“According to all I show you, that is, the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings, so you shall make it.” (OSB)
Having been marked off as God’s people of promise by the blood of the Paschal Lamb, having been saved from slavery and been created anew in waters of the Red Sea, God through Moses leads Israel to Mt. Sinai. It is there that God will reveal to Israel the nature of its calling as a “royal priesthood” (Exod 19:6). Just as God gave Adam and Eve a “law,” activating their free will, as it were, and inviting their faithful response, so too now God gives His new humanity, Israel, a series of “words” and “commands” that spell out the privileges and responsibilities of life in covenant with God.
The “Ten Commandments” of Exodus 20 and the “Covenant Code” of Exodus 21-23 begin to define the character of life before God, both as relates to God (vertical) and to fellow humans (horizontal). The Law (Torah), then, is something of an icon or pattern—it is a portrait of God’s desires and intentions for true human life. There is nothing frivolous or despotic about this; it is an expression of God’s grace and love, demonstrating and bestowing great dignity on humanity.
In Exodus 24, God and Israel enter into formal covenantal agreement, as both are—symbolically and literally—covered with the blood of the covenant-ratifying sacrifice (cf. Heb 9:19-24). The free nature of Israel’s response is emphasized by their twice-repeated declaration, “All the words the Lord spoke we will do” (Exod 24:3, 7). This covenant is consummated with a meal on Mt. Sinai, with God hosting Moses, Nadab, Abihu, and the Seventy elders, and their mystical vision of God’s presence (Exod 24:9-18).
As we enter into Exodus 25, we come to the heart of what it means to truly be “Israel”: Israel is defined by being a worshipping people, a people with whom the true God dwells, a people who are oriented towards this one, true God who is their Creator and Redeemer. The rest of the book of Exodus, with the exception of the “golden calf” episode in Exod 32-34, will be concerned with the construction of the Tabernacle.
At the very beginning of these instructions, God communicates a principle of profound importance to the Church’s worship in all ages: The “earthly” worship of the Church is a reflection of and participation in the eternal, spiritual worship of God that is always and ever going on in heaven. All the elements of the Church’s worship, then, are iconic and incarnational—that is, they make available to the physical senses the spiritual realities themselves, such that we are elevated in and to the worship in “Spirit and Truth” (Jn 4:24).
St. Paul invites us to read the Tabernacle on a still more profound level, when he calls Christ “the mercy-seat” (Rom 3:25; that is, the top of the Ark of the Covenant) and says that Christ’s flesh is “the veil” of the Holy of Holies itself (Heb 10:20). As St. Gregory of Nyssa discusses (Life of Moses, Bk 2.170-88), we are to contemplate Christ Himself as the Prototype as we view the Icon that is the Tabernacle. Indeed, it is Christ, the eternal Logos, who tabernacled among us (Jn 1:14) by means of the Virgin Theotokos who is also a living tabernacle/temple of Christ God, as are all Christians (1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:19).
The temporary nature of the first Tabernacle is indicated as early as Exodus 15:17-18, where we learn that the ultimate destination of the exodus is Zion, for us, the City and Sanctuary not made with hands (Heb 11:10; 12:18-24; Rev 21).
~ By Reader Justin Gohl