Where the Wild Things Are: Developing a Working Wilderness Theology
Lesson #6 — Tabernacle
“Our fathers had the tabernacle of testimony in the wilderness. (Acts 7:44, NASB)
In the past two lessons of this project, we examined how while in the wilderness Israel was tested by God (lesson 4) and purified by God (lesson 5).
As we continue to develop a working wilderness theology, we now turn our attention to Yahweh’s desire to dwell amongst the Israelites while they travel in the wilderness.
While at Mount Sinai, the construction plans of the Tabernacle began. The Tabernacle was a gigantic tent, and it was here that God would dwell quite literally in the middle of Israel’s assembly. It is no accident that God’s presence would dwell amongst the Israelites in a tent while they sojourned in the wilderness! One would expect nothing less of a wild God of the wilderness.
However, it is what happened at the Tent of Meeting — the Tabernacle — that was so important. It was at the Tent of Meeting that Israel would bring their sacrifices to the altar of Yahweh. In many cases, these sacrifices were payment for sin. This would all culminate in the Day of Atonement. On this day, at the Tent of Meeting, the High Priest of Israel would make an atoning sacrifice for all the sins of Israel from throughout the year. A blood sacrifice sprinkled on the altar of Yahweh would pay for the sins of the people. This was a perpetual annual holiday for Israel, even beyond their time in the wilderness.
So, while the Israelites built the Tabernacle while sojourning through the wilderness en route to the Promised Land, the function of the Tabernacle would not cease once Israel arrived in the land of Canaan. The irony is that while Israel eventually settles and dwells in the land of Promise, God still elects to live in the Tabernacle; the Tent of Meeting!
Why? What lesson might God be offering to Israel by insisting that if they are to be in His presence it will require leaving their dwellings and meeting Him in His element?
The Tabernacle was revealed in the wilderness, built in the wilderness, and in essence remained in the wilderness; even after God delivered Israel to their Promised Land home. It is almost as if God is saying, you know Me well… but you do not know all of Me. Come back and learn more.
It’s almost as if God is saying, you have been gifted with rest and comfort, but remember it was gifted by the Wild One, who still essentially dwells in the Wilderness.
This concept is magnified by the Gospel writer John, who chooses to highlight his introduction of Jesus with this incredible verse:
And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us… (John 1:14 NASB)
This word “dwelt” in the Ancient Greek is skēnoō and it translates literally to “fix one’s tabernacle.” John describes Jesus as the human embodiment of the Tent of Meeting; that in the person of Jesus Christ we have a living, breathing Tent of Meeting with us in the flesh!
And, don’t forget what happened at the Tabernacle… sacrifice.
What had once been an annual sacrifice for the atonement of sins at the Tabernacle would become a once-and-for-all Atonement through sacrifice of the Son of God; the living breathing Tabernacle.
If this is how Jesus, the eternal son of God, is described by John it ought to make us wonder how God’s Church ought to be described and designed.
We will unpack this concept more in the lessons to come.