The offering for the tabernacle

The atonement money (which we looked at in the last study) was the first offering God commanded his people to bring to him in the Old Testament; the second offering was for the construction of the tabernacle (also referred to as the sanctuary, or Tent of Meeting), the details of which are given in Exo 35:

Moses said to the whole Israelite community, 'This is what the Lord has commanded: From what you have, take an offering for the Lord. Everyone who is willing is to bring to the Lord an offering of gold, silver and bronze; blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair; ram skins dyed red and hides of sea cows; acacia wood; olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; and onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breastpiece.'

Then the whole Israelite community withdrew from Moses' presence, and everyone who was willing and whose heart moved him came and brought an offering to the Lord for the work on the Tent of Meeting, for all its service, and for the sacred garments. All who were willing, men and women alike, came and brought gold jewellery of all kinds: brooches, earrings, rings and ornaments. They all presented their gold as a wave offering to the Lord. Everyone who had blue, purple or scarlet yarn or fine linen, or goat hair, ram skins dyed red or hides of sea cows brought them. Those presenting an offering of silver or bronze brought it as an offering to the Lord, and everyone who had acacia wood for any part of the work brought it. Every skilled woman spun with her hands and brought what she had spun—blue, purple or scarlet yarn or fine linen. And all the women who were willing and had the skill spun the goat hair. The leaders brought onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breastpiece. They also brought spices and olive oil for the light and for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense. All the Israelite men and women who were willing brought to the Lord freewill offerings for all the work the Lord through Moses had commanded them to do. (Exo 35:4–9; 20–29)

The atonement money was a fixed sum—no more and no less—but this offering was a freewill offering, the principle on which all New Testament giving is based. You will note that

More than enough

Then Moses summoned Bezalel and Oholiab and every skilled person to whom the Lord had given ability and who was willing to come and do the work. They received from Moses all the offerings the Israelites had brought to carry out the work of constructing the sanctuary. And the people continued to bring freewill offerings morning after morning. So all the skilled craftsmen who were doing all the work on the sanctuary left their work and said to Moses, 'The people are bringing more than enough for doing the work the Lord commanded to be done.'

Then Moses gave an order and they sent this word throughout the camp: 'No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.' And so the people were restrained from bringing more, because what they already had was more than enough to do all the work. (Exo 36:2–7)

God allowed his people to give according to how they felt in their hearts. No amounts were mentioned, neither were individuals told to give specific items. They were simply informed of the need and the people gave.

And their generosity was so great, and their desire to see God's tabernacle built was so strong, that they brought more than enough to do the work; and Moses had to stop them from bringing any more.

Do you think God moved in the hearts of his people so they gave in this way? Yes he did, and that is what he does in the New Testament if we ask him to lead us in our giving.

The cost of giving

The completion of the tabernacle brings the Book of Exodus to a close. The first seven chapters of Leviticus then lists the sacrifices God required his people to bring to him there: the burnt offerings, the grain offerings, the fellowship offerings, the sin offerings and the guilt offerings.

All those offerings involved the people giving to God out of their means, which meant it would have cost them something. That there should be a cost involved in giving to God is taught in 2Sa 24.

David had sinned against the Lord by counting Israel's fighting men; and to atone for his sin, and to bring to an end the plague that had come upon Israel as a result, he was told to build an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.

When David approached Araunah to buy his threshing floor, Araunah said, 'My Lord, I give it to you and you can have my oxen for the sacrifice as well.' But David said:

'No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.' (2Sa 24:24)

The answer David gave to Araunah reveals an important spiritual truth: that there should always be a cost involved in giving to God. And why is that? Because there was a cost involved in God giving to us. Think what it must have cost the Father to see his Son die on the cross for the sins of the world—the innocent for the guilty.

The Bible says that God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son (Joh 3:16). Giving is a godly thing because God is a giving God; and biblical giving involves a cost—both in respect to God giving to us and us giving to God.

Offering for the temple

The tabernacle was a portable structure where God met with his people in the desert. Later, when Israel was established in the promised land, the Holy Spirit gave King David plans for a permanent building (a temple) that Solomon built in Jerusalem (1Ch 28:11–12).

From all the resources available to him David provided materials for the work and, in addition, because of his devotion to the temple of his God, he gave his own personal treasures of gold and silver as well. So David gave towards the project from his own possessions—and generously too (1Ch 29:2–5a).

Then in 1Ch 29:5b he said, 'Now, who is willing to consecrate himself today to the Lord?' The Hebrew word translated 'consecrate' means, literally, a full hand. David was saying: 'Now who is willing to come to God with a full hand today?' In other words: 'Who is willing to give generously to his work?'

At this point we should ask ourselves why these details are recorded in the Bible. We know that all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2Ti 3:16), but what spiritual lessons can the building of God's temple in Jerusalem three thousand years ago hold for Christians today?

God has put these details into his Word because the temple of God, in the New Testament, is his Church.

A church is not just the physical building where we meet with God, as were the tabernacle and the temple in the Old Testament. God no longer dwells in temples built by hands (Act 17:24); he now dwells in believers, individually (1Co 6:19), and in his Church, collectively (Eph 2:19–22).

So, if God's temple in the Old Testament was a type and shadow of his Church in the New Testament, then God is saying to us, through his Word: 'Who is going to give generously to me today so I can build my Church and perform my will through my Church?'

Solomon: a type of Christ

God appointed Solomon to build a temple for his name after David and his people had provided the finance. But Jesus said:

'…now one greater than Solomon is here.' (Mat 12:42)

And:

'…I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.' (Mat 16:18)

Solomon was a type of Christ, not only because of the wisdom God gave him, but also because he was appointed by God to build a temple for his name. In the same way, God has appointed Jesus Christ to build a temple for his name (the Church) as we provide the finance for it.

So the first two offerings commanded in the Old Testament (the atonement money and the offering for the tabernacle) illustrate the price Jesus paid for our salvation and the financial commitment he expects us to show towards building his Church.

Everything comes from God

After the people had given towards the building of the temple, David prayed:

'But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.' (1Ch 29:14)

David acknowledged that neither he nor his people could have given to the work if God hadn't given to them in the first place. The truth is that everything we have comes from God.

Jacob said, '…and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth (Gen 28:22).' Jacob acknowledged that everything he would receive during his lifetime would come from God. He would have to work for it (he worked fourteen years for his uncle, Laban), but God blessed him in his work and he returned home a wealthy man.

Likewise, the majority of Christians must work for their living, but everything comes from God. It's God who gives us the strength to work, the ability to work and the opportunity to work. Without God we can do nothing so, ultimately, everything we have comes from God.

When David and his people gave generously to God's work, they were only returning to him a portion of what he'd given to them.

God tests the heart

God could have caused a temple to appear ready-built without any need for the people to finance it, but he didn't do that. David said:

'I know, my God, that you test the heart…' (1Ch 29:17a)

The Hebrew word translated 'test' in that verse describes an investigation to determine the character of a person—to see what they're like inside.

God wanted his temple built in this way so he could test the hearts of his people to see if they would give to the work. And that is why, in the New Testament, giving is also on a freewill basis.

Under the New Covenant God doesn't tell us how much to give and there's no compulsion for us to give; we are told to give according to how we feel in our hearts (2Co 9:7). In this way God tests our hearts to see if we are willing to give to him or not: to see whether we love him or money (Mat 6:24).

'And now I have seen with joy how willingly your people who are here have given to you. O Lord, God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac and Israel, keep this desire in the hearts of your people for ever, and keep their hearts loyal to you.' (1Ch 29:17b–18)

David rejoiced when he saw how willingly the people gave to the work; and he asked that God would keep that desire in their hearts for ever, ie for all time and for all generations—even to the present day.

Lord, may your people always give generously to your work, and may their hearts always be loyal to you.

Michael Graham
October 2005

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ®. NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.

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