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Glory Filled the Tabernacle

Series: God Reigns

Sermon by David Strain on Oct 30, 2016

Exodus 35-40

If you would please put a copy of the Scriptures in your hands. You will find church Bibles in the pew racks in front of you or if you’re on one of the front rows, perhaps under your seat. Turn with me to the book of Exodus, chapter 35. Exodus 35; page 75 in our church Bibles. Once you have the text of the Scriptures open before you, bow your heads with me as we pray. Let’s pray together.

Lord our God, we pray that You would come and by the power of the Holy Spirit give us understanding and grace that by the Word of God we might be led to Christ and in Him helped to live for Your glory as we turn from sin to our only Savior. For we ask it all in His precious name, amen.

We have come this morning to the last section of the book of Exodus that runs from chapter 35 through chapter 40. We’re going to read chapter 40 together in a moment. Let me just summarize 35 through 39. You will remember at the end of chapter 34 Israel, having committed idolatry with the golden calf, still face ruptured fellowship with God. But Moses has interceded for them effectively and secured forgiveness for God’s people and God has promised to go in the midst of Israel. But before they can go on in their onward journey toward the Promised Land, those lengthy instructions that we read back in chapters 25 through 31 regarding the requirements for all that needed to take place in the construction of the temple, those commandments all had to be implemented. The temple, the tabernacle rather, had to be constructed and fabricated and assembled. And so in chapters 35 through the middle of chapter 36, contributions are gathered to provide the raw materials from which the tabernacle would be made. Then the middle of chapter 36 onward, the work begins all the way on through the end of chapter 39. Oholiab and Bezalel are equipped with the Holy Spirit to teach others, and they and their team begin the long, hard work of constructing all the elements of the temple furniture.

And you will remember we looked at each of those elements when the original instructions for them were given in chapters 25 through 31, and here that same material is repeated almost verbatim all over again in chapters 36 through 39. Each item of the tabernacle and its furnishings is repeated, only now it’s described not as work to be done but as work accomplished. And then in chapter 40, Moses himself takes up the final erecting of the tabernacle. He puts it all together and God comes down in glory, as it were, to take up residence in the tabernacle itself.

And now let’s turn our attention to the reading of God’s holy Word at chapter 40 at verse 1. This is the Word of Almighty God:

“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘On the first day of the first month you shall erect the tabernacle of the tent of meeting. And you shall put in it the ark of the testimony, and you shall screen the ark with the veil. And you shall bring in the table and arrange it, and you shall bring in the lampstand and set up its lamps. And you shall put the golden altar for incense before the ark of the testimony, and set up the screen for the door of the tabernacle. You shall set the altar of burnt-offering before the door of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting, and place the basin between the tent of meeting and the altar, and put water in it. And you shall set up the court all around, and hang up the screen for the gate of the court.


Then you shall take the anointing oil and anoint the tabernacle and all that is in it, and consecrate it and all its furniture, so that it may become holy. You shall also anoint the altar of burnt-offering and all its utensils, and consecrate the altar, so that the altar may become most holy. You shall also anoint the basin and its stand, and consecrate it. Then you shall bring Aaron and his sons to the entrance of the tent of meeting and shall wash them with water and put on Aaron the holy garments. And you shall anoint him and consecrate him, that he may serve me as priest. You shall bring his sons also and put coats on them, and anoint them, as you anointed their father, that they may serve me as priests. And their anointing shall admit them to a perpetual priesthood throughout their generations.’


This Moses did; according to all that the Lord commanded him, so he did. In the first month in the second year, on the first day of the month, the tabernacle was erected. Moses erected the tabernacle. He laid its bases, and set up its frames, and put in its poles, and raised up its pillars. And he spread the tent over the tabernacle and put the covering of the tent over it, as the Lord had commanded Moses. He took the testimony and put it into the ark, and put the poles on the ark and set the mercy seat above on the ark. And he brought the ark into the tabernacle and set up the veil of the screen, and screened the ark of the testimony, as the Lord had commanded Moses. He put the table in the tent of meeting, on the north side of the tabernacle, outside the veil, and arranged the bread on it before the Lord, as the Lord had commanded Moses. He put the lampstand in the tent of meeting, opposite the table on the south side of the tabernacle, and set up the lamps before the Lord, as the Lord had commanded Moses. He put the golden altar in the tent of meeting before the veil, and burned fragrant incense on it, as the Lord had commanded Moses. He put in place the screen for the door of the tabernacle. And he set the altar of burnt offering at the entrance of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting, and offered on it the burnt offering and the grain offering, as the Lord had commanded Moses. He set the basin between the tent of meeting and the altar and put water in it for washing, with which Moses and Aaron and his sons washed their hands and their feet. When they went into the tent of meeting, and when they approached the altar, they washed, as the Lord commanded Moses. And he erected the court around the tabernacle and the altar and set up the screen of the gate of the court. So Moses finished the work.


Then 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. 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. 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.”

Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken to us in His holy, inerrant Word.

As a family, one of our favorite things to do is to visit the national parks of this great country. And before each trip, you know, we try to find out as much detail about each of the parks as we can, particularly about the wildlife in the parks. We want to, we talk about which animals we really want to see while we’re there. And every day once we get there, we drive through the park with our eyes peeled. We hike the trails; we’ll stop often to listen or to peer into the shadows in search, perhaps, of an elk or a bear or whatever. We’ll splash around in streams looking for salamanders. And every now and again after a long day in the park, seeing very little, we’ll be driving back to our cabin, you know, drinking in the scenery, perhaps a little wearied after a long and happy day together, when someone will yell, a child will yell, and we have to slam on the brakes and back up because there’s something in the trees that we missed on our onward journey. We saw a lot on the drive home, but we see even more backing up.

And I want to take that approach, actually, with these five chapters, Exodus 35 to 40. We’re going to go forwards through chapters 35 to 40 and see the main highlights of the landscape, and then at the very end, we’re going to throw the car into reverse and back up and to see it in reverse a little bit because there’s something we may have missed along the way. Okay? So let’s move forward through this material. First of all, I think we can summarize the teaching of these five chapters in four words. Four words! These are the four main monuments in the landscape of these five chapters we need to see. Rest, give, build, and glory. Rest, give, build, glory.


Let’s look at the first word first of all – rest. Chapter 35 verses 1 to 3. You may remember when we worked through the long list of work that needed to be done, all the instructions about the tabernacle and its furnishings that Moses and Israel were to construct eventually in chapters 25 to 31, you may remember that at the very end of the list there was a reminder to Israel about the Sabbath Day. As though He were saying, “Now, when the time comes to start work, there’s a lot of work to do; don’t forget to rest.” Well here, we’re about to launch in, the klaxon is about to sound, and everyone is about to get to work. But before they do, the Sabbath commandment is repeated in these opening three verses. They’re being reminded, yet again, to keep the Sabbath holy.

God’s Care for His People

And I think God has at least two concerns in mind by reminding the people of this important principle. First of all, He’s concerned because He’s rich in mercy and He cares for His people. He’s concerned about weary bodies and tired minds. He’s worried, not worried but anxious to care for our bodies and our brains. As we get busy serving, as Israel would throw themselves into the work, He wants to remind them at the beginning to rest. God knows our frame and He remembers that we are but dust and has built into the busyness of our lives one day in seven to rest; a Sabbath Day made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Ring fence that whole day. What a precious gift in our frenetic, 24/7 lives that God would say to us, “At least one day in seven, I want you to rest.”

Our Fellowship with God

But more than that, and in the second place, I think part of God’s concern here is to make sure that we do more than work for Him but that we do not forget to have fellowship with Him. Isn’t that the case? We can get so busy doing all the things He’s called us to do, that Israel could be so busy giving themselves to constructing the tabernacle that they forget what the tabernacle itself is for. Haven’t you found this in your own Christian life? You become so absorbed in serving the Lord Jesus, sometimes day after day, all day every day, busy about the Master’s work. Praise God if that’s the case, that you’re busy with your Master’s work, but maybe like Martha you have become wearied with much serving and you need to remember Mary who sat at the Savior’s feet with the one thing needful – learning and listening to the Lord Jesus Himself. Have you used your busyness in Jesus’ service as an excuse for neglecting to commune with Jesus Himself? Has your labor in your Master’s praise become a substitute in your life for actually meeting Him for the nourishment of your own soul? “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.” Remember that the purpose of that one day in seven was to come apart and to worship and to be with God’s people and to rest not only our bodies from all our toil through the week but to rest our souls upon His grace. Rest.


And then secondly, give. Look at chapter 35 verse 4 through chapter 36 verse 7. So now the tabernacle is about to be constructed and all its furnishings, but if that is to happen then the materials necessary must come from somewhere, from the contributions of God’s people. And so as we’ll see, they give jewelry and weave fabric and bring the animal hides and so on until everything that is necessary has been supplied. But I want you to see in particular what we’ll call the three “M”s of giving in this part of the chapter or this part of the story of Exodus. They’re the three “M”s that are always true of the giving of God’s people when done in a way that brings Him glory. Three things that express or articulate what Israel is doing here. First of all, we need to think about their motivation, then about the materials that they give, then about the ministry in which they are engaged. Their motivation for giving, the material that they give, and the ministry that they give. More than material, they give themselves.

The Motive for Giving

Think about their motivation first of all. It’s a real emphasis in this part of the book. Over and over again our attention is focused not just on what is given but on how it is given. You see that, for example, in chapter 35 verse 5. “Whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the Lord’s contribution.” Or verse 21, “And they came, everyone whose heart stirred him and everyone whose spirit moved him, and brought the Lord’s contribution.” Or verse 22, “All who were of a willing heart brought broaches and earrings and signet rings and armlets,” and again in verse 26 and again in verse 29. Over and over again the emphasis falls, the focus of our attention is to lie, not just on what they gave but on the attitude of heart that stirred them to give.

I can’t help but wondering if the language of the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians chapter 9, where he’s calling on the churches of his day and the church in ours to give, I can’t help but wonder if the language Paul uses there isn’t deliberately and purposefully designed to echo the language of our chapter. Listen to how Paul reminds us of our task and duty to give. “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” That’s how it was in Israel, in the church in the wilderness under Moses. That is how it is to be in the church of Jesus Christ in our own day. Just a word of qualification to that point, however. Do not misunderstand what we’re being taught. It’s not as though Moses were simply saying, “So long as your heart stirs you then you can give generously. But if you don’t feel it, don’t worry about it.” That’s not the message at all. Rather, the message is, “Examine your heart and see what you prize most. If it is not the Lord, then you have an idol to smash like the golden calf. You have repentance to do. But if you love the Lord indeed, then stir up your affection and devotion for Him and as you adore Him, out of your adoration give to the One who has loved you so freely.” The Lord is calling us to give generously, sacrificially, and joyfully from a willing heart. And if our hearts are unwilling, that is an index of our spiritual condition and tells us we have deeper, harder work to do before God. So we’re focused first here on our motives. Our motives need to be right. We’re to stir up our hearts to praise the Lord and to give generously.

What they Gave

But then notice the materials that they gave. We don’t need to spend too much time here except to point out that the mechanism by which the golden calf – you remember the golden calf back in chapter 32? The mechanism by which the golden calf was made – the contributions of jewelry and so on – is mirrored here, only here, it is surpassed dramatically. In fact, if you look at chapter 36 verse 5 for a moment you’ll see that the craftsmen who are tasked with fabricating the furniture in the tabernacle have to call a halt. They say, “The people bring much more than enough for doing the work that the Lord has commanded us to do.” And so Moses gave a command, a word was proclaimed throughout the camp, “Let no man or woman do anything more for the contribution for the sanctuary.” So the people were restrained from bringing. They had to hold them back so eager were they to give.

Genuine Repentance

Something, you see, has happened in their hearts. Here is real repentance. Just a few chapters earlier they’d made contributions along these very same lines for a pagan idol and God has disciplined Israel sharply. But now that fellowship has been restored and their hearts have changed, their generosity overflows to the point of extravagance, to the point where they have to tell them to stop. You see, when grace takes hold of our hearts and we discover that Jesus Christ is treasure indeed, that He is the pearl of great price, we begin to “let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also.” We begin to become generous and sacrificial from a willing heart to the glory of God. It reminds me of the Early Church in Acts chapter 2 at verses 44 and 45. The same thing is happening there. You will remember all the believers were together and they had everything in common and they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all as any had need. They were liquidating assets simply to respond to needs. When was the last time we did that? But the first Christians knew that “where a man’s treasure is, there his heart will be also.” They knew that “a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of things.” They had found the pearl of great price, the Lord Jesus, and they were willing and glad to give all that they had for His glory and praise.

Ministerial Giving

Motivation, materials, and then thirdly in this section on giving notice they do more than give material. They give ministry; they give themselves. Verse 25 of chapter 35, for example, “Every skillful woman spun with her hands and they brought all that they had spun.” Or chapter 35 verse 30 through chapter 36 verse 7, God fills Bezalel, the son of Uri, with his Spirit and Oholiab and enables them to teach others, verse 33, to equip them with the skills they will need to make the materials of the tabernacle. God has given His Spirit to give gifts to His people in order that they might fulfill the work entrusted to them. They give more than money; they give themselves. They engage in ministry. We’re being called not just to write a check but to step up and serve. Today God has given the Spirit of Jesus Christ to all His people and given gifts to the whole Church. 1 Corinthians chapter 12 at verse 11, “We are all empowered by one and the same Spirit who apportions to each one individually as he wills.” And we’re being challenged here, I think, to use what gifts and graces we have and to give ourselves as well as our resources for the extension of the kingdom.


Rest, then give, then the third summary word that helps us get at the teaching of this part of Exodus is build. Rest, then give, then build. Thirty-six verse 8 running all the way through the end of chapter 39 is this long section that virtually mirrors the material we studied in more detail back in chapters 25 to 31. God gave Moses, you will remember, some very careful instructions for each aspect of the tabernacle. They were blueprints for the project. These are the designer's plans. And we worked through the meaning of each piece of tabernacle furniture – the coverings and the curtains and the poles; the ark of the covenant, the lampstand, the altar of incense, the altar for burnt offerings, the bronze basin, the courtyard, the priestly garments. And now here we meet those same instructions precisely, all over again, this time not as a list of work to be done but as a record of work concluded and complete. But the recording of it all takes three and a half chapters! You sort of scratch your head if you read through the book of Exodus and you come back to this material and you say, “Wait a minute. I’ve read this before! Three and a half chapters of the same stuff? Moses, isn’t this overkill?”

Complete Obedience

But the point that he is making actually can stand the repetition. What is the point? Why does he go through this exhaustive detail, repeating all of these instructions, and showing that God’s people carefully fulfilled them? Well, if you’ll look at chapter 39 verses 42 and 43 you’ll see the big idea. Here’s the point! Here’s why it was all repeated! To drive home one, simple point. Thirty-nine, 42 and 43, “According to all that the Lord has commanded Moses, so the people of Israel had done all the work. And Moses saw all the work and behold, they had done it as the Lord has commanded, so they had done it. And then Moses blessed them.” Or again and again, did you hear the refrain when we read chapter 40 together? Over and over there’s a repeated phrase. After each piece of tabernacle furniture is put in place by Moses, we read, “as the Lord commanded him.” Over and over and over again the text is making the point that God’s people do not pick and choose which of His commands to obey. Obedience is to be complete! It is not to be elective! Our obedience to God is not elective. It’s not a pick and mix buffet, the Law of God. We are to bow before Him and seek to be comprehensive and exacting in our obedience to His commandments. If the building of the tabernacle and its furniture is a picture of the Christian life, then the big lesson we learn here as we give ourselves in obedience to the call of God for us as His people, is that our obedience is to be careful that we may do all that the Lord has commanded us. We must build according to the architect’s plan as we give ourselves to building the kingdom and advancing God’s glory.


Rest, give, build, and finally, glory. And here we’re focusing our attention on verses 34 through 38 of chapter 40. Moses has finally erected the tabernacle and pushed each piece of furniture into its place and consecrated the priests and begun the worship that will be the normal practice in the tabernacle itself. “Moses finished the work,” verse 33 says. And then 34 to 38, the Lord moves in. The glory cloud of the presence of God descends and rests upon the tabernacle. His glory, we are told, filled the tabernacle. And it would be the same cloud that had led them thus far through the wilderness that would continue to lead them on, but now it would rest upon the tabernacle and when it did the people of Israel would remain. And when it moved, they moved in obedience to it. Here is God keeping His promise. God had told Moses, “I will go up in the midst of Israel,” and now here He is fulfilling that precise promise.

God’s Ultimate Mediator

But did you notice in verse 35 that when the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle, Moses, the man who had spoken to God face to face as a man does with his friend, Moses is suddenly shut out? The glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle and Moses could not enter. What is it we’re being taught here about Moses? For all His dignity and His wonderful role as the mediator in Israel, aren’t we being reminded that Moses is an imperfect mediator for all that, that the true and final Mediator for which God’s people must wait is still to come? In fact, this whole section ultimately is pointing us toward that person, the Lord Jesus Christ. Both the tabernacle itself and Moses the mediator point us to Jesus. Jesus, the true and perfect Tabernacle; Jesus, the true and better Mediator.

Jesus, Our Emmanuel!

John 1:14, “Jesus is the word who became flesh and dwelt among us.” That is, literally, He “tabernacled among us.” He pitched His tent among us. “And we have seen his glory, glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” “In his flesh,” Colossians 1 verse 19 tells us, “the fullness of the Godhead was pleased to dwell.” Hebrews 1:3 says that He is the “fullness, the radiance of the glory of God, and the exact imprint of his nature.” The glory that shone in the tabernacle that day shines completely and perfectly in Jesus Christ. He is the true Tabernacle, the meeting place for sinners with Almighty God. You meet God in Him alone. And He is the true and better Mediator. Moses was shut out, excluded by the glory of God in the wilderness tabernacle. But Hebrews 9:24, “Jesus has entered not into the holy places made with human hands which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.” We have a Mediator who goes all the way in to bring us to God, to intercede for us, to make atonement on our behalf. So that Jesus, our Emmanuel, is a perfect Savior. He is God with us. And so just as the pillar of cloud and fire would lead Israel through the wilderness and rest on the tabernacle, so the glory of God in our true tabernacle, Jesus Christ, will lead us always. He will be with us always, even to the end of the age, never leaving us nor forsaking us but keeping us and leading us safely till at last, we come to the land promised, new heavens and a new earth.

God’s Glory Brought Down

That’s the text moving forward from chapter 35 to chapter 40. Those are the four great monuments to see along the way – rest, give, build, and glory. But we need to slam the car into reverse just for a moment because we missed something. We need to look at it in reverse. In fact, that’s actually one of the big lessons we need to see if we’re to understand the message of this chapter from our vantage point this side of the cross and empty tomb of Jesus Christ. Did you notice in chapters 35 to 40 there’s a kind of progression, isn’t there? It starts with the people making their contributions. Then it gets a little narrower – Oholiab and Bezalel and the craftsmen. The attention falls there as they busy themselves making the tabernacle. Then it gets narrower still – the work of Moses alone erecting the tabernacle; the work of the mediator. And then the glory of God comes down. It’s all building up toward the work of the mediator who brings down the glory of God. That is actually the pattern of the whole of the Old Testament scriptures. It’s all building up to the climactic moment still to come. It’s building up to the work of a Mediator who will build the Temple and who will bring God in His glory down.

Christ Crucified, Risen, and Reigning

But that is not our perspective. We are not looking forward. No, we are to live the Christian life in reverse, looking back to a Mediator who has already come and to work that is finished, to the glory that has come down and shines now upon us in the face of Jesus Christ. And because He is a perfect Mediator and a true Tabernacle, because the glory of God has come down in Him to save us perfectly, once and for all, now our labor is a response, not an anticipation, a response to what He has done. We rest and give and build. We work and serve and honor God and care for one another not hoping one day for a Savior to come, but because He has come and we have been redeemed, resting on Him we give ourselves in His service. We need to read chapters 40 through 35 in that direction. We need to start with the work of the Mediator who brings glory down and then we begin to serve in response. We need to read it in reverse. We need to live the Christian life backward, looking always to Christ crucified, risen, and reigning.

Maybe one reason our obedience is piecemeal sometimes – let me say that by way of confession rather than accusation – piecemeal obedience. Maybe one reason our giving, my giving, can be grudging or merely an afterthought at times, maybe one reason our Sabbath keeping is compromised or reluctant, is that we’re not viewing the Christian life backward; we’re not looking back to Christ crucified. We’re looking to ourselves, busying ourselves, doing things for Jesus when we need to start looking at what Jesus has done for us. And then the thing that happened in the hearts of the people of Israel as they began to give so generously, or that we saw were happening in the Early Church’s hearts will begin to happen in ours – God will begin to melt our hearts and begin to give us a willing spirit. We will begin to live for His glory with joy and gladness, giving ourselves sacrificially for His praise not in order to bring Him down but because He has come down in Christ, a perfect Redeemer, to all of God’s people.

And so we need to learn to live the Christian life in reverse, don’t we, looking out the rearview mirror to the cross and to the empty tomb, to work finished, to work done, complete, to a perfect Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen, and may the Lord bless the ministry of His Word. Let’s pray together!

Father, would You forgive us for not looking as we ought to Christ, for not living in reverse, for not living looking always back to Christ crucified, risen, and reigning, but instead looking to ourselves and what we think we must do for You in order to obtain Your grace and favor. Teach us what Jesus has done, to see it in its glory and grace, its beauty, and then begin to melt our hearts that as we rest upon Him, as we keep the Lord’s day holy, as we give not just financially but give ourselves, and as we build, as we give ourselves to careful construction laboring in obedience to all of Your commands, we will do it simply as an expression of gratitude and thanks. So would You do that work among us, for Your own great name’s sake? Amen.

©2016 First Presbyterian Church.

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