The Bible devotes 50 chapters to the tabernacle, the portable tent complex that God instructed Moses to build and transport when the Israelites wandered in the wilderness in their escape from slavery in Egypt. It was meant to reassure the 12 tribes of Israel of God’s presence.
While the original tabernacle existed thousands of years ago, it’s being recreated today in a mobile life-size exhibit. Bible Gateway interviewed Jeanne Whittaker, founder and guardian of The Tabernacle Experience.
Your website says The Tabernacle Experience is not a museum or theater production. What is it?
Jeanne Whittaker: It is an encounter with the living God! This may sound a bit presumptuous, but it’s true. Our guests travel through a life-size tabernacle of the wilderness. The journey is audio driven allowing our guests to engage in the priestly rituals of the Old Testament times all the while revealing Jesus the Christ in every aspect of the tabernacle. Unlike a museum, the journey is hands on. Unlike a theater, everyone is a participant.
What need in the church prompted you to think up this traveling service?
Jeanne Whittaker: This may sound a bit selfish but it was my own personal need; my need to hear from God. While in Israel sitting in the very field the original tabernacle once stood, I was listening intently to my pastor as he relayed the story of Hannah and her deep desire to have a child.
Our pastor continued on, relaying Samuel’s life in Shiloh with Eli the priest, serving at the tabernacle and his encounter with God.
My thoughts went to Samuel: he was just a young boy and the Lord called out to him and Samuel heard his voice. This began his life-long relationship with God. With boldness and certainty I made a desperate and visceral plea to God: ‘I want to hear from YOU!’ Deep within I knew he heard me and would be answering.
How long would it be before I got an answer? Little did I know this was the beginning of a two-year-long wait; waiting to hear from the Lord as he had promised while in the town of Shiloh.
Finally, he broke his silence. At the time, we were making preparations for our women’s retreat; we were but four weeks out and without direction for a theme. As clear as the sky was that early autumn morning two years prior in Shiloh, the idea to build his tabernacle came with the same clarity. At the time I knew very little about the tabernacle.
Where in the Bible is the tabernacle described?
Jeanne Whittaker: When the children of Israel made their incredible escape from slavery in Egypt they lived in tents in the wilderness of the vast Sinai Desert. Being it has always been God’s desire to dwell with man he requested that his people build him a tent right in the middle of their encampment.
Here’s a Scripture quote taken from Exodus 25:8-9: ‘I want the people of Israel to build me a sacred residence where I can live among them. You must make this tabernacle and its furnishings exactly according to the plans I will show you.”
Within the tent the very presence of God was displayed with a cloud by day to provide shade and a fiery pillar at night to provide warmth. It was God’s presence that led the children of Israel on their 40-year journey throughout the desert. One of the 12 tribes of Israel, the Levites, were the custodians, so to speak, of the tabernacle and performed all the priestly duties prescribed by God.
How much space is needed to set up The Tabernacle Experience?
Jeanne Whittaker: The Courtyard measures 150’ x 75’. Within the measurements of the Courtyard is the Altar of Burnt Offering, the Laver, and the Tabernacle Proper, a tent measuring 15’ x 45’ housing the Lampstand, the Table of Bread, the Altar of Incense, and the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25-30).
What has been the response from people who’ve gone through it?
Jeanne Whittaker: We provide a journal at the conclusion of the journey for our guests to jot down their thoughts and prayers. You can read excerpts on our website. If I were to summarize in one word it would be Gratitude: for all God has done for us, is doing, and will do. Gratitude: for the gift and sacrifice of His Son. Gratitude: for Christ’s obedience. Gratitude: that Jesus has made a way from Ritual to Relationship.
Why do you think people who have experienced it get emotional?
Jeanne Whittaker: Emotions are part of our makeup. The journey touches all our senses: sight, smell, touch, hearing, and taste. Every part of our makeup, our Spirit, soul, and mind are stirred. The time spent within the tabernacle is an intimate and personal time with our Lord. As we know all Scripture points to and finds its fulfillment in Christ; it’s no different with the tabernacle as he is revealed in every aspect.
What logistics are involved in bringing the tabernacle to a city?
Jeanne Whittaker: Once the decision is made to host The Tabernacle Experience, just follow these simple steps:
- Gather your prayer team
- Choose a date
- Sign and send the Tabernacle Experience Agreement along with the first retainer.
Although we require retainers to secure the dates and ensure the commitment of the host, it is our desire to provide the event at ultimately no cost to the host church. The Tabernacle Experience has set in place a viable plan for the host to regain their financial investment. One thing we do rely on from the host church is a committed group of volunteers to care and tend to the tabernacle for the ten-day event.
Over 200,000 guests have journeyed through The Tabernacle Experience! The Tabernacle Experience is a ministry of Capo Beach Church (@capobeachchurch) located in Capistrano Beach, California.