Temple + Tabernacle


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A. Temple / Tabernacle as a Form of Worship

In our studies, we have often noted four, separate, modes of worship in the Old Testament. This study, considers attributes of the Temple/Tabernacle as one model for understanding the spiritual life of Christians, though each mode of worship has its own lesson.

For reference, four modes of worship in the Old Testament:

1. Personal/Family

For more than half of the Old Testament, there is no temple, tabernacle or synagogue. Worship was similar to the model we now term "personal devotion" and "family prayer." In the Old Testament, the patriarch often worships for the family group with actions that include: sacrifice, prayers, hearing God speak, and living in obedience to His words. This method of worship is personal / individual, not corporate. Examples: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph.


2. Temple/Tabernacle

Temple worship is not a private matter, rather it is quite public. The Hebrews said they had to leave Egypt to offer sacrifices to their God. It was not long after their exodus from Egypt that the tabernacle is constructed and elaborate worship appears. This tabernacle represents the model for Hebrew corporate worship for 500 years (from about 1500 BC to 1000 BC). The tabernacles were replaced by "Solomonís Temple" in Jerusalem after 1000 BC. Tabernacle and Temple worship was impressive, majestic, exciting, and moving. The worshipper experienced all kinds of astonishing sights, sounds and smells. Instead of talking with God alone on a mountain here there were hundreds and even thousands of people jamming into the courts. There were travelers from distant lands speaking strange languages. Thousands of animals were sold, bathed, and slaughtered with parts of their carcasses burned as sacrifices in a roaring fire. Imagine the mingled scent of wood smoke, burning flesh and the sweet fragrance from the altar of incense. Temple worship (and its foreshadowing worship in the tabernacle) was rich with ritualized symbolism and sacred objects (Altar of burnt offerings, table of shewbread, lights, altar of incense, laver, etc.). It is corporate worship accompanied by a pageantry of sacred actions.


3. Festivals and Holy Days

Old Testament worship is not just about sacrificing animals for the sins of the people. It also encompassed the remembrance of Godís mighty acts and recalling His past faithfulness.


4. Synagogue

No one is sure when the Jewish faith invented synagogue worship, though it may have come into being during the Babylonian captivity to preserve and pass on faith to the children while they were far from Jerusalem and its temple site. By the time of Jesus, there was a synagogue in every village of Palestine and everywhere else Hebrews could collect the required ten adult males. Synagogue worship is about Bible study with a focus on the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament). A synagogue service, in the time of Jesus, began with a creed (the shema of Deut. 6:4-9), then moved to the tefilah, a series of 19 prayers divided into three sets: three of praise, thirteen prayers of petition, and a closing set of three prayers of thanksgiving. Following prayer, the synagogue service would then focus on, the Word of God. The Torah is read with reverence then explained and then applied by the darshan, or "searcher." The darshan would search for the meaning in a passage and apply the reading to the lives of those present. Where temple worship was experiential, synagogue worship was more simple, thoughtful and teaching-oriented.





B. Temple/Tabernacle References and the New Testament

The New Testament refers to our body as both the tabernacle and the temple of the Holy Spirit.

2 Pet 1:13-14
I think it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance; Knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ Ö

1 Cor 6:19
Know you not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, which is in you, which you have of God Ö

In the Old Testament, the tabernacle was a mobile, temporary dwelling place of Godís presence. In contrast, the temple is a fixed/permanent dwelling place of Godís presence among His people. A temple needs a foundation and building stones while a tabernacle can be set up anywhere without a foundation.

Perhaps when one first comes to profess her/his faith in Jesus Christ, that person becomes an individual tabernacle of the Holy Spirit. As the person grows, into the perfection of Christ and as a member of the Church, more permanent attributes of the temple become prominent. The local church is made of individual stones (1Pet. 2. 5 and John 14. 12).

1 Pet 2:5
you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

Eph 2:20-22
built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Rev 21:2-3
now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.

Rev 21:14
The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles


Leviticus 26: 11 - 13

"And I will set my tabernacle among you: and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and you shall be my people. I am the Lord your God" Ö the word used here for tabernacle is "miskan", consistently used, in the Old Testament, to indicate "dwelling place"


C. Historical Background for Temple / Tabernacle of the Old Testament

The tabernacle was built under the direction of Moses. It was constructed during Israelís exodus from Egypt. This temple was often identified as the Tent of Meeting. It was referred to in this manner because it was the place that God would meet and give direction to the representatives of Israel, that is Moses and the priests (Exodus 25:23). The tabernacle is a tent composed of wood boards, cloth and animal skins (Exodus 26:1-36). It was used throughout Israelís exodus in the wilderness of Sinai. Each time the nation move from one place to another, the tent is dismantled, carried and reassembled by the Levites (Numbers 4:1-33).

Under the direction of King Solomon, the first permanent temple was built in Jerusalem around 954BC. This temple was fashioned after the pattern of the tabernacle. However, it is a permanent structure composed of huge quarried stones. This temple was used by the Israelites, for 368 years, until the time of the Babylonian invasion. In approximately 586BC, under the authority of King Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian army overran Jerusalem and took the citizens captive. During this military campaign they also destroyed the temple built by King Solomon.

After the return of the Jewish people to Jerusalem from their captivity in Babylon, a new temple was constructed and completed around 512 BC. This temple was fashioned after Solomonís temple though it was smaller in stature and also was eventually destroyed.

In approximately 20-19BC, King Herod rebuilt the temple again. The temple built by King Herod was standing during the life of Jesus. In 70AD this temple also was destroyed.



D. Historical Background for People / Services of the Temple /Tabernacle

It is sometimes helpful to examine people that are associated with Temple / Tabernacle services.

There are two groups of people:

1. Aaron and his descendants. These people were the priests. They were the ones who offered the sacrifice and incense unto God.

2. The remaining people from the tribe of Levi. These were chosen to help the priests by ministering to the people and taking care of the Temple.


Aaron And His Descendents

The Bible teaches us that God chose Aaron and his male descendants to be His priests. In the Old Testament we find that these priests were the only people who were appointed and allowed to offer the sacrifices or enter the Temple. This office was so sacred that if anyone other than the priest would enter into the Temple or sanctuary, they were to be put to death (Numbers 3:10). Under the direction of God, once a year, the High Priest, Aaron (or after Aaron one of his offspring), was to enter the Holiest of Holies (sometimes called the Most Holy Place) of the Temple. The High Priest did this to intercede for the entire nation by making atonement for the priests, the people and the Temple itself: Leviticus 16:2-5; Leviticus 16:29-34


The Levites

These people were from the tribe of Levi, but not descendants of Aaron. In reading the Old Testament, we find that Levites were chosen by God to help Aaron and his descendants with the care and maintenance of the Temple and the people of Israel. Numbers 3:6-9


D. Historical Background for the Tabernacle's Physical Features


Fence, the Gate, and the Outer Court

At the center of the Hebrew camp is an impenetrable wall of white linen. Its stark purity reflects the golden rays of the early morning sun. You cannot see over the wall for it is too high. You cannot see through the wall either because the linen is too dense. You cannot peer under the wall for its panels extend down to the ground as far as you can see in either direction. The wall excludes you, it is a symbol of God's righteousness.

Facing the rising sun is a gate made of intermingled white, red, purple and blue fibers. The gate is wide and inviting; it is a symbol of that God's righteousness is not exclusive, rather God provides mercy, that is a way and means to approach God.

Once through the gate, you are confronted by the objects contained inside the fence within the courtyard. The first object is the brazen altar (or the altar of the burnt offering). Adjacent to this altar is a large bronze basin called the Laver. The Tabernacle building (Tent of the Meeting) itself looms behind these objects. The worshipper has to deal with each item in sequence.


Brazen Altar

The brazen altar is positioned right inside the gate and has several purposes:

  • First and foremost, it is the instrument of cleansing. It is here where sacrifices are performed on behalf of our sin.
  • it is at the altar that our sin is transferred to an innocent third party who substitutes for us and pays the exacting price for sin.
  • it is a constant reminder of the cost of sin. Anytime we are in the courtyard area we cannot forget that we are bought by blood.

The brazen alter shows that God understands manís plight. Man needs a means of salvation from his state of sin. Coming into God's presence requires purification and sanctification. Once someone has decided to enter into Godís Holy presence, her/his state of sin must be dealt with immediately.


Bronze Laver

Having been confronted with the fence of Godís righteousness, entered through the gate of mercy, and having been met with the need to deal with your sin at the brazen altar, we now step deeper into the Tabernacleís compound.

Directly adjacent to the Altar of Burned Sacrifices is a large bronze basin, sometimes called the Laver. This object contains water. There is little detail, provided in the Old Testament, about it. There is no scripture concerning its dimensions or shape or features. Likewise, there is no instruction about how the Laver should be packed, transported, or set up. All that we know is that it existed and that it appears in the correct position for services at the Tabernacle.

If there is anything that we need to grasp about the Laver, it is that without it there could be no worship at the Tabernacle. Its presence enables and facilitates the duties of the priests. If the priests did not wash their hands and feet at the Laver, they can neither approach the sanctuary or the altar. Washing their hands lent purity to their work and washing their feet purified their walk before God. Scripture is adamant about this requirement. If the priests do not perform their washings, they will die!

The bronze used to form the Laver originally the womenís bronze mirrors which were melted down. In this time, mirrors were made of high-quality metal that had been highly polished to a fine, non-distorting luster. They were the results of painstaking work, very expensive and treasured possessions. Exodus 38:8



The large structure that dominates the Tabernacle area is a tent, "Tent of Meeting". Inside, there are two rooms, the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place (or the Holy of Holies). Much of it is nestled under several coverings, only two of which are actually visible to the casual observer.


Coverings and the Tent Proper

Exodus 26:1-14 and 36:8-19 record that there are four distinct layers forming the tent and stretched over the inner frame. From outside -to- inside, there was a layer formed by the covering of sea cow/seal/dolphin/badger skin, a layer formed by ramsí skins dyed red, a layer formed from woven goatís hair, and a layer formed of white, scarlet, purple and blue woven threads. Each layer is significant.

Door to the Holy Place and the Veil

The door to the Sanctuary also faces east just like the gate we encountered when we first entered into the Tabernacleís courtyard. Inside the Sanctuary, also facing eastwards is the veil that protects the entrance to the Most Holy Place. The consistency with the orientation of the gate, the door, and veil to the East, may symbolize that the path to the presence of God is linear / direct.

The floor of the Sanctuary was made of the dust of the earth. Contained within the Holy Place were three distinct articles, the Table of the Bread of Presence (the Showbread Table), the Seven-branched Lamp, and the Altar of Incense.


The Table of the Bread of Presence

There were several items that were to be arranged upon the table. There are twelve loaves of the Bread of Presence and incense. Every Sabbath, the twelve loaves were meant to be replenished by newly-baked bread. This bread represented the twelve tribes of Israel who were encamped surrounding the central Tabernacle. Thus, the loaves bore the presence of the Israelites constantly before Godís Holy Face. The Showbread Table was positioned along the North side of the Holy Place. Exodus 25:23-30; 37:10-16; and Leviticus 24:5-9.


The Lampstand

The second article of furniture in the Holy Place is the Golden Lampstand. This item is on the South side of the Sanctuary directly adjacent to the Showbread Table. Exodus 25:31-40; 27:20-21; 37:17-24; and Leviticus 24:1-4. The lampstand provids the light for the Holy Place.


The Golden Altar of Incense

The final item contained within the Holy Place that we encounter as we approach the Holy of Holies is the Altar of Incense. It is positioned opposite the Door to the Sanctuary, on the west side of the Holy Place, and right before the Veil. Exodus 30:1-10 and 37:25-29 , the incense in Exodus 30:34-38.


Holy of Holies

The innermost part of the Sanctuary is covered by the Veil. Housed within the Holy of Holies is the Ark of the Covenant, within which is the presence of God.


The Ark of the Covenant

Contained in the Holy of Holies is the Ark of the Covenant, which in turn contains three distinct objects (Exodus 25:10-22). The contents of the Ark are collectively called the Testimony (v 21), that is these objects form a testimonial to Godís morality and to His grace.


The first of the three objects were the two tablets of the Law or of the Testimony (Exodus 31:18).

The second of the objects contained in the Ark was Aaronís rod that budded. This object was added to the Arkís contents at a later date because it was the answer to a rebellion against Aaron as having been chosen by God to be High Priest.

The third object contained inside the Ark was the Golden Pot of Manna (Hebrews 9:4). Manna was Godís special provision for the Israelites during their transition from Egypt until they entered the Promised Land. The word "manna" is the Hebrew for "what is it?" Exodus 16:13-33 and Joshua 5:11,12.