I heard a good talk today on the tabernacle of the Old Testament, and it got me thinking about a number of things.
1. The tabernacle promised the presence of God at the same time as it preached distance. It was the place to meet the LORD at the same time as the holiness of the place was a constant 'danger' e.g. Moses could not enter in Exod 40. This is, actually, a bit paradoxical because the tabernacle is both an invitation and a rebuttal, an open door to God and a closed door. Grace welcomes us in, but holiness tells us to stay away. We might say that the tabernacle is designed to shield God, to protect the people from His holiness. This is so different to 'normal' temples or religious artefacts, which always promise mediation. The tabernacle, though, is a dangerous place to come even as it is also a gracious place. Of course, this reveals the superificiality our thinking about the LORD, and forces us to think more deeply about who He is. Most of all, it points us to Jesus and the profound reconciliation of these things at the cross.
2. Though it had a lot of ornamentation, the tabernacle was not really all that impressive. Compared to the great structures of Egypt, it was severely lacking. It speaks of the God who 'humbles' Himself to dwell not only among a people, but among a refugee people. God makes himself into a 'refugee God' for the sake of His people. God dwells in an 'asylum centre', and not in a 'cathedral'.
3. Further, the very 'weakness' of the tabernacle preaches its own inadequacy. It can only be properly understood as part of a developing narrative of how we are to approach God. It points beyond itself to Christ and the heavenly tabernacle that Hebrews speaks of.
4. Lastly, we cannot worship God any way we like. The very details of the construction of the tabernacle reveal that we cannot just do whatever we like in coming to the LORD. God does not say, "build a tent, but you pick the colour." He is a God of detail and precision and we must come to Him as He designs - for there is no other way to come to Him. God is in the details, and not just the drama.