Holiness Bible Study, Lesson 2.
The Tabernacle: God’s Divine Purpose
“Our Fathers had the tabernacle of testimony in the wilderness, just as He who spoke to Moses directed him to make according to the pattern which he had seen.”
Our journey has now brought us to the tabernacle. Moses has received the Torah (instructions), the people affirmed that they would keep all of God’s commandments, and now God is giving them the tabernacle, which included the priesthood and the sacrifices. As we will see, this whole system which God gives the people of Israel is for the purpose of worship, prayer, and holiness:“Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises” (Romans 9:4). God shows Moses the heavenly tabernacle and instructs him to build the earthly version exactly as he saw on the mountain. The tabernacle was like heaven come down to earth; it was like the throne-room of God among men.
Keep in mind that the tabernacle is not the same as the temple that will be built later. Although they both follow the same model (the heavenly tabernacle), the temple had additional floors and rooms for the priests.
As believers, we tend to think of the tabernacle as something that was only relevant in the past; but as we shall see in this study, the tabernacle is ordained by God for all to come and draw near. The heavenly temple is still in action today: “After these things I looked, and the temple of the tabernacle of testimony in heaven was opened, and the seven angels who had the seven plagues came out of the temple, clothed in linen, clean and bright, and girded around their chests with golden sashes” (Revelation 15:5-6). Since this service is still in operation, it is important for us to understand as much as we can about these things by studying the earthly tabernacle, which is a “form and the shadow of these things that are in Heaven” (Hebrews 8:5).
Let’s Honor God With Our Giving
God begins His building project with a contribution: “Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Tell the sons of Israel to raise a contribution for Me; from every man whose heart moves him you shall raise My contribution’” ‘(Exodus 25:1-2). We want to note that God only wanted those who had a heart for God: “God loves a cheerful giver”
(2 Corinthians 9:7). God then tells His people what He wants them to give, which is nothing less than items of great value—gold, silver, brass, and jewels.
These were all items collected from the Egyptians before they fled Egypt. Yet God did not demand these items, but asked from those who had a willing heart. Is this not true of tithing? We feel that we worked for our money, so why should we give it to the church? As believers, we think that we can give God what we want to give Him; but God requires of us what He deems right—maybe our money, maybe our time, maybe even our lives, for He is the builder of not only our faith, but the spiritual house that He is building. 1 Peter 2:5 says, “You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Messiah Yeshua.” God tells the people that He wants them to construct a sanctuary for Him so that He may dwell among them. When God said, “Make Me a sanctuary (or mishkan in Hebrew),” what He was saying was that He not only wanted to dwell with man, but to have an intimate relationship with him. Remember, just a few chapters back God had betrothed Israel (Exodus 19:4-6).
We see over and over again that God tells Moses to construct the tabernacle according to the pattern that was shown to him on the mountain of the Lord (Exodus 25:9, 40; 26:30; Acts 7:44). God, the great architect, shows Moses nothing other than the heavenly tabernacle which was created at the beginning of time (Hebrews 8:2, 5). This heavenly temple is in operation today—right now, this very moment—and this is where we begin our journey to understand the meaning of the tabernacle. Moses saw this temple, and so did Isaiah, and even Paul and John; and now you will see it with your spiritual eyes.
The tabernacle was divided into three parts: the outer courts, the Holy Place, and the Holy of Holies, which is the holiest place on earth. This is where Moses begins to record his conversation with God.
So let’s get building!
The Outer Court
There is little difference between the tabernacle which was in the wilderness at the time of Moses and the temple. There was a gate on the east side of the tabernacle. This is not a gate as we may imagine; it consists of decorated curtains. Upon entering the gate/curtain of the tabernacle, one would arrive at the outer court. It is here at the gate that our worship begins. The Psalmist writes, “Lift up your heads, O gates, and be lifted up, O ancient doors that the King of glory may come in! Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, He is the King of glory” (Psalm 24:7-10). The Psalmist also writes, “How lovely are your dwelling places, O Lord of hosts! My soul longed and even yearned for the courts of the Lord” (Psalm 84:1-2). And how are we to enter in, but with thanksgiving and praise? The foremost way in which the people would joyfully enter was reciting the Hallel. The Hallel consists of Psalms 113-118, sometimes also including Psalm 136, which is known as the Great Hallel. While it is unknown who exactly wrote the Hallel, traditionally it is believed to have originated with Moses and the Israelites after the exodus from Egypt. Regardless of its author(s), the Hallel was, and still is, either sung or chanted as a prayer of thanksgiving for God’s faithfulness. During the time of the Temple, the Levites would recite the Hallel, as would the pilgrims entering Jerusalem. If this was the case for the temple, and if the Hallel was written by Moses, then it is possible that it was this very song that was sung upon entering the gates of the tabernacle. Whether it was the Hallel or some other song of praise, we see that the only way we can come through the gate is with thankfulness and praise.
The gate or the door into the tabernacle is very significant because Yeshua said that He was the Door/gate (John 10:7) and there is no other way to enter in, except through Him. Yeshua said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). The gate/curtain was the only way into the tabernacle.
Exodus 26:1 tells us that the curtains of the outer court were made of fine white linen and were seven-and-a-half feet tall. The linen curtains speak of the robes of righteousness the bride of Yeshua will wear on her wedding day (Revelation 19:6-9). Remember, we saw that these robes were worn also by the priests and they were called garments of splendor, beauty, and glory.
When surveying the outer court, you would see the Bronze Altar and the Bronze Laver. The outer court was the place for atonement, worship, and cleansing in preparation to meet God.
The Bronze/Brazen Altar
“And you shall make the altar of acacia wood, five cubits long and five cubits wide, the altar shall be square, and its height shall be three cubits. And you shall make its horns on its four corners; its horns shall be one piece with it, and you shall overlay it with bronze.”
When you enter the courtyard, the first thing you come upon is the bronze altar, also called the brazen altar. You may also hear it referred to as the copper altar; this is because bronze is mostly copper mixed with another metal.
The altar is not completely made of bronze, but rather the structure was formed from acacia wood and then covered with bronze. Also matching this description are the two poles which were used to move the altar. The altar itself was about 7.5 feet long and wide (a square) and about 4.5 feet high. It had a horn at each of the corners of the top face. These horns were both symbolic and practical. Horns were a symbol of power—in this case, the power of God. These horns also were used to tie down larger offerings. There was a grate halfway up from the earth inside for the ashes to fall through. The utensils used along with the altar, which included various hooks, forks, pans, and shovels, were made solely of bronze and were used in regular service on the altar.
The altar of sacrifice, as it was also called, being made of acacia wood overlaid with bronze, is a picture of Yeshua bearing the sins of man on the cross. The blood of the sacrifice was poured out upon the ground at the base of the altar, which was a picture of the shedding of Yeshua’s blood being poured out for us. The altar was the place where the people came to draw near to God.
While sacrifice is itself inherent to the workings of the tabernacle, we see that it was already a common practice before this time. In fact, the first sacrifice is often understood as having taken place in the Garden of Eden: “The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21). We see this throughout the Torah that God’s people, like Noah and the Patriarchs, would build an altar and sacrifice to God for one reason or another; but through this they would draw near to God. It was only through their sacrifices that they could draw near to God. Their sins had to be atoned for. Scripture tells us that there is no remission of sin without the shedding of blood (Hebrews 9:22).
The altar was used all day long to make the various sacrifices for the people: “Fire shall be kept burning continually on the altar; it is not to go out” (Leviticus 6:13). The name used to identify it aptly describes the actions which would take place here—the word which we translate as “altar” is the Hebrew word mizbeach, which literally means “slaughter place.” It was here that the sacrificial system was put into action.
The word “sacrifice” has a somewhat negative connotation in the English language. We define it as a giving up or destruction of something important to us. In Hebrew, the word we translate as “sacrifice” is korban, which roughly means “to draw near.” The sacrificial system, along with the rest of the tabernacle, was a way for people to have a relationship with the holy God. When the sacrifice was combined with a penitent spirit, the death of the animal symbolized the offerer’s own death to his animal, sinful nature. At the same time, the sin of the offerer was transferred to that animal, which then bore the punishment of that sin: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement” (Leviticus 17:11).
The two types of basic sacrifices were the sin offering and the peace offerings (which not only included the peace offerings, but also the grain offerings and burnt offerings). Since Yeshua, we no longer need to bring a sin offering because it is through the blood of Yeshua that we can now draw near to God (Hebrews 10:15-25). His atoning sacrifice for our sins was once and for all (Hebrews 10:10). Now, we cannot confuse the sin offering with repentance. We still need to turn from our sins. Paul writes in Romans 6:1-2,“What then? Shall we sin because we are not saved by the law but by grace? May it never be!”
He also says, “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment” (Hebrews 10:26). Sin separates us from God, but repentance brings us back into that right standing with Him. Isaiah writes in Isaiah 1:16-20:
Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless; defend the orphan, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together, though your sins are scarlet, they will be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool if you consent and obey.
Accepting Yeshua’s sacrifice on our behalf should make us broken and contrite to think that a holy God loved us so much that He took our place, He took our punishment. So that should lead us to the peace offering or the thanksgiving offering, which it can also be called. A peace offering was always made with the sin offering. You see, true repentance will always lead us to true thanksgiving. The Psalmist writes, “To Thee I shall offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and call upon the name of the Lord” (Psalm 116:17). True repentance bears the “fruit of repentance,” which is our righteous deeds, represented by our white garments. No longer do we do those dead works and ungodly deeds. The writer of the Book of Hebrews tells us, “Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Messiah, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and faith toward God” (Hebrews 6:1). The Word of God is alive and active; it is a two-edged sword, and when we read God’s Word and apply it to our lives, then the Word cleanses us because it changes us.
So now that the tabernacle and the temple are not here, does that mean we no longer have sacrifices? Let’s take a closer look.
Today’s Sacrifices of the Priesthood
When the Temple was destroyed, the sages had to figure out what would replace the sacrifices. Well, the morning and evening prayers always coincided with the morning and evening sacrifices, so they figured that those would still remain. The three things that replaced the sacrifices were then teshuvah (repentance), tzedakah (righteous deeds, charity), and tephillin (prayer), all three representing the sacrifices—all three steps of holiness. The period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is called the High Holy Days. It is a time to consider your deeds. It is a time for teshuvah, tzedakah, and tephillin. It is believed, traditionally, that on Rosh Hashanah the books are opened in heaven, and this is the time for us to be sure that our names are written in the Book of Life before they are closed at the end of Yom Kippur. There is so much written in God’s Word about these subjects, so we will only briefly look at all three. We have already looked at repentance, so now we are going to look at only one righteous deed, for there are so many. We are going to look at charity.
Tzedakah is the Hebrew word for righteousness. When we repent of our sins, then we go from doing dead works to righteous deeds, one being giving. Paul talks about charity. In Philippians 4:18 he says, “But I received everything in full, and have abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice.” For the disciples of Yeshua, charity is not an option. Yeshua placed great emphasis on the commandment of charity; many of His parables and teachings centered on this important topic. In fact, Yeshua taught that if someone asks of you, you are to give to him, and do not turn him away. We are commanded especially to give to those who cannot repay us. He taught that our money is not our own, but that it belongs to God, and we cannot serve two masters. He told the rich, young ruler to sell all he had and give it to the poor, and then come follow Him. Paul tells us that God loves a cheerful giver. But when we give, we should do it in secret, not letting our right hand know what our left hand is doing. The sages taught that there are eight levels of charity, listed here from greatest expression of charity to least.
1. Giving a gift/loan to a fellow Jew or helping him find employment.
2. Giving to the poor while both the giver and the recipient are unaware of the others identity.
3. Giving to someone while the giver knows to whom he is giving, but the recipient is unaware of who he is receiving from.
4. Giving to someone while the giver is unaware of who he is giving to, but the recipient knows who he is receiving from.
5. Giving to someone directly, but without being asked to.
6. Giving to someone directly after being asked.
7. Giving to someone inadequately, but with joy and a smile.
8. Giving unwillingly.
Yeshua and His disciples would have known this teaching, for they taught from the same eight steps.
Scripture tells us that we are to present our bodies as living sacrifices, acceptable to God, which is our spiritual service of worship. You see, as true disciples of Yeshua, we too must lay down our lives as He did. He is our example. Yeshua said that we are to follow Him. Scripture makes it clear that if we choose to save our lives we will lose them, but if we choose to lose our lives then we will save them. As priests, we must lay down our lives on the altar of God and let God consume us. You see, the sacrificial altar now represents Yeshua, and we are to lay our lives upon Him. Galatians 2:19-21 tells us, “It is no longer I who live but Messiah Yeshua who lives in me.” Our lives are now hidden in Him. Yeshua was the perfect Lamb of God. He was without blemish, which was required by God’s law, and we too are to be without “spot or wrinkle” (Ephesians 5:27) as we lay our lives down upon the altar. Is this not the Bride that Yeshua is coming back for?
Sacrifices and Offerings
We must understand that the earthly temple and its worship was a shadow of the heavenly temple in heaven. The sole purpose of the sacrifices was to bring the people before God, and the priest was to be the one to assist the one offering the sacrifice. Today there is no temple, so how do we draw near to God? By the sacrifice of Yeshua. He is our sacrifice and our High Priest who assists us when we draw near to God.
The Peace Offering
The thanksgiving offering, freewill offerings, and the Passover lamb were all peace offerings. As believers in the one true living God, disciples of Yeshua (Jesus), we must be thankful for all that God has given us through His Son Yeshua. The Bible tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Messiah Yeshua.” So what exactly is thanksgiving? Let’s take a closer look; for if this is what the will of God is for us, then we must totally understand its meaning.
Webster’s dictionary tells us “to give thanks” is an expression of gratitude. The noun to be thankful or thanks is from the Greek word charis which means grace, favor, kindness, goodwill, or graciousness. This is why when we pray before our meals we call it “saying grace.” The Greek word eucharistia is where we get the English word Eucharist, which denotes gratitude and thankfulness. The Eucharist is a sacrament of the Catholic church, and is known as Communion in other Christian churches. So now let’s look closer at all of this and see what it all means for believers.
We want to start with the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb and giving thanks. The Passover lamb was a peace offering, shelamim in Hebrew. You may have heard the word “Shalom” which means peace. Ephesians 2:14 tells us, “For He (Yeshua) Himself is our peace.” As believers, we know that Yeshua is our atonement. He is our sin offering (Hebrews 10:8‐10), but He is our Passover Lamb also (1 Corinthians 5:7).
These are two different kinds of offerings, and yet I suppose in some respects they are the same, because the sin offering reconciles us to God, which brings us peace. The peace offering was a voluntary offering and was never offered for sin or for forgiveness, but it was made in thanksgiving or in gratitude in response to God’s favor. Leviticus 3:1 tells us, “Now if his offering is a sacrifice of peace, and if he is going to offer out of the herd, whether male or female, he shall offer it without defect before the Lord.”
So first we must understand that this offering was just as important as any offering to God, and that meant that the animal had to be without any blemishes or defects. We can not give God our leftovers or rejections, but what is precious or important to us; in other words, it must have value. Yeshua was our Passover Lamb, our peace offering, and the Bible tells us that He was without sin (Hebrews 9:13‐14): He was spotless, without blemish, the perfect Lamb of God. Unlike the sin offering, the peace offering was not totally burnt up; only the choice fat was burnt on the altar. The meat of the sacrifice was divided between the person who brought the peace offering and the priest who offered it on the altar.
So the peace offering, thanksgiving offering, and the freewill offering were an opportunity to share in the table of the Lord. It was a shared meal between the offeror and his family, even his friends, the priesthood, and God Himself. It was a time of fellowship between God and man. Peace offerings were made in conjunction with the festivals. Families would come to Jerusalem and offer their offerings, including their peace offering, and enjoy God’s Appointed Times with their family and friends. Maybe this is where the tradition of the festival meals came from.
Messiah Our Sacrifice
So we have seen that Yeshua is our Passover Lamb, which is one of the peace offerings. We also learned that the peace offering was a voluntary offering. Yeshua said that He gave up His life; no one took it from Him (John 10:11, 15, 17‐18). We also learned that the peace offering was a shared meal. Yeshua, when celebrating the Passover Seder (which is a meal commemorating the redemption of Israel out of Egypt, the meal that He was partaking in when He said to His disciples, “When you do this, remember Me [in My crucifixion],” Luke 22:19‐20), said that He was the Passover lamb, the peace offering, and we are to eat of Him and drink of His blood, symbolically representing the shared meal at the table of the Lord, the Passover Seder (John 6:48‐58).
So if a peace offering was in response to God’s favor, then what did that have to do with the Passover lamb and Yeshua, who is our Passover lamb? During the first Passover, the people were to place the blood of the Passover lamb on the lintels of the door frame for protection so that the death angel would pass over them during the last plague of Egypt, the plague of the death of the first born, thus reconciling them to God, redeeming them from Pharaoh; and so too with Yeshua: He has reconciled us to God, redeeming us by His shed blood, covering us (Colossians 1:18‐20), thus taking us out of the kingdom of darkness and bringing us into His kingdom of light (Colossians 1:13).
We are no longer slaves to our sins (leaven), and we are no longer in bondage to Satan (Pharaoh). Scripture tells us that while we were still sinners, Yeshua died for us (Romans 5:8). Thus God’s favor was towards us, and thus the peace offering was offered, and for this we are to be thankful!
So Give Thanks
Do you know the song? “I will enter your gates with thanksgiving in my heart. I will enter your courts with praise. I will say this is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad!” Giving thanks was a central part of Judaism. The prayer life of Jewish people is filled with thanksgiving. The Psalmist continually tells us to give thanks. In fact, Psalm 118 is what the people would sing as they went up to the house of the Lord. “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, for His lovingkindness is everlasting.” It was the Father’s great love that sent Yeshua to die for us. We see in the life of Messiah that He always gave thanks (Matthew 15:36, Matthew 26:27) and all throughout the Apostolic Scriptures we are told to continually give thanks (1 Corinthians 15:57; 1 Thessalonians 5:18;
1 Timothy 2:1, to mention a few), and Hebrews 13:15 tells us, “Through Him (Yeshua our High Priest) then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.”
We too are to bring our peace sacrifice, for Yeshua has reconciled us to God. We even see a scene in the heavenly temple: the four living creatures giving thanks with the twenty four elders (Revelation 4:9‐10, 11:17).
As we began this study, we saw in 1 Thessalonians 4:18 that it is the will of God for us to give thanks in everything. But Romans 1:21 tells us, “For even though they knew God they did not honor Him as God, nor gave thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” We do not want to neglect this commandment to give thanks in all things, for there will be consequences for those who do not appreciate God’s loving gift of salvation to us. Every day we must give thanks; when we rise in the morning and lay our heads down at night, we must give thanks; and at the table of the Lord, no matter if it is the kitchen table eating our meals, the Communion table, or the altar that we come to for prayer, we must give thanks with a grateful heart for all that our Father has given us through our Messiah Yeshua.