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Re-creation and the Tabernacle

In an earlier reflection, I raised the observation that the tabernacle represented a kind of miniature model of the universe, a microcosm. Following as it does the redemption of Israel from the chaos of bondage in Egypt to the (temporary) presence of God on Mount Sinai, the tabernacle becomes a portable picture, a moveable microcosm, that is always with and also leads Israel through the wilderness and into the Promised Land.

To briefly review the evidence that the tabernacle was a microcosm of creation, Michael Morales points out that when the whole of the Old Testament testimony on the tabernacle is factored in, then the tabernacle is quite closely related to the creation. The altar is called “the mountain of God” in Ezek 43:15, and its base is literally described as “the bosom of the earth” just a verse earlier. Moreover, the bronze basin that was filled with water was clearly meant to picture the sea. These three layers, the sea, the bosom of the earth, and the mountain of God, formed a kind of picture of creation in the Ancient Near East. The rest of the tabernacle then pictured the whole of the cosmos with God’s special presence in the holy of holies representing his position in heaven. All of this imagery suggests that the “tabernacle, then, ‘is a microcosm of creation, the world order as God intended it writ small in Israel.’”[1]

But there is an added layer of creation, or more precisely re-creation, themes presented in Leviticus 8-9, for once creation is formed it has to be filled. That is, after all, the pattern of Genesis 1. Initially, “The earth was without form and void” (Gen 1:2 ESV). God then formed the earth in the first three days, establishing the boundaries for air, sea, and land, before filling the earth in the second set of three days. What Leviticus 8-9 picture is the first filling of the tabernacle, this microcosm that had been formed at the instruction of Moses according to the set plan revealed by the Lord on Mount Sinai. Remember, Leviticus 1-7 provide the conceptual basis for how Israel could enter into this new creation, especially to ascend the mountain of the Lord to dwell with God. Importantly, since the fall, entering into the presence of God required a mediator, and so naturally the historical outworking of filling this microcosmic new creation focused on the ordination of the high priest and his initiation of the sacrificial system.

And so, what Leviticus 8 symbolizes is the forming of the new Adam from the dust of the ground, as it were. Aaron is dressed in the fine priestly garments that would have made him look much like the kings of the Ancient Near East (Lev 8:5-9). Then, the high priest is anointed with oil, indicating his special station in this new creation (Lev 8:10-13). Because this is a re-creation, Aaron must be purified and ordained to his position as the representative new Adam, which is what Lev 8:14-30 describes. Finally, this ordination took seven days to be in full effect, echoing the seven days of creation (Lev 8:31-36).

And then, Leviticus 9 symbolizes the initiation of this new Adam’s work in the new creation. On the eighth day, Aaron begins to “work” the new creation, as it were, by initiating the sacrificial system. Importantly, this chapter stresses the new Adam’s obedience in doing all that the Lord commanded. Once the sacrificial system had been inaugurated, this new Adam acts as something of a prophet as he speaks a word of blessing from the Lord (Lev 9:22). The end result is a manifestation, a revealing, of God’s glory as evidence of his approval of this new Adam’s work in the new creation (Lev 9:23-24).

Seen in this light, Leviticus 10 can be understood as a recapitulation of the Fall as sin entered into the new creation, corrupting it just as sin had corrupted the original creation. But then we must also look forward to Leviticus 16, which offers redemption as God reveals the legislation for the Day of Atonement ritual by which the corruption could be cleansed. That Sabbath of Sabbaths, or Sabbath of solemn rest, however, still pointed beyond itself to a day of consummation when the endless rituals could end.

Therefore, all of this rich symbolism is fully and finally realized in the Lord Jesus Christ who is the new and true Adam, who breaks the cycle by first dealing a death blow to sin before announcing a day of re-creation in the new heavens and new earth when all things would be made new, and no unclean thing would enter.

[1] L. Michael Morales, The Tabernacle Pre-Figured: Cosmic Mountain Ideology in Genesis and Exodus, Biblical Tools and Studies 15 (Leuven: Peeters, 2012), 251.

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