What Did Moses and God Actually Talk about on Sinai?

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You’d be HALF RIGHT. Moses did in fact receive the two stone tablets up there (Exodus 34:28).

But what if I told you that the 7 chapters Moses spent on Mt. Sinai are actually blueprints for building the tabernacle? Put down your coffee. I’m about to blow your mind.

It all starts in Exodus 24:18–“Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.” Okay, here we are, on Mt. Sinai with Moses. The Glory cloud descends, and God begins to speak. Very next verse, Exodus 25:1-2–“The LORD said to Moses, ‘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.’” First thing God commands Moses on Mt. Sinai—“Tell the people: ‘Give an offering.’”

For what? Skipping down seven verses to Exodus 25:8–“  And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it.” Second thing God commands on Mt. Sinai: “Make a tabernacle.”

Andddd, right into it, Exodus 25:10—blueprints for building the Ark of the Covenant, the table of bread, the golden lampstand. Chapter 26–instructions for building the tabernacle; chapter 27–the bronze altar, the court of the tabernacle, mixing the oil for the lamp; chapter 28–the priests’ garments. Into chapter 29–consecration of the priests for the tabernacle; chapter 30–the altar of incense, the census tax, the bronze basin, next section on the anointing oil and incense for the tabernacle; chapter 31–Oholiab and Bezalel are set aside as the artists to oversee the building of the tabernacle, the Sabbath—keeping the people holy for the tabernacle.

Finally making it to the end of chapter 31, verse 18: “And he gave to Moses, when he had finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.” End scene.

So let’s review. Moses goes up into Mt. Sinai—for forty days and forty nights, and these are the 2 things God commands: Have the people give an offering and build my tabernacle. The following seven chapters are complete instructions for building God’s tent.

Things get derailed in chapter 32, when Moses comes down from Mt. Sinai to find the people worshiping the golden calf. Moses shatters the two tablets of the covenant, and has to return to Sinai for another 40 days to receive all the instructions again. Astonishingly, Take 2 goes swimmingly well. Moses commands the people to give an offering–which the people do with generous hearts–and to build the tabernacle–which the people do with willing hands (Exodus 35:1-ff). The rest of Exodus is consumed with the construction of the tabernacle.

Which brings us to the “why” question. This is the biggest question that looms over the entire second half of the book of Exodus. Why did God come down in a glory cloud on Mt. Sinai and give Moses these instructions: (1) take up an offering and (2) build a tabernacle?

The answer lies in the conclusion of the book in Exodus 40. The people finally finish building the tabernacle, and the why comes in verse 34:

“Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.”

Why did God command his people to give and to build? Because he wasn’t content to have his glory cloud dwell on Mt. Sinai. This is the narrative arc that stretches from Exodus 24 all the way to the end of Exodus. God was making arrangements for his glory to tabernacle among us people. He is a God who is unsatisfied for his glory to dwell apart from his people. David’s praise in Psalm 68:17 puts it succinctly: “The Lord is among them; Sinai is now in the sanctuary.”

Indeed, all of the technicalities and details in Exodus 24-40 demonstrate to us the lengths that God will go to in order to be Immanuel “God with us”. He is exalted in holiness, righteousness, and glory. However, he is a God who desires to dwell among his people. In this way, Exodus 24-40 points us to the coming of Jesus Christ himself: “And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, and we have seen his glory”, “‘and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us)” (John 1:14, Matthew 1:23).

(photo credit)