Sermon Notes: The Tabernacle as a Royal Victory Palace

A Royal Palace

Finally, the tabernacle is a royal palace, built with the materials plundered from the defeated Egyptians (Exod 12:35-36; 25:3-7).  In this way, the tabernacle is a memorial to the King of Israel’s victory over the king of Egypt.  Like the Arc D’Triumph that marked Napoleon’s greatest victory over his enemies, or like the way victorious coaches have their names assigned to gymnasiums and stadiums, so the tabernacle (later temple) served as a marker for the way the God of Israel defeated the surrounding nations. We see this aspect in a handful of ways.

Materials

First, notice that the materials that are collected are costly, beautiful, and fitting for a king.

25:3-7. This is the contribution that you shall receive from them: gold, silver, bronze, blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, goats’ hair, tanned rams’ skins, goatskins, acacia wood, oil for the lamps, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, onyx stones, & stones for setting, for the ephod &  for the breastpiece.

It is easy to miss just how expensive these materials are: First, the amount of gold, silver, and bronze is amazing. According to [Exodus] 38:21-31 approximately one ton of gold, four tons of silver, and two-and-a-half tons of bronze were used to make the tabernacle and its furnishings” (T.D. Alexander, From Paradise to Promised Land, 195).

Next, the dyed materials—blue, purple, scarlet—were not only the garments of royalty, they too were very rare and costly.  From where the priests served, the house was absolutely breathtaking.  It was meant to be.  The God of creation who is a master-builder and magnicifient artist, has called Israel to construct a house for him that is worthy of his glory.

Ark of the Testimony  

Not only are the materials royal.  The furniture is too.  In the Holy of Holies, sits the ark of testimony.  Overlaid with gold, this is God’s throne.  This is where he sits and rules over his people.  In fact, Exodus 25:16 records, “And you shall put into the ark the testimony that I shall give you.”  The covenant laid out in Exodus 20-23 was stored in the tabernacle, affirming God’s kingship in Israel and Israel’s absolute promise to obey all God’s commands. (For an in-depth discussion of the relationship between the covenant and the house of God, see Meredith Kline, The Structure of Biblical Authority).  Interestingly then, when Israel later rebelled against God, one of the greatest signs of his judgment was the destruction of the temple.

Moreover, in the New Testament, when the temple veil was torn, this was not only a picture of the access that New Testament believers have (Heb 10:19-25), it was a picture of God’s royal judgment upon Israel for their failure to keep covenant.

A Hint from ANE

Last, the pagan world surrounding Israel gives an interpretive context (by common grace) for understanding what the building of a temple signifies.  Jeffrey Niehaus makes this point very well in his book, Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical TheologyIn the Ancient Near East, like with Napoleon’s arch, temples were built at the end of military campaigns.  Niehaus records the words of one particular Egyptian leader,

[Ra] begat me to do that which he did, to execute that which he command me to do… I will make a work, namely, a great house [a temple], For my father Atum [Pharaoh].  He will make it broad, according as he has caused me to conquer (90).

We find this same pattern is in Scripture. In Exodus, God saves Israel out of Egypt, and has them build a victory palace.  In Samuel and Kings, God gives David the victory over the enemies of God, and he desires to build a house for God.  While God does not permit David to build God a house, his son Solomon does with the pattern revealed to David (1 Chronicles 28).  Then in the New Testament, Jesus comes promising to build a house for the name of the Lord one that the gates of hell cannot defeat (Matt 16:18).  What is he doing?  He is building a victory temple.  Consider Paul’s flow of thought in Ephesians 2, where he concludes,

Ephesians 2:19-22. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (See my exegetical paper on Ephesians 2 for a more thorough explanation).

This is the message of Scripture: God who created a cosmic temple in which to dwell, set man in Eden in order to expand all over the earth.  Man sinned, and ruined that plan.  But God has sent a Second Adam to come and finish what Adam failed to do.

He has redeemed a people and he is now building a place.  And the question we must ask ourselves is this: Is that our story and our hope? Are you a living stone affixed in his temple, or are you trying to build your own–a house for your own name?  Are you worshiping the hero of God’s epic story who is building his victory memorial, or are you trying to create your own epic?  Rest assured, if you are looking to win the victory for yourself, you will lose out in the end.

Rather than finding joy in our own earthly successes, we must find joy in the promise of dwelling forever with the God of heaven.  We must cry with the Psalmist,

How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise! (Ps 84)

May that such longing for God’s dwelling place rule our hearts and govern our hopes!

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Distraction, Devotion, and Destruction: A Reflection from Gregory the Great’s “Pastoral Rule”

Reading Gregory the Great’s “Pastoral Rule,” a document addressing Christian shepherds and their pastoral roles, I came across this quote.  Ponder it with me.

Secular employments, therefore, though they may sometimes be endured out of compassion, should never be sought after out of affection for the things themselves; lest, while they weigh down the mind of him who loves them, they sink it, overcome by its own burden, from heavenly places to the lowest (Gregory the Great, “The Pastoral Rule,” in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd series, p. 18).

Gregory’s comment illustrates numerous biblical exhortations for pastors and leaders in ministry.  Consider three:

2 Timothy 2:4, “No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.”

2 Timothy 2:20-21, “Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable.  Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful for the master of the house, ready for every good work.”

1 Peter 5:2-3, “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God whould have you; not for shameful gain…”

In a world filled with distractions…Television.  Radio.  Video Games.  Internet.  Telephone.  Cell Phone.  Email.  Blogging.  Facebook.  Twitter.  The list goes on… Where was I?  Oh yeah, distracting secular employments!  In a world filled with distractions, Gregory’s warning is a timeless reminder that one of Satan’s ploys is to take our eyes, our minds, our affections off what really matters and to fill them with worldly goods (Read: Luke 14:16-24). 

More so than ever, our enemy has an avalanche of options to force us off the straight and narrow path.  He may not tempt us to be bad but to be busy with banality.  For none of the things listed above are intrinsically evil, but they become instruments of destruction when they hinder our worship, deter our mission, promote lethargy, or increase vain curiosity.

I don’t say this as a disenchanted technophobe, but as someone who regularly utilizes the modern amenities afforded by technology.  Nevertheless, I feel their effects.  Gregory’s words rachet me back to Jesus’ pre-modern call to pick up my cross and follow Him.  I confess that too many times, I am distracted in this pursuit, and so I appreciate his exhortation.  I pray for spiritual renewal in my life and a return to a “sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3).  I pray for others too that we will together fix our eyes on Jesus running with endurance the race set out for us, and that to do this well we throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.  In this I pray, that we will learn how to use mass media not for purposes of distraction, but for purposes of spiritual destruction–“destroying arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” (2 Cor. 10:5)

Father in Heaven, Undistracted Deity: Give your people the wisdom to see the ways in which worldly distractions keep them from following you as loyal soldiers, clean vessels, and willing shepherds.  Spirit of Truth, lead us to repent and turn from our futile pursuits and to utilize all creation, technology included, for your glory.  Protect us from the world’s all-consuming efffects.  Lord Jesus, glorify yourself in your church, liberating your people to be wholly committed to loving and serving you.  And may the world watch in wonder and follow in obedience to you as your church turns from distraction to devotion!

Sola Deo Gloria, dss