Why did God instruct the building of the tabernacle? This article based on Exodus 25:8 explains that the tabernacle was God’s residence and his revelation.

Source: The Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth, 2008. 3 pages.

God’s Tent

And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them.

Exodus 25:8

Last month we began looking at typology — God’s way of teaching His people about Himself through the use of divinely approved visual aids. We will now look more closely at the largest of these visual aids: the Tabernacle. We will survey the truths it pictured and predicted (Old Testament Theology), and we will also make some suggestions as to how spiritual Israelites might have experienced these truths (Old Testament Spiritual­ity). You will find it helpful to read Exodus 25-26 and Hebrews 8-9.

The Tabernacle Is a Residence of God🔗

Before the first sin, God was present everywhere and met with Adam and Eve anywhere. Everywhere and anywhere was sacred. There were no special places or times for communion with God. It was all sanctuary, and access to God was free and easy. But sin alienated our first parents from God and banished them from God’s friendly presence.

The book of Genesis reveals that the way back into God’s gracious presence was through individuals, usually heads of families, sacrificing on altars at special places. An altar was built of either stone or earth, and there God met with sinners through sacrifice.

By the time of the Exodus, however, the people of God had grown into a great nation. So God instructed Moses to build one large tent, the Tabernacle, in which the nation could approach Him in a united and organized manner. Instead of multiple altars, there would be one altar where God would meet with His people (Exodus. 25:8). This is why the Tabernacle (literally, “Dwelling Place”) is frequently called “the Tent of Meeting” (Exodus. 38:8, 30). It was God's way of living in the midst of Israel and meeting with Israel. The Israelites lived in tents and so God lived in a tent. Like heirs, His tent had a couple of rooms and a fireplace. He lived with them and He lived like them. The tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them!

The spiritual Israelite (let’s call him Baruch) looked at this sin-stained world and asked, “Will God indeed dwell with men on the earth?” The Tabernacle answered, “Yes! He lives with us and He lives like us!” As Baruch walked around the Tabernacle and praised God for this picture of truth, the Holy Spirit led him to think, “If this is only a ‘shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things’ (Heb. 10:1), what must the very image be like? It must mean that God will live with us and like us in an even more astounding manner. Oh, how I long for that day! May I live to see it, my condescending God! ‘Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence ... to make thy name known to thine adversaries, that the nations may tremble at thy presence!’” (Isa. 64:1-2)

Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of this prophetic pic­ture and the answer to that pleading prayer. In Christ, God came down and took up residence among His people in human flesh. He is Immanuel, God with us (Matt. 1:23). He not only lived with us, He lived like us — like us in every way except sin. “The Word was made flesh and dwelt (literally, “tabernacled” or “tented”) among us...full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them! What amazing grace! Will God indeed dwell with men and like men on the earth?

The Tabernacle Is a Revelation of God🔗

The Tabernacle revealed the character of God. It was Israel’s “catechism,” their “Sunday school.” It taught them, first, that God is King. Through the Exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Law at Sinai, God said to Israel, “I am your King and you are My kingdom.” But a King must have a palace. The Tabernacle was God’s portable royal residence. As the always-visible earthly palace of the heavenly King, it reminded Israel that God was its ultimate Governor, who was to be served and obeyed.

Secondly, it taught them that God is Holy. The location, design, and building materials of the Tabernacle all emphasized that a holy God dwelt in the midst of the Israelites. For example, there were circles of holiness of decreasing size and increasing holiness as the worship­per moved through the camp towards the central Tabernacle. The outer circle of the Gentiles and the unclean was outside the camp. The next circle was inside the camp. Only those who were in covenant with God and who were ritually clean were permitted to enter. On the inside rim of this large circle were the Levites — the tribe specially consecrated to the service of the Lord — who buffered the Tabernacle from the rest of the camp. Inside the Tabernacle courtyard were many priests performing various rituals, but also some ordinary Israelites with their sacrifices. Then there were two smaller tents within this larger Tent. The first was called the Holy Place, with access strictly limited to the priests. Inside this was another tent, the Most Holy Place, and this could be accessed only by the High Priest — and that only once a year. It was in the Most Holy Place that God specially resided. Why these circles of ever-decreasing size, and ever-increasing restriction? Because God is holy. This was reinforced by the materials used in the construction of the Tabernacle. A common metal, brass, was used for everything connected with the outer court and its furnishings. As one got nearer to the Most Holy Place, the materials changed to silver, then to gold, then to the fine gold. These graded distinctions again empha­sized the immaculate holiness of God.

Thirdly, Israel learned that God is Savior. The Taber­nacle demonstrated how sinners may approach a holy God — through a divinely appointed priesthood offering divinely appointed sacrifices. Wherever you looked in the Tabernacle there was blood: the blood of bulls, the blood of goats, and the blood of lambs; blood poured, blood sprinkled, and blood spattered; blood on the altar, blood on the priests, and blood on the floor. Whatever else the Israelites grasped, they knew that God could be approached via blood.

Fourthly, God is beautiful was proclaimed by the impres­sive artistry and symmetry of design in the Tabernacle. The gold and silver and brass, the fine linen of the cur­tains, the elaborately embroidered hangings or veils, made the sanctuary a thing of “glory and of beauty.” In the Holy Place, the air was fragrant with the sweet aroma of burning incense from a golden altar. A golden lamp cast soft light upon an ornately crowned golden table. There were gold-plated wooden supports from which hung deep blue curtains exquisitely embroidered with cherubim, the most sublime of heavenly creatures.

Then, a step away, the heartbeat of it all, the Ark of the Covenant in the Most Holy Place, from which shone a mysterious, other-worldly cloudy light. Everything said, “God is so, so beautiful!”

Let us ask Baruch, our Old Testament Israelite, how God was revealed to him through the Tabernacle. “Well, my New Testament brothers and sisters, as a young man, I wanted to run away from God. But, because of the Tab­ernacle, I could never escape. No matter where I went in the camp, I could either see it, smell it, or hear it. Some evenings I would go out with other young people on the far side of the camp. But I always dreaded passing the Tabernacle on the way back. It preached against my lawless and unholy lifestyle. It speared my conscience as it declared, ‘God is King and God is holy.’ But one day — what a blessed day! — I felt irresistibly drawn to the Tabernacle. The nearer I got to God’s holy and royal residence, the more I seemed to hear, ‘God is King and God is holy.’ Trembling, I entered the outer court, found a kind-looking priest, and poured out my heart to him. He gently led me over to the brass altar and sacrificed a lamb for me, while whispering in my ear, ‘God is Savior. Look to the Savior.’ As I saw the blood poured out and the lamb in flames, I saw a picture of how God saves sinners like me — through a divinely appointed priest offering a divinely appointed sacrifice. Now I love the Tabernacle and its prophetic pictures of the Savior. Every sight, every sound, and every smell says, ‘God is so beau­tiful, God is so beautiful.’ Yea, He is altogether lovely!”


  1. What other attributes of God are taught through the Tabernacle?
  2. Christ is “a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands” (Heb. 9:11). How does Christ reveal God in a greater and more perfect way than the tab­ernacle made with hands?
  3. The Christian is also described as a temple or tabernacle of God (1 Cor. 3:16, 6:19).
  1. How does God “tabernacle” in a Christian’s soul?
  2. What are the evidences of God’s dwelling in your soul?
  3. If you are a tabernacle of God, what does your tabernacle reveal about God?
  1. The Tabernacle is also a replica of heaven (Heb. 8:2, 9:24; Rev. 21:3, 22). What can we learn about heaven from the Tabernacle?
  2. Look up “Tabernacle” in a Bible Dictionary and study a layout plan to prepare for the next study.

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