Much of the New Testament language and theology cannot be fully understood without first understanding Old Testament history, the workings of God with His ancient people. Nowhere is this more evident than in the book of Hebrews, with the references to the tabernacle, the vessels of the ministry, priests and sacrifices, etc. A number of observations therefore highlight the importance of this study:
1. The weight of importance given to the tabernacle in the record of Scripture. There are over forty chapters given to the history, materials, crafting, and ministry of the tabernacle. Furthermore, the significance of the tabernacle is carried on in the first pages of the gospel (John 1:14: “He tabernacled with us”) and extends to the future state of the church in eternity (Rev. 21:3). The physical form of the tabernacle embodied something of eternal significance.
2. The priority given to it over the temple. The glory of the temple in Solomon’s day, with its unparalleled splendor, never superseded that of the simple lessons taught in the rustic tabernacle of the wilderness. The writer to the Hebrews never refers to the temple, but always takes the people of Israel back to the tabernacle.
3. The typological significance attributed to the tabernacle. With all of the importance given to it, the time and craftsmanship in the building, the spiritual weight and reference to it in the Old Testament, it is interesting that the tabernacle as an instrument of worship is dropped without reluctance or regret by the New Testament church. This is because it pointed to a truth that was greater than its physical existence. The ritual and ceremony involved in the tabernacle ministry is finished; any return to it undermines its significance and cheapens the gospel.
4. The names and designations given to the tabernacle point us to the very heart of the corporate worship of Jehovah.
- That God purposed to dwell with His people. This was called the “Tent of Meeting”(Exodus 29:42).
- That God expects reciprocity in worship (there must be a mutual exchange, a response to God; the “I will be your God and ye shall be my people” relationship).
- That God’s moral law is the most absolute expression of His will; this was called the “Tent of Testimony”(Ex. 38:21).
5. The form of worship which is so detailed adds emphasis to the importance the Lord puts on formal worship. Structured worship is very often equated with dead ritual and many claim today that we are to free ourselves from this bondage and to worship in Spirit and in truth (John 4:23). This revolt from structured worship is because many think that that which restricts worship also restricts our relationship with God. But we learn from studying the tabernacle that restriction in worship is the way to freedom and the blessing of God (Deuteronomy 30:16). We have not chosen God, He has chosen us and we, like the Israelites, are unfit and uninstructed in true worship. The forms that the Lord instituted were intended to instruct the Israelite in the nature of proper worship.
- Formal worship must first of all please God; it must be according to His pattern. In the passages that deal with the building of the tabernacle the recurring theme is “according to all that the Lord said” (Ex. 25:9; 31:11; 36:1; 39:32, 42; 40:16).
- Formal worship must instruct the worshiper. As in ancient Israel the form of New Testament worship is also instructive.
Faith will always express itself, whatever that faith is in, whether it is in self or the earth or whatever else people elevate in their minds. But true faith seeks expression in the will of God (1 John 2:3). True faith finds its way out of the darkness to the light, to be instructed in the will of God; this is sanctification. The marked decline in biblical understanding out of which faith comes goes some way to answering the modern shift from formal worship to “free worship.”