The Tabernacle of Israel, by George de Charms, 1969
If the tabernacle of Israel be regarded merely as a tent erected in the wilderness of Sinai thousands of years ago by a small and obscure tribe of people, to serve for a time as the center of their national worship, and then to crumble into dust and disappear except for the record preserved in the Scripture, why, we may well ask, would any one consider it important to study such a record?
The building is indeed architecturally unique. We find no temples that can be compared to it in the annals of any other nation.
For this reason it is regarded by historians as a strange anomaly. The account of the tabernacle has been preserved for a period of approximately thirty-five hundred years as part of the Divine Word. According to this account it differs from all other buildings ever erected in historic times in that its plan of construction was dictated from heaven. The only exception is the temple of Solomon which succeeded it. We also know that the tabernacle exerted a tremendous influence over the tribes of Israel. It served to change them from a horde of slaves into a strong nation, bound together by mutual love, by pride, and by fear. As a united people they were destined to fulfill a use to the race out of all proportion to their size, their political strength, or their international importance.
All this may stir in us a general interest in the tabernacle, but it could hardly induce any one to study the carefully prescribed details as to the dimensions of all the parts, the materials to be used, and colors to be employed in its construction, so minutely set forth in the book of Exodus. Even these specifications are not complete enough to provide for the actual building of the tabernacle. The sons of Israel must by some means have been able to understand them better than can the Biblical scholars of modern times. What value can there be, then, to the average reader, in studying them?
The answer does not lie in the mere fact that the tabernacle is symbolic. This is well known to Christian scholars, and many allegorical interpretations of its meaning are available. The answer lies rather in the fact that this symbolism has now been Divinely explained, so that men may know, not only that it is, but also what it is. In the light of this revelation, the tabernacle together with all its details is found to be of great practical value to man's understanding of religious life. It cannot be rightly understood without an accurate knowledge of the minute specifications recorded in the Scripture.
In general we are taught that the tabernacle represents the dwelling-place of God with man, and the medium of his conjunction with the Divine. It illustrates the way in which the Lord seeks to lead every human being in the path of regeneration. From it one may derive practical instruction as to how religion may exert a truly vital and saving influence over his life. This is possible because the tabernacle represents the human mind built according to Divine plan that it may serve as a "tent of meeting" where man may enquire of the Lord and receive Divine answers to guide him in the way of true happiness and peace. Surely it is important that we should learn the truth concerning that marvelous organism which is called the human mind. Here is the whole world of our conscious life. Yet it lies in large part beyond our ken and beyond the reach of scientific exploration. Its deeper mysteries can be discovered only by Divine revelation. They are contained in the account of the tabernacle as explained in the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, from which they may be derived by careful study.
There we may learn that the tabernacle represents, not only the mind of man, where resides that "kingdom of God" which is "within you" as we read in the Gospels, but also the church, or the kingdom of God as an organized body of worshipers. From it counsel may be derived as to how such an ecclesiastical organization should be formed. According to what principles should it be governed in order that its worship may be vital? What will protect it against the eventual decline and fall which have come to every church body in the past? These are important and highly practical questions upon which Divine light is thrown by a study of the tabernacle.
Furthermore, just as this sacred building represents the church on earth, so also does it represent the kingdom of God in the heavens. From it we may learn the nature of life in heaven, and how it differs from life on earth. We may gain some accurate idea of how the angels live, and of what they do. We may learn how they affect the lives of men, and how in turn men exert an important influence over them.
Finally, the tabernacle represents the Human of the Lord, the temple of His body. We may learn how God descended to assume a Human from the Virgin Mary, and how that Human was glorified and at last fully united In the Infinite Divine above the heavens. The Lord Jesus Christ, during His life on earth, fulfilled all the Law and the Prophets. He fulfilled the prophecy concealed in the building of the tabernacle. He came "a light into the world" and became the "Way," the "Truth" and the "Life" because He traversed the stages of progress ordained for all men who would come into heaven. So doing, He provided for the salvation of the whole human race.
The truth involved in the building of the tabernacle is infinite in scope. As now revealed it performs a miracle no less astonishing than that which is described in the thirty-seventh chapter of Ezekiel. Not only the chapters in Exodus which contain such endless, uninteresting, and seemingly useless specifications of the tabernacle, but the entire Word of both Testaments suddenly takes on surprising new life and character. What had appeared as a "valley full of bones" upon which we looked and "lo they were very dry," becomes a place of human habitation. As the Lord, speaking in the Heavenly Doctrine, prophesied over thete "bones," there spiritually was heard "a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone." "The sinews and flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above . . . and the breath came into them and they lived and stood upon their feet, an exceeding great army." (Ezekiel 37: 2, 7-10) The "bones" referred to by Ezekiel are said to mean "the whole house of Israel," that is, the entire story of Israel as given in the Old Testament. This has become dry bones because its inner meaning is not understood. The Divine truth revealed in the Writings infuses it with new life, and the description of the tabernacle becomes a source of spiritual instruction and enlightenment of surpassing value to all mankind.
This is what gives such absorbing interest to our study of the tabernacle. It is the reason why we undertook the task of making an accurate model of the original. To convey to the reader some glimpse of the wonderful truth it symbolizes is the purpose of the present volume. We have attempted to pursue only one phase of its spiritual representation, namely, that which concerns the formation of the human mind during the process of man's regeneration. To this end we have undertaken to explain the model, to illustrate it by photographic reproductions, and to make clear the important details of its construction. In order best to accomplish our main purpose we have followed the order of description given in Exodus. If we were considering only the historical aspects of the subject, this would not appear to be the most natural mode of procedure. We would then treat first of the general aspect of the building, of the court that surrounds it, and pass from this to a description of the walls, the foundation, the curtains, and how all these were used in the construction of the building. Last of all we would treat of the furniture, and of the worship that was performed by the priests and Levites. There is an important reason, however, why in the Scripture, this order is reversed. There the description starts with that which is inmost, and proceeds thence to the circumference. After mentioning the materials that were offered for the building of the tabernacle, the sacred account describes the construction of the ark, which was to be placed in the holy of holies. Then the narrative proceeds to the table of shewbread, the lampstand, and the altar of incense, and describes how they were to be situated in the holy place. Next are described the curtains and veils that belong to the holy place, and finally the altar of burnt offering, the laver, the posts, hangings and stakes of the court. This is the true order when the matter is viewed from a spiritual standpoint. All creation begins from the inmost and proceeds to the circumference because it begins from the Lord, who is the only Creator. Of this we will speak in a later chapter. Here only we would note that we have followed this essential order because we are primarily interested in the spiritual meaning involved in it. We have added a description of the priests and Levites, noting their tribal divisions, their respective garments, and the duties assigned to each. Also we shall give some account of the sacrifices offered in the tabernacle, and their spiritual representation. And finally we shall describe the camp of Israel, the order of encampment and of the march, all of which are profoundly significant.
That the text may read easily, and not become too involved for the nontechnical student, matters requiring particular analysis or tabulation have been relegated to appendices, to which suitable references are given.