II. Historic Background
The Tabernacle of Israel, by George de Charms, 1969
the origin of the tabernacle may be traced to the very beginning of human society. The tradition of a "golden age" that existed in pre-historic times, survives in many parts of the world, and is pictured in the folk-lore and fable of many nations. Those who lived in that primal era dwelt in tents, leading a nomadic life. They were not congregated in cities, but lived apart in families or tribes. They were extremely simple, almost like animals in some respects; but they had none of the savage characteristics that are ascribed to pre-historic men by the advocates of scientific evolution. Swedenborg describes them as being "in the order of their life." From the very beginning, he says, man was created to perceive spiritual things, that is, the things that belong to heaven, because he was destined to live in heaven after the death of the body. The period of his sojourn upon the earth was intended merely as a necessary preparation for his eternal life. For this reason he was created to love spiritual things, and to take a spontaneous delight in learning about them. Of course these primitive human beings were born into complete ignorance, just as men are at the present day. But the greatest joy of their life was to perceive, within the objects in their environment, the immediate presence of God, and His merciful providence. Children were taught by their parents. The father of the family was both the priest and the king. From him they received instruction in all things of life. In addition to this, all adults enjoyed open communication with spirits and angels, and through these God appeared to them and taught them directly, even as He did later by means of the prophets of His Word.1 They are said, indeed, to have spoken with God face to face.2
Because of their inborn nature, even from childhood their interest was centered upon spiritual things, and all the material objects of nature appeared to them as the symbols of heavenly truth and good. Mountains and plains, rivers and seas, all the forms of vegetable and animal life, spoke to them continually of God, and of His love and wisdom. No one at that time had the slightest interest in scientific knowledge. Nature was to them the "Word" of God. It was an open book, from which, as they advanced in knowledge and experience, they were imbued with heavenly wisdom.
The center of their life was the tent which was their home. Here they not only found protection from the elements, but the sense of security that comes from a perception of the immediate presence of God. Their daily life was devoted to the worship of the Deity, expressing their gratitude and thanks for every Divine blessing in all the activities of their life rather than in formal rituals. Therefore, the tent in which they lived was the place where they communed with God, and the place of His perpetual indwelling with them.3
We learn from the Sacred Scripture that this state of pristine innocence declined with the passage of time because men immersed themselves more and more in the delights of the body and the material world. As they did so their perception of spiritual truth was dimmed, and the world around them ceased to convey any Divine message. Holding their eyes fixed upon the earth, they no longer saw the wonders of heaven. Their communication with the angels was cut off, and they lost all knowledge of God. The symbols remained, but their significance was no longer understood. The outer appearance was mistaken for the inner reality, and the worship of the living God was turned into the worship of man-made idols.
In order that genuine faith should not perish from the earth, the Lord raised up a new church, spoken of in Genesis as being established with Noah and with his sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. To this church was given a written Word, formed at first from the oral traditions preserved and passed on from one generation to another, through the gradual decline of the "Most Ancient Ghurch." To these traditions were added new revelations, imparted by means of visions and dreams to prophets, who wrote down their spiritual experiences under immediate Divine inspiration. By this means the men of the "Ancient Church" were instructed in the "science of correspondences," and acquired, by conscious effort, some slight understanding of those heavenly truths which their forefathers had perceived spontaneously, and in great abundance. Gradually they were brought back into an order receptive of influx from heaven.4 The slow process of this return, and the labor and suffering it involved, is referred to in the Scriptural story by that which was said concerning Adam when he was cast out of the garden of Eden: "Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return." (Genesis 3:17-19)5
By means of the judgment of the Most Ancient Church which is represented by the "flood" the state of the human race was radically changed. Men on earth no longer enjoyed celestial perception. Their communication with heaven could be maintained only by means of formal worship according to correspondential rituals. These were Divinely ordained by means of the prophets and the written Word. Those who had belonged to the Most Ancient Church still lived in the spiritual world, and at the time of the "flood" they were organized by the Lord into the celestial heaven. Through this heaven the Lord could be present with the men of the Ancient Church, to teach, to lead, and to save. He appeared to the prophets as the "Angel of Jehovah" and established a truly representative church on earth. This mode of Divine government was possible, however, only so long as men were willing to listen to the teaching of the prophets, and to obey the Word given through them. In the course of time, this reliance upon Divine teaching declined. More and more men insisted upon directing their lives by their own will, and according to their own judgment. Again they turned away from the contemplation of spiritual things to the pursuit of worldly wealth and power. Religion was used to promote selfish ambitions, and to subject the simple to the domination of the learned and astute. Once more, genuine worship became idolatrous. The knowledge of correspondences was lost, and rituals became corrupt. They then could no longer form the basis of influx and inspiration from heaven.
Lest all true faith and worship perish, and the human race be cut off completely from Divine guidance, it was imperative that somewhere in the world, truly representative worship should be restored. This was the reason for the establishment of the Israelitish Church. To this end Abraham was called out of Haran, to become the founder of a nation pledged to the worship of Jehovah. Abraham was an idolater. He worshiped the god Shaddai as a tribal deity. In fact when he heard the voice of Jehovah, he thought Shaddai was speaking, because he knew no other god. Nevertheless, he followed the Divine command and journeyed to the land of Canaan. There he prospered, and the promise was given that his descendants would become a great nation, to whom this land would be given as a Divine inheritance. There follows the familiar story of Isaac, of Jacob, and of Joseph, as recorded in Genesis. Joseph was sold by his brethren into Egypt. Thither he brought his father and his brethren to dwell in the land of Goshen. In the course of time their descendants were reduced to slavery, and Moses was raised up to deliver them. When they escaped from their oppressors, they were led into the wilderness, and at last to Mount Sinai, where Jehovah appeared to Moses in the midst of a fiery cloud, before the eyes of all the people. There Jehovah gave the Ten Commandments, written on two tables of stone with the finger of God. There also Moses saw in heaven the vision of a sacred tabernacle which the sons of Israel were commanded to build, as a shrine for their worship.
Every detail of this heavenly tabernacle was representative of things heavenly, that is, of the truth concerning God and concerning His kingdom in the hearts of men. The sons of Israel, who, under the direction of Moses, built the tabernacle, and later worshiped in it, perceived nothing of its deep symbolism. Yet because it was constructed in accord with the Divine law of correspondences, it could serve as the basis of influx from heaven, and could become the true dwelling-place of God with men. When the Israelites looked upon this tent, regarding it as holy, and as the veritable abode of Deity, the angels could be present and in their thought of it could perceive the spiritual meaning of all its details. It brought back to the angels the memory of the tents in which they had dwelt during their life on earth, and together with this the joy of their worship. This their joy was then perceived vaguely by the sons of Israel as a sense of awe, and profound reverence.
This explains the secret of the tremendous power which the tabernacle worship exerted over the congregation of Israel, and over every individual within it. This is why the tabernacle could become in very truth a House of God, where Jehovah might be present with His people, and might communicate with Moses and with Aaron from behind the veil of the holy of holies.
Now, the point we would emphasize is this: as to every detail the tabernacle represented the mind of man, which is designed to be a living temple, for the eternal indwelling of God. The building is significant of the life of religion by which man's mind is re-formed, under the immediate guidance of the Lord that He may establish His abode within it. Man's regeneration is therefore the real subject of our study. The human mind is the most wonderful, and the most complex of God's creations. The mode by which it is formed into a living temple contains infinite depths of Divine wisdom. This is why the account of the tabernacle has been so meticulously preserved, and why the record of it in the Scripture is of so great importance to a genuine understanding of religion, of man's relation to God, and of the Divinely ordained way of human salvation.