The Exodus tabernacle was “the dwelling place” of God for almost five centuries, 1450-960 B.C. It was built a few years after the Exodus from Egypt and was the central place of worship until it was replaced by Solomon’s temple (Exodus 26:1; cf. 1 Kings 6:1, 38). It was the portable, sacred¬-tent-dwelling-place of God, where the holy God:
1) Manifested His special glorious presence with the children of Israel, while at the same time maintaining barriers and separating Himself from sinful defilements;
2) Provided a sacrificial ritual for individual and national cleansing from sin;
3) Taught His people theological lessons and truths concerning sin, forgiveness, and His will;
4) Prefigured the person and work of the Messiah to come, namely, concerning Christ and His atoning death on the cross for sinners.
The tabernacle’s unique design and exact dimensions, as well as the choice of materials to be used, were completely dictated and specified by God to Moses, while he met with God for the forty days and nights on Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:18-31:18). The specifications for the tabernacle are found in seven Old Testament chapters (Exodus 25-31), and its construction is described in six additional chapters (Exodus 35-40). One chapter (Numbers 4) deals with transporting the tabernacle. The epistle to the Hebrews further devotes three New Testament chapters to the tabernacle (Hebrews 8-10). The book of Hebrews further clarifies that the earthly tabernacle built by Moses, and its service and ritual, were copies of heavenly things (Hebrews 9:23, 24). That is, the Mosaic tent-dwelling-place of God represented visually, to the children of Israel, the unseen, heavenly tabernacle, wherein God truly manifested His glorious, divine presence and remained totally apart from sin, and wherein He later received the blood of Christ as the everlasting sacrifice for sin. Therein Christ, as the eternal High Priest, sits at the right hand of the Father and always lives to make intercession for believers (Hebrews 7:25; 9:11). When we study the tabernacle, even today, we are studying the holy and heavenly unseen realities it represents.
Therefore, let us remember that we are about to enter holy ground, and let us proceed slowly with prayer and reverence.
35-1 The History of the Tabernacle
It is an astounding fact that the tabernacle was God’s center of Israel’s worship for nearly five hundred years, from the time Moses met with God on Mt. Sinai, just after the exodus from Egypt, until the completion of the temple by Solomon. The gold covering of the ark and other furnishings lasted, untarnished, through the centuries. The tent, unless supernaturally preserved, would have shown aging as the years went by. Instead, it withstood the passage of time to serve its magnificent and holy purpose. Notice that:
1) Its plan was given by God, not by men. God specified to Moses not only the exact shape and size of the tabernacle, but also the dimensions and materials for every item of its furniture (Exodus 25:9-27:21). He specified the design and materials of the priest’s garments (Exodus 28:1-43). He also detailed the consecration rites of the priests (Exodus 29:1-9) and the offerings (Exodus 29:38-30:10). He then chose two main craftsmen ¬Bezalel of the tribe of Judah, and Aholiab of the tribe of Dan—as well as other workers who were to help build the tabernacle and all of its furnishings (Exodus 31:1-6; cf. Exodus 36:1-39:4).
2) Its materials were secured by an offering (vv. 1-9; cf. Exodus 35:21-29). God instructed Moses to secure the materials for the tabernacle by appealing to the people, in God’s name, to contribute from their substance. Those with willing hearts were privileged to share in this great undertaking. The materials, used for the tabernacle and its furniture were:
d) linens (dyed and white)
e) goat’s wool
g) Acacia wood (vv. 1-5).
3) It was filled with the Lord’s glory (Exodus 40:34-38). When the tabernacle was first erected, the cloud of God’s glorious presence came and covered it. Thus, from the very beginning of the tabernacle’s service, it became the appointed place where the infinite God, who filled all space with His omnipresence, met with man.
4) It was carried in front of Israel in the wilderness journey. The Ark of the Covenant, upon which the mercy seat was placed, led the procession of Israel (Numbers 10:33-36; cf. Joshua 3:3-6). It showed visually that God’s presence goes before His people. This typifies Christ’s presence with believers and His going before them (Matthew 28:20).
5) It was moved from place to place. It crossed the Jordan with Israel into the Promised Land, and they encamped with it a Gilgal (Joshua 5:10). It was set up at Shiloh, which became Israel’s temporary religious capital (Joshua 18:1; cf. 1 Samuel 1:3). This is where Samuel grew up and ministered to the Lord (1 Samuel 3:19-21). During the reign of Saul, it was located at Nob (1 Samuel 21:1-6), and later it was moved to Gibeon (1 Kings 3:4).
6) David brought it to Jerusalem about 1000 B.C. He desired the ark of God’s covenant to be in his new capital, Jerusalem. It was transported, however, without regard to God’s prescribed method (1 Chronicles 15:12, 13). A man named Uzzah died for touching it (Numbers 4:15; cf. 2 Samuel 6:6, 7). Later it was moved according to God’s command, and joy filled the city (1 Chronicles 16:1-6).
7) It was brought into Solomon’s temple about 960 B.C. Solomon moved the ark and vessels of the Lord from the southwest hill of Jerusalem (Zion) to the newly built temple on the western plateau of the city (Mt. Moriah). At this time, only the two tablets of the law were found in the ark. The bowl of manna and Aaron’s rod that budded were no longer in it (2 Chronicles 5:9, 10). Probably the remaining articles of the tabernacle—the tentage, poles, loops for carrying, etc.—were at this time sealed inside the temple, perhaps in the 10-cubit¬high space between the Holy Place and the roof. God’s glory• and presence then filled the temple, as it had five centuries before when the tabernacle was filled with the presence of God (1 Kings 8:10, 11). The world had to wait almost another thousand years for the promised greater glory of the Messiah to enter the temple (Malachi 3:1).
35-2 Pattern of the Tabernacle
(Hebrews 9:23, 24)
On Mt. Sinai, God showed Moses the complete and exact plan of the tabernacle (Exodus 25-27). This was a giant, life-sized, visible parable to Israel and the nations. It illustrated the truths surrounding sinful mankind’s separation from God (Isaiah 59:2). It was also an object lesson of God’s provision for the believer’s salvation and daily cleansing through the sacrifice of Christ, which was typified during the Old Testament period by animal sacrifices. Let us first examine the general pattern and truths of the tabernacle. In subsequent outlines the details will be discussed.
1) The courtyard. The courtyard was a rectangle, 100 by 50 cubits (150 x 75 ft.). Its length ran east and west, with its single gate opening on the east side. It was surrounded by a wall 5 cubits (7 ½ ft.) high of fine, white linen curtains, which in turn was supported every 5 cubits by a wooden pillar (or post), which had a brass socket at the base and a silver one at the top. The single gate was 20 cubits (30 ft.) wide, opening toward the east; it featured a screen of the same width, made of blue, purple, and scarlet thread and fine linen (Exodus 27:9-19). The single gate reminds us that Christ said, “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved” (John 10:9). A barrier existed between the holiness of God’s fellowship and fallen man on the outside.
2) The bronze altar. This altar of sacrifice stood in the foreground of the court as the first item one would approach. It was 5 by 5 cubits (7 ½ x 7 ½ ft.) square, and 3 cubits (4 ½ ft.) high. It had an acacia-wood frame, overlaid with brass, with a brass grate to hold the fire. It also had four brass horns, one on each corner. Here the animal sacrifice died for the sins of the people (Exodus 27:1-8). The burnt offering was a male of the herd without blemish. Its blood was poured out and its skin flayed (stripped off): The animal was offered to God on the wood and brass of this altar which stood outside the tabernacle (Leviticus 1:1-7). We see here a type of Christ, a male of the stock of mankind, without blemish, his blood poured out and his skin flayed, offered upon the wooden cross with metal nails (Mark 15:20-25).
3) The laver. This was a large brass vessel for holding water. It stood in the courtyard between the bronze altar and the tabernacle (Exodus 30:17-2 1). The priests had to wash their hands and feet with the water before entering the tabernacle, “lest they die” (Exodus 30:20, 21). The priests could not touch the holy vessels in the Holy Place with dirty hands, nor track in dirt with soiled feet. This pictures the truth that the believer, after the sacrifice of the altar (Christ’s death and our salvation), still needs daily cleansing to enter the presence of God (John 13:8-10; cf. 1 John 1:9).
4) The tabernacle (Exodus 26:15-30). The tabernacle was composed of two basic parts:
a) The wooden structure. This was a rectangle, running lengthwise east and west, and open at the east end. It was made of twenty upright boards on north and south, and six on the west side. The boards were each 10 cubits (15 ft.) high and 1 ½ cubits (27 in.) wide. They were connected by horizontal bars and loops which held the bars. Each board sat in two silver sockets, and its acacia wood was covered by gold (Exodus 26:15-30). Gold does not oxidize, even in a thousand years. It thus speaks to us of what never fades, that which remains pure through the centuries and through eternity.
b) The tents (Exodus 26:1-14). The tabernacle, or tent, was in reality four tents or layers, one on top of the other.
i) The first tent (Exodus 26:1-6). The tabernacle proper was the interior tent. It was made of 10 sections, each 28 by 4 cubits (42 x 6 ft.), which were attached to make a linen interior 28 by 40 cubits (42 x 60 ft.). The 4 cubit-wide (6 ft.) sections each were colored one color, and included white (plain linen), blue, purple, and scarlet. To this beautiful interior were added the gold-covered boards that composed the sides of the tabernacle. The colors were white, representing holiness; blue, representing heaven; purple, representing royalty; and scarlet, representing blood. All of this exactly fits the life and ministry of Christ who was to come.
ii) The second tent (Exodus 26:7-13). This tent was made of goat’s hair. It hung over the linen tabernacle for protection, and added strength. It was a goat that died for the nation’s sins on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:7-10, 15-21), while a “scapegoat” took their sins into the wilderness.
iii) The third tent (Exodus 26:14). This tent was made of ram skins, dyed red. It would be beautiful, and yet could only remind onlookers of the shed blood of sacrifice.
iv) The fourth tent (Exodus 26:14). This tent was the storm tent, made of badger skins. The tent could represent heaven and, to us, symbolize the outer body of flesh which was taken on by Christ.
5) The Holy Place (Exodus 26:35). This section was the longer first room of the tabernacle; it measured 12 by 6 cubits (18 x 9 ft.). Here, amid the gold-covered wooden boards and the linen curtains above, were placed:
a) the table for the showbread;
b) the seven-lamped candelabra (Exodus 26:35);
c) the altar of incense ((Exodus 35:15).
These in turn represented the unity of God’s people, God’s eternal care, and the high-priestly intercession made daily by Christ for His people (Hebrews 7:25).
6) The veil and the Most Holy Place (Exodus 26:31-34). The innermost room of the tabernacle was cubical, 6 cubits (9 ft.) to a side, and its entry was sealed off by the heavy veil (Exodus 26:31-35). This veil of white, blue, purple, and scarlet spoke of all that God stood for in holiness—His absolute separation from all that is sinful and defiling. Within this chamber stood the sacred ark of the covenant, made of wood overlaid with gold, 2 ½ by 1 ½ by 1 ½ cubits (45 x 27 x 27 in.) with the wings of the cherubim placed above it. It became the mercy seat, where God’s sacred presence was manifested. The Shekinah glory shone upon this place where the high priest, on the annual Day of Atonement, sprinkled the goat’s blood for the covering of sin (Exodus 25:10-22).
Christ, by His death and shed blood, eternally paid the penalty for sin. For the believer the veil has now been opened to God and His presence, His forgiveness, and His manifold blessings (Matthew 27:51).
7) The cloud of glory over the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34-38; Numbers 9:15-23). Above the tent stood the cloud of God’s glory. It moved before them and led them on the march in the wilderness, as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. This manifestation of God’s leading first occurred after the Exodus from Egypt, before the tabernacle was built (Exodus 13:21, 22). Once the tabernacle was set up, the cloud localized itself above it. God’s shekinah glory apparently manifested itself in the tabernacle in an even more special way—perhaps by supernatural glowing of the cloud when God desired to speak with them (Numbers 16:41-44). This leading of the cloud, above the tabernacle, is a figure of God’s daily leading of the believer in his actions and in his resting.
35-3 The Furniture of the Tabernacle
Each of the four sacred items in the tabernacle had its own special significance and use. In those early five hundred years, from the Exodus to Solomon’s temple, the priests saw these sacred items of furniture and no doubt meditated deeply upon what they represented. It is only in this age, however, after Christ has come and the New Testament has been written, that we can see more fully what God was symbolizing in these holy patterns and types of heavenly realities (Hebrews 9:23, 24).
1) The table and the showbread—Christ, our Sustainer (Exodus 25:23-30; cf. Leviticus 24:5-9). The gold-covered table had the showbread placed upon it every Sabbath—two rows of six pieces of bread, sprinkled with frankincense. They remained for the week and then were eaten there in the Holy Place by Aaron, the high priest, and his priest-sons. This was a sign to Israel that it was God who fed and sustained His people, that is, that He kept them alive. It symbolized both His physical and His spiritual feeding. Christ Himself is the fulfillment of God’s provision for our spiritual life. We see Him in the showbread as the true bread from heaven (John 6:32-35) unifying God’s people into one body.
2) The menorah (candelabrum)—Christ, our Light (Exodus 25:31-37; 27:20, 21). The number seven, in the Bible, often symbolizes totality and completeness, after the seven days of the creation of the world and the rest which followed. The golden candelabrum burned olive oil, which represented God’s Holy Spirit, and had seven lights which represented:
a) God’s all-seeing, omniscient capacity;
b) The illumination which His Spirit gives to His people.
3) Christ declared that He was the light of the world. We should see Him symbolized in the candelabrum (John 8:12). In Revelation 1:20 and 2:1 the seven churches are represented as seven lampstands, giving off the light of God by the Spirit. Christ is seen walking among them.
4) The altar of incense—Christ, our Intercessor (Exodus 35:15). The great sacrifices, including those during the Day of Atonement, took place upon the bronze altar outside the tabernacle itself, just as Christ was later to suffer outside Jerusalem’s gates. Here, however, in the Holy Place before the veil, stood this smaller_ altar of incense. Upon this altar, morning and evening, the priest daily offered incense which would give a pleasant aroma to the Holy Place. This spoke to Israel of the daily prayers of those who loved God, prayers that rose to Him as a “soothing aroma” (Genesis 8:21; cf. Ephesians 5:2)
5) The Ark of the Covenant: Christ, our divine Savior (Exodus 25:10-22). This was the sacred chest of Israel, made of acacia wood overlaid with gold: “two and a half cubits shall be its length, a cubit and a half its width, and a cubit and a half its height.” It consisted of
a) the ark itself;
b) the golden lid called the mercy seat;
c) two winged cherubs—the cherubim—attached to the mercy seat;
d) its contents (see below);
e) the two staves which fitted through the loops on the side of the ark to transport it by porters.
Its very name, “the ark of the covenant” or “the ark of the testimony,” witnesses to its unique position as the primary emblem of God’s covenant with Israel, where He promised that He would be their God and they would be His special people. Note that:
a) Of the tabernacle furniture, the ark alone stood behind the veil in the Most Holy Place. It was here, with the mercy seat, golden lid, and two winged cherubs, that God manifested His presence with Israel in a special, localized sense. His holy presence was sealed off from sin and sinners by the veil.
b) The contents of the ark consisted of three items (Hebrews 9:4):
i)The two stone tablets of the covenant of the law—one for our duties to God, the other for our duties to man. Christ is our law-keeper, having paid the penalty for our disobedience of the law (Galatians 3:13; cf. Hebrews 5:1, 5).
ii) Aaron’s almond rod that budded, which signified to a complaining Israel that Aaron was indeed chosen by God to be high priest (Numbers 17:8). Christ is our High Priest. Like Aaron, He was chosen by God (John 8:18).
iii)The pot of manna—that special food provided by God to sustain His people in their journey through the wilderness. Christ is our manna from heaven. He daily feeds His own, physically and spiritually (John 6:1-14, 31-35).
c) The top of the ark, overlaid with gold, formed the mercy seat. The mercy seat was sprinkled with blood once a year, on the Day of Atonement. Thus, the requirements of the law were covered by the blood, typifying the covering of Christ’s blood for us.
d) The ark accompanied and led the hosts of Israel on the march (Numbers 10:35, 36). It led them into the Jordan River which God divided (Joshua 3:8-11), and around the mighty fortress of Jericho, which God’s power pulled down (Joshua 6:6-9). It thus typifies Christ’s presence with us daily. His great power is available to rescue us by dividing rivers which block our path to:
i ) Safety and hope
ii) His holy presence near us
iii) His daily guidance for our lives (Matthew 28:18-20).
35-4 The Priesthood of the Tabernacle
Christ is indeed the High Priest of God in the true heavenly tabernacle, of which the earthly tabernacle is only a model. The book of Hebrews plainly declares this to be so (Hebrews 9:11¬14, 24-26). Although He was not from the tribe of Levi like Aaron, Christ (of Judah) was independently appointed by God as our High Priest; and He was so anointed, as was Melchizedek to whom Abraham gave tithes (Hebrews 7:11-17; cf. Genesis 14:18-20). See Christ here as our true eternal High Priest.
1) The priesthood consisted of one high priest, Aaron, the brother of Moses, and Aaron’s sons (Exodus 29:1-9). It was a hereditary office.
2) Aaron was consecrated as high priest by pouring olive oil on his head (Exodus 29:7). This signified God’s Spirit upon him. See Psalm 133, celebrating this joyous event.
3) Even Aaron’s sons, though priests, were not permitted to invent their own ceremonies. Because Nadab and Abihu disobeyed this principle, they were struck down (Leviticus 10:1¬3). True religion came from God and was not invented by man.
4) The high priest wore special clothes, including a breastplate (the ephod) bedecked with twelve jeweled stones, representing the twelve tribes, and a turban (the miter) which had upon it a gold plate with the engraved words, “HOLINESS TO THE LORD” (Exodus 39:8-¬14, 30, 31).
5) The high priest alone (with the goat’s blood to be sprinkled on the mercy seat) could enter the Most Holy Place and then only on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:15).
6) The Levites (tribe of Levi) were appointed ministers of the tabernacle service, under the authority of the priests, who also were of the family of Levi (Numbers 8:5-26). The transporting of the tabernacle was divided among the Levite clans: Gershon, Merari, and Kohath (Numbers 10:17-21; cf. 1 Chronicles 15:2).
7) Some murmured against God’s chosen high priest and rejected him in favor of others of their own choosing. But God caused only Aaron’s rod to bud, authenticating Aaron as His choice (Numbers 16:1-3; cf. 17:1-11). In the same way they murmured against Christ (Isaiah 53:1¬3). But God has chosen Him, and His almond rod alone has budded and blossomed (Isaiah 53:10-12).
Master Outline 35 – The Tabernacle
 The Exodus tabernacle was the “dwelling place of God” for how long?
 The tabernacle was the place where four (4) things happened. Name them.
 Did Moses just choose how he wanted to build the tabernacle? YES or NO. Explain.
 How many chapters in the Bible deal with the tabernacle?
 The Mosaic tent dwelling place usually represented what?
 Christ, as the eternal __________ _____________ sits at the ___________ ____________
of the Father and always _________________ to make _________________ for believers.
 Did the gold on the ark tarnish during the 500 years of its existence?
 Who were the two (2) main craftsmen Moses chose?
 How were the materials from the tabernacle obtained?
 What were the seven (7) main materials used in the tabernacle?
 What was the tabernacle filled with?
 Was the tabernacle carried before the children of Israel or behind them? Explain.
 What man died as a result of touching the ark?
 What happened to the tent age, poles, and loops for carrying once Solomon’s temple was built?
 Did God’s glory fill the temple like it did the tabernacle? YES or NO. Explain.
 The pattern of the tabernacle means what to the believer today?
 The court yard represents what to the believer?
 What was the first item one would approach in the tabernacle?
 What does the Bronze Alter represent to the believer?
 What does the laver represent to the believer?
 The tent had how many layers?
 What was the meaning of the four (4) colors represented in the tent?
 What did the table for showbread, the seven lamp candelabra, and the altar of incense represent?
 What does the cloud of God’s glory represent to the believer?
 The table and the showbread was a shadow of what?
 The high priest and the priest-sons eating the showbread once a week symbolized what?
 In John 6:35, Jesus represented Himself how?
 What does the number “7” in the Bible often symbolize?
 What type of oil was burnt in the golden candelabrum, and what did it represent?
 Describe what the great sacrifices offered upon the bronze altar represent?
 The alter of incense represents what to a believer?
 What were five (5) components of the Ark of the Covenant?
 What was another name for the “Ark of the Covenant?”
 What were the three (3) items contained within the Ark of the Covenant?
 Christ’s great power is available to us to reassure us by dividing rivers which block our path in what three (3) ways?
 Christ was appointed by whom to be our high priest, and what priest in the Old Testament was a shadow of his coming?
 What two (2) sons of Aaron assumed the privilege of going into the Holy of Holiness, and what was their end?
 What tribe was appointed a minister of the tabernacle?
 Just as some murmured against Aaron, God manifested his calling by the budding of his rod. How has He established Christ as His High Priest?