TO CHEW ON: "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." Exodus 33:7
This is a story of the exodus, when the people of Israel lived in portable houses—tents. "Outside the camp"—beyond the boundaries of their tent city—was a place that always seemed negative to me. But on checking references to it in the Bible, I discover it had a mixed connotation. It was:
"Outside the camp" was a necessary and frequently visited place because it was the desert's bathroom facilities - Deuteronomy 23:12.
- For the person with a contagious disease like leprosy, or for someone who was unclean because of having touched a dead body for example, "outside the camp" was a place they were sent to live in short- or long-term isolation - Leviticus 13:46; Numbers 5:3.
- Capital punishments, like stonings, happened outside the camp - Numbers 15:35.
- Parts of offerings were performed "outside the camp" - Leviticus 4:12,26. (The writer of Hebrews likened Jesus' death outside the Jerusalem gates to the animal sacrifices killed outside the camp of Israel - Hebrews 13:11-13)
- A clean place outside the camp was where the priests were to store the ashes of the purification ceremony, for example (Numbers 9: 3,9).
- In our reading, we see Moses going outside the camp to meet with God.
Why do you suppose he chose that place?
- My Bible's commenter says: "Moses placed it (the tabernacle of meeting) a great distance from the camp because of the desecration by the moulded calf" - J. C. Tollett commentary on Exodus, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 119.
I can think of other advantages to having this meeting place outside the camp:
- It forced a break in Moses' day-to-day routine.
- It gave him some distance from the immediacy and urgency of his problems and the problems in the camp.
- It was a buffer against distractions and interruptions.
- In Moses' case, the distance may also have been protection for the people from God's glory cloud.
I, perhaps you too, would do well to have a place where we meet with God "outside the camp." No, we may not be able to literally leave our houses for this but we can find our own "outside the camp" place. Jesus talks about going into one's closet and shutting the door to pray - Matthew 6:6 KJV. Susannah Wesley threw her apron over her head and prayed behind it. David Wilkerson went to a place in the woods near his home. Sometimes we may feel the need to do more and also break our eating routine with a fast.
However we do it, let's meet with God outside the camp. You've got to love Joshua in this. He enjoyed God's presence so much he "did not depart from the tabernacle" (though he probably didn't have crying babies or a hungry family waiting for his attention back in the camp either!).
PRAYER: Dear God, what a powerful place Moses' prayer tabernacle must have been! Help me to establish my own tabernacle of meeting "outside the camp" where I regularly meet with You. Amen.
Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.