Exodus 40

2 One year after they left Egypt, the Israelites were to set up a special tent where God's presence would appear. They were to "meet" with God there. This did not preclude speaking with God on a person level in any location. The Tent of Meeting was to be the center of public worship.

"Tabernacle" refers to a dwelling place. God is everywhere, but this tent was to remind them that He was with them and had a special interest in them. The word "meeting" (or "congregation") refers to appointed times. God would call the people to the Tent at specific times. There, Moses and subsequent leaders could share with them what He had spoken.

3 At this point, the ark contained the stone tablets with the Ten Commandments and the jar of manna. Both were "testimonies" or "witnesses" to God's presence and care for the Israelites.

The ark was to be hidden behind the veil because God's presence would appear above the ark. People were not allowed to look upon God's glory. To violate this would have resulted in death.

4 God is orderly, and He is very specific about how the furniture is arranged within the tabernacle. It is important that we recognize that God specifies these things, not man. God is concerned about the details of our worship of Him.

The table was to have the "showbread" on it. These were loaves that represented the twelve tribes of Israel before God at all times (Lev 24:5-8). The lampstand was the only source of light inside the tabernacle. The light represented God's presence and was to be kept burning all evening.

5 Incense was to be offered every day (Exo 30:7), and the incense on this offering was specifically different from what was offered with a sin offering. Rev 5:8 indicates that incense was symbolic of prayer. Incense was also used as an additional shield to prevent priests from looking upon the glory of the Lord (Lev 16:12-13).
6 Burnt offerings consisted of sin, thanksgiving, and other sacrifices. These were not appropriate to burn in the immediate presence of God, but these sacrifices were specifically to be connected with the tabernacle. All sacrifices were to be offered there unless otherwise indicated by God. Such control was necessary to prevent the sacrificial system from turning into idolatry.
7 Water was to be placed between the altar and the Tent for washing purposes. It was especially important that the hands be washed before entering God's presence. External cleanliness was to be representative of internal cleanness.
8 Worship was supposed to be distinct from daily living. The physical separation was to assist the mental separation. The worshiper is to be focused on God, not on the rest of the world.
9 Anointing was used to indicate that the object was specially designated for sacred use. It was to show that the item (or person) was specifically appointed by and dedicated to God.
34 To show His approval, God manifested Himself there. The cloud was necessary to shield the eyes of the people from His glory. The rabbis later referred to this glory as the "shekinah," which is derived from the Hebrew word for "dwelling."
35 The thickness of the cloud and the brightness of the glory prevented Moses from entering the tabernacle. On other occasions, he would enter, but on this occasion, God is making a spectacular appearance that no one could approach.
36 Previously, the pillar of cloud and fire stayed in front of the people to lead them out of Egypt (Exo 13:21-22). Now the pillar would remain over the tabernacle whenever the people camped. It would move away from the tabernacle to lead them to a new location when it was time to move on.
37 In this manner, the Israelites knew exactly what God's will was for them in the matter of traveling. Spiritual prodding can be difficult to discern, but this visual feedback was unmistakable. Considering the later behavior of the people, this visible sign prevented arguments where people may have thought that Moses was leading people here and there on whims.
38 Either by day or by night, the Israelites could look to the center of their camp where the tabernacle was and know that God was with them. When one knows that God is with him, he should be encouraged during difficult times and more conscious of obedience during good times.