The Ark of the Covenant

Look at the camp of Israel, God’s holy people. As you move from the border to the center, you encounter increased levels of holiness, until in the most holy place, is the ark of the covenant, described in Exodus 25:10-22.

The ark of the covenant expresses the majestic holiness of God. Cherubim guarded the symbolic throne of God. The most holy place, unlike the temples of surrounding nations, contained no image of the god that was worshiped. It was not a place where the devotees could come into the presence of their deity. Rather, the most holy place was windowless and dark, entered only once a year by the high priest. The one piece of furniture in it was the ark of the covenant. This was a wooden box (roughly 45” by 27” by 27”) made of acacia wood, overlaid with gold, inside and out. It had a gold covered rectangular cover, called the atonement cover or mercy seat. On it were two cherubim, angelic beings that seem to have served as heavenly throne attendants for the Lord, see Genesis 3:24; Revelation 4, Psalm 80 and 99; also Isaiah 6. This cover was the symbolic throne of God, the place where he who dwells in the heavens came down to be in the midst of his covenant people. “Especially the presence of the ‘Kherubhim‘ [cherubim] upon the ark in the most holy place gives a majestic expression to the majesty-side of the divine holiness. These Kherubhim are throne attendants of God, not ‘angels’ in the specific sense of the word, for the angels go on errands and carry messages, whereas the Kherubhim cnno tleave the immediate neighborhood pf the throne, where they have to give expression to the royal majesty of Jehovah, both by their presence and and their unceasing praise (Isa. 6:3; Rev. 4:8, 9).” ( Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology, p. 167). The ark, together with the tabernacle and its other furnishings, was not a bare sign point forward to something better (though it certainly was that). Rather, it was also the place where God, mysteriously and sacramentally made connection with his people. Here is where he extended his grace and salvation to them. Continue reading

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Priestly Robes

How important is what you wear? Do clothes make the man? In Exodus 28:15-30, and the rest of the chapter, God gives detailed instructions as to what the high priest is to wear.

Aaron’s robes identified him as high priest. His attire set him apart. The garments of the high priest showed that he was not just an Israelite among his fellow countrymen. He was functioning on their behalf as he entered the presence of God in the tabernacle. The other priests also had priestly garments, but God’s instructions to Moses focus on what the high priest was to wear. This was not a volunteer or self-appointed position. Rather, God called them and set them apart to their office (Exodus 29 has some of those details). The priest represented the people before God. “These garments showed that those who wore them were not ordinary Israelites, but Israelites who had been ‘set apart’ from the rest of the people (v. 1) to serve as priests.” (W. H. Grispen, Exodus, p. 263). Continue reading

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Washed—So That You Will Not Die

In medical settings hand washing is crucial—sometimes a life and death matter. God instructed Moses to make a basin for the courtyard of the Tabernacle, as Exodus 30:17-21 points out. It’s use was important enough that he described it as a life and death matter: the priests “shall wash their hands and feet so they will not die” (verse 21).

The basin was for washing. God had Moses make a basin for the courtyard of the Tabernacle. It was made from the bronze mirrors of the Israelite women, donated for that purpose. Parents teach children to wash hands so that they don’t spread or ingest germs. But sanitation and microbiology were not the reasons for the basin in the courtyard. Not just the hands, but also the feet of the priests were to be washed. Leviticus 1 tells us that at least some of the sacrifices were washed as port of their being presented to God. Interestingly, we are given far fewer details about the basin in the courtyard than we are about other items, such as the altar or the furniture in the Tabernacle. Solomon’s Temple seems to have been built and furnished like the Tabernacle, but on a much grander scale. 1 Kings 7 records the bronze sea, which along with ten smaller basins, provided water for cleansing in that building. Continue reading

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The Courtyard—Separated by a Barrier

Do good fences make good neighbors? There can be good reasons for a fence or wall. Why did God have Moses build a curtain to separate the courtyard of the tabernacle from the camp of Israel? (Exodus 27:9-19).

Live separate from the world. The courtyard marked the holy location of the tabernacle. The courtyard around the tabernacle was a rectangle, about 75 by 100 feet, with posts, apparently supported by pegs and ropes, and was made of linen. It was not designed to keep livestock in or out, but to mark out the precincts of the tabernacle. That was the area that was particularly holy as the symbolic dwelling place of God. Holy means set apart to God. Sinners cannot approach the presence of a holy God without the problem of their sin being dealt with first. That is why, as one entered the courtyard he came to the altar before he drew near to the tabernacle itself. The courtyard was not available for the people generally. It appears from Leviticus 1 that they could bring their animals to be sacrificed into the courtyard to the entrance of the tabernacle. But, usually, it was only the priests who spent extensive time in the courtyard. The closer one came to the most holy place, the more limited the access. Although Israel was God’s holy nation, the fence around the courtyard kept the people at at distance. “The Courtyard was new evidence of the fact that, although the Lord dwelled among Israel, the Israelites could not freely approach Him. (Cf. 39:9-20; Pss. 100:4; 116:17-19.) The work of Christ has removed this restriction; the Lord now dwells in the hearts of his people. We are privileged above the Israel of the Old Covenant: besides the approach to the Lord’s throne through prayer and ‘falling asleep in the Lord’ (cf. 1 Cor. 15:18), which was also open to the Israelites, we no longer have a courtyard beyond which the vast majority of the Israelites could not approach, and which they were not always able or allowed to enter.” (W. H. Grispen, Exodus, pp. 259-260). Continue reading

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The Altar: Where God Meets with His People

The bronze altar outside the tabernacle was a busy place. The morning and evening sacrifices were presented there, but throughout the day the people came with sacrifices for the priests to offer for them. Exodus 29:42-43 gives you the heart of the purpose of the altar.

You need a substitute. Why bring a sacrifice? Some have suggested that the sacrifice was primarily something going on inside the person bringing it. It helped him feel close to God. This view has been promoted by those who suggest that mankind is inherently good, or at least has a spark of goodness that can be fanned into a flame. Others have suggested that sacrifices really didn’t happen in the wilderness (despite what Exodus says!), but was a practice picked up from the Canaanites, which the prophets later tried to modify in the direction of spiritual worship of God. More recently the idea that God would give his Son to die in the place of sinners has been dismissed as cosmic child abuse. Continue reading

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