The In-Between Years - Part 40
Series: The In-Between Years
June 27, 2021
The In-Between Years — Part 40
As we near the end of Stephen’s retelling of Israel’s history we’ll see a shift from the most famous people in Israel’s story — Abraham, Joseph, and Moses — to the most famous structure. The origin of that structure is found in the Exodus account. Instead of going straight to it, let’s get things into context by backing up a bit.
Just after their deliverance from Egypt, God led Moses and the Israelites to Mt. Sinai, hopefully you remember that. High atop the mountain, God communed with Moses alone, divinely communicating through the Law what was expected of God’s special, unique, called-out people. Along with the Ten Commandments, Moses received laws concerning altars, slaves, restitution, social justice, the Sabbath day, and yearly festivals. And then came what might be called a covenant ceremony…
3 Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the rules. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” 4 And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. He rose early in the morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. 5 And he sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the Lord. 6 And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. 7 Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” 8 And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” Exodus 24:3–8 (ESV)
And right after this covenant ceremony, God gave Moses instructions for building a special structure called the Tent of Meeting or Tent of Testimony or, as you probably know it, the tabernacle. That’s in Ex. 25…
1 The Lord said to Moses, 2 “Speak to the people of Israel, that they take for me a contribution. From every man whose heart moves him you shall receive the contribution for me. 3 And this is the contribution that you shall receive from them: gold, silver, and bronze, 4 blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, goats’ hair, 5 tanned rams’ skins, goatskins, acacia wood, 6 oil for the lamps, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, 7 onyx stones, and stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece. 8 And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. 9 Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it. Exodus 25:1–9 (ESV)
The tabernacle was a portable place for God to dwell with or live among his called-out, chosen people. In fact, the Hebrew word tabernacle means a dwelling place. If we kept reading we’d see chapter after chapter after chapter of detailed instructions God gave Moses on how to construct the tabernacle and its furnishings. When I say detailed, I do mean detailed.
The tabernacle will become the hub of Israel’s religious and social life. It’s where God will continue speaking to Moses, giving moral, political, and social guidance as well as judgments or oracles (a divine message given through a human mediator).
It’s a good thing it was movable because for forty years the Israelites wandered in the wilderness. But even after God’s people finally made it into the Promised Land, it stilled moved around. The tabernacle was planted first in the city Shechem or maybe Gilgal (it’s slightly unclear). But we know for sure it was set up in Shiloh during the period of the Judges. You probably know about that roller coaster period in Israel’s history. God’s people would stray from the promises they made to keep his Law, to be a people who worshipped him alone as the one true God. To get them back on track God would raise up a pagan nation or people to suppress them to the point of repentance. They’d cry out for help at some point and God would raise up a judge to lead them out of their mess (the most well-known probably being Deborah, Gideon, and Samson).
This happened over and over again until a man named Samuel became judge, the last legitimate judge. Under him the people got all whiny. They were jealous of all the other nations who had kings and palaces and such. They wanted their own king (1 Sam 8:1)…
1 When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel. 2 The name of his firstborn son was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beersheba. 3 Yet his sons did not walk in his ways but turned aside after gain. They took bribes and perverted justice. 4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah 5 and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” 6 But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the Lord. 7 And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 8 According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. 9 Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.” 1 Samuel 8:1–9 (ESV)
God acquiesced. Things actually got worse. Similar cycle but this time the king would lead the people astray and a prophet would come to lead them back. But that’s for another time. The first king of Israel was Saul. Then came David, you know the guy who killed Goliath and wrote all those Psalms. He brought the tabernacle to Jerusalem and set it in a tent called The Tent of David. He was the king who decided it wasn’t right for him to live in a palace and God to live in a tent, so…
1 Now when the king lived in his house and the Lord had given him rest from all his surrounding enemies, 2 the king said to Nathan the prophet, “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent.” 3 And Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with you.” 4 But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, 5 “Go and tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord: Would you build me a house to dwell in? 6 I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling. 7 In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” ’ 8 Now, therefore, thus you shall say to my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. 9 And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. 10 And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, 11 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. 12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 2 Samuel 7:1–14 (ESV)
God was more or less down with having a permanent dwelling on earth just not with David building it. His son, Solomon (yep, the wisest man ever to live), would take on the task. So he did.
1 In the four hundred and eightieth year after the people of Israel came out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, which is the second month, he began to build the house of the Lord. 2 The house that King Solomon built for the Lord was sixty cubits long, twenty cubits wide, and thirty cubits high. 1 Kings 6:1–2 (ESV)
After that comes a detailed description. And after he finished the temple, Solomon had a dedication ceremony…
22 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel and spread out his hands toward heaven, 23 and said, “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart; 24 you have kept with your servant David my father what you declared to him. You spoke with your mouth, and with your hand have fulfilled it this day. 25 Now therefore, O Lord, God of Israel, keep for your servant David my father what you have promised him, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man to sit before me on the throne of Israel, if only your sons pay close attention to their way, to walk before me as you have walked before me.’ 26 Now therefore, O God of Israel, let your word be confirmed, which you have spoken to your servant David my father. 27 “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built! 1 Kings 8:22–27 (ESV)
And so the temple in Jerusalem, successor to the tabernacle, became the hub around which Israel’s religious life turned. Eventually, because of Israel proneness to wandering, the temple was destroyed by Israel’s enemies. It was later rebuilt and then even later given a massive glow-up by King Herod lasting 46 years which, when finished, became one of the ancient world’s wonders. That’s the temple Jesus and the disciples would have frequented…
1 And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” 2 And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” Mark 13:1–2 (ESV)
Jesus’ prophecy came true in AD 70. The same zealots mentioned in the gospels eventually led a revolt against the Romans. The Romans responded with force, crushing the rebels and destroying the temple. All that’s left to this day is the mount on which it was built.
And now I think we’re ready to look at the final installment of Stephen’s retelling of Israel’s history…
44 “Our fathers had the tent of witness in the wilderness, just as he who spoke to Moses directed him to make it, according to the pattern that he had seen. 45 Our fathers in turn brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our fathers. So it was until the days of David, 46 who found favor in the sight of God and asked to find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. 47 But it was Solomon who built a house for him. 48 Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says, 49 “ ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? 50 Did not my hand make all these things?’ Acts 7:44–50 (ESV)
When Stephen mentioned Abraham, we saw how he was able to see his story through the lens of Jesus. When Stephen mentioned Joseph we saw how he was able to see his story through the lens of Jesus. When Stephen mentioned Moses, we saw how he was able to see his story through the lens of Jesus. But the tabernacle? The Temple? Can that be seen through the lens of Jesus?
I can only guess how many times I’ve shared this with you over the years, but look with me at the introduction of John’s gospel…
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14 (ESV)
The Word, Jesus, became flesh, and dwelt among us. That word comes from a Greek root word meaning tent. In the verb form it means to live in a tent. Ever heard me talk about the Septuagint? The same word is used in referring to the tabernacle in Exodus. John did that on purpose. You could even translate that verse this way and be accurate:
“And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.”
John said something powerful and revolutionary — for a Jew — by using that word. He was saying that Jesus is the living, breathing, walking tabernacle of God. He’s God dwelling among us.
One commentator writes:
Jesus [is] the climactic end of the spectrum of God’s self-disclosure to his people. In the past God was present among his people in the tabernacle and the temple, but now he has taken up residence among his people in the person of Jesus Christ (1:14). In the past God made himself known through the law, but now he revealed himself definitively in and through Jesus Christ…
So when Stephen says…
48 Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says, Acts 7:48 (ESV)
…he has Jesus in mind. A tabernacle not made with human hands. I’m reminded of the words of Jesus himself…
19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” John 2:19 (ESV)
Conclusion: This is why Stephen contrasted the tabernacle and the temple in his message. One commentator explains his argument: “You had a tent of testimony, which signified God’s presence among you for generations; it was made by Moses according to the divine pattern given to him. Then your kings replaced it with a Temple made by human craft. You preferred a structure made by human hands to what God had given you.” In the same way, the Jews of Jesus’ day and certainly the council preferred the temple made of brick and stone made by human hands over the living tabernacle God gave them in Jesus. And so they rejected him.
Just like everything else, look at the tabernacle through the lens of Jesus and you see JESUS. But when the council saw the temple, they saw the exclusive dwelling place of God. In a way, they confined God to it. They locked him in it. That’s why they could not see the walking tabernacle when he stood before them.
The Jews of Jesus’ day didn’t realize it, but they had made the temple an idol. They gave it more importance than it was due. Don’t judge them. We can easily fall into the same traps if we aren’t careful.
The HOUSE OF GOD - sanctuary
The Bible - may we never make it more than what it is but never less either. KJV
Finally we are ready to look at the thrust of Stephen’s message. Finally we can get to his very pointed and seemingly abrupt point. And we will do that next time.
13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:13 (ESV)
 Adapted from Hyun, T. (2016). Tabernacle. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
 Fitzmyer, J. A. (2008). The Acts of the Apostles: a new translation with introduction and commentary (Vol. 31, pp. 383–384). New Haven; London: Yale University Press.
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