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From Sinai to Zion: The Meaning of Pentecost (part 3)

Title: Build Me a Sanctuary

The LORD said to Moses, "Come up to me on the mountain and wait there, that I may give you the tablets of stone, with the law [Torah] and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction." - Exodus 24:12

According to ancient Jewish commentary, the LORD wrapped himself in a prayer shawl (tallit), came down on Mt. Sinai, and taught Moses for forty days. YHWH is a Teacher. The Hebrew word for law is torah which means instruction, guidance, or teaching. It does not mean law in the Greco-Roman way we use the word.

The point I am making with reference to the Feast of Pentecost is that with redemption comes revelation, and with revelation comes responsibility. As we have seen, God saved the children of Israel for a purpose. For them to accomplish that purpose he had to explain—give them instruction and guidance—how they should walk as a kingdom of priests unto him.

And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. - Exodus 25:8

This is one of the most important statements in all of the Hebrew Bible. The tabernacle is a pattern of what intimacy with God requires, but it was not where he desired to dwell.

This statement in Hebrew is very powerful.

  • Ve'asu li mikdash - make unto me a tabernacle

  • veshachanti - and I will dwell

  • betocham - in them

God is revealing, at several levels, his response to the failure of the Israelites in the matter of the golden calf. He is saying, in effect, "You have failed the test. Now let us set up a tabernacle and a priesthood to serve as a pattern of all I desire, and what is required to have intimacy and fellowship with me. May it ever remind you that what I really desire is to dwell among you, with you, in you."

Hebrew scholars and commentators have long noted the peculiarity of the term betocham because it should be veshachanti betocho, "make me a tabernacle because I desire to dwell in it." But the text does not say betocho, it says betocham, "Make me a tabernacle, but I desire to dwell in them."

He redeemed the Israelites from Egypt and brought them surely and swiftly to an appointed place in the desert of Sinai. Why? To instruct them on how to be his priests for the sake of the whole world.

The LORD God would dwell in them to accomplish his purpose.

But because they could not respond faithfully to his command, he chose instead to tabernacle among them in a temporary dwelling place. He gave detailed instructions for the construction of the tabernacle and its furnishings in Exodus 25-27. Once he has established a tabernacle, he needs a priesthood to serve in it (chapters 28-29).

Do you understand what all this teaches us? He desires to tabernacle in their hearts; to dwell in his people. And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the LORD their God (Ex 29:46).

The liberation of the children of Israel from captivity was to result in their continuing liberty of walking in his presence.

The intent of Passover, revealed by Pentecost, is to bring them out so that he might enter in. Living in and working through his royal priesthood, God would bless all people, everywhere, in accordance with and faithful to his promise (Gen 18:18). The LORD has a cosmic purpose in all he is doing and you, by divine election, are part of his plan.

The cosmic significance and spiritual dimensions of the events at Sinai cannot be exaggerated. Here are three vital principles that can impact us each day, if we truly take them to heart.

1. The Inbreaking God

At Sinai, we witness the God who breaks into human history. Joshua Heschel observes, "the thick silence of the endless distance between God and man was pierced by God's manifestation at Sinai."

This historical event—at a particular day and year, and at a particular point on planet earth—was unprecedented. In it, the Creator of heaven and earth broke into human history in a dramatic way, visible to a whole nation of people.

It was his initiative because we matter to him—it is not fathomable sometimes, we can't comprehend why God would care about man. He came down and he broke through the space/time barrier.

Jewish sages look at this as the second act of creation. In the first, God distinguished between chaos and order; in this second, he distinguished between right and wrong. He set in motion patterns and principles that influence us to this very day. The sovereign God determines and states what is right and what is wrong.

2. The Inclusive God

This event at Sinai repudiates once and for all the philosophy of nihilism which says that all is nothing because there is no meaning or purpose to life. What is dramatically revealed in human history is we each have a purpose, a destiny, and a mission. Again, the emphasis again is on all the people, not just a chosen figure. All of God's ransomed people receive the revelation of his Word. It was in the desert, out of anyone's claims of jurisdiction, because it is for all.

Here is a fundamental principle of Jewish life, the community is the basic unit, not the individual or the leaders. God wants to work in and with a people. Yes, he appoints and anoints leaders from within the community, and the community follows them. But God deals with his people as a whole. Not in private revelations, but in a manifestation meant to be experienced by all.

3. The Indwelling God

The physical birth of Israel as a nation occurs with the Exodus, but their spiritual birth occurred at Sinai. There he gave his teaching, his instruction, his guidance on how he wanted his people to live. Indeed, so he could give them his very presence.

God is in search of man, that is the message of Pentecost.

We think almost exclusively we are searching for God. But the higher truth revealed in God's Word is that he is searching for a people in whom he can dwell. Those willing for him to sanctify and make them holy so they can serve him as priests.

The movement of the Divine as we see in the Sinai event is downward, it is from heaven to earth. The High and Holy One initiates and enters into a blood covenant, an agreement with his people. The cost of deliverance reminds us that divine election has obligations, not privileges. There is no special status involved in being chosen by God. What is special, is the service for which you were chosen.


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This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.

Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice.

Dwight founded JC Studies in 1984 to edify the people of God. Click here to explore over fifty of his audio and video seminars.

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