Tabernacle. The tabernacle was the tent of Jehovah, called by the same name as the tents of the people in the midst of which it stood. It was also called the sanctuary and the tabernacle of the congregation. The first ordinances given to Moses, after the proclamation of the outline of the law from Sinai, related to the ordering of the tabernacle, its furniture and its service, as the type which was to be followed when the people came to their own home and “found a place” for the abode of God. During the forty days of Moses’ first retirement with God in Sinai, an exact pattern of the whole was shown him, and all was made according to it. Ex. 25:9, 40; 26:30; 39:32, 42–43; Num. 8:4; Acts 7:44; Heb. 8:5. The description of this plan is preceded by an account of the freewill offerings which the children of Israel were to be asked to make for its execution.
I. The Tabernacle itself.—
1. Its name.—It was first called a tent or dwelling, Ex. 25:8, because Jehovah, as it were, abode there. It was often called tent or tabernacle from its external appearance.
2. Its materials.—The materials were—(a) Metals: gold, silver, and brass. (b) Textile fabrics: blue, purple, scarlet, and fine (white) linen, for the production of which Egypt was celebrated; also a fabric of goat’s hair, the produce of their own flocks. (c) Skins: of the ram, dyed red, and of the badger. (d) Wood: the shittim wood, the timber of the wild acacia of the desert itself, the tree of the “burning bush.” (e) Oil, spices, and incense for anointing the priests and burning in the tabernacle. (f) Gems: onyx stones and the precious stones for the breastplate of the high priest. The people gave jewels, and plates of gold and silver and brass; wood, skins, hair, and linen; the women wove; the rulers offered precious stones, oil, spices, and incense; and the artists soon had more than they needed. Ex. 25:1–8; 35:4–29; 36:5–7. The superintendence of the work was intrusted to Bezaleel, of the tribe of Judah, and to Aholiab, of the tribe of Dan, who were skilled in “all manner of workmanship.” Ex. 31:2, 6; 35:30, 34.
3. Its structure.—The tabernacle was to comprise three main parts—the tabernacle more strictly so called, its tent and was to be of red ram-skins and seal-skins, Ex. 25:5, and was spread over the goat’s-hair tent as an additional protection against the weather. It was an oblong rectangular structure, 30 cubits in length by 10 in width (45 feet by 15), and 10 in height; the interior being divided into two chambers, the first or outer, of 20 cubits in length, the inner, of 10 cubits, and consequently an exact cube. The former was the holy place, or first tabernacle, Heb. 9:2, containing the golden candlestick on one side, the table of shew-bread opposite, and between them in the centre the altar of incense. The latter was the most holy place, or the holy of holies, containing the ark, surmounted by the cherubim, with the two tables inside. The two sides and the farther or west end were enclosed by boards of shittim wood overlaid with gold, twenty on the north and twenty on the south side, six on the west side, and the cornerboards doubled. They stood upright, edge to edge, their lower ends being made with tenons, which dropped into sockets of silver, and the corner-boards being coupled at the top with rings. They were furnished with golden rings, through which passed bars of shittim wood, overlaid with gold, five to each side, and the middle bar passing from end to end, so as to brace the whole together. Four successive coverings of curtains looped together were placed over the open top and fell down over the sides. The first or inmost was a splendid fabric of linen, embroidered with figures of cherubim in blue, purple, and scarlet, and looped together by golden fastenings. It seems probable that the ends of this set of curtains hung down within the tabernacle, forming a sumptuous tapestry. The second was a covering of goat’s hair; the third, of ram-skins dyed red; and the outermost, of badger-skins (so called in our version; but the Hebrew word probably signifies seal-skins). It has been commonly supposed that these coverings were thrown over the wall, as a pall is thrown over a coffin; but this would have allowed every drop of rain that fell on the tabernacle to fall through; for, however tightly the curtains might be stretched, the water could never run over the edge, and the sheep-skins would only make the matter worse, as when wetted their weight would depress the centre, and probably tear any curtain that could be made. There can be no reasonable doubt that the tent had a ridge, as all tents have had from the days of Moses down to the present time. The front of the sanctuary was closed by a hanging of fine linen, embroidered in blue, purple, and scarlet, and supported by golden hooks on five pillars of shittim wood overlaid with gold and standing in brass sockets; and the covering of goat’s hair was so made as to fall down over this when required. A more sumptuous curtain of the same kind, embroidered with cherubim, hung on four such pillars, with silver sockets, divided the holy from the most holy place. It was called the veil (Sometimes the second veil, either in reference to the first, at the entrance of the holy place, or as being the veil of the second sanctuary. Heb. 9:3.), as it hid from the eyes of all but the high priest the inmost sanctuary, where Jehovah dwelt on his mercy-seat, between the cherubim above the ark. Hence “to enter within the veil” is to have the closest access to God. It was only passed by the high priest once a year, on the Day of Atonement, in token of the mediation of Christ, who with his own blood hath entered for us within the veil which separates God’s own abode from earth. Heb. 6:19. In the temple, the solemn barrier was at length profaned by a Roman conqueror, to warn the Jews that the privileges they had forfeited were “ready to vanish away”; and the veil was at last rent by the hand of God himself, at the same moment that the body of Christ was rent upon the cross, to indicate that the entrance into the holiest of all is now laid open to all believers “by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh.” Heb. 10:19–20. The holy place was only entered by the priests daily, to offer incense at the time of morning and evening prayer, and to renew the lights on the golden candlesticks; and on the Sabbath, to remove the old shew-bread, and to place the new upon the table.
Southeast View of the Tabernacle covered by its Tent.
General View of the Tabernacle.
II. The Sacred Furniture and Instruments of the Tabernacle.—These are described in separate articles, and therefore it is only necessary to give a list of them here.
1. In the outer court. The altar of burnt offering and the brazen laver. [Altar; Laver.] 2. In the holy place. The furniture of the court was connected with sacrifice; that of the sanctuary itself with the deeper mysteries of mediation and access to God. the first sanctuary contained three objects: the altar of incense in the centre, so as to be directly in front of the ark of the covenant, 1 Kings 6:22, the table of shew-bread on its right or north side, and the golden candlestick on the left or south side. These objects were all considered as being placed before the presence of Jehovah, who dwelt in the holiest of all, though with the veil between. [Altar; Shew-bread; Candlestick.] 3. In the holy of holies, within the veil, and shrouded in darkness, there was but one object, the ark of the covenant, containing the two tables of stone, inscribed with the Ten Commandments. [Ark.]
III. The Court of the Tabernacle, in which the tabernacle itself stood, was an oblong space, 100 cubits by 50 (i.e., 150 feet by 75), having its longer axis east and west, with its front to the east. It was surrounded by canvas screens—in the East called kannauts—5 cubits in height, and supported by pillars of brass 5 cubits apart, to which the curtains were attached by hooks and fillets of silver. Ex. 27:9, etc. This enclosure was broken only on the east side by the entrance, which was 20 cubits wide, and closed by curtains of fine twined linen wrought with needlework, and of the most gorgeous colors. In the outer or east half of the court was placed the altar of burnt offering, and between it and the tabernacle itself, the laver at which the priests washed their hands and feet on entering the temple. The tabernacle itself was placed toward the west end of this enclosure.
IV. History.—“The tabernacle, as the place in which Jehovah dwelt, was pitched in the centre of the camp, Num. 2:2, as the tent of a leader always is in the East; for Jehovah was the Captain of Israel. Josh. 5:14–15. During the marches of Israel, the tabernacle was still in the centre. Num. 2. The tribes camped and marched around it in the order of a hollow square. In certain great emergencies it led the march. Josh. 3:11–16. Upon the tabernacle abode always the cloud, dark by day and fiery red by night, Ex. 40:38, giving the signal for the march, Ex. 40:36–37; Num. 9:17, and the halt. Num. 9:15–23. It was always the special meeting-place of Jehovah and his people. Num. 11:24–25; 12:4; 14:10; 16:19, 42; 20:6; 27:2; Deut. 31:14.” During the conquest of Canaan the tabernacle, at first moved from place to place, Josh. 4:19; 8:30–35; 9:6; 10:15, was finally located at Shiloh. Josh. 9:27; 18:1. Here it remained during the time of the judges, till it was captured by the Philistines, who carried off the sacred ark of the covenant. 1 Sam. 4:22. From this time forward the glory of the tabernacle was gone. When the ark was recovered, it was removed to Jerusalem, and placed in a new tabernacle, 2 Sam. 6:17; 1 Chron. 15:1; but the old structure still had its hold on the veneration of the community, and the old altar still received their offerings. 1 Chron. 16:39; 21:29. It was not till the temple was built, and a fitting house thus prepared for the Lord, that the ancient tabernacle was allowed to perish and be forgotten.
V. Significance.—(The great underlying principles of true religion are the same in all ages and for all men; because man’s nature and needs are the same, and the same God ever rules over all. But different ages require different methods of teaching these truths, and can understand them in different degrees. As we are taught in the Epistle to the Hebrews, the tabernacle was part of a great system of teaching by object-lessons, and of training the world to understand and receive the great truths which were to be revealed in Jesus Christ, and thus really to save the Jews from sin by Jesus dimly seen in the future, as we clearly see him in the past. (1) The tabernacle and its services enabled the Jews, who had no visible representation of God, to feel the reality of God and of religion. (2) The tabernacle, as the most beautiful and costly object in the nation, and ever in the centre of the camp, set forth the truth that religion was the central fact, and the most important, in a person’s life. (3) The pillar of cloud and of fire was the best possible symbol of the living God—a cloud, bright, glowing like the sunset clouds, glorious, beautiful, mysterious, self-poised, heavenly; fire, immaterial, the source of life and light and comfort and cheer, but yet unapproachable, terrible, a consuming fire to the wicked. (4) The altar of burnt offering, standing before the tabernacle, was a perpetual symbol of the atonement—the greatness of sin, deserving death, hard to be removed, and yet forgiveness possible, and offered freely, but only through blood. The offerings, as brought by the people, were a type of consecration to God, of conversion and new life, through the atonement. (5) This altar stood outside of the tabernacle, and must be passed before we come to the tabernacle itself; a type of the true religious life. Before the tabernacle was also the laver, signifying the same thing that baptism does with us, the cleansing of the heart and life. (6) Having entered the holy place, we find the three great means and helps to true living—the candlestick, the light of God’s truth; the shew-bread, teaching that the soul must have its spiritual food, and live in communion with God; and the altar of incense, the symbol of prayer. The holy of holies, beyond, taught that there was progress in the religious life, and that that progress was toward God, and toward the perfect keeping of the law, till it was as natural to obey the law as it is to breathe; and thus the holy of holies was the type of heaven.—Ed.)