First Presbyterian Church Wednesday Evening Worship May 7, 2003
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
We've said over and over that one third of the Book of Exodus is devoted to the instructions regarding the building of the tabernacle and in the report of the carrying out of the building of the tabernacle. And we've also said over and over that the sheer volume of material on the tabernacle proves to us the importance of worship to God. If God didn't care about the worship of His people, He wouldn't have spent a third of this book filled with exciting adventures detailing information like what metal sockets were to be made out of, how large boxes that were to be placed in tents were to be, how many curtains were to cover the place where the priests ministered the various ceremonies of the house of God.
You see, this is a timeless principle that worship is important to God. It's not merely situational. It's not just something that adheres to the days of Moses. This isn't something redemptive/historical that passes away, so that now worship isn't as important to God as it used to be. In fact, you could argue that it's the other way around. But clearly we have a timeless principle that worship is important to God.
And remember we've said over and over that the story of Exodus is a story of movement from slavery to worship. The children of Israel were enslaved to a man who thought he was a god–the Pharaoh of Egypt–and they were released from that slavery to worship the real God. Is that so far from everyone who comes to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ? What is it Paul said? That the people who are in darkness worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator! And what happens in the new birth? You stop worshiping the creature and you start worshiping the Creator! Isn't Exodus a paradigm of what happens to us when we come to grace, when we come to faith in Christ, when we come into a living relationship with Him? So the story of Exodus is a story of movement from slavery to worship.
It's also the story of a change of service. The children of Israel were in the service of a cruel tyrant: Pharaoh. They were being used for his purposes. And the story of Exodus is the story of their movement from service to Pharaoh to the service of God.
There's a play on words with the words serve and worship in the Book of Exodus: You will not serve Pharaoh; you will go into the wilderness and serve Me. There's a play on words there. They were slaves to Pharaoh, serving him. Pharaoh viewed himself as a god and wanted to be worshiped. They’re being liberated from that service in order to serve God, that is, to worship the living God, not only in gathered worship but in all of life. And so that movement is going on in the Book of Exodus, and that's why the Book of Exodus ends with these long chapters about the corporate worship of God, because that's the direction that the Book of Exodus is going: from service of Pharaoh to service of God. Don't think again that these final chapters from 25-31 and from 35-40 are anticlimactic in Moses’ eyes. No, they’re they culmination of everything God was doing in bringing the children of Israel out of Egypt so that they could serve God, worship God.
And the story of the Exodus is the story of a movement of the children of Israel from the enforced construction of Pharaoh's self-glorifying buildings and projects, and they were made even without straw to make bricks for the projects of Pharaoh. So it's a movement from the enforced construction of Pharaoh's self-glorifying buildings and projects to the building of a tabernacle, to a willing and obedient building of God's house in God's kingdom. So they’re liberated from servitude and mistreatment and forced labor in the hands and under the control of Pharaoh to give a free and willing obedient labor to the living God in building His house.
The interesting thing is that when they’re building this house, this house is going to be a blessing to them. This house is going to be the greatest blessing to them. Building a tomb for Pharaoh was going to be no blessing to them at all, but building this tent was going to afford them the greatest blessing that a human being can experience: face to face experience of the presence and communion of the living God.
The language of this whole section of the Book of Exodus creates a tabernacle in the mind of people who do not have one and have never seen it. Have you ever thought of that? You know, sometimes when you get tired–I don't know how many times I've read through this end of the Book of Exodus in Bible reading programs over the course of my life…I have no idea. I've read it a bunch over the last couple of years. But it's not the section that you would pick first off, if you only get to have part of the Bible on a desert island! I mean, you’d maybe go to John, or to Romans, or Ephesians–or somewhere else! I mean this is not the section that you go to first!
But think of it, friends: If God hadn't put this here we couldn't have pictured this tabernacle. We've never seen one. We haven't seen a tabernacle. You've seen models, but the only reason you've seen models, the only reason there's a drawing in some of your Bibles of it, is because this section is here. You wouldn't have known what the tabernacle of God was unless God had repeated it here in this exhaustive, intricate, and (let's face it) sometimes to you, boring detail. You wouldn't be able to picture it. But after you've gotten through this once, twice, you've at least got a fuzzy outline in your head of what this tabernacle business was all about.
And think, my friends, of what that would have meant to a Jew in exile. He's lost the temple. He's in Babylon. He doesn't know whether he's ever coming home again. He doesn't know whether he’ll ever set his eyes on the city of David again. And a rabbi begins to read Exodus 25-31, and Exodus 35-40, and you know what that exile starts thinking? “I can see in my mind the place where God meets with His people, and maybe one day it will be built again.” And isn't that what is going on at the end of the Book of Ezekiel? Ezekiel himself is imagining the temple of God being rebuilt.
Oh, my friends! Do you understand the significance that when Jesus turns to His disciples and He says, “Tear this thing down and I’ll build it up in three days,” He's completely reorienting how they think about where you meet with God. Now you meet with God in Jesus. So, you see, this whole section sets you up to be able to appreciate that. We could never appreciate that had we not had this word written for us.
The language of this section of Exodus creates a tabernacle in the minds of people who do not have a tabernacle and who have never seen one, so when you’re working through this passage sometime in the future in your devotions, don't begrudge God's details. He's building the tabernacle in the mind.
The clear emphases of this whole section make it clear that the worship of God is a matter in which details are important and cannot be neglected. You know, when Richard Rogers said in response to the jab against the Puritans (who are often called “Precisionists”)… ‘Why are you people so precise in your religion?’ was the jab, and do you remember his rejoinder? “We serve a precise God.”
That was not English temperament. That was not Puritan-era repression at work in the emotional and psychological life of a Puritan. That's Bible. The God of the universe cared about sockets on curtains! That's precise, folks! You see, Richard Rogers didn't make that precision stuff out of his mind. That didn't come out of some repressed childhood. That comes out of Exodus (comes out of a lot of other places, too)! But you get that emphasis that is pounded into your head: That the worship of God is a matter in which details are important; and again, that's a timeless principle. It's not just a tabernacle thing. It's a timeless principle.
The details in conjunction with the golden calf…when you look at all these details for tabernacle worship, and then you compare them with the story of the golden calf in Exodus 32, 33 and 34, these explain to you why only God can provide the detail for how He is to be worshiped. When we do it, the story of Exodus 32-34 is we mess it up. And so the detail is highlighted by the story of the golden calf; and yet, those truths, great as they are, true as they are, do not alone explain why the material of Exodus 25-31 is repeated in Exodus 35-40. No, I think there are at least two more lessons to be learned in this great section, of which we have come to the close, two more reasons why God in His wisdom repeats in such exhaustive detail what He's already said in only slightly different words from Exodus 25-31.
This section serves to drive home two lessons. They are this: (1) The importance of obedience to divine commands; and, (2) the assurance of God's forgiveness in the face of our covenant unfaithfulness, in the face of the failure of God's people.
You can't come out of Exodus 35-39 thinking that the way that you get the blessing of God is that you earn it. You can't get there from there, because the whole story of Exodus 35-39 is God in His mercy giving His people the opportunity to do something that they did not deserve to do. What did they deserve? Death in the desert. What did they get? The opportunity for the presence of God.
So this whole section is a discourse on grace, isn't it, even as it's a discourse on obedience?
Those things in the right way ought not to be in competition.
Now those are just some of the things we’ll talk about together tonight, so turn with me to Exodus 39, and we’ll look at verses 32 down to the end of the chapter.
This is God's word:
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy word. May He add His blessing to it. Let's pray.
Our Lord and our God, as we contemplate these words tonight, open our eyes that we might behold Your grace, that we might see the glory of dwelling in Your presence, and that we might follow in the way of response to Your word — obedience to Your word — as we seek You in the means of grace. This we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.
There are three parts to the passage I want to look at with you tonight. The first part is just in verse 32, because there you see the fact of the completion of the tabernacle announced, but there are several interesting details just in that little verse. Then, the second part that I want to look at tonight, you’ll see beginning in verse 33 and running all the way down to verse 42. In this section we get a fairly detailed recounting of the various components of the tabernacle which had been created and now brought to Moses. And then, finally, thirdly, in verse 43 we see Moses’ examination of the tabernacle. Those are the three parts of the passage that I'd like to look at with you for a few moments tonight.
Let's start in verse 32 where we see the completion of the tabernacle according to God's command. Here we see that those who would find fellowship with the living God must come to Him by His word. You want to fellowship with God? Come to Him by His word. Come to Him in response to His word. Follow the directions that He gives in His word. You want to know Him, you want to dwell with Him, you want to know His presence, you want to commune with Him, you want to have fellowship with Him? Come to Him by His word. That's emphasized here, isn't it, surely?
“Thus all the work of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting was completed, and the sons of Israel did according to all that the Lord had commanded Moses, so they did.”
You see, the textual emphasis is obvious, isn't it? The emphasis is on the Israelites doing all that the Lord had commanded Moses. It's said twice in that verse. Why is Moses saying that? He's just finished giving us a string of verses just like that: the “just as the Lord commanded Moses”… “just as the Lord commanded Moses”… “just as the Lord commanded Moses”…seven times already in chapter 39. When he comes back again with that twice in a verse — ding, ding, ding, ding! — the bells go off, and we realize he's emphasizing to us the importance of obedience to God's command if we're going to come and find Him and enjoy fellowship with the living God.
But there are a couple of other things I want you to see, too. Notice in verse 32, and the very first part of verse 32, that it is announced that all the work of the tabernacle is completed. In other words, the project is done. The goal is accomplished. And notice the unique title that is given to the tabernacle: the tabernacle of the tent of meeting. Now, that sounds like “The Department of Redundancy Department”! And it is. On purpose. You see, the tabernacle is one name that is used for this structure, the tent of meeting is another name that is used for this structure, and the titles that are used — both names for the same structure — were designed to point to two distinct realities.
It is the tabernacle in the sense that it is the place in which God comes to dwell in the presence of His people. It is the tent of meeting in that it is the place in which God speaks to Moses, and thus to His people; and so, the tabernacle points to the presence of God and communion with Him, and it points to the communication of God to the mediator, and thus to His people, and so calling this structure the tabernacle of the tent of meeting brings to bear both of those realities on us as we think what God has just done here. He's given a place that represents His presence with His people, the communion that they enjoy with Him, and it's also the place that He speaks to His people. It's the tent of presence, of communication, and communion, and it's completed by command.
Isn't that a stark contrast with the building projects that Pharaoh had given to the children of Israel? You see, complete this project and you experience the blessing of the presence and fellowship and communication from the living God. Obey God, and the blessing's all yours! God's not into using His people; He's into blessing His people. And here we see something of the blessing that comes from obedience.
Satan, you remember, in the garden, had said to Adam and Eve, ‘If you want to be like God, disobey.’ That's what he said, isn't it? ‘The reason God told you not to eat that fruit is because He knows that you’ll become like Him if you do it.’ In other words, you’ll become like Him if you disobey what He said. What happened? There was no blessing in that act, and Jesus comes along and what does He say? ‘If you want to be like God, take up your cross and follow Me, and die to yourself. Obey.’ Satan says if you want to be like God, disobey. It ends up the greatest mistake ever made in mankind. And then here we see in the tabernacle, if you want to be in God's presence, if you want to enjoy God's presence, if you want to know fellowship with God, if you want to have communication from God, what do you do? Obey.
Think of the contrast with the golden calf. In the golden calf, the people of God come to Aaron and they say ‘We want a god, a representation of the God that brought us up out of Egypt. We want to know His presence. If you want to be close to God, you want to be near to God, Aaron, you’re going to have to disobey.’ (Remember the first and second commandments had already been given: Don't make an image!) ‘Aaron, we want to be close to God, so let's disobey.’ And what happens? They almost lose the very thing that they think that they’re getting.
But now in Exodus 35-39, what's the moral of the story? If you want to be near to God, obey what God says. Do just what He says. Those who would find fellowship with the living God must come to Him by His word. Real worship is always in response to God's word. That's the first thing that we learn in this passage, and we see it even there in verse 32.
But there's a second thing I want you to see in verses 33-42. Here we see the recounting of the completion of the tabernacle according to command. And we learn here that God expects us to learn from the example of Israel's obedience. In verses 33-42, the various parts of the tabernacle are brought to Moses for inspection. It reminds you a little bit, doesn't it, of the animals being brought to Adam in the garden for him to behold them, to estimate them, and to name them? R. Allen Cole says:
“The individual items of work are now all completed, and they are in turn brought to Moses for inspection, rather as the animals are brought to Adam in Genesis 2:19.”
You remember what that verse says:
“Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them.”
Already you’re seeing a linkage with creation. (Hold that in the back of your mind; we're going to come back to that.)
At any rate, look at verse 42. This phrase is emphasized twice: “The sons of Israel did all the work according to all that the Lord had commanded Moses.” Look back to verse 32. The same phrase is used there: “The sons of Israel did according to all that the Lord had commanded Moses.” The sons of Israel, do you see, indicates that the entire project, from first to last, is conceived by Moses as being the project not just of the specially gifted craftsmen, but of all of Israel. This place is for all of Israel, and the act of building it is the action of all of Israel, and the whole section accentuates not only the fact that the tent has been manufactured, but that it was done in accordance with God's commands. Could there be any more stark of a contrast between the completion of the tabernacle and the golden calf? Let me rattle off a comparison:
The golden calf — The people took initiative; Aaron demanded, commanded, that the people give over their gold; there was no extensive planning for the worship of the golden calf; the golden calf was made very quickly; there was immediate accessibility of the people to the golden calf; the golden calf was a visible representation of God; and he was impersonal, inanimate, non-active, non-alive.
Now think of the contrast of the tabernacle — The tabernacle is done not at the people's initiative, but at God's initiative: ‘Do it this way, Moses.’ And then the refrain that comes from Exodus 35-40: “And they did it just the way God told Moses.” The gold given for the tabernacle was by God's explicit command only given by those who wanted to give it. ‘If you want to give to My tabernacle, do it.’ And, you remember, it was the first “stop giving” campaign in the history of the world, and maybe the last! “Please!” Moses had to say, “Don't give any more!” [Every minister's dream…every minister's dream. Hasn't happened to me yet!] So it's a willing offering of gold.
Notice, thirdly, that it required painstaking planning and preparation. Nothing slipshod about this. Notice that, as opposed to a quickly built calf, there is a lengthy building process required…we don't know exactly how long, but a significant amount of time to make this tabernacle. Notice that whereas the people had immediate accessibility to the golden calf, the presence of God is safeguarded, and not even the priests are allowed to touch the holy objects, and so rings are put through them so that they can be transported on poles. There's another story that feeds into the history of Israel based on that.
Whereas the golden calf is a visible god, or a visible representation of God, the God of the tabernacle is invisible; and whereas the golden calf is an impersonal, inactive, inanimate object, the God of the tabernacle is personal, and animate, and active. It's a total contrast, and God expects us to learn from the obedience of Israel, because, you see, when you obey, you end up with an entirely different conception of God. You see, the golden calf and the way it was made and everything about it colored the way the people viewed God; and the tabernacle and the way it was made colored the way the people viewed God. And the difference is simple: The god that the people imagined when they saw the golden calf wasn't the true God. But the God of the tabernacle, worshiped in the way of the tabernacle, is the true God. And so the difference in worshiping rightly and wrongly ends up being the difference between worshiping the real God or an idol. Remember Pat Morley's phrase: “There's a God we want, and the God who is, and the two are not the same.” Right worship is designed to make sure that you’re worshiping the true God, the God who is, and not the God you want; because the God who is ends up really being the God you need, whereas the God you want will fail you every time.
These chapters are highly concrete ways in which the hopes of Israel are brought to focus, and the obedience of Israel is recorded here for our learning.
One last thing: Look at verse 43. Moses’ examination of the completed tabernacle and the blessing on those who had done the work is recorded here in verse 43, and here we learn a vitally important point: Worship creates the new creation. Worship creates the new creation. Now you remember I made that parallel to Genesis 2:19 (still there somewhere in the back of your head?), the bringing of the pieces of the tabernacle to Moses, just as God had brought the animals to Adam. God's already implanted that thought, that parallel, in your mind. Now look at what we learn here. Look at verse 43.
Moses examined…literally, “Moses saw all the work, and behold, they had done it; just as the Lord had commanded, this they had done. So Moses blessed them.” This final sentence of this section is directly patterned after the creation account, where it is repeated no fewer than four times. There is viewing, approval, and blessing here in Exodus 39:32. All the work of the tabernacle was completed, the sons of Israel do all according to the Lord had commanded them, they bring it to Moses to see it, to approve it; and then, in verse 43, what do we find? Moses blesses them.
What's the parallel? Well, turn with me in your Bibles to Genesis 2, and listen to verses 1 and 2 as they are read side by side to Exodus 39:32. Here's Exodus 39:32, while you’re looking at Genesis 2:
“Thus all the work of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting was completed. [Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts.] And the sons of Israel did all according to all that the Lord had commanded Moses, so they did. [By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.]”
Now every Israelite who heard those words read by his rabbi in Exodus 39:32 knew that Moses was directly ripping off Genesis 2:1, 2. He was doing it on purpose, because the tabernacle was a new creation of God, a new creation for His new creation, a new creation in order for Him to meet with His new creation, His renewed people.
And then we see these parallels. Look at Exodus 39:43.
“And Moses examined all the work, and, behold, they had done it; just as the Lord commanded, this they had done. So Moses blessed them.”
Now look at three passages in Genesis 1.
Genesis 1:21, 22 — “God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarmed, after their kind, and every winged bird, after its kind. And God saw that it was good, and God blessed them.”
[Creation, ascription of goodness, blessing; tabernacle built, ascription of completion and goodness, blessing.]
Look again at Genesis 1:27, 28 — “God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. And God blessed them.”
Genesis 1:31 — “God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good, and there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.”
[Creation, ascription of goodness.]
Where's the blessing? Look at Genesis 2:3 — “Then God blessed the seventh day.”
And when Moses says that he examined all the work, and they had done it just as God had commanded, and he blesses them, he is echoing the creation.
Have you ever thought of the parallels between the building of the tabernacle and the creation? Who is it who is brooding over the creative work of God in Genesis 1:1, 2? The Holy Spirit. At the beginning of the building of the tabernacle, who is it who engifts and inhabits the builders of the tabernacle? The Spirit of God inhabits and enables Bezalel and Oholiab and those skilled men who work with them. The Spirit is active in both.
Do you know when the tabernacle was finally dedicated (in Exodus 40) On “New Year's Day.” Now, that's not because the people of Israel like a big party, you see, or that there are already plenty of parades planned for that day. It's because it signals the beginning of a new creation, harkening back to the old one.
Do you remember that just as there were seven days in that original creation week, that there were seven speeches in Exodus 25-31 announcing the building of the tabernacle? Have you noticed the importance that is given to shape, and order, and design, and intricacy and color in the building of the tabernacle? And what does it remind you of? The emphasis on the importance of shape and order and intricacy and design and color in the creation account.
And then there's that pronouncement of goodness and blessing that you see in both places.
You see, worship is designed to create the new creation. It's making sense, isn't it? That's why God doesn't want the children of Israel to look at the nations around them to figure out how to worship, because God is creating a new creation which is after the pattern of that unspoiled original creation, not after the pattern of this spoiled, fallen world. And so not only does obedience to God in worship end up bringing you to the true God as opposed to a false God, but it ends up making you the new creation instead of a bad copy of the fallen world.
We’re saved to worship, and as we worship in accordance with God's commands, God grafts us into a new creation which He will one day unveil in all its glory.
Our Lord and our God, forgive us for thinking that what You’re telling us here in Exodus 35-39 is boring. It is the farthest thing from it! Make us Your new creation, then, in worship. In Jesus' name. Amen.
Would you stand for God's blessing.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God the Father and our Lord Jesus, the Christ. Amen.
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