Reflecing on the pattern of the Tabernacle this afternoon after listening to a podcast about its history and its significance in the Biblical narrative.
As modern readers of scripture we often miss the significance of the mountain imagery in scripture, mostly I think because we fail to notice how central the moutain is to Genesis 1 and 2. The garden is located on a mountaintop with the four rivers bringing healing to all the nations flowing downwards. This is depicted in the ancient understanding as God’s dwelling place (also consider in the flood narrative a new creation narrative being depicted as the boat, a recreation of the garden and the trees with the paris or twos being symbolic and with the resting on a mountaintop likewise being symbolic). It is where we get the motif of the Divine Council. This is why all through scripture we get this ascending and decending imagery.
Significant to the story of the tabernacle is the story of Moses who “ascends” to the top of the mountain to where, in the ancient context, it was understood the divine council sits. This same divine council was understood to be present in the Transfiguration story, which is what Peter notes when he suggests setting up tents, which in the ancient view is part of the patterned residing of the divine council.
Moses decends the mountain with, as the book of Hebrews suggests, the patterned vision of the divine council/throne room (a vision of the garden, or creation as the union between God, humanity and creation) as that which to then establish a society of God’s people. From this we get the creation of the tabernacle, the establishing of laws, and the building of a community. What I find fascinating about thinking of this as “patterened” imagery is that this frees us to see the establishing of law and society as an imperfect expression of the created order. We often see the law as God’s direct command, but a more appropriate way to see this is as the peoples attempt to grasp God’s divine image through the establishing of law and society in ways that that are merely a shadow, sometimes wrong, sometimes kind of right, but always with the covenant promise challenging and shaping our attempts to exprsesed this patterned image in the midst of oppression, darkness, and exile. As the tabernacle and later temple is modelled, it is not the outercourt where the sacrifices are made that define God’s abode, but the inner court which is where we get the image of renewal..
The tabernacle was unique in the ancient world in that it was an itenerant depiction of Gods dwelling place. It moved and breathed with the people and their changing experience. The call to build a stationary Temple then, itself in the pattern of the divine council, arrives with a very real tension, understanding that to imagine God’s dwelling place as stationary and contained threatens to neglect God’s vision for humanity as a people meant to fill the earth. It’s for this reason that John speaks of God tabernacling among us in the form of Jesus, taking up residence in the whole of the cosmos and in the hearts of the people “in Christ”. As Jesus is crucified on a “mountain top” the temple is being torn down and raised again as encompassing the full and true marriage of heaven and earth, the declarative statment of God With Us. Where God raises up the people then it is for the sake of the whole world, not to take them out of the world. The whole of creation is the tabernacle.