Exodus 26

I wish I were more artistic.

We see intricately fine detail in the design of the tabernacle: God’s portable home for a few centuries. And we learn several divine truths from a chapter that otherwise sounds more like an IKEA manual than a choice devotional morsel.

First, God has a sense of aesthetics; he cares about beauty. The finest music and visual arts give us glimpses of God’s majestic creativity. Creative, arty people are ‘skilled workers’ who can just as much explore and express something of God’s grandeur as can physicists and biologists who investigate God’s universe to four decimal places.

Second, the majestic grandeur of God’s tent reminds us that he is king of Israel. This is the dwelling of a chieftain: a portable palace. Did you count how much gold and silver is required?

Some of the other materials and designs are less obvious to us. But scholars of ancient architecture assure us that, third, the tabernacle is a miniature replica of the cosmos. The tabernacle isn’t strictly a planetarium, yet it does remind worshippers that God is king not only of a smallish, ragtag group of Israelites but of the entire universe.

And, fourth, God is so majestic and powerful that not just anyone should barge into his presence. The centrepiece of the complex is the ark: the ‘footstool’ over which God is enthroned (26:31–34). And that central room, called the Most Holy Place or Holy of Holies, is guarded by concentric rooms and courtyards. Worshippers must be increasingly ‘clean’ to access the successive layers of security, like a thief trying to infiltrate the increasing protections around the crown jewels. (The security levels are ultimately for people’s protection, not God’s.)

The New Testament delights that Jesus has torn open the protective curtains shielding unclean humans from God. We recall this physical detail at the crucifixion (Mark 15:37–38). And anyone who would follow Jesus is thus ushered directly into God’s presence (Hebrews 10:19–22)!

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