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God’s Word for You

Numbers 7:89 Moses and the curtain

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, July 15, 2021

89 When Moses went into the Tent of Meeting to speak with the LORD, he heard the LORD’s voice speaking to him from between the two cherubim above the atonement seat that was on the Ark of the Covenant. In this way the LORD spoke to him.

This verse tells us at least three things with perfect certainty, and for some, leaves one question.

Certainty #1: The Lord was pleased with the construction and dedication of the tabernacle and the ark. The people had done “everything the Lord commanded” (Exodus 40:16; Leviticus 8:36; Numbers 2:34). Their obedience came from their trust in him based on what he had done for them and his promise to continue to bless them.

Certainty #2: The Lord spoke within the sanctuary of the tabernacle in the Most Holy Place, “from between the two cherubim above the atonement seat that was on the Ark of the Covenant.” The cherubim were a pair of cast-gold angels built onto the cover of the ark. They were not idols. They were images to remind the high priest of important theological truths when he saw them once per year. They had wings; angels move quickly to do God’s will, and often appear with wings (Isaiah 6:2; Ezekiel 1:6; Zechariah 5:9). They looked down at the cover of the Ark where the commandments were, focusing on the Word of God. They were also kneeling in reverence, creatures of God and not divine themselves in any way. So the images, built to God’s specifications and at God’s command, illustrated that men and angels are subject to God and must listen to him.

Certainty #3: Moses heard the voice of God and even spoke with God.

But that leaves one uncertainty: Did Moses enter into the Holy of Holies, behind the curtain, to talk with God? Some passages seem to leave open the possibility, at least, that Moses spoke with God behind the curtain, in the Holy of Holies:

“There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the Testimony, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites” (Exodus 25:22).

Other passages seem to imply that Moses spoke with God at the entrance of the tent, and not behind the curtain:

“For the generations to come this burnt offering is to be made regularly at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting before the LORD. There I will meet you and speak to you” (Exodus 29:42).

One passage in particular should be explained. In Exodus 33:7-11, Moses is described going in and out of a tent to speak with the Lord. It is here that we are told, “The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend” (Exodus 33:11). But this was not the tabernacle. This was a temporary tent Moses set up to serve until the tabernacle was completed. Now that the tabernacle was finished and consecrated, would Moses, could Moses, have gone behind the curtain into the Most Holy Place?

I maintain that the answer is no, he did not and could not have done so. Now that the dwelling was completed, “Only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year” (Hebrews 9:7). We should remember that the Holy Place where the lamp and the bread were kept was only separated from the inner sanctum by a curtain. I believe that Moses would enter into the Holy Place and hear God speaking from behind the curtain. He would listen and respond, and then come out of the tabernacle to speak with the people. At those times, as he had up on the mountain, we’re told that the face of Moses would be shining with a special radiance, and he would cover his face with a veil (Exodus 34:34-35).

So Moses received messages from the Lord. This had been the case up on Mount Sinai, and then in the temporary tent while the tabernacle was being built, but from this point onward it would be here in the Holy Place. God spoke from behind the curtain, and Moses would then carry the message back to the people and write it down as the Law of God.

Of these certainties, it is the Lord’s approval and communication that we should remember most clearly. God’s communication with Moses was mostly about the tabernacle and about various laws for the nation that no longer apply today: the ceremonial laws and the civil laws. Others, such as the Ten Commandments, are God’s moral law and still apply. We should still learn these things and teach them to our children. Of course, the clearest communication from God of all is not even the long conversation the Lord maintained with Moses, but rather the person, words, work, and ministry of Jesus Christ. It is in Jesus that we have God’s assurance of our forgiveness, the basis of all our faith, and the promise of everlasting life. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). In his death, Jesus tore the curtain in half and made its presence unnecessary and no longer required forever (Luke 23:45). That old curtain is not torn a little bit, as if we need to complete the tearing, but it is torn away for good, “from top to bottom” (Mark 15:38). And by this ripping of the old covenant through the body and blood of Jesus, the resurrection of our bodies to life was proved and even demonstrated when the earth and its stones were likewise torn and split apart (Matthew 27:51), and “tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people” (Matthew 27:52-53). So we, too, will rise to life, just as Jesus did, no longer separated from God by the curtain as even Moses was separated, but living with Jesus in all his shining glory forever in paradise.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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