Building the Tabernacle of David Again

The apostle James, in announcing the decision of the great and epoch-making Conference of the apostles and elders at Jerusalem (Acts 15:1–21) which Conference was historically the first General Council of the Christian Church, cited the words of the prophet Amos, through whom God had said: In that day will I raise up again the tabernacle of David, that is fallen (Amos 9:11).

The present writer has frequently been asked the meaning of this prophecy concerning the tabernacle of David; and inasmuch as the passage is sometimes referred to in support of the idea of a future restoration of the Jewish nation, it is appropriate that due consideration be given to it in this volume.

By reference to Acts 15:1–21, it will be seen that the question presented for the decision of the Conference was whether the Gentiles, who had been converted to Christ, should be circumcised and commanded to keep the law of Moses (verse 5). For some had taught them, saying, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved (verse 1). That question was of capital importance, as may be clearly seen in the light of Paul’s Epistle to the churches of Galatia. The conference, therefore, marked a momentous epoch in the history of the Kingdom of God. For a proper understanding of this record, and particularly the words of James, we must give heed to the fact that the Jerusalem conference had to do wholly and solely with the conversion of the Gentiles (verse 3), which was not only a new thing, but to the Jewish disciples was a most astonishing thing, a thing for which they were, in fact, wholly unprepared.

Peter was the first to speak. He related how God had instructed him to go to the house of Cornelius, where a company of Gentiles was awaiting him, and what had taken place there. Then Barnabas and Paul addressed the conference, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them (verse 12). And finally, James addressed the assemblage, saying: Simeon hath declared how God at the first (i.e. for the first time) did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for His name. And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and will set it up: That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles upon whom My Name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things. Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world (verses 14–18).

According to the writer’s understanding of the passage, the era contemplated by the words, After this I will return, is this present Gospel dispensation, whereof the conversion of Gentiles is the conspicuous feature (the mystery, Ephesians 3:3–6); and that the tabernacle of David is a prophetic symbol of that spiritual house, into which converted Gentiles, along with converted Jews, as living stones, are being built together, upon Christ, the sure Foundation … for a habitation of God through the Spirit (Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 2:20–22; 1 Peter 2:5–6; Isaiah 28:16).

From James’ words alone it is clear that God’s promise through the prophet Amos, that He would build again the Tabernacle of David, was related to what He was just then beginning to do, namely, visiting the Gentiles, to take out from among them a people for His Name. For, after rehearsing what Simon Peter had just told them, how that God had chosen that apostle as the instrument whereby He, for the first time, did visit a company of Gentiles for the purpose stated above, James plainly declared that to this (God’s visitation of the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His Name) agreed the words of the prophets (in general), and those of Amos (in the passage quoted) in particular.

This connects the promise concerning the building again of the Tabernacle of David directly with God’s work, then just commenced, of converting sinners from among the Gentiles. It fixes beyond all question the time of the building again of the Tabernacle of David; for it definitely locates that promised work in this gospel era, during all of which God has been visiting and converting the Gentiles.

And when we connect with this the further fact, clearly stated in the New Testament that God’s chief purpose in converting sinners of the Gentiles is that He may use them as living stones, in the building of that spiritual house which He is now raising up, our way to a right understanding of the passage seems fairly clear. For it only remains to inquire whether we are warranted by the Word of God in taking the tabernacle of David, spoken of by Amos, as a prophetic symbol of that habitation of God, which is now being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief Corner Stone (Ephesians 2:20–22).

“After This” Let it then be kept in mind, as we proceed with our inquiry, that the great Jerusalem Conference was occupied — not with some future work of God, but — with what He had at that very time begun to do. For His visitation of the Gentiles, beginning through Peter at the house of Cornelius, and continuing through Paul and Barnabas in various places in Asia Minor, was the subject, and the only subject, so far as the record discloses, that was considered at that Conference. In view of this fact, and of other considerations hereafter noted, it is clear that the words, after this, do not specify a period of time subsequent to this present gospel dispensation (as supposed by some), but a period subsequent to the time when Amos spoke his prophecy. For James is giving, in verses 16–17, not a prophecy of his own, but that of Amos; and he is stating, moreover, the substance of other Old Testament prophecies. When James declared that the words of the prophets agreed with what Peter had just related concerning his mission to the house of Cornelius, he used a word which means literally to sound together, to symphonize, as when the instruments of an orchestra play in perfect harmony.

Thus we are given clearly to know that the reports which Peter, Paul and Barnabas had brought to that Conference, concerning God’s wonderful work in visiting and saying numbers of Gentiles, is just what had been foretold by the prophets in general (see Romans 15:8–12), and particularly by Amos, whose words James proceeds to quote. This makes it certain that the phrase after this refers to some period subsequent to the days of the Old Testament prophets, and not to a period yet future. In fact, it is entirely clear from the whole record of the Conference, that James applied the words of the prophets, including the phrase after this, to what God was then doing in visiting the Gentiles.

Furthermore, the exact words which God spake by the prophet Amos were, In that day (not after this) I will raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen etc. (Amos 9:11); and the Holy Spirit, speaking by James, gives us to understand that the words, after this, correctly express what Amos meant by in that day; and that they express also what was meant by other prophets, who had foretold the salvation of the Gentiles. Now the two preceding verses of Amos make it plain that the day whereof he was speaking is this present era; for it is now that the Israelites are sifted among all the nations (verse 9).

Hence the Scriptures thus far considered compel us to look for some work of God in this present age as the fulfillment of the prophecy that He would raise up the Tabernacle of David; and for a work that involves the conversion of the Gentiles.

This brings us to the question, What then is The Tabernacle of David?

To begin with, let us note that it is not the temple of Solomon. The two structures were quite distinct; and typically they differ widely in significance. Amos prophesied concerning a tabernacle, definitely associated with David, a tabernacle which, at the time of his prophecy, had fallen, and was in ruins. Amos prophesied in the days of Uzziah, king of Judah (1:1), at which time the temple of Solomon was standing in all its glory, and its services and sacrifices were being carried out in due order.

There is doubtless something very significant in the fact that, while the temple of Solomon was yet standing, God declared His purpose to raise up the Tabernacle of David that is fallen, and to raise up its ruins.

Historically, the tabernacle of David was the tent wherein the ark of God was housed during the latter part of David’s reign. In 2 Samuel 6 is the account of the bringing up of the ark of God into the city of David with gladness (verse 12); and it is recorded that they brought the ark of the Lord, and set it in its place, in the midst of the tabernacle that David had pitched for it (verse 17). Thus the tabernacle of David, pitched in Zion, the city of David, became the dwelling place of Jehovah; and hence it is most natural and fitting that it should become in prophecy the figure or symbol of that tabernacle of God, which the Son of David was to build, according to the true meaning and intent of the word of the Lord by Nathan, recorded in the very next chapter of 2 Samuel: He shall build an house for My Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever (2 Samuel 7:13). It should be noted that the words, for My name, link this promise with the words of James, to take out of them a people for His Name. This conclusion finds strong support in the fact that the name of David’s city, Zion, is used in many prophecies, and also in the New Testament, as the designation of God’s eternal habitation.

Recurring to the prophecy of Amos, it will be clearly seen that his statements could not be taken as applying to the lateral tent that David had set up to receive the ark. Even if that frail structure had survived, in a condition of dilapidation, to the days of Amos, still the terms breaches and ruins, used by Amos, and the phrase build again of James, would be inapplicable to a mere tent. Nor would it require a work of God to raise it up and repair it. So we are driven to the conclusion that the raising again of the tabernacle of David, spoken of by the prophet, was the figure of a work which God Himself would undertake to accomplish; a work that was of great importance in His eyes, and that would require for its accomplishment the putting forth of His mighty quickening power. And such indeed is the building of that spiritual house whereof Jesus Christ of the seed of David, risen from the dead (2 Timothy 2:7), is the true foundation, the tried Corner Stone laid in Zion; and upon which converted Jews and Gentiles having been quickened together with Christ, are as living stones, being built up, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:4-6). In this view of the prophecy, it does indeed agree with what God was beginning to do in the days of the Jerusalem conference, as reported by the apostles, Peter, Paul and Barnabas.

As Living Stones

Peter, who was the first speaker in that Conference, gives clear light, in his first Epistle, upon the matter which was there under deliberation, and which is also the subject of our present inquiry. For the revelation of truth given in that Epistle culminates in the statement of Chapter 2, that those whom God has begotten again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, who have been redeemed with His precious blood, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot, and have been born again of the incorruptible seed of the word of God, as declared in Chapter 1, are, as living stones, being built up a spiritual house, upon Jesus Christ, the living Stone which the builders rejected, made in resurrection the head of the corner. And the apostle quotes in this connection Isaiah 28:16, Wherefore also it is contained in the Scripture, Behold, I lay in Zion a chief corner stone, elect, precious; and he that believeth on Him shall not be confounded.

This citation from Isaiah establishes two facts of capital importance; first, that God’s eternal habitation is being built, not in the natural world, but in the spiritual world; and second, that the Zion of prophecy, which God has chosen as the place of His eternal abode, is the heavenly Zion, to which we are come (Hebrews 12:22). These two facts constitute strong evidence confirmatory of the correctness of our explanation of Acts 15:16. For the tabernacle that David built for the ark was in Zion, the city of David; and inasmuch as the name Zion designates a spiritual locality, the place of God’s eternal dwelling, it would naturally follow that the expression tabernacle of David has also a spiritual meaning. Furthermore, when God, by the lips of His prophet, declares that He Himself will, in a certain specified era, raise up again that which had formerly been His temporary dwelling place, and when, in that very era, we learn from His servants, Peter and Paul, that He is actually building for Himself an eternal dwelling place, the conclusion is well-nigh irresistible that the building He is now raising up is the one He said He would raise up in this present dispensation.

A Habitation of God

In complete agreement with this revelation by Peter, is what Paul wrote in his Epistle to the Ephesians, concerning that masterpiece of God’s workmanship which He is raising up at the present time, that wondrous building, fitly framed together, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone, for an habitation of God through the Spirit (Ephesians 2:10, 20–22). But Paul goes more fully into the subject, and he clearly identifies this great building with what had been under consideration at the Jerusalem Conference, by emphasizing the place which the saved from among the Gentiles have in this great work of God. That equal participation of saved Gentiles with saved Jews in the one household of God (Ephesians 2:11–19) is the mystery of Christ, which, writes this apostle, in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; and that mystery was, as the apostle himself defines it. That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ, by the gospel (Ephesians 3:4–6).

Other Details of the Passage

It has been already pointed out that the words which is fallen down etc. could not be taken as applying either to the literal tent which David had erected as a habitation for the ark, or to Solomon’s temple. In what sense then was the tabernacle of David fallen down and in ruins? To find an explanation for those words we must needs take them in a figurative sense; and there should be no hesitation or reluctance so to do, seeing that figurative language is the customary language of the prophets. And a most satisfactory explanation of those expressions immediately presents itself, when we call to mind that God’s people constitute His true dwelling place. It was Israel that was fallen, and that was, in God’s contemplation, in ruins. It was Israel that God purposed to raise up again — not, of course, the natural Israel, but the spiritual Israel, the true Israel of God, a people composed of the saved remnant of the natural Israel, with whom are incorporated into one body, forming one spiritual house, the called from among the Gentiles. To these Amos refers in the words remnant of Edom, and of all the heathen (Gentiles) upon whom My Name is called (Amos 9:12, margin). Instead of remnant of Edom, James has residue of men, which indicates that Amos used the word Edom figuratively to designate all who were not Jacob, that is, non-Israelites.

The words Gentiles upon whom My Name is called refer back to the words to take out of them a people for His Name; which further serves to show that the prophecy of Amos has its fulfillment in God’s present day visitation of the Gentiles.

The word “tabernacle” is used of God’s dwelling place in the New Testament. Thus we read in Hebrews 8:1–2 concerning Christ that He is “a minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle which the Lord pitched, and not man”; and again, in the last vision of the Apocalypse, John saw the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven, and heard a great voice saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men” (Revelation 21:1–3). Moreover, in this connection the Lord Jesus announces Himself as “The Root and Offspring of David” (22:16).

In the prophecy of Amos we have the words of God, “And I will build it, as in the days of old.” The days when David pitched a tabernacle in Zion for the ark were days of joy and gladness, of shouting and dancing, of victory and prosperity, the days when David reigned over a united and a happy people.

It is recorded that “He blessed the people in the Name of the lord of hosts And he dealt among all the people, even among the whole multitude of Israel, as well to the women as men, to everyone a cake of bread, and a good piece of flesh, and a flagon of wine” (2 Samuel 6:12–19). It is not difficult to see in this description a type of those eternal joys which all will share together, when at last “the tabernacle of God shall be 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.”

George Smith on the Tabernacle of David

Very little seems to have been written on the subject of the Tabernacle of David; therefore the writer was glad to find, in George Smith’s Harmony of the Divine Dispensations (published in 1856) some illuminating comments thereon.

The chapter is much too long to be reproduced here in full. But some extracts are given below, prefaced by a brief explanation of what precedes the quoted paragraphs.

Mr. Smith wonders that there should ever have been any uncertainty as to what was meant in the prophecies of Isaiah 16:5 and Amos 9:11 by “the tabernacle of David”; seeing that the Scriptures give such great prominence to “the tabernacle that David had pitched” for the ark of the covenant. One account of the removal of the ark to the tabernacle that David prepared for it on Mount Zion is given in 2 Samuel 6:5–7; and again in 1 Chronicles 16:1 it is recorded that “they brought the ark of God, and set it in the midst of the tent that David had pitched for it.”

Moreover, both accounts make evident that the housing of the ark of God in the Tabernacle of David was an event of unusual importance; for it was celebrated by “all Israel” with demonstrations of the most impressive character — “with shouting, and with sound of the cornet, and with trumpets and with cymbals”, while King David himself danced before the ark with all his might in the exuberance of his joy. And then followed sacrifices of burnt offerings and peace offerings, and the distribution “to every one of Israel, both man and woman”, of the king’s bounty, flesh, bread and wine for a feast. And furthermore the event was signalized by the fact that “Then on that day David delivered first this Psalm to thank the Lord into the hand of Asaph and his brethren” (that is, Psalm 105 and parts of other Psalms; see 2 Samuel. 23:1, and 1 Chronicles 16:7). But, as Mr. Smith points out, the most remarkable and significant feature of this great historical event is that it constituted a decided break with the Levitical ordinances given through Moses, in that the ark of God’s presence was no longer in the holy of holies of the Tabernacle of the Wilderness (which was then at Gibeon), but in the midst of the Tabernacle of David on Mount Zion; and further that there were no animal sacrifices there, only sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving; and no priests, but only Levites, whom David appointed “to minister before the ark of the Lord, and to record”, that is literally to make mention of or bring to remembrance, or in other words to proclaim or preach the mercies and the marvelous acts of God, “and to thank and praise the Lord God of Israel” (1 Chronicles 16:4).

This was a very remarkable suspension of the system of worship of the Law, and an equally remarkable foreshadowing of that of the Gospel. And so it was during the greater part of King David’s reign, during all the years the ark of God dwelt in the Tabernacle of David.

Chiefly it is to be observed that this sojourn of the ark on Mount Zion is the foundation of the many references in the Psalms and the Prophets to Zion, as the dwelling place of Jehovah, and is what gives to the terms Zion and Mount Zion their high spiritual meaning. And it is a most significant fact, whereof we must take due notice if we are to understand some of the most important of the prophecies, that never thereafter was Mount Moriah, where Solomon’s magnificent temple stood, referred to as Jehovah’s dwelling place, but always Mount Zion; and that when God speaks by His prophets concerning things to come in the Kingdom of Christ, He never says “I will build again the Temple of Solomon which I destroyed”, but I will build again the Tabernacle of David which is fallen down.

Thus, the Tabernacle of David is evidently replete with typical meaning, concerning which it will suffice for our present purpose to remark that, to David, the man after God’s own heart, who was himself a conspicuous type of Christ, and who is more closely associated with the gospel than any other of the patriarchs (Matthew 1:1; Acts 13:22, 34; Romans 1:3; 2 Timothy 2:8; Revelation 22:16, etc.) it was given to know the mind of God concerning real spiritual worship; and that he, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins according to the flesh, He would raise up Christ to sit on his throne (Acts 2:30) was permitted to give in the tabernacle pitched by him on Mount Zion, a wonderful foreshadowing of the worship, by prayer, preaching and song, which characterizes the gatherings of God’s people in this gospel dispensation.

The spiritual worship thus begun was not continued in the reign of subsequent Kings; for a fearful decline began in the days of Solomon and continued to the end of the kingdom era. But Amos, in the days of Uzziah, delivered that famous prophecy concerning the raising up of the Tabernacle of David (Amos 9:11–12), which all the apostles, elders and people assembled at Jerusalem accepted as decisive of the question whether the Mosaic ritual was to be imposed upon Gentile converts (Acts 15:1–17). Citing the words of Amos, Mr. Smith says it was, A prophecy which clearly places before us the genius and character, religious services and spirit of the Tabernacle of David, as similar and precursor to the Kingdom of Christ.

And then, after quoting Isaiah’s prophecy (16:5) concerning the Tabernacle of David, he continues: These prophecies considerably enlarge our field of vision with respect to the relation of the Tabernacle of David to the kingdom of Christ. According to these, the Shekinah, resting over the cherubim in the sanctuary of Mount Zion, typified the reign of Christ in the Gospel Church. In fact this is the true line of descent, and the true exposition of the kingdom of Christ. For here, in those gracious institutions of a remembered and proclaimed covenant mercy, and those thanksgivings of grateful love (poured out in songs of praise), Messiah sits ruling in the hearts of His people, dispensing truth, and hastening them on to the attainment of righteousness.

Referring to the question brought up for decision at Jerusalem, whereof an account is given in Acts 15, Mr. Smith says: The decision of that question, so vitally important to the rising Church, was formally referred to the apostles and elders at Jerusalem. Paul, Barnabas and others went from Antioch to the Hebrew capital to take part in this important discussion. Peter, Barnabas and Paul recited the wonders wrought among the Gentiles by the preaching of the Gospel. But still there was wanting some clear, pointed, powerful, Scriptural authority to effect the permanent settlement of a question of such magnitude. And it was supplied by James, who quoted the words of the text (Amos 9:10–11) as incontrovertible evidence on the case.

The question was, Must the ritual law of Moses be obeyed by Christian converts? To this the apostle replied, “Certainly not; for inspired prophecy declares that the kingdom of Christ is not to be a revival and extension of Mosaicism, but on the contrary a restoration of the tabernacle of David. And since in that sanctuary the Mosaic ritual had no place, so it can have no claims in the Christian Church.” The most important feature of this case is the perfect unanimity with which this judgment was received and adopted. This was a meeting composed almost entirely of Hebrews, whose sympathies and prejudices inclined them to the observance of the ordinances of the law. Yet no sooner is the citation of sacred Prophecy made, than all perceive its force, all admit its decisive effect. Even the great body of believers unanimously concurs. And there in Jerusalem itself, within sight of the temple, where the ritual of the law was still performed in all its extent and minuteness, the whole body of the Church repudiate its claims, and adopt the Tabernacle of David as the divinely appointed model for all Christian practice and institutions.

As to the effects: The first effect of the decision was to sweep away forever the assertion, Except ye be circumcised, ye cannot be saved. For, says our author, Circumcision fell and perished from the Christian Church before the divinely inspired quotation of the prophecy of Amos by the apostle James. Sacrifice was abolished with circumcision. For that institution formed no part of the worship offered to God on Mount Zion.

With circumcision and sacrifice the priesthood was also abolished. Indeed a non-sacrificing priesthood is a contradiction of terms; for every priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices (Hebrews 8:3). But there was nothing of that kind in the Tabernacle of David, whose sacred services therefore vividly represented the worship proper to that church which is redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, Whose one sacrifice for sins is universally and everlastingly efficacious — once for all (Hebrews 10:10). Nor must it be forgotten that, with those elements of the Mosaic economy, every existing typical and symbolical thing was swept away (That is to say all the shadows of the law were abolished and replaced by the corresponding spiritual realities). It is astonishing that educated Christian men should evince so much weakness and ignorance as have been of late displayed; not to use stronger terms.

The Tabernacle of David evidently arose from the existence and felt wants of men. They needed means of more direct union with God and communion with His Spirit, than was afforded by priestly instrumentality in the national sanctuary. And it pleased God to sanction and honor such a deviation from His own appointed ordinances as would meet that need. Hence the Ark of God and His glory dwelt in the sanctuary of Zion. There the people met before the Lord. There they heard the wonders of His covenant mercy and felt the power of His saving grace. How marvelous are the merciful manifestations of God! Who would have supposed that the Mosaic system could, in one great feature of its operation, have been suspended for so many years? That this measure should have been wrought up into sacred prophecy, and used under apostolic inspiration to cast a steady light on the true character of the Gospel Church, and to show the nature of Gospel institutions? Yet so it is. And so fully is this the case that none can adequately apprehend the glorious development of grace which has attended the revelation of the Gospel, without recognition of the Tabernacle of David, and some acquaintance with its services and its position in prophecy.

How beautiful is the harmony with which these views put before us the merciful revelation of Divine grace to mankind! The law was introduced as a mighty persuasive and protest against idolatry, and for the purpose of setting forth, by the most significant and vivid typical action, the redeeming work of the Lord Jesus. This being done, the Tabernacle of David is raised, and Mount Zion becomes the seat of a manifestation of spiritual privilege and saving grace, which, in a great measure, anticipated the blessings of the Gospel, and was exactly adapted to prepare the world, and especially the Hebrew church, for the coming and Kingdom of God’s Messiah.

The foregoing quotations present what impresses the writer as being a sound, sane, satisfying and above all, Scriptural, exposition of the Word of truth!

Calvin’s Comment on Micah 4:6

In connection with the subject of the building of the Tabernacle of David, Calvin’s comment on a parallel prophecy is worthy of special consideration. Micah 4:6–7 reads: In that day, saith the Lord, will I assemble her that halteth, and I will gather her that I have afflicted: and I will make her that halted a remnant, and her that was cast off a strong nation; and the Lord shall reign over them in Mount Zion from henceforth even forever.

Although the Church is at the present time hardly to be distinguished from a dead, or at best a sick, man, there is no reason for despair; for the Lord raises up His own suddenly, as He waked the dead from the grave. This we must clearly remember lest, when the Church fails to shine forth, we conclude too quickly that her light has died utterly away. But the Church in the world is so preserved that she rises suddenly from the dead. Her very preservation through the years is due to a succession of such miracles. Let us cling to the remembrance that she is not without her resurrection, or rather, not without her many resurrections (John Calvin).

For it is to be remembered that, as already pointed out, the true Israel is a resurrection from the putrid carcass of the natural Israel. As regards verse 7, we have a record of the fulfillment thereof in 1 Peter 2:9, where we read of a remnant that had been made a nation.

At verse 10 the prophet foretells the birth pangs of the daughter of Zion in the bringing forth of this nation; and a few verses further on (5:1) he speaks of the treatment the Judge of Israel was to receive at the hands of that people, and which was to precipitate that travail.

P. Mauro

To be continued…

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