Have you ever considered that God himself doesn’t exactly need a house on Earth? After all, his heavens are pretty awesome. On the other hand, we certainly need a house where he can visit and teach us. Which is why God commanded Moses to build the Tabernacle, a precursor to the temple, a place where he could teach and commune with the Israelites.
Now, no doubt, God can send a stunning, perfectly built, gold plated building every time he wants a temple on the Earth. But that’s not the point. Instead, he wants to save and teach his children. And one way he does this is through sacrifice. So, just like the early Saints, God asks the Israelites to sacrifice their best to build the Tabernacle.
With gold, silks, fine fabrics, woods, and jewels, these sacred donations are their opportunity to sacrifice something they like that is good. In order to build something, they need more that is greater, in other words, to prove that the Lord is more important to them than their stuff. By the way, still a vital lesson for us to remember today, to focus on eternal matters like temple work, while the world mainly focuses on stuff and temporary things. Okay, once upon a time, there were two incredibly talented kids named Bezeliel, and a holiday could be a cool name for a rock duo. Anyway, growing up, these two young artists were supremely gifted in crafting gold and other precious Metalworks, carving stone and wood, and even creating intricate weaving and embroidery.
They honed their skills until they probably would have won every student art show ever, if there were that sort of thing back then. Still, they tried to learn all they could and to do their best with their God given talents. Now, throughout the Book of Exodus, we read very specific requirements given to Moses from God about what to build and craft for his Tabernacle. But Moses doesn’t know how to do it. So God calls Bezelle and a holiday as adults to be the Tabernacle’s chief artisans.
And with all their great talents, skills and abilities, they don’t exactly know how to do it either, until God increases their knowledge and capacity to do his work and enables them to teach other artisans as well. Okay. Do you know amazingly talented and skilled people like them today who make beautiful art, music, books, or movies that inspire you? Yeah, it’s cool, right? But even if our own unique talents and skills are less visible than bezelel or a holiday, God has given them to each of us.
And even if you don’t know what they are yet, God knows.
After about nine months of careful and meticulous crafting by bezelil a holiday and a slew of artisans, the Tabernacle is ready for God to visit. Israelites enter the outer courtyard from the east and bring their animal for the priest to sacrifice on the main altar, remembering that the Tabernacle is a sacred place for God to teach his children about obedience and justice, sacrifice and mercy. It ultimately points to the great sacrifice of the Savior Jesus Christ. From here, only a Levite priest may proceed to the labor to be washed with water, anointed with oil from a chauffeur, and clothed in sacred clothes before entering the Holy place of the Tabernacle. This washing and anointing represents sanctification and remission of sins.
Incidentally, years later, when Solomon built a permanent temple, the labor was enlarged and placed on the backs of twelve oxen, representing all the tribes of Israel as well as God’s power. Upon entering the tent curtain into the Holy place, the priest is illuminated by a large golden menorah on the left, echoing the light of the world. It is the only source of light inside the Tabernacle, and its seven candles are full of pure olive oil. Interestingly, seven in Scripture represents wholeness or perfection, and many believe that the candlestick is a symbol for the tree of life. On the right side of the tent is the Table of Showbread, where every Sabbath Aaron and his sons placed twelve loaves of fresh, unleavened bread.
After eating the loaves from the previous week, some Jewish traditions teach that a pitcher of wine was also there and replenished weekly. In front of the veil leading to the Holy of Holies stands the altar of incense. Its sweet smelling smoke rises up in the air, representing prayerful requests entering through the veil into God’s presence. However, only the high priest may pass through the veil into the Holy of Holies. Once a year, on the day of Atonement, inside rests the Ark of the Covenant, topped by the mercy seat representing the presence of God.
Though anciently, very few were allowed to fully participate in temple worship. Christ’s death fulfilled prophecy when the veil of the temple, which was likely 60ft tall, was miraculously torn in half from top to bottom because of that miracle. Today all who are worthy can now go through the veil and symbolically enter into the presence of God in his temples. So if God put this much detail and care into a portable tent, along with carefully teaching how much reverence his temple deserves, how much more effort will he give us to keep our bodies sacred, which are our personal Tabernacles of clay? One final thought.
As the priest walks from the sacrificial altar to the labor to the incense and so on, he may feel like he isn’t progressing much. Walking in circles. The same thing day after day, week after week. And perhaps we feel the same way in our lives. Prayer, scripture, study, Church attendance, Sacrament day after day, week after week, the same circle not really progressing.
However, if we tip those circles and look at them from the side, we might then see that step by step, they’re actually bringing us higher and higher and closer to our Heavenly Father. Next time we’ll study numbers. But don’t worry, it doesn’t involve any calculus.
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