Tabernacle in the Wilderness

Tabernacle in the Wilderness

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

The first Passover had been observed. The children of Israel had left Egypt for good. They had passed through the Red Sea, having witnessed the defeat of Pharaoh's army. Now they were in the desert, headed for the fabled Promised Land. What would happen next?

In the wilderness, Moses, their leader, left camp and headed for the mountain called Sinai, accompanied only by his young aid, Joshua. They were gone for the obligatory forty days. During that time the people panicked, reverting to superstition and fear. They built a golden calf—a remembrance of Egypt and the old life. It was an idol, built in the shadow of Sinai where, at that very moment, Moses was receiving instructions forbidding such activity. Perhaps we can forgive them because they had cast off something old and not yet replaced it with anything new.

When Moses returned he overthrew the idol and presented the people with the foundations of what has become the religion we now call Judaism. In his hands he carried the law (see Ten Commandments). In his mind he carried instructions for the construction of the Tabernacle.

Because the children of Israel had a long way to go before they reached their final destination, the Tabernacle would be portable. It was a big tent, designed to be carried from place to place. Built of wood overlaid with gold leaf, it consisted of an outer court with only one entrance. The only entrance to Eden, they were reminded, was guarded by angels with flaming swords. There was only one way back into the presence of God. And before that way could be traversed, the flaming swords implied that something had to die first.

A worshiper stepping through the one entrance faced a large, bronze altar. Here he offered his sacrifice. The altar was a big barbecue pit, really, where the priests ministered. The worshiper would come, perhaps with a lamb, and stand before the priest. Placing his hands upon the head of his offering, the worshiper confessed his sins. The innocent victim, the lamb, became his substitute. Carrying the worshiper's sin, the lamb was ritually sacrificed and placed upon the altar.

From here, the priest took over. It was his job to represent the worshiper before God. He walked from the altar into the tabernacle itself. Here, too, there was just one entrance. It was the only way to enter into the presence of God. Before entering the front room of the tabernacle, the priest stopped at a bronze wash basin. Wearing the priestly breastplate upon which twelve precious stones were fastened, one for each tribe of Israel, he washed his hands and feet, symbolically cleansing himself.

After this duty was concluded he entered the first room of the Tabernacle. Overhead, sunlight filtered through a fourfold skin covering, the roof of the Tabernacle. The coverings were dyed red, representing blood; blue for the creation; purple for royalty; and white for purity. Three pieces of furniture stood before the priest. At his left hand was the menorah, the seven-fold candelabra that burned continually. At his right hand was a table containing twelve loaves of bread, baked fresh each day, representing the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Before him stood the altar of incense. When he paused here to pray, the smoke from the incense symbolically carried his prayers to heaven. Behind the altar hung the curtain through which he was not permitted entry unless it was the Day of Atonement and he was the priest selected to enter the Holy of Holies, the most holy place in the Tabernacle. Here, behind this curtain, rested the Ark of the Covenant (see Ark of the Covenant). This was where the very presence of God was to be found.

Five hundred years later, during the time of King Solomon, this Tabernacle would be reproduced in magnificent proportions in Jerusalem. But for now, it was the place the children of Israel called home. Wherever they went, they carried their Tabernacle, and their God, with them. They would never forget.

At the dedication ceremony, "a cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle. Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting, because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle" (Exodus 40:34-35).

Christian writers would later adapt their own theology to the symbolism inherent in this place. In this interpretation, as explained by the author of the New Testament book of Hebrews, Jesus was the High Priest. Only one entrance was possible because Jesus had said, "I am the door... I am the way." He was the "lamb of God," they would say, that was offered at the bronze altar ("This is my blood, shed for you"). And he was the High Priest who would pause before entering the Tabernacle, washing the feet of his disciples so they could enter the holy place with him. Only then, at the Last Supper—a Passover Seder—would they come to understand that he was the table of fresh baked bread ("I am that bread that came down from heaven... this is my body"). The Holy Spirit, working through them, was the menorah ("You are the light of the world"). Finally he uttered his High Priest prayer (John 17) as if he stood before the altar of incense. Then, after the crucifixion, "the veil of the Temple was torn in two." For the first time, everyone, Jew and Gentile alike, could gaze upon the Most Holy Place and see the face of God. Only then was his ministry, prefigured by the Tabernacle, complete.

So for both Jew and Christian, the Tabernacle in the Wilderness is remembered as a holy place indeed.

The Religion Book: Places, Prophets, Saints, and Seers © 2004 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
"The tabernacle in the wilderness was framed after the pattern which God gave to Moses in the mount; and, verily, Christ's Church is built after God's own model." Pastors may not alter it; they may merely manage it faithfully.