The first big step in God’s plan to restore the earth was calling the descendants of Abraham and Jacob into the promised land. He wanted to establish a place on earth where he had authority to speak and act. He rescued the Israelites from Egypt and led him through the desert to Mount Sinai. God wanted to meet with his people on the mountain.

The Lord said to Moses, “I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear me speaking” (Ex 19:9).

God still loved his people and had rescued them. He still wanted to share with them, but guilty people could not bear to be close to him. The elders came and spoke to Moses.

Today we have seen that a person can live even if God speaks with them. But now, why should we die? This great fire will consume us, and we will die if we hear the voice of the Lord our God any longer. Go near and listen to all that the Lord our God says. Then tell us whatever the Lord our God tells you. We will listen and obey (Deut 5:24-27).

The people heard God speak, but they were scared and shared. They asked Moses to represent them before God and listen to what he is saying. Just like in the garden, God wanted to speak to his people, but they were scared and hid from him. Shame made it impossible for them to be close to God.

God told Moses how to build the Tabernacle and establish a pattern of sacrifices. God came and dwelt in the Holy of Holies of the tabernacle in the midst of the people. Most of the people were still scared of him, but Moses was able to talk to him and hear his responses. God was able to give Moses the wisdom needed for the people to live in peace in the land.


The Old Testament tabernacle had two types of altar.

Outside the tabernacle was a bronze altar. Burnt offerings were offered on the bronze altar. Gold was for God. The altar was bronze, because it was not directed towards God, but towards the spiritual forces of evil. The blood was for them too.

The primary purpose of these offerings on the bronze altar outside the tabernacle was to appease the spiritual powers of evil, who demanded blood for every sin. They love killing and doing evil. They demanded the right to impose the curses of the covenant on the children of Israel. The sacrifices were offered to satisfy them. The sacrifices were designed to keep them at bay.

The spiritual powers of evil were not entirely happy with the sacrifices, but they had no choice but to accept them, because God said they must be satisfied with the blood of animals, because the animals belonged to humans. Of course, Jesus final sacrifice of blood on the cross completely satisfied their demands, and silenced them forever.

Holy of Holies

The Holy of Holies was the place were God dwelt. The main furniture was the golden box containing a copy of the covenant between God and the Israelites. Just outside the Holy of Holies, but still within the tabernacle, was the golden altar. Incense was placed on this altar as a pleasant aroma. God did not demand blood. A little blood was dabbed on the horns of the altar, once a year on the day of Atonement (Exodus 30:1-10), so there was very little blood in the Holy of Holies. God is easy to please and a pleasant aroma was all he required.

Paul reminds the us that Jesus sacrifice was not made to satisfy God’s demand for blood. All that God required was a pleasant aroma. The perfect love that motivated Jesus’ death rose as a pleasant aroma to God.

Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Eph 5:2).

God dwelt in the Holy of Holies because the Covenant with Moses gave him the right to be there. The spiritual powers of evil hated this intrusion because they thought the earth belonged to them. They didn’t want the children of Israel being close to God, so they made them feel ashamed and afraid to draw near to him.

Dangerous Place

The tabernacle court was a dangerous place to be, because the spiritual powers of evil hung around there, enjoying the death and gore. They would attack anyone who was not authorised by God to be there. The Israelites had very little spiritual discernment, so they needed strict rules to keep safe in this situation.

The evil powers that gathered around the tabernacle of God to do harm were led by a spirit called Wrath.

The Levites shall camp around the tabernacle of the testimony, so that there will be no Wrath on the Israelite community (Num 1:53).

Wrath and other spirits did their best to harm those who went near the tabernacle.

God had put spiritual protection in place for the Priests and Levites, by specific sacrifices and keeping them away from activities that could leave them vulnerable to spiritual attack.

The Levites shall keep charge of the tabernacle of the testimony (Num 1:53).

They camped around the tabernacle, because they were the only ones who were safe in this dangerous place. They put up their standards to mark the safe area (Num 1:52).

The time when the tabernacle was being packed up was particularly dangerous because the boundaries and safe places were less clear.

Whenever the tabernacle is to move, the Levites are to take it down, and whenever the tabernacle is to be set up, the Levites shall do it. Anyone else who approaches it is put to death (Num 1:51).

The Israelites assumed that God would put them to death if they went near the tabernacle, but that is wrong. Wrath and his evil angels would put people to death, if they got caught in the wrong place.

The spiritual powers of evil hated the covenant box, because it was the place where God met with his people. They wanted to make the people fear it and be unwilling to meet with God.

When Samuel was a boy, the Philistines captured the covenant box, but they experienced terrible sickness. People in the vicinity came out with awful tumours (1 Sam 5:1-10). They had been attacked by the Spirit of Wrath, so they sent the covenant box back to Israel. At Beth Shemesh some men looked into the covenant box, but many were killed.

Then he struck the men of Beth Shemesh, because they had looked into the covenant box of the Lord (1 Sam 6:19).

They thought it was God, but they were most likely struck down by the spirit called Wrath. This spirit hated people drawing near to God’s presence.

When David was taking the covenant box back to Jerusalem, he forgot to involve the Levites. Uzzah touched the covenant box when the oxen stumbled, and he died beside it. Most English translations imply that God struck him down, but that is misleading. The Hebrew text says that Wrath of God struck him, because he was careless with the things of God. David had failed to follow the instructions that God had given Moses, so the powers of evil got at one of his men.

The tabernacle was not the centre of ceremonial religion, or a type to teach us mysteries. It was the site of an intense spiritual battle, in which God won and enforced a strategic victory that foreshadowed a much greater victory of Jesus cross and resurrection. Following the cross, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, spiritual protection comes from the gift of discernment and walking in the Spirit.

External Cleansing

The tabernacle sacrifices dealt with the guilt and shame problem sufficiently for the people to be able to cope dwell with God dwelling in their midst of them. Although most only drew near to God, when they were bringing a sacrifice (Lev 1:3). They relied on Moses to speak with God on their behalf.

The spiritual powers of evil hated the tabernacle because they did not want God living in the midst of his people. They did not want the people to speak with God. The spiritual powers of evil knew that if God was present, they would lose. They hung around the tabernacle in an attempt to destroy anyone who came near to God. They did not want God getting near to his people.

God dwelt in the Holy of Holies. He did not demand blood, but was happy with the aroma of incense. What he really wanted was to meet with his people.

The tabernacle sacrifices covered the guilt of the people sufficiently to remove the shame that prevented them from drawing near to God. Removing the shame enabled them to cope with God living in their midst without fear of being destroyed by his holiness. Of course, these sacrifices were only a partial solution.

The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason, it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins (Heb 10:1-3).

Unfortunately, the regular sacrifices also reminded them of their sin, which increased their shame. The guilt problem needed a deeper solution.

The tabernacle was real, but it foreshadowed the place in the heavenly realms where Jesus sat down at the right hand of God, having made the perfect sacrifice. However, the tabernacle sacrifices only provided an external cleansing, which was enough to allow the people to draw closer to God.

The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God (Heb 9:13-14).

The blood of animals provided an external cleanliness (cleanliness of the flesh). They still needed to be cleansed inside, (a cleansing of the spirit). Only Jesus could do that.


Jesus was God’s solution to the guilt problem. Jesus offered himself as a perfect sacrifice that cleansed our consciences from sin and shame.

When this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy (Heb 10:12-14).

Jesus offered a perfect sacrifice. It provided complete cleansing from sin, inside and out, for past, present and future sins. This means that those who are united with him by faith are freed from guilt and shame. Because we are cleansed, we can accept the Holy Spirit living within us. Jesus perfect sacrifice means that nothing can force the Holy Spirit out, provide we remain united with Jesus.

Jesus perfect sacrifice sets those who trust him free from guilt and shame. This restores their ability to communicate with God. But Jesus does more. He sent the Holy Spirit to live within all those who trust him. This is better than the garden of Eden. We don’t just have God wandering among us. We have his Spirit living, speaking and listening within us.

The Holy Spirit also testifies... I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds (Heb 10:12-16).

With guilt gone, our ability to relate to God is restored. The Holy Spirit can fill our lives and communicate with us. He can empower us to go out and restore his authority over the earth and establish his Kingdom.

Guilt produces shame. Shame makes it impossible to establish a relationship with God. Jesus death on the cross deals with our guilt and removes the shame that separates us from God.

Tent of Meeting

After God had given Moses the law, he told him how to set up the tabernacle that he required (Ex 25-30). While the tabernacle and the furniture were being made, Moses set up a tent outside the camp.

Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp some distance away, calling it the “Tent of Meeting.” Anyone inquiring of the Lord would go to the tent of meeting outside the camp (Ex 33:7).

This tent was outside the camp, because the people could not cope with God’s presence amongst them.

When Moses went into the tent, the cloud came down and stayed outside the entrance to the tent.

As Moses went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance, while the Lord spoke with Moses (Ex 33:9).

The Lord would speak to Moses face to face as to a friend.

The Lord would speak with Moses face to face, just as a man speaks with his friend (Ex 33:11).

No sacrifices had been offered yet, but Moses had escaped from the guilt that prevents people from hearing God, through his faith in him.

God was happy to come to Moses and speak with him, even though no sacrifice had been made for sin. God was able to receive him, because he trusted him. This is grace.

Once the tabernacle had been established and the sacrifices became operational, the situation changed. God called it the Tent of Meeting.

The Lord spoke to Moses: You are to set up the tabernacle, the tent of meeting” (Ex 40:1).

This is important. We think of the Tabernacle as a place where humans offered sacrifices to appease God. That is wrong. It was a Tent of Meeting where God met with his people.

When the Tabernacle was completed, the glory of God filled the Tent so strongly that Moses could not enter.

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle (Ex 40:34-35).

God still met with Moses, and Moses still heard God speak, so I presume that he waited at the entrance to hear God speak.

Moses was in the tent and God stood at the entrance. The Tent of Meeting was Moses’ home.

God was in the tent and Moses stood at the entrance. The Tent of Meeting was God’s home.

The difference was that God had made his home among his people. He continued to speak to Moses face to face, as he had done before the Tabernacle was established (Num 12:8).

The Tent of the Meeting was not set up to appease God. It was a place where God made his home, so he could be with his people.

David and the Tabernacle

During the time of Samuel, the Philistines conquered Israel and stole the covenant box and took it to Ekron, because they thought that it was a god. However, tumours broke out amongst them, so they wanted to get rid of it (1 Sam 5). They placed it on a wagon and hitched up two cows that had just calved (1 Sam 6). The carried it to Beth Shemesh in Israel. Later it was taken Kiriath Jearim, a town in Judah where Caleb had settled. It remained there for twenty years (1 Sam 7:1-2).

When David became King, he brought the covenant box to Jerusalem and placed it in a tent there.

They brought the covenant box of God and placed it inside the tent David had pitched for it. Then they offered burnt offerings and fellowship offerings in God’s presence (1 Chron 16:1).

The tabernacle of the Lord remained at Gibeon, where it had been since the victories of Joshua.

David left Asaph and his associates before the covenant box of the Lord to minister there regularly, according to each day’s requirements...
David left Zadok the priest and his fellow priests before the tabernacle of the Lord at the high place in Gibeon (1 Chron 16:37-39)

God does not seem to have told David to take this action, but he split the tabernacle role. The covenant box was in Jerusalem. The Holy of Holies and the altars remained in Gibeon.

The reason for this is given in Chronicles. David had sinned by counting his “fighting men”. He was given a choice of judgment and had chosen a plague. When it struck, he realised that he deserved the judgment, not the people, and pleaded with God to stop it. David saw an angel with a sword standing over Jerusalem. When the angel sheathed his sword, David knew that God had heard his prayer.

The tabernacle of the Lord, which Moses had made in the wilderness, and the altar of burnt offering were at that time on the high place at Gibeon. But David could not go before it to inquire of God, because he was afraid of the sword of the angel of the Lord (1 Chron 21:29-30).

It seems that David kept the tabernacle of the Lord in Gibeon, because he was afraid of the angel of judgment.

Interestingly, God continued to meet with people in the Tent of the Meeting at Gibeon.

Now David had brought up the covenant box of God from Kiriath Jearim to the place he had prepared for it, because he had pitched a tent for it in Jerusalem. But the bronze altar that Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, had made was in Gibeon in front of the tabernacle of the Lord; so Solomon and the assembly inquired of him there. Solomon went up to the bronze altar before the Lord in the tent of meeting and offered a thousand burnt offerings on it. That night God appeared to Solomon and said to him, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you (2 Chron 1:4-7).

The bronze altar was still at Gibeon. Solomon went there when he became king and God spoke to him about his role. Solomon chose the gift of wisdom. It seems that God still wanted to meet with people in the Tent of the Meeting.

I wonder if David got it wrong. He had a marvellous relationship with God and loved to worship, but towards the end of his life, things turned sour. God never told him to build a temple, because he was happy living in a tent, but David decided to do it anyway. The temple was built in a way that supported worship and the offering of sacrifices. It was not specifically designed to make it easy to meet with God and hear him speak.

the tabernacle of Moses was designed for meeting with God. Offering sacrifices was a secondary purpose.

The Jerusalem temple was designed for offering sacrifices. Meeting with God became less practical.

Moses and David

The spiritual powers of evil hated the covenant box, because it was the place where God met with his people. They wanted to make the people fear it and be unwilling to meet with God.

This raises an interesting question. If the covenant box was so dangerous, how were Moses and David able to draw near to it without being harmed. I will answer that question in the next post.

Moses and David were able to go close to the covenant box and hear God speak.

The Lord would speak to Moses face to face as to a friend.

The Lord would speak with Moses face to face, just as a man speaks with his friend (Ex 33:11).

This happened before any sacrifices had been offered.

David was able to draw near to the covenant box once it had been placed in a tent in Jerusalem (Ps 84:1; Ps 15:1)

Let us go into His tabernacle;
Let us worship at His footstool.
Arise, O Lord, to Your resting place,
You and the box of your strength. (Ps 132:7-8).

David was able to be close to the covenant box, even though no sacrifices had been offered. How was this possible.

David answers this question in a couple of his Psalms. He explained that God did not really need the sacrifices.

You do not delight in sacrifice and offering;
you open my ears to listen.
You do not ask for a whole burnt offering or a sin offering…
I delight to do your will, my God,
and your law is within my heart (Ps 40:6-8).

God does not delight in sacrifices. He looks for the person who delights to do his will.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
A broken and a contrite heart—
These, O God, you will not despise (Ps 51:17).

A broken and contrite heart is more pleasing to God than sacrifices.

Moses had a broken spirit. He had grown up in the palace of Pharaoh and was educated to be a leader. His mother and sister had taught him that he was put in a privileged place so he could rescue his people. His dreams collapsed when he killed a man, and the people threatened to report him. He fled to another land and spent forty years watching the sheep of his father-in-law. Moses thought he was someone special, but his spirit was broken as his talents were wasted on ungrateful sheep. When God came to the burning bush, Moses was able to draw near, because he had a humble and contrite heart. He was not harmed by the presence of God.

This continued in the wilderness. Moses was able to continue meeting with God in the tabernacle of meeting.

As Moses went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance, while the Lord spoke with Moses (Ex 33:9).

This was possible because Moses remained humble.

Moses was a very humble man, more so than anyone on the face of the earth (Num 12:3).

A humble heart does not need sacrifice.

As a young man, David had an amazing trust in God. He had been put down by the harsh treatment of his older brothers. He became overconfident when bringing the covenant box to Jerusalem and did not follow God’s instruction for moving it (1 Chron 15:13). As a consequence, Uzzah was killed by wrath. A man died, but he humbled himself and got an answer from God. He took responsibility and admitted that he had was the cause of the accident.

David made many mistakes during his life, but he knew that God was merciful. He relied on God’s mercy because he knew that he needed it.

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin (Ps 51:1-2).

God’s mercy can cleanse a humble heart.

Moses and David were men with humble and contrite hearts. Both were broken by their failings, but they had discovered the mercy of God. They received the forgiveness of God. Because they were forgiven, they also gained spiritual protection. The spirit of Wrath was not able to attack them ( They were safe in the presence of God at the entrance of his Tabernacle because their spirits were broken and they had discovered God’s mercy. God’s mercy is the safest place in the world.

God does not need sacrifices. He is able to forgive those who are humble and contrite.

Moses and David had experienced God’s mercy.

The rest of their people were not broken in the same way, so they did not understand the depth of God’s mercy. They continued to be afraid of him.

Mercy Seat

In Romans 3:25, Paul says that Jesus became “a mercy seat by faith in his blood”. Commentators have argued about whether the expression mercy seat should be translated as expiation or propitiation without reaching agreement. I believe that it would be more sensible to take the words as they are, and assume that Paul meant what he said. He was saying that Jesus became our “mercy seat”.

Clearly, Paul was referring to the lid of the covenant box that sat within the holy of holies in the tabernacle. The lid of the covenant box was made of gold. In English Bibles, it has been called the “mercy seat”. The reason is that the Hebrew word “kapporeth” which means “lid” or “covering” comes from a word meaning “cover” or “pardon”. Therefore, a good translation would be “lid of grace”. So mercy seat is quite close.

The priests went into the tabernacle via the bronze altar. It was a place where blood sacrifices were offered. This blood was offered to satisfy the spiritual powers of evil who demanded that the full penalty of the law be implemented for sin. The accuser demands the shedding of blood as a penalty for sin.

Paul refers to faith in Jesus blood. He was explaining that the powers of evil who accuse and demand our blood have to be satisfied with his blood, so their power to accuse us and demand punishment is broken.

The covenant box was in the holy place, which is God’s place. Except for a little dabbed around once a year, there was no blood in the holy place, because God does not demand blood. He is gracious. Incense was placed on the gold altar in the holy place every day, because all God requires a pleasant aroma of love.

Paul says that Jesus became the mercy seat of covenant box. It symbolises grace. This box contained the two tablets of the covenant, Aaron's rod and a pot of manna. The covenant was a free gift, not earned. The manna in the box was a free gift to people who did not deserve it.

Therefore, the covenant box represents grace freely given. The mercy seat or lid of grace represents grace and forgiveness. It the place where God came and spoke, because he wiped out the effects of sin. He forgives us because he loves us. Our faith in the blood of Jesus allows him to become our mercy seat. In the new covenant, Jesus becomes the source of our forgiveness and grace from God. He enables us to hear God speak.

True Tabernacle

The tabernacle built by Moses was a copy of the real tabernacle established in the spiritual realms.

Jesus sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by a mere human being (Heb 8:1-2.
The true tabernacle was set up by the Lord in the heavenly places at the right hand of God. Moses tabernacle was a copy. It was a,
copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, “See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain” (Heb 8:5).
When he was on the mountain, Moses was given a vision of the spiritual tabernacle. God required him to build a tabernacle on earth according to the pattern shown to him.

Jesus ministry made a tabernacle or temple on earth unnecessary. He entered the true tabernacle which is in the heavenly realm at the right hand of God.

He went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation (Heb 9:11).
The true tabernacle already existed in the heavenly realms.
Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise, Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself (Heb 9:24-26).
Jesus’ perfect sacrifice dealt with all the problems that arose as a consequence of human sin.