Exodus 40 Commentary

Exodus 40 Commentary: The LORD descends over the Tabernacle.


Exodus reaches its climax with the presence of the LORD over the tabernacle. Could this be the purpose of the book of Exodus? Could this be the purpose of the exodus itself that the LORD eventually begins to dwell among his people?

The date is first day of the first month in the second year of exodus. The LORD commands Moses to setup the Tabernacle on new-year’s day. This is significant. It’s a start on a new page! It’s a start in the presence of the LORD. The Tabernacle is representing the presence of the LORD. The LORD wants it functional on the first day of the first month. The LORD wants to take residence among His people right from the beginning.  

This is instructive! You don’t invite the LORD in the middle of the year!

After inspection (chapter 39), the LORD directly gives an order to assemble the tabernacle. It had been in sub-assembly form. The order in which the LORD mentions the components is interesting. It’s an order of importance. The actual commissioning is following a script.

The Ark comes up first. It is the most important component in the structure and the entire tabernacle system. It contains the contract or the document we often refer to as the covenant law. It is housed behind the curtain in what is called the Most Holy place.

Then we have components for the Holy place put in place. Three items are commissioned: the Table, the Lampstand and the Altar of incense.

The outer court is commissioned last. Two items are important here: the Altar of burnt offerings and the Wash basin.

So the following items are commissioned: Ark, Table, Lampstand, Altar of Incense, Altar of Burnt offerings and the Wash Basin.

The wash basin comes last but it is actually the first item you meet. You needed to be clean before proceeding any further. It emphasizes the need for inner cleansing before approaching the throne of grace. The ceremonial washing here may remind the saint of the ceremonial washing that the LORD Jesus gave Peter and his friends during the Last Supper. You are not part of the LORD if you refuse to cleanup. That is the message.

Verse 16 says, “Moses did everything just as the LORD commanded”. This verse should be enough, so we think. But the Bible goes ahead to go through the list again detailing each action as per instruction. It would be repetition to some but we see it as emphasis. It may appear boring but we see worship in the repetition. A teacher would shout, ‘standing’ while pointing at the word ‘standing’. She wants the pupils to repeat the word and shout back, ‘standing’. It may be repetition but more importantly it is learning.

The priest are also ordained. We are now ready!

Verse 34 is the highest point and we have been building to this point. The LORD descends and covers the Tabernacle in dazzling light. Moses cannot enter the Tabernacle because of the cloud.

Yes, Moses cannot enter the Tabernacle because of the cloud but we also suspect because it is needless. Eventually and much much later the LORD would descend. When this does happen there is no need to enter the Tabernacle. The worship system is not needed anymore. The LORD is present. The law Himself is around. The LORD Jesus is in the house so the temple systems stand down. The systems are meant to reach out to Him, but now that the LORD is here, the systems stand down. This moment is looking to the future but for today Jacob can bask in the glory of the LORD.

Exodus ends here.

Here is what we have seen in this book: The Exodus, The trip to Mount Sinai, Mount Sinai and the Law, The Tabernacle and finally the Presence of the LORD

The book itself began with a note that Israel had prospered in Egypt. Egypt sought to curtail Israel’s prosperity by enslaving Israel and subjecting them to very harsh conditions. The LORD responds in compassion and sets in motion a series of ‘judgments’ against Egypt leading to the exodus. The freed Israel faces the Red Sea and the LORD affords Jacob his first and most important military victory. Egypt is defeated at the Red Sea.

The trip to Mount Sinai is riddled with problems. These are deliberate as the LORD wants Israel to completely forget the many gods in Egypt that they thought provided for them. He is the only provider. Israel responds in doubt and actual regret. It is a low point. Food and water problems provide testing moments. Jacob fails both exams. Regardless, the LORD does provide for Jacob. The battle with Amalek is detailed as an example of the LORD’s faithful watch over Israel.

At Mount Sinai the LORD wants to meet with His people but not in their current dirty condition. Equally the people fear the Presence of God. The mountain of His temporal dwelling was shaking while covered in dense smoke and ablaze. This interaction was not going to work. The Law was given. Forgiveness followed the golden calf rebellion. More laws are given, on second attempt, including the designs for the Tabernacle.

Jacob wants a human representative. The presence of the LORD is too much. The LORD agrees to Israel’s proposal for a representative, but with editions to the proposal. The representative is not human but an entire system. The tabernacle worship system is born. It is a compromise. Construction starts and the final product is delivered in time for commissioning on the first day of the first month, in the second year after Israel left Egypt.

Finally the LORD descends in a cloud over the Tabernacle. This is the climax.

Thanks for reading with me. God richly bless the reading of His word. Amen.

Published by Joseph Malekani

Joseph Malekani is a born-again Christian with a strong PAOG/Baptist background. He is heavily involved in student ministry with ZAFES – an IFES movement with focus on student ministry in Zambia. He is married to Audrey and they have two lovely children.

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