God’s Gated Community (Exodus 38:1-38)

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Many years ago a business was started for the purpose of supplying office supplies. It was called Office Administration. This business supplied quality stationary, envelopes and pens. Business began to boom. It was a success.

But with the advent of technological developments soon the need for stationary, envelopes and pens began to wane as more and more people were using the latest technology. Before long the warehouses of Office Administration began to be filled as there was less and less a demand for their product.

The board of Office Administration eventually took over the company and began to make changes for supplying office supplies in a new era. There was a buyout and eventually, after the deal was concluded, the son of the original owner was put in charge. Soon the warehouses began to empty as they were replaced with personal computers and office software. Business again began to boom.

The name Office Administration was retained but under this name were added the words “Under new management.” It was still in the same business but Office Administration was now supplying products that were more suited to the new era in which it was operating.

David Murray, a contemporary pastor in Grand Rapids, Michigan, shares the above fictional account to illustrate the relationship between the old covenant and the new covenant. Many people are under the false impression that there is no continuity between the old covenant and the new covenant. Or to put it another way, they (falsely!) believe that the old covenant (or Old Testament) was about works or law, and that the new covenant (or New Testament) is about grace and faith. That is a false dichotomy. The fact is that the old covenant was about grace just as much as the new covenant is. The Old Testament is about the administration of grace, as is the New Testament.

The Old Testament was in the business of graciously redeeming sinners and the New Testament is in the business of God graciously redeeming sinners. The difference, of course—and it is a significant difference, no doubt—is that the new covenant is “Grace Administration under new management.”

Greg Bahnsen was a gifted pastor and theologian, who was well-known for using the terminology “older covenant” and “newer covenant.” I suspect he did so because of the confusion in the wider church with reference to the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament.

Far too many believers make an unhelpful—because fundamentally erroneous—interpretive gulf between the last words of Malachi and the first words of Matthew. They assume that everything left of Matthew is old, faded and passed away, while everything right of Malachi is new and fresh—a complete set of new clothes for the believer. There are several problems with this approach.

First, it must be kept before us that, clearly, God did not reveal the law as a means to salvation. Instead His law was revealed after the establishment of relationship through His redemption of His people. He first delivered His people from Egyptian bondage, through the Red Sea, before He gave the law.

Second, most of Matthew is actually—chronologically, technically and theologically—Old Testament. The same can be said for the majority of Mark, Luke and John, and in some ways for the first chapter of Acts. In other words, if the Old Testament is not relevant than neither is most of the material in the Gospels.

Third, Jesus made it clear that He did not come to abolish the law but to fulfil it (Matthew 5:17-20).

Fourth, Jesus taught us that the Old Testament was all about Him (John 5:39, 46-47; Luke 24:25-27, 44-46a). Thus the new covenant is firmly grounded in the old covenant. Or, in other words, if we will appreciate what is “right of Malachi” then we need to know what is recorded “left of Matthew.”

Fifth, when Paul exhorted Timothy to continue to cling to God’s Word in difficult days, he wrote, “From childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). When Timothy was a child, the only “Holy Scriptures” to which he would have been exposed were the books of the Old Testament. Yet Paul clearly states that these were sufficient (“able”) to point him to faith in Jesus Christ. We can therefore conclude that, to Paul, the Old Testament, like the New Testament, was about salvation by grace through faith.

Finally, consider that Jeremiah’s use of the term “new covenant” (31:31), quoted in the New Testament (Hebrews 8:8, 13; 12:24), does not mean “brand new” but instead speaks of “renewal.” In the New Testament quotes, the word neos would have been used to speak of something brand new, but the author of Hebrews instead employed the word kainos, which speaks of renewal.

The “newer covenant” is therefore the “older covenant” under new management. According to Jeremiah 31 this results in a new conduct and a new character of God’s people. But at the same time, it is not any less lawful.

In summary, we must not lose the plotline of Scripture. The story of the Bible can be described as God’s administration of His grace. And this story is progressively revealed over time. Throughout the biblical narrative God’s covenant of grace is both revealed and advanced. And His covenant of grace became most clear under Jesus’ administration of the new covenant. Yet the fundamental business of God never wavered.

I have belaboured this point because it will help us as we continue our journey through the book of Exodus. (Our study in Exodus will soon come to an end, thereby opening the way for an exposition of Leviticus.) By understanding something of the abiding and fundamental continuity from the older covenant to the newer covenant, we will appreciate how the tabernacle worship of yesteryear is relevant for us today—especially when it comes to our approach to God and our accountability to Him. I trust that we will see some of this as we spend time in Exodus 38.

In the closing chapters of Exodus we have a reiteration of the material that was originally given to Moses when he met with the Lord on Sinai (chapters 25—31). There, God gave to Moses His law and the plans for the tabernacle. As a part of God’s covenantal relationship with Israel, the tabernacle was a visible testimony that God was with His people; He was dwelling with them. In fact, the tabernacle served as a covenantal sign.

Of course, after the golden calf incident, the LORD subsequently shelved the plans to be with them—at least until Moses the mediator interceded on Israel’s behalf. The Lord reestablished His covenant, and testimony to this was the construction of the Tabernacle. This is where we find ourselves in Exodus 38.

The people had sacrificially and generously given from grace-touched hearts and construction (under the leadership of gifted artisans) had begun. The outer tent and the framework had been built, the furniture within the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place had been manufactured, and now it was time to build the courtyard and its two pieces of furniture: the bronze altar and the basin.

We should once again note that, in this record of the construction of the Tabernacle, the Lord had a particular order which He prescribed. God was working from the inside out. I don’t know the precise reason for this but it is possible that he did so as a means to teach the people that there was a proper way to approach Him. Let me explain.

As the Ark of God’s presence was constructed (along with the beautiful curtaining, the veil and the door and other furnishing), it no doubt would have fed their enthusiasm to meet with such a glorious God. God, as it were, was whetting their appetite to know Him. But as they then moved to the construction of these final pieces they would have learned that, as much as they desired to experience the glory of God, there was a prescribed means by which He could be approached. Yes, only by the sacrifice of another, and only by cleansing, could God be approached. There had to be blood and there had to be a bath. The furniture detailed in this chapter represented this. These essential furnishings for acceptable worship were then bounded on each side by courtyard of fine-woven curtaining. In other words, the approach to God took place within a gated community. The tabernacle was God’s “neighbourhood,” and there was restricted access to it. Of course, under the new covenant, there is also restricted access to God; God dwells with His people in a gated community.

In this study we will observe this gated community with a view to knowing how it applies to us who live in the light of the new covenant.

Our Approach to God’s Gated Community

As noted above, this chapter highlights two things with respect to God’s gated community: our approach to it, and our accountability to it. Verses 1-20 highlight our approach to God’s gated community.

It is Restricted by a Boundary

Verses 9-20 describe the making of the curtaining which surrounded the entire tabernacle courtyard. The courtyard enclosed the sanctuary proper, and in the courtyard stood the bronze altar and the basin—with much room to spare.

Then he made the court on the south side; the hangings of the court were of fine woven linen, one hundred cubits long. There were twenty pillars for them, with twenty bronze sockets. The hooks of the pillars and their bands were silver. On the north side the hangings were one hundred cubits long, with twenty pillars and their twenty bronze sockets. The hooks of the pillars and their bands were silver. And on the west side there were hangings of fifty cubits, with ten pillars and their ten sockets. The hooks of the pillars and their bands were silver. For the east side the hangings were fifty cubits. The hangings of one side of the gate were fifteen cubits long, with their three pillars and their three sockets, and the same for the other side of the court gate; on this side and that were hangings of fifteen cubits, with their three pillars and their three sockets. All the hangings of the court all around were of fine woven linen. The sockets for the pillars were bronze, the hooks of the pillars and their bands were silver, and the overlay of their capitals was silver; and all the pillars of the court had bands of silver. The screen for the gate of the court was woven of blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and of fine woven linen. The length was twenty cubits, and the height along its width was five cubits, corresponding to the hangings of the court. And there were four pillars with their four sockets of bronze; their hooks were silver, and the overlay of their capitals and their bands was silver. All the pegs of the tabernacle, and of the court all around, were bronze.

(Exodus 38:9-20)

The courtyard was 46 metres long, 23 metres wide and 2.3 metres high. The curtains of the courtyard were of fine woven linen, which implies that they were white. In length they measured a total of 129 metres. The screen door of blue, scarlet, purple and fine woven linen on the east side was about nine metres long leaving 14 metres of curtaining for the east side. The curtaining was held in place by 60 wooden poles covered in bronze, set in bronze sockets and capped with silver fittings. Guy ropes and tent pegs were used to hold it in place.

Of course, the immediate purpose of the courtyard curtaining was to mark off the place where God’s business of dwelling with His people was taking place. But this marking off also served the purpose of setting a boundary. It was a visible reminder that to approach God was no ordinary affair. Philip Ryken helpfully observes that “the fence separated the camp where the Israelites lived from the tabernacle where God lived. It formed a boundary between the Creator and his creatures.”1

The curtaining of the courtyard was a means to help those who would approach God’s meeting place to do so soberly and in the fear of God, for what took place over the wall was of immense importance. The boundary would have said, “Approach the presence of God thoughtfully.”

We could say that this curtaining signified that to approach God required some rules. It was not “come as you will,” even though it was “come as you are.” God is holy and we cannot therefore approach Him on our terms (see Revelation 22:14-15); but He does invite us to come as we are, with open hands, ready to receive forgiveness through the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

No doubt, the curtains created a certain amount of curiosity. People may have wondered what was happening on the other side of the curtains and may have been intrigued by the pillar of cloud during day and the pillar of fire at night. (These visible evidences of God’s presence would have been visible to all who would look up above the courtyard.) Perhaps this vision would prompt a hunger in their hearts to know the amazing God who had chosen to dwell with man; the One who had made the means to live in harmony with sinners while at the same time not being tainted Himself with sin. Does this ring any bells?

As someone sought to enter the courtyard to experience something of what it was to meet with God he would find the height of the curtaining and the gapless boundary to be a barrier—at least until he arrived at the east side and saw the multicoloured door or screen in the middle of the curtaining. This was the only entry point into the courtyard and thus to the tabernacle. If a person desired to approach God there was but a solitary point of access. And while most of the boundary was uninviting, this screen was an open invitation to all who would enter—on God’s terms.

God’s gated community does have an entry point but you need a reservation. There is a suburb near to where our church is located called the Meyersdal Eco Estate. At least two of our church families live in that area. It is a gated community, with one point of entry. Visitors to the suburb must approach the gate and give the guards their identity number, and allow the guards to scan their fingerprint, before they are permitted access. You must also inform the guard of the stand number, and he will then call ahead to the home you intend to visit to ensure that the resident is expecting a visit. I recently visited one of our families in the Eco Estate, and as I was once again going through the procedure of gaining entrance I half wondered to myself why they don’t require a blood test to enter!

Entrance to God’s gated community is exclusive to those who have an appointment. That appointment was made by the Father from the foundation of the world. And entrance can only be gained by a blood test: We must come by the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.

When you study the various colours that were used in the screen door you note the similarity to the screen before the Holy Place, the veil before the Most Holy Place, as well as the ceiling within the tent itself. There is a purposeful reason for this colourful connection: The colours speak of where God dwells and the fact that there is only one way to Him—through the heavenly door.

One could not hope to jump the fence or to cut a hole in the cloth or to dig under it. Whoever sought to do so would most certainly be detected and run out by the priests (all of whom, you will remember, carried knives). No, there was only one means by which to enter and that was by the front door. “If people wanted to meet with God, they had to enter the way he invited them to enter.”2

Let me pause to encourage you that the way to God today is also restricted and yet, as in the days of tabernacle, there is a door that invites all who will enter. Yes, whosoever will may come! I love the testimony of Richard Baxter who said, “I thank God for that word ‘whosoever.’ If God had said there was mercy for Richard Baxter, I am so vile a sinner, that I would have thought he meant some other Richard Baxter; but, when He says whosoever, I know that includes me, the worst of all Richard Baxters.”

We should note that the boundary was made of cloth, which instructs us that it was temporary; it would eventually fade away. No one that I have read has said this better than Matthew Henry:

The enclosure being of curtains only, intimated that the confinement of the church to one particular nation was not to be perpetual. The dispensation itself was a tabernacle dispensation, movable and mutable; and in due time to be taken down and folded up, when the place of the tent should be enlarged, and its cords lengthened, to make room for the gentile world; as is foretold (Isa. 54:2-3).3

In other words, the new covenant has superseded the older covenant in its scope. God now dwells with people of all nations! God’s gated community is much bigger and broader under the new covenant. Let’s work to see it bigger and broader!

Its Requirement is Blood, vv. 1-7

We see in vv. 1-7 that entrance to God’s gated community could only be achieved by blood. The older covenant teaches us, therefore, that only by blood can we enter God’s presence. It is only by grace that we stand.

As you entered through the doorway you would immediately be confronted with a rather large altar. It could not be avoided. And you could not come empty-handed. God required (and this was to be enforced by the priests—see the priests failure with this in Malachi 1—2) that all who entered the door did so clutching a sacrifice whose blood was to be shed on that person’s account. The only way for atonement was the shedding of the blood of a substitutionary sacrifice. In the words of O. Palmer Robertson, “Blood is of significance in Scripture because it represents life, not because it is crude or bloody. The life is in the blood (Lev. 17:11) and so the shedding of blood represents a judgment on life.”4

This altar was a hollow wooden box measuring 1.4 metres high, 2.3 metres long and 2.3 metres wide. It was made of acacia wood and covered in bronze (hermetically sealing it against fire and heat). It had a grating through which ashes would fall and the grating on the sides allowed for airflow to the coals. At the risk of sounding irreverent, this bronze-covered acacia altar was basically a braai.

In Leviticus 1:1—7:38 we read of God’s required sacrifices for acceptable tabernacle worship, and it was on this altar that these sacrifices had to be offered. It is quite clear from this picture that, in order to approach God and to enjoy His presence, blood was required. As we will learn in the book of Leviticus, sacrifices were prescribed by God as a means through which God would forgive His people. It was through the sacrifices on this altar that the people would be instructed that “without the shedding of blood there is no remission [forgiveness] of sins” (Hebrews 9:22). In other words, since sin calls for the death penalty, a life must be offered up completely to God. But by God’s grace He allowed for a substitute; and He did so because before the foundation of the world He appointed the Substitute (Revelation 13:8).

As we learn elsewhere in Scripture, the priests were daily to offer two one-year-old male lambs (one in the morning and one in the evening) and only those that were without blemish. Additionally, there were the daily offerings brought by the people, along with special designated offerings for the feast days (see Numbers 28—29), which included the offering of bulls and goats. The courtyard around the altar would at times have look very much like an abattoir and the stench would have been almost unbearable. The people would have had a very sensory worship experience and would have come to appreciate how foul sin is. They would have left their “church services” convinced that sin stinks.

As I have said before, the Old Testament priests were in some ways professional butchers. When you read the instructions given to them in the book of Leviticus, it is apparent that they needed to know how to cut the meat precisely as God prescribed.

If you were to ask a modern day churchgoer, “What would you say is a key instrument in order to aid corporate worship?” you would no doubt receive a variety of responses: an organ, or a piano, or a guitar. Some may say a pulpit. But if you were to ask an Old Testament Jew what instrument was essential their answer mighty simply be a knife. Without a knife there could be no worship, for apart from slitting of the throat of animals there could be no approach to God, no atonement and therefore no reconciliation.

Recently a man posed the question to me as to whether I believe that another temple will be built in Jerusalem to replace the one destroyed in 70 AD. I said that there is no biblical teaching that points to this but that does not preclude the possibility that the Jews (and, indeed, very misguided Christians) will one day do so. But even if one is built I can’t believe that Israel will once again enact the knife in worship. For one thing, most Jews today are secular and so to offer up animal sacrifices will be out of character. In a world that is squeamish and idolatrous about animals I have no reason to believe that animal sacrifices would return on such a scale as required under the old covenant.

Of course, there is no reason for this! As the writer to the Hebrews tells us, “it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4).

There is no doubt that one reason for the centrality of the altar and the requirement of blood-shedding sacrifices was for the purpose of creating a longing for a day when such sacrifices would come to an end. They were designed by God to help believing sinners to long for the day when the bleating of slain sheep would be replaced—and fulfilled—in the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world.

It Results in a Bath

A second piece of courtyard furniture is mentioned in v. 8: “He made the laver of bronze and its base of bronze, from the bronze mirrors of the serving women who assembled at the door of the tabernacle of meeting.”

Once the daily lambs were slain at the altar, the priest would then make his way toward the sanctuary to carry on his work of intercession. But before entering through the screen he first had to wash at the bronze basin. Verse 8 contains an interesting note that it was made “from the bronze mirrors of the serving women who assembled at the door of the tabernacle of meeting.” Just who were these women and what did they do? We don’t know. The only other reference to them is found in 1 Samuel 2:22 where they are not portrayed in a very noble light.

By the use of the word “serving” it is clear that they were involved in some ministry with reference to the tabernacle. I would venture to guess that they served as cleaners or attendants to the priests when it came to some of their duties, such as washing at the basin.

Though the Scriptures do not tell us much about these women there may be some insight from passages such as 1 Timothy 5:3-16. There we read of a designated group of women (widows aged 60 or above) who were remunerated for their services to the local church. These women no doubt ministered to the women, and perhaps to the sick, and the local church in return took care of them. It is quite clear also that, without the material support of the church, these widows would be destitute.

This passage almost assumes that Paul’s readers will understand this setup and this is probably because the old covenant church did a similar thing. Perhaps this practice was formalised here in Exodus 38. Since the older covenant clearly mandated God’s people to care for the widows it would seem that the newer covenant church saw these widows as in need of help and in return they served in the church.

Again, Acts 9:36-43 speaks of a woman named Tabitha or Dorcas (meaning Doe) who was “full of good works and charitable deeds which she did.” When she died “all the widows” stood by “weeping” as they showed to Peter “the tunics and garments which Dorcas had made”—presumably for them. After she was raised from the dead she was “presented . . . alive” to “all the saints and widows.” Perhaps Dorcas was a member of this special group who served the church, the new covenant tabernacle, or the temple, of God.

In Romans 16:1 Paul commends “Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea.” Once again, it is quite possible that she was of this set aside group of widows who serve the local church.

Perhaps the strongest proof of this is a widow by the name of Anna. Luke 2:36-38 describes her as a prophetess who was widowed after only seven years of marriage, and who was at the time of writing 84 years of age. The text tells us that she “did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.” It would appear that, to use David’s words, she counted a day in God’s courts as better than a thousand. In fact she would no doubt say, “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness” (Psalm 84:10).

In summary, these were probably poor women (widows) who served as cleaners or doorkeepers at the house of the Lord. But there is something very significant mentioned here, the basin was made “from the mirrors of the serving women.”

Here we have a wonderful example of sacrificial giving. These poor women, who most likely acquired these mirrors from the Egyptian women (Egypt was famed for their polished bronze used as mirrors), gave to the Lord a very costly gift. This should perhaps remind us of Mary, who sacrificed her very costly perfume at the feet of Jesus. She gave her best. Perhaps she learned it from these doorkeepers of the house of the Lord.

Let us learn from this that our Saviour, the one who tabernacled among us and who now dwells with us forever, is worthy of the best that we have to offer. Let us learn from this that a sanctified life offered up to God is the Christian’s privilege. Humble yourself and be washed!

The laver was for washing, and particularly it was God’s prescribed means of washing the priests after their encounter with sacrificial blood. Before the priests could enter the presence of God in the sanctuary they were required to wash and to be clean. The priests were required to be clean because they were involved in holy service before God. If you want to use theological language then we could say that the altar pictured justification (the guilt of sin removed) while the basin pictured sanctification (the pollution of sin removed).

As believers, we need both, and by God’s grace He has given to us both through the gospel. We are washed in the blood of the Lamb and are also cleansed by the washing of regeneration (Titus 3:5; Ephesians 5:25-27). Of course baptism pictures this (1 Peter 3:21).

This is helpful, for as we seek more intimate communion with the Lord, the believer senses the stench of sin’s pollution. But these dual aspects of God’s salvation help us. “As we struggle with sin—sometimes almost to the point of despair—the gospel calls us to believe in the power of God’s sanctifying grace to cleanse us from sin.”5 You must be both confronted by blood and cleansed with a bath.

It is Realised through Belief

Imagine that you are living under the older covenant and that you come to the tabernacle with your sacrificial lamb. As you enter through the screen you are met by a priest who slaughters the lamb. You watch him as he washes the blood from his hands and arms before he disappears behind the sanctuary door. What would you be thinking? What would you be seeing? What would you be believing?

Sadly, many Jews throughout their old covenant history thought that by bringing an offering they were right with God because of a good deed. Most only saw the altar and the blood and the priest. And the consequence was that they believed that their external obedience was the basis of their forgiveness. In the terminology with reference to Exodus 34, their minds were blinded because a veil was on their heart (2 Corinthians 3:14-15). They completely missed the point of the tabernacle. They could not (or would not) look beyond the shadow of the tabernacle to its fulfilment in Christ. They failed to see that the tabernacle was another manifestation of God’s gracious administration. They failed to see God’s covenant of grace as revealed and advanced through the means of the tabernacle. In other words, they failed to believe on the Christ whom the tabernacle foreshadowed. But for those who were blessed with eyes to see, “the Israelites were saved by believing in the Saviour to come, as he was given to them in the sacrifices they offered at the tabernacle.”6

We perhaps may feel inclined to excuse their unbelief based on the amount of light we may conclude that they had (and this would be a mistake). But what possible excuse can you—who live in the clear light of the new covenant—have when it comes to not believing the gospel?

We can look back with hindsight over nearly 2,000 years of history since the Lord Jesus Christ was crucified, rose and ascended to the right hand of the Father in glory.

Some of you have sit in Bible-preaching churches week after week, month after month, even year after year, and yet continue to refuse to enter the Door (John 10:7, 9), to come to the Altar (Hebrews 13:10) and to was yourself in the everlasting fountain who washes all repentant sinners (John 4:10-13; 7:38). If God held the older covenant people accountable for their unbelief (see Hebrews 3—4) how much more accountable will He hold you who live in the light of the new covenant? In the words of Scripture,

Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. And again, “The LORD will judge His people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

(Hebrews 10:29-31)

The issue that confronts you and me today is whether or not we will believe on the one who tabernacled among us. Will you repent and believe the gospel? Will you take God at His Word and believe His gospel concerning His Son? Please know that the issue is not the strength of your faith but rather the strength of the one in whom you believe. Your sins are great, but the Saviour is greater!

God has prescribed the way by which we can approach Him and there is no other way than through the door which is His Son. Unbeliever, believe on Him; trust His atoning work on the cross and know what it means to be justified. You will then come to be so sanctified as to be eventually glorified one day.

Believer, the gospel invitation comes to you again. We never outgrow the gospel. We must daily look to Jesus Christ for cleansing. And as we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and to cleans us from all unrighteousness because the blood of God’s Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:8-9).

Praise be to the Lord Jesus Christ, the appointed means to approach God. God’s gracious administration is now under new management. Come and do business with Christ within God’s gated community.

Our Accountability for God’s Gated Community

The second major lesson for us in this text is our accountability for God’s gated community (vv. 21-31). In the closing verses of this chapter there seems to be a jarring change of subject. After the description of the construction of the tabernacle the subject matter moves to mundane issues of accounting.

In these verses we have the record of the total amount which was contributed for the construction of the tabernacle. It is hard to say for sure, due to uncertainty about ancient measurements, but it is conservatively estimated that the tabernacle contained one ton of gold, three tons of silver and two tons of bronze.

The accountant mention in v. 1 is Ithamar, a son of Aaron the priest. He was the one entrusted with the responsibility for the accounting of the offering, and Bezalel and Aholiab (vv. 23-24) were entrusted with the right use of it; that is, to make all that the Lord had commanded Moses (v. 22).

Why is this here, and what are we to learn from it? We will note two issues with reference to God’s gated community.

We are Accountable for its Witness

We learn, first of all, that we are accountable for the witness of God’s gated community (vv. 21-23).

In verse 21 the tabernacle is referred to as “the tabernacle of the testimony” or “witness.” This term is used elsewhere only in Numbers 1:50, 53 and 10:11. This term of identification informs us that the tabernacle was God’s testimony or witness. But to what, or of what, did it witness? John Currid writes, “The term ‘testimony’ refers to the covenant relationship between God and Israel—much as it does in the term ‘the ark of the testimony.’ It reflects the focus, or core, of the tabernacles purpose and symbolism: it is where God and Israel meet.”7 Therefore the tabernacle was God’s covenantal witness that He was the God of all those who were in covenant relationship with Him. In other words, all those who approached Him in accordance with His prescribed instructions—beginning with the appointed door, followed by the shedding of blood at the altar, and then sealed with the washing at the laver—were deemed to be in covenant relationship with God as signified by the presence of the Shekinah glory.

Ligon Duncan helpfully writes with reference to this, “The tabernacle itself testified, pointed to, displayed the covenant relationship between God and Israel. It was a visible reminder of the covenant relationship and the presence of God with His people. It was the instrument whereby His people would experience His favorable presence in the covenant relationship, so it’s called the tabernacle of the tent of testimony.”8

God’s gated community was a witness to His faithfulness to keep His covenant. And His new covenant gated community serves the same purpose.

Most gated communities with which we are familiar have a covenant to which all must subscribe and adhere to. Faithfulness to the covenant is expected. When it comes to God’s gated community of the local church, He is faithful to keep covenant and He expects and empowers us to be covenantally faithful as well.

We who live under the more fully revealed new covenant are a part of something by which God gives testimony or witness that we belong to Him, namely the church. Just as the older covenant building testified to God’s covenant relationship with His people so the local building made up of those who are members of the Body of Christ testifies to God’s covenant relational faithfulness.

As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 3:9, believers corporately (covenantally) united in Christ are “God’s building.” The local church is, to use the words of Duncan, “the instrument whereby His people . . . experience His favorable presence in the covenant relationship.”9

The Lord Jesus said that He would build His church and that the gates of hell would not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). In other words, Jesus promised that His church would give testimony throughout the ages that He—the all-powerful Lord—is present with His people. The presence of the church for 2,000 years is testimony to God’s faithfulness before the universe that He is with His people! What a privilege to serve her!

Further, this record of the accounting of all that went into the tabernacle helps us to appreciate that God holds the new covenant believer accountable for how we build His local church (see 1 Corinthians 3:5-17). Every believer is accountable for the construction of the local church. Each one of us is to serve the Lord by serving His sanctuary. And we saw a wonderful example of that with the women who served at the door of the tabernacle of meeting.

For one thing, we had better build in accordance with God’s instructions. We had better be faithful to proclaim the only prescribed way by which God can be approached by sinful man. If the local church ever loses its way in these matters then soon she will have a mere name by which she lives and, though she is in fact dead (cf. Revelation 3:1).

We must keep the curtains up and the door open and point all who will enter to the altar and to the basin.

But there is another area in which we must be faithful stewards of God’s House. We will look at this under the final heading.

We are Accountable for its Wealth, vv. 24-31

In the closing verses (vv. 24-31), we learn that we are accountable for the wealth of God’s gated community.

After identifying the significance of the tabernacle (the tabernacle of witness) the Lord expected an inventory of all the wealth that went into its construction. God appointed Ithamar as the chief accountant to whom Bezalel and Aholiab were accountable for all the materials that they were given for the building of the tabernacle. In the words of Calvin, “Moses now shows that this entire sum was collected and paid without fraud, and so applied as that none should be lost.”10

This highlights an important principle of stewardship: “What we’re seeing here is an example of faithful stewardship. The people of God have given; they’ve been faithful in their stewardship, but now, the people who had been entrusted with the task of building the tabernacle now report back to them and say, ‘Now, here’s how we utilized what you gave. We were faithful with your faithful stewardship.’”9

As Currid notes, “The builders of the tabernacle gave account of every shekel, and it was so that they could not be accused of using the offerings to God’s work for their own self-interest and gain.”12

Perhaps more harm has been done to the witness of the church, and thus to the desecration of the name of Christ, by the mishandling of church funds than any other wrong. It is for this very reason that BBC is very careful about the stewardship of church funds.

Since the local church is a means of God’s witness before a watching world, we desire to use all of His assets for His glory. We must be vigilant to guard against using them to feed our greed (see Acts 20:33-35; 1 Timothy 3:3; 1 Peter 5:2). Again, Currid writes, “The people in charge of God’s work here on earth must be above reproach in the area of finance—this is a great witness to the world and keeps them from condemning us of hypocrisy.”12

The Lord has blessed BBC in so many ways in recent years. The church has, of course, faced difficulties, and no doubt it will continue to do so. But God’s covenantal faithfulness to us has continued to be our experience. We give witness today to His faithfulness.

The recent purchase of the adjoining property is one such testimony to this. By His grace we have been good stewards and through this we able to testify to His abundant grace.

May the Lord continue to bless us with faithful stewardship in order that the testimony of His covenantal grace will continue to be made known until the knowledge of His glory covers the earth as the waters cover the sea (see Habakkuk 2:14; Isaiah 11:9); that is, until day in which the entire universe will be God’s gated community.

Show 13 footnotes

  1. Philip Graham Ryken, Exodus: Saved for God’s Glory (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2005), 1124.
  2. Ryken, Exodus, 1125.
  3. Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, 3 vols. (Nashville: Royal Publishers, 1979), 1:224.
  4. O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1980), 11.
  5. Ryken, Exodus, 1130.
  6. Ryken, Exodus, 1127.
  7. John D. Currid, Study Commentary on Exodus, 2 vols. (Darlington: Evangelical Press, 2001), 2:354.
  8. J. Ligon Duncan, “Priestly Garments,” http://goo.gl/DDyyN.
  9. Duncan, “Priestly Garments,” http://goo.gl/DDyyN.
  10. John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, 22 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005), 3.3:310.
  11. Duncan, “Priestly Garments,” http://goo.gl/DDyyN.
  12. Currid, Study Commentary on Exodus, 2:355.
  13. Currid, Study Commentary on Exodus, 2:355.