The next few chapters of Exodus give instructions for various things which are to go in the Tabernacle. One important purpose of the Tabernacle was to demonstrate that God was both approachable and unapproachable. It was a place where God would dwell in a special way, in the midst of his people - but it certainly wasn't the sort of place you could just come wandering into.
So dominating the entrance to the Tabernacle was a large altar - its prominent position was an important reminder that sacrifices were needed before humans could approach God.
By the way, our new church building will not contain an altar. An altar is a place where sacrifices are offered, and the New Testament makes it clear that Jesus offered himself as the one perfect sacrifice, to put an end to all other sacrifices. So now we can approach God with confidence (see Hebrews 10).
A new way of describing the Tabernacle is used for the first time in v.21: tent of meeting. God has been making the point that he can only be approached with great care - but he also wants to reiterate that the whole purpose of having a Tabernacle is that he can be approached, subject to certain conditions. It's a place where God meets his people.
By the way, if you have ever tried to use an olive oil lamp, you will know that it is an awkward and time-consuming business. Dealing with this is the first job given to Aaron and his sons (vv.20-21).
Questions to ponder:
- Do you have a big enough awareness of the privilege it is to be able to meet with God? Is it obvious to God and to other people that you consider it a privilege?
- Do you know someone who is doing a time-consuming, dedication-requiring and sometimes-messy job for God? How could you encourage them in it?