An overview of Exodus entitled, “All the World’s a Stage,” was preached in 2002 at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington DC, by Mark Dever. This was also included in his 2006 book, The Message of the Old Testament.
Exodus 38-40…Tabernacle preparations.
In order to understand the purpose of the tabernacle, we need to go all the way back to the beginning of Genesis. We read in 3:8 that the Lord used to walk with Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden during “the cool of the day,” signifying the close, intimate fellowship they enjoyed with the Creator before sin caused everything to fall apart. Having sinned, Adam and Eve were banished from Eden and the immediate presence of our holy God (vv. 22–24), and since that day the goal of salvation has been to restore that face-to-face communion between the Lord and His people. This is seen in the promises to the patriarchs where God promised not to leave Jacob until He accomplished what He said He would do (28:10–17).
The tabernacle was the vehicle through which God manifested His presence among Israel between Sinai and the construction of Solomon’s temple. Because it was constructed like a portable tent, the tabernacle could travel with the people into the Promised Land (Num. 1:47–53). During their journey, at those times when the Israelites stopped for a time, the tabernacle would be erected in the center of the nation’s camp and the people would see that the Lord dwelt among them.
Exodus 38-39 explain the preparations, and Exodus 40 records God’s entrance into the tabernacle (Ex. 40:34–38). No longer would He meet Israel at the top of Sinai but His presence would be visible in the midst of the camp. Now the people had a tent where they could meet the Creator.
Yet even though the tabernacle was a step forward for God’s people toward one-on-one communion with Him, it still did not go far enough. Sin had not yet been atoned for, and only a select few could enter into the tabernacle and enjoy the Lord’s glorious presence (Num. 1:51–53).
Exodus 35-37…Constructing the tabernacle.
As would be expected, constructing a beautiful structure like the tabernacle out of the finest materials (Exodus 26) could not be done for free. God had to provide the gold, costly threads, silver, brass, animal hides, etc., either through direct intervention or indirectly through moving His people to give what they had for the important work of building His tent. We see in Exodus 35:4–29 that the Lord worked not apart from Israel but through Israel to gather the necessary materials.
Moses made known the need for Israel to donate time, talent, and funds to the work of God, perhaps through telling the elders of the people and then having them share the news with the nation (Exodus 35:4–19). In any case, Moses’ action demonstrates that it is appropriate for the leaders of God’s people to let those under their care know what is needed to support the work of ministry, whether it is funds for buildings and salaries, time surrendered to teach or to care for church grounds, special donations to expand the outreach of para-church ministries and seminaries, and any of the other countless, godly endeavors that help in small ways to advance the kingdom.
Israel responded with lavish generosity, choosing to live on less in order to fund the worship ministry. Note that the people gave what they “could” (vv. 23–24) and were not encouraged to give anything they did not have. This is an important principle in a day when televangelists encourage people to contribute “in faith,” which often means giving more than is prudent or worse, taking out loans that cannot be repaid because of the false promise of a hundredfold return.
Exodus 32-34…The golden calf, the glory of the Lord is revealed to Moses, and the new stone tablets are given.
Three observations about these chapters in Exodus:
1) Exodus 32 – It is possible to be sincere in our worship of God, and be wrong.
Aaron led the people in an act that they thought would please God. However, they worshiped an idol, and not God. This angered the Lord. We know from Ecclesiastes, that there is nothing new under the sun, and this kind of false worship, veiled in “religiosity” is popular today. Worship of the idols of health and wealth, which is simply an obsession over self, has become popular in our day. Using the name of Christ as a way to get something else is deplorable, but the greed we see in the prosperity teachers today shouldn’t surprise us. God clearly has a harsh judgement for them, seen in 2 Peter 2:2-3:
“Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.”
Do not be deceived by false teachers. They are dangerous because their teaching seems right and true. Be careful not to follow teachers who use singular verses as theological pillars. The context of each verse in light of the passage, book, testament, and scripture as a whole needs to be understood to avoid false teaching.
2) Exodus 33 – God’s wrath is against false worship.
False worship, or the love of idols, is deplorable to the Lord. In Exodus 33, He refuses to go with the people to the land flowing with milk and honey. In 33:5 He says, “Tell the Israelites, “You are a stiff-necked people. If I were to go with you even for a moment, I might destroy you.” This is another reason why false teachers are dangerous. You can be so deceived that your faith may not be authentic, particularly if it’s misdirected. God is the object of our worship, and by grace alone through repentance and faith in Christ alone are we saved.
3) Exodus 34 – The riddle of the Old Testament points to Christ.
If Genesis 3:15 was the proto-gospel, Exodus 34:6-7 could be called the riddle of the Old Testament. Moses asks to see God glory, and He reveals Himself, and says:
“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”
How can God do this? How can he forgive sin and still not leave the guilty unpunished? This is the great riddle, and the answer is Christ. Jesus lived a perfect life, fulfilling God’s law without blemish. This is the only way for God to love thousands, and preserve a people for Himself. Apart from Christ, God’s wrath is on those who are guilty. If we’re in Christ, the only way we’re not guilty is because He took on the punishment we deserve.
Exodus 29-31…Sacrifices, ceremonies, burnt offerings, and the sabbath.
Aaron and his sons were to be set apart for the priest’s office, with ceremony and reverence. Our Lord Jesus is the great High Priest, called by God, anointed with the Spirit. He is called Messiah, the Christ. He is clothed with glory and beauty, perfectly holy, and consecrated through His sufferings (Hebrews 2:10). All believers are spiritual priests, called to offer spiritual sacrifices (1 Peter 2:5), washed in the blood of Christ. We also are clothed with the beauty of holiness, and have received the anointing (1 John 2:27). The Spirit of God is called the finger of God, (Luke 11:20; Matthew 12:28,) and by Him the holiness of Christ is applied to our souls. This signifies the admission of a sinner into the spiritual priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
The law was written in tables of stone, to show how lasting it is. This also symbolizes the hardness of our hearts. It is easier to write something on a stone, than to write any thing good on our hardened natural hearts. Only God can write his law in our hearts, and give us desires in line with His. Only God could have perfectly obeyed His own law, and did so in Christ.
Exodus 26-28…Design plans for the tabernacle, the altar of burnt offerings, and the priestly garments.
There is much that could be said about the tabernacle’s design, but perhaps the most important thing to remember is that it was designed to be a copy of the Almighty’s heavenly throne room. The ark of the covenant sat within the Most Holy Place as the Lord’s footstool (Exodus 26:34), and the cherubim woven into the curtains of the tabernacle were depictions of the heavenly host that glorify God day and night in heaven (Exodus 26:1).
Clearly, the details of the tabernacle, altar, and priestly garments were to be a sign that there is a massive separation between our holy God and sinners. Entering His presence is no small matter, and His worship must be carefully guarded so His name is not profaned. The care given to entering God’s presence because of sin shows just how desperately we need a savior to intercede on our behalf. Christ’s sacrifice was pleasing to God, because of His holiness. It is a healthy spiritual practice to remember this huge chasm each day, so we esteem Jesus properly, and cling to His righteousness, seeking to grow in righteousness ourselves.
Exodus 23-25…The last few laws, the covenant confirmed, and offerings for the tabernacle.
Three observations about these chapters:
1) God desires our worship
In Exodus 23, the last of the laws are given, and God expects the people to obey. He desires our worship of His word and His ways. He tells Moses in Exodus 23:13, “Be careful to do everything I have said to you. Do not invoke the names of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips.” This piece of instruction closes the loop on the commands in Exodus. Back in Exodus 20, the first commandment was “you shall have no other gods before me.” Now, as the Lord concludes, He gives them some hints on how to carefully live this out practically. Carefulness, specifically avoiding speech that includes other gods. For us, this means being intentional about what we talk about. Do you ever discuss God’s word with someone else? Or are you constantly obsessed with talking about your troubles, your difficulties, your life? What are most of your conversations about?
2) God provides spiritual help for His people
Exodus 23:20 tell us, “See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared.” God has sent His Son for us and His Spirit to work in us to preserve us until we’re called home or He returns. But not only that, Christ has established His church, which is like a foreign embassy for heaven. Are you struggling to pursue Him joyfully? Commit to a local church, and live out this spiritual battles in this life with other believers. Share your life with them. Pour into them, and let them pour into you. The bible has no category for the long ranger Christian.
3) Salvation requires bloodshed
As we’ve progressed through this year-long study, beginning in Genesis 1 and now through Exodus 25, we have seen clearly that humans don’t initiate with God, but He pursues them. The blood of the covenant in Exodus 24 is a symbol of the blood Christ would shed for us. To pretend that one can come to God without blood atonement simply means that one is not coming to the one true God, to the God of the Bible, for the God of Holy Scripture lives in holy love. Yes, some have invented a convenient God of “love” who has no character of holiness in which that love functions, and to which he holds his image-bearers accountable. But this is a mere idol of the mind, who can be used to do the bidding of his deluded inventors. You will not meet such a “God” in the Scriptures. On the contrary, the true God of infinite love is at the same time a God of infinite holiness. That is why Hebrews 9:22 states: “without shedding of blood is no remission of sins.”
Exodus 20-22…The ten commandments and the judicial laws.
Following the commandments of God is one mark of the true Christian. After all, Christ lives in His people (Gal. 2:20), and since Jesus’ food is to do the will of His Father (John 4:34), He certainly works in us so that we see following God as essential to our sustenance. Yet may we never forget that our obedience is always grounded in grace, for apart from the Lord changing our hearts, we have no desire to please Him (Rom. 8:7–8). Following God’s law, therefore, does not mean obeying it to secure our right standing in His heavenly court, for we can stand before Him by His grace alone (Eph. 2:8–9). Also, following God’s law does not mean obeying it in order to boast of how we are more godly than others. We are always to confess our failures and remember that “there but for the grace of God go I” (Luke 18:9–14).
Until we trust Christ, God’s law can merely restrain the extent of our sinning, encourage us to love sin, and condemn us as sinners who need the Savior (Rom. 7:8; Gal. 3:23–25; 1 Tim. 1:8–11). But once we are converted, God’s law becomes something in which we rejoice. Redeemed hearts no longer experience the Lord’s regulations as burdensome (1 John 5:3), and they see the importance of keeping “the commandments of God” (1 Cor. 7:19). Through obedience, we thank Him for the right standing granted to us by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (Rom. 5:12–6:14).
Exodus 17-19…God brings about water from the rock, Jethro visits Moses, and God instructs Moses at Mount Sinai.
The Rock is one of the titles of Jehovah (Deut. 32:15). In 1 Corinthians 10:1–4, we read that the Rock (of Horeb) was Christ. Christ would stand in our place, the place of the accused, and bear judgment for the sins of His people. The rod is a symbol of judgment—in this case, divine judgment, for Moses was God’s representative. By the rod, Jesus was smitten, and by His stripes we are healed (Isaiah 53:5) from sin. In the same way, by the smiting of the rock at Horeb, water flowed forth, just as the Holy Spirit flows forth from Christ to nourish and equip His church. And so, in the Old Testament, we see this beautiful picture of God’s grace in the salvation of His people, for He stands in our place so that by His wounds we will be healed.
In Exodus 19, Moses gives us an inspired account of what happened at Sinai when the Israelites arrived. God made His presence known on the beginning of the third day, descending as fire and enveloping the mountain in lightning, thunder, cloud and smoke (vv. 16–19). This was truly an awesome sight, and it was meant to remind the people that the God who set them free was no deity to be taken lightly. Other passages of Scripture tell us that angels were also present (Galatians 3:19), their submission to the Lord being a further indication of His glory and power. God’s holiness is also demonstrated in His appearance to the people at Sinai, as the need for the people to be purified is stressed. They are also forbidden to touch the mountain lest they be destroyed (Exodus 19:9–15).
Our need for a Savior is woven throughout these chapters. Each day, we need to be laid low, humbling ourselves before God in repentance, and esteeming Jesus greatly. The more we grow in our understanding of the massive chasm between God and us because of our sin and His holiness, the more we’ll love Christ. If we believe in Him for any other reason, we’ve missed the entire point of Christianity.