of the places and times of pilgrimage to the dwelling place of the great King. This is the purpose of the book of Leviticus.” – Eugene H. Merrill, “A Theology of the Pentateuch,” in A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament

The erection of the Tabernacle was to be viewed as a transitional phase of the Israelite’s history and not a point of completion. They would not be staying in Sinai. Their destination was Canaan, and the Tabernacle had been designed for portability because they had many miles to cover before their journey was complete and God’s covenant promise had been fulfilled. He would be traveling with them and, thanks to the completed Tabernacle, dwelling among them as they moved from Sinai to Canaan. But now, He wanted them to understand all the regulatory requirements associated with His new “house” and the Levitical priests who would oversee and maintain it.

And from the inner recesses of the newly built Tabernacle, God called out to Moses with His latest instructions for the people of Israel.

“Speak to the Israelites and tell them, ‘When someone among you presents an offering to the Lord, you must present your offering from the domesticated animals, either from the herd or from the flock. – Leviticus 1:2 NLT

The Tabernacle was to be a place of sacrifice. The key to enjoying God’s ongoing presence would be the maintenance of their own holiness. Because they were prone to sin, they would need constant atonement for those sins if they wanted to enjoy and benefit from Yahweh’s glory and goodness. Obedience was a non-optional requirement for blessing. But because they lacked the power or resolve to obey, they would inevitably violate God’s commands and require purification so that they might receive forgiveness. And Leviticus records the detailed system of sacrifice that God had designed so that His presence might continue to dwell among His chosen people. And this intricate and sometimes mind-numbing collection of sacrificial laws and regulations has great value because it emphasizes God’s holiness while stressing humanity’s sinfulness. God had chosen the Israelites to be His treasured possession. He had delivered them from captivity. He had providentially led them to Mount Sinai, where He gave them His law, established the priesthood, and provided the plans for His earthly dwelling place. But Leviticus will detail God’s expectations of them. That is why the book opens with God’s direct communication to His chosen people.

“Speak to the people of Israel and say to them…” – Leviticus 1:2 ESV

God was speaking and it was essential that they listen carefully and obey completely.

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.

The Glory of the Lord

34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 35 And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 36 Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out. 37 But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out till the day that it was taken up. 38 For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys. – Exodus 40:34-38 ESV

The book of Exodus ends with a somewhat small but highly significant section of verses that provide the conclusion to the Israelite’s Sinai experience. They had been camped at this location for more than a year and, during that time, much had taken place. And this region had a special significance to Moses because it was at this same spot that he had received his commission from God to serve as the deliverer of Israel. Long before he had taken on this formidable responsibility to lead the Israelites from captivity in Egypt to the land of Canaan, Moses had been shepherding his father-in-law’s sheep near Mount Sinai. On one occasion, Moses’ attention was drawn to a strange and inexplicable sight.

He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” – Exodus 3:2-4 ESV

Much to Moses’ surprise, the bush spoke to him, and little did he know at the moment that the voice he heard was that of Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

“Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” – Exodus 3:5 ESV

Moses had entered a holy place because God Almighty had graced it with His presence. His divine glory appeared in tongues of flame that engulfed an ordinary bush but left it fully intact and unharmed. In a sense, that bush had become an earthly sanctuary for God – if just for a moment. Its original purpose had been dramatically altered as it was transformed into a temporary repository for God’s holy presence.

For a brief moment in time, God had turned a common and otherwise insignificant bush into a sanctuary in which Moses might commune with Him. By God’s grace, that remote desert location had become a place of worship and intimate fellowship with Him. It was holy ground and, from that spot, God spoke to Moses.

“I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. – Exodus 3:7-8 ESV

Yahweh revealed His glory and His will to Moses. And now, more than a year later, God was going to reenact this divine encounter yet again. But this time, the place of meeting would be the newly erected Tabernacle and not a burning bush. With the Tabernacle now complete, it was time for God to fulfill His promise and take up residence within it. During his initial encounter with Yahweh at the burning bush, Moses had received the following promise.

“I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.” – Exodus 3:12 ESV

God had kept His word. Moses had served God on Mount Sinai. It was there, on the top of the mountain, that God had revealed His glory once again.

All of Mount Sinai was covered with smoke because the Lord had descended on it in the form of fire. The smoke billowed into the sky like smoke from a brick kiln, and the whole mountain shook violently. – Exodus 19:18 NLT

The Lord came down on the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses climbed the mountain. – Exodus 19:20 NLT

God called and Moses obeyed. He climbed to the top of the mountain and entered into God’s presence, where he received God’s laws and His plans for the Tabernacle.

“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 25:8-9 NLT

Moses had kept his end of the agreement, having successfully overseen the fashioning and erecting of the Tabernacle. He had inspected every facet of the project and given it his approval. But now, it was up to God to give His Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval by blessing the Tabernacle with His presence. And Moses rather matter-of-factly records, “the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Exodus 40:34 ESV).

It was as if the glory of God had descended from the top of Mount Sinai and settled upon the Tabernacle. The same manifestation of His divine presence that had guided the Israelites ever since they left Egypt had now come to rest over the Tabernacle. The pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire would appear over the top of the Tabernacle, providing the Israelites with a visual reminder that God was home and dwelling in their midst. Moses states that “the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Exodus 40:35 ESV). He was unable to provide an explanation as to how this glory manifested itself, because he was not allowed to enter the Holy of Holies where God’s glory rested above the Mercy Seat on top of the Ark of the Covenant. But all the people were given a clear and unmistakable sign of God’s presence in the Tabernacle. As long as the pillar of cloud or the pillar of fire appeared over the Tabernacle, they would know that their God was near. He had not left or forsaken them. 

But as soon as the pillar lifted up from the Tabernacle, they knew it was time to pack up and prepare to go.

Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out. But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out till the day that it was taken up. – Exodus 40:36-37 ESV

The Tabernacle had been designed and constructed to ensure its portability. It was to be a temporary and transportable structure that could be moved from place to place. But once God’s glory settled at a new location, the people were to stop and immediately reassemble the Tabernacle. God’s house was to be their highest priority because God’s presence was their greatest need. Without Him, they were hopeless, helpless, directionless, and powerless. Any hopes they had of making it to the land of promise and conquering the nations that lived there would be dashed if the Lord ever left them. His presence wasn’t a pleasant perk but a life-or-death necessity. The only thing that set them apart from the other nations was the presence and power of God. Without Him, they were no different than the many pagan people groups that occupied the land of Canaan.

The book of Exodus ends with the Tabernacle completed, the law given, the priesthood established, the sacrificial system inaugurated, and God’s presence in place. Everything was just as God had planned it. His will had been obeyed and He had blessed His people with the reality of His divine presence among them. Now, it was time to complete the rest of their journey to the promised land. The Tabernacle and Sinai were not their final destination. God had more in store for them, and the best was yet to come.

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.

Mission Accomplished

32 Thus all the work of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting was finished, and the people of Israel did according to all that the Lord had commanded Moses; so they did. 33 Then they brought the tabernacle to Moses, the tent and all its utensils, its hooks, its frames, its bars, its pillars, and its bases; 34 the covering of tanned rams’ skins and goatskins, and the veil of the screen; 35 the ark of the testimony with its poles and the mercy seat; 36 the table with all its utensils, and the bread of the Presence; 37 the lampstand of pure gold and its lamps with the lamps set and all its utensils, and the oil for the light; 38 the golden altar, the anointing oil and the fragrant incense, and the screen for the entrance of the tent; 39 the bronze altar, and its grating of bronze, its poles, and all its utensils; the basin and its stand; 40 the hangings of the court, its pillars, and its bases, and the screen for the gate of the court, its cords, and its pegs; and all the utensils for the service of the tabernacle, for the tent of meeting; 41 the finely worked garments for ministering in the Holy Place, the holy garments for Aaron the priest, and the garments of his sons for their service as priests. 42 According to all that the Lord had commanded Moses, so the people of Israel had done all the work. 43 And Moses saw all the work, and behold, they had done it; as the Lord had commanded, so had they done it. Then Moses blessed them. – Exodus 39:32-43 ESV

Moses fast-forwards the narrative and compresses the timeline to reflect the completion day of the Tabernacle. He provides no details as to how long it took Bezalel and the other craftsmen to wrap up this massive project, but the day came when their work was done. God’s house was complete.

The next step was to present every single item to Moses for his inspection. While Bezalel had served as the project’s foreman and primary craftsman, Moses had managed the entire process from start to finish, communicating every detail concerning the Tabernacle’s construction that he had received from God on Mount Sinai. With the work completed, it was time to determine whether the finished product met God’s exacting standards. And Moses reflects his satisfaction with their efforts by blessing them. They had done everything according to the plan he had provided. Nothing had been left out, scrimped on, or compromised. Every board, yard of fabric, utensil, or piece of sacred furniture received Moses’ seal of approval.

The Israelites had done everything just as the Lord had commanded Moses. – Exodus 39:32 NLT

This statement conveys the obedience of Bezalel’s team. Regardless of the scope of the project and the pressure to complete it on time and on budget, they did everything according to God’s plan. There were no corners cut and not even the smallest alteration was made to the design. Somehow, without the benefit of CAD drawings and blueprints, these men were able to successfully manufacture a vast array of individual elements that would seamlessly fit together to form the completed Tabernacle.

As Moses stood looking over the stockpile of completed building materials, he must have felt a sense of relief mixed with joy. He understood the importance of this day. No matter how long it took to complete the fabrication of all these elements, he could still vividly recall the day he had come down off the mountain and found the people of Israel worshiping a false God. At that moment, he had feared the worst because God had told him, “I have seen how stubborn and rebellious these people are. Now leave me alone so my fierce anger can blaze against them, and I will destroy them. Then I will make you, Moses, into a great nation” (Exodus 32:9-10 NLT). God had threatened to destroy the people of Israel for their disobedience and unfaithfulness.

That had been a dark chapter in Moses’ life. He had begged God to forgive the people for their sin, but God had responded, “No, I will erase the name of everyone who has sinned against me. Now go, lead the people to the place I told you about” (Exodus 32:33-34 NLT). God held the guilty responsible for their actions but allowed the majority of the Israelites to live. Then He commanded Moses to complete the task of leading the people of Israel to the promised land. But before they could leave their camp at Mount Sinai, Moses had to oversee the construction of the Tabernacle, the portable structure that would serve as God’s dwelling place among the people.

Now, it was done. And the piles of completed building materials were a reminder to Moses that his God was still with them. Despite what they had done, Yahweh had not abandoned them. And once the pieces of the Tabernacle were painstakingly fitted together, God would keep His promise and take up residence above the Mercy Seat within the Holy of Holies.

Moses must have felt a sense of eager anticipation as he thought about the next step. With everything ready and approved, it was time to begin the assembly of the Tabernacle. All the pieces were there, but now they must be carefully placed in their proper position so that, together, they could form God’s sanctuary.

The apostle Paul used a construction metaphor as a way to remind the Gentile believers in Ephesus of their rightful place in God’s house.

…you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. – Ephesians 2:19-22 NLT

From the smallest golden bell that would adorn the hem of the high priest’s robe to the heaviest beam that would hold up the roof of the Tabernacle itself, every piece was essential to the whole. No part was insignificant or could be left out if the Tabernacle was going to serve as the holy dwelling of Yahweh. Every single part had been designed by God Himself and they each had purpose and meaning. Paul used the analogy of the human body to convey God’s divine plan for His ultimate temple: the Church.

He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love. – Ephesians 4:16 NLT

The most exciting part of the entire project was about to begin. Moses and the people of Israel were going to watch as the pieces were placed together, slowly transforming the parts into the whole. And soon, on the barren plains of the Sinai wilderness, the house of God would take form. The dream would become a reality. And once the Tabernacle was complete, the next step in the journey to the promised land could begin again.

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.

The Providence and Provision of God

21 These are the records of the tabernacle, the tabernacle of the testimony, as they were recorded at the commandment of Moses, the responsibility of the Levites under the direction of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest. 22 Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, made all that the Lord commanded Moses; 23 and with him was Oholiab the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, an engraver and designer and embroiderer in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen.

24 All the gold that was used for the work, in all the construction of the sanctuary, the gold from the offering, was twenty-nine talents and 730 shekels, by the shekel of the sanctuary. 25 The silver from those of the congregation who were recorded was a hundred talents and 1,775 shekels, by the shekel of the sanctuary: 26 a beka a head (that is, half a shekel, by the shekel of the sanctuary), for everyone who was listed in the records, from twenty years old and upward, for 603,550 men. 27 The hundred talents of silver were for casting the bases of the sanctuary and the bases of the veil; a hundred bases for the hundred talents, a talent a base. 28 And of the 1,775 shekels he made hooks for the pillars and overlaid their capitals and made fillets for them. 29 The bronze that was offered was seventy talents and 2,400 shekels; 30 with it he made the bases for the entrance of the tent of meeting, the bronze altar and the bronze grating for it and all the utensils of the altar, 31 the bases around the court, and the bases of the gate of the court, all the pegs of the tabernacle, and all the pegs around the court. – Exodus 38:21-31 ESV

The Tabernacle was the work of Bezalel and his team of skilled artisans and craftsmen, but the material used to construct this one-of-a-kind structure had been donated by the Israelites. In other words, it was a community-wide effort, and it had all been under the direction of Yahweh. This entire project had been His idea and its completion had been made possible because He had deemed it so. God had been the one to order the collection of all the building materials so that His house could become a reality, and the willing participation of the people would play a vital role in bringing His sanctuary to completion.

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

The inventory Moses provides helps to give a sense of scale to this massive project. In a rather matter-of-fact way, Moses records the staggering amount of gold, silver, and bronze required to complete God’s house. And it would seem that the people of Israel supplied every single ounce that God had called for in His design. More than a ton of gold was donated by the Israelites. Their bracelets, amulets, rings, and necklaces were melted down so that Bezalel and his associates could adorn the Tabernacle and its furniture just as God had commanded. According to Moses’ inventory, the Israelites contributed an additional 3.75 tons of silver and nearly 3 tons of bronze for use in the construction of the Tabernacle.

For a nation of former slave laborers and sheepherders, this represents an amazing amount of wealth. But they had neither earned nor worked for it. According to the early chapters of Exodus, God had preordained a massive wealth exchange between the Egyptians and the Israelites. In His original call to Moses, God had revealed His plan to provide the Israelites with the resources they would later need to fulfill His request for donations to build His Tabernacle.

“So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go. And 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 3:20-22 ESV

And God had delivered on this promise. When the time came for the Israelites to leave Egypt, they followed God’s instructions and asked their Egyptian neighbors for a parting gift.

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

After watching the Egyptians suffer under the ten plagues brought upon them by God, the Israelites must have felt a bit strange asking these devastated people to hand over their gold, silver, and bronze. After all, every household in Egypt had just suffered the loss of their firstborn. For the tenth and final plague, God sent His death angel throughout the land of Egypt, so “there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where someone was not dead” ( Exodus 12:30 ESV). The staggering loss of life associated with this last plague left the Egyptians stunned and eager to see the Israelites leave their land.

The Egyptians were urgent with the people to send them out of the land in haste. For they said, “We shall all be dead.” – Exodus 12:33 ESV

So, when the Israelites made their rather bold request for parting gifts, the Egyptians eagerly complied. No doubt, the Egyptians viewed their gifts as offerings to the God of the Israelites. By this time, they feared and were eager to appease the wrath of this powerful and death-delivering deity. So, they willingly turned over their valuables to the parting Israelites. And it is likely that many of these pieces of jewelry bore the images of their false gods. Egyptian amulets, rings, and pendants were often adorned with depictions of their diverse assortment of deities and it seems likely that these trinkets made their way into the plunder that the Israelites took with them from Egypt.

Little did the Israelites know that their sudden windfall would later be used to prepare a dwelling place for Yahweh. And when they departed Egypt, they led their extensive herds and flocks. During their 400-year stay in Egypt, they had served as shepherds and herdsmen for Pharaoh, and over time, they had seen their own livestock increase greatly in number. So that by the time they left, they did so “with great flocks and herds of livestock” (Exodus 12:38 ESV). And, once again, they had no way of knowing that these animals had been providentially provided by God so that they might have ample sources of animals once His sacrificial system was instituted. God had provided all that they would need to build the Tabernacle and fulfill His command for blood sacrifices.

Amazingly, during the fifth plague, God had brought death to all the livestock of the Egyptians, but had spared the flocks and herds of the Israelites.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, “Let my people go, that they may serve me. For if you refuse to let them go and still hold them, behold, the hand of the Lord will fall with a very severe plague upon your livestock that are in the field, the horses, the donkeys, the camels, the herds, and the flocks. But the Lord will make a distinction between the livestock of Israel and the livestock of Egypt, so that nothing of all that belongs to the people of Israel shall die.”’”  And the Lord set a time, saying, “Tomorrow the Lord will do this thing in the land.” And the next day the Lord did this thing. All the livestock of the Egyptians died, but not one of the livestock of the people of Israel died. – Exodus 9:1-6 ESV

God had protected the assets of His people, and when it come time for them to leave the land, God had provided them with gold, silver, and bronze – in abundance. The Almighty had providentially planned ahead for the future. Every animal they would eventually sacrifice in the wilderness had been provided by God. Every ounce of gold, silver, and bronze they would need to construct the Tabernacle had been provided for in advance and at the expense of the Egyptians. In a sense, the Egyptians bankrolled the construction of a house for Israel’s God. Their gold adorned the Mercy Seat upon which Yahweh would sit in the Holy of Holies. Their bronze necklaces would be melted down and hammered into sheets that would be affixed to the Bronze Altar. And on that altar, the Israelites would offer the livestock that God had spared in the land of Goshen. The Egyptian gold, silver, and bronze would be used to build a sanctuary to the God of the Israelites. The jewelry that had once adorned the bodies of pagan Egyptians would be used to glorify Yahweh, the all-powerful and unparalleled God of Israel.

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.

Entrance Into God’s Presence

1 He made the altar of burnt offering of acacia wood. Five cubits was its length, and five cubits its breadth. It was square, and three cubits was its height. He made horns for it on its four corners. Its horns were of one piece with it, and he overlaid it with bronze. And he made all the utensils of the altar, the pots, the shovels, the basins, the forks, and the fire pans. He made all its utensils of bronze. And he made for the altar a grating, a network of bronze, under its ledge, extending halfway down. He cast four rings on the four corners of the bronze grating as holders for the poles. He made the poles of acacia wood and overlaid them with bronze. And he put the poles through the rings on the sides of the altar to carry it with them. He made it hollow, with boards.

He made the basin of bronze and its stand of bronze, from the mirrors of the ministering women who ministered in the entrance of the tent of meeting.

And he made the court. For the south side the hangings of the court were of fine twined linen, a hundred cubits; 10 their twenty pillars and their twenty bases were of bronze, but the hooks of the pillars and their fillets were of silver. 11 And for the north side there were hangings of a hundred cubits; their twenty pillars and their twenty bases were of bronze, but the hooks of the pillars and their fillets were of silver. 12 And for the west side were hangings of fifty cubits, their ten pillars, and their ten bases; the hooks of the pillars and their fillets were of silver. 13 And for the front to the east, fifty cubits. 14 The hangings for one side of the gate were fifteen cubits, with their three pillars and three bases. 15 And so for the other side. On both sides of the gate of the court were hangings of fifteen cubits, with their three pillars and their three bases. 16 All the hangings around the court were of fine twined linen. 17 And the bases for the pillars were of bronze, but the hooks of the pillars and their fillets were of silver. The overlaying of their capitals was also of silver, and all the pillars of the court were filleted with silver. 18 And the screen for the gate of the court was embroidered with needlework in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen. It was twenty cubits long and five cubits high in its breadth, corresponding to the hangings of the court. 19 And their pillars were four in number. Their four bases were of bronze, their hooks of silver, and the overlaying of their capitals and their fillets of silver. 20 And all the pegs for the tabernacle and for the court all around were of bronze. – Exodus 38:1-20 ESV

God’s house had a yard. Surrounding the Tabernacle was a large fenced enclosure referred to as the courtyard. The perimeter of this roughly 75-foot by 150-foot space was marked by a fence made of linen fabric hung between 56 wooden posts. Each of these wooden posts featured a bronze base and a top overlaid with silver. The east side of the enclosure, which always faced the rising sun, had a screen that served as a gate and was “embroidered with needlework in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen” (Exodus 38:18 ESV).

Even the fence which surrounded the Tabernacle was intended to reflect the glory of God and serve as a barrier to keep out prying eyes and all those who were unworthy to enter God’s presence. God’s house was at the same time both accessible and off-limits. There was a gate through which entrance into God’s courtyard could be gained, but its use was restricted to the priests only. The rest of the Israelites were required to remain outside the fence, which was high enough to keep anyone from seeing what took place inside. God had agreed to dwell in the midst of His people but access to His presence would be highly restricted and regulated by stringent ceremonial laws. In a sense, the fence served the same purpose as the boundary that God had Moses place around Mount Sinai.

“Mark off a boundary all around the mountain. Warn the people, ‘Be careful! Do not go up on the mountain or even touch its boundaries. Anyone who touches the mountain will certainly be put to death. No hand may touch the person or animal that crosses the boundary; instead, stone them or shoot them with arrows. They must be put to death. – Exodus 19:12-13 NLT

God had just told the Israelites, “Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation” (Exodus 19:5-6 NLT). Yet, their status as God’s chosen people and His special treasure came with restrictions. They could not enter into His presence flippantly or inappropriately. There were conditions. He was holy and they were not. That is why God instructed Moses to have the people of Israel go through a purification process before they came anywhere near the mountain.

“Go down and prepare the people for my arrival. Consecrate them today and tomorrow, and have them wash their clothing. Be sure they are ready on the third day, for on that day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai as all the people watch. – Exodus 19:10-11 NLT

Mount Sinai was immovable, so it served as a temporary meeting spot between God and His people. The Tabernacle was designed to be movable so that God could have a permanent, yet portable place in which to dwell among His people. Yet, wherever His presence came to rest, that place became holy and inaccessible to all those who were marked by the impurity of sin. That’s why Aaron and his son had to go through their own purification ritual before they could pass through the gates of the courtyard and enter God’s house. Even their clothing had to meet God’s exacting standard before they could pass through the gate and perform their priestly functions.

“Clothe your brother, Aaron, and his sons with these garments, and then anoint and ordain them. Consecrate them so they can serve as my priests. Also make linen undergarments for them, to be worn next to their bodies, reaching from their hips to their thighs. These must be worn whenever Aaron and his sons enter the Tabernacle or approach the altar in the Holy Place to perform their priestly duties. Then they will not incur guilt and die.” – Exodus 28:41-43 NLT

And when they entered God’s courtyard, their first responsibility was to offer sacrifices on behalf of the people. There in the center of the courtyard stood the Bronze Altar. This 8-foot wide by 5-foot tall structure was built by Bezalel and his team of craftsmen. It was made from acacia wood and then covered in beaten bronze. This metallic layer made it fireproof so that it could withstand the constant heat of the perpetual flames that burned day and night.

The fire on the altar shall be kept burning on it; it shall not go out. The priest shall burn wood on it every morning, and he shall arrange the burnt offering on it and shall burn on it the fat of the peace offerings. Fire shall be kept burning on the altar continually; it shall not go out. – Leviticus 6:12-13 ESV

The altar that Bezalel made was second in importance only to the Ark of the Covenant. This one sacred object would receive almost constant use as the priests offered up the countless sacrifices and offerings provided by the people of Israel. It was the Bronze Altar where the priests placed the whole burnt offerings of the people. These offerings could be “livestock from the herd or from the flock” (Leviticus 1:2 ESV).  These were sacrifices of atonement, where the animal served as a substitute for the sins of the people. The priests also offered up sacrifices to restore fellowship with God, atone for specific sins, and atone for guilt. And once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest would offer sacrifices for his own sins and those of the people.

The Bronze Altar would prove to be a well-used and vitally important part of the Tabernacle’s ritual service. Its location in the courtyard of God’s house provided a much-needed means by which the Israelites could receive cleansing, atonement, and forgiveness. This was to be the place of reconciliation and purification.

“It dominated the entrance, reminding them of the wages of their sin and offering them a way to get right with God. Only a blood sacrifice could save them. As they came to offer their sacrifices, again and again they learned that blood was the way to God.” – Philip Graham Ryken, Exodus

It is impossible to miss the juxtaposition between the opulent splendor of the Tabernacle and the gruesome nature of the sacrificial system that accompanied it. The courtyard of the Tabernacle would have been a place of slaughter with the blood of countless animals soaking the ground around the altar. The immaculate garments of the priests would have been covered in blood by day’s end. So, God provided a large basin of bronze in which the priests could cleanse themselves. Before they could enter the Holy Place to minister to God, they had to be cleansed from all the impurities they had taken upon themselves as they offered sacrifices on behalf of the sins of the people. In a sense, they had taken upon themselves the sins of the people and required purification before they could enter into God’s presence. The bronze basis served that purpose.

“They must wash with water whenever they go into the Tabernacle to appear before the Lord and when they approach the altar to burn up their special gifts to the Lord—or they will die!” – Exodus 30:20 NLT

Everything about the Tabernacle was intended to illustrate the glory and holiness of God. But there was a constant contrast between God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness. The courtyard would have been a place of death and blood. It was there that the atonement for Israel’s sins would have taken place. And the priests of God, having offered up sacrifices on behalf of the people, would have been required to go through their own purification process before they could enter into God’s presence. Sin separates people from God. Unrighteousness cannot dwell in the presence of perfect righteousness. So, God made a way for sinful men and women to come before Him, and it involved the shedding of blood. But, like so much about the Tabernacle, it was a shadow of something far greater to come. As the author of Hebrews points out.

Under the old covenant, the priest stands and ministers before the altar day after day, offering the same sacrifices again and again, which can never take away sins. But our High Priest offered himself to God as a single sacrifice for sins, good for all time. Then he sat down in the place of honor at God’s right hand. – Hebrews 10:11-12 NLT

Jesus was the great high priest who offered the final atoning sacrifice that fully satisfied the just demands of a holy and righteous God. He offered His life as the final payment for the sins of mankind, providing a permanent means of forgiveness “and when sins have been forgiven, there is no need to offer any more sacrifices”(Hebrews 10:18 NLT).

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.

Purified and Repurposed for God’s Glory

10 He also made the table of acacia wood. Two cubits was its length, a cubit its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height. 11 And he overlaid it with pure gold, and made a molding of gold around it. 12 And he made a rim around it a handbreadth wide, and made a molding of gold around the rim. 13 He cast for it four rings of gold and fastened the rings to the four corners at its four legs. 14 Close to the frame were the rings, as holders for the poles to carry the table. 15 He made the poles of acacia wood to carry the table, and overlaid them with gold. 16 And he made the vessels of pure gold that were to be on the table, its plates and dishes for incense, and its bowls and flagons with which to pour drink offerings.

17 He also made the lampstand of pure gold. He made the lampstand of hammered work. Its base, its stem, its cups, its calyxes, and its flowers were of one piece with it. 18 And there were six branches going out of its sides, three branches of the lampstand out of one side of it and three branches of the lampstand out of the other side of it; 19 three cups made like almond blossoms, each with calyx and flower, on one branch, and three cups made like almond blossoms, each with calyx and flower, on the other branch—so for the six branches going out of the lampstand. 20 And on the lampstand itself were four cups made like almond blossoms, with their calyxes and flowers, 21 and a calyx of one piece with it under each pair of the six branches going out of it. 22 Their calyxes and their branches were of one piece with it. The whole of it was a single piece of hammered work of pure gold. 23 And he made its seven lamps and its tongs and its trays of pure gold. 24 He made it and all its utensils out of a talent of pure gold.

25 He made the altar of incense of acacia wood. Its length was a cubit, and its breadth was a cubit. It was square, and two cubits was its height. Its horns were of one piece with it. 26 He overlaid it with pure gold, its top and around its sides and its horns. And he made a molding of gold around it, 27 and made two rings of gold on it under its molding, on two opposite sides of it, as holders for the poles with which to carry it. 28 And he made the poles of acacia wood and overlaid them with gold.

29 He made the holy anointing oil also, and the pure fragrant incense, blended as by the perfumer. – Exodus 37:10-29 ESV

Seven different times in these verses, Moses mentions Bezalel using “pure gold” to overlay or fashion the various objects he was creating. Many of these items, like the Ark of the Covenant, the Table of Shewbread, and the poles used to carry them, were made of wood. But they were covered in a thin veneer of gold leaf that transformed them into objects of beauty and great worth. Though made of common materials, their appearance was greatly altered and enhanced by Bezalel’s careful addition of the gold overlay. These sacred objects were meant to symbolize God’s power to take that which was ordinary and transform it into something holy and set apart for His use.

The table that Bezalel created was to sit just outside the Holy of Holies in the Holy Place. But it was nothing more than a well-made wooden box, 36 inches long, 18 inches wide, and 27 inches tall. It was not impressive in and of itself. But when the gold veneer was added, it took on a different appearance. The ordinary was transformed into the extraordinary. The commonplace became uncommonly beautiful and worthy of being set apart for God’s use. In some ways, what the layer of gold did to the Ark of the Covenant and the Table of Shewbread was exactly what happened to Moses when the glory of God transformed his face. During his 40-day encounter with God on Mount Sinai, Moses’ countenance was dramatically altered so that his face literally glowed. This ordinary and highly flawed man had been radically transformed by God. To the people of Israel, he no longer appeared as the Moses they had grown to know. They were terrified by his glowing face and he was forced to cover it with a veil.

But God is in the transformation business. He had taken Moses, who had been nothing more than a common shepherd and a convicted murderer, and transformed him into the man who would stand before Pharaoh and deliver the people of Israel out of their captivity in Egypt. The timid and tentative Moses had to be divinely altered so that he might accomplish that task the Lord had assigned for him to do. Moses was still Moses, with all his faults and failings, but he had been transformed by the power of God and equipped with all the resources he needed to accomplish the will of God.

There was nothing special about the table that Bezalel crafted, but the layer of gold leaf he affixed to it gave it an aura of worth and value beyond comprehension. It’s value increased dramatically and made this ordinary table worthy of occupying the inner recesses of God’s house. And on this golden table would be placed the Bread of the Presence – a memorial food offering to the Lord. This was to be God’s dining table. But the bread placed on the table was meant to symbolize God’s presence. It was to be baked from the finest flour and placed on the table each Sabbath day.

“You shall take fine flour and bake twelve loaves from it; two tenths of an ephah shall be in each loaf. And you shall set them in two piles, six in a pile, on the table of pure gold before the Lord. And you shall put pure frankincense on each pile, that it may go with the bread as a memorial portion as a food offering to the Lord. Every Sabbath day Aaron shall arrange it before the Lord regularly; it is from the people of Israel as a covenant forever. And it shall be for Aaron and his sons, and they shall eat it in a holy place, since it is for him a most holy portion out of the Lord‘s food offerings, a perpetual due.” – Leviticus 24:5-9 ESV

God graciously allowed Aaron and his sons to eat the Bread of the Presence that sat on the golden table in the Holy Place. But they had to be wearing their designated priestly robes and had to have gone through the proper purification ceremony. Their divinely-designed garments, like the gold leaf on the table, not only altered their outer appearance but transformed them from their normal, ordinary state to that of set-apart servants of God. They were worthy of entering His presence and sharing a meal from His table.

Located in the windowless recesses of the Tabernacle, the table was illuminated by a special lampstand that Bezalel also handcrafted. But unlike the Table of Shewbread, the lampstand was to be made from nothing but gold. There would be no wooden substructure. Bezalel “made the lampstand of pure, hammered gold. He made the entire lampstand and its decorations of one piece—the base, center stem, lamp cups, buds, and petals” (Exodus 37:17 NLT). It is estimated that this ornate object was crafted from 75 pounds of the purest gold. As a skilled metallurgist, Bezalel would have gone to great lengths to ensure that the gold he used to craft this lampstand was only of the highest quality. He would accept no impurities and imperfections. As the sole source of light within God’s house, this lamp had to be both functional and beautiful. It would burn 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and the oil used to light its flames would be of the highest quality as well. Its rays would illuminate the darkness of the Holy Place, reflecting off the golden Table of Shewbread and the Altar of Incense.

This lamp was covered in golden blossoms and buds, symbolizing life. So, it represented both light and life, and offered a fitting image of the one who would eventually come to earth as the light of life.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:1-5 ESV

The lamp contained no wood. It was made of the purest gold and, therefore, of extraordinary value and worth. There was no gold leaf veneer covering an inferior interior. Like Jesus, who referred to Himself as “the light of the world” (John 8:12), this lampstand was perfectly pure and holy. The apostle Paul described Jesus as sinless.

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. – 2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT

His light was pure and able to illuminate the darkness of sin that pervaded the lives of men. He gave light to the world and life to all those who would step into His glorious presence.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – John 1:9-12 ESV

The final piece of furniture Bezalal crafted for the Holy Place was the Altar of Incense. Just 18 inches square and 36 inches high, this wooden altar was far from impressive in size. Yet, it too was covered in a layer of gold and equipped with carrying poles that were veneered with a fine layer of gold leaf. But this diminutive piece of furniture had a significant role to play in God’s house. It was from this altar that the priests would burn sweet-smelling incense to the Lord. And even the recipe for this incense was proprietary in nature, and only to be used within the confines of the Tabernacle. It was to represent the prayers of God’s people and illustrated their dependence upon Him.

Glistening gold, brightly shining light, sweet-smelling incense. All of these elements were to reflect the glory of God, but it must not be missed that they emanated from ordinary objects made by human hands. Yet, God transformed them from their ordinary, pedestrian state to that of holy and set-apart objects worthy of use in His house. God had communicated their design and designated the nature of their purpose. He made sure that they would be holy and distinct, perfectly unique, and totally dedicated to His use.

The apostle Paul reminds us that, as Christians, we too have been set apart for God’s use. We have been transformed from ordinary, sin-stained people into His holy temple. He has covered us in the righteousness of His Son and transformed us into objects of beauty and holiness, worthy to be used for His glory.

Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? – 1 Corinthians 3:16 NLT

Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body. – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NLT

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.