Grasping God's Purpose: "Reunion of the Royal Pains" – Exodus 26:1-14

If you have been on the planet long enough, you know what a humiliation a class reunion can be. What an event! You travel to some distant place and meet with people that intersected with your life for a time long gone by. Admittedly, you journeyed together for a time, but since those days you may not have been “in” each other’s daily lives. That produces some awkwardness to the whole thing. Perhaps you were a pimply and skinny little kid when they last saw you. Maybe you were several dress sizes below your current greatest possible hope when you donned the cap and gown in their presence. All in all, reunions are intimidating… especially if it has been a long time since you saw each other.

 I mention this, because in a strange way, our study of the Tabernacle, as we have been passing through the Exodus account, brings us to the place of a reunion. In the beginning, God walked with man in the Garden – but man’s mutiny made a continuation of that daily intimacy impossible without a sacrificial system. The idea of the creation of a special place of meeting was God’s answer to man’s need for a continued reunion. Worship and intimacy were woven together in God’s establishment of the moveable meeting place – the mishkan, or Tabernacle.

How important was this place and what it represents in worship and meeting to God Who revealed it to us through Moses? Consider what Pastor Jerry Shirley pointed out in his study on this passage years ago. He made the observation that when God created he Heavens with the myriad of stars, He recalled that stunning creation in all of FIVE WORDS: “He made the stars also…” (Gen. 1:26). That was it! It is as though God was not terribly impressed by the accomplishment…

Solar masses, hot coronas, stellar winds, fusion reactions, luminosity, red giants, white dwarfs, black dwarfs, supernovas, pulsars and neutron stars… all one quintillion of them got a five word mention in the Creation account.

Why do I mention this? Because God devoted fifty chapters to the Tabernacle! God seemed far more interested in Moses’ recording the reunion hall designed to gather both God and man than the placing of the starry heavens above us. Alas, it seems God was far more interested in intimacy with man than the beauty and majesty of the physical universe.

We were in Exodus 25, last time together – on a search of the pattern of worship. We saw that God offered a building program to model and even richer idea – how to worship Him.

Key Principle: God left us a graphic picture of the pattern of worship in the Tabernacle, with each part showing something about both Him and us – leading us into His arms. When we meet Him, we contact His splendor and majesty, and that can be a painful experience. It reminds us that we have been chosen to accomplish His purposes.

You may have noticed that in the reading through Exodus, God unfolded the story in a way that is different than many of us would have. The record of the worship center did not begin with the outer court and move us into the place of the Holy of Holies – the way you would have approached it after it was built. Rather, in God’s record, the description began on the inside of the central and most holy meeting place, at the Ark of the Covenant. It is as though God’s record began with the central issue: this is a meeting place that God wanted to manifest His character in some specific ways. We saw in our last lesson four of the furnishings in the order they were presented in Exodus 25. Before we move ahead, let’s review them – because we are in the midst of establishing a pattern.

First, we focused on the Ark (Aw-rone), where we saw that true worship has the Word of God at its heart. (Exodus 25: 10-16)

The transportable container that contained the Word of the Living God was at the very center of the worship was to be God’s own Word. The center was not an emotional expression of powerful music, smoke machines, subtle lighting or ecstatic utterances. In fact, the box for the Word reminded us of three important details, that can in the form of commands: Carefully make a vessel for the Word, Keep it with you, Make it for God’s self revealed testimony.

Second, we followed the ark instructions to the fashioned lid, called the “Mercy Seat” (Kapporeth), where we noted that true worship is meeting God at the only place we can today – at the place covered in His mercy (Exodus 25: 17-22).

Just as angels prepare to stand in His Holy presence, I can do no less. He is the author or my life and my universe. Time with Him and a life walked together is life on the highest plane. Again, the Word revealed three important details: The place of mercy is the Interface with God, two angels stood watch and observed God’s mercy, and the place was where God summoned people – God drew them to His forgiveness.

Third, we stopped to note the table of the “Bread of His Presence” (Lechem Panim), where we were reminded that true worship takes constant renewed effort (Exodus 25:23-30).

God wanted a table of bread, made by human hands, so that people would recall that HE IS PRESENT WITH THEM.  Another three details were offered: Protect the bread from slipping with a rim – for the symbol represents something very precious; Keep the symbol of bread always renewed, and it will take work to make, maintain and protect.

Finally, we gazed at the fashioned Lampstand (Menorah), and were reminded that true worship dispels lies and highlights truth (Exodus 25:31-40)

The seven branches were hammered and fashioned out of gold with three stated details: The seven showed completion, the almond blossom (shaqad) showed God’s watch care (shoqed), and the light emphasized the truth.

By the end of our study then, we determined that true worship is HONEST. True worship takes constant renewal. True worship is centered in God’s Word… and true worship is dependent upon God’s mercy expressed in the blood that covered us when Jesus gave of Himself. Every other kind of “worship” is just singing, talking…  just a show… and God isn’t interested in the productions we can put on in His name.

Chapter 26 skips other furnishings and moves rather to “The Four Coverings Over the Holy Place”

First, The ceiling linen is described (26:1-6) were placed directly over the Framework and comprised the actual roof or ceiling of the Sanctuary (26:1-6). They were in ten panels (five and five connected by fashioned golden loops), they were colored in red, blue and purple on white panels, the had images of cherubim on them.

Exodus 26:1 Moreover you shall make the tabernacle with ten curtains of fine twisted linen and blue and purple and scarlet material; you shall make them with cherubim, the work of a skillful workman . 2 The length of each curtain shall be twenty-eight cubits , and the width of each curtain four cubits; all the curtains shall have the same measurements. 3 Five curtains shall be joined to one another , and the other five curtains shall be joined to one another. 4 You shall make loops of blue on the edge of the outermost curtain in the first set , and likewise you shall make them on the edge of the curtain that is outermost in the second set . 5 You shall make fifty loops in the one curtain , and you shall make fifty loops on the edge of the curtain that is in the second set ; the loops shall be opposite each other . 6 You shall make fifty clasps of gold , and join the curtains to one another with the clasps so that the tabernacle will be a unit .

When you observe the detail concerning the linen ceiling, three items stick out: the number, color and characters. There is a danger here, and we need to acknowledge it. Bible students cannot assume that everything has a symbolic meaning, and in fact, doing so can lead to all kinds of error. We need to be careful to stay inside the parameters of what God indicates in the revealed Word. Yet, there are some generalizations that we can make:

Of the number: there are those who look for how TEN is used everywhere in the Bible and find things like the CORE COMMANDS of the CIVIL CODE. That is interesting, but I suspect the matter was as simple as dividing the curtains to allow them to assemble the ceiling in two parts because of the weight in the placement – I see little reason to look for meaning in the number. Having built one in the Wilderness of Judea some years ago, I found that adding too much cloth was nearly impossible, as the structure was delicate enough to require real care in the assembly. I personally think that God was warning them about the dangers and making the assembly easier. If that is NOT the case, I am lost on why there is specification to assemble them five and five with hooks.

Of the colors: Though I am uncomfortable with some efforts by Bible commentators to identify meaning in the colors white, red, purple and blue, the narrative takes pains to identify that the cloth does have a WEAVE PATTERN: The mention of three colors on the LINEN (Shesh – as in a six part weave) suggests that the linen was three white strands to each three colored – a six part pattern. (Its actual look is a matter of conjecture).

  • White: We could quickly show white in the post judged individuals of Revelation, and even see that the white linen was the “righteousness of the Saints” (Revelation 19:8), the garb of the armies of Heaven (Revelation 19:14), a garb of honor in Esther 8:15 and the garb of priests and Levites and even SINGERS on occasion in the Temple (2 Chronicles 5:12). There is no need to identify a symbolic meaning to color – but it is interesting that white is so common when it has to do with righteousness, judgment and the service of God in the priestly office. Obviously, the poetic use of the color was CLEAN (as in “whiter than snow” in Psalm 51:7). If the color is symbolic, it must relate to this idea.
  • Blue, Purple and Scarlet: Though these are very distinct colors in the modern world of fast dyes and exacting color blends, the technology of dye making was somewhat more elemental during the time of Moses. The three colors were not all predictably made, and all were made by extracting from the murex snail glands the dye base. The extreme expense of shucking 10,000 snails to get a thimble full of dye base made the color something extravagant and expensive. Red, blue and purple cloth was expensive cloth. We get the term “ROYAL BLUE” from the remembrance that only royalty could afford such fast dyes in the ancient world.

Blue: (Hebrew: Tekhayleth) Used more than 49 times in Priestly garb and curtains, this color was a marker for ROYALTY. The name “tekhayleth” comes from the word “shecheleth” for the shell creature.

Purple: (Hebrew: Argaman) With 38 references in the Hebrew scriptures, this was clearly used for the garments of KINGS and CHIEFS, as in the Midianite chieftains of Judges 8:26 –  this was a royal color.

Scarlet: (Hebrew: Shawnee) This color was mentioned some 42 times in the Hebrew Scriptures, most often in reference to SPLENDOR. Some make reference to Isaiah 1:18 and “though your sins be as scarlet” – but again it is not certain that this is the intent or that God had a specific picture in mind in the color.

What is the BIG DEAL with the ceiling linen? What seems very safe to conclude about the colors of the covering is that they denoted the ROYAL SPLENDOR and MAJESTY of God in the Heavens, and this was His place of meeting.

Israelites saw such colors surrounding the throne of the Egyptian Pharaoh. They knew the colors of POWER and SPLENDOR. The most shocking part of their new life in the wilderness was that Moses didn’t live in a majestic tent – just another place like theirs. He was ONE OF THEM, though he was the one that God designated as leader. God told the people to cover the place of MEETING WITH GOD in the colors of MAJESTY —  but why? There really is an importance to the detail. Let’s not skip past this footnote, let’s stop and ask a question here: What do you picture in your mind when you pray – Who captures the image of God in your thinking? Is He a sheriff, a father, a coach?

A.W Tozer wrote: “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” Our view of God patterns much of our thinking about everything else.

Do you think of God as “His Majesty”? Is He a RULER worthy of obedience and loyalty, or merely a friend and provider. In our efforts to pull our lives in line with the God revealed in Scripture, is it possible that we shaped Him and reduced His rank in our minds? In our democracy, is it possible we struggle now to recognize the right of Kings to require submission?

I love the phrase used in appointment ceremonies by those in the West Wing of the White House: “I serve by the order of and at the pleasure of the President.” Do we think that way about our God, or have we refashioned Him to be all about taking care of our desires, needs and wants?

If we were completely honest, some of us would admit the majesty of God and His transforming power are not what we truly want. I like the writer Tim Hansel, that reminded us in his book “When I Relax I feel Guilty” an insight of what most people want from God: “I would like to buy $3.00 worth of God, please. Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I don’t want enough of Him to make me love a black man or pick beets with a migrant. I want ecstasy, not transformation; I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack. I would like to buy $3.00 worth of God, please.”  Transformation, worship and submission are all really scary concepts to modern man. The days of the kings are long past, and not remembered well. Yet, God offered a gentle reminder to Israel as they traveled that He was not there to be there buddy, magic genie, or supply sergeant. He was there as their KING – and He is ours as well.

The beauty, color and splendor of the cloth helped the people to sense Who God is.

I find the same thing can happen even today: Recently I read a story told by a naval chaplain: “When I was stationed in Italy, the U.S. Navy’s Chief of Chaplains came for a visit. One of our Chaplains, Lt. Neil James, was in charge of arranging for a personal visit to some of the large Roman Catholic cathedral down town. While the Chief of Chaplains and Neil were in this beautiful cathedral, there were also a fairly large group of American tourists. These tourists were in reverence and admiration at the workmanship of the chancellor area. It was completely silent as they felt the wonderment of God in this building. They were engulfed in the splendor of the moment. The Chief of Chaplains had gotten separated from Neil but he saw him standing by the Confessional Booths talking to a friend, a priest that served this church. The Chief of Chaplains raised his voice and called out and said “Neil”. The entire tourist group dropped to their knees at the Chancellor Rail.” That made me smile – people so overtaken in the beauty of the place that they sensed some innate duty of obedience.

You see, when we DEMOTE God in our thinking, we also find a way to let ourselves off the hook. Kings don’t live in SLUMS and they don’t hang with COMMONERS. We demote God in some way to lesson our responsibility to act in accordance with the VALUE God ascribes to us!

I have adapted something that Pastor Rod Buchanan wrote: “I often hear some Christians say, “Well, I’m just a sinner like everybody else.” I understand what they are saying. They mean that they make mistakes like everybody else…The problem with thinking of ourselves as sinners is that it can become a convenient excuse to sin. But, most of all, it (labels) us with an identity that is so far below how God sees us. … It is like calling someone a moron. Call them that long enough and they act like a moron and believe they are a moron — even if they are actually quite brilliant. (When a child of God, born again by a surrender to the love of Jesus and His full payment on Calvary calls himself) a sinner and you will not rise above that. You will not believe you can do any better. But call yourself a child of God who shares his glory and see the difference it makes in your attitude about yourself. I’m not just trying to pump up your self-esteem, I’m trying to get you to see the reality of who you are. In fact, God did this… Rather than simply continuing to condemn us, God exalted His children in Scripture. We will be invited to reign with him, for Paul wrote to Timothy: “If we endure, we will also reign with him” (2 Timothy 2:12). Paul wrote to the Corinthian church: “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Meeting with a KING and being chosen by a KING to walk together leaves us higher than we were before He came into our lives.

We live life on a higher plain. We have a job to perform  – an assigned and chose role to play in the Kingdom. I guess the clear question is this: “What is it that God is asking you to do?” The natural follow up question is this one: “Are you willing to accept the responsibility to accomplish it?

I am stopping here at these curtains because I believe there is a story here. God wanted people to know HIM and He wanted that knowledge to CHANGE THEIR VIEW OF THEMSELVES, their purpose, their value.. It was because HE MADE THEM – and they were long overdue for a reunion that would remind them of it.  I recently read an article by Jill Carattini where she told this story: “A nurse named Melanie was on her way to work when something in the trash bin caught her eye. She was immediately taken with the possibilities in the discarded treasure. It was a cello, slightly cracked in several places, but nonetheless a discard of character, a piece charming to the eye. Her boyfriend, who is a cabinetmaker, also saw the cello’s potential. Together they thought it could be turned into a beautifully distinctive CD holder. The discarded cello was indeed old and it had been abandoned, though authorities are not sure why or how it ended up in the trash that day. But a most shocking revelation to the nurse (and arguably to the thief as well) was the fact that it was not merely an old cello. It is one of only 60 like it in the world made by master craftsman Antonio Stradivari in 1684. The 320-year-old masterpiece, valued at 3.5 million dollars, was stolen from a member of the Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra just weeks before it sat rescued in Melanie’s apartment with dreams of becoming a CD holder. In the music world ‘Stradivarius’ is an untouchable description. Neither scientist nor musician understand the difference between the ‘voice’ of a Stradivarius versus the voice of modern violins and cellos, but the distinction is real — and costly. They are the most sought after musical instruments in the world, works of art in their own right, coveted by collectors and players alike. To be in the presence of a Stradivarius is to be in the presence of something great — whether it is recognized or not.”…The thief put it on the trash pile, and even Melanie did not see the splendor of what she was holding. That is the way your life is. It has enormous value. The spiritual thief and enemy of your soul wants to dump you on a trash pile. Perhaps you don’t see your value either, but your life is especially precious to the One who made you. (From Rodney Buchanan, Sermon Central illustrations).

Should we not admit to some fear that if we really see God as He is, and see ourselves as He has declared us in our relationship with Him as Savior, that we will give up our victim status and take on the responsibilities of those who have been chosen by the King? Can’t we feel both the empowering and the pain of the lame man at Bethesda, as Jesus commanded him to “Rise up! Take up your bed and walk!”?

There is some relief coming in the remaining verses of our study. They will help us to “take cover” in this sense of exposed responsibility – but they will not remove it. Keep reading…Three more covers are atop the white linen.

The Curtains Of Goats’ Hair (26:7-13) referred to as the “tent” was placed over the Curtains of Fine Linen.

Exodus 26:7 “Then you shall make curtains of goats’ hair for a tent over the tabernacle ; you shall make eleven curtains in all. 8 The length of each curtain shall be thirty cubits , and the width of each curtain four cubits; the eleven curtains shall have the same measurements . 9 You shall join five curtains by themselves and the other six curtains by themselves , and you shall double over the sixth curtain at the front of the tent . 10 You shall make fifty loops on the edge of the curtain that is outermost in the first set , and fifty loops on the edge of the curtain that is outermost in the second set . 11 “You shall make fifty clasps of bronze , and you shall put the clasps into the loops and join the tent together so that it will be a unit . 12 The overlapping part that is left over in the curtains of the tent , the half curtain that is left over , shall lap over the back of the tabernacle . 13 The cubit on one side and the cubit on the other , of what is left over in the length of the curtains of the tent , shall lap over the sides of the tabernacle on one side and on the other, to cover it.

The details of this curtain include the RAW MATERIAL, the SIZE of the woven material, and the ARRANGEMENT of the pieces. The color was brown – and the material was the INTELLIGENT weave of the GOAT HAIR that is used by Beduoin today in the desert. We are VERY FAMILIAR with this course material, and my wife and I had “goat hair” sewing parties at my house when the Tabernacle was under construction. Goat hair “breathes” when dry, but shrinks when wet to cause water to run off. It is dark brown, and it requires constant attention to be kept in shape. Mold is the enemy that can destroy it.

The hair is sheared from the GOAT. If you looked at all the times a GOAT is mentioned in Leviticus as an animal of sacrifice, you would find most related to the SIN OFFERING (Chata’ah – cp. 4:24,5:6, 9:3). All the others relate to either the special ceremony held on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16) or the cleansing of the Sanctuary and in conjunction with the ordination of priests (Lev. 10:16). At the Great Feasts (Dt. 16:16) that were ordered by God to be observed by all of the people – Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles – goats played a significant role. Particularly on the Day of Atonement, two goats were presented to the Lord – one was killed as a sin offering, the other preserved alive as the SCAPEGOAT (Leviticus 16:7-10). Keep reading, because the third covering and the waterproof fourth suggest God was going somewhere with the pattern…

The Rams’ Skin Dyed Red referred to as the Covering and was probably only on the top, and covered by a waterproof Covering of The Tahash – Perhaps Badgers’ (or Manatee, etc.) Skins was the final covering and it was this covering that was the only thing visible above the wall from the outside of the Tabernacle. (26:14). Exodus 26:14 You shall make a covering for the tent of rams’ skins dyed red and a covering of porpoise skins (tahash) above.

Goats and Rams were a part of the sin payment system God set up in the sacrifices long ago. Add to that the other curtains above it, and I think the picture isn’t stretched – God wanted the people to connect to His ROYALTY but be covered by the sacrifice. As a Pastor today, it is EXACTLY that which I want for my flock. I want people to stand beneath the Cross, but stop allowing the shame that Jesus paid for to shadow over your sense of CALL, COMMISSION and PURPOSE.

God left us a graphic picture of the pattern of worship in the Tabernacle, with each part showing something about both Him and us – leading us into His arms. When we meet Him, we contact His splendor and majesty, and that can be a painful experience – because we LOSE our right to be a victim, and take on the identity of one called by the King… that is a painful moment to the lazy follower.

Can we not rise up and see Who our God is today?

His name and His character are pronounced by the Heavens that He hurled into place (Ps. 19). His timepiece has no beginning and no end – for time itself is a creation of His own mind. He requires absolutely NOTHING to create something. His storehouses have inexhaustible bounty and unparalleled beauty. He is the very definition of POWER, MAJESTY, BEAUTY, INTELLIGENCE, WISDOM and LOVE. There is no way to measure Him – for He is limitless. There is no point to wrestling against Him – for His might is boundless. No struggle can overcome Him. No obstacle can retain Him. No foe can withstand Him. He is the King – and there is no one like Him. The prophet asked: “Who is like You, Oh Lord!” and then stood back in reverent silence as the universe beheld the truth – there is NO ONE like our God.

Because that is true… Can we not raise our eyes to see who we have been declared to be today by this wise and all knowing King? If our God is so great, and He has chosen us to be His people – can we not feel JUST A LITTLE BIT BETTER about our own identity. Smile – the King chose you. Try to look at the bright side, like these dear folks:

At a nursing home in Florida, a resident group was discussing ailments: “My arms are so weak I can hardly lift this cup of coffee,” said one. “Yes, I know, my cataracts are so bad I can’t even see my coffee,” replied another. “I can’t put my head back to drink because of the arthritis in my neck,” said a third, at which several others nodded weakly. “My blood pressure pills make me so dizzy that if I drink the coffee, I will pass out,” another went on. “I guess that’s the price we pay for getting old,” winced an old man. There was general agreement and a short moment of silence ensued. “Well, it’s not that bad,” said one woman cheerfully. “Thank God we can all still drive!”

Men and women, will we not be changed by encountering His MAJESTY under the covering of HIS ENABLING SACRIFICE of One slain on our behalf?