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The Pattern and Layout of the Tabernacle of Moses: Outer Court part 1, "You Prepare Me"

Updated: Dec 5, 2023

8'x5' Model of the Tabernacle - Used in The Tabernacle Man teaching tours, photo Terry Harman, 2008

This fall I’ve been invited to be the guest speaker for a series of teachings on the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths, which is also known as Sukkot. The festival of Sukkot begins on the Hebrew calendar on Tishri 15, the fifth day after Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement. This year, Sukkot begins at sundown on Sunday, October 9th, and ends at nightfall on Sunday, October 16th.

Historically, the Festival of Tabernacles or Booths commemorates the 40-year period where the Hebrews wandered the desert in temporary dwellings similar to the nomadic tents of the Bedouins. It is one of the three biblically mandated festivals (Shalosh Regalim) where the people of God were to make a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem. The biblical reference is Leviticus 23:34.

photo by H. Grobe

Today, in Israel, the people observe Sukkot as an agricultural commemoration of the final harvest of the year. It is considered the Festival of Ingathering of the final harvest. Christians see a futuristic aspect of this holiday as a type and shadow reference to the final ingathering of souls during the last days.

In preparation for the teaching series in Texas, I started digging through old boxes where I store my seed thoughts and hand drawings for future teaching props. I ran across a small piece of paper that caught my attention. My notes focused on the three courts of the Tabernacle or Mishkan that the Hebrews were commanded to build while they “dwelled” in the wilderness. The Hebrew word Mishkan can be translated as “dwelling place.” The biblical reference is Exodus 25:8 (JPS 1917)

“And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.”

"dwell among" - shakan (shaw-kan’) can also mean to “settle down,” or “abide.”

Notice the verse does not state that God will dwell inside the tent but amid the tribes which have camped around the Mishkan or dwelling place. The purpose of the Tabernacle was to create a tangible place for the people of God to worship the one who delivered them from the bonds of slavery. The Tabernacle was set aside or made holy for a single purpose. The tribes camped around the Tabernacle, safeguarding it from invaders in the same fashion as Near Eastern armies camped around their Commander in Chief.

John the disciple, emplores a wordplay in his gospel to highlight his view that Jesus (representing God in the flesh) now "dwells amongst us"(John 1:14 KJV) the people in the same manner as God of the Tabernacle.

And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us

If the Tabernacle is not where God lives, but a house of worship dedicated as a reminder God dwells amid the people camped around the structure. Then, the furniture inside the Tabernacle must be important for our study.

This blog will be limited to the three areas of the Tabernacle. Each area or court is separated by a curtain or veil. Future blogs will examine each holy vessel. I will follow my hand-written outline pictured above. I will employ a wordplay on Jesus' words in John 14:6.

I am the way, the truth, and the life.

The Outer Court: Preparing the Way to Approach a Holy God

The outer court of the Tabernacle is separated from the outside world by a veil. This veil is one of the three that separate the different sections of the Tabernacle. In this court, the first vessel encountered is the altar of burnt sacrifice. Here the worshippers bring five types of offerings, three as a voluntary act of gratitude or consecration; two as a mandatory act of penitence for sin. A brazen altar is a place of repentance, reconciliation, restoration, and rejoicing. A place where God's people encountered his grace and mercy as they learned to walk his way and follow his path.

Each of us must come to a place in our life where we experience reconciliation, restoration, and rejoicing that comes through repentance. It is not politically correct or culturally sensitive to use the words sin or sinner in today's culture. We are told these words are judgmental and hurtful and should not be used because it makes people uncomfortable and feel marginalized. Too often, God's servants have used the Bible to thump people on the head, mistakingly thinking there would be a positive response from the thumping. My Professor Dr. Ken Henrick had a saying, "We are to share God's light not be a heat lamp."Proverbs 14:12 states,

There is a way which seemeth right unto a man,

But the end thereof are the ways of death.

The next holy vessel is the copper basin for washing sometimes referred to as the brazen laver. Each morning the priests would prepare for the day of service by ceremonially washing their hands and their feet. Symbolically, this act of cleansing sanctified the servant by washing off the unclean dirt or soil from outside the Tabernacle. This act reminded the priest to approach a holy God and serve the people one must be cleansed from pollutants of this world and set free from the common distractions and barriers that interfere with our worship of a holy God.

In my own life, music plays this cleansing role and prepares me for worship. The praise and worship become my brazen altar. My weekly work takes me to some dark places and experiences. It is easy to become discouraged and dismayed when serving others. When I walk inside the sanctuary, I intend to forget all of the problems I encountered during the week and put aside the distractions that try to follow me into the house of worship. I'd like to say the opening prayer cleanses my mind of these distractions but often my thoughts wander after the invocation. It is the music of praise and worship that pierces the darkness of my soul setting me free to enter into his gates with thanksgiving in my heart. This is the first level of holiness in our approach to a holy God.

In the Outer Court, we prepare "The Way" to approach God

In part 2, we move beyond the outer court's learning to prepare The Way: as we enter the Holy Place to learn The Truth of God's ways.

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