Preparing for the Tabernacle
This is a rather in depth look at preparations for the Tabernacle. Certain steps were taken at God’s commend of course. Why was thee such a specific process to follow and how did the Israelites view that process?
Bring Your Offerings
Exodus 25:1-9 NLTse The LORD said to Moses, (2) “Tell the people of Israel to bring me their sacred offerings. Accept the contributions from all whose hearts are moved to offer them. (3) Here is a list of sacred offerings you may accept from them: gold, silver, and bronze; (4) blue, purple, and scarlet thread; fine linen and goat hair for cloth; (5) tanned ram skins and fine goatskin leather; acacia wood; (6) olive oil for the lamps; spices for the anointing oil and the fragrant incense; (7) onyx stones, and other gemstones to be set in the ephod and the priest’s chestpiece. (8) “Have the people of Israel build me a holy sanctuary so I can live among them. (9) You must build this Tabernacle and its furnishings exactly according to the pattern I will show you.
Obviously, the first step in any building project is to collect material. That’s where God told Moses to begin. I’ve covered details on those building materials in a previous book, The Tabernacle: “T” is for the Cross. I am not going to review a lot of details of that book which covered the building materials and construction of the Tabernacle from an engineering prospective. That book is available for download on the Internet.
To understand the scene, we have to look at how the previous chapter ended. Then Moses climbed up the mountain, and the cloud covered it. And the glory of the LORD settled down on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days. On the seventh day the LORD called to Moses from inside the cloud. To the Israelites at the foot of the mountain, the glory of the LORD appeared at the summit like a consuming fire. Then Moses disappeared into the cloud as he climbed higher up the mountain. He remained on the mountain forty days and forty nights. (Exodus 24:15-18 NLTse).
Moses went up the mountain to meet with God. That tells us why chapter 25 began with God telling Moses what to do. The first step was to collect material for the project. All of the materials were to be contributed by the people. This shows us how God’s Spirit was working before God revealed any of the plans for the Tabernacle to Moses. Since we looked at how all the building materials to create this world were in place before God shed light on the subject, we can see how God arranged for Israel to carry every item required for the Tabernacle out of Egypt.
We have to look deeper into that story. Almost every person who left with Moses was a slave in Egypt. There were a few people who left because of all the plagues and miracles they saw, but we have no way of determining exact numbers. That’s not our concern. We can be assured, God had everything under control.
Moses used the words, Tell the people of Israel to bring me their sacred offerings.” Israel represents those people enslaved in Egypt based on the prophecy given to Abraham. Then the LORD said to Abram, “You can be sure that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign land, where they will be oppressed as slaves for 400 years. But I will punish the nation that enslaves them, and in the end they will come away with great wealth. (Genesis 15:13-14 NLTse).
We now have a spiritual puzzle to solve. It’s easy to see the lesson on the surface. People leaving Egypt represented people freed from bondage. That’s the easy part. But here were told, all the materials required to build the Tabernacle came out of bondage. What does that mean? How does it apply to the Tabernacle and our roles in the plan of salvation?
First of all, we see Israel had to work for 400 years for the materials they carried out. We should stick to the facts on the surface, simple details about those years of bondage that have been reviewed hundreds of times. Sure that bondage represents our life and time here on this world. Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin. (John 8:34 NLTse). So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds and placing our faith in God. You don’t need further instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And so, God willing, we will move forward to further understanding. (Hebrews 6:1-3 NLTse).
How do we determine the spiritual significance of those items taken out of Egypt? We know the Tabernacle is a model of the Heavenly Sanctuary. And we know the Heavenly Sanctuary does not contain any materials from this world. Hebrews tells us the clear distinction between the Tabernacle and the Heavenly Sanctuary.
This is an illustration pointing to the present time. For the gifts and sacrifices that the priests offer are not able to cleanse the consciences of the people who bring them. For that old system deals only with food and drink and various cleansing ceremonies–physical regulations that were in effect only until a better system could be established. So Christ has now become the High Priest over all the good things that have come. He has entered that greater, more perfect Tabernacle in heaven, which was not made by human hands and is not part of this created world. With his own blood–not the blood of goats and calves–he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever. (Hebrews 9:9-12 NLTse).
The Tabernacle Moses built pointed to the perfect Heavenly Tabernacle and its system. The old Tabernacle passed away, pointing to the passing away of sins and eventual cleansing of this world. Those materials taken from Egypt were never intended to be a permanent structure or place of worship.
Some of those materials Moses was told to collect were different than materials in Heaven. We’ve not told about tanned ram skins and fine goatskin leather in God’s Sanctuary. Those were symbols to remind us what went into the Tabernacle built on this world. They reminded people of the sacrifices that had to be made. The sacrifices that began the day sin entered this world, and God fashioned clothing from animal skins for Adam and Eve. Death is a product of sin and God used a number of ways to keep that reminder in front of us. It was important for God to make sure we didn’t forget the cost of sin. “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 NLTse).
Take a closer look at the order of materials God gave to Moses. He began with gold, silver, and bronze; then moved to blue, purple, and scarlet thread; fine linen and goat hair for cloth; tanned ram skins and fine goatskin leather; acacia wood; He finally added, olive oil for the lamps; spices for the anointing oil and the fragrant incense. God moved from materials that lasted the longest time, to items we consider consumable. God used a designed progression hoping we would notice the process locked away in the list of materials.
Then God went out of what we would consider a progressive order into a new spiritual order; onyx stones, and other gemstones to be set in the ephod and the priest’s chestpiece. When we follow the specific order God gave Moses, we have to ask, why did God list those last? Are they the materials that were consumed the quickest? On the physical view, no. On the spiritual view, yes.
Long before the Tabernacle was lost in the pages of the Bible and replaced by a stone temple, materials used in the chestpiece, or high priest’s breastplate lost their significance, power, and symbolic meaning. Later we will look into more details about the breastplate. A slight understanding of the history of the breastplate and Israel will show a few clues. People like king Saul tried to misuse the breastplate. At that time it was taken away from Saul and delivered to David. At times it seemed to be forgotten. The breastplate was used as a form of communication with God. It also contained twelve stones, one for each of Israel’s twelve tribes. After king Solomon, the kingdom was split. Little was mentioned about the breastplate after that. On a spiritual level, the breastplate was lost before services ceased inside the Tabernacle.
God made certain Moses built the Tabernacle and its furnishings exactly according to the pattern he was shown. Moses saw a pattern of the Heavenly Sanctuary and made a copy of it on this world. It was important not to miss a single detail, so Moses, Israel, and everyone after them would not miss a single detail about Christ and His ministry here in this world and in Heaven.
One of the things we’ve learned about God’s Word, is how much we learn by looking back. That’s the best way to understand the emotions and trials involved in getting from one phase to the next. To gain and better understanding of those materials, we can go all the way back to the point Moses began the process of freeing those slaves from Egypt.
Another important part of this story tells about the materials Israel took out of Egypt. Then the LORD said to Moses, “I will strike Pharaoh and the land of Egypt with one more blow. After that, Pharaoh will let you leave this country. In fact, he will be so eager to get rid of you that he will force you all to leave. Tell all the Israelite men and women to ask their Egyptian neighbors for articles of silver and gold.” (Now the LORD had caused the Egyptians to look favorably on the people of Israel. And Moses was considered a very great man in the land of Egypt, respected by Pharaoh’s officials and the Egyptian people alike.) (Exodus 11:1-3 NLTse).
Moses didn’t record many details about the materials Israel collected from the Egyptians. The strange thing about this event is, this is the first and only time Moses told the people to collect things from previous owners. Moses told Israel what they were supposed to do before he talked to Pharaoh about the last plague, the death of the firstborn. This showed Israel, God knew the outcome before it occurred.
Imagine all the different attitudes the Egyptians faced. Some Israelites did as Moses commanded and asked for anything the Egyptians wanted to freely give. Others demanded, and a few viewed the situation as a chance for revenge. God said, He would make the Egyptians look favorably on the Israelites. But what about the Israelites? Were they prepared to treat the Egyptians with any type of respect?
The KJV used the word borrow, instead of the word ask. In a sense, that’s all they did was borrow everything. Generations later, every piece of gold and silver used in the temple returned to Egypt. In the fifth year of King Rehoboam’s reign, King Shishak of Egypt came up and attacked Jerusalem. He ransacked the treasuries of the LORD’s Temple and the royal palace; he stole everything, including all the gold shields Solomon had made. (1 Kings 14:25-26 NLTse). It appears the KJV didn’t use the word borrow by accident.
Another thing I noticed about that event. Moses had to only tell them once. That was one of the few times Moses didn’t have to repeat himself. There’s something about that fact that should worry us. But the event is found in other parts of Exodus and once in Genesis.
And the people of Israel did as Moses had instructed; they asked the Egyptians for clothing and articles of silver and gold. The LORD caused the Egyptians to look favorably on the Israelites, and they gave the Israelites whatever they asked for. So they stripped the Egyptians of their wealth!(Exodus 12:35-36 NLTse).
Moses didn’t have to repeat himself or remind them to go door to door asking for things. It was sort of payment for their entire lives as slaves. Israel knew their parents and grandparents were slaves. They didn’t feel they could carry enough to pay for multiple life times of slavery. How would you feel spending your entire life as a slave, and seeing your parents die as slave? Then a day comes along and it’s pay back time. It’s amazing Moses didn’t record anything about Egyptians loosing their lives that day. Something restrained them. The thought of being a priest was sinking in. Hearing screams and cries from across the field all night softened their hearts. God had the right timing in every detail.
So I will raise my hand and strike the Egyptians, performing all kinds of miracles among them. Then at last he will let you go. And I will cause the Egyptians to look favorably on you. They will give you gifts when you go so you will not leave empty-handed. Every Israelite woman will ask for articles of silver and gold and fine clothing from her Egyptian neighbors and from the foreign women in their houses. You will dress your sons and daughters with these, stripping the Egyptians of their wealth.”
(Exodus 3:20-22 NLTse)
This must have been an important event if it was recorded so many times. One of the purposes it served is teach Moses to look back to see how his faith had grown over time. This is something Moses had to teach Israel to do to properly prepare them for the priesthood. Moses didn’t record many details that happened behind the scenes. That’s something we have to approach God’s throne to learn more about. That is one way our faith is formed and sealed. Moses often spoke directly with God. That’s a lesson we need to pay attention to. As we approach God’s throne to listen to His detailed account of what happened behind the recorded story, He explains details in scripture we would never see without His guidance. Which is one step Israel had to learn to become an effective kingdom made up of priests for God.
The same applies today. How can we become an effective army on God’s side if we don’t listen to orders, or we don’t know the order God uses? We learn about that order in the same way God instructed Moses when He told him to look back and review the lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. If we’re smart, we’ll see keys pointing us back even further. That’s how God links the past to the present to prepare us for the future.
Looking at the order of the texts, we see how God prepared Moses. God gave Moses the answer, then later, when Moses needed a boost in faith, reminded him to look back. God does the same with us. God communicates with us the same way He communicated with Moses. God sends us back to review stories in scripture. When we listen, God explains how those stories apply to our lives at that moment. We see how past lessons and events apply to the problems and decisions we face. In this case, the pattern also showed how God made a teacher out of Moses. He had a message to give Israel. One of those lessons included, how to communicate and rely directly on God and how God uses stories from the past to answer questions and guide us on the next step. Everything hinged on direct communication with God. If Israel was going to be ready to accept the priesthood, they had to put away every aspect of the form of religion they were leaving and learn God’s method of worship.
For Israel, that began with listening to God’s Spirit as they collected every item to manufacture and complete the Tabernacle. God would reinforce that lesson when they looked back to realize what they accomplished without knowing the end result. God’s order was, collect the materials, give the design, then show the people how they served God without leaving out a single detail. It was a lesson showing Israel how to rely on God.
Man’s way would have been far different. Men would have changed God’s order and totally missed the spiritual lesson. Men would have finalized the design, shared the design with everyone, made a list of materials required, then sent people out to collect every item on the list. We’ve seen how God’s order at creation was different then men would have followed. We’ve also seen the order God used for those plagues was different than men would have expected to follow. God’s plans not only worked, they accomplished much more than any man could have planned. They also locked away spiritual lessons designed for generations to look back on and learn from.
Then the LORD said to Abram, “You can be sure that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign land, where they will be oppressed as slaves for 400 years. But I will punish the nation that enslaves them, and in the end they will come away with great wealth.
(Genesis 15:13-14 NLTse)
God shared His plans with Abraham, who didn’t really understand too many of the details. He had to accept what he was given and apply it to his life. Future generations would look on this prophecy and see more and more details revealed. That was God’s plan which always extends much further and teaches more than anyone could imagine. That is a part of faith few people consider. We have to accept the fact, prophecy is designed to reach one generation on one level, another generation on another level, be fulfilled in one generation, and teach lessons of varying degrees to future generations. To say or think we know everything about a prophecy is to limit, or eliminate God’s Spirit from the process. Common sense should tell you, removing God’s Spirit from a prophecy is a return to the type of priesthood Israel was told to leave behind.
Plans for the Tabernacle
One of the most interesting and important details about the Tabernacle is how every piece was described not once, but at least twice. You must build this Tabernacle and its furnishings exactly according to the pattern I will show you. (Exodus 25:9 NLTse).
Exodus 25:10-22 NLTse “Have the people make an Ark of acacia wood–a sacred chest 45 inches long, 27 inches wide, and 27 inches high. (11) Overlay it inside and outside with pure gold, and run a molding of gold all around it. (12) Cast four gold rings and attach them to its four feet, two rings on each side. (13) Make poles from acacia wood, and overlay them with gold. (14) Insert the poles into the rings at the sides of the Ark to carry it. (15) These carrying poles must stay inside the rings; never remove them. (16) When the Ark is finished, place inside it the stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant, which I will give to you. (17) “Then make the Ark’s cover–the place of atonement–from pure gold. It must be 45 inches long and 27 inches wide. (18) Then make two cherubim from hammered gold, and place them on the two ends of the atonement cover. (19) Mold the cherubim on each end of the atonement cover, making it all of one piece of gold. (20) The cherubim will face each other and look down on the atonement cover. With their wings spread above it, they will protect it. (21) Place inside the Ark the stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant, which I will give to you. Then put the atonement cover on top of the Ark. (22) I will meet with you there and talk to you from above the atonement cover between the gold cherubim that hover over the Ark of the Covenant. From there I will give you my commands for the people of Israel.
Exodus 37:1-15 NLTse Next Bezalel made the Ark of acacia wood–a sacred chest 45 inches long, 27 inches wide, and 27 inches high. (2) He overlaid it inside and outside with pure gold, and he ran a molding of gold all around it. (3) He cast four gold rings and attached them to its four feet, two rings on each side. (4) Then he made poles from acacia wood and overlaid them with gold. (5) He inserted the poles into the rings at the sides of the Ark to carry it. (6) Then he made the Ark’s cover–the place of atonement–from pure gold. It was 45 inches long and 27 inches wide. (7) He made two cherubim from hammered gold and placed them on the two ends of the atonement cover. (8) He molded the cherubim on each end of the atonement cover, making it all of one piece of gold. (9) The cherubim faced each other and looked down on the atonement cover. With their wings spread above it, they protected it. (10) Then Bezalel made the table of acacia wood, 36 inches long, 18 inches wide, and 27 inches high. (11) He overlaid it with pure gold and ran a gold molding around the edge. (12) He decorated it with a 3-inch border all around, and he ran a gold molding along the border. (13) Then he cast four gold rings for the table and attached them at the four corners next to the four legs. (14) The rings were attached near the border to hold the poles that were used to carry the table. (15) He made these poles from acacia wood and overlaid them with gold.
Exodus 25:23-28 NLTse “Then make a table of acacia wood, 36 inches long, 18 inches wide, and 27 inches high. (24) Overlay it with pure gold and run a gold molding around the edge. (25) Decorate it with a 3-inch border all around, and run a gold molding along the border. (26) Make four gold rings for the table and attach them at the four corners next to the four legs. (27) Attach the rings near the border to hold the poles that are used to carry the table. (28) Make these poles from acacia wood, and overlay them with gold.
Exodus 37:10-15 NLTse Then Bezalel made the table of acacia wood, 36 inches long, 18 inches wide, and 27 inches high. (11) He overlaid it with pure gold and ran a gold molding around the edge. (12) He decorated it with a 3-inch border all around, and he ran a gold molding along the border. (13) Then he cast four gold rings for the table and attached them at the four corners next to the four legs. (14) The rings were attached near the border to hold the poles that were used to carry the table. (15) He made these poles from acacia wood and overlaid them with gold.
Exodus 25:29-30 NLTse Make special containers of pure gold for the table–bowls, pans, pitchers, and jars–to be used in pouring out liquid offerings. (30) Place the Bread of the Presence on the table to remain before me at all times.
Exodus 37:16 NLTse Then he made special containers of pure gold for the table–bowls, pans, jars, and pitchers–to be used in pouring out liquid offerings.
Exodus 25:31-40 NLTse “Make a lampstand of pure, hammered gold. Make the entire lampstand and its decorations of one piece–the base, center stem, lamp cups, buds, and petals. (32) Make it with six branches going out from the center stem, three on each side. (33) Each of the six branches will have three lamp cups shaped like almond blossoms, complete with buds and petals. (34) Craft the center stem of the lampstand with four lamp cups shaped like almond blossoms, complete with buds and petals. (35) There will also be an almond bud beneath each pair of branches where the six branches extend from the center stem. (36) The almond buds and branches must all be of one piece with the center stem, and they must be hammered from pure gold. (37) Then make the seven lamps for the lampstand, and set them so they reflect their light forward. (38) The lamp snuffers and trays must also be made of pure gold. (39) You will need seventy-five pounds of pure gold for the lampstand and its accessories. (40) “Be sure that you make everything according to the pattern I have shown you here on the mountain.
Exodus 37:17-24 NLTse Then Bezalel made the lampstand of pure, hammered gold. He made the entire lampstand and its decorations of one piece–the base, center stem, lamp cups, buds, and petals. (18) The lampstand had six branches going out from the center stem, three on each side. (19) Each of the six branches had three lamp cups shaped like almond blossoms, complete with buds and petals. (20) The center stem of the lampstand was crafted with four lamp cups shaped like almond blossoms, complete with buds and petals. (21) There was an almond bud beneath each pair of branches where the six branches extended from the center stem, all made of one piece. (22) The almond buds and branches were all of one piece with the center stem, and they were hammered from pure gold. (23) He also made seven lamps for the lampstand, lamp snuffers, and trays, all of pure gold. (24) The entire lampstand, along with its accessories, was made from seventy-five pounds of pure gold.
The list goes on and on. The Tabernacle is the most detailed structure in the Bible containing more symbols than any other item in the Bible. Why did God go into such detail and repeat those details? As we’ve seen, authors repeat details to draw attention to them. After all, the Tabernacle is a symbol of God’s Son and His ministry. They serve in a system of worship that is only a copy, a shadow of the real one in heaven. For when Moses was getting ready to build the Tabernacle, God gave him this warning: “Be sure that you make everything according to the pattern I have shown you here on the mountain.” (Hebrews 8:5 NLTse). The Book of Hebrews serves as a guide to symbols in the Tabernacle.
Hebrews 9:1-12 NLTse That first covenant between God and Israel had regulations for worship and a place of worship here on earth. (2) There were two rooms in that Tabernacle. In the first room were a lampstand, a table, and sacred loaves of bread on the table. This room was called the Holy Place. (3) Then there was a curtain, and behind the curtain was the second room called the Most Holy Place. (4) In that room were a gold incense altar and a wooden chest called the Ark of the Covenant, which was covered with gold on all sides. Inside the Ark were a gold jar containing manna, Aaron’s staff that sprouted leaves, and the stone tablets of the covenant. (5) Above the Ark were the cherubim of divine glory, whose wings stretched out over the Ark’s cover, the place of atonement. But we cannot explain these things in detail now. (6) When these things were all in place, the priests regularly entered the first room as they performed their religious duties. (7) But only the high priest ever entered the Most Holy Place, and only once a year. And he always offered blood for his own sins and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. (8) By these regulations the Holy Spirit revealed that the entrance to the Most Holy Place was not freely open as long as the Tabernacle and the system it represented were still in use. (9) This is an illustration pointing to the present time. For the gifts and sacrifices that the priests offer are not able to cleanse the consciences of the people who bring them. (10) For that old system deals only with food and drink and various cleansing ceremonies–physical regulations that were in effect only until a better system could be established. (11) So Christ has now become the High Priest over all the good things that have come. He has entered that greater, more perfect Tabernacle in heaven, which was not made by human hands and is not part of this created world. (12) With his own blood–not the blood of goats and calves–he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever.
There’s no doubt, the design of the Tabernacle God gave to Moses was a model of the Heavenly Sanctuary, services conducted in Heaven, and Jesus’ ministry all rolled into one. In short, the Tabernacle is a model of the plan of salvation. The question is, where do we begin? There is a strong urge to jump ahead, or around from subject to subject, or symbol to symbol. Looking at what has been accumulated so far would lead us to believe, God had a good reason to repeat the order of the items in the Tabernacle, as well as the details. We’ve also seen the same process and order used at creation. We’ve also seen how God followed a particular order at creation we may not have followed. But when we stuck with God’s order of teaching, unexpected details were revealed. We can expect to see the same pattern as we study details in the Tabernacle in the order Moses recorded them.