Christian Churches of God
The Tabernacle in the Wilderness
(Edition 3.0 20040602-20050316-20061209)
Symbolically the Tabernacle represented God’s royal Tent on Earth. Moses was given specific detailed instructions on how to build the Tabernacle, which was to be a copy of what is in heaven.
Christian Churches of God
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(Copyright ã 2004, 2005, 2006 Diane Flanagan and Wade Cox)
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The Tabernacle in the Wilderness
No one has an excuse for not honouring God, because the whole created world reveals Him (Rom. 1:20). Through this physical world, and the instructions that God has given to us, we can understand more about God and the spiritual realm.
Tent of Meeting
Moses used to pitch a tent outside the camp some distance away, and called it the Tent of Meeting (Ex. 33:7). The Tent of Meeting existed before the Tabernacle was constructed, and it was where Moses went to meet with the Angel of the Presence (Ex. 33:8-9).
God directed the design of the Tabernacle
The Israelites arrived at Mount Sinai on the third New Moon (Ex. 19:1 Annotated RSV). Moses made 6 trips up and down the mountain to speak to the Angel of the Presence. This was the being that later became Joshua the Messiah, which is the Hebrew name of the man called Jesus. It was during Moses’ fourth time on the mountain that he fasted 40 days and 40 nights (Ex. 24:18) and at that time he received instructions for building the Tabernacle (Ex. 25:1-31:11).
Why the Tabernacle?
When Moses came down from the mountain he said to the people, "God has ordered us to build this Tabernacle as a temporary dwelling for Him to be present with us. God has not yet promised to dwell in you by His Spirit. He has promised to be among you and with you in every crisis so long as you obey Him," Moses said to the crowd. "For now He will be pleased with us if we give generously and willingly of our materials, wealth, skills and labour. Every one can have a part in doing something for our Creator."
The offerings that the people could freely give were gold, silver and bronze; blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goats’ hair; rams’ skins dyed red, and hides of seals. They also gave acacia wood, olive oil for the lamps, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, and precious stones (Ex. 25:1-9; Ex. 35:5-9).
"There is also a need for willing workers who are skilled in carpentry, metalwork, weaving, carving and all the crafts and arts necessary to build and decorate the Tabernacle and everything connected with it," Moses said (Ex. 35:4-19).
Moses didn’t beg the people for anything. He simply told them what was required.
Israelites bring many valuable offerings
For the next several days thousands of people came to give the things for which Moses had asked. They also wove diligently on their looms to produce the beautiful fabrics that were needed. The people had a good attitude and continued to bring the necessary items every morning (Ex. 36:3). So generous were the people that more than enough was brought for the building of the Tabernacle, and many volunteered their services.
Moses was pleased at this great display of zeal, unselfishness and ambition by so many of the people. It was plain to him that thousands of them were anxious to make up for their past sins. Still too fresh in their minds were the unpleasant memories of their wanton prancing before the golden calf. But most of the people who came to give simply had a sincere desire to help because they realised that this was a wonderful opportunity to be of service to God.
Even today God only wants gifts that we freely give. When we go to the Feasts three times a year, we have an opportunity to give an offering to God. This is a privilege and we give whatever amount of money we think is appropriate. We can also give offerings to the service of the Temple at other times.
God had already told Moses on Mt. Sinai who to choose to head this task of making the Tabernacle. Moses proclaimed to the people that Bezaleel, a grandson of Hur from the tribe of Judah, would be in charge. Bezaleel’s assistant was to be Aholiab of the tribe of Dan.
Through His Spirit, God filled these craftsmen with wisdom, understanding and knowledge of the different skills necessary for building the Tabernacle. Bezaleel was appointed to make all the artistic designs in gold, silver and in copper or bronze. He assisted in cutting the stones and carving the wood, and Aholiab helped him. Both these men were also given the ability to teach others (Ex. 31:1-5; 35:30-36:2; 1Chro. 2:18-20).
Bezaleel and Aholiab also assisted with the weaving and embroidery. In Egypt, the women did the spinning and dyeing of fabric and the men did the weaving and embroidery.
The Israelites worked industriously
Knowing how much material was necessary, through figures Moses had given him, Bezaleel realised that more than enough had been brought in. Even so, the people kept on coming with more. Bezaleel spoke to Moses, who quickly gave an order for the people to stop bringing more items (Ex. 36:5-7).
Bezaleel and Aholiab lost no time in teaching those who needed instructions and assigning craftsmen and labourers to their various tasks. Soon everyone was busily and happily working. Carpenters started hewing boards out of the acacia logs and planks that had been brought in. Metal workers melted down or pounded out the metals. Weavers and seamstresses worked on cloth. Gem-cutters planned how to use the precious stones.
Work on the Tabernacle was something that couldn’t be rushed. It required great care and skill, for everything that went into this project was to be made as close to perfection as human hands could make it. The men and women were very careful to perform superior workmanship in making God’s Tabernacle and its furnishings.
Even though the workers applied themselves ambitiously, it required about eight months to build the Tabernacle. That was because there was a need for so much intricate and detailed workmanship.
Tabernacle richly decorated
Nearly fifteen tons of gold, silver and copper (or bronze) were used. This represented only a small part of the wealth of the Israelites, much of which had come from their former Egyptian neighbours or from being washed up on the east shore of the Red Sea after Pharaoh’s army had been engulfed in water.
Among the things made last was the special clothing for the priests. As the items were finished, they were brought to Moses for inspection. Nothing was approved until he was satisfied that it was made strictly according to God’s instructions. Finally Moses called all the workers together to commend them for tasks well done, and to ask God’s blessing on them (Ex. 39:43).
He reminded them that God, who is perfect, is pleased when men strive toward perfection in anything worthwhile, whether it is material, physical or spiritual. That’s worth remembering when something needs doing. Too many people try to get more and give less, which is the opposite of God’s way. Quality pleases Him, and quality requires one’s best efforts.
Just to the west of Moses’ tent was an open area centring the twelve camps. There workmen erected God’s Tabernacle that was to be taken down and moved whenever the people were instructed to move (Num. 1:50-54; 3:38).
The Tabernacle was made up of numerous parts. There were boards, crossbars, rings, tenons or bases, and pillars. Five pillars led into the Tabernacle in the wilderness. Five is the number of grace. These five pillars could also represent the Five Churches of Revelation that qualify to be in the Kingdom of God: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, and Philadelphia. Or they could represent the five centralities of God: holy, righteous, goodness, perfection and truth. The four pillars leading into the Holy of Holies could represent the four Covering Cherubs around God’s Throne. These four Covering Cherubs are also referred to as the four Living Creatures and they are instrumental in maintaining God’s Law.
The Tabernacle itself was made up of forty-eight boards. There were twenty on the south side and twenty on the north side, and six plus two corner boards on the west (Ex. 26:18-25; 36:23-30). The boards were made of shittim/acacia wood. They were 1½ cubits wide and ten cubits tall. Each board had two tenons or ‘hands’ on the bottom. These tenons were cut-outs that fitted exactly into the bases and made the board stand upright in the base (Ex. 26:15-18; 36:21-22). There were also five bars for each side of the Tabernacle (Ex. 26:26,27; 36:31,32). The middle bar of the five was to pass through the centre of the boards from one end to the other (Ex. 26:28; 36:33). All the bars and rings were overlaid with gold (Ex. 26:29; 36:34).
The bases probably had a dovetail or ‘puzzle fashion’ so that each base was able to interlock with its neighbouring base. There were two silver bases for each board (Ex. 26:19-25; 36:24-30), which would be ninety-six bases of silver. But in Exodus 26:32 and 36:36, the Bible tells us that the four pillars leading into the Holy of Holies also had silver bases.
Thus, the number of silver bases is one hundred. Exodus 38:25-27 tells us each base was a talent of silver. So, one hundred talents of silver were used for the one hundred bases of the Tabernacle.
When the Tabernacle was constructed, only the priests could enter it. The priests tended the lamp stand and altar of incense daily. Once a week on the Sabbath they put out the shewbread in two rows with frankincense on top of each row.
When approaching the Tabernacle, one went through, or under, the four coverings of the structure. Two of the coverings were fabric and two were made of animal hides.
We see God’s Plan for the world in the coverings of the Tabernacle. The outer covering was from the skin or hide of an unclean animal, which represented mankind and the fallen Host in their state of sin. The eleven curtains of goats’ hair were in an intermediary position on the way to the Throne of God. Finally, we come to the ten linen curtains with the cherubim on them, which picture God’s loyal Host around His Throne.
The skins of animals were on the outside and most exposed to the weather. The rams’ skins dyed red were next to the fabric, and under them we find eleven curtains made of goats’ hair, which covered the ten linen curtains. The seals’ skins were exposed to the elements, and could be seen by those standing in the courtyard.
Brenton’s translation of Exodus 26:14 in the Septuagint reads as follows: And thou shalt make for a covering of the tabernacle rams’ skins dyed red, and blue skins as coverings above. The outside colouring of the Tabernacle was therefore blue. The colour blue is symbolic of the Law, and from the Law we have knowledge of sin. Blue was used repeatedly in the Temple and on the priests’ clothes. We too are to wear blue ribbons on the four corners of our clothes as a reminder of the Law of God (Num. 15:37-41; Deut. 22:12).
The Tabernacle was located in a court. A court is a big area that is enclosed or marked off. The court was 100 cubits long and 50 cubits wide, creating two perfect squares of 50 x 50 cubits. (In those days, length was measured in cubits, which was the distance from the tip of a man’s finger to his elbow - about 18 inches.) There was a large gate on the east side where people entered.
The boundary wall that separated the rest of the camp from the Tabernacle area was made up of fine linen hangings, hung from 60 pillars spaced five cubits apart. There were 20 pillars on the south side, 20 on the north, 10 pillars on the west and 10 on the east. The total of 60 pillars could represent the two Inner Councils of 30 each. The Council is described in chapters 4 and 5 of the Book of Revelation.
Four central pillars on the east supported a gate hanging of blue, purple, and scarlet (red) yarn and finely twisted linen (Ex. 27:9-19). The pillars had copper or bronze bases with silver hooks and bands on each post (Ex. 27:17; 38:28). As one looked at the court one would see the white linen curtains with a border of silver on top, and the copper (or bronze) bases below the pillars. And there would be the beautiful blue, purple, and scarlet (red) woven gate through which all would enter the court.
Apart from the 60 pillars, we must also remember that there are five pillars leading into the Tabernacle (Ex. 26:37; 27:7-10). These five pillars also had copper (or bronze) bases, like the 60 pillars in the courtyard (Ex. 26:37; 36:38). There were also four pillars leading into the Holy of Holies, but these had silver bases (Ex. 26:32; 36:36,38). These pillars could represent the four Cherubs or Living Creatures that help support and cover God’s Throne (Ezek. 1:5-21; Rev. 4:6-9). So, the total number of pillars in the Tabernacle in the wilderness and its surrounding court was 69.
In Numbers 11:16, and Luke 10:1, there is a reference to the 70 Elders. This is the number of the governing body of the Church and the nation of Israel. This number was to represent the heavenly Host. We know there are 30 Beings in the Inner Council and 40 in the Outer Council, giving us a total of 70 Beings. For more information on the Council of God see The Creation of the Family of God (No. CB4). The pillars depict the 69 Beings of the Inner and Outer Council. The 70th Being is God the Father, who would be pictured by the Ark of the Covenant.
Everything in the Tabernacle and the court was made portable and moveable. Each time that God instructed the people to move, there was a set procedure for taking down the court and the Tabernacle, and moving it in the correct fashion.
Altar of burnt offering or bronze altar
When one entered the court, the first thing one saw was the altar of burnt offering, which is described in Exodus 27:1-8; 38:1-7 and Psalm 118:27. The altar was a square. It was five cubits long by five cubits wide and three cubits high. It had four horns on the corners. Sometimes the sacrificial animal was bound to these horns (Ps. 118:27). It was made of acacia wood and covered with bronze inside and out. It was hollow inside (Ex. 27:8). The burnt offering was to be left on the hearth of the altar all night, with the altar fire kept burning. Each morning the priest was to clean out the ashes of the burnt offering and carry the ashes outside the camp to a place that was ceremonially clean. He would then put on fresh wood and lay the daily burnt offering on it, and burn the fat of the daily peace offering (Lev. 6:8-13).
The utensils used with the altar were also made of bronze (Ex. 27:3; see also The Companion Bible notes on Ex. 27:5 and Lev. 9:22). There were heavy bronze rings on the corners of the bronze grate encircling the lower half of the altar. The boards of the altar rested on a narrow rim of the grate (Ex. 27:4-5). It may have been a type of ledge the priest actually stood on to get the sacrifice in place. Long poles were to be inserted through the rings for lifting the altar from the dirt filling for conveyance whenever the Israelites were directed to move their camps (Ex. 38:1-7).
Originally, the altar was used to sacrifice bulls, goats, rams and sheep, etc. to the One True God. It was at the altar of burnt offering that reconciling (or reuniting) the sinner to God was done. As we know, our sins separate us from God. For more information on dealing with sin see What is Sin? (No. CB26).
Jesus Christ came to Earth as a man and fulfilled all the requirements of the sacrificial system, so animal sacrifices no longer take place. See the paper Who is Jesus? (No. CB2). Anciently the sacrifices took place at 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. (Ex. 29:38-39; Num. 28:4, 1Chro. 16:40; 2Chro. 31:3). These are the times we should hold services on God’s Holy Days now.
Altar of incense
The altar of incense was located directly in front of the veil or curtain into the Holy of Holies. It was a cubit long and a cubit wide and two cubits high. Its horns were of one piece. It was made of acacia wood and also overlaid with pure gold. It too had a moulding around the top. There were two rings on each side of the altar. The poles to carry it were made of acacia wood overlaid with gold (Ex. 30:1-5; 37:25-29).
The priests tended the altar of incense twice a day (Ex. 30:6-8; Luke 1:9-11). There is to be perpetual incense before the Lord throughout our generations (Ex. 30:8). The incense was made from precious spices and under God’s direction (Ex. 30:34). It could not be used for any other purpose. The priests were instructed not to offer any strange incense on this altar (Ex. 30:9).
The collection of the Church’s prayers ascending to the Father could be depicted in the altar of incense. David gave us an example of prayer being as incense in Psalms 141:2. We know that the twenty-four Elders and the four Living Creatures around God’s Throne continually monitor the prayers of the saints (Rev. 5:8). God’s people should always be in prayer. Here we can also see the concept of praying at least twice a day. For more information on how to pray see the papers Lesson on Prayer Part A Teacher’s Guide (No. CB31) and Lesson on Prayer Part B Worksheet (No. CB32).
The lesson of strange incense tells us not to pray to or worship false gods. For more information see the paper Satan’s Days of Worship (No. CB23).
Between the Tabernacle and the altar was a large copper or bronze bowl called the laver, which was always to be full of water. In it the priests were to wash their hands and feet before going about their duties (Ex. 30:18-21). The penalty for not washing was death (Ex. 30:20,21).
The laver and basin were made from the copper (or bronze) mirrors of the women who served at the doorway of the Tent of Meeting (Ex. 30:18; 38:8). Just as a woman is symbolic of the Church, it could signify that people now come to Christ through the Church.
Another heavier, larger curtain of seals’ skins was stretched over lighter ones of rams’ skins, goats’ hair and linen. Only the colourful, figured linen curtain could be seen inside the Tabernacle, which needed no floor because it was always to be set on level ground (Ex. 26:1-25; 36:8-34).
The lamp stand
The lamp stand was made of pure gold out of one piece of metal (Ex. 25:31-40; 31:8; 37:17-24). The lamp stand and its utensils were made from one talent of gold (Ex. 25:39). It had one central shaft with three branches out of each side, and with places for seven oil lamps on top of each branch. The lamp was ‘dressed’, meaning that the wick was trimmed and oil added daily. The lamps were kept burning before the Lord from evening to morning (Ex. 27:20-21; Lev. 24:2-3).
These seven lamps seem to represent what was understood as the seven Spirits before God’s Throne. There are numerous references to the number seven in the Bible. We see there are seven days in the week, seven cycles of seven years in the Jubilee, seven trumpets, seven vials, seven seals and the seven Churches, etc.
The oil for the lamp stand was pure olive oil. The oil was not ground in a mill but it was beaten to produce finer oil (Ex. 27:20). We are to be that lamp stand to the world reflecting the light of God’s Holy Spirit to all who come in contact with us (Mat. 5:14). Once we are called, repent, and are baptised, we are to tend to the Holy Spirit daily. We never want to be without oil in our lamp as the five foolish virgins found themselves (Mat. 25:1-11).
The table of shewbread
The table of shewbread was located on the north side of the Tent of Meeting, or on the right when one walked into the Tabernacle (Ex. 25:30; 40:22). It was made of acacia wood and overlaid with gold, and was two cubits long, one cubit wide and one and a half cubits high. The table had a rim of one handbreadth all around and a ring on each corner of the table. Two poles of acacia wood overlaid with gold went through the rings to allow the table to be carried. The dishes and utensils of the table were of pure gold (Ex. 25:23-30; 37:10-16).
It contained twelve loaves of unleavened bread. The bread was stacked in two rows, with six loaves in each row. The priests put frankincense on each row to make it a memorial portion and to be an offering made to the Lord by fire. The bread was replaced every Sabbath with new loaves that were set out before the Lord as an everlasting covenant for the sons of Israel. It belonged to Aaron and his sons and they ate it in the holy place. It was part of their regular share of the offerings made to the Lord by fire (Lev. 24:5-9).
The twelve loaves of bread represented a gift from the twelve tribes of Israel, by which the entire world comes into the Kingdom of God. It signified the fact that God sustains His people.
This Holy of Holies was the place God designed for His glorious Presence while leading the Israelites on the journey to Canaan.
Within it was a gold-covered wooden chest called the Ark of the Covenant, about the size of a large trunk. It was built of acacia wood and was covered with a layer of gold inside and out. The Ark was two and one half cubits long, half a cubit wide and one and one half cubits high (Ex. 25:10-22). It had four rings on it, two on each side. A long pole covered with gold ran through each of the two rings. This provided a way for the priests to carry the Ark without touching it. The poles were never to be removed from the rings of the Ark (Ex. 25:15). When Israel moved, the Ark went in front of the army (Num. 10:33). It was carried by the priests, or Levites (Num. 4:15; 3:30-31; Josh. 3:3; Deut. 31:9, 25).
The tablets with the Ten Commandments (Ex. 25:16; Deut. 31:26), an omer of manna (Ex. 16:33; 34) and Aaron’s rod that budded (Num. 17:10) were kept in the Ark (Heb. 9:4).
The top of the Ark was the lapporah, which is also called the mercy seat. It was a cover or the lid of the Ark. The High Priest sprinkled the blood of the sin offering seven times upon the lid of the Ark of the Covenant, once a year on the Day of Atonement, when he entered the Holy of Holies (Lev. 16:18-19). Only the High Priest was permitted to enter this sacred area.
This is symbolic of Christ being the perfect sacrifice. By his sinless life and death he was able to offer himself as the sacrifice to God the Father. He was the perfect sacrifice once and for all (Heb. 9:26,28; 1Pet. 3:18). See also the paper Who is Jesus? (No. CB2).
On the covering there were two Cherubim facing each other. The Cherubim were also made of gold with their wings outspread. The entire seat was made from the same piece of gold (Ex. 25:17-20). Here we see the Throne of God figured with two Living Creatures that remained loyal and are covering God’s Throne. There were originally four Cherubim, two Cherubs covering and two Cherubs standing behind. For more information on the God’s Throne see the paper The Creation of the Family of God (No. CB4).
When the High Priest went into the Holy of Holies no one was allowed to be in the Tabernacle in the wilderness. In the same way, Christ was alone when he ascended to God the Father as the first-fruits of the Wave Sheaf offering. For more information please see the paper The Holy Days of God (No. CB22).
Sprinkling the blood seven times has significance. There are seven holy days, the Sabbath is the seventh day and God’s three Feasts have seven components. There are seven days of Unleavened Bread, seven perfect weeks from the Wave Sheaf to Pentecost, and seven days of Tabernacles. Leviticus 23:5-22 and 23:34-44 show us the seven times sequence of the three Feasts.
Eleven goats’ hair curtains
The curtain of goats’ hair was composed of eleven curtain panels: six in one group and five in the other group. The two great curtains each had fifty loops that were attached with fifty bronze clasps. The curtains were each four cubits by thirty cubits. The Tabernacle was actually thirty cubits long and ten cubits wide. The curtain would have covered the south side of the Tabernacle, then over the top of the Tabernacle, and then the north side of the Tabernacle. The extra goats’ hair curtain would have hung over and covered the back or west end of the Tabernacle (Ex. 26:7-14; 37:14-18). The extra sixth curtain hung double on the front of the tent (Ex. 26:9).
William Brown states in his book that, "Most writers were of the opinion that the tent was woven of fine, white, soft, silky hair similar to that of the angora goat" (The Tabernacle: Its Priests and Its Services, Henderson Publishers, P.O. Box 3473, Peabody, Massachusetts, 01961-3473, May 1996). It would seem likely that they used white angora, cashmere, or some type of hair from a goat that had long hair rather than from the very short-haired goats.
Ten linen curtains
Continuing to move inward we find the 10 curtains of fine twisted linen and blue, purple and scarlet (red) material, with images of the cherubim. These were made by the skilful workman Bezaleel. Each curtain was twenty-eight cubits by four cubits. He joined five curtains together to make one great curtain. Each set of the great curtains had fifty loops on them. There would have been one hundred blue loops fastened together with fifty gold clasps (Ex. 26:1-14; 37:8-13). This set of curtains would function in the same fashion as the goats’ hair curtains, except one would be able to see the curtains when inside the Tabernacle. When placed over the Tabernacle, the bronze clasps of the goat’s hair curtains, and gold clasps of the linen curtains also, would be at the separation of the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies.
The linen curtains would have been centred over the Tabernacle and therefore they would have been a cubit from the ground on the south and north sides. This would allow the priest, who was in the Tabernacle, to see the silver bases that held the boards up if the curtain was hung on the inside of the golden boards. There seems to be much debate about whether the linen curtains were on the inside, or outside of the golden boards.
Some think the curtains were very fine and almost see-through linen and hung on the inside of the boards. Others reason that God would not have so much time and energy and beauty go into making the curtains and then have two thirds of the curtains hidden behind the boards. Some question how the curtains could have been suspended on the inside of the Tabernacle, and therefore they believe they hung on the outside of the boards. Clearly, the linen curtains formed the ceiling of the Tabernacle, but the hanging of the sides is not clear.
Setting up the Tabernacle
As we can see, the construction of the Tabernacle was the first major activity of the Israelites. The Israelites had been gone a year from Egypt by the time the Tabernacle was finished. It was set up and ready for use on the First day of the First month (Abib) of the Second year of the journey to Canaan (Ex. 40:1-4,17) and taken down on the Twentieth of the Second month. The Tabernacle would have been up for fifty days before it was taken down (See notes in The Companion Bible on Ex. 40:2 and Num. 10:11).
When Moses had finished setting up all the furniture, the altar, laver and court around the Tabernacle, a cloud covered it. The Glory of the Lord then filled the Tabernacle and Moses was unable to enter. Thus, Moses had finished his work. From now on, the Israelites would march through the desert with the Lord tenting among them and leading them to the Promised Land.
In the travel of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the Tabernacle, they would set out; but if the cloud did not lift, they remained in the same area as long as the cloud remained. This continued until the death of Moses (Ex. 40:33-36).
The Tabernacle was a physical representation of the spiritual Temple, which we are (1Cor.3:16-17; 6:19). Just as Moses set up the physical Tabernacle, Christ set up the spiritual Tabernacle or the Temple and all the utensils. It was an amazing task to have such a beautiful, functional, and portable dwelling completed in such a short time. But we know all things are possible with God (Mat. 19:26).
In Hebrews 8:5, we learn that the Tabernacle Moses had erected was a copy (or a shadow) of what was in heaven (Ex. 25:9; 26:30 and Acts 7:44). Moses had to make sure that he followed the pattern exactly as it had been given to him. When God tells us to do something, it is always for a good reason and we must therefore always do things exactly as God says.