Book Review: Christ and the Desert Tabernacle by J. V. Fesko

I am so happy to be back in my comfort zone of reviewing non-fiction Christian books. I generally receive my review books in digital format, but was sent this in paperback. When it arrived in the mail, Jonathan looked at it very carefully, then said, “You get to review that? Maybe I need a blog!”

Works on the symbolism of the tabernacle and other old testament practices and ceremonies can often be fascinating academic studies, but Fesko presents a prayerful and devotional approach to this frequently misunderstood or ignored portion of scripture. Focusing on the individual elements of the tabernacle, Fesko roots all observation and instruction firmly in plain scripture instead of fanciful, or mystical interpretation. He not only illustrates how the tabernacle and its furnishings point to Christ, he makes clear and direct application to the practice of the New Testament church. Each chapter ends with pointed, but humbly prayerful challenges to consider the implications in our individual and corporate worship.

One of the recurring themes in the book is the Garden of Eden as the first tabernacle. It was a new concept to me, but such a beautiful one, as I considered it more. The idea that the Garden was the first place in which God dwelt with man is clearly expressed in scripture, but Fesko drew connections between the garden, the tabernacle and then the restored creation of the end times in ways I had not seen before.

I also greatly appreciated Fesko’s concern with the purity of our worship. Several times he challenges our contemporary lack of appreciation for God’s holiness – at one point claiming that our familiarity with God has bred contempt. Modern evangelicalism often points to the tabernacle as evidence that the ancient Israelites had dry, or even dead, “religious worship”, while we are superior as we worship in “spirit and truth.” I was encouraged at Fesko’s efforts to correct that view, and guide us in our efforts to please the Lord with our worship. As they appear in the Tabernacle narrative, he openly addresses some very unpopular notions to the contemporary Western Christian – financial giving, the sabbath, the sacraments to name a few – but does so with both grace and scriptural honesty.

I was also greatly encouraged at Fesko’s unwillingness to engage in conjecture. In places where an interpretation may be in debate he very clearly states his opinion on the subject, and the reasons for holding that opinion, always rooted in scripture; however he is just as willing to acknowledge where there is no clarity of scripture, and then go no further into dangerous speculation. I appreciated that greatly.

This is a wonderful devotional on a subject that most Christians believe to be irrelevant. I highly recommend it.

I received no compensation for this post. I was provided a paperback edition for the purpose of review. I was not required to provide a positive one. I keep a disclosure statement here.

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About Coralie

After 11 years of infertility, I am now a mother to three, a wife of a Presbyterian (ARP) preacher and a struggling homemaker. Welcome to my little corner of the net. Kick off your shoes, put your feet up and join the conversation. View all posts by Coralie

4 responses to “Book Review: Christ and the Desert Tabernacle by J. V. Fesko

  • Christ and the Desert Tabernacle Blog Tour | Cross Focused Reviews

    […] “Works on the symbolism of the tabernacle and other old testament practices and ceremonies can often be fascinating academic studies, but Fesko presents a prayerful and devotional approach to this frequently misunderstood or ignored portion of scripture. I highly recommend it.” -Coralie Cowan (lifemoreabundant.me) […]

  • crossfocusedreviews

    Coralie,

    Thanks for being a part of the Christ and the Desert Tabernacle book review blog tour. I’ve really been struck by so many of the reviews noting how this book has brought the Old Testament to life for them. I’m glad you were blessed by the book as well.

    Looking forward to working with you on future book review blog tours.

    Shaun Tabatt
    Cross Focused Reviews

  • Sarah W.

    I’m appreciating this observation of yours right now — “Fesko roots all observation and instruction firmly in plain scripture instead of fanciful, or mystical interpretation” — because this week I’ve been reading something that decidedly does *not* avoid the fanciful. One of the texts I will likely be working with for my dissertation is the Book of Pastoral Rule by Gregory the Great (written c. 590), and it turns out it’s FULL of odd, mystical readings of the tabernacle sections of Exodus! Just for a sampling, when he discusses the decorations on the hem of the ephod: “Pomegranates are added to the little bells. For what could be indicated by the pomegranates if not the unity of the faith? For in the pomegranate, the many seeds that are inside are protected by the outer rind; just so, the unity of the faith covers the innumerable people of the holy Church, who, though they vary in merit, are held within her.” …*Really*?!

    So yes, there may end up being a subsection of my dissertation that’s “Weird Exegesis of Exodus Passages on the Priesthood.” (Only it would have a more scholarly title than that.) In sum, I appreciate Fesko’s book better now. Just wanted to share. 🙂

  • Piracetam

    I agree wholeheartedly with each of Fesko’s conclusions. He makes a number of poignant statements that are not only valid but also necessary for the Church. I think that they are all biblically and theologically sound. I also think that Fesko does a great job of describing, in detail, the instructions to build the tabernacle in Exodus. My issue with this book is how Fesko gets from the tabernacle to his conclusions. They do not logically follow (and in some instances have nothing to do with each other), and he jumps through a number of hermeneutical hoops in order to show that the tabernacle account leads to these conclusions. I also have difficulty with the fact that Fesko completely ignores any and all critical scholarship that sheds some let on this passage. For example, he ignores issues of centralization of worship in Jerusalem during the divided monarchy. He also makes the comment that the Sabbath has already been discussed in the giving of the 10 Commandments, so why is it repeated in the instructions to build the tabernacle? Instead of using this opportunity to engage in a conversation with source critics, he simply says “that God reveals more information about the Sabbath” in this section of Exodus. I understand that his target audience is not academics, but to completely ignore the incredible amount of scholarship that has been done on this subject really does his audience a disservice.

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