Rev. Toh Nee Lim | On 14, Aug 2018
Scripture Reading: Exodus 33:7-11
‘Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, a good distance from the camp, and he called it the tent of meeting. And everyone who sought the LORD would go out to the tent of meeting which was outside the camp. And it came about, whenever Moses went out to the tent, that all the people would arise and stand, each at the entrance of his tent, and gaze after Moses until he entered the tent. Whenever Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent; and the LORD would speak with Moses. When all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would arise and worship, each at the entrance of his tent. Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses returned to the camp, his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent.
This brief passage; 4 verses, is a very fragment of the Exodus story. It is about the Tent. The Israelites traveled for 40 years between Egypt and the Promised Land. If they had gone in a straight line they could have apparently done it in six months, but human beings don’t go places in a straight line all the time, do we? During the Israelites’ 40-year journey through the wilderness between Egypt and the Promised Land, they often made camp. These encampments might last a long time – years. The Israelites would pitched their tents, carrel (a stall) their animals, set up their cooking areas, their hygienic areas, just like nomadic Bedouins do in the Middle East till today. Moses would pitch his tent outside the camp that he called ‘The Tent of Meeting.’ It was not a large tent originally. Even though the Hebrew terminology is a bit unclear, I think it is best translated to say that Moses, he, himself, pitched the tent. In other words, it was a small and simple enough tent that Moses himself could pitch it with his own hands.
During my morning devotion, I came across this tent. All the while I thought this tent was the tabernacle and then I realized I was wrong. No matter how many times you read the bible, or how old your personal bible has been to you, you will always receive new revelation from the word of God. There is this tent and the uniqueness of this tent intrigued me and thus my sermon.
During these times of encampment or settlement, Moses would regularly leave the camp to enter this tent where he would meet with God. The Hebrew word which is translated ‘meeting’ here has the connotation of ‘meeting at an appointed time.’ So Moses would meet God at a fixed time.
This tent is separate from the Tabernacle described in Exodus 25-30. As much as this tent is different from the Tabernacle, so is our tent different from the church. This tent is pitched outside the camp whereas the Tabernacle is in the midst of the camp. At this time the tabernacle has yet to be constructed. The Hebrew word for ‘tabernacle’ is ‘mishkan’. The tabernacle is an intricate, carefully constructed tent that needs quite a number of people to move it and even that they had to follow God’s procedure to move it. This tent is different although it is a forerunner of the Tabernacle. The Hebrew word ‘haohel’ is translated as the ‘tent’. It seems to indicate Moses’ personal tent or personal house. The bible says the rest of the Israelites will stand at their tent; their house, when Moses enter this tent. They too were fascinated by this tent especially when Moses enters this tent. What can we learn from this portion of scripture?
1. It is a Personal Tent
Moses’ special relationship with YHWH is highlighted by this tent. It is a meeting place between God and Moses. It was the place where YHWH and Moses communicated “face to face.’ Its position outside the camp was because of its holiness and Israel’s sin with the golden calf.
If anyone of the people had a question or issue they could approach the tent and seek Moses’ counsel. That is why it is called the tent of meeting. Anyone who desired communion with God should come to this tent. But Moses is in the tent. It is interesting that God approved this arrangement. Actually Moses had to be in the tent. Because whenever Moses entered this tent the pillar of the cloud descended from the top of Sinai and took up its station at the door of the tent thus securing Moses from interruption. I know that we are all excited when we have our first home which we call our own. Many of us filled it with washing machine, fridge, treadmill, and all the modern gadgets and even for the luxurious home, we have gazebos; roofed structure that offer an opening view of the surrounding area used for relaxation and entertainment but we have forgotten or ignored to set up a tent for God. Do you have a personal tent for God?
2. It is a Tent of Prayer.
It is more than a tent of prayer. It is a tent of communication and fellowship with YHWH. You have a group of friends and most of the time you gather at a selected location. You enjoyed one another’s company and shared secrets and concern and discuss everything under the sun. This tent is similar except that it is between Moses and YHWH. It is pitched outside the camp away from the secular sights and sounds. This tent must be away from the noises and the voices of the world. Another reason it was pitched outside the camp was because of the pollution of the people. The term ‘far away’ implies the people were not in favor with God. The people had been obstinate and God called them stiff-necked. The offence was so grievous that it could not be condoned anymore. Because of them God would not go to the Promised Land with them. Moses felt he could not rest till he had obtained for the people the complete return of God’s favor. Moses went to this tent of prayer to intercede that God would take the matter into consideration (that means change his mind) and later YHWH decided that he would go with them into the Promised Land. Moses realizes that to find “favor” or “grace” one must seek YHWH. To find grace and favor one must go to this tent.
We do not know if it was a daily or weekly or how often, but most likely at an appointed time; a fixed hour each day. Moses would walk through the camp, outside the camp, and enter the Tent to meet with God, the God he called by the name YHWH or I AM. When he entered the Tent of Meeting, according to this ancient account, a cloud would descend and position itself outside the entrance to the tent; a cloud in the shape of a pillar. When you make your house a tent of prayer or your life a tent of prayer, the presence of God will come. No doubt he prayed to the Lord with all the fervor. It might be a prayer for oneself, or a prayer for others. I want to share a truth here. The people outside of your tent of prayer in this world had corrupted themselves by building their own golden calf. Sin is an alienating force in their relationship with God. They are so corrupted that YHWH is ready to loose his burning wrath against them and consumed them. Whether these people are your relatives, your family members or even your church friends and friends of the world, You can seek to change YHWH’s mind concerning them and appeals on the basis of your relationship with God. For church friends you can appeal on the basis of the covenant; consider that this is your people. You can also appeal on the basis of Christ who shed his blood for them. Two words are important in this tent of prayer: presence and rest. These two are intricately bound. The presence of the Lord does give us rest. There are people even in the church that are truly tired, weary and are about to give up. The tent will give rest. How often in prayers are we visited by the presence of God and find ourselves keenly aware of our failure. This connecting of the presence of God brings about rest to our soul. There is fatigue, depression, anxiety, loss of purpose, loss of hope, anger, disillusionment, confusion, disorientation, spiritual warfare and just about everything is hovering over the heads of people because you have not pitched a tent for God.
3. It is Recognized by Others
The people could discern the presence of God in you because of the tent. Whether you call it anointing, favor of God, unction, people could discern the presence of God in you when you have this tent. They could perceive and feel that the divine was there in the tent with Moses, and they would kneel outside their tents until the meeting was over and the cloud would ascend again, and Moses would come out of the tent. This is what was at stake here: the slaves in Egypt had followed Moses through the Red Sea with the mighty Egyptian army of chariots chasing them because Moses told them the God I AM wanted them to be free. Then they had followed Moses into the wilderness where there was no food to eat or water to drink because Moses had told them that I AM was leading them to a Promised Land. Now the Israelites were going in circles in the Wilderness living like nomads, dependent upon some strange food called Manna or ‘What is it?’ The Israelites didn’t know where the Promised Land was or how to get there. They were in a strange place where they did not know how to survive. It was pretty important to them to have a sense that Moses and I AM were still talking with each other. So watching Moses enter the Tent of Meeting at the appointed time and having a sense that God was truly there meeting with Moses was an important time of the day or week or month.
This shows the importance of a man or woman called by God to have a tent. I am speaking to leaders. The people of this world or even the Christians are slaves to bondages and were led out of the world of Sin to be free. But then as they followed God, they experienced the wilderness of life where even provision and the promised blessing are only a dream. Their lives have been in circles and they depended on a book called the bible. It was pretty important that people can sense God in you as their leader and is communicating with you. So watching you having a tent was an important truth to them. They watched carefully because they knew you have enjoyed a unique relationship with God. Indeed God spoke to you in the most intimate way. And this cannot be imitated. Either you have the tent or you don’t have the tent. You are recognized, respected, reverenced when you have the tent. And people will worship God because of this tent of yours.
The people honored God’s presence and Moses’ presence by these actions: “arise”, “stand” and “worship”. Probably Moses went in or out at a set time each day and the people watched his going and rose up, as a mark of respect and reverence. They felt that he went to the tent mainly to pray for them. The bible says when the people saw the cloudily pillar, they worshipped; literally bowed themselves down, made an obeisance in token that they recognized the presence of God. The bible says ‘everyone who sought the Lord’ would come to the tent. Notice the inclusive term, ‘everyone’. What a wonderful aspect of Israel’s God; his availability. Those who seek fellowship with YHWH and those who seek information would come to the tent. The pillar of cloud was a physical symbol of the personal presence of YHWH. I have seen midst before. It is actually white cloud. I was driving along the Cordilidera mountain range which is 500 meters above sea level. And at one part my whole vehicle was enveloped by this thick cloud. I had to drive extremely slow before I cannot see a distance of more than 10 meters ahead of me. And it was that way for quite a while. I believe this pure white thick cloud descended upon the gate of the tent like a pillar and this tent and stayed there until Moses left the tent.
Because Israel is obstinate, YHWH struggles how to remain with them personally. Again Moses’ intercession is crucial and YHWH remains. YHWH remaining set the literary stage for the renewal of the covenant (i.e., rewriting and re-giving of the Ten Commandments (i.e., Exod. 34:1-9). Moses’ request to behold YHWH physically shows the ongoing need of humans to visualize Deity! YHWH again grants Moses’ request in a limited fashion.
4. The Tent Became a Tent of Meeting.
As I say, it may have originally been Moses’ personal tent, but no longer. Others would come to this tent. Your personal tent will lead to a larger scope of ministry.
Over time, this simple tent that Moses could pitched with his own hands became larger and larger, and more and more elaborate, until it took a small army of people to carry it, and to pitch it. Eventually it became so large and complex. Moses’ tent probably became the finest in the camp. That is what will happen to your life when you have a tent. Your life will probably be the finest amongst people.
The tent led to a wider scope of ministry. Your ministry will become larger and larger and you need a small army of people to support this scope of ministry. Eventually your ministry will become large and complex.
The bible says everyone who sought the Lord went to the tent. The word ‘seek’ denotes two things: Firstly they went there to seek fellowship with YHWH. Secondly they went there to seek information. The Exodus context fits Moses as a judge. He is the oracle of YHWH. When you have a tent of prayer, you will be able to give wise counsel to others; you judge right from wrong. Others come to you to teach them God’s ways, truth and will. It talks about the availability of God. Individuals who desired to seek the Lord could go there. Individuals come to you to seek spiritual guidance. Prior to written scripture, God uses Moses to be the mediator of His word. Likewise, people who doesn’t know the word of God in this world and even in the church, God uses people who has a tent in his life to be the mediator of the word of God. God uses you to be a prophet, you who receive dreams and visions to be a guide for this people that are lost.
Many lives are a wilderness today. The bible calls it the wilderness of sin. But the most interesting truth here is that the tent is in the wilderness of sin, outside the camp. The world needs a tent in the wilderness. Be that tent. There are two reasons they need this Tent of Meeting in the wilderness.
First, in the wilderness, a sense of the divine is essential. In the wilderness a sense of the transcendent, a sense of the numinous (mystical, supernatural), of the holy, of the telic (a sense of the definite end) is essential for survival. They can face their vulnerability and need and start again only if they know that they are not on their own. If they see the tent they know they can survive. They need you to be that tent. Because they are not doing well on their own, these are important days to pitch a tent outside the camp: the world. These are important days for them to discern the presence of the Great I AM. The tent of meetings allows them to acknowledge that they are lost and confused and not very competent at finding their ways without becoming hopeless.
The second reason they need the tent of Meeting in the wilderness is; someone got to be meeting with the Great I AM. Why can’t you be that someone. Somebody got to be listening to the transcendent voice. It is not secret that we live in a time when religion is being abused. There are synagogues and mosques and even churches that teach hate, that teach exclusion, that teach repression. You need to be that someone to show the presence of God. No one ever leaves a real tent meeting; coming out unchanged. Please there are people who are lost in the wilderness and who need a tent meeting.
The tent is just a tent, but the meeting is everything. And because this tent is where someone once met the divine, and because it is where we might meet the divine again that would be enough; this tent is our hope in the midst of our wilderness.
What will be your scope of ministry?
The Phrase ‘Depart, go up from here” is to proceed from Mount Sinai to Canaan. They had been in Mount Sinai for an extended period of time. Now they had to begin their trek to Canaan. God’s renewal of covenant call for us to depart from Sinai to Canaan. Another name of Mount Sinai is Mount Horeb. Horeb is a Semitic word for “desert,” “waste land.” Some scholars think it refers to a dry mountain range, while Sinai is the highest peak. Sinai is related to a desert bush. There is a wilderness in the southern area called “The Wilderness of Sin” You are to lead people from the wilderness of sin to the Promised Land.
The phrase “to the land I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” This is a recurrent theme. God had always wanted the whole people of God to go into the Promised Land. Canaan does represent heaven but rather our promised blessings while here on earth. God had always wanted us to go to the land of milk and honey; a life of abundance. Jesus said it clearly. ‘I come that you may have life and have it more abundantly.’
Exodus 33:2 says, ‘I will send an angel before you” This personal representative of YHWH appears several times. This angel may be the pre-incarnate Christ. God says ‘I will drive out’ the giants of our life. He will clear all bondages in our life. In Exodus 33:14 YHWH heeds Moses’ request. He will personally accompany Israel on their journey to Canaan. The phrase ‘I will give you rest’ refers to entering and dwelling in Canaan. The word rest has several connotations: