The Patriarchs built altars to honor the places where they met with God. These rocks and high places were meeting places, not dwelling places. Abraham’s Mount Moriah was to become David’s Mount Zion, God’s dwelling place, but it was still only a mountain. Jacob may have called his stone pillow, Beth-el—house of God, but it was still just a rock. Moses would be the one to build God a house, a moveable one, but still a dwelling place for the Most High.
A Tabernacle in the Wilderness
It is strange that the God who is everywhere present would desire a dwelling place in the earth. In the Scriptures I see three dimensions of God’s presence:
- God’s omnipresence—His presence in all of creation (Acts 17:28),
- God’s Inner Presence—His presence in the hearts of His people (2 Cor 6:16), and
- God’s Manifest Presence—His presence within the praises of His people. (Psalm 22:3)
The house that Moses built was for this Manifest Presence—the revelation of the presence and sovereignty of God in a given place and at a given time. As the first Dwelling Place for God, this structure carries significance for all those who would make the journey into the Manifest Presence.
- The worshiper entered the Tabernacle through a Beautiful Gate.
- The Outer Court was the place of praise as psalms were chanted proclaiming the glory of God. It was also the place of repentance and humility as sins were confessed and hearts were humbled before God.
- In the first chamber of the Inner Court, the Holy Place, the priests kept a Table of Shewbread, representing the Presence and Word of God. There was also an Altar of Incense representing the prayers of the people of God and a Golden Lampstand to give light to the room. A heavy veil separated the two chambers of the Inner Court.
- The inmost room was the Holy of Holies, also called the Most Holy Place, containing the Ark of the Covenant with the Mercy Seat where, once a year, atonement was made for the sins of the nation. There was no window or lamp but there was light, a divine immanence known as the shekinah, the glory of God. Strong defines the word kabowd, as “properly, weight, but only figuratively in a good sense, splendor or copiousness: -glorious (-ly), glory, honour (-able).” The word shekinah is not found in the Bible but in the rabbinic commentaries as the combination of shakan “to dwell,” and mishkan, “the tabernacle.”
This was the glory of God, the weight of the significance of His Dwelling Place given to the Israelites as the sign of their Covenant with God. This was the glory that departed from the Temple (Ezek 10:18-19) and this would be the glory promised to return with the Messiah (Hag 1:8; Zech 2:10).
This was the glory announced by the angels to the shepherds the night Jesus was born and reported by eyewitnesses of Jesus like John, “We have seen his glory!” Through the grace of God in acceptance of the blood of innocent animals as atonement for the sins of the people, the Lord was able to manifest His presence, the weight of His Glory, the kabowd, there in that inmost room of Moses’ Tabernacle.
So this Tabernacle, made of the reclaimed riches of Egypt, built by men as praise unto the Lord with skills learned in Egypt, and formed by the pattern sent from heaven, became the dwelling place of God in the earth.
The Pattern of Heaven Come to Earth
It gives us the pattern we follow into the Manifest presence of God. We enter through the Gates of Thanksgiving and we proclaim His excellence in the Courts of Praise. We humble our hearts at the Brazen Altar of Repentance. We enter the Holy Place to pray and to hear the Word in the light and power of the Holy Spirit (Altar of Incense, Table of Shewbread, Golden Lampstand). We pass through the Torn Veil into the Holy of Holies to wait in the presence of the King, to behold His glory and be changed.
We follow this same pattern because of who Jesus is.
- He is the beautiful Gate and we enter in with thanksgiving.
- Jesus is the perfect Lamb slain once and for all, so that our sins can be forgiven. Therefore we can proclaim His excellence in the Outer Courts of Praise (Psalm 100).
- He is the Shewbread in the Holy Place, the Living Word proclaimed to us and the divine presence available to us.
- He lifts our prayers to the Father (Altar of Incense) and He has sent us the light and power of the Holy Spirit (the Golden Lampstand) to illumine our minds and empower our prayers.
- Jesus is the Torn Veil (Hebrews 10:20) allowing us to enter the Holy of Holies. There we find Jesus to be the Messenger of the Covenant, and the Shekinah, the revelation of God to us.
The New Covenant Worship Paradigm, Worship/Word/Altar, fulfills this ancient pattern beautifully. Wherever you are reading this column, the people you are called to reach can meet God through this pattern of worship. God’s contemporary presence abides in this ancient Tabernacle of Worship.
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on Steve Phifer