The Tabernacle and the Law – Part 3

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of Contents

Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom, Chapter 6 – A Nation Emerges

A set-apart people

[Bible references: Exodus 23; Leviticus 11, 17; Deuteronomy 14; Hebrews 4:1-13; 10:24-25]

What does it mean to be created in the image of a holy God? What do we mean when we say, “God is holy?” We first encounter the term in Genesis 2:3 when God indicates that the seventh day will be made holy, the seventh day was to be set apart from the other days. When Moses encountered God’s presence in a burning bush, Moses was told to remove his sandals because the ground was holy. It was also God’s intention to make Israel a holy nation, set apart from other nations and through which all the nations on earth would be blessed.

There were a couple of ways in which the nation of Israel would be distinguished from the nations around them, the food, and the calendar. There were some restrictions of the food they could eat such as certain meats, fish, birds, and insects, but the calendar provides the most distinguishing difference. While some cultures had recognized a 7-day calendar, it was the Israelites who set aside the seventh day of the week as a Sabbath on which no work was supposed be done. But that is not the only distinguishing characteristic of the calendar.

In the present day we have a universal calendar, and we have a priority for journalistic chronology. That is, we remember historical events on the particular day that the events happened according to our calendar. It is important for us to track events in the chronological order in which they happened. However, there are a few exceptions that we should note. Sometimes we set our remembrance day according to our convenience – for instance, we always celebrate days such as Martin Luther King’s birthday, not on his actual birth date, but always on a Monday because of our priority for extended weekends.

For the Israelite calendar, the priority was not chronology but liturgy. The remembrance days for events were not set according to the actual historical date on which they occurred but were set according to the liturgical calendar. This practice become clear when you trace out the timing of events in the Pentateuch (first five books of the Hebrew Bible) and compare them to the remembrance dates. It was more important to have events in the context of God’s activity rather than the contexts of the events themselves.

This concept provides the background for celebration of the Sabbath. The Sabbath was such an important concept for the Jews, that the account of creation in Genesis 1 was used to present the concept of Sabbath.[1] When we think about God’s creating activities, God did not need six days to carry out creation, nor did he need to rest. So why do set up the remembrance of God’s creation in a 7-day timeframe? Once again, the important point is not the chronology but the liturgy.

The important point about the creation event was not the event itself, but what it was for. The purpose of creation was to create a “temple,” a place where God could “rest,” that is, “be” with his people. That’s the main point. There are tasks to be done of course as we join God in his creative work in the universe, but the point of the tasks is to be with God. When you look at Genesis 1-2, you will notice that the first six days have a defined beginning and end, an evening, and a morning. The seventh day does not have a defined closing – that implies that we are in the seventh day. This day we are in, the age we are in, is the “day” that we “rest” with God. It was intended at the beginning that all our activities done with, at rest with, God.

This brings us to a second distinguishing characteristic of the Jewish Biblical calendar: the first month was during the spring equinox, harvesting time, whereas in the surrounding cultures the first month of the calendar was set in the fall equinox, crop planting time. The difference in meaning was that since Israel’s year started with God’s work, the year begins God’s provision of the harvest which fed the nation and provided seed for the fall. This contrasted to the surrounding cultures which began their calendar with their work, so their year began with their work that provided for the next harvest.[2]

What can be confusing is that in current practice, Jews do not use the biblical (or liturgical) calendar but the civil calendar which places the first month in the fall instead of the spring. Christians do have an equivalent practice: our civil calendar begins in January, which was set by the Roman government and coincided with Roman elections whereas some in the Christian community observe a liturgical calendar which begins in the fall with the season of Advent.

The liturgical focus of the calendar with its de-emphasis of the chronology of historical events helps explain some interesting discontinuities and apparent conflicts in the Biblical text. If we allow the events described in Exodus to be interpreted liturgically instead of chronologically, we can make better sense of the flow of Exodus.

One of the “apparent conflicts” occurs in Exodus 19, as the Israelites arrived at Mount Sinai. At the beginning of the chapter, Yahweh made a covenant similar to the one with Abraham and declared that they were to be a “kingdom of priests,” and that they were to prepare to go up the mountain after the sounding of the ram’s horn. And yet, at the end of the same chapter, Yahweh told Moses to not let the people, even the(people designated to be) priests, to go up the mountain. By noticing such apparent conflicts, we can better chronologically rearrange the events in Exodus so that they make better sense to chronologically minded folks such as we are.

A possible chronological arrangement of events looks like:[3]

  • The initial, Abrahamic-like covenant was given (including building earthen altars) followed by the Decalogue (10 Commandments)
  • The golden calf incident occurred
  • There was a covenant renewal
  • The code for priests was given along with instructions for building a tabernacle
  • Another incident with idols, this time goats, was documented
  • A Holiness code was given to the people
  • The covenant is renewed again

While the rearrangement may help us who are chronologically minded make better sense of the text, in the end we are left with Israel now being a nation with priests and the community centering its worship around a large tent called the Tabernacle. The liturgical intent of the text as it is written, is to focus on the final outcome, that Israel will be a nation with priests serving a holy God who may reside among them but who is not directly accessible.

Worship at the tabernacle was a community event. No one could do this by themselves. Different people were assigned to different tasks, which not only included direct involvement in worship but also in the care of the tabernacle and its furnishings. Even one’s individual sins required the use of priest to handle the sacrifice. Before the tabernacle, offerings could be made by anyone, but with the tabernacle, only designated priests could perform the sacrificial offerings.

This arrangement continues the pattern of representing the holiness of God in creation. God’s image-bearing creatures are set aside from all other creatures; Sinful humans are separated from the Garden of Eden; Noah and his family are set aside in the ark from all other people; Abraham is set aside from all other people to usher in the blessing of all people; Moses is set apart from the other Israelites to see God face-to-face; the Levites are the tribe set apart from the other tribes to manage the care of the tabernacle; the priests are set apart from the other Levites to carry out the rituals in the tabernacle; the Sabbath from all the other days as a reminder of God’s provision, in particular his provision for rest – and the list goes on.

[1] LeFebvre, Michael. “The Liturgy of Creation: Understanding Calendars in Old Testament Context”

[2] LeFebvre, Michael. “The Liturgy of Creation: Understanding Calendars in Old Testament Context”

[3] Sailhammer, John. “Introduction to Old Testament Theology” (Appendix b)

The Tabernacle and the Law – Part 2

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of Contents

Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom, Chapter 6 – A Nation Emerges

Sacrifice and death

[Bible references: Genesis 4:4; 8:20; 36-39; Leviticus 1-7; Hebrews 7:27-28]

God also gave detailed instructions about how and when to conduct the rituals surrounding the tabernacle. Burnt offerings[1] had been offered before the tabernacle was built but now there were additional offerings to be made.[2] In the case of all the offerings, something had to die. The cost of sin was death, and it takes death to restore one’s relation with God. Moreover, the animals presented for sacrifice for the burnt offerings needed to be pure and without blemish or defect.

These “perfect” sacrifices were pointing to our ultimate need for a truly perfect sacrifice made on our behalf. The sacrifice would have to more than an animal with no visible blemishes. The sacrifice would have to be made by a perfect human whose identity would gradually prophetically be revealed … by a new “Adam” who would succeed where the first Adam failed.

Sacrificial death, though, can take a different form than we expect. In Psalm 51, David declares,

“For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:16-17 ESV)

and Micah declares.

“With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:6-8, ESV)

and later, the apostle Paul declares,

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good, acceptable, and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2, ESV)

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20, ESV)

These passages indicate a sacrifice of dying to oneself, of laying one’s own interests aside for the sake of another … for the sake of Christ. A sacrifice not to “make things right” with God but because things are right.

[1] Hal, Doulos. The Fire Sacrifices and Offerings of Israel – The Burnt Offering” Impact blogs 4 Apr 2020 Burnt offerings are sometimes called whole offerings (because none of the offering is put aside for eating) or ascent offerings.

[2] Tam, Stephen, “The Five Offerings in the Old Testament” “The Five Offerings in the Old Testament” Moses Tabernacle 2003-2018; “The Law of Burnt Offerings”


How many people are willing to die for the sake of others?


Read Psalm 51; Romans 12:1-2. We do not have a temple to make animal sacrifices. What we do have is the opportunity to offer ourselves as a daily sacrifice. What is meant by a broken spirit?

The Tabernacle and the Law – Part 1

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of Contents

Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom, Chapter 6 – A Nation Emerges

The Tabernacle, shadow of something greater

[Bible references: Exodus 25-27; Numbers 2; Hebrews 8:5-6; 10:1-18]

During the time in the wilderness, the Israelites were instructed to build a tabernacle that would serve as the point of presence for Yahweh in the community. God would be seen both as an unapproachable and transcendent God[1] and as a personal, immanent God living among his people.[2] The tabernacle would serve to display the shadow of a deeper reality.

Art and artists

[Bible references: Exodus 20:4-6; 31:2-3; 35:4-9,32-35; 36:1-7]

The instructions are quite detailed. The materials used to build the tabernacle were gifts given to the Israelites as they left Egypt. Those materials were then freely shared to be used as materials used to construct the tabernacle. God dedicated the workmen for building the various parts of the tabernacle, filling them with his Spirit and then giving the skills and abilities they needed. God gave everything needed for the construction of the tabernacle. Between the detailed instructions, the materials provided by the Egyptians and the skills of the craftsmen, the tabernacle would be a beautiful work of art. Although the Israelites were told not to make graven images to worship as idols, that obviously did not mean that they couldn’t create works of art, in this case works that would be used to enable worship.

Law and Love

[Bible references: Exodus 20:1-17; Leviticus 1-7; 19:18, 34; Deuteronomy 4:27-31; 6:1-6; John 13:35; 1 Timothy 1:5]

The amount of killing carried out in the tabernacle to fulfill the necessary sacrifices would be a constant, grisly reminder of the cost of our sin. There were sacrifices to be made for many types of occasions: burnt (or ascension) offerings, sin offerings, guilt offerings and others. There was much bloodletting from the many animals sacrificed on the altar, a constant reminder of the cost of our sins.

In addition to the rules of the tabernacle, God also gave other rules that covered other areas of life. Most of us are familiar with the moral code we know as the ten Commandments, but there were many other laws that covered other situations as well. Of the 613 rules (mitzvot) that can be found,[3] they can all be summarized in the commands: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; Love your neighbor as yourself. Whether in the ten commandments or in the 613 mitzvot, all the rules are predicated on love, thankfulness and pleasing one another. All the instructions point to practical ways for us to love God and one another.[4]

[1] The Holy of Holies could only be accessed once a year and only by the high priest.

[2] The presence of God was indicated by the pillar of fire by night and smoke by day where the people could see it. Also, Moses was able to have face-to-face contact with God.

[3] Judaism 101, “List of the 613 Commandments” Judaism 101

[4] Isaacs, Ronald H. “Rabbinic Reasons for the Mitzvot;” Messianic Jewish Bible Society “Love and the Hebrew language”; Levinson, John D. “The Shema and the Commandment to Love God in its ancient context” The Torah


For the nation of Israel, the tabernacle and its rituals provided a visible reminder of that the presence of God was among them, but God was still not accessible except once a year by the high priest. Does God seem like that to you?


Read Hebrews 8:5-6; 10:1-18, 1 Peter 2:9. The Tabernacle was designed to represent a greater reality. Our relationships among people also represent a greater reality. What is it?


Arts and crafts, as long as they enhance and don’t distract from the worship of God, are useful in the worship experience. What are some ways can you express the worship of God?


Read Exodus 20:4-6; 31:2-3; 35:4-9,32-35; 36:1-7. What kinds of arts and crafts went into the construction of the tabernacle?


If you had to live through the experience of seeing many animals slaughtered as sacrifices for the sake your sins and others’ sins, how would that affect your thinking?


Read Matthew 22:37-40. The Great Commandment is about loving God and neighbor. Keeping that commandment, is just as difficult as following the 613 other commands that can be found in the Old Testament. What do you think your life would look like if you fully lived into the Great Commandment?


Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of Contents

Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom, Chapter 6 – A Nation Emerges

Fullness of time

[Bible references: Genesis 15:16; Exodus 2-4; 7-11; Galatians 4:4; Ephesians 1:1-14]

The emerging story of the chosen people of God becoming a nation started slowly with Abraham, with one child of the promise, Isaac, who had two children, only one through whom the promise would come, Jacob. Finally, Jacob had thirteen children. But it would take time for that family to grow into a size that could be called a nation – and that took a couple hundred more years – in which time the “sin of the Amorites would reach their full measure.”

Although the Bible does not specifically mention it, there may have been other things that God was waiting to happen such as the development of the Israelite community and the consequent interaction of the Israelite community with the Egyptian community during the Israelite captivity. God allowed events to gradually unfold until “the fullness of time” came for God to orchestrate a dramatic release of the Israelite community. This event would serve as a foreshadowing of another event, the spiritual release of all peoples from slavery to sin.

So it was, that in the fullness of time, when the sin of the Amorites reached its full measure,[1] Yahweh called Moses to release the enslaved Israelites from Egypt to bring Israel back to the Promised Land.

Discipline, Miracles, and Death

[Bible references: Genesis 15:13-14. Exodus 7-11; 12:31-36; 13:17-22; 16; 17:1-7; 20; 32; Numbers 13-14]

Miracles abounded.

There were the ten plagues that God brought upon the Egyptian captors to show the Pharoah that Yahweh was not just a local God in Canaan but that His power extended over all creation, even in the land of the Egyptian gods. In the process, the Pharoah’s own heart continued to harden against Yahweh to the point where God would seal the Pharoah’s fate and further harden the Pharoah’s heart. In the end, it took the killing of the firstborn of Egyptian families, including the family of the Pharoah to not only convince the Pharaoh to let people of Israel go, but the people of Egypt also supplied the people of Israel with great wealth as they left, with some Egyptians joining the people of Israel in their flight.

Then there was the miracles of the pillars of cloud and fire, which would continue until the nation entered the Promised Land, and the miracle which let Israel cross the Red Sea on dry land followed by the drowning of the Egyptian army. The pattern of punishing a nation that was used to discipline the people of Israel would be repeated throughout Biblical history.[2]

Once on their way, the Israelites experienced more miracles, the mountain enshrouded in a cloud where Yahweh talked with Moses and delivered the Commandments and other rules, manna and quail falling from the sky, springs of water in the desert. Despite seeing all those miracles, Israel wasn’t ready to have Yahweh lead them into the Promised Land to face the obstacles there and so God had them encamp in the wilderness for 40 years until all the adults who refused to trust Yahweh died. So many deaths must have happened, but scripture barely mentions them. Here we will see, not for the last time, which seeing miracles not only did not change hearts but that all our hearts seem predisposed to turn away from God.

[1] cp. Galatians 4:4; Ephesians 1:10; see also White, James Emery. “Is God a Moral Monster? The Slaughter of the Canaanites” Church&Culture 22 Oct 2020

[2] Ex: Egypt (Genesis 15:13-14). Babylon (Isaiah 13, 21,23), Assyria (Isaiah 10, 14; Zephaniah 2)


Often, when we are younger, we think we know everything. But most of the time, we discover over time that we need maturing – to grow in wisdom – a process that takes time and experience. What things have you learned through time and experience?


Read Galatians 4:4; Ephesians 1:3-14. We do not have God’s perspective. We don’t know why God waited so long after the time of Adam and Eve before Messiah came – the first time. We don’t know why God is waiting to return. Not with all the pain and suffering we see around us. What hints do these passages provide for us?


We discover in the Exodus narrative, that being able to see and to live in the midst of miracles, was not sufficient to change the hearts of the people. What does that say about us?


Read Exodus 8-10. In the narrative of the 10 plagues, several times we are told that Pharoah hardened his heart, but then there came a time when Yahweh reinforced that trajectory and Yahweh hardened the Pharoah’s heart. What kind of warning might that be?

Strange interlude: captivity

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of Contents

Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom, Chapter 6 – A Nation Emerges

Process is important

[Bible references: Genesis 15:12-21; Exodus 1:1-22]

After Joseph and the Pharaoh who knew him died, the growing nation of Israel became enslaved in the land of Egypt just as it had been foretold to Abraham. There are various questions that surrounded the captivity of Israel in Egypt:

  • When there was a drought, why didn’t Yahweh provide for the Israelites in Canaan instead of having them go to Egypt?
  • If they needed to be in Egypt, why did they need to be enslaved instead of just living there as guests?

We know that Yahweh told Abraham that a great nation would come from him and that they would be given the land of Canaan to live in. But why the side-trip into Egypt and why the slavery? The only reason given to Abraham was that “the sin of the Amorites was not yet reached its full measure.” 

The reason given to Abraham for being in Egypt follows a general pattern. Although God occasionally supernaturally intervenes in the course of events, it seems that God most often allows natural, normal processes to take place, whether they be physical, psychological, sociological etc. We see that process in living things – plants, and animals – as they grow through specific physical processes[1]. Regarding, the great flood in Noah’s time, that only occurred after evil gradually, through normal psychological and sociological processes, eventually reached a particular threshold.

[1] Natural, physical processes are so well fixed and so well understood that they have become known as scientific laws.


Joseph’s discipline involved finding God in the midst of difficult circumstances and discovering how God could use him there. Are there any difficult circumstances you struggle with? Have you found God at work in your life in those circumstances?


Read Genesis 15:12-21; Exodus 1:1-22. We often don’t know the reasons for the difficult circumstances in life. How might Abram’s dream explain why God originally provided hospitality and refuge in Egypt but then allowed Israel to be enslaved?