God begins this session with Moses by giving him instructions for building the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle as you know would be the place where God would meet with His people. I wonder if it occurred to Moses or any of the Israelites why they would need a portable place to meet with God. God had told the people that He was going to give them a land of their own. Would it not be better to wait a little while and put their resources into building a more permanent dwelling? Of course God knew it would be many years yet before His people would actually occupy the land He had promised them.
Any building project requires funds and resources for construction and the Tabernacle was no exception. God begins by telling Moses to raise funds from among the Israelites. Look at how God puts it in verse two. He told Moses to “raise a contribution...from every man whose heart moves him...”
This has always been God’s desire for His people. He wants us to give to Him willingly and from a cheerful heart not grudgingly and of necessity. He doesn’t need anything from us. But we need to give so that we might emulate our heavenly Father. He wants us to know and experience the joy and blessings of giving like He gives. But we cannot experience those blessings unless we give because we truly want to give. If it doesn’t come from the heart, we may as well keep it as far as God is concerned because we have missed the point entirely. If we are not going to enjoy the eternal rewards of laying up treasure in heaven, then we might as well enjoy the temporary pleasures of our material things here and now.
God gives Moses a list of materials for which he was to ask the people. Let’s read the list together in verses three through seven.
“And this is the contribution which you are to raise from them: gold, silver and bronze, blue, purple and scarlet material, fine linen, goat hair, rams’ skins dyed red, porpoise skins, acacia wood, oil for lighting, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, onyx stones and setting stones, for the ephod and for the breastpiece.”
That’s quite a list of some very fine materials. Couldn’t God have settled for a little less elaborate place to reside among His people? These were slaves from Egypt living in crude shelters at best. Why couldn’t they just meet with God out under the stars? Isn’t that the attitude of many people today. We live in fine houses, but why do our houses of worship need to be anything special?
Again the Israelites had just come out of hundreds of years of slavery. Where were they to get such finery as gold, silver and fine linens? Remember what God told the women among the Hebrews to do as they were leaving Egypt? He told them to ask the Egyptians for all these materials. So God had supplied the material to build His Tabernacle, and now He is asking the people to give it back to Him. And again nothing has changed. Everything we have comes from God. He only asks us to give back to Him that which is His in the first place.
Verses seven and eight are God’s instructions as to what was to be done with the contribution that Moses was to raise. God says, “let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them.” Then God tells Moses that He is going to provide blueprints for the tabernacle and the furniture to go in it. Well, maybe God wasn’t actually going to draw up blueprints, but He would give very detailed instructions that any architect could follow in drawing some.
God begins with His instructions on building the ark of the covenant. Why was it called the ark of the covenant? Because it would house or contain the tablets of stone on which the Ten Commandments were written. It was to be built of acacia wood (a wood that was highly resistant to insects and decay). It was to be approximately 45 inches long by 27 inches wide by 27 inches high. The wood would be overlaid with gold inside and out so that it would appear to be a box made of gold; you probably wouldn’t see any of the wood. Two poles were also constructed of acacia wood and overlaid with gold and used to carry the ark by inserting the poles into rings made of gold and attached to the sides of the ark. For some reason, the poles were not to be removed from the ark once they had been inserted.
A very important part of the ark was a slab of pure gold that covered the entire top surface of the ark. It was called “the mercy seat.” We will find out why later. Also two cherubim fashioned from gold were to placed atop the ark one at each end. They were actually not a separate addition to the ark but were somehow molded right into the mercy seat. The two cherubim were to face each other and their wings were to stretch out over the mercy seat. There is no doubt that the ark was a beautiful work of art.
Take note of verse 22. God says to Moses, “And there I will meet with you; and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak to you about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel.”
Next God gives the same kind of detailed instructions for building a table. It was called the table of showbread. It too was made of acacia wood and overlaid with gold. It’s dimensions were approximately three feet long by one and a half feet wide and one and a half feet tall. It was to have a rim around the top about four inches wide. The table would also have rings attached at each leg close to the top. Poles overlaid with gold would also be used to carry the table. Dishes were to be made of gold that would be used in worship and set on the table when needed.
The bread of the Presence was to be placed on the table at all times when it was set up in the tabernacle. This bread was also called “showbread.” This bread was for ceremonial purposes and reminds me of the bread we consume at the Lord’s Supper. The “showbread” had to be replaced each Sabbath and when the old bread was removed the priests were to eat it in a holy place. I believe this bread was symbolic of Christ’s body although they may not have clearly understood that at the time. Many years later Jesus would say, “I am the bread of life.”
The third of the three major pieces of furniture to occupy the tabernacle was the golden lampstand which you may be accustomed to calling a menorah. A menorah could support any number of lamps or candles. The one God commanded to be constructed for the tabernacle had six branches and was fashioned to support seven lamps.
This menorah was quite ornate as you can see from the description of it in the remaining verses of chapter twenty-five. The cups were shaped like almond blossoms. Each one was accompanied by a bulb and a flower. The bulbs and the branches and all of its parts were to be hammered out of a single piece of gold. In other words, it was all one piece not requiring any assembly.
The lamps that would be placed on the lampstand were to be made in such a way that their light was cast in front of the menorah. The snuffers and trays for the lamps would also be made of pure gold.
I don’t think we are given any dimensions for the menorah anywhere. However, it and its utensils were to be made from a talent of pure gold. Talent designated a certain measure of weight. A talent of gold today would be worth several million dollars.
Verse 40 has God commanding Moses to be sure that he makes these items according to the pattern that was shown to him on the mountain. Would anyone like to comment on that pattern?
Chapter twenty-six is God instructions for the construction of the Tabernacle. It too was made of elaborate materials most of which came from the plunder of the Egyptians. Our English Bibles sometimes refer to the Tabernacle as “the tent of meeting.” And it was a tent of sorts, but unlike any tent we’ve ever seen. Although you may have seen a model of the Tabernacle before. Different ones have constructed models that are pretty realistic. If you haven’t seen any models, then you have most likely seen some drawings or artists renderings. You have probably noted that there are differences between the models, pictures and drawings. It can be difficult to visualize exactly what the Tabernacle looked like from the description we have in the Bible, but some of the attempts probably come pretty close.
The Tabernacle actually had four coverings of different materials. First the inner layer was made of “fine twisted linen and blue and purple and scarlet material,” says verse one. Somehow cherubim were to be woven into these inner curtains of the sanctuary. The number of curtains, their size and fasteners are described in verses two through six. The picture is one of beauty for the inner side of the Tabernacle.
Verses seven through thirteen give the details of the second covering which was to be made of goat’s hair. This layer must have served a more practical purpose such as keeping the wind and the weather out. The third layer was made of ram’s skins dyed red in color. And the fourth and outer layer was of porpoise skins. I somehow get the idea that the two outer layers were the roof while the other two layers were for the walls. I could be wrong of course. Why go to the trouble of dying the ram’s skins red?
Verses fifteen through thirty describe the making of the wooden panels that were used in the construction of the Tabernacle. At this point I’m not very clear on how the boards were used. It is clear that each board was overlaid with gold and that each one stood upright. Each board then was approximately fifteen feet high and twenty-seven inches wide. If the boards were used for the tabernacle proper, then it sounds as though the outer dimensions were something like 45 feet long by 15 feet wide and 15 feet high. In verse thirty God tells Moses again that he is to erect the Tabernacle according to the plan or the pattern he was shown in the mountain.
Verses thirty-one through thirty-five are instructions for making the curtain that would separate the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies or the Most Holy Place. Fifteen feet of the forty-five foot length of the Tabernacle was partitioned off with this curtain so that in effect you had two rooms. The larger room — the Holy Place being 30 feet long by fifteen feet wide by fifteen feet high. The Holy of Holies would have been a fifteen foot cube. But why divide the Tabernacle like that? It was small enough to begin with.
The Holy of Holies was where the ark of the covenant would be kept; and presumably where God would reside. No one would be allowed to enter the Holy of Holies except the High Priest and he only once each year to make propitiation for the sins of the people of Israel. You will notice, by the way, that the mercy seat was not a permanently attached part of the ark. It had to be placed on the ark — at least the first time it was set up.
The last two verses are instructions for making a screen that would somehow cover the doorway to the Tabernacle. It too was to be made of fine materials like all the rest.
Chapter twenty-seven begins with the plans for the altar. There were two altars actually. There was the altar of incense that was located within the Holy Place. But the altar we are now describing was located outside the Tabernacle in the Outer Court. This altar is known as “The Altar of Sacrifice.” Appropriately named seeing as that’s where the sacrifices were offered up.
The altar was approximately seven and a half feet square by four and a half feet high. I’m not sure how the altar worked. Because it was made of wood overlaid with bronze, there are those who say it could not have withstood a fire under it or within it sufficient to burn a sacrifice anyway. Their suggestion is that the fire was built on top of the altar and the ashes fell through to the area below the altar where they were then scooped up and carried away.
Each of the four corners of the altar had a horn fashioned onto it. Some have speculated that these horns may have served the purpose of keeping the sacrificial animal on the altar. There were shovels and basins and forks and fire-pans all of which were also made of bronze. Verse four describes a grating of sorts that was positioned under the altar about midway up. It was designed so that rings were attached to the grating through which poles would be passed enabling the altar to be carried. Again God stresses to Moses that he is to make it according to the plan he was shown on the mountain. Moses must have had a good memory.
The outer court of the Tabernacle is described in verses nine through eighteen. This was simply an area for gathering that was fenced in on all four sides. The length was one hundred cubits or 150 feet and fifty cubits wide or 75 feet. There were twenty posts or pillars stretching the length on which were hung linen curtains and likewise 10 posts for the width. There was at least one gate to the court and it was to screened in kind of like the doorway to the Tabernacle. Verse eighteen lets us know that the height of the walls was five cubits or seven and a half feet.
Verses 20 & 21 give commandment for the oil that was to be used in the lamp. It had to be clear oil from beaten olives. A sufficient supply was to be on hand to keep the lamp burning continually.
The first several verses of chapter twenty-eight are instructions for tailoring the priests’ official garments. Evidently verse one is telling Moses to measure Aaron and his sons so that the garments would fit. God says they are to be “holy garments” “for glory and for beauty.”
Aaron’s garments would consist of a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a tunic, a turban and a sash. Perhaps you have illustrations in your Bibles. The materials were the finest available. The ephod was to have to shoulder pieces attached to it and attached to the shoulder pieces were two onyx stones on which were inscribed the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. The onyx stones were set in gold and chains of gold twisted to look like twisted cord were attached to the filigreed settings. I’m quite sure it was beautiful.
Verses fifteen through thirty give the specific instructions for making the breast-piece for the high priest. The breast-piece was made of the finest materials and folded in half so that it made something like a nine inch square that would be attached to the High Priest’s outer garment.
The breast-piece was to have four rows of three precious stones each set in gold. You can see a list of the precious stones in verses seventeen through twenty. Each of the precious stones represented one of the twelve tribes of Israel. The breast-piece would be attached by rings of gold to the shoulder pieces on the ephod and it sounds like there were also two rings of gold to attach it to the waist of the ephod. Thus it would be worn in the center of the chest of the priest.
Notice that verse fifteen called it “a breast-piece of judgement.” Why “a breast-piece of judgement”? There are a couple of reasons most likely. The first stems from what we read in verse twenty-nine. It reads, “And Aaron shall carry the names of the sons of Israel in the breast-piece of judgement over his heart when he enters the holy place, for a memorial before the Lord continually.” The High Priest is the one who interceded with God on behalf of the people. When the people sinned, the High Priest offered up the blood of the sacrifice for them. Once a year he would enter the Holy of Holies to make propitiation for their sins with blood. The priest represented the people to God and the breast-piece was symbolic of the twelve tribes of Israel.
Also verse 30 tells us that the Urim and the Thummim were kept in the breast-piece. Remember that the breast-piece was folded in half. I suppose that means that the ends were left open so that you could pass your hand and arm right through it if you tried. Inside the folds were stored the Urim and the Thummim. What were these two strange sounding things? They were probably two stones of some kind that were used in some ways like we might flip a coin now days. Have you ever made a decision based on the flip of a coin. Heads it’s mine, tails it’s yours.
The Urim and Thummim were sometimes used to make judgments between opposing parties. They were also used to seek God’s guidance in some especially hard decisions where there was no clear answer. There are examples of this use in passages like Numbers 27:21 and Nehemiah 7:65.
The next few verses beginning at verse thirty-six describe the making of something I picture as a golden medallion that was to be worn on the front of the turban that was to be worn atop the High Priest’s head. It was to made of pure gold with the words, “Holy to the Lord,” engraved on it. Verse 38 says, “And it shall be on Aaron’s forehead, and Aaron shall take away the iniquity of the holy things which the sons of Israel consecrate, with regard to all their holy gifts...” I suppose that when the people brought anything to the priest to consecrate it to the Lord then they would see the inscription on the medallion and receive assurance of the priest’s authority before God.
Verse thirty-nine only briefly gives instructions for the making of the tunic, the turbin and the sash. I suppose there was nothing fancy about them that required more than elementary instructions.
Verses forty and following are directions for making what I think of as the everyday uniform for the priests. Even the High Priest would wear this for everyday. They were to wear tunics wrapped about and secured to their waists with a sash. The also had caps and breeches to wear. It sounds as though the breeches were really more what we would call shorts. They only reached to the thighs of the priest and not to the ankles like we think of when we think of a pair of breeches.