Our passage today begins with the instructions God gives for the building of the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle is made to be symbolic of heaven, because heaven is the dwelling place of God, and the Tabernacle will house the Ark, which represents His presence, and it will serve as the physical place God’s people will come to meet with Him. Realize that God’s presence was not limited to the Tabernacle, the manifestation of His presence is a symbol that points forward to the Son manifesting God to us in the Person of Christ. So ultimately, the Tabernacle is a symbol of Christ.
Note first that the tabernacle is made of ten curtains (10 representing perfection), and that they will be made of blue, purple, and scarlet (26:1). Fabrics and yarns of these colors were rare and expensive, and were thus often worn by royalty to show their wealth. This shows the majesty of God. Note the cherubim that are to be embroidered on the tabernacle walls. This is the second time cherubim are mentioned in the Bible. The first time is back in Genesis 3:24 when we are told that cherubim guarded the entrance to the Garden of Eden, which means they guarded the way back to God’s presence. The cherubim here would be a reminder of the grace of God that His people are allowed back into His presence. And Christ, as the true Tabernacle, is where we go to get in the presence of God.
God gives very specific details for building the Tabernacle. As the symbol of God’s presence – that is, Christ – we are meant to see the absolute holiness of Christ. It is this holiness that made Him the only suitable sacrifice for sin. Notice that the majestic interior walls – the colors of royalty with fine embroidery and gold clasps – is covered by an outer tent of goat’s hair with bronze clasps (vv. 7-14). The majesty and glory of God will be hidden by common earthly materials. This is how Christ came to us – glorious God in the body of a common man.
In the building of the frames (vv. 15-25), note that the sides of the Tabernacle face north and south, and the rear faces the west. That means the front of the Tabernacle faces east. This is the same as the Garden of Eden (again, Gen 3:24). We see how the Garden and the Tabernacle (and later the Temple) make a progressive image of heaven, a.k.a. God’s presence, a.k.a. Jesus Christ. We will see throughout the Bible how east represents the direction from which God’s salvation comes.*
In verses 31-35, God gives the instructions for the Most Holy Place – the inner sanctuary where the Ark (His presence) will dwell. Note how the veil separates God’s presence from the rest of the Tabernacle. This is a reminder of the separation of man from God due to sin.
Chapter 27 begins with the instructions for the altar. It will be made of wood and coated with bronze. This is for both practical and spiritual reasons. First, this is where the burnt offerings would be made to God. Neither gold nor silver would stand up to the heat of the fire. Second, this is in line with God’s injunction in Exodus 20:23-26, which is meant to keep the altar itself (or any physical item used in worship) from becoming an idol. This line of reasoning is continued in verse 19.
The chapter ends with the command for the lamp to continually burn through the night. This means the Tabernacle will never be in darkness. The light, of course, points forward to Christ and the light of His Gospel (see Matt 4:16-17).
Chapter 28 details the garments of the priests.** The garments are meant to imitate the design of the inner Tabernacle (compare 28:6 to 26:1). The garments are quite elaborate and would take a very long time to put on properly. This is to point to the inward state of man that God requires if he is to worship Him. The garments contained the names of the sons of Israel (v. 9, 21). This shows the intercessory and mediatorial nature of the priesthood. Aaron represented all if Israel (v. 29). This is another pointer to Christ in His representation of His people at the cross, and now at the right hand of the Father.
In the breastplate were put the “Urim” and the “Thummim” (v. 30), transliterations of the Hebrew words that derive from their words for “judgment” and “perfection.” It would appear here that they represent the perfection achieved through the sacrificial judgment for God’s people. That is a pointer to the perfection we receive through the judgment poured out on Christ. However, what exactly the Urim and Thummim are is a mystery. We will see that they are later used as vessels of divination.
Verse 36 tells of the plate the reads “Holy to the Lord” that was to be worn on Aaron’s head. This is not just an indication that the High Priest was set apart by God, but the High Priest represented all of God’s people. He make all of His people holy through the work of the High Priest, Who is ultimately Christ. Throughout the chapter are warnings that the garments are to be worn exactly as prescribed, including the undergarments to cover their nakedness (representing sin), under penalty of death. God requires perfect holiness to enter His presence – sin is not allowed. Thank God we have that perfect holiness of Christ given to us!
*I believe it was Jonathan Edwards who said that the sun itself is given by God as a pointer to Christ and His salvation. It comes from the east, shines with all the brightness of heaven, its rays reaching in every direction like the Gospel of salvation that goes out into all the world. I’ve always liked that idea.
**I believe that the pomegranates around the hem of the robe – that is, at the very bottom nearest the ground out of which we were created – represent the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It is the furthest point from the headpiece that read “Holy to the Lord.” I, therefore, believe that the tree (which, remember, was not special in and of itself, but only because it was the one tree God forbade eating from) was a pomegranate tree. So I believe the fruit Adam and Eve ate was a pomegranate. This would also follow from the fact that pomegranates are indigenous to the Middle East (apples are not, by the way, and nobody knows how the idea of the apple became so pervasive, but the Bible doesn’t say it was an apple…).