There are always moments in the life of an individual or even in the life of a nation which provide an opportunity for greatness. And if they are seized, they lead on to great things. And if a person or a nation fails to seize them, they lead to defeat and discouragement. Exodus 32 was a moment like this, and it’s what I call the finest hour in the life of this most outstanding man, Moses. 

Exodus 30 now goes back to talking about the furniture, picking up with the altar of incense (vv. 1-10). This may seem out of place. After all, the description of the furniture was interrupted by material about the priests, and now Moses is going back to talk about the furniture. Not only that, but the altar of incense was in the outermost room, the Holy Place. It seems that it should have been discussed back when Moses was talking about the table of showbread and the menorah. But like before, the explanation is a theological one. Incense symbolizes the prayers of the saints (see Rev. 5:8). The incense arises to heaven, as our prayers do, and it smells sweet. Our prayers are sweet to God. He wants to hear our prayers, even when we stumble around and don’t quite know what to pray about.

In Exodus 28, the description of the furniture breaks off, and we have a description of the garments that are to be worn by the priests of Israel, followed by an account of their consecration. Now that seems misplaced, doesn’t it? We already talked about one thing that seemed out of order, when we looked at the ark. However, we saw why the ark was treated first. Here, we haven’t heard about the altar of incense yet, or the basin that was used for purification. Why doesn’t the story go on and finish up with the furniture and then talk about the priests and their garments?

When you went in you came to the tabernacle itself. It too was a rectangle, and had two rooms: the Most Holy Place and the Holy Place. The Most Holy Place was a perfect cube, measuring fifteen feet by fifteen feet by fifteen feet. The outer room was twice as long: thirty feet long, fifteen feet wide, and fifteen feet high. Thus, the whole tabernacle was forty-five feet long. Of particular interest was the curtain that divided the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place. It was made of blue, purple, and scarlet yarn, and fine linen. It had figures of cherubim worked into it. Its purpose was to shield the visible presence of God from human eyes. It could only be passed through once a year, and even then only by the high priest, and that was on the Day of Atonement. 

The ark contained a number of things. The first and most important thing it contained was the Ten Commandments, the stone tablets. It also had a gold jar that contained some of the manna that the people got during their years in the wilderness. It also contained Aaron’s rod that had budded. Because it contained the law, the ark was given different names. It was called the ark of the testimony because that referred to the law; the ark of the covenant, since the covenant was established on the basis of the law; or simply the ark of God, or the ark of the Lord Jehovah.