Exodus 36-38: The tabernacle: gold with skin on

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Today’s reading: Exodus 36-38.

Who hides gold? It’s so beautiful and valuable. People wear it lavishly to put on a show. We only hide it when we want to safeguard it from theft. Yet the tabernacle in the wilderness is a treasure of hidden gold. Exodus 38 says that over 29 talents of gold were used to build the sanctuary, which is about 2200 pounds, worth $42 million at current prices. The gold was mainly used to cover the walls of the sanctuary and for the worship items in the sanctuary: the ark of the covenant and its cover, the altar of incense, the lampstand, and the table for the bread of presence. The sanctuary was a golden house filled with golden furniture.

But this golden sanctuary was covered with, and hidden by, far less valuable materials. A tent of three layers draped over the two rooms of gold. The inner layer was made of woven goat hair, most likely black in color. The middle layer consisted of ram skins dyed red. The outer layer was made of natural skins of an uncertain animal, most likely seals.

As I picture it, I see a golden building with skin on it. Not only that, but underneath the skin there is red like blood. The Hebrew word for red, ‘adam, is the root of the word used to describe the first man (both are ruddy). So this building has a man-like covering.

In a previous post I referred to Jesus’ calling his own body a temple. John said that Jesus “tabenacled” or “pitched his tent” with us (John 1:14). The writer of Hebrews said:

Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; Hebrews 2:14

And as the tabernacle was a treasure covered in skin, so we who believe in the hidden treasure of God’s mercy in Jesus Christ, are also carrying precious cargo in meager coverings:

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. 2 Corinthians 4:7

As I approach the tabernacle, I see a picture of God’s glory that will one day dwell fully in the person of Jesus Christ, and which miraculously dwells in believers through the Holy Spirit. This mystery, a once hidden treasure, is now available to anyone who repents and professes faith in Jesus.

That still leaves the innermost layer of black goat hair. What significance, if any, does that hold for you?

You can read more about the tabernacle and the signficance of its services here.

This video gives an excellent virtual tour of the tabernacle:

Image by Kenny Louie on Flickr, CC by 2.0.

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