Not for the first time, I am wondering if I have bitten off more than I can chew with this blog series: here we face a chapter entirely about the construction of the tabernacle, and I can see that it is followed by several more chapters in a similar vein. What does all this have to say to us? In what sense is all this useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17)?
The materials used to construct the tabernacle tell a story. The most special cloth (linen - made from plant fibres) is used for the parts which are closest to the place where God dwells. As you move outwards, cloth made from the hairs of live animals are used. Finally, there is a covering made from dead animal skins. Similarly, there is a movement outwards from gold to silver to bronze. The point is that the place in the middle is very special, and even that is divided by a thick curtain to make a very, very special place. That is where the presence of God dwells - and nobody else can go there.
As people who live under the New Covenant, we have a different perspective on this. Our minds should go to the moment when Jesus (the one true priest, who could fully represent humans to God and God to humans) died on the cross. At that instant the thick curtain in the Jerusalem Temple was torn in two from top to bottom (Mark 15:38). It was as if God were saying 'now everyone can come in'.
There are commands in the Old Testament we find hard to understand. Why, for example, is there a prohibition on wearing clothing made from linen and wool woven together (Deuteronomy 22:11)? Is this just common sense because wool shrinks more easily? Or is it a reminder to think about the tabernacle - and to remember that linen and wool have different places assigned to them - which in turn point to God's holiness?
To be honest, I don't know! But I think we can say that God is quite interested in symbolism and imagery - and perhaps in a church like ours (where buildings are primarily designed and decorated with practical considerations in mind) we should be careful to remember that.