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Approaching the Lord


The great cathedrals of Europe used architecture and spatial layout to lift a worshiper’s mind to God. The cruciform shape of the nave, soaring windows, and vaulted ceilings were intended to focus the worship on God.

The tabernacle, constructed thousands of years before medieval cathedrals, reflected the same principle. Its layout and design was intended to communicate truths about God and His people. The tabernacle was divided into three main areas. The outer court contained an altar for burnt offerings and grain offerings, as well as a laver for priestly washings (vv. 29–31). These cleansing rituals of sacrifice and washing were needed to approach the second area, the Holy Place. Only the priests could enter this space, which included a lampstand and a table with bread (vv. 22–25). The lampstand was constructed to resemble a light and life-giving tree, a stunning work of art crafted from gold (see Ex. 25:32–34).

The third, most sacred area, was the Most Holy Place. Once a year, the high priest alone could enter into the very presence of God. Outside the entrance was an altar of incense, representing the prayers of God’s people ascending to heaven (vv. 26–27; Ps. 141:2). The Most Holy Place contained the Ark of the Covenant, which held the Ten Commandments (v. 20).

The tabernacle design was intended as a visible reminder of God’s relationship with His people, their need for cleansing, His desire for fellowship, and the reality of God’s awe-inspiring glory. Indeed, “the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (v. 34). Notice, too, that God’s presence was not hidden from view, but remained “in the sight of all the Israelites during all their travels” (v. 38).

Apply the Word

Consider how you can use your own physical space to reflect your spiritual priorities. Even if you aren’t an architect or designer, you can choose certain works or art that direct your focus to the Lord, play praise music throughout your home, or arrange your home in a way that extends hospitality for others.

BY Bryan Stewart

Bryan A. Stewart is associate professor of religion at McMurry University in Abilene, Texas. His particular interests are the history of Christian thought and the way that early Christians interpreted the biblical canon. He is the editor of a volume on the Gospel of John in The Church’s Bible series (Eerdmans), and he has done extensive research on the ways that the early Church preached on this Gospel. He is an ordained minister. 

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