What Was the Tabernacle?

Updated: Apr 24, 2020

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)

  • fine linen

  • 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)

  • Acadia wood

  • 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.)