Tabernacle of Moses’ reminder to put Christ at the center

Joel Randall writes about how a biblical structure’s history and symbolism invite Saints to bring the light of the gospel wherever they go

After a short walk to a grass field, it was time to enter the one and only entrance, representing Christ as the only way back to the Father’s presence (see John 10:9). The inside scene’s rich symbolism stunned member and nonmember alike: A constantly burning menorah to represent the Light of the world, incense as prayer, shewbread as the emblems of the sacrament. The air was brisk from rain earlier, but it didn’t matter to the mass of devoted youth volunteers; the fervor in their testimonies carried on well after sunset.

Tabernacle of Moses life-size model experience

If you live in Utah, perhaps you’ve heard of it. The Tabernacle Experience is a life-sized model of the tabernacle of Moses from the book of Exodus. Volunteers guide participants through the ancient temple’s areas and explain the historical symbolism of objects from the laver of water to the altar of sacrifice to the veil before the Holy of Holies.

Manned by local Latter-day Saint volunteers, the exhibit travels across Utah to give each city a peek into biblical worship. If you missed its recent setup in Salt Lake City the past few weeks, the display can be found in the coming weeks in places like Holladay, Price and the Uintah Basin.

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A replica of the table of shewbread in the tabernacle of Moses with gold-colored cups, pitchers and plates, with 12 flat pieces of bread on the plates.
A replica of the table of shewbread in the tabernacle of Moses in Salt Lake City on April 25, 2023. In ancient times, wine and 12 loaves of unleavened bread were placed upon the table each Sabbath, much like how the sacramental bread and water of today represent Christ. | Joel Randall, Church News

Every inch of this masterpiece — from the Ten Commandments in the ark of the covenant to the gems on the priestly clothing — amazes me. But I think I’m most struck by the fact that after its last day on a recent Sunday, the traveling tabernacle exhibit was packed up and taken away for use in another city. Let me explain. 

Why the tabernacle of Moses traveled

You’ll recall the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years, so building a permanent temple in one location would’ve been a futile effort. The solution? The Lord commanded His people to build a tabernacle, a portable temple they could take with them wherever they went (see Exodus 25:8-9).

Although they didn’t have a permanent spot to worship the Lord until Solomon’s temple many years later, there’s something awe-inspiring about how the Israelites could take the house of the Lord with them through the harsh wilderness.

A gold-colored replica of the lampstand, or menorah, in the tabernacle of Moses holding seven candles.
A replica of the lampstand, or menorah, in the tabernacle of Moses in Salt Lake City on April 25, 2023. The lampstand was kept burning day and night with olive oil in ancient times, symbolizing Christ as the Light of the world. | Joel Randall, Church News

As a BYU–Idaho student, I had a friend who wouldn’t listen to any music in his car — except for Church music. Although possibly a strange practice, this simple act turned his car into what he called a “traveling tabernacle of sorts.”

The vehicle was a temple-like ambiance of peace and strength he could take with him wherever he drove. It didn’t matter if he just got off a stressful day at work, or if he failed an exam he had studied for all week, because stepping foot in his car to hear piano hymns or Primary songs could rejuvenate him with the love of God. 

My friend’s choice of car music has always stuck with me. I often think of what my “traveling tabernacle” is. In other words, what can I do to have the Spirit with me wherever I go? I could put a painting of the Savior as my lock screen, or read the Book of Mormon during mealtimes, or offer a prayer of gratitude in my heart whenever I see a blessing.

Having a “traveling tabernacle” with us could mean analyzing what in our lives is keeping us from having the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. It means rededicating ourselves to God through daily and sincere repentance. It means praying — as President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency has taught — with the sentiment of “I want only what You want. Just tell me what that is. I’ll do it.”

A trip to the temple is not an experience to be left behind once we leave its doors. The sacrament is not an event to be forgotten once the deacons return to their seats. Discipleship is a pendant we should carry with us wherever we go, never forgetting the One who never forgets us. After all, we’ve promised in our baptismal covenants that we will “always remember” our Redeemer — and more than a commandment, this charge is an honor.

A replica of the golden ark of the covenant from the traveling ancient tabernacle of Moses, with two angel statues on top and with a stone tablet and stick with flowers on it inside.
A replica of the ark of the covenant in the tabernacle of Moses in Salt Lake City on April 25, 2023. Under the object’s lid — called the mercy seat — was found a gold pot of manna, Aaron’s rod and stone tablets that Moses received on Mount Sinai. | Joel Randall, Church News

The tribes of Israel built their tents around the ancient tabernacle, with the structure “in the midst of the camp” (Numbers 2:17). When the Salt Lake Temple was built in the late 1800s, it was also planned to be the geographic center of the Salt Lake Valley, hence why the numbering of the roads around it in each cardinal direction starts at Temple Square.

When we build our lives around the Lord’s teachings and put Him at the center, we show that we’re willing to receive His strength and embrace His miracles. As Church President Russell M. Nelson said last month in general conference, “Whatever questions or problems you have, the answer is always found in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. ... Turn to Him. Follow Him.”

I’ve greatly enjoyed seeing a life-sized replica of the biblical tabernacle. But we don’t have to wait until the event comes to town to make biblical devotion to God a reality. With a firm trust in the Savior’s teachings and a faithful step forward, you can bring the Spirit of God “whithersoever thou goest” (Joshua 1:9), as your cloud by day and your pillar by night.

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