In the 25th chapter of Exodus we read about the furnishings for the tent where he was to dwell. In the 26th chapter we read about the tent itself.
If you convert a cubit to 18 inches (as the New Living Translation does), what you get is a frame that is 45 ft. long by some 15 ft. wide. Two layers of cloth and then two layers of leather cover that frame. The first layer of cloth is of the highest quality, with bright colors and with a pattern depicting cherubim, which are fierce angelic protectors of access to God. This cloth consists of ten bolts that are 42 x 6 ft., sewn together in two groups of five. The two resulting 42 x 30 pieces are held together with golden clasps, like a huge zipper, so that the total spread of the cloth covering the frame is 60 x 42, draped over that 45 x 15, which is 15 ft. high. The second layer of cloth is rougher, common tent material made of black goat’s hair. Instead of ten bolts of cloth, they made 11, and they were slightly longer than the first bolts: 45 x 6. Two panels were created by sewing 5 and 6 of the bolts together, and the resulting panels were clasped together again in the middle. That 66 x 45 cloth was draped over the first, and entirely overlapped it. The inner cloth had gold clasps, the second one had bronze clasps. So that you get an inner luxury layer, and an outer more functional one. Over this they stretched two protective outer layers of one whole piece so that the tent would be thoroughly weather proof.
The theme of the metal used in the Tabernacle is an important one. At the base of the gold-sheathed boards that form the frame, we get silver sockets. Gold is higher up when we are starting from the bottom. The symbolism with the clasps is that gold is further in, when we are talking about the covering. The further in you get, the higher the quality.
Not only is there a sense that inward is better, but also that upward is better. Within the tent there is a partition, and this is hung from the clasps in the tent above and also supported by pillars with hooks. That partition a curtain of the same luxury cloth as before, the pillars are sheathed in gold, and they are set in silver sockets. There is another similar curtain covering the Eastern, or front opening of the tent, and this is set in sockets of bronze. The point of these sockets is to form thresholds: when you go into the tent, you cross from the baser bronze into the nobler silver, and when you cross into the Holiest of all, you cross from silver presumably to gold. The point is that you move upward, that the Tabernacle has an ascending symbolism that indicates that higher is better.
Further up and further in!
This is God’s dwelling: a carefully framed tent that all fits together. Repeatedly you read God saying: sew these things together, the point is to have one tent. All the intricate instructions come together as one place, one dwelling of God.
What does it mean now?
It was a gesture at the church, and also a gesture at our life in the world to come. The whole point of Scripture is that we once met with God in the garden, but we sinned and are exiled from God’s presence. Cherubim keep watch, and make sure we don’t have access. With the Tabernacle, limited access was opened, but not unlimited, free access. In Christ, we have access; we are the Temple not made with hands, we are being put together for a holy habitation of the Lord.
Paul was a tentmaker, and he was one who was used to build the church, to speak to if of unity, of having many members but one body, of all coming together to serve the Lord. We serve the Lord as his dwelling place, as we gather corporately. We serve the Lord when we gather to do New Covenant worship: praise, prayer, preaching, reading, and the obedient observance of what God has ordained. The Tabernacle pictures how we should work together as a congregation, taking our different functions in ways that help and strengthen and unite each other. The Tabernacle also pictures our life in the world to come, with God dwelling among his people, when we will each one use the whole of our being to manifest the glory of God to that complete and innumerable and united society of God’s redeemed.
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