Tabernacle, Priests and Offerings

A. MOSES OFFERS TO BEAR HIS PEOPLE’S SIN

The previous study firstly dealt with the Law God gave to Moses on mount Sinai. We also spoke of the terrible sin the people of Israel committed by worshipping an idol. But we also saw how Moses pleaded for them, saying: “Lord I will take their place in bearing the punishment.  Remove my name from your Book but spare these people.”  God granted his request and spared the people, but did not allow him to bear their punishment.  He had already designed a better way for sins to be punished and forgiveness to be obtained.  We will now look at his way of salvation.

B. THE TABERNACLE.

On the mountain, the Lord had also commanded Moses to build a big tent to be called a tabernacle in which He would be present in a remarkable way.  He also showed him an image of what it was to look like and what the size was to be.  So, shortly afterwards,  Moses set about  constructing it.

The people numbered more than a million (probably more than three million) and encamped in tents so as to be able to move easily from one place to another.  For that reason the tabernacle was also constructed as a tent.  It had to have something like a fence constructed of poles and cloth surrounding it  and was to be pitched right at the centre of of the lager – showing that God was to be at the centre of the nation’s daily existence.

  • Encampment of the tribes around the tabernacle

The people consisted of twelve tribes which each grouped together.  Every tribe had a specific positon in relation to the tabernacle where to encamp. They were one nation, had one forefather and one God, yet God thought it wise for them to be subdivided into twelve seperate groups in order that each group could have its own subculture and unity. There was unity, but also diversity and if one group would stray from the Lord (as some, like Benjamin later did) the others would remain true and try to bring them back so that all would not perish. The tribes were of course made up of different independant families, each with their own way of running their homes. So, there too, was unity as well as diversity.

  • The cloud of God’s presence.

As soon as the tabernacle had been erected, a cloud, denoting God’s presence, came to rest upon it.  So, when a person, standing at his tent, would look upwards, he would be assured that their God was continually with them. At the Red Sea it stood between them and their Egyption enemies; now, in the wildernis it provided shade during the heat of day and light at night.

The tabernacle itself had square corners like a building. On the inside it was divided into two sections.  On entering, you would be in the section called the holy place.  In this section there was a golden lampstand which lighted up the place.  Then there was a golden alter on which sweet smelling incense was burned as a sacrifice to God.  Lastly their was a table with bread that was also seen as an offering to God.  Only the priests and Levites were allowed into this “Holy Place”.  At the far end of the holy place was a curtain covering the whole breadth of the tabernacle.  Behind this curtain was a place called the “Holiest of all”.  It contained a wooden box plated with gold and called  “The ark of the covenant”.  Two images of golden angels with outspread wings covered it.  Initially all that was put inside of it, were the two tablets on which were written Gods Ten Laws.  Into this “Holiest of All” only the High Priest was allowed to enter, once a year.  He then sprinkled the blood of an animal on the lid of the ark to atone for the sins of the people.

  • The courtyard and its contents

Outside of the tabernacle, but inside of the enclosure, were two items. Firstly there was a huge basin made of copper and filled with water.  The priests had to wash their hands and feet in this water before performing their duties.  Then there was a brazen alter for the offering of sacrifices.

C. THE OFFICE BEARERS AND STAFF

Two categories of people were appointed to serve at the tabernacle. Let us read Ex 28:1-4:

“Then bring near to you Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the people of Israel, to serve me as priests—Aaron and Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. 2 And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty. 3 And you shall speak to all who have ability, whom I have endowed with an able mind, that they make Aaron’s garments to consecrate him for my priesthood. 4 These are the garments which they shall make: a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a coat of checker work, a turban, and a girdle; they shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother and his sons to serve me as priests.”

Firstly there were Aaron and his sons.  They were designated by God to be priests.  There main duty was to bring burnt offerings on the alter, sacrifices according to God’s commandments.  The High Priest was the only person allowed to enter “The Holiest of All”.  The leaders of the nation could also request the High Priest to enquire from God what his will was in regard to the governing of the nation. He was equipped by God with two precious stones named the Uirim and Tummim which He used for this purpose. Apparently they would alternatively glo to indicate yes or no.

Secondly the tribe of Levi was appointed by God to serve at the Tabernacle.  One of their duties was to pull it down, transport it and its contents and components safely and reverently to their new location and pitch it again.

Most of the activity at the tabernacle consisted in the bringing of sacrifices. Apart from the daily burnt offerings for the nation, the priests assisted the people in bringing personal offerings. These were guilt offerings, offerings of thanksgiving and grain offerings.  Even poor people were not excluded for they could bring doves as sacrifices.  Let us read from Lev. chapter 1:1 to 5 regarding one of the offerings:

“Then the LORD called to Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying,

2  “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When any man of you brings an offering to the LORD, you shall bring your offering of animals from the herd or the flock.  3  ‘If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer it, a male without defect; he shall offer it at the doorway of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the LORD.  4  ‘He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, that it may be accepted for him to make atonement on his behalf.  5  ‘He shall slay the young bull before the LORD; and Aaron’s sons the priests shall offer up the blood and sprinkle the blood around on the altar that is at the doorway of the tent of meeting.”

We also read verse 14 and 15:

‘But if his offering to the LORD is a burnt offering of birds, then he shall bring his offering from the turtledoves or from young pigeons.  15  ‘The priest shall bring it to the altar, and wring off its head and offer it up in smoke on the altar; and its blood is to be drained out on the side of the altar.”

What was the main purpose of the tabernacle and all that accompanied it? Well firstly God taught His people that they could not serve Him just any way they wanted to.  He alone was God and He alone could reveal how He wanted to be served.

The way they were to serve Him was quite different from the way the heathen nations surrounding them served their gods.  One of the most important lessons to be learned was that sin could not be forgiven unless a living animal of God’s choice had been slaughtered and its blood shed.  You will from earlier studies that God did not accept the fruit offerings of Cain but accepted Abel’s offering of a sheep or goat.  With Abel’s offering, there was the shedding of blood and the death of an animal.  With Cain’s offering there was no shedding of blood and no death. 

Now why was this so important to God?  Is God saying to us that an animal can be punished for the sins of a human being?  Can the life of a bull or dove pay for the sins of a man, woman or child?  No definitely not, for in the New Testament in the Book of Hebrews chapter10 verse 4 God says:  “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” 

Why then had God ordained that animals be slaughtered as sacrifices.  God knew that many, many years later He would send His one and only Son, Jesus  Christ to give His life by dying on a cross to atone for the sins of mankind.  God knew that there was not even a single person on earth that could pay for another person’s sins for all of us have sinned; none of us can be a perfect sin-offering to God. 

Then, why did God direct that the people of Israel offer animal sacrifices?  Those sacrifices were to be pictures of Jesus Christ that would one day come to die for mankind.  Now we all know that although a picture of someone looks like the person, it is not really that person, it is nothing more than a picture.  And so animal sacrifices were only pictures of Christ that was to come. Now that He has come and has died for us, we no longer need those pictures.  And that is why Christians no longer offer animals as sacrifices to God.  Christians have accepted Jesus as their Sacrifice that has once and for all paid for their sins.  They have no further need of animal sacrifices.  And that is what God’s Word says in Hebrews chapter 10 from verse 3 to verse 14:

3  But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again of sins every year. 4  For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins. 
5  Therefore when He comes into the world, He says, “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but You have prepared a body for Me. 6  In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have had no pleasure. 7  Then I said, Lo, I come (in the volume of the Book it is written of Me) to do Your will, O God.” 8  Above, when He said, “Sacrifice and offering, and burnt offerings and offering for sin You did not desire, neither did You have pleasure in them” (which are offered according to the Law), 9  then He said, “Lo, I come to do Your will, O God.” He takes away the first so that He may establish the second. 
10  By this will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11  And indeed every priest stands daily ministering and offering often the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12  But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down on the right of God, 13  from then on expecting until His enemies are made His footstool. 14  For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are sanctified. 

As said before, in those earlier days, people were instructed to offer animal sacrifices; they lived before the death and resurrection of Christ.  But we are living after His death and resurrection.  Jesus is now our one and only sacrifice.  If we continue offering animal sacrifices, we reject Christ’s perfect offering and will not be saved by His blood.  Trust in Jesus’s sacrifice only and you will be saved and become a child of God.

If you want to do that, you can pray the following prayer: “Lord God, I have been offering animal sacrifices for my sins.  But now I understand that I have done wrong.  Please forgive me Lord.  I accept the death of Jesus on the cross as full payment for my sin.  From now on I will only trust in You, Lord Jesus, and reject all other false teachings. Thank you Lord.  Amen.”

The Lord will help to continue on this new way you have chosen. Do read the next Bible stdies to learn more about following Christ. 

SHALOM

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