7 That was when Moses had taken the tent and pitched it outside the camp, far off from the camp, and he had called it the meeting tent. And everyone who wanted to inquire of the LORD would go out to the meeting tent, which was outside the camp. 8 Whenever Moses had gone out to the tent, all the people would rise up, and each would stand at his tent door, and watch Moses until he had gone into the tent. 9 When Moses had entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the LORD would speak with Moses. 10 And when all the people had seen the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise up and worship, each at his tent door. 11 And the LORD had spoken to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses turned again into the camp, his assistant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, would not leave the tent.
God’s people had sinned greatly, and there would be consequences. Some of the consequences we have already seen: an immediate violent death of about 3000 souls at the hands of the obedient Levites, and a plague that would kill even more. But another consequence is seen here in this passage. The presence of the LORD can no longer reside in the tabernacle, because it is in the midst of the camp. God had told Moses that if he were among the people, he would strike them again because of their rebellion.
So, the next church where God will meet with Moses – for communication purposes – is another meeting tent. This tent was placed well outside the camp, symbolizing the distance between the people and their God. It would not contain any of the elaborate furniture of the tabernacle, and it would not be frequently visited and maintained by the priests. It would stand empty except for brief intervals when Moses would enter it to speak with the LORD on behalf of the Israelites. Joshua would stay nearby, guarding and maintaining it.
Two lessons the Israelites would learn from this temporary arrangement seem almost opposite to each other. On the one hand, the respect each showed Moses when he met with the LORD was a welcomed change from the disrespect and derision they had shown him before the incident with the golden calf. Their reverence for the LORD and Moses was refreshing. That lesson had been learned. On the other hand, the meetings that Moses would have with the LORD in the meeting tent were described as fellowship in the most casual of terms.
Prayer and worship before the LORD of the universe is always a matter of balance of both of these elements. We must come before him reverently, but he also wants us to fellowship with him intimately. It is no surprise that we often struggle for the right balance of these two emphases.
LORD, show us how we can fear you rightly, and fellowship with you closely.