Week Six Devotion: (Download PDF)
A Look at the Covenant, the Tabernacle and the law of God
The book of Exodus kicks off with the story of how God rescued the people of Israel through a series of plagues that confronted Pharaoh and the gods of Egypt while also displaying the power of Yahweh over all. The result was that God’s people were freed from slavery and the high point of the first part of the book showed God delivering His people through the Passover event.
In the Passover, God promised to take the first born sons in Egypt but He also promised to spare the first born sons of Israel. The sons of Israel would be spared only if a Passover lamb was sacrificed in their place. So God’s people made sacrifices and they took the blood of the sacrifice and put it on the doors to their houses so that when the Lord came by He would see the blood on the door and pass over the family inside.
Then God led the people through the water of the Red Sea and into the wilderness. But while in the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land the people began to grumble against God. It was almost as if they had forgotten what God had saved them from, and what He had done for them to get them out.
But now as we pick up our reading in Exodus 19 we see the second half of the book get underway and it is highlighted by God giving the 10 commandments, various laws about social matters, then He gives very specific instructions about the tabernacle and all the things that go into it. But one of the most important things we see in this half of Exodus is that God makes a covenant with His people at Mt. Sinai.
Here is something to discuss…
First, let’s ask the question, “What is a covenant?” A covenant is an agreement between two parties that binds them together to work for each other’s benefit. Covenants were often written between two countries, like peace treaties today, only in this case it is the One True God making a covenant with a people with no nation, no king, and no land…at least not yet.
In Exodus 19, the people have reached Mt. Sinai and God speaks to Moses saying,
4 ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”
So Moses shares this covenant invitation to the people and in verse 8 they respond saying, “Yes, we will do all that the Lord has spoken.” Now that the covenant has been agreed upon, God comes down upon the top of the mountain and it was like a dark cloud of smoke, lightning, and thunder had formed on the mountain. Then God called Moses to come up to Him as the people’s representative and God gave him the 10 commandments which would form the basic terms of the relationship between God and His people.
This is a significant step in the Biblical story because what this covenant and the laws that go with it mean is that God is establishing the terms of how man can come back into his presence. Remember that back in Genesis 3 this privilege was lost when Adam and Eve sinned. Their relationship to God was affected and they could no longer come into God’s presence. They were banished, but here we see God has already delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt and now He is making his presence accessible through this covenant relationship with Israel and later on with the rest of the world.
So what would I encourage you to discuss with your family, your friends or your community group? The relationship between grace and law in the covenant between God and man. Notice that God’s gracious work of salvation comes before the law is given. Which means that we do not obey the law in order to become the people of God, but rather we become the people of God by His grace and then the law is given to guide us as the people of God.
The law of God certainly set the people apart from all the other nations of the world, but the distinguishing mark of God’s people from this point forward is that God delivered them from slavery to Egypt by the blood of a lamb.
Here is something to meditate upon…
When Adam and Eve sinned against God they lost access to the Garden of Eden and along with it they lost the ability to come into Gods presence. But with this new covenant in place God is making a way for the people to come back into His presence. It takes place through a priesthood, and requires ritual sacrifices and purifications for sin, but it also requires a tabernacle, which was basically a sacred tent. The word tabernacle actually means God dwells with Us.
The blueprints for the tabernacle were extensive. There was an outer courtyard with an altar, and then inside that there was a tent that had two spaces, the outer room and the inner room. The inner room was called the most holy place and this room was home to a golden box known as the ark of the covenant. On top of this box were two carved angels and something called the mercy seat.
Now everything about this tabernacle and the things in the tabernacle serve as symbols. There are angels woven into the wall coverings, the room, tables and utensils are covered with gold, there are lampstands shaped like almond trees; and each of these symbols is intended to echo back to the Garden of Eden where God dwelt in the midst of His people.
The tabernacle serves as a place, a location on earth, where God and man can dwell together, it’s like a portable Garden of Eden. Later on in Israel’s story we will see king Solomon build a permanent tabernacle for God and it is called the temple. The temple would become ground zero for the worship of God in the world all the way up until Jesus came.
Jesus’s presence on earth changed things a little bit because He was God in the flesh and through Jesus people were able to come into the literal presence of God. In fact, John’s gospel says that Jesus came to tabernacle or dwell among us.
So this tabernacle that God tells His people to build is a really important part of the story line of God’s people all the way to the end. If you fast forward in your minds to the end of the Bible and the book of Revelation. In Revelation 21, we see God bringing a new holy city down from Heaven that will serve as the place on the new earth where God and man will once again dwell together. That city is a lot like the tabernacle in that it is filled with trees, it is covered with gold and there are angels present.
So as you read the description of the tabernacle in Exodus 25-30 and 35-40 be sure to slow down and meditate upon the details and what they mean for us today and what implications they have for our future as God’s people.
Here is something to pray about…
Before Moses could get down off the mountain with these new laws and the plans for the tabernacle the people had already fallen into idolatry. He comes down the mountain and sees them all worshipping a golden calf that Aaron made with some of the jewelry they brought out of Egypt. The glory of God is still visible on the top of the mountain when the children of Israel break the first two laws: no other gods and no graven images.
If we know ourselves at all then we know that we are not much different than Israel. We are quick to create idols in our hearts that we then give our allegiance, our hope to, even our worship. So I want to encourage you to pray that God would keep your heart from idols. Pray that God would allow us to see where we give priority to things in such a way that they take away from our devotion to God. Pray that God would keep our hearts, lives and families free from idolatry so that we can live faithfully as His new covenant people.
Next week we will be reading Exodus 39 thru Leviticus 18 where we continue to see God leading His people and revealing His laws for how they are to live as His people in the world. So plan to join me again next week as we continue to read through the Bible in 2017.