September 27, 2015

In this issue: The Tabernacle of David by Roger Lindsey

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God does not waste words. It is a good idea to look closely at a passage when we think this may be the case. One such passage occurs initially in Amos 9.11-12, which is quoted by James during a gathering of the church in Jerusalem. The quote refers to the “tabernacle of David.” This article proposes to examine that reference and see if it can be determined what the Spirit of God was saying and what treasures of understanding can be had by the effort.

In answering the question that so plagued the church in the first century, the saints at Jerusalem considered the matter from several angles. The question was, “Does God require the Gentiles to be circumcised and to follow the Law of Moses? (Acts 15.5)” The first to advance an opinion was Peter who referred to his being sent to the first true Gentile converts in the case of Cornelius and his household (Acts 10). His conclusion was “..why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will” (Acts 15.10-11).

The assembly having fallen silent then listened to the account of the signs and wonders God had done by Paul and Barnabas among the Gentiles. James then begins to speak. He refers to the first Gentile converts as God having “visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his own name” (Acts 15.14). He then quotes from Amos 9.11-12.

And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written: ‘After this I will return And will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down; I will rebuild its ruins,
And I will set it up; So that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, Even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, Says the Lord who does all these things.’ (Acts 15.15-18 NKJV).

This seems to have been immediately accepted by all the assembly as the conclusion of the matter. Why? And what is this “tabernacle of David?”

Amos prophesied in the time of Uzziah king of Judah and Joash king of Israel, or about 750 BC. Neither Israel (the ten northern tribes) nor Judah had been taken into captivity, but Amos speaks of a time when the Lord would restore the fortunes of all Israel by rebuilding the tabernacle of David that had fallen down. This may mean that the tabernacle had already fallen down, or that it would be by the time of the fulfillment of the prophecy. Which is the meaning will be determined by answering what the tabernacle is that is referenced here. The Gentile nations would be involved in the fulfillment of this prophecy, which the Jews seem to have taken to mean that they would rule over the Gentiles when this tabernacle was restored.

So, what is the tabernacle?

It cannot refer to David’s physical body as Peter referred to his own by calling it a “tent” (Greek skene, the same word as used in Acts 15.16) since David was “both dead and buried and his sepulcher” was in Jerusalem even then. He had not been raised.

Does it refer to the kingdom of David? It is related to the promised King, as can be seen in Isaiah 16.5 “then a throne will be established in steadfast love, and on it will sit in faithfulness in the tent of David one who judges and seeks justice and is swift to do righteousness.” But the usual words for kingdom are not used here, such as house, mountain, kingdom, etc. As in the Greek of Acts 15.16 where skene (a tent, temporary dwelling, a booth) is used, so in the Hebrew of Amos 9.11 the word sukkah (tent, booth, temporary dwelling) is used. So what IS this tabernacle of David?

There is only one tent that David is specifically said to have built, and that is in 2 Samuel 6.17 “And they brought in the ark of the Lord and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it. And David offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Lord.”

When the Ark of the Covenant was brought into Jerusalem, David assigned Asaph and other Levite singers to minister before it in the tent he had built for the ark. When one passed that tent he was apt to hear some heavenly singing inside. He also assigned Obed-Edom and his brethren to be gate keepers and to minister otherwise at this tabernacle (1 Chronicles 16.4-7, 37-8).

Meanwhile, the tabernacle of Moses, where the ark originally resided, was in Gibeon, about 5 miles north, northwest of Jerusalem. There the high priest and regular priests were still assigned to perform all the rituals of the Mosaic Law including the sacrifices (1 Chronicles 16.39-40).

The important thing to note here is that the Ark of the Covenant was removed from the rituals of the Law of Moses and was in a place where even non-Levites could be near.

In the next chapter of 1 Chronicles, David plans to build a permanent house for the ark (1 Chronicles 17.1-2), to which the Lord responded that he would not allow David to build it, but his son could do so. In addition, the Lord gives David a promise of an everlasting kingdom, a permanent “house” of a different kind (1 Chronicles 17.3-15). David’s response is to go and sit before the Lord to pour out his heart in deep gratitude (v 16). Where was this that David “went in and sat before the Lord?” If this means he went in and sat before the ark, he did something that could not be done by even a king in the tabernacle of Moses. King Uzziah tried it and paid with his health. (2 Chronicles 26.16-21) Apparently David went and sat in the tent containing the ark.

When James quotes the prophecy from Amos, he makes the connection between the temporary tent which David pitched for the ark of God’s presence and the inclusion of the Gentiles into the kingdom. It all makes sense that God was making Himself more accessible to all people, not just the high priests, the regular priests, nor just the Levites, nor even just the Jews. He is accessible in this tabernacle to all, even Gentiles.

We should all be familiar with the multiple New Testament statements to the effect that the Law of Moses had to be removed in order to usher in the new covenant.

The Lord said, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.” (Mt 5.17-19)

He also said, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” (Lk 24.42)

Once these things were fulfilled, the old covenant with its laws, sacrifices and rituals was taken away, and the King who was to sit in David’s tabernacle judging righteous judgment took His seat. This made it possible that all, whether Jew or Gentile, can be reconciled to God and to one another in one body, the tabernacle of David which has been rebuilt in a sense to house the presence of the Lord and those who will come to him.

“For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.” (Eph 2.14-18)

The presence of the Lord now resides with his people, Jew or Gentile, in that one body, the church, which was pictured by the tabernacle of David which he built for the ark.

Just as that tent was temporary, so is this arrangement, in that, when the time comes, those who dwell in this tabernacle, the church, the body of Christ, will be found in a new building, a permanent one, which the Lord has prepared. One day we will see, as did John, the heavenly Jerusalem descending in all its glory…and we will be part of it. ~

Roger Lindsey

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