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Book Review “Christ and the Desert Tabernacle”

“Christ and the Desert Tabernacle” by J. V. Fesko


Fesko is a Dean and Professor at Westminster Seminary, California, with a penchant for clearly communicating biblical concepts and tenderly encouraging godly behavior. The theme of the book is to review various emblems and types associated with the tabernacle as presented primarily in Exodus 25-30, explore the correspondence and fulfillment of them in Christ, and to promote godly Christian thought and behavior in view of them. Since the tabernacle and its services were patterned after heavenly affairs, yet also prefiguring Christ’s work of redemption and the services of church, it was fitting to review these details while reflecting on the history of his own pastorate in Georgia. Thus, the fullness of scripture is allowed to shape and guide our understanding of and involvement in the work of Christ’s church.


Chapter Title

Scripture References


Building materials Ex 25:1-9 (35:4-9) Building the church through giving; the right use of wealth; maintaining vision for evangelism; & employing the Word, sacraments and prayer
The Ark of the Covenant Ex 25:10-22 (37:1-9) Realize the presence of God in our gathering, our forgiveness in Christ, and pray in the Holy Spirit
The table and bread of presence Ex 25:23-30 (37:10-16) Be thankful and content for the Lord’s care of us; remember Him in the Lord’s Supper; honor Him
The lampstand and oil Ex 25:31-40 (37:17-24), and 27:20-21 Shine the light of the gospel and good works to the world; maintain hope for the consummation
The tabernacle Ex 26:1-37 (36:8-38) Meditate on the abiding presence of God in us; be comforted and encouraged in life and hope for His kingdom arrival
The altar and courtyard Ex 27:1-19 (38:1-7, 9-20) Exult in the work of Christ that satisfied God’s wrath against sin; maintain a proper understanding of sin and forgiveness
The priest’s garments Ex 28:1-43 (39:1-31) View Christ as our high priest; sin is not only forgiven, but righteousness imputed; do not fear
The consecration of priests Ex 29:1-46 Realize the shame of sin is removed in Christ; He sustains us with His life; gather together and edify each other
The altar of incense Ex 30:1-10 (37:25-28) Understand that Christ now intercedes for us to be godly in our life; make our life one of prayer in thanks, praise, and intercession
The census tax Ex 30:11-16 Practice humility since our strength come from the Lord; be gracious in attitude toward the unredeemed; yield our bodies for righteous ends
The bronze basin Ex 30:17-21 (38:8) Realize the activity of the Holy Spirit in your life and “improve on your baptism”
Oholiab and Bezalel Ex 31:1-11 Use your spiritual gifts for the growth of the church and for the building up of other believers; Be motivated by love in your service
The Sabbath Ex 31:12-18 Recall the work of Christ and the rest He provides; observe the Lord’s Day with joy and excitement; live a sanctified life as a result


I am personally drawn to typology and do not tire of considering how the Lord thinks and acts. It was necessary in God’s mind and will to engage the Israelites in a system of worship that somehow mimicked a pattern in heaven, recalled the initial creation, and anticipated a grand fulfillment in the person and work of Christ. And there was and is nothing in the flow of history or in the freedom of man to impede the outworking of God’s will from the beginning until the eschaton. The power and glory of God is evident in types and shadows.


How should Christians approach this aspect of biblical history? One approach is to imagine yourself living during that age. Just as the future generations of Israelites were to consider themselves to have been slaves in Egypt, Christians might consider themselves to have been faithful Israelites serving in the temple arena, and now, in view of the fulfillment of these shadows, “Rejoice that we no longer need to fear the presence of the Lord” (p. 75). It is easy to take for granted the freedom and simplicity of our access to the throne of God and to underestimate the privilege of serving within the body of Christ. May our fervency in service and our resolve to live in God’s presence be increased and intensified.


While some of the rites and ceremonies review the same portrayal of Christ’s work on the cross, this underscores the glorious importance of His work in the eyes of His Father. Yet a closer look does demonstrate nuances to that work of redemption that are wonderful to consider. It is the multitude of ritualistic details that work together to provide a unified and symphonic voice in proclaiming the majesty of our Lord and God.


Fesko opens with a brilliant examination of the materials involved in the construction of the tabernacle: their source, their specificity, and their use. He also lays the groundwork for understanding the christocentricity of types and shadows, a point that he appropriately repeats throughout the book. While many of the shadows specifically point toward Christ and His work, several of them allude to the church in general, which is Christ’s body, such as the lampstands and the consecration of priests. The altar of incense can view both the intercession of Christ on our behalf and/or the prayers of saints—a very enriching chapter, indeed.


Types are not limited to things and laws, but also to persons and activities. So, it was especially interesting to read Fesko’s ideas regarding the census tax, Oholiab and Bezalel, and the Sabbath. Unfortunately, he forgot to mention that the census tax (also called the redemption or temple tax) was referred to in the NT when Peter was questioned whether or not Jesus paid tribute (Matt 17:24-27). As Jesus delved into the significance of this law, He opened up considerations that are not superficially apparent in a reading of Exodus 30:11-16, such as the humanity and divinity of Christ. Fesko’s understanding of the giftedness of the artisans was quite encouraging, however, the focus on the church overshadowed any consideration of its fulfillment in Christ. After all, Isaiah exclaimed that the Lord put His Spirit upon the messianic servant (Isa 42:1).


Fesko’s treatment of the Sabbath is traditionally Reformed, and as such full of inconsistency. He is eloquent in stating the rationale for the commandment that Israel abstains from labor on the Sabbath: “The Israelites were not supposed to work because they were not able to enter God’s eternal rest by their own labour, but only by the labour of another” (p. 128). Obviously, since the prohibition from labor typified the spiritual inadequacy of man effecting his own redemption (and the supremacy of Christ’s work), then it would be silly for NT believers to actually refrain from work on a weekly basis as a spiritually significant activity. But Fesko assures his readers that even though they no longer observe the Sabbath, they still may observe a day of rest on the first day of the week. That is like saying that we no longer observe the Day of Atonement, but we still afflict our souls on the eleventh day of the seventh month. If it is true that there is no more offering for sin because Christ has offered one sacrifice for sins forever (Heb 10:12-18), then it is also true that there is no need for ritualistic rest because Christ has provided rest for our souls forever (Col 2:16; Matt 11:28-30).


The obvious shortcoming of this book is its brevity; however its brevity is also a strength. I imagine Fesko would have wanted to expound more on each of the subjects, assuming that his pastoral heart cannot be silenced. Yet in the brief contours of this book, he manages to provide plenty of encouragement, edification, and enthralling lessons.

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