Tag Archives: Mount Sinai

Linen Curtains in the Tabernacle

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Read how Tabernacle Curtains were made and used in Exodus 26:1–6 and 31-37; Exodus 27:9–19; and Exodus chapter 28.

Flax was used extensively in the Tabernacle to make linen. Flax is native to the eastern Mediterranean region and was an important crop in Egypt since the 5th millennium B.C.  The linen curtains, the blue, purple and scarlet embroidery yarn, and the linen priest’s clothes came from the flax plant. The two craftsmen, Bezalel and Oholiab, God designated to oversee building of the Tabernacle were given skill as designers and embroiderers in blue, purple and scarlet yarn and in fine linen (Exodus 35:35). 

In the Tent of Meeting, a curtain (veil) made of fine woven linen hung between the Holies of Holy and the Most Holy of Holies. Cherubim were embroidered on the veil with blue, purple and scarlet yarn.  The Tent of Meeting roof was made of linen curtains. The curtains draped over the outside of the gold-covered acacia wood panels.  Cherubim made of purple, blue and scarlet yarn were woven or worked into the linen curtains.  A fine linen curtain covered the entrance of the Tent of Meeting (east side).  The entrance curtain included colored yarn, however, there were no cherubim on the curtain.  The sides of the Tabernacle courtyard were plain linen curtains held in place by silver hooks that attached them to the wood posts.  The curtain at the courtyard entrance was the only courtyard curtain that included colored yarn.  An embroiderer was used to make the entrance curtain.  

Aaron was the first Israelite high priest. God gave very specific instructions for making his   clothes.   The clothes included the breastplate, ephod, robe, tunic, turban, sash, and undergarments.   All were made with fine linen.  With the exception of the tunic and undergarments, all linen clothes were embroidered with or used colored yarn.  No sandals or shoes were included as part of the high priest’s clothing.  The rationale for lack of sandals was that when Aaron ministered to the Lord he was on holy ground.  As priests, Aaron’s sons had special clothes.   Their clothes included tunics, sashes, headbands, and undergarments made of linen; no colored yarn or embroidery was used.

 In the Bible, the Hebrew word for the linen associated with the Tabernacle is shêsh. Shêsh means “fine linen” and denotes a type of Egyptian linen of peculiar whiteness and fineness. When Egyptians wove fine linen, they used as many as 140 strands of threads per inch lengthwise (warf) and 64 strands per inch horizontal (weft). Linen of this fine weave had the appearance of silk. In ancient times fine linen was a mark of quality and associated with wealth and rank. Fine linen was the usual dress of Egyptian priests and royalty.  Pharaoh dressed Joseph in fine linen when Joseph was promoted to second-in command over all Egypt (Genesis 41:41–43). Egyptian fine linen was exquisite – it was soft and flexible but strong, cool to wear, and had a luster or sheen to its whiteness.

As slaves in Egypt, the Israelites would not have possessed much, if any, fine linen; however, when they left Egypt, the Egyptians gave them tribute.  The tribute included clothes and more than likely included fine linen and yarn for spinning linen (Exodus 12:35-36). When Moses asked the Israelites for offerings to build the Tabernacle, he specified the need for blue, purple, and scarlet yarn and fine linen (Exodus 25:3).  Exodus recorded that skilled women spun fine linen and blue, purple and scarlet yarn and brought these as offerings for the Tabernacle (Exodus 35:25-26).  There is no record that women wove the yarn into linen cloth for curtains or priest’s clothes.

 The Flax Plant

The Ancient Egyptian flax plant, Linum usitatissimum, was used to make linen.  In Biblical times flax was the most important fiber crop. Probably the L. usitatissimum originated in Mesopotamia; however, it was extensively cultivated in Egypt and less so in Palestine.  In Egypt flax grew along the sides the Nile River and particularly in the Nile Delta region. In Egypt and the Middle East, flax was planted in the early winter and flax harvested in the spring.

 The flax plant has a single stem that grows up to four feet tall.  The fiber is in the stem.  Initially, the stem is green, but turns yellow as the plant ripens and readies for harvest. When flax plants were harvested for fiber, mature plants were pulled up by their roots. Harvested plants were allowed to dry, then retted.  Retting is a process of soaking flax to separate the fiber from the woody tissue (straw).  Egyptians dyed some flax threads.  Blue and purple dyes were derived from shellfish (primarily the murex) which lived in the Mediterranean Sea. Scarlet dye came from the eggs and carcasses of a worm (Coccus ilicus) which lived on the leaves of holly plants.

 Symbolism: Purity 

 In ancient times, linen symbolized purity and in Revelation (15:5-6) St. John used “clean, shining linen” as a symbol for purity.  Purity means spotless, stainless, free from what pollutes; containing nothing that does not properly belong; free from moral fault or guilt. The Hebrew verb for purify, tāhēr, also means to cleanse or to be clean. The Tabernacle complex with its linen curtains was a symbol of the Israelite’s need to be clean or pure before God.  In the Tabernacle animals were sacrificed and animal blood shed to accomplish ritual purification.  Today when individuals accept Christ as their Savior, they are purified (cleansed) or made spotless in relation to former sins.  Then, the challenge of living a pure life begins.

 Of the 33 verses in the New International Version Study Bible (2002) which referred to purity, about 1/3 centered on the individual’s heart  In the Old Testament, King David implored God to “create in me a pure heart” (Psalm 51:10).  King David questioned who can approach God and stand before him? The answer was “He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false” (Psalm 24:3–4).

 In the New Testament there is a similar focus on Christians keeping their heart pure. Christ taught, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8).  Paul told Timothy that love (the greatest of all virtues) comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith (1Timothy 1:5).  He instructed Timothy to “Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22).  Paul cautioned Timothy to have nothing to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because they produce quarrels (verse 23).

  Taken together, these verses from the Old and New Testament communicated that to please God, Christians must keep their hearts pure.  Keeping a pure hearts begins with a sincere faith in Christ as our Savior. Purity means that we love one another and are free from moral guilt about how we act toward and think about each other.   Purity is about actively pursuing faith, love, and peace.  In addition to positive actions that help us to grow toward purity, the Bible verses on a pure heart articulated certain behaviors to avoid.  These behaviors are worshipping idols, lying, becoming involved in nonproductive arguments and quarrels, and pursuing evil desires of youth, e.g., sexual debauchery.

 I want to keep my heart pure; however, sometime I do not restrain my impulses. At times I fill my life with irreverent thoughts and actions.  In the past I often made my career an idol rather than keeping God at the center of my life. Most certainly I have engaged in foolish and stupid arguments, rationalizing them in the name of “devil’s advocate” or “intellectual debate.”  How, then, can I keep a clean, pure heart so I can see God in my day-to-day life?  The answer for me is the same as it was for the Israelites. I must agree with God about my sins. When I do, I can be at-one with God. God has made it easy for me to reconcile myself to him and his purity. I John 1:9 says if we confess our sins, God will cleanse us from sin and purify us from our unrighteousness.  Having a pure, clean heart is as simple as going to God admitting my sin and asking His forgiveness.

Reflection. When did you last clean up or purify your life?  Would now be a good time to enact I John 1:9 in your relationship with Christ?

I love Bible plants along with their symbolism. If you want to learn more about them, read my two books: 1) Rooted in God and 2) God as a Gardener. You can purchase them from my website: Carolyn Roth Ministry at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com/

Copyright July 31, 2013; Carolyn A. Roth

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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.