The first two ‘acts’ of Exodus are finished. God has saved his people out of slavery (chs. 1–14), and he has formalised his special covenant treaty that makes them unique among the nations of the earth (chs. 15–24). The scene is set for the third act.
Exodus 25–40 is often missing among the ‘greatest hits’ of our Sunday School syllabus or our preaching programs. It can feel long and repetitive and without much action. But this third act is the very point of the whole book, and the very point of Exodus 25–40 is captured in today’s chapter.
What is a tabernacle? We’ve let that word become obscure jargon. But it’s simply the Latin word for a tent. The wandering Israelites have collected leather and cloth and built themselves portable homes. Now God commands the Israelites to build him a home too.
Why build a tabernacle? We cannot put it any more directly than God’s own words. His people are so unique that God arranges things so that ‘I will dwell among them’!!!
We cannot find enough exclamation marks to do justice to this privilege. The Creator of Everything deigns to live among one group. He has saved them; he is blessing them; he is teaching them; all so that they can in turn bless and teach all the families of the earth. The very first item of furniture in God’s home is the ark of the covenant. This box has a lid with two cherubim statues (which is why Psalm 99 and elsewhere describe God ‘enthroned between the cherubim’ with the ark as his ‘footstool’). God voluntarily parks himself here, to meet with Moses and communicate with the Israelites (25:20–22).
Where Israel was privileged, we Christians are super-privileged. Romans 3:25 rejoices that ‘God presented Christ as an “ark cover”’: the place God receives sacrifices and meets with humanity! John 1:14 gets at the same idea a different way: ‘The Word became flesh and “tented” among us!’ The tabernacle and its ark are another major step in the story that leads to Jesus! Thank God for our super-privileged access!