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The Tabernacle


When Moses went up on the mountain to meet with God, one only has to wonder what was going through his mind.  For over 2500 years, God had dealt with man through the patriarchs of the families.  Now, the promise made to Abraham was coming to fruition.  When the children of Israel crossed the Red Sea and were no longer in captivity in Egypt they were a new nation.  Three months after that crossing, they were in the wilderness of the Sinai.  God told Moses they were a people for God’s own possession and would continue to be such as long as they kept His covenant and obeyed His voice.  The things that they had been taught all their life and their parent’s lives were coming to pass.  What an amazing time this was in the history of this young nation.

As Moses went up into the mount, the children of Israel witnessed the glory of the Lord.  Moses was on Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights.  God instructed Moses to take up a collection from the children of Israel for Him.  He was to collect material of blue, purple, and scarlet.  He also asked for fine linen, goat hair, rams skins dyed red, porpoise skins, acacia wood, oil for lighting, spices for the anointing oil, and for fragrant incense, onyx stones, and setting stones for the ephod and the breastpiece.  All of these materials were for the construction of a sanctuary for God, so that He might dwell among them. 

Jehovah then gives Moses a most important piece of instruction noted in Exodus 25:9; “According to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of its furniture, just so you shall construct it.”  God was giving him a pattern and Moses was expected to follow that pattern exactly. 


The Tabernacle

When the Lord began to give His instruction as to how He wanted the tabernacle was to be constructed, it should be noted, he started from the inside with the furniture that occupied the Most Holy Place.  This first piece of furniture was the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat. 

            The Ark was to be constructed of acacia wood.  God gave the exact dimension for it.  It was to be two and one-half cubits long, one and one-half cubit wide and one and one-half cubit high.  It would be overlaid with gold, inside and out.  There would be four gold rings for the staves made of acacia wood and covered with gold.  These were to carry the Ark when it was moved.  Moses was instructed as to what he was to place inside the Ark.  There would be the two tables of stone, a jar of manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded.

            The Lord then addresses the dimensions of the Mercy Seat.  This was to sit on top of the Ark of the Covenant.  It would be fashioned from pure gold, two and one-half cubits long and one and one-half cubit wide.  On the Mercy Seat there would be two cherubim, one on each end with their wings outstretched over the Mercy Seat and their faces toward the Mercy Seat.  It should also be noted that this was to be one piece. 

            What is the symbolism of the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat?  I believe this is where God’s law and His mercy come together.  Yet we see here that His mercy is placed above His law.  God’s grace and mercy are still higher than His law today.  We know that none of us are worthy of God’s grace and mercy because “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God”(Romans 3:23).  But we know that we are saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8).

In his commentary on the book of Exodus, Burton Coffman said of the symbolism of the Ark and the Mercy Seat.

 “Every mortal man, prone to sin, mired in the inevitable guilt associated with all human life, and pitifully conscious of his own helplessness to save himself-every man should thank God for His mercy, forever elevated above His own law, and for the salvation provided it that mercy through the blood of the Savior.[1]


            The next piece of furniture Moses received instruction on was the Table of Shewbread.  This piece of furniture was also to be made of acacia wood and covered with pure gold.  It would be two and one-half cubits long, one cubit wide, and one and one-half cubit high.  There would be four gold rings for the gold covered staves of acacia wood.  The dishes for the table were to be made of pure gold as well.  It would be revealed later that the table would occupy a place in the north end of the Holy Place across from the candlesticks.  There would be twelve loaves arranged in two rows symbolizing the providence of God toward both Israels, the fleshly and the spiritual.[2]

            The next phase of the instruction was given to Moses in regard to the Golden Candlestick.  It was to be made of pure gold, of beaten work.  It would take some sixty kilograms of pure gold to make.  By today’s measure that is twelve hundred Troy ounces.  The price of gold today is roughly six hundred and fifty dollars per ounce.  This would give the Golden Candlestick a base value of more than seven hundred and eighty thousand dollars.  This value does not include the workmanship to make it. This fact alone gives us the idea that the constructing of the tabernacle would be an expensive endeavor. It was to have six branches, three on each side.  God in his instruction to Moses gave a very detailed description of how the Candlestick was to be fashioned.  The Candlestick would be a very heavy piece of furniture and would be the only source of light in the tabernacle.  This would be typified today by the word of God.  In Psalms 119:105, the Psalmist said, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”  Throughout scripture, the word of God and light are synonymous.   When the prophet asked the angel about the candlestick on Zechariah 4:1-6, the angel replied, “This is the word of God.”

            The snuffers and the snuff dishes were also made of pure gold.  God concludes His instruction to Moses regarding the Candlestick in Exodus 25:40 with the admonition to make it after the pattern shown him in the mount.  The meticulous detail given to Moses was to be followed precisely.  When looking at God’s instruction for the church today the same care and concern should be given to God’s instruction for us that was expected of Moses in the construction of the Tabernacle.

            The Lord paused in His instruction to Moses regarding the furniture and gave the instructions for the tabernacle itself.  These instructions were just as detailed as the instructions for the furniture.  The dimensions were given as exact dimensions with no variables.  Each of the materials Moses had collected from the children of Israel had a specific function and God told him precisely how and where to use them. 

            The tabernacle was a tent constructed of four coverings that were to serve as the roof and sides of the tabernacle.[3]  It was to be divided into three sections.  One can only imagine the beauty displayed in the inside of this tent.  The fine twisted linen cloth along with blue, purple, and scarlet material.    It must have been a breathtaking sight.  Once again we see Moses being given the admonition to follow the pattern he had seen in the mount.

The Most Holy Place, or Holy of Holies, was the first to be discussed.  In this section the only piece of furniture would be the Ark of the Covenant.   The next section mentioned is the Holy Place.  The golden candlestick, the table of showbread, and the altar of incense would be kept in this section.  Finally, the Outer Court is where we find the brazen alter and the laver. 

The Most Holy Place and the Holy place were separated by a veil.  Only the High priest was allowed to enter the Most Holy Place and then only once a year on the Day of Atonement.  The High Priest would approach God on this day on behalf of himself and the people.  Today, we as Christians can approach God in prayer through His Son because when Christ died on the cross, this veil was torn from top to bottom by God.  Once this was accomplished, Christ became our High Priest forever and we became, as the Apostle Peter described us a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9).

All analogies regarding the tabernacle should be approached with great caution.  I do believe Burton Coffman, in his commentary on Exodus, made a good analogy of the three different sections of the tabernacle.

The most Holy Place was representative of where God dwelt among the people.  Today, we know heaven to be the place where God dwells.  Atonement was made in the Most Holy Place by the High Priest on the Day of Atonement.  Our atonement was made by Christ in heaven “once for all” (Hebrews 9:11-13).

The Holy Place is a type of the Church.  In this section of the tabernacle, light was provided by the candlestick.  In the Church the only light is the Word of God.  God’s providence is signified by the showbread.   The special privilege of prayer given to Christians in the church is like the Altar of Incense.  There was only one entrance into the Most Holy Place, that entrance was through the veil dividing the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place.  Today, one has absolutely no chance of entering heaven outside of being in the church.  When we obey the gospel, the Lord adds us to his body, the church (Acts 2:47).

The Outer Court could be likened today to the world. There were two pieces of furniture in the Outer Court.  The altar was located at the very entrance to the enclosure.  The laver stood at the entrance to the Holy Place.  The source of the highly polished brass for the Laver was the highly prized, polished brass mirrors the women of Israel had brought out of the land of Egypt.  When the priests approached the Holy Place, they were to wash their hands and feet, that they die not (Exodus 30:21).  Today we cannot expect to enter the church without being baptized for the remission of our sins. 

We began by pointing out that God gave Moses the instruction to build the tabernacle and to build it according to the pattern which He showed him in the mount.  The question might arise as to how Moses accomplished this.  God chose the workmen that were to build the tabernacle and all the furniture for it.  He chose Bezalel, the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah.  Not only did God choose him, he filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship (Exodus 31:1-3).  God gave him the ability to accomplish the things necessary to build the tabernacle according to the plan.  God in the same manner gave the Holy Spirit to the apostles so they could preach the gospel and be instrumental in spreading that gospel throughout the world.  Today we have the inspired scriptures to lead us in the ways of righteousness and if we teach according to the pattern, the church we build today will be the same as he one that was established on the Day of Pentecost.

When we look at the expense that went into the constructing of the tabernacle, and the immense beauty of the finished product, the tabernacle itself must have made an impression on the children of Israel. I can only imagine walking into the Holy Place, with the light from the candlestick illuminating the inside and the reflection shimmering off of the rest of the furniture.  It must have been awe inspiring.   But we must keep in mind that this was only temporary in nature.  The permanent dwelling place of God, heaven, and the kingdom of our Lord are so much more than all of the expense that went into this tabernacle made with hands.  The church is to be valued far above any earthly value.  It was purchased with the blood of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (Acts 20:28).  The beauty of which can only be imagined.  We should place this value on the church and cherish it by obeying God’s commandments and listening to His voice.












Barnes, Donnie S. Bible Charts.org,http://biblecharts.org/html/theoldtestamentcharts.htm


Coffman, James Burton. Commentary on Exodus, The Second Book of Moses. Abilene, TX: ACU Press, 1985.


Fuller, Charles E. The Tabernacle in the Wilderness. Westwood, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1955.


Haldeman,I.M. The Tabernacle Priesthood and Offerings.Westwood, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1925.


Halley, Henry H.  Haley’s Bible Handbook. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1965.


Hanke, Howard A. The Tabernacle in the Wilderness or The Blueprint of Salvation. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1953


McGee, J. Vernon. The Theology of the Tabernacle.  Thesis (Th.M.) –Dallas Theological Seminary,1938.


Rugh, W.W. Christ in the Tabernacle: Person and work of Jesus Christ revealed in types of the tabernacle or the tabernacle types. Philadelphia, PA: Careers With Christ Press.


Strong, James. The Tabernacle of Israel in the Desert. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1952.


What the Bible Says About the Tabernacle (its message for today). Chattanooga, TN: Leadership Ministries Worldwide, 1997.









[1]Burton Coffman, Commentary on Exodus, 360.

[2]Ibid, 361.

[3] What the Bible Says About the Tabernacle (its message for today). Chattanooga, TN: Leadership Ministries Worldwide, 1997.