Three Truths About the Tabernacle

Only recently have I been able to pick and choose which books I’d like to read. Seminary has a way of choosing those for you. It is good to have crossed the M.Min. finish-line this past December. Finally, I was able to read a book that had been given to me (by a fellow Yankees fan) and sat in my “future read” pile for quite some time: Daniel R. Hyde’s God in Our Midst: The Tabernacle & Our Relationship with God.

4170cb65f472072488b70c38d84950dcIf you are in the second month of your daily Bible readings—then you are likely to enter Exodus chapters 25-40, which “deals with the instructions for and construction of the tabernacle, where the Lord met with His people and where they served Him in sacrifice and prayer” (5).

The tabernacle texts are a part of redemptive history. We should enjoy reading them. Yet we may require some help to understand its purpose, recognize its beauty, and make the necessary New Testament connections.

Admittedly, I am leery when reading a book on something from the Old Testament. Will the author take it literally, or weave the New Testament into every aspect of it? How far will he take the New Testament linkage? Allegorical speculation? Is there a hidden meaning where Jesus is to be found under every rock and blade of grass?

The point of contention is how one approaches the Old Testament. I believe a literal approach is the only acceptable approach. It is only after a meaning has been derived from the Old that the New’s usage can be considered and fit into its meaning.

While Hyde does make a few statements in the opening pages of the book that I might disagree with in this arena, I was encouraged by what he practiced in the pages that followed. For the most part, he allows the Old Testament to speak for itself, and then addresses what might be learned from the New.

A great example of this can be found in chapter two, where Hyde gives us three realities about the tabernacle in the wilderness and then how those truths are relevant to us as Christians today:

1. The tabernacle taught the people about holiness.

“The tabernacle taught the people about holiness because it was the place of God’s holy presence in their midst” (48). The word holy is found 48 times in those chapters. It is the theme of the building’s construction and it is rooted in the Lord alone, “Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them” (Exod 25:4).

He adds, “The tabernacle taught that God is holy; therefore, His people needed to be holy. In other words, theology had to become biography. Theology, what we believe about God, still must become personal” (49). This is why it is mentioned by Peter in his first epistle. The duty of every believer is to have God’s holiness affect them practically, “like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “you shall be holy, for I am holy”” (1 Pet 1:16).

2. The tabernacle taught the people their only source of help.

“It provided a tangible way for the people to relate to their God through sacrifice and prayer… it taught the people about God’s gracious condescension to them” (51). God’s people were living in tents (Exod 16:16); and now Yahweh would dwell alongside them in one.

As their only source of help, God was near to the Israelites, and He is also near to us today. The Jews could relate to their God through sacrifice and prayer. And because of the High Priest of a better covenant (Heb 8), we can “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:16).

3. The tabernacle taught people about heaven.

Hyde writes, “The pious worshiper would leave his tent somewhere in the Israelite camp to draw near to the Lord in the tabernacle. He would approach the curtain between the camp and the courtyard, then move into the courtyard itself. By doing this, he would move from earth to heaven” (53). Much of what is written about the tabernacle points to the worshiper moving in position from distance to presence. Outside to inside. Inaccessibility to accessibility. Removed to relationship.

The tabernacle narrative “is part of the law that is “but a shadow of the good things to come” (Heb. 10:1). And those good things have come. “The tabernacle testified to the souls of believing Israelites that a holy God would one day come and dwell in the midst of sinners to remove their sins… Our Lord Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of that tabernacle” (54). This is found in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us [“tabernacled”], and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

He is the Tabernacle among the tabernacles.

Again, this book carefully avoids many of the allegorical speculations that are sadly found in treatments on the Old Testament. There’s no question that Hyde helps the faithful reader of God’s Word to gain a better understanding of the tabernacle.