The Tent of Meeting

A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper


And it came to pass, when Moses entered the tabernacle, that the pillar of cloud descended and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and the Lord talked with Moses. (Exodus 33:9)

Our text for today refers to a time when the children of Israel had just arrived in the wilderness and Moses was meeting with Jehovah on Mt. Sinai. Moses received the Ten Commandments, rules instituting the priesthood, and the design for the ark of the Covenant and the Tabernacle to house it. When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai, he told the people all the things he had heard, and set them on the task of collecting the materials to build the Tabernacle and the ark. In the meantime, it was essential that there be some kind of symbolic center of worship and government, so Moses set up an ordinary tent outside the camp and called it the tent (or tabernacle) of meeting. There he met "face to face" with Jehovah, and he also met with there with the leaders of the people to pass on Jehovah s commands, and settle disputes.

The tent that he set up was in itself unremarkable. What is important about it is where it was placed, and the things that happened within its walls, for these details tell us many things about the state of the Jewish church at that time, and by analogy and study of the regenerative series in the internal sense, we can see that the things that occurred at the tent of meeting can tell us some important things about our own development from historical faith to a true, saving faith in the Lord.

In the Word, a tent represents the things that are holy in worship, in the church, and in the Word itself. The reason that tents have this meaning is because the people of the Most Ancient Church lived and worshipped in tents. Because this church was, more than any other church that followed it, in love to the Lord, and because the Lord dwelt with them in tents, therefore in memory of all these things the Tabernacle, or Tent of meeting was constructed with the children of Israel to represent the holiness of worship with them (See AC 10545).

While the tent of meeting signified the most holy things of worship, in contrast the camp of the children of Israel represented quite the opposite, for by "the sons of Israel," who formed the camp, are signified all truths and goods in the complex. But when they were in a state of disorder, as when they worshipped the calf instead of Jehovah, then by their "camp" was signified the opposite, thus infernal order, and also the containant of falsity and evil, which make hell.

The children of Israel had the external form of a church, but they were unable or unwilling to look within for the spirit of charity that characterizes a true church, thus they had the external shell, but the heart was missing. Whether you say "the external of worship and of the church without the internal," or "hell," it is the same thing; for they who are in the external of worship without the internal are in the loves of self and the world, and the loves of self and of the world are from hell (See AC 10546). Since the tent of meeting itself represented the Lord s presence, and the camp represented the disorder of hell, the tent had to be placed far outside the camp.

At the same time, it was to be a place of meeting, for by "meeting" is meant where the external forms of the church, the truths, meet with the internal forms, the good loves that enliven them and give them meaning. We all know that at times we follow the ritual of the church without thought or feeling because our attention is focused elsewhere and when that happens, we do not feel any affectional response to the service. But when our affections are stirred, when we feel the service is particularly suited to our states, when it is the baptism of a sweet baby, or the marriage of a handsome young couple, then there is in us a meeting of the goods and truths of worship, there is a meeting of the internals and externals of the church.

Once the tent was set up distant from the camp, we are told that everyone who wished to inquire of Jehovah went out to the tent. This was a privilege unique to that nation permitted only for the sake of the representation. Today if we wish to inquire of the Lord we must go to that which corresponds to the tent of meeting, that is, we must approach the Word, for to inquire of the Lord is to consult the Word; for in the Word the Lord is present (See AC 10548).

When Moses when out to the tent, the people stayed in their places and watched until he entered into the tent of meeting and disappeared from their sight. This represents the limited interest they had in the things of the church, for when Moses went into the tent and the cloud descended, it stood for the dense obscurity about the things of the church of those who are only in the externals of the Word, of the church, and of doctrine.

But while most were in dense obscurity, Moses was in the tent speaking to God, face to face, thereby representing that for some it was possible to have a clear internal perception of the truth. This clear perception comes to those who acknowledge that the Word is Divine because it is from God Himself, and who go to the letter of the Word seeking to find the Divine truth itself in a form suitable to the particular circumstances of their own life. This happens through enlightenment, which comes when someone who loves to know truth for the sake of truth and for the sake of the good of life, reads the Word; for to live according to Divine truths from the Word is to love the Lord, and all enlightenment comes from the Lord when He is loved. When anyone looks to the Word as the source of truth, there is an internal acknowledgment of the Lord and His Divine authority which opens the internal degrees of the mind, and when the internal is open, the light of heaven itself shines in and illuminates the truths that had been hidden in the sense of the letter which then shine forth like hidden jewels when light shines upon them (See AC 10551).

As we have now seen in the historical series, the main idea focuses around the fact that the children of Israel were totally external, and could not tolerate knowing anything internal about the Word, thus the tent was placed outside the camp to represent this state with them, and there was a thick cloud to obscure their view even further. On the other hand, we have to remember that the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night stood as a sign that the Lord could be present with them, even though they were an external people, if only they would keep themselves in a state of reasonable obedience which leads us into the main idea of the regenerative series of these passages, for it is dealing with the early states in a person s spiritual development, a time when there is awe and respect for the things that are holy and from the church, but as yet there is no understanding as to why they are holy, or how they should then affect the daily life. It is a time of "historical faith," that faith which every one has at first from his parents and teachers, but is useful because it forms the foundation for the genuine or "saving" faith which is to follow.

We all begin with a very simple faith in the Lord, perhaps believing only that the Lord is the Creator of the universe, and able to do great miracles of Himself. We notice Him at first because of His power, His miracles, the stories of the Old Testament where He protects His friends and destroys His enemies. These stories make us want to be on His side, even if we do not know anything more about Him.

Such worship is purely external, and it contains elements of fear, but it is acceptable in the Lord s eyes because such a belief can serve as the foundation of a genuine faith which can follow when a person, because of his external awe and fear of the Lord, learns a few truths from the Word, and begins to guide his life by them (See AE 8153,4). It could be so simple as to begin to obey the Ten Commandments in the letter simply because there is the fear of hell!

Perhaps we feel that we should be moved to worship and to true faith by something more elevated and spiritual, but we must deal with the simple fact that we all begin as external people who can only see the internal, spiritual things of life with great difficulty. And since we are external people, we must then further deal with the revealed truth that external people are moved to Divine worship only by the things of the external world, for example, by the stories of the great miracles that were performed by Jehovah in the presence of the children of Israel.

The Heavenly Doctrines also reveal that the Christian church was also begun and based upon a "miraculous" faith, a faith in Jesus based not on the spiritual power that came from the application of His teachings to life, but rather on the power that He showed over disease, over storms, and over the evil spirits who plagued the men of that time. In fact, because these stories and miracles are the basis of the New Testament, and since children and others are first introduced to Jesus Christ through these stories, it is still true that the miraculous faith is the basis for faith among all those who are Christians even to this day.

But the big question is, "how do we turn our miraculous or historical faith into saving faith?" The first thing we have to do is to be rational that means that we cannot have a "saving" faith until we have entered the adult state. Then, once we have become rational, we have to use our rationality to collect spiritual truths from many sources, to weigh them in our minds, to think about what the consequences would be if we were live according to these truths, and then to make decisions to keep the truths that we believe will lead to a good life, and throw away the others. In the last analysis, this is the only way that anyone can discover what "truth" is. To weigh it with other truths, and to live it. If in the living, it brings good to self and to the neighbor, then we can safely say that it is true.

This process can take many years, and usually at the same time that we are just beginning our adult lives, finding married partners, getting established in our careers, beginning our families. It is a very busy time. The pressure of life in the world distracts from spiritual things, and some externals, such as church attendance, fall away for a time. But if the rational is working, the simple, external truths of religion which were learned in childhood are for the first time applied to life situations in freedom, that is, not because of what parents or teachers say, but because they are for the first time seen to be actually just what is needed to bring satisfaction and happiness in life.

When the truths of the Word are brought into life freely, and lived, then for the first time, they begin to have life in themselves, for the internal degree of the mind is opened to heaven, and the spiritual power within the external truth can enter the mind. When the spiritual is conjoined to the external in the mind, the Lord is present, and brings genuine, "saving" faith. "To believe in the Lord" signifies not only to adore and worship Him, but also to live from Him, and one lives from Him when he lives according to the Word which is from Him; therefore "to believe in Him" is to believe that He regenerates man, and gives eternal life to those who are regenerated by Him (AE 81512).

When adult saving faith takes hold in the mind and heart through living experience, then it reaches out and begins to reorder the externals of life so that they correspond to the genuine, spiritual loves within. Just as one cannot imagine being in love without embracing the loved one, the person who is becoming spiritual looks for ways to show his love to God through acts of worship and charity to the neighbor. Faith is no longer borrowed and external like the tent outside the camp, instead our faith is genuine and internal, a sign of the Lord s intimate presence in our lives. This relationship is better described by the passage in Revelation And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God" (Rev. 213). Amen.

1st Lesson EXO 337-11

Moses took his tent and pitched it outside the camp, far from the camp, and called it the tabernacle of meeting. And it came to pass that everyone who sought the LORD went out to the tabernacle of meeting which was outside the camp. {8} So it was, whenever Moses went out to the tabernacle, that all the people rose, and each man stood at his tent door and watched Moses until he had gone into the tabernacle. {9} And it came to pass, when Moses entered the tabernacle, that the pillar of cloud descended and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and the Lord talked with Moses. {10} All the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the tabernacle door, and all the people rose and worshipped, each man in his tent door. {11} So the LORD spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. And he would return to the camp, but his servant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, did not depart from the tabernacle.

2nd Lesson REV 211-7

Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. {2} Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. {3} And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. {4} "And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away." {5} Then He who sat on the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new." And He said to me, "Write, for these words are true and faithful." {6} And He said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. {7} "He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.

3rd Lesson AC 105515

[5] It shall also be briefly stated how the influx from which comes enlightenment is effected. Equally with men, the angels also perceive the Word when it is read; but the angels perceive it spiritually, and men perceive it naturally. The man whose internal is open also perceives the Word spiritually; but while he lives in the world he is unaware of this, because his spiritual thought flows into the natural thought in the external man, and there presents itself to view. Nevertheless it is this interior thought which enlightens, and by means of which the influx from the Lord is effected. By looking into their thoughts, and by reflections thereon, some of the learned have noticed that there is in man an interior thought which does not appear, and therefore they have called the ideas of this thought immaterial and intellectual, and they have made a distinction between these ideas and those of the exterior thought which appear; and they have called these latter natural and material. But they have not known that the ideas of the interior thought are spiritual; and that when these flow down they are turned into natural ideas, and appear under a different shape, and under a different condition. From all this it can in some measure be seen how the influx through which comes enlightenment is effected.

Opening Prayer

O Lord, our Strength, help us to go forward in the path which you have established for us, inspire us by Your Holy Spirit to learn from the Word continually; and as we come more and more into the understanding of the truth, fill us, O Lord, with the spirit of heavenly life; make us worthy to be Your children who walk in the light of Your truth; for You are our Father, our Guide, and our Savior. AMEN.

Closing Prayer

O Lord our Savior, forgive the infirmities of Your children and help us overcome them. Help us to learn Your truth, put evil aside through strenuous resistance, and to do good by daily effort in the uses of charity; looking not for reward nor honor, but only for the right to be called Your servants, and to do Your will. AMEN.