Overview: Exodus 19-40
1. God becomes Israel’s; Israel becomes God’s (Exod. 19-24)
The covenant God makes with Israel in Exodus 19-24 fulfills a promise made to Abraham to be the God of his offspring forever (Gen. 17:7). Through this covenant, God formally binds Himself to Israel. Israel becomes His, and He becomes theirs. Exodus 24 records the official ratification ceremony. Yahweh is now “legally” the God of Israel (Exod. 24:10).
Exodus 19:4-6 summarizes the essence of the covenant: God brought Israel out of Egypt so they could be His. Their duty is to obey God and keep the covenant they are about to make with Him. If they do, they will be God’s special possession above all other nations. They will be a nation of people who radiate a knowledge of God to all the other nations (“a kingdom of priests”), and they will be a nation uniquely set apart to God for His purposes (“a holy nation”). In other words, Israel would be God’s in a way that no other nation on earth would be.
But their unique relationship with God was not for them only. As a nation, they would be like a priest who uses his status with his deity for the benefit of those he represents. Israel’s priestly status with the one true God was to be the means by which all earth’s families would receive the blessing of knowing Him (Gen. 12:3).
2. God gives instructions for His dwelling place (Exodus 25-31)
Just how serious God was in drawing Israel to Himself as His unique possession becomes clearer in Exodus 25-31. Minutiae of building details fill these chapters, but do not allow those details to obscure the primary purpose of the Tabernacle: “and they shall be a sanctuary for me that I may dwell in the midst of them” (25:8). The Tabernacle provided the place where God dwelt in the midst of Israel.
But why, someone might ask, are the Tabernacle details repeated twice? Once would seem to be enough—even more than enough. The first time the details are given (chs. 25-31), God is giving Moses instructions for building the Tabernacle. The second time (chs. 35-40), Moses passes on those instructions to the Israelites, and the actual construction and set up takes place.
3. God forgives Israel’s breach of covenant on the basis of intercession (Exod. 32-34)
The three-chapter gap (chs. 32-34) in between these two sections about the Tabernacle records an event in which Israel nearly lost the privilege of having God dwell in their midst. While Moses is on Mount Sinai receiving from God the instructions for the tabernacle, Aaron is making a golden calf at Israel’s request. Barely has the covenant with God been inked and Israel is already breaking it! God is ready to write Israel off and start over with Moses, but Moses intercedes and God graciously forgives Israel. And on the basis of further intercession, Moses wins from God a much-coveted promise of His presence. Moses overcame Israel’s breach of covenant through intercession. What a beautiful reminder of how Christ’s eternal intercession for us keeps His blood between God and our many covenant breaches. Moses is a type of a much better Mediator.
4. God comes to dwell in the midst of Israel (Exod. 35-40)
As you read through the instructions for and the construction of the Tabernacle, keep your eye open for one of the most significant details of all: they made everything “just as the Lord commanded.” This statement is repeated seventeen times in chapters 39-40. Israel’s obedience in following the Lord’s instructions was critical because they were following a pattern the Lord had given Moses (25:40), and that pattern was a copy of things in the heavenlies (Heb. 8:5). The Tabernacle was a reality, but it was also a symbol of a greater reality, a “true tabernacle, which the Lord constructed, not man” (Heb. 8:2).
Israel’s effort to conform to the divine pattern paid off in the end: “the glory of Yahweh filled the tabernacle” (40:34). God had moved into the dwelling place Israel had sacrificially made for Him and in so doing, a key purpose of His in bringing them out of Egypt had been fulfilled. “And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and I will be their God. And they shall know that I am Yahweh their God who brought them out of the land of Egypt in order to dwell in the midst of them. I am Yahweh their God” (29:45-46, emphasis mine).