The Tabernacle in the Wilderness

by Keith Cook

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The Nation of Yahweh's Choice
"Out of Egypt have I called My son" (Hos. 11:1).

IN partial fulfillment of the Covenant He had made with Abraham, Yahweh called upon His chosen people to separate themselves from Egypt, and to seek protection from the death that threatened the firstborn of the land, through the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb. Those who responded were then separated by baptism (1 Cor. 10:1), and taught by trials experienced in the wilderness what was required of them.

Ultimately, at Mt. Sinai, the people were constituted Yahweh's "ecclesia in the wilderness" (Acts 7:38).

Thus began the pattern that Yahweh has always followed in calling His ecclesia, His son, or each of us, to be His dwelling place in the land (cp. 1 Cor. 6:19).

Of Christ it is stated, that "though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered" (Heb. 5:8). As Hosea prophesied (Ch. 11:1), Yahweh's Son was called out of Egypt, having first been taken there through fear of Herod (Matt. 2:14-15). Later he was baptized (Matt. 3:13-17), and then taken into the wilderness (Matt. 4) to be proved by trial, before commencing his public ministry.

The pattern, therefore, demands separation from the world of all who would become part of the family of God. This is a basic principle of the Divine call:

"God. .. did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for His name" (Acts 15:14).

"Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing: and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you and ye shall be My sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty" (2 Cor. 6:17-18).

These important statements reveal that sonship is predicated upon separation: the status of the former being conditional upon obedience to the latter. There is a need to stand aside from the present Egypt-world, and to seek the protection that is afforded by identification with the Passover Lamb provided in the offering of Christ. This may take us temporarily into the wilderness for the purpose of trial, but that is a necessary means to an end: the attainment of our promised inheritance.

"Unto The Mount That Might Be Touched" - Heb. 12:18

Having "borne Israel on eagle's wings, and brought the nation unto Himself" (Exod. 19:4). Yahweh led the people to the precincts of Mount Horeb in the vicinity of Sinai.

They were assembled according to their tribes as described in Numbers 2 and 3. Each tribe was allotted its position in a four-sided encampment, so that there were four groups, each made up of three tribes. Yet, though there were twelve tribes, thus divided, they were still one nation: a multitude of people estimated to exceed two million, all positioned in a Divinely-arranged relationship to each other, to each tribe, and to each group of tribes.

Each tribe had its own standard or ensign (Num. 2:2), but each of the four groups of tribes was represented by its leader, thus:

  1. East side: Judah represented by the face of a lion (Num. 2:3; Gen. 49:9).
  2. South side: Reuben represented by the face of a man (Num. 2:10; Ezek. 1:4,10).
  3. West side: Ephraim represented by the face of an ox (Num. 2:18; Deut. 33:17)
  4. North side: Dan represented by the face of an eagle (Num. 2:25).

This arrangement may be confirmed by reference to Ezekiel 1:4 where Ezekiel, looking northwards, saw the face of a man (v.10) that looked southwards towards Ezekiel's location. From this position the faces of the remaining three sides are known.

Within this foursquare encampment were positioned the Levitical tribes as follows:

  1. East side, the families of Moses and Aaron (Num. 3:38).
  2. South side, the family of Kohath (Num. 3:29).
  3. West side, the family of Gershon (Num. 3:23).
  4. North side, the family of Merari (Num. 3:35).

Thus the priestly tribes separated the people from the central structure, The Tabernacle. They formed, as it were, a 5th camp and it was necessary for anyone in the encampment who would approach the Tabernacle, to do so by first making contact with the priestly people.

The Tabernacle erected in the midst of the Ecclesial encampment, was made and erected according to the pattern Yahweh gave to Moses when he was on the mount (Exod. 25:9,40).

In the midst of that structure was the place where Yahweh met His people (Exod. 25:8; 29:45-46) - The Most Holy Place.

The Tabernacle was provided to teach the Israelites three principal lessons:

  1. Their relationship with Yahweh.
  2. What it involved in acceptable worship and service. This was designed to teach and prepare them mentally and morally for their future inheritance.
  3. That there is a glorious future purposed for them if they performed the pleasure of Yahweh.

Israel was constantly reminded of the lessons of the Tabernacle as they daily viewed the structure and carried out their services:

  1. They recognized the Tabernacle as a Sanctuary, the dwelling place of Yahweh, separate from them and approachable only through the Divinely-appointed priesthood.
  2. They understood that their worship and service were acceptable to God only if offered through the priests in the Divinely-appointed manner. Therefore their approach to the Tabernacle and its services required the correct mental attitude: one that was reflected by obedience and subjected to Divine laws and commandments. By that means, their lives and characters would conform to, and imitate, the Divine pattern of what was required to enter the promised inheritance.
  3. Because their service was carried out through priestly mediation by those representing them inside the Tabernacle, they realized that there was a further aspect to the lessons to be learned from the Tabernacle and its contents. Furthermore, insofar as one (the High Priest) represented both priests and people in the provision of the atonement, they learned that one was to come who would carry out similar functions associated with the Divine manifestation of light, glory and power.

The Heavenlies In Christ
"These things happened as examples".

AFTER their baptism in the Red Sea (1 Cor. 10:1), the children of Israel traveled through the wilderness, to experience the trials of Marah, Elim and the wilderness of Sin. They were sustained by manna from heaven, and water from the Rock at Rephidim, and so arrived at Sinai, to enter into covenant relationship with Yahweh on the basis of the Mosaic code of laws.

Their experiences in those journeyings typed those of the Christ-Body in its pilgrimage towards the Promised Land.

The very organization of Israel formed a pattern used by the Lord. He gathered to himself twelve Apostles, to whom he promised twelve thrones from whence they would rule the twelve tribes of Israel in the Age to come. He also confirmed his covenant with them (Rom. 15:8), so fulfilling the type of Sinai.

The Ecclesial body, therefore is formed according to the pattern of Israel. As in the days of Moses, God again "visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His Name" (Acts 15:14). The people called are constituted a spiritual house (1 Pet. 2:5), the living temple of Yahweh (1 Cor. 3:16-17), the true Israel of God (Eph. 2:20-22; 4:13; Gal. 6:16).

Because of this, the pattern of the wilderness encampment formed the basis of the symbology associated with the manifestation of Yahweh's future dwelling place, in the glorified redeemed (Rev. 4:6; 7:4-11; 14:1). There are lessons in Yahweh's past dealings with Israel, which we can use to our eternal profit. They demonstrate what type of people we are called to be.

The ideal displayed in the Israelite encampment is seen in perfection in the Lord Jesus Christ. He was Yahweh's dwelling place on earth (2 Cor. 5:19); through him, He manifested Himself in the midst of His people (John 1:14; 14:9; 1 Tim. 3:16).

The Lord Jesus Christ fulfilled the type presented by the four standards of Israel with the Tabernacle in the center, the very heart of the people. The Lion, the Ox, the Man, and the Eagle, in their symbolic representation, find their reality in the Lord. Hence four Gospel accounts were required to depict those four aspects of his ministry and character.

  1. Matthew shows him as the "LION of the tribe of Judah" (Rev. 5:5): the Ruler of his people.
  2. Mark represents him as the OX (or bullock), the suffering Servant of Yahweh (Isa. 42:1), who continually meditated (chewed the cud) upon the Father's Word and Law (Isa 53).
  3. Luke's record depicts him as the MAN, the Son of Man who identified himself completely with those he came to save, yet also attained unto the fullness of the "image and likeness of God" which was the purpose of God in creation (Gen. 1:26).
  4. John reveals him as the EAGLE, the emblem of the Spirit: the one in whom, and through whom, the Father's power and glory was manifested. He was endowed with the Spirit without measure, and its influence was seen in his character and service.

These were the standards of the leading tribes, placed at the four sides of the encampment. The faces are seen again in Ezekiel 1 and 10, Revelation 4:7.

The characteristics which they represented, and which were displayed in Christ, must be developed also in the members of the Christ-body. Otherwise they will not be "one" with him (John 17:20-23; 1 Cor. 12:13). They are to duplicate him:

  1. As MAN, in this present nature, to strive to attain unto the full image and likeness of the Elohim (Gen. 1:26).
  2. As LION, to rule themselves so that they may rule with him.
  3. As OX, to submit to whatever yoke is placed on them.
  4. As EAGLE, to manifest the influence of the Spirit Word.

The fullness of these standards, or faces, will not be manifested today; but they will be in the Age to come. Then the perfected Ecclesia will be revealed as an extension of Christ, for he will be glorified in every member then gathered together in him in one (2 Thess. 1:10). Therefore, in The Apocalypse, the glorified saints are represented by the symbolisms of the standards of Israel: "And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal; and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind. And the first beast was like a LION, and the second beast like a CALF, and the third beast had the face as a MAN, and the fourth beast was like a flying EAGLE. And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come" (Rev. 4:6-8).

This is a symbolic picture of the political organization of the Kingdom of God, based, as it will be, on the Israelitish constitution of the past. Again, consider the description of the heavenly Jerusalem, described as the Bride of Christ (Rev. 21:9-10). Her "organization" is described similarly to that of Israel in the past: "And the city lieth foursquare, and the length is as large as the breadth; and he measured the city with the reed, twelve thousand furlongs. The length and breadth and the height of it are equal" (Rev. 21:16).

Because of this identification with the Israelitish order of things as established at Sinai, saints today are described as "the Israel of God" (Gal. 6:16). Their patriotism is for the things of Israel, and they look forward with keen anticipation to the restoration of the nation as the Kingdom of God, and of the throne of David upon which Christ is to sit as supreme ruler in the coming age (Luke 1:32-33).

The "heavenlies in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:6) is a title used by Paul to describe the Ecclesia of God. However, in Heb. 9:23- 24, a similar expression is used to describe the Tabernacle in the wilderness, as a type of the things associated with those "called to be saints". Hence Yahweh's past dealings with Israel foreshadowed His manifestation in Christ, and His dealings with the present day "Israel of God, taken out of the Gentiles".