VIII. Constructing the Tabernacle (Exodus 35:1–40:38)

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VIII. Constructing the Tabernacle (35:1–40:38)

35:1-3 With instructions in hand for constructing the tabernacle and its furnishings, Moses was ready to relay everything to the Israelites so that the work could begin. But first he reminded them of the Sabbath. Six days of work were to be followed by a Sabbath of complete rest to the Lord (35:2).

35:4-29 Moses called the Israelites to give sacrificially: Let everyone whose heart is willing bring items needed for building the tabernacle, he said (35:5-8). He told them about all of the tabernacle furnishings that God had commanded them to build (35:10-19; see 25:1–28:43). In response to Moses’s exhortation, everyone whose heart was moved and whose spirit prompted him came and brought an offering to the Lord (35:21). This means the people gave willingly, not out of compulsion—which is the kind of giving that God loves (see 2 Cor 9:7).

35:30–36:7 Moses informed the Israelites that God had chosen Bezalel and Oholiab by name to lead all the skilled people to construct the sanctuary (35:30–36:1; see 31:1-6). Then Moses summoned Bezalel, Oholiab, and the others to commission them in their work. The Lord had placed wisdom in their hearts (36:2). Now, as good stewards under God, it was time to use their divine gifts for his service.

Don’t miss that the people gave sacrificially for the work on the tabernacle. In fact, Moses had to order the people to stop giving, because there was more than enough (36:6-7). (How often do churches today have to give an order like that?)

36:8-38 If you compare these verses to 26:1-37, you’ll notice that virtually all of this section is repeat. The point of that redundancy is to show that those who built the tabernacle did not improvise. They followed God’s instructions word for word. Everything that God said to do, they did.

37:1–38:20 These verses indicate that the skilled workers also made everything related to the tabernacle exactly as God commanded. The description of each item repeats the instructions Moses received from God. Each item was constructed according to the divine plan: the ark (37:1-9; cp. 25:10-22), the table (37:10-16; cp. 25:23-30), the lampstand (37:17-24; cp. 25:31-40), the altar of incense (37:25-28; cp. 30:1-5), the altar of burnt offering (38:1-7; cp. 27:1-8), the bronze basin (38:8; 30:17-21), and the courtyard (38:9-20; cp. 27:9-19).

38:21-30 At Moses’s command, those building the tabernacle took an inventory of all the materials that were donated and used (38:21). This was clearly a vast and expensive project. Tons of gold, silver, and bronze were incorporated (38:24-31). But God is worth every penny spent in his service. The Lord took the wealth Israel plundered from wicked Egypt and used it to accomplish his kingdom work (see 11:2; 12:35-36).

39:1-31 Just as they did with the tabernacle and its furnishings (see commentary on 36:8-38; 37:1–38:20), the skilled artisans made the priestly garments exactly in accordance with God’s instructions: the ephod (39:2-7; see 28:6-14), the breastpiece (39:8-21; see 28:15-28), the robe (39:22-26; see 28:31-35), and the other garments (39:27-31; see 28:36-43).

39:32-43 It’s one thing to work hard on an assignment; it’s another thing for your completed work to withstand close scrutiny. Whether a student has written a paper or an employee has finished a project, there comes a time when an assessment of the effort must be made. The paper must be graded by the teacher; the project must be evaluated by the boss. When the Israelites had finished all of the work, Moses began his inspection (39:33). Moses knew that God was holy; therefore, the tabernacle, its furnishings, and the priestly garments had to meet the divine specifications precisely. When he had inspected all the work, Moses was pleased, and he blessed the workers (39:43).

If you are a Christian, you should serve the Lord with excellence in whatever work he has assigned you. The all-knowing God sees all you do, and he knows all of your thoughts and motives. He did not spare his own Son to save you (see Rom 8:32), and he sealed you with his promised Holy Spirit (see Eph 1:13). So why would you offer to him anything but your very best?

40:1-33 Finally, it was the moment of truth. God commanded Moses to set up the tabernacle . . . on the first day of the first month (40:1-2). As God instructed (40:3-15), so Moses did (40:16-33). Everything was put in its proper place and anointed with oil. Then Aaron and his sons were dressed in their garments and anointed for their priestly duties. Moses followed the divine plan without deviation. He did everything just as the Lord had commanded him (40:16, 19, 21, 23, 25, 27, 29, 32). That’s a good habit to adopt.

40:34-35 When everything was in place, the cloud of God’s glory descended and filled the tabernacle (40:34). God had promised to dwell among his people. When they obediently followed his agenda, he came and took up residence among them. In fact, Moses couldn’t even enter the tent because it was bursting with the glory of the Lord (40:35).

The same thing would happen later when Solomon built the temple: “The cloud filled” it, and there was no room for the priests to perform their ministry (see 1 Kgs 8:10-11). Importantly, when the Son of God took on flesh and came into the world, he “dwelt [literally, in Greek, “tabernacled”] among us” and displayed “his glory” (John 1:14). All those who trust in him receive the Holy Spirit to dwell within them. As a believer, “you are God’s temple,” and “the Spirit of God lives in you” (1 Cor 3:16). And if the Spirit of God lives within you, there’s no room for anyone else but him.

40:36-38 When the glory cloud was in the tabernacle, Israel stayed put. When the cloud lifted, Israel went wherever the cloud led them (40:36-37; see Num 9:15-23). Thus, the book of Exodus ends with God’s people following his direction, as he led a nation of former slaves to the promised land.