The Tabernacle of David and Israel’s Spiritual Eras

All of Israel except two – Joshua and Caleb – died in the wilderness before entering the land. Perhaps the reason was that the Egyptian culture had been woven into Israel’s thinking and would need to be extirpated to maximize the success of the new nation.

Although they remained a distinct entity ethnically, in Egypt they lived under the dominion of a culture with false assumptions about reality based in worship of false gods. Israel multiplied under the capriciousness of a worldly ruler who considered himself divinity on earth and had to adapt to function in that society. Most human beings cannot transcend the culture in which they live and end up subject to it. The remembrance of the “leeks and garlic” of Egypt and the desire to turn back was illustrative that many of Israel had whitewashed Egypt in their minds. Most of us learn how to become comfortable in our chains and our mind adapts to them, like a tree that grows into a fence, wrapping itself into it, unable to be separated from it without cutting. Even Joshua was born in and spent his early life in Egypt up to Kadesh-Barnea (at which point was 40), so his worldview was largely framed by his early life on the other side of Sinai. Caleb’s bravery to contradict the people and the other spies is much more impressive knowing that he was under the same influences as the rest of Israel and still believed, and it is no wonder that Caleb is praised because he had “a different spirit.”

The Apostles unanimously indicated that those of “the circumcision” – those who believed that in order to be a Christian, one must fully embrace the entirety of Mosaic law, symbolized by circumcision – were misguided individuals seeking to cause Christians to return to bondage. Occasionally the term “of the circumcision” refers in the New Testament to simply Jewish people, but it is used pejoratively of a particular sect of Jewish believers who forcefully advocated for it. Even Peter had been led astray in this regard:

[Gal 2:11-14 ESV] 11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

In Peter’s epistles he doesn’t mention circumcision, Israel, Jewish, or Jew. He does mention “Gentiles” in the sense of an immoral “other,” but he is talking about the Church Universal and not about Jewishness vs Gentiles per se. Peter couches his concepts in specifically Jewish language and concepts:

[1Pe 2:4-10 ESV] 4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” 7 So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” 8 and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

This set of verses is filled with allusions to Moses’ words about Israel’s role and standing among the nations (such as Ex 19:5-6), and concludes with allusions to the prophet Hosea, which Peter is interpreting as foretelling a shift in the identification of God’s people:

[Hos 1:9-11 ESV] 9 And the LORD said, “Call his name Not My People, for you are not my people, and I am not your God.” 10  Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.” 11 And the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint for themselves one head. And they shall go up from the land, for great shall be the day of Jezreel.

While Peter’s limited canonical writings emphasize the Jewish frame of the fledgling church, Paul emphasizes Gentile freedom from absolute adherence to the law. Peter famously preached to the Gentiles first in the Cornelius story, but his primary calling was the Apostle to the Jews:

[Gal 2:7-8 ESV] 7 …On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised 8 (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles)…

Peter and Paul governed an era of the church that transitioned from natural Israel to New Israel, a spiritual dispensation framed after the likeness of natural Israel, cut down to the stump of Israel’s calling and promises prior to the imposition of every Mosaic law. This leads to James’ speech at the Council of Jerusalem, concerning the fact that Gentiles had received the Holy Spirit without the law and how this informed the theology of the early church:

[Act 15:16-20 ESV] 16 “‘After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, 17 that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who makes these things 18 known from of old.’ 19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.

James’ use of David’s Tabernacle as a paradigm through which to understand the pouring out of the Holy Spirit needs explanation. It appears that James is describing a way of viewing history; first, a Moses’ tabernacle phase during which Israel was under the law and Gentiles were separate; second, a David’s tabernacle phase where the Ark is on Mount Zion and was open to the visitation by the Gentiles, while the rest of the Tabernacle of Moses was still functional in Gibeah; and third, a Solomon’s temple phase where the old Tabernacle was fully decommissioned and the Ark was moved into a temple of stone.

In this way of thinking, James was identifying the church of his day as a hybrid; while Jewish Christians still followed the law, The Ark was only accessed through Mount Zion. Eventually, the Ark would be placed in a more permanent structure. This is presumably the institutional Catholic Church that would arise some time later.

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