Yesterday our reading left off with Moses and Joshua back on Mt. Sinai. They disappeared from the camp of Israel into a thick cloud on the mountain. To the people down below, it looked like Moses and Joshua had been consumed in a fire. What they couldn’t see was that Moses went into the cloud and there he talked with God. Chapters 25 – 31 tell us what God said to Moses for those full forty days on the mountain. He gave details about the Tabernacle – the tent of worship, the priests, the sacrifices, and how to worship God.
The Tabernacle was surely an impressive structure. Its name means “to dwell”. This was the home of God, the tent where he dwelt with Israel. The Tabernacle was God’s mobile throne room. It was built of the best and finest materials. The curtains were made of expensive materials, dyed with purple, red and blue. Furniture was made of acacia wood – a tree prevalent in the Sinai, darker and harder than oak, and generally free of any insects. Everything was overlaid in gold, silver, or bronze. The leather used for the tent is somewhat debated; the word used is not known. Some think it may have been from a sea animal – dolphin or porpoise which are common in the Red Sea. Some translations (NIV) call it a “sea cow” – maybe one of the species of manatee. Others translate as a badger (KJV). I believe it was probably dolphin or porpoise, or maybe manatee, since they are available near by and have been used by the Bedouin for thousands of years to make clothes. Overall, inside the tent itself intentionally resembled the heavens, with blue, purple, red and gold thread and angels embroidered into the fabric. The full structure was 150 ft. long and 75 ft. wide. The tent itself, set in the west side (back) was 30 ft. by 15 ft. and 15 ft. high.
Here’s the really interesting part. This design and the concept of a traveling throne room would not have been new to Israel. The Pharaohs of Egypt are known to have used very similar traveling throne structures. Inside the tent, the inner room (the Holy of Holies) was the Pharaoh’s throne itself where he sat and ruled. The decorations in this throne room resembled the heavens and the throne was guarded by winged creatures (angel-like). Sometimes, in the throne room under Pharaoh’s feet were stored written covenant treaties. God used what was familiar to Israel so they could understand how to worship and honor him as their king. By carrying the tabernacle with them, they also found a deeper identity as a nation. Further, this was a statement of Yhwh’s power and absolute sovereignty. What a slap in the face of the reigning super power, whom he had just defeated! The Ark of the Covenant, resembling Pharaoh’s throne, was God’s seat, the mercy seat, the very essence and reminder of atonement – God at one with man. Inside the ark were the articles which reminded of God’s providence, his power, and the covenant between he and Israel. But there was a difference. No man sat on this throne. Israel was freed from enslavement to any man or oppression. God himself sat on this throne.