The Purpose of the Tabernacle
“Have the people of Israel build me a holy sanctuary so I can live among them.”
It’s easy for people today, even Christians who know their Bible, to have a mistaken view of the Tabernacle (and the Temple that replaced it). We think of religious buildings (churches, even Jewish temples) as places where people gather regularly for prayer and worship.
Though the Jewish people did journey to the Temple in Jerusalem for special occasions, neither it nor the Tabernacle were primarily gathering places for the community. We might also think of the Tabernacle as the place in which sacrifices were offered to the Lord. This was surely true, and a key element of the Tabernacle’s purpose. But, still, it was not first and foremost a place for priestly sacrifices.
More than anything else, the Tabernacle was God’s dwelling place among his people. Of course, God did not literally live there as people live in their houses. God cannot be contained in any building, however grand. But the Tabernacle signified the presence of God in Israel. It said in physical form, “I am with you.” Thus the Tabernacle, and later the Temple, were crucial to the Israelites because they signified God’s presence.
In time, God chose to be with his people in a new way. As it says in John 1:14: “So the Word became human and made his home among us.” If you were to translate the Greek original literally, you’d say, “so the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us.” Jesus is the new Tabernacle. He is God with us, Emmanuel. In Jesus, we have confidence that God is with us and will never depart from us.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: When have you experienced God’s presence in a particularly powerful way? How does Jesus help you to experience the Triune God?
PRAYER: Gracious God, how good you are to give us tangible signs of your presence. For the children of Israel, you made your presence known in the Tabernacle and then in the Temple. Thus you reassured your people and reminded them of your unique covenant relationship with them.
How much more wonderful it is that you “pitched your tent” among us in Jesus. Not only do we have the confidence that comes from knowing that you are with us, but also we are able to know you so much better.
Finally, we thank you, gracious God, for being with us each moment through your Spirit. How blessed we are to experience your guidance, power, and comfort.
All praise be to you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for living among us and for inviting us to live with you. Amen.