6 Reasons Christians Should Study the Tabernacle
“You shall make upright frames for the tabernacle of acacia wood. Ten cubits shall be the length of a frame, and a cubit and a half the breadth of each frame. There shall be two tenons in each frame, for fitting together. So shall you do for all the frames of the tabernacle. You shall make the frames for the tabernacle: twenty frames for the south side; and forty bases of silver you shall make under the twenty frames, two bases under one frame for its two tenons, and two bases under the next frame for its two tenons…(Exodus 26:15-19)
Riveting stuff, isn’t it? All too often well-meaning Christians set out to read through their Bibles, only to get bogged down in the minutiae of the tabernacles frames, curtains, rings, and bases. This leads many of us to see this portion of Scripture as irrelevant to our daily lives. Why study the tabernacle, then? Let me encourage you to do so for six reasons.
1. This is the Word of the Lord, to which you should respond, “Thanks be to God!”
When Paul reminded Timothy that from the days of his childhood, “you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus,” he included this section of the Old Testament (2 Tim. 3:15). This section, then, just as much as any other, are “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16–17).
2. Reading this portion of the Word is an act of devotion that should lead you to worship the triune God.
The great psalm that extols the Word of God par excellence, Psalm 119, shows how knowledge of God’s Word leads to praise of Him when it says, for example, “I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous rules.” (v. 7) The poet laureate of Israel, David, also spoke of the connection between the Word and worship when he said: “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes” (Ps. 19:7–8).
3. You have in the New Testament revelation of God himself the key to reading and understanding the Old Testament, including the tabernacle.
The Old Testament is incomplete. It is merely the first of two volumes. While God did speak “at many times and in many ways” in the Old Testament (Heb. 1:1), it is only now in the New that He has spoken in His Son, bringing that old revelation to completion (Heb. 1:2). In the words of Augustine: “In the Old [Testament] the New [Testament] is concealed, and in the New [Testament] the Old [Testament] is revealed.” What is the reason for this? The Holy Spirit, who reveals the deep things of God (Rom. 8:1–27; 1 Cor. 1:18–2:16) and the realities of your redemption by removing the veil of unbelief from your eyes (2 Cor. 3:12–18).
4. This leads to the reality that the tabernacle is fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
As Jesus said, “…the Scriptures…bear witness about me” (John 5:39). After His resurrection He led downcast believers through the Word of God to teach them of Himself: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). He then spoke to those He had made Apostles: “Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:44–45). John Owen expressed this Christ-centered approach, when he said of the tabernacle: “By the coming of Christ in the flesh, and the discharge of his mediatory office in this world, the substance of what [the tabernacle and temple] did prefigure is accomplished; and in the revelations of the Gospel the nature and end of them is declared.”
5. When you read the tabernacle narrative ask simple questions such as, “What does this passage teach me about God, about my sins, about Christ’s redemptive work, and about how I am to live for the glory of God?”
This is in contrast to speculating. In the words of John Calvin: “It would be puerile [childish] to make a collection of the minutiae wherewith some philosophize; since it was by no means the intention of God to include mysteries in every hook and loop; and even although no part were without a mystical meaning, which no one in his senses will admit, it is better to confess our ignorance than to indulge ourselves in frivolous conjectures.”
6. Read these narratives to lead you to holiness.
When Paul said the Scriptures were given “for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16), he was saying that their effect in us is holiness. We see this, for example, in Paul teaching in 1 Corinthians 10. Because the Israelites were “our fathers” who ate “the same spiritual meat” and drank “the same spiritual drink,” he says the history of their corporate life “took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did” and that “these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come (1 Cor. 10:6, 11). The tabernacle is a story of your holy God calling you to be holy as He is holy (Lev. 11:44; 1 Peter 1:16).