“And Moses went up on the mountain.” This is Moses’ fifth time up Mount Sinai to be with God. First, he walked up close to the cloud that covered the mountain, then after six days of waiting there, he walked into the cloud where God was (Exod. 24:13-18). This fifth time Moses was on Mount Sinai lasted 40 days and 40 nights (v. 18), and it was during that time that God gave Moses all the detailed revelation about how to build the Tent of Meeting (the “Tabernacle”). Moses did not come down the mountain until Exodus 32:15, so God gave Moses more than seven chapters of detailed information about the Tent of Meeting. But even those seven chapters are not all the information God gave Moses, because there is not enough detail in those chapters to completely construct Moses’ Tent of Meeting, and archaeologists and architects have been arguing about exactly how it should be constructed for years.
In general, there is so much focus on the fact that Moses got the Ten Commandments on stone tablets on this trip up Mount Sinai that no one pays attention to the real reason Moses made this trip and was gone so long—which was to get the details of the Tent of Meeting! The people already had the Ten Commandments and more than three chapters of laws from God. What they did not have was a proper dwelling place for God to live among them, and the Tent of Meeting provided that. But the Tent of Meeting provided so much more than just a “tent” where God could live and meet the people of Israel. Everything about the Tent of Meeting was redemptive, symbolic, or taught a lesson. The size, the shape, the colors, the material and metals used—everything was important. Furthermore, much of the symbolism pointed to the work of Christ and the need for his life and work. The very fact that the walls and curtains of the Tent of Meeting separated God from the people showed the great need for the work of Christ to reconcile God and people back together. The people could not see over the tall outer courtyard curtains that enclosed the Tent of Meeting and the things in its courtyard, and curtains in front of the Holy Place and Holy of Holies ensured that the people never could see the dwelling place of the Most High God. Indeed, without the work of Christ, humankind would never see God or be redeemed and as a race would be doomed to everlasting death. No wonder God was so picky about every detail of the Tent of Meeting—those details pointed to His Son and the eventual restoration of the human race that God created and loved.
[For more information on Moses’ seven trips up Mount Sinai, see commentary on Exod. 19:3. For more on God speaking directly to Israel with a loud voice from the top of Mount Sinai, see commentary on Exodus 19:9.]