This lesson is all about the language of God. In other words, it is about the symbols God uses to teach us of Him and His ways. Symbolism is found throughout the scriptures, but perhaps nowhere so densely as in the law of Moses.
I would like to step aside from my appointed purpose of talking about symbols for just a moment. I promise it is it to make a point that has to do with the stated purpose of this article.
Satan is so conniving. He put it into the hearts of conspiring men to remove all references of Jesus from the Old Testament records. They did it thinking they were going to thwart the Christians from being able to stake their claim that the man they said was the Messiah was mentioned throughout holy writ. Now they could claim that the mention of Jesus’ name was nowhere to be found in their ancient texts, so Jesus couldn’t be the Messiah. To give you an idea of the damage they did, think of how many times Jesus is mentioned by name in the Book of Mormon. All the prophets taught like the Book of Mormon prophets, referring to the Messiah by name.
I have always felt like the Old Testament was almost like a book from another religion, because he who is mentioned so frequently in every other book of scripture is nowhere to be found in the Old Testament. It wasn’t until this year’s study that I finally got it through my thick skull that I need to look for references of the Savior or Messiah, since there are no longer any references to the Christ by name.
It is because of this mental and emotional disconnect from the Old Testament on my part that I just didn’t see Jesus, as Jehovah, at work in the Old Testament. I knew he went by the name of Jehovah, but somehow that just wasn’t the same person I knew as Jesus. It is only now that I recognize that Christ is evident throughout that book, just not referenced by name, that I see more clearly that all the books of scripture really do sing in harmony with each other regarding the gospel doctrine we are taught. We just need to see Christ in a different light in the Old Testament, for evidence of him is throughout the book.
This brings me back to where we started, symbols. I didn’t see the tabernacle or the ancient temples as in any way connected to our temple, because I wasn’t seeing Christ as being the center of their worship. After reading The Tabernacle and Sacrifice found on page 79 of the manual, I see now that the law of Moses really did point to the ministry of Jesus as the Christ or Messiah who should come. His imagery is everywhere, and it is all bound up in the symbols the Jews were taught through the Law.
The building called the Tabernacle was a portable temple that was in use only as long as the people had no place to call home, and they had not built an actual temple from stone and wood. Walls were made of curtains, and even the Ark of the Covenant was made of wood, but covered in gold. The Lord spared no expense to make His “house” as fine as the people could afford to build. His house was built to inspire people to think of the grandeur of God. If they had a shoddy lean-to for a temple, who would be inspired by, or impressed by, the ordinances of God’s house? The presentation really does make a difference in what we are willing to take seriously. The ordinances would be the same, but as shallow creatures, we would find it difficult to see past the poorness of His house. Hence, we build temples as fine as we can afford in order to show our respect for the ordinances to be found within God’s dwelling. They are built to be places all would long to be in.
Just because the Tabernacle was made of curtains, wood, and gold, it doesn’t mean the Tabernacle didn’t carry the same weight and depth of meaning that modern temples do. Here are some of the symbols found within that sacred edifice. And mind you, these are only some of the symbols.
Materials – The materials of the Tabernacle were of the best the Israelites could afford or make for themselves. Temples have always been built through sacrifice. Everything about their construction must be the best. Even modern temples are built to the highest standards of construction. This means that only certain companies are qualified to build the temples, because the grade of craftsmanship must be the highest known to the industry. No shortcuts, and no corners can be cut. As an example, I was the executive secretary to the President and the CEO of Fetzers woodworking company when the Conference Center was being built in Salt Lake City. Fetzers only deals with the highest end woodworking, doing jobs like Judge’s chambers, conference tables, and for mansions, etc. Even back in the 90’s they never took on a job less than a million dollars.
Fetzers designed the Conference Center organ. I saw all the iterations of the organ as the Church tried to get as much organ for its money as they could get from Fetzers. They also designed the entire podium, stand, and staging area so that when Conference was over a giant warehouse door opens up from behind where the Apostles sit, and a crane comes out to disassemble all the seating and haul them back into the back for storage. This way they can reconfigure the area in front of the organ with a performance stage or have the seats for General Conference. Fetzers also did all the paneling in the building, as well as furnished them with all the seats. It was a massive undertaking.
I have also walked through the temples Fetzers was hired to work on. When you look at the stair banisters or the railings in the endowment rooms, they are flawless. You will find no evidence of nail holes, no dents, nothing. It is as though all the wood simply grew into the shape required for the Temple to use. I have never seen such beautiful work as they do. This is what is required for the House of the Lord. Only the finest. The descriptions of the Tabernacle are describing the very best the people could produce. We should appreciate the sacrifices that went into making and maintaining that portable building.
Holy of Holies
There was a small room in the center of the Tabernacle that housed the Ark of the Covenant and other symbols of God’s love and power. Let’s just talk for a moment about the lid on the Ark. The lid of the Ark, the mercy seat, held special significance. Exodus 25:17-22
17 And thou shalt make a of pure gold: two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof.
18 And thou shalt two of gold, of beaten work shalt thou make them, in the two ends of the mercy seat.
19 And make one cherub on the one end, and the other cherub on the other end: even shall ye make the cherubims on the two ends thereof.
20 And the cherubims shall stretch forth their wings on high, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and faces shall look one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubims be.
21 And thou shalt put the above upon the ark; and in the ark thou shalt put the that I shall give thee.
22 And there I will with thee, and I will with thee from above the , from between the two which are upon the ark of the testimony, of all things which I will give thee in commandment unto the children of Israel.
I recommend you watch at least one of the videos to be found on this page. The video on the Tabernacle (about halfway down the page in the section entitled “Symbolism of the Tabernacle”) walks you though the Tabernacle and discusses many of the symbols bound up in the placement of objects, and of the parts of the structure itself. It is a little more than seven minutes long.
As you consider the Holy of Holies, the Ark of the Covenant, and the Mercy Seat, think of Christ. Christ, as Jehovah, is the God of Israel. Our Father in Heaven watches over the laws of the plan of salvation. He is all about justice. But He is also all merciful. For this reason He has given us a Savior who can provide us with mercy and forgiveness for sins, something our Father cannot directly offer us. So when the prophet or the High Priest enters the presence of God, the Holy of Holies, he approaches the mercy seat, the throne of God, to seek forgiveness and redemption for the sins of Israel. Isn’t this basically what we are all doing when we partake of the sacrament each Sunday? We go to the meeting for the express purpose of renewing our covenant with God to remember His Son so we can have His Spirit to be with us and be forgiven for our sins.
Every item in the temple is steeped in symbols. Every placement of each object is meant to teach a lesson. Think about what you saw in the video. The Ark of the Covenant stands alone in the Holy of Holies as the presence of God in the midst of His people. The Cherubim both face the center of the Mercy Seat, looking to God for the Mercy God offers His people (through Christ). The High Priest only entered the Holy of Holies on one day of the year, the Day of Atonement. Everything points to Christ’s role as our Savior and Redeemer, he who offers us an atonement with God.
The whole purpose of the use of symbols, and symbolism in the scriptures, is to give us connections to higher meanings. The Lord uses symbols because they can teach us more than direct language can. A symbol gains in significance based on our preparation to understand more. When you teach a child about baptism, the symbols are all there, but the child only sees getting wet. It isn’t until that child has grown and prepared their mind for deeper meaning that they see that the water represents a grave, a death of the old that gives rise to the birth of a newness of life. It is only when they are prepared to see it that they come to understand that the baptism itself represents birth as well, which also has water, blood, and spirit as its elements.
One symbol, the baptismal font, can be the food for thought for many spiritual lessons, all of which are found in the scriptures once you know where to find them. This is the reason the Lord also taught in parables. Parables are word symbols that hide the true, deeper meaning from the unprepared, but reveal them to those who are prepared.
Okay, I didn’t get to the sacrifices, but I think this will suffice for today. I suggest you look up keywords on the Church website, like sacrifice, and symbol. See what comes up.
Blood of the lamb
One last teaser. When the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, he brought with him a basin of blood from the lamb offering. He then sprinkled some of that blood on the mercy seat, and on the book of commandments. What does that say to you as you listen to the Spirit when someone says these objects were covered in the blood of the Lamb? Who is the lamb? When the law of Moses was instituted, Moses sprinkled some of this same blood of the lamb on the people of Israel. What does it mean to be covered by the blood of the Lamb? Now there is a mighty symbol!
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