The Wilderness Tabernacle

Note: this article is used in more than one place. Therefore, the introduction may be the same as in the parent link. If so, you should skip reading the introduction and move to the next section.


Throughout the pages of Scripture, we see God’s desire for fellowship with man and His efforts to establish a place where we can dwell together. Scripture opens in Genesis with God coming down to walk in the garden with Adam in the cool of the day; it concludes with man fellowshipping with God in the New Jerusalem. The Tabernacle (later the temple) is a significant link in the golden chain stretching from Genesis to Revelation.

When God united in a marriage bond with Israel, He descended upon the mountain of Sinai and spoke to Moses and His people. God’s presence was manifested as a consuming fire on the mountaintop. The people saw flashing lightning and a great cloud of smoke. They heard great thundering and the sound of a very loud trumpet. The whole mountain shook violently. They had been instructed to wash their garments and be consecrated before He came. Any man or beast touching the mountain, without being called by God would die. After experiencing such an awesome encounter with God, who can question their reaction?

The people trembled, stood at a distance, and asked Moses to relay God’s messages. They feared that they might die if God kept speaking directly to them. This fear was well-founded because God had warned Moses that many would perish if they gazed upon Him.

The great contrast between God’s holiness and man’s depravity presents a real dilemma that must be overcome for God and man to dwell together. Even though God promised that He would go with them and help them conquer and possess the Promised Land of Canaan, He would also separate Himself from the people by the boundaries set upon the mountain.

A special place must be prepared and consecrated for His presence to dwell among them. Furthermore, a particular group of people, known as priests, would have to be selected to serve before the Lord and act as mediators between Him and His people. For this reason, the Lord instructed Moses to collect a special contribution and gave him a detailed list of things to acquire.

“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Speak to the children of Israel, that they bring Me an offering. From everyone who gives it willingly with his heart you shall take My offering. And this is the offering which you shall take from them: gold, silver, and bronze; blue, purple, and scarlet thread, fine linen, and goat’s hair; ram skins dyed red, badger skins, and acacia wood; oil for the light, and spices for the anointing oil and for the sweet incense; onyx stones, and stones to be set in the ephod and in the breastplate. And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them. According to all that I show you, that is, the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings, just so you shall make it’” (Ex. 25:1-9, NKJV).

The Tabernacle had at least three meanings which we must quickly examine: 1) It was to be a dwelling place for the presence of God; 2) It was to be the sanctuary of all religious ceremonies; and 3) It was to be a typical picture of Christ who would come to redeem mankind from their depravity.

Tabernacle Introduction

Moses was given every minute detail of the plan for the Tabernacle, even colors, threads, designs, and related trimmings. After the specifications were given, God filled craftsmen with the Holy Spirit (See Ex 31:3-5), so they could be guided in all manner of workmanship. Why are all these details regarding perfection in workmanship necessary? Why did God demand perfection in the construction of this wilderness tabernacle? The answer lies in verse nine of chapter twenty-five. God told Moses to build the Tabernacle, “According to all that I show thee, after the pattern of the tabernacle” (Ex. 25:9, KJV).

Notice that the wilderness tabernacle was to be patterned after another tabernacle. In the Book of Hebrews, the writer makes it clear that the wilderness tabernacle was patterned after the Lamb of God, who is in heaven.

Let us not forget that Christ, the Lamb of God, was slain in the mind of God before the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:19-20). Therefore, it is fitting that the wilderness tabernacle was patterned after Christ and that it foreshadowed Christ and the work that He was to complete on the cross. The writer of Hebrews makes this statement concerning Jesus: “Who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, ‘See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain’” (Heb. 8:5, NKJV).

Symbolically, the highly detailed wilderness tabernacle, the ministering priests, and the related offerings and sacrifices foreshadow God’s great plan of redemption for His people, Israel. God planned to keep alive the hope of a coming redeemer in the people’s hearts through religious ordinances. All the sins of Israel were being rolled forward to the “Cross of Calvary,” where final redemption was to be completed. When the final payment was made, the temple’s veil, which separated the Holy place from the Holy of Holies, was rented from top to bottom, symbolizing that mankind could finally have direct fellowship with their Creator.

We need help to visualize the magnificent beauty, grasp the many exquisite details, and appreciate the enormous material value of the wilderness Tabernacle. It has been estimated that the construction materials would approach a value of one and a quarter million dollars – many times this amount in present-day dollars.


Note: I wrote the following many years ago and have used it several times. It has a different format than the other modules, but I still feel it is the best way to look at all the fine details of the Tabernacle – details as it is being built.

While studying the Tabernacle, God gave me a visual panorama of the Tabernacle as it was being assembled. From the top of a hill each day, I would comprehend more and more the exquisite details and their meaning. Now I want to share that visual panorama with you so that you may better understand the details.

The visual panorama follows the format of Moses giving a guided tour as he inspects the Tabernacle as it nears completion – approximately nine months after construction began.

Imagine being with Moses on a hilltop east of the Israelite camp as the first rays of the morning sun began to pierce the darkness. Below, we see the flicker and smoke of cooking fires in twelve massive clusters. Each cluster represents an Israeli tribe; there are three distinct clusters on each of the four sides of the great camp. People are moving around; two distinct patterns appear to be developing from the movement. First, many people are moving into the surrounding fields flecked with white manna; they seem to be gathering food. Others are moving toward the center of the camp, where the outlines of a rectangular courtyard are becoming visible; these are the craftsmen bent upon completing their work.

As the sun behind us becomes brighter, the night mist seems to rise and vanish above the camp. The sunrays capture our attention as they seem to dance upon the golden surface of a structure at the rear of the courtyard. Workmen work busily to cover the structure as if to hide its brilliance from our prying eyes. We stand there in awe, realizing that God has shined a brief spotlight upon His future dwelling place. We saw a glimpse of the fullness of its beauty and richness before it was hidden from the eyes of the Gentiles.

We stood and meditated briefly as we remembered the sight that had dazzled our eyes and imaginations. Then, as Moses turns and starts down the hill, we follow him into the camp. Quietly, we work through a maze of tents and trappings and greet the many individuals who question our presence.

Soon we reach the heart of the camp and find ourselves approaching the courtyard fence. It is seven and one-half feet high and restricts our access to and view of the inner courtyard. As we pace the two sides of the fence, we determine that the courtyard is seventy-five feet wide and twice as long.

The top of the dazzling structure, which is in the rear of the courtyard and had caught our attention, is still visible. However, the fence itself is a marvelous artwork that commands our attention.

Made of fine twisted linen, its cloth hangs on silver hooks connected to brass pillars set in brass sockets. Workers are still going in and out of the gate on the shorter eastern side of the courtyard; the gate itself is a thirty-foot-wide screen of fine twisted linen woven with three brilliant colors – blue and purple and scarlet – and set upon four brass pillars and sockets.

We are reminded that brass speaks of judgment, silver of redemption, and linen of righteousness. Blue reminds us of heaven, scarlet depicts shed blood, and purple indicates the presence of royalty.

Many workmen pause from their tasks as we pass through the wide gate and start toward the rear structure, which attracts us like a prize at the end of a rainbow. A load of wood halts our progress as it is carried to the great brass altar near the gate. Moses tells us that the altar is built of acacia boards covered with brass making it light enough to transport. It is seven and one-half feet square and four and one-half feet high; soon, it will serve as a place to sacrifice many animals. It reminds us that no human can access God except sinners who are atoned by blood. Fire will be kindled upon it miraculously and will burn continually even as the camp moves from place to place.

Again, as we move toward the golden structure in the rear of the courtyard, much activity is taking place. Once again, we are stopped by a procession of men; this time, they carry water to a great brass bowl between the altar and the entrance to the gold structure. Again, priests will ceremonially wash their hands and feet at the brass laver before ministering at the brass altar.

One man allowed us to slip through the line to see what we had eagerly anticipated. As we approach the golden rear structure, we realize it is larger than we had realized.

It stands fifteen feet tall and is fifteen feet wide. The walls are made of hard acacia wood overlaid with pure gold. Workmen are still making final adjustments to the layers of cloth and skins that will cover the box-like structure, which is forty-five feet long. The bottom layer of covering was made of fine linen – blue, purple, and scarlet; it was exquisitely made with intricate cherub designs. We recall that cherubs are angels responsible for guarding God’s absolute holiness. The linen cover consists of ten separate curtains coupled together with golden clasps.

Over the linen layer, the workmen are placing three additional covers made of materials that are new to us and form a tent over the tabernacle. The first layer consists of eleven curtains of goat’s hair clasped together with loops of brass. The next layer is made of leather from ram’s skin, dyed red, and the last layer is made of porpoise skin.

We step through the opening and see workmen hanging a veil separating the interior space into two rooms; the front room will be fifteen feet wide and thirty feet long, and the back room will be fifteen feet wide and fifteen feet long. The veil is made of the same three-colored linen (with interwoven cherubs) that formed the first layer of covering, now visible as the structure’s ceiling. Again, the workers pause as we step into the back room behind the veil. An involuntary gasp can be heard as we first behold the majestic scene.

We are standing within a fifteen-foot cube, which is the future dwelling place of the presence of God. Awestruck, in hushed silence, we feast upon the stunning beauty of the site. This, the Holy of Holies, has three walls of shining gold indicative of His deity. The predominant cherub figure on the veil and ceiling reminds us that we are standing in a most holy and sacred place that will be off-limits to everyone except the high priest when the presence of God comes in. However, even the high priest will only enter once each year to bring the atoning blood of a sacrifice before God for the covering of the nation’s sins.

As we stand spellbound in contemplation of the future, workmen bring in the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat – the most sacred of all the furniture. The first piece represents the holiness of God; the second is a memorial of His grace.

The Ark is a small box-like chest constructed of acacia wood overlaid with gold. Its primary purpose is to serve as a container for the two tablets of commandments that form the basis of the covenant between Jehovah God and Israel. After the Ark is dedicated, God’s presence within it will be so hallowed that sudden death will come upon any unauthorized person touching it. The two carrying poles lying on the ground before us, which will pass through loops on the Ark’s feet, will be used to transport the Ark on its journey through the Wilderness.

The Mercy Seat, made of solid gold, forms a lid or cover for the Ark. Cherubs rise from the mass of the top on each end. They overshadow the seat, and their wings form a canopy for this royal throne. In this covered spot, the Shekinah, the visible manifestation of God’s glory, will rest and meet with the High Priest as he represents the people of Israel. Here, between the cherubs, the High Priest will sprinkle the blood of a goat, which will cover the people’s sins until the blood of God’s only Son can wash them away.

In stunned silence, we stand frozen until we realize someone gently pulls us and says it is time for us to go. We then re-enter the larger room, called the Holy Place, where only the priests can enter and minister in the future. As we linger, we notice that workmen have brought three pieces of furniture into this room.

They placed a large golden lampstand on the right side containing seven lamps. Daily, using olive oil as fuel, they will provide light and symbolize God’s witness before man. The table of showbread, placed on the left side of the room, is made of acacia wood and overlaid with pure gold. The table will hold twelve loaves of unleavened bread – one for each tribe of Israel. These loaves symbolize gratitude to God for His daily provisions. The priests will replace the stale bread with fresh bread each Sabbath. Workmen are now placing the altar of incense in front of the veil that separates this room from the Holy of Holies. This altar is also made of acacia wood and overlaid with pure gold. The incense burning each morning and evening on this altar will signify a perpetual prayer before the Lord.

As we leave the Holy Place, we notice that the workmen have hung a second veil, a screen, over the exit to the courtyard. Moreover, we saw one difference between this veil and the one separating the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place – the Cherubs are missing from the screen separating the courtyard.

Whereas, Cherubs constantly guard the presence of God in the Holy of Holies, here, in the Holy place, the priests, who minister on behalf of the people, are free to come and go at all times. However, no commoner will be allowed to enter the golden structure.

Even Moses will be barred from entering the premises once the Tabernacle has been dedicated. Hurrying, as we exit the courtyard for the last time, we realize we have walked through places many could never hope to go.

As we leave the courtyard, we turn and look back at the portrait of Christ. The sanctuary, containing the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies, reflects His Deity. The courtyard and its furniture reflect Jesus’ incarnation as a man. He was just as much God as He was a man; however, as a sinless man, He became the sacrifice for sin.

The altar and laver of brass reflect judgment, and as man, Christ was judged for the sins of all mankind. The fence reflects the work that He completed on the cross. In the fence, we see judgment in the brass posts, redemption in the silver hooks, and righteousness in the linen cloth.

Returning to our world, we ponder the new meaning of what we have seen. Praise be to the glory of God!

Scripture quotations marked NKJV are taken from the New King James Version of the Bible, copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked NIV are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV® 2011 by Zondervan Corporation.  Used by permission. All rights reserved. Used with permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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