The description of the tabernacle begins with three of the furnishings closest to Yahweh’s Presence: the Ark of the Covenant, the table for the bread of the Presence (or showbread) and the golden lampstand.
The ark is a sacred box. It contains the tablets of stone with the Ten Commandments as a testimony to the covenant (Exodus 25:16, 21; 40:20), the bowl of manna as a testimony to Yahweh’s provision during the years in the desert (Exodus 16:33-34), and Aaron’s staff that testifies of Yahweh’s election of his house for the priesthood (Numbers 17:8-10).
The cover of the ark is the mercy seat with two cherubim on each end, facing each other but looking down, their wings spread above and covering them. The Presence of Yahweh is unseen above the wings of the cherubim; His Presence makes the ark the most important object in the tabernacle. No figure represents Yahweh’s Presence. Moses, when he makes reference to the gathering of the people before Yahweh at Sinai in Exodus 19 and 20, will say, “Watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that the LORD spoke to you at Horeb [or Sinai] out of the midst of the fire, beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure” (Deuteronomy 4:15-16). The cherubim do not represent Yahweh but bowing down, they indicate where His Presence is (above their wings) and the attitude of worship that they always maintain before His holiness. They testify of His righteousness and universal reign: “The LORD reigns, let the peoples tremble! He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake! (Psalm 99:1)
The table has a very interesting function if you consider how people in the Middle East worshiped pagan gods at that time. It was common for them to prepare a daily meal for the sculpted image of a god and even cover it with a veil so it could “eat” in private. The bread of the Presence on the table of the tabernacle did not exist for that kind of foolishness. Yahweh would not “eat” the bread; He doesn’t need to nourish Himself like false gods; instead, He provides food abundantly for the twelve tribes of Israel. In recognition of His faithful provision, twelve loaves were presented as an offering to Yahweh and given for the provision of the priests who would eat them every Sabbath day (Leviticus 24:5-9).
The lampstand had a very practical function. There are no windows in the tabernacle to allow the entry of light. The lampstand would light the room. It burned continually (Exodus 27:20), and in this way represents the provision of light by the One who said, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3). “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).
After describing these three sacred furnishings, Exodus 26 describes the tabernacle, the tent where Yahweh will dwell in the midst of His tent-dwelling people. It is supported by planks and columns of acacia wood covered in gold and with bases of silver or bronze. (Notice that the places closest or most closely associated with Yahweh’s Presence are made of gold. As you move away from His Presence or are more closely associated with the earth, they are made of silver and bronze.) The whole structure of the tent must be strong and solid to support the weight of the curtains but at the same time easy to set up or take down for frequent travel in the desert.
There is a lot more we could say about the ark, the table, the lampstand and the tabernacle, but this is enough for today and our purpose of seeing how the Israelites will be a holy nation, not only by their obedience to the law but by having among them the Presence of Yahweh who sanctifies them.