Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Tabernacle: The Word Dwelt Among Us

As we seek to be affected by the truth in John 1:14, I mentioned that I want to frame this discussion around three key words that John uses - words that give us life-altering insight into the significance of Christmas.

The first key word is: dwelt. “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us…”

Now, there is much more going on in what John is saying here than it sounds like to us English-speakers. We read that Jesus “dwelt” among us, and when we think of the idea of “dwelling” we just think of “hanging out.” But John uses a peculiar word here. There are more common Greek words for “to dwell,” but he chooses this one. The word is skēnoō. Now, the word skēnē in Greek means “tent.” We have the verb form of skēnē here, so skēnoō literally means, “to pitch a tent.” John tells us that this Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us.

Now, that’s a weird way to talk, isn’t it? Especially since we don’t have any Scripture that tells us that Jesus actually pitched a literal tent during his time on earth. I mean, why say it this way? He’s got at least two other words that he could use here. Why use this word?

He uses this word because he wants his readers – who would either be Jewish or would be familiar with the history of Israel – to recall the tabernacle, the tent of meeting, where God met with the Israelites in the Old Testament. And that’s exactly what they would think of.

The Greek word skēnoō that we have in verse 14 is very similar to the Hebrew word for “to dwell.” In Hebrew the word is shākan. Shākan
and skēnoō. They actually have the same consonants: shākan: s, k, n, and skēnoō: s, k, n. And the ‘tabernacle’ in Hebrew is mishkān, which is just the word shākan with an “m” in front of it. When Hebrew wants to denote “place,” it puts an “m” in front of words. So if shākan is “to dwell,” mishkān is “dwelling place.” And that’s the word that gets translated “tabernacle” in the Old Testament.

The Tabernacle

Yahweh first gives the command to build the tabernacle in Exodus 25:8-9: “Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell (shākan) among them. According to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern of the tabernacle (mishkan) and the pattern of all its furniture, just so you shall construct it.” And so in the next chapters Yahweh gives the directions for the construction of the Tabernacle.

The tabernacle itself actually was covered over by a tent, which is why the early form of it is called the “tent of meeting.” It was 15 feet wide, 15 feet high, and 45 feet long. The entrance was covered by a curtain or a veil made with fine linen and costly dyes. When a priest entered the tabernacle they were first in the holy place. This was a 30 x 15 x 15 foot room that contained the table that held the Bread of the Presence (Ex 25:23-30) which the priests would offer to Yahweh as a memorial offering (Lev 24:27), the lampstand (Ex 25:31-40) which gave light to the holy place, and the altar of incense (Ex 30:1-5; 37:25-29) which Aaron used for incense offerings to Yahweh. And all of these furnishings were covered in pure gold. And beyond that room was the holy of holies. It was a 15-foot cube, and there was nothing in it but the Ark of the Covenant (Ex 25:10-25; 37:1-9), which housed the tablets of God’s Law. Only the High Priest could enter this room, and only once a year: on the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:34).

So that’s the physical tabernacle. But in Exodus 29 we learn something of its significance. There, God is speaking about what the tabernacle will be to the sons of Israel:

Exodus 29:42-46 …at the doorway of the tent of meeting before Yahweh, where I will meet with you, to speak to you there. I will meet there with the sons of Israel, and it shall be consecrated by My glory. I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar; I will also consecrate Aaron and his sons to minister as priests to Me. I will dwell among the sons of Israel and will be their God. They shall know that I am Yahweh their God who brought them out of the land of Egypt, that I might dwell among them; I am Yahweh their God.

So from this passage we learn that the tabernacle will be

  • Ex 29:42 – A place of meeting
  • Ex 29:42 – A place of revelation
  • Ex 29:43 – A place of consecration and sanctification
  • Ex 29:44 – A place of propitiation
  • Ex 29:45-46 – The significance of God dwelling among His people. He says that the reason He brought them out of Egypt was so that He would dwell with them. This tabernacle is a big deal.

In chapter 33, we learn a bit more:

Exodus 33:7-11 Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, a good distance from the camp, and he called it the tent of meeting. He met with God here while the tabernacle was being built. And everyone who sought Yahweh would go out to the tent of meeting which was outside the camp. And it came about, whenever Moses went out to the tent, that all the people would arise and stand, each at the entrance of his tent, and gaze after Moses until he entered the tent. Whenever Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and Yahweh would speak with Moses. When all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would arise and worship, each at the entrance of his tent. Thus Yahweh used to speak with Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend.

Verse 7 says, “…everyone who sought Yahweh” came here. This was the place where Israel could have fellowship and communion with their God. And verse 8 says that when Moses would go into the tent, everyone would gaze after him. They would drop everything! They would say, “Hey! Moses is getting ready to go into the tent of meeting,” and they’d watch him go in. They were in awe! And rightfully so! Verse 9 says that whenever he went in, a pillar of cloud would descend. What a sight this had to be! So again we see that this was a place of condescension.

It tells us Yahweh would speak with Moses – that’s revelation again, God speaking to His people. Verse 10 tells us that all the people would worship when they saw the glory of Yahweh revealed in the cloud, so again we see that this was a place of worship. And finally, – such a beautiful sentence! – we’re told that Yahweh would speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend. And so this is a place of intimate fellowship.

Finally, in Exodus 40, we have the climax of this story. Everything that Israel has heard up until now has been what would be when the tabernacle was finished. In chapter 40, construction is completed. And with all Israel watching, God’s glory fills the tabernacle.

Exodus 40:34-35 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of Yahweh filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of Yahweh filled the tabernacle.

Now Yahweh descends upon His dwelling place, upon His tabernacle! The glory descends in such a way that not even Moses who had gone into the cloud before, who had seen Yahweh’s glory not even he could enter into the tent! What an amazing scene! This is God declaring: “I am with My people! I now dwell among them!”

And, Exodus 40:36-38:Throughout all their journeys whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the sons of Israel would set out; but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day when it was taken up. For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of Yahweh was on the tabernacle by day, and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel.

And so when the Apostle John uses that peculiar word, when he tells his readers the incarnate Word dwelt among them, he is calling our attention here. John is telling us that the way Yahweh descended and dwelt among His people in the Tabernacle, – and spoke with them and revealed Himself – that very same thing is happening in Jesus Christ! In Jesus, the glory of Yahweh is descending and is pitching His tent to dwell among His people!

Oh let that cause you to worship! Be affected, be moved to awe and adoration and worship at the fact that the Word – the Eternal, with God, God Himself, the agent of the creation of all things, the life and the Light of the world – became flesh and tabernacled among us!

1 comment:

Home for Health said...

I really enjoyed this and am going to use parts of it in my next sermon. Thanks www.homeforhealth.net