Answering An Age Old Dilemma

Those famous three friends of Job raised questions, but didn't supply answers to the age old dilemma: "What is man, that he could be pure? And he who is born of a woman, that he could be righteous? If God puts no trust in his saints, and the heavens are not pure in his sight, how much less man, who is abominable and filthy, who drinks iniquity like water!" (Job 15:14-16)

Bildad echoes these sentiments when he states, "How then can man be righteous before God? . . . If even the moon does not shine, and the stars are not pure in his sight, how much less man, who is a maggot, and a son of man, who is a worm?"

(Job 25:4-6).

Eliphaz again raises a point, when he states, "Can a man be profitable to God, though he who is wise may be profitable to himself?" (Job 22:2)

There is no satisfactory answer to this dilemma, until, the details of the Tabernacle are revealed in the book of Exodus. For it is here in pictorial form, that we can grasp the 'how to' that Eliphaz wondered about. For the Tabernacle is the Way to God, the Truth about God, and the Life required by God. There is no other way to approach Him. There is no other answer to sin's corrupting power and approaching an awesome and Holy God.

The Tabernacle was a most significant structure. Moreover, the precision with which the detail was recorded, indicates that the Tabernacle was looking beyond earthly concerns and was pointing to eternal matters. The Tabernacle was pointing beyond itself. It was saying in effect. "What I am portraying will one day be realized. What I am shadowing will one day be tangible. What I am promising will one day be fulfilled!"

God in His mercy, was answering the question of every human heart, "How can I know God without being destroyed by His Holiness?" It does, however, raise its own dilemma. Not so much in what it is shadowing, but how the shadows would become tangible, and how would anyone recognize it when it happened?

When we meditate upon this wonderful testimony of God's grace there are certain factors which rise up and confront us. We become aware of our inability to approach God. He is hidden as it were in the depth of the Tabernacle where it is death to enter. Behind the glorious curtains that separated the holy from the holy of holies no light shone. It was verifying what other passages of Scripture speak about God. He spoke to Israel from out of the deep darkness. "These words the LORD spoke to all your assembly, in the mountain from the midst of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, with a loud voice. . . " (Deuteronomy 5:22f.)

The Psalmist penned it beautifully, "Clouds and darkness surround Him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne." (Psalm 97:2) Unless there were someone who could light up our way into His presence, we could never find Him. We may hear Him speak from the darkness of His commandments, but we could never have a relationship with the One who dwells in it. There needs to be light if there is to be relationship.

Another aspect that strikes us as we meditate upon the Tabernacle is its emphasis on substitution and propitiation. The first word is readily understood. In sport we can send in a substitute, so we can relate to that. In the concept of substitute as a sacrifice it is often harder to grasp. Propitiation, however, is a word not often used. It means to satisfy wrath through sacrifice. What takes place outside of the tent, yet enclosed, by the curtain fence, is the ritual of sacrifice. The instruments of bronze speak of judgement. The animals slaughtered speak of substitution and the satisfying of wrath aroused by treason and rebellion and unbelieving behaviour of mind and body.

To what are these pointing? How can they find fulfilment in reality? The psalmist begins to put shape to the symbol. "My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, and from the words of my groaning? . . . But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised by the people. All those who see me ridicule me; They shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, "He trusted in the LORD, let him rescue him; let him deliver him, since he delights in him!" (Psalm 22:1, 6-8)

Isaiah gives substance to the shape. "He is despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from him; he was despised, and we did not esteem him. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon him, and by his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:3-6)

There is someone who becomes the substitute. Someone who in the eyes of God is without blemish. Someone who qualifies to deal with the justice and judgement of a Righteous God. Someone who can deal with the vileness of what it means to be human in God's sight and yet be separate from it.

Entering the holy place opens up a new world. From the outside, the tabernacle is plain, possibly to many, unattractive. However, once inside it is beautiful, fragrant, and glittering with the light of the candelabra playing on the objects of gold. Here the priest comes with the blood of the substitute, and the smell of death, to be overwhelmed by the fragrance of incense, and nourished by the bread of the Presence.

This is telling him and us that there is a spiritual and moral fragrance that God requires for all who enter into His presence. Unfortunately, it is a perfume no one can manufacture. It has to be bestowed. Again, we are assured that God will provide. There is One who by his life and accomplishments will be able to impart it to those who claim him as their Lord and Saviour. His fragrance will be the fragrance of God, for no other will do.

Standing between the symbol of the God who dwells in the deepest darkness and the one redeemed by substitution is a glorious, impressive, thick curtain. Beyond that, no one could go expect the High Priest on the Day of Atonement. He went in, not dressed as the High Priest, but as one of the ordinary servants of God taking with him nothing but the blood of sacrifice. This he had to place on the mercy seat, between the cherubim, who were looking down on what was in the ark. What was inside? The things that spoke of the nation's sin and failure. The two tablets of the Ten Commandments (see Deuteronomy 10:5) and the almond sprig that blossomed (see Numbers 17:8-10) was placed beside the testimony.

The unstated question seems to be, "How can a Holy God have fellowship with those who break His word and dishonour His worship?" The blood of the sacrifice covered those failures. Who then is able to stand in the presence of God, cleansed and redeemed and with the marks of death, yet alive? Only those who have trusted in that which God has provided, first in symbol then in substance. For it is the resurrected life that is able to endure in the presence of the Eternal and Holy One.

That life is not possible unless given and received. The Tabernacle says that God will provide but a person must accept. This is humbling but liberating. It requires repentance but supplies righteousness. It speaks of One, formerly hidden, who is a substitute but also is the One who brings a believer into the presence of the God. It is this One who lights up the face of God and in so doing makes it possible to have a relationship with Him.

Who is this One who solves the dilemma of Job's friends? Who is the One who gives substance to symbol, fulfilment to promise? It is the One who said: ". . . the Scriptures. . . testify of me." (John 5:39)

He also said words that describe the meaning of the Tabernacle: "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)

The Tabernacle points to Him. Our faith rests upon Him. His name is Yeshua!