Overview of the Tabernacle

Historical records suggest that the Israelites fled Egypt and crossed the Red Sea into the Sinai Peninsula in 1446 B.C.  (Old Testament Chronology, NIV Study Bible, 2002). After crossing the Red Sea, they traveled down the western side of the Sinai Peninsula arriving at the base of  Mount Sinai  three  3 months after leaving Egypt (Exodus:19:1). Some places in the Bible refer to Mountain Sinai as Mount Horeb translated as “the desolate place.” The south central Sinai Peninsula is an arid mountainous region. Bible scholars cannot specify with 100% accuracy which mountain peak Moses meant when he wrote about Israel’s experiences at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19). While camped at Mount Sinai the Israelites constructed the Tabernacle (Exodus 19:29 – 4040:38). God required that the Tabernacle be set up on the first day of the year (Exodus 40:1); approximately 8 – 9 months after the Israelites arrived at Mt. Sinai (MacDonald, 1995). Given these time frames, the Tabernacle would have been constructed in the latter half of 1446 B.C. and consecrated in 1445 B.C.

The word “Tabernacle” has several meanings. First and foremost the Tabernacle was the tent or sanctuary where God dwelt among His people (Exodus 29: 42-46). It was the place where God met and spoke with the Israelites, thus the Tabernacle was frequently identified as the Tent of Meeting (Exodus 29:42; Exodus 40:1, 26, 34). Surrounding the Tent of Meeting was a courtyard which measured 150 feet long by 75 feet wide with 7.5 feet high sides (MacDonald, 1995). Israelites entered the courtyard through a 30 foot wide gate that was always positioned facing east. At times Biblical writers used the word “Tabernacle” to encompass both the Tent of Meeting and courtyard with its structures. Click on the link at the top of the entry to see a diagram of the Tent of Meeting and surrounding courtyard

The Altar of Burnt Offering was the first structure seen when entering the Tabernacle courtyard. The Altar was square, each side measured 7.5 feet and it was 4.5 feet high (MacDonald, 1995); the basic structure was acacia wood boards. The Altar of Burnt Offering was sometimes called the Bronze Altar because the acacia wood boards were covered with bronze (Exodus 38: 7). At each corner post was an upward projection referred to as the “horns” of the altar. The horns were overlaid with bronze. The purpose of the Alter of Burnt Offering was to offer sacrifices to God. Animal sacrifice could be tied to the horns. Some of the animal blood was put on the horns before the remainder was poured into the base of the Altar. The metal bronze speaks of judgment. The horns had symbolic meaning to the Israelites in two ways. First, they symbolized the atoning power of the altar. Second, in the time of Israel’s kings, the horns of the Altar were symbols of refuge (I Kings 1:50; 2: 28).

Moving front to back in the Tabernacle courtyard, the second structure was the Laver ( Basin for Washing) (Exodus 30:17-21). The Laver was located in front of the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. The Bible describes the Laver as a basin and stand for washing, but does not give its dimensions (size or form). The Laver was made from bronze mirrors contributed by Israelite women (Exodus 38:8). When the Laver was constructed, mirrored glass was not available. Highly polished brass was used to see reflections. The bronze basin was filled with water. The priests (Aaron and his sons) were required to wash their hands and feet before entering the Tent of Meeting and presenting offerings to God (Exodus 30:17 – 21). The penalty for not washing before entering the Tent of Meeting was death. In the entire Tabernacle complex, the Laver is the only structure not associated with plants.

The Tent of Meeting was located behind the Bronze Laver; the Tent was15 feet wide and 45 feet long (MacDonald, 1995). The Tent of Meeting was divided into two rooms. The first room was called the Holy of Holies. Located behind the first, the second room was designated as the Most Holy of Holies. The two rooms were separated by a curtain. The Holy of Holies contained the Alter of Incense, the Table of the Presence (Table of Showbread), and the gold Lampstand. The Most Holy of Holies contained the Ark of the Covenant (Ark of Testimony). When the Tabernacle was consecrated, the Ark contained the two stone tablets (Tablets of Testimony) on which were written the 10 Commandments given by God to Moses. Later, an urn containing manna and Aaron’s staff were added.

Although God gave Moses the direction for building the Tabernacle complex, He identified two men to head the work (Exodus 31: 1 – 11; Exodus 35: 30 – 36:1) Bezalel of the tribe of Judah was given the ability, skill and knowledge in all kinds of crafts and to make needed designs. Oholiab of the tribe of Dan was identified to help Bezalel. Both men were given ability to teach the craftsmen and skilled persons who participated in the construction of the Tabernacle and its furnishing.

God directed Moses to tell the Israelites to being offerings for the building of the Tabernacle (Exodus 25: 1 – 7). The types of offerings were gold, silver, bronze; blue, purple and scarlet yearn and fine linen; goat hair, ram skins dyed red and hides of sea cows; acacia wood; olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and incense; and onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the priest’s ephod and breast piece. The Israelites response to Moses’ call for offerings to build the Tabernacle was overwhelming. Exodus 31:4 -7 records that all the skilled craftsmen who were doing the work on the sanctuary left their work and said to Moses: “the people are bringing more than enough for doing the work the Lord commanded to be done.” Moses gave an order that no man or women was to make anything else for the sanctuary. The Israelites were restrained from bringing more offerings because there was already more than enough materials to complete Tabernacle construction.

When it was built, the Tabernacle had both literal and symbolic meanings for the children of Israel. The Tabernacle presaged (foretold and foreshadowed) Christ; many items used in its construction pointed toward Christ. The Israelites carried the Tabernacle and met with God in the Tent of Meeting on their pilgrimage toward the promise land. Christians are also on a pilgrimage; our destination is Heaven. As we travel, we carry Christ within us and have the opportunity to meet with Him in prayer.

Under the heading “Tabernacle” are six different topics describing plants (wood, flax, almonds, wheat, etc.) associated with construction of the Tent of Meeting, the Tabernacle courtyard and the priest’s clothes. Also included are descriptions of plants used in making  annointing/consecrating oils and incense. The topics covered in http://www.Godasagardener do not attempt to cover all the Tabernacles symbolism; however, symbols associated with plants are discussed in detail. The Believer’s Bible Commentary (1995) (see Bibliography and links) and the NIV Study Bible notes provide additional information on symbolism of the Tabernacle.

I hope you enjoy reading about Plants in the Tabernacle and that you will provide insightful comments to promote dialogue as Tabernacle topics are added to the blog.

Copyright January 1, 2011, Carolyn A. Roth; all rights reserved.

2 responses to “Overview of the Tabernacle

  1. After going over a number of the articles on
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  2. Thanks Carolyn, this was a question from my Sunday School Class.

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