These chapters of Exodus emphasize God’s jealousy for His people. God’s desire to be recognized among the people of Israel was His motivation for ordaining the Old Testament tabernacle. As Israel traveled toward Canaan the tabernacle would remind them of God’s special dwelling with them.
While God’s presence on Mount Sinai was manifested through lightning and thunder and a dark cloud, His on-going presence with Israel was manifested in the beauty of the tabernacle—beauty that was costly (Exod 25:1-7). The various elements of the tabernacle all had one purpose: to be places/instruments through which God reminded Israel that He was with them. The sanctuary was inaugurated to provide Israel with a physical structure for enjoying God’s special presence among them (Exod 25:8). The Ark of the Covenant housed the tablets of testimony (Exod 25:16). The mercy seat—where God would meet with Israel—rested upon it (Exod 25:22). The table for the bread of the Presence was arranged to remind Israel of the manna they received after the exodus (Exod 25:30; see Exodus 16). The tabernacle, the altar of burnt offering, the courtyard, and the lampstand oil were to help Israel understand God’s holy presence among them (Exodus 26-27).
The bulk of Exodus 25-31 emphasizes the servants who would construct and care for the tabernacle. Just as the physical objects of Israel’s worship were described in great detail, so too the attire and activities of the priests received significant attention. God provided servants, both priests and artisans, who could serve the worship functions and structures of the nation—so that Israel would remember the nearness of the Lord.
In the unfolding plan of redemption, the instructions in Exodus 25-31 are a precursor to the new covenant ministry of Jesus Christ.
(1) In Heb 8:5, the author quoted Exod 25:40 to argue that Israel’s tabernacle was built upon a pattern whose reality is Christ’s priestly ministry in the heavenly tabernacle. In Heb 8:1-6, the author contrasted the earthly ministry of Israel’s priests in the tabernacle and the heavenly ministry of Jesus. Jesus would not be able to serve as a priest in Israel’s earthly tabernacle because He could not offer a sacrifice according to those prescribed in the law. And that law was fixed; Moses copied the pattern of ministry that God showed him on Mount Sinai (Heb 8:5). But Jesus is the High Priest of a better covenant (Heb 8:6). Jesus serves as the High Priest of the new covenant and the heavenly tabernacle that is always open so that His followers can approach God and ask for help in their times of need (Heb 2:17-18; 4:14-16; 6:20; 7:26-8:2; 9:11-25; 10:19-25; 12:21-24; 13:20-21).
(2) In Heb 4:1-13, the author proposed that Sabbath rest, described in Exod 31:12-17, is available only through faithful allegiance to Christ. After describing the intricacies of the tabernacle and the priesthood, Moses commanded Israel to observe the Sabbath. The day of rest may be considered the pinnacle of God’s jealous desire for glory in His people. In their dependence and rest, God was seen as the One who provides for His covenant partners. This command anticipated Israel’s rest from war in the land of Canaan. Initial rest was thought to have been secured when Joshua cleared the Promised Land. Joshua 21 records the allotment of the land to the various tribes of Israel and concludes, “So the LORD gave Israel all the land He had sworn to give their fathers, and they took possession of it and settled there. The LORD gave them rest on every side according to all He had sworn to their fathers” (Josh 21:43-44). But that rest was not realized. The Lord removed Israel and Judah from the land because of their idolatry (2 Kings 17, 24-25). The author of Hebrews equated spiritual rest with faithfulness to Christ. He noted that if Joshua had given Israel rest in the Promised Land, David in Psalm 95 would not have spoken about the need for the people of Israel to seek rest in the Lord. The author exhorted his readers to hold fast to their confession of Christ that they could enjoy the Sabbath of Jesus (Heb 4:8-16).