A tree that grew well in the wilderness, where the Israelites sojourned. It was capable of providing rather large boards (nearly 4.5 m; 15 ft long, according to Ex 36:20, 21), which the Israelites used in constructing the portable tabernacle. Since this tree practically disappears from the Bible record after the entry into the Promised Land, this may also indicate a tree not commonly found throughout Palestine. Such description fits the acacia types known as Acacia seyal and Acacia tortilis far better than any other plant life in the area. These acacia trees are still common in the Negeb and the Sinai area and some are found along the Jordan Valley S of the Sea of Galilee, but not in northern Palestine.
It is interesting to note that the word seyal is Arabic for “torrent,” and the habitat of the acacia is in the torrent valleys, or wadis, down which water rushes during the rainy season and which are found in the otherwise arid, desert regions around the Dead Sea area and southward into the Arabian Desert and the Sinai Peninsula. Thus Joel’s prophecy (3:18) says: “Out of the house of Jehovah there will go forth a spring, and it must irrigate the torrent valley of the Acacia Trees,” which is clearly a place that would otherwise usually be dry. (See SHITTIM No. 2.) At Isaiah 41:19 Jehovah says: “In the wilderness I shall set the cedar tree, the acacia and the myrtle and the oil tree.” Here three trees that normally grow in rich and fertile soils are prophesied to become the companions of the desert-loving acacia, as a result of divine provision for irrigation.
The acacia has many long thorns extending out from the widely spreading branches. These branches usually interlace with those of the neighboring acacias to form tangled thickets; this fact doubtless explains why the plural form shit·timʹ is almost always used in the Bible record. The acacia may grow to heights of 6 to 8 m (20 to 26 ft), but often is bushlike in appearance. It has soft, feathery leaves and is covered with pleasingly fragrant yellow blossoms, producing curved tapering pods as its fruit. The rough, black bark covers a very hard, fine-grained, heavy wood that is immune to insect attack. These characteristics and its availability in the desert made the acacia especially well suited as a building material for the tabernacle and its furnishings. It was employed to construct the ark of the covenant (Ex 25:10; 37:1), the table of showbread (Ex 25:23; 37:10), altars (Ex 27:1; 37:25; 38:1), poles for carrying these items (Ex 25:13, 28; 27:6; 30:5; 37:4, 15, 28; 38:6), pillars for the curtain and screen (Ex 26:32, 37; 36:36), and the panel frames (Ex 26:15; 36:20) and their connecting bars (Ex 26:26; 36:31).
Acacia is still prized for cabinetwork because of its fine grain, rich orange-brown color, and durability. The ancient Egyptians clamped their mummy coffins shut with acacia and used it in the construction of their boats. Certain types of the tree also produce the gum arabic of commerce.
[Picture on page 37]
Acacia trees, common in the Sinai area, provided wood for the tabernacle