In Exodus, God's people finally have a place to encounter his presence. Does that ancient Tabernacle have any relevance for us today?
The book of Exodus is home to some of the greatest scenes of the Bible: Moses’ encounter with God in a burning bush, the miraculous escape of the people of Israel through the Red Sea, Moses’ horror when he returned to camp (after forty days in the presence of God) to find his people in worship to a golden calf.
Yet halfway through the book, the dramatic narrative grinds to a halt. For fifteen chapters the diligent reader plods their way through instructions about curtains, poles, lampstands, and ephods. The difficulty of reading through material that lends itself more to blueprints and design drawings than prose can lull us into missing one of the most dramatic moments in Exodus -– God’s glory takes up residence among his people.
The extensive instructions for constructing the Tabernacle, where God’s glory dwelled, are not extraneous to the narrative of Exodus. For 400 years in Egypt, the descendants of Abraham had been cut off from their land and from their God. The incident with the golden calf made it painfully obvious how little they knew Yahweh. The construction of the Tabernacle was crucial to nurturing the covenant relationship established through Moses on Mt. Sinai. If there was to be any hope of faithfulness and deepening maturity in Israel’s relationship with God, a place to encounter God directly was critical.
Upon its completion, the Tabernacle became the physical center of Israel’s camp. In the center of the Tabernacle was the tent of meeting, God’s dwelling place. The Israelite’s joy and awe must have been unspeakable on that historic day when “the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle” (Ex. 40:34). God was true to his promises, not just to deliver them from Egypt, but also to be with them, “I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God” (Ex. 29:45).
God’s presence in their midst could be seen from any part of the camp. His glory manifested as a pillar of cloud and fire rising above the tent of meeting. It was no longer ambiguous how to seek God. He could be found at the tent of meeting. God’s presence in the tent of meeting became a source of assurance, comfort, and direction for individuals and the community.
In many ways, the Bible is the tent of meeting for Christians. The Scripture stands in the middle of our worship and, ideally, in the middle of our Christian communities. Like the Tabernacle, the Bible is portable, available wherever we go. It provides a place of stability and assurance in the midst of our wilderness. Through seeking God in the Scripture we receive direction and guidance, just as the fiery pillar of God’s glory over the tent of meeting guided Israel.
Approaching the Bible as a sacred space where God dwells is vastly different than reading the Bible as if it were an ordinary book. When we read a good book, we are perhaps transported to an imaginary time and place. When we read the Bible, we encounter the living God entering into our time and space. We can have an encounter with God through his Word just like the Israelites had an encounter with God at the tent of meeting. God is alive, active, and interactive. He wants to speak to us, and one of the main ways he speaks is through the Bible.
Every time you reach for the Bible, open it with an expectation of meeting God.