Updated: Apr 24
Most of the Biblical research I've done for the past two years has been on the New Testament, in preparation for writing my novel, 'Dividing Sword'. When I began to write the short stories featuring Hannah, Eli, and Samuel for my book 'As the Stars', I realized I didn't know a whole lot about the tabernacle that traveled through the wilderness and housed the ark of the covenant.
To find the information I needed, I had to visit several books of the Bible. The tabernacle is an incredible and fascinating piece of Bible history. This article is simply a quick overview of the tabernacle.
What was used to make the tabernacle?
After the Hebrews are freed from Egypt and have been given the ten commandments, God tells Moses:
"Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I might dwell among them.” - Exodus 25:9
Every person whose “heart moves him” gave contributions to build the sanctuary and all the worship items it required. It seems God did not want anything that was not given freely, and with the right heart!
The shopping list of items is pretty pricey:
gold, silver, bronze
blue, purple and scarlet material (these are the most expensive colors)
goat hair (woven goats hair makes water-resistant cloth)
rams' skins dyed red (some of the highest quality leather, like morocco leather today) porpoise skins, (exactly which marine animal this is is debated. Perhaps a dugong, a type of manatee)
oil for lighting
spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense
onyx stones and setting stones for the ephod and breast piece (priestly garments)
Where did this wealth of materials come from?
Exodus 12:35-36 says:
“Now the sons of Israel had done according to the word of Moses, for they had requested from the Egyptians articles of silver and articles of gold and clothing; and the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have their request. Thus they plundered the Egyptians.”
The Egyptians have just suffered under the ten plagues of Egypt. After the last, and most devastating plague of all, the Egyptians are practically pushing the Hebrews out the door! 600,000 men left Egypt on foot. If each of them asked their neighbor for something, could you imagine how much wealth was carried out of Egypt?
What did the tabernacle look like?
The people are given specific instructions on what to make for the sanctuary: famous items like the ark of the covenant, the table of showbread, the golden lampstand, the table for incense, but also the smaller articles like snuffers, bowls, dishes, and jars. Everything was made by skilled craftsmen. (Exodus 31:1-11)
Because the people were on the move, the tabernacle needed to move with them. So the tabernacle was, in essence, a multi-layered tent. Linen curtains were supported by Acadia wood boards with silver sockets. This was covered over with goats hair curtains, then rams' skins dyed red, and the last layer was the skins of porpoises. (Exodus 36:8-19) I'm guessing the interior would have been dark and cool.
A veil hung between holy place and the holy of holies. A screen blocked the view into the tent. There was a bronze altar that sat before the tent. It was made with poles so it could be carried. They even made a court for the tabernacle with linen, to separate it from the rest of the camp.
About how big was the tabernacle?
Measurements for the boards for the tabernacle are given in cubits in Exodus 26:15-18. (Some say the cubit was 18 inches, others say they built with the Egyptian cubit, which was 20.6 - 20.64 inches.)
So it is believed the tabernacle was 30 feet long, and 15 feet wide, or about half the size of the future Temple. While we might not be 100% sure about the measurements, we can be confident is was beautiful!
When the tent was constructed, the glory of the Lord came and filled it!
At first, God's glory was so powerful that Moses couldn't even enter! It says in Exodus 40:34-38 that throughout their journeys there was a cloud at the tabernacle by day and a fire by night. When the cloud was in the tabernacle they stayed put, but when it lifted they broke camp and set out.
So who moved this tabernacle all around the wilderness?
Aaron's descendants were the priests, but the tribe of Levi was given to Aaron to perform the duties and service of the tabernacle and to keep all the furnishings. (Numbers 3:7-9) From the age of 30 to 50 Levite men would serve in the tabernacle. (Numbers 4:2-4)
When it was time to move, Aaron and his sons would go into the tabernacle and take down the veil of the screen and cover the ark. Then they cover the ark with porpoise skins, a cloth of pure blue, and insert the poles. They take more blue cloth to cover the lampstand, the table, and all the other articles. The utensils are put in porpoise skin bags, and the tables and articles are put on carrying bars. They clean the ashes out of the altar and cover it with a purple cloth. Then they add the firepans and forks and shovels and cover all that with porpoise skins.
After Aaron and his sons have done all this, then its time for three families of Levi to jump into action.
When everything is covered, then the sons of Kohath come to carry them. (Being careful not to see any of the holy furniture!) Then the sons of Gershon would come pack away and carry the curtains, the screens, the hangings of the court, all the cords and equipment. The sons of Merari would disassemble and carry the boards, bars, sockets. All combined, these three Levite families had over 8500 men for service! I'm guessing there was a rotation for who worked when, but there was no lack of workers for the Lord's tent.
The tabernacle moved with the people.
It traveled with them for the forty years in the wilderness, and then came with them into the promised land at long last. It seems that it came to rest at Gilgal, near Jericho. (Joshua 4:19) It doesn't say the tabernacle was set up explicitly, but it is assumed.
It stayed in Gigal for around 14 years. Then it moved to Shiloh, (Joshua 18:1) where it remained for about 369 years, according to Talmudic sources. This is where the tabernacle was when Samuel served and lived as a child.
If you would like to see a neat recreation of the tabernacle, you can check out this video! (Remember, this is someone's interpretation, not an exact replica.)
What is something that you find fascinating about the tabernacle?