[Heb., mish·kanʹ, habitation, dwelling, a tent or tabernacle; ʼoʹhel, tent, tabernacle; miq·dashʹ, sanctuary; Gr., ske·neʹ, tent, booth, tabernacle].
The tabernacle or “tent of meeting” (called “the temple of Jehovah” at 1 Samuel 1:9 and “the house of Jehovah” at 1 Samuel 1:24) was constructed in the wilderness at Mount Sinai in 1512 B.C.E. It was completely set up, with its furniture and utensils installed, on the first day of the first month, Abib or Nisan. (Ex. chap. 40) The priesthood was installed at Jehovah’s direction by the mediator Moses on that day, and the full installation services occupied seven days. On the eighth day the priests began to carry out their official functions.—Lev. chaps. 8, 9.
Jehovah had spoken to Moses in the mountain, giving him the complete pattern for the tabernacle, commanding him: “See that you make all things after their pattern that was shown to you in the mountain.” It served in providing “a shadow of the heavenly things,” and therefore had to be accurate to the least detail. (Heb. 8:5) Jehovah inspired Bezalel and Oholiab, so that the work, shared in also by others, both men and women, could be done perfectly as Moses gave the instructions. The result was: “According to all that Jehovah had commanded Moses, that was the way the sons of Israel did all the service.” (Ex. 39:42; 35:25, 26; 36:1, 4) The materials were provided through voluntary contributions from the people. (Ex. 36:3, 6, 7) Doubtless the gold, silver and copper, the yarns, fabrics and skins came as contributions largely from that which the Israelites had taken out of Egypt. (Ex. 12:34-36) Acacia wood was available in the wilderness.—See ACACIA; SEALSKIN.
Coverings and screens
The entire framework of the structure was covered first by a linen covering embroidered with colorful figures of cherubs. The covering was in two large sections of five cloths each, the sections being joined by loops of blue thread that fastened over gold hooks. The cloths of which this curtain was made were only twenty-eight cubits (c. 40.8 feet; 12.4 meters) long, which would be at least one cubit (17.5 inches; 44.4 centimeters) short of reaching the ground on each side of the structure.—Ex. 26:1-6.
On top of the linen covering went a goat’s hair cover, made of eleven cloths thirty cubits (c. 43.8 feet; 13.3 meters) long, also in two sections, one of six cloths and one of five. Over this was put the covering of ram skins dyed red, and, finally, one of sealskins, apparently reaching to the ground and evidently provided with ropes so that the covering could be fastened at the ground by tent pins.—Ex. 26:7-14.
The Bible describes the tabernacle (evidently inside measurements) as being thirty cubits (c. 43.8 feet; 13.3 meters) long and ten cubits (c. 14.6 feet; 4.4 meters) in height, and it was also evidently ten cubits in width. The calculations in this article are based on a cubit of 17.5 inches (c. 44.5 centimeters). However, the long cubit of about 20.4 inches (51.8 centimeters) may have been used. (Compare 2 Chronicles 3:3; Ezekiel 40:5.) (For the tabernacle’s height, compare Exodus 26:16; for its length, Exodus 26:16-18; for width, Exodus 26:22-24.) The Most Holy compartment was apparently cubical. The view that the Most Holy was a cube ten cubits on a side is supported by the fact that the Most Holy of Solomon’s temple was cubical, each dimension being twenty cubits (29 feet; 8.9 meters). (1 Ki. 6:20) The Holy compartment was twice as long as it was wide. As to the length of the Holy, these points are significant: The width of five of the sections of the linen covering was twenty cubits. (Ex. 26:1-5) These, sewn together as one piece, would stretch from the entrance to the place where hooks joined it to the other half of the covering (five sections). The junction apparently was above the pillars supporting the curtain to the Most Holy. Then the other half of the covering (20 cubits) served to cover the Most Holy (10 cubits) and also the rear or W side of the tabernacle (10 cubits).
The walls were of acacia wood, gold overlaid, evidently in the form of panel frames (similar to window frames), instead of solid boards. (Ex. 26:15-18) This view seems to be logical, for two reasons: (1) Solid acacia boards of the size described would be unnecessarily heavy, and (2) the cherubs embroidered on the curtain that went over the boards would be hidden except for those seen on the ceiling of the structure, inside. (Ex. 26:1) So it appears that each panel frame was constructed in such a way that the priests in the tabernacle could see the cherubs embroidered on the linen covering. If the opening in the panel frame was divided by a horizontal crosspiece, perhaps where the center bar was, the priests serving in the tabernacle may have seen two rows of cherubs, one standing above the other, framed by the panels. (If this was the case, each cherub would be about six feet [1.8 meters] tall, a reasonable height, comparable to that of a man. [Angels sometimes materialized in the form of men. (Josh. 5:13-15)]) Some modern scholars also hold the view that the panel-frame construction rather than a solid-board design was used. Thus, although the Hebrew word qeʹresh is rendered “board” in older versions, several modern translations render the word “frame” or “panel frame.”—Ex. 26:15-29, AT, JB, Mo, NW, RS.
There were twenty panel frames on a side, six on the rear or W end, and at the back corners two frames that the specifications called “corner posts” that “should be duplicates at the bottom, and together they should be duplicates up to the top of each one at the first ring.” (Ex. 26:23, 24) This may mean that each corner post or frame, instead of being a rectangle, as the rest were, was in the shape of a right triangle, with the acute angle at the top, thus serving to give greater stability at the corner. The ring mentioned was no doubt fastened to the top of the frame to accommodate one of the bars, three rows of which were passed through rings in the panel frames to tie the structure together. These bars were of wood overlaid with gold.—Ex. 26:26-29.
Each panel frame was ten cubits (c. 14.6 feet; 4.4 meters) high and one and one-half cubits (c. 2.2 feet; .7 meter) wide and apparently one-half cubit (c. 8.8 inches; 23 centimeters) deep. The depth may possibly be estimated from these considerations: The six panel frames across the rear would be nine (6 x 11⁄2) cubits across, one cubit less than what is understood to have been the width of the tabernacle. The width of the corner posts (in order to extend to the width of the building) would therefore be one-half cubit each. The frames on the sidewalls would logically be the depth of the corner posts. As to the thickness of the lumber used: if all the panel frames, fitting together as they did, presented the effect of square posts between the framed cherubs, the lumber would be one-fourth cubit (c. 4.4 inches; 12 centimeters) thick. In other words, the sides of each frame would be two boards with dimensions of 10 x 1⁄2 x 1⁄4 cubits.
Pillars and foundation
Five pillars overlaid with gold were at the front or entrance and four such pillars supported the curtain dividing the Holy from the Most Holy. (Ex. 26:32, 37) The foundation for the entire structure consisted of one hundred pedestals having sockets to receive tenons on the bottom of the forty-eight panel frames (two pedestals to a panel frame; four pedestals served for the four pillars dividing the Holy and Most Holy). These pedestals were all of silver (Ex. 26:19-25, 32), each pedestal weighing a talent (c. 92 pounds troy; 34 kilograms). (Ex. 38:27) Additionally, there were five copper pedestals for the pillars at the entrance. (Ex. 26:37) According to the calculations set forth in this discussion, the pedestals would be about three-fourths of a cubit (c. 13 inches; 33 centimeters) long and one-half cubit (c. 8:8 inches; 22 centimeters) wide. Considering the weight of silver, these pedestals would not be very thick, but would be more in the nature of heavy plates.
The courtyard surrounding the tabernacle was one hundred by fifty cubits (c. 146 x 73 feet; 44.5 x 15 meters). The fencelike curtain around it was five cubits (c. 7.3 feet; 2.2 meters) high. Twenty pillars of copper were the supports for each side, and ten for each end of the area. The screen to the entranceway on the E was made of linen and colored material and was twenty cubits (c. 29 feet; 8.9 meters) across.—Ex. 38:9-20.
The value of the gold and silver used for the tabernacle would be in the neighborhood of a million and a half dollars, and the cost of the entire tabernacle doubtless more than two million dollars, judged at present-day values.—Ex. 38:24-29.
It appears that in time chambers were built for the use of the priests in the courtyard of the tabernacle, probably at the sides of the structure. (1 Sam. 3:3) Also, booths may have been erected in the courtyard, wherein some of those making communion offerings could eat the sacrifices with their families.
ITS LOCATION IN ISRAEL’S CAMP
The tabernacle was the center of the camp of Israel. Nearest it, but at a respectful distance, possibly 2,000 cubits (c. 2,917 feet; 889 meters), were encamped the families of the tribe of Levi, the caretakers of the structure. (Compare Joshua 3:4.) On the E was the priestly family of Aaron, on the S the Kohathites (from which Aaron’s family had been selected for the priesthood [Ex. 6:18-20]), on the W the Gershonites and on the N the Merarites. (Num. 3:23, 29, 35, 38) Farther away were the other twelve tribes: Judah, Issachar and Zebulun on the E, Reuben, Simeon and Gad on the S, Ephraim, Manasseh and Benjamin on the W, and Dan, Asher and Naphtali on the N. (Num. 2:1-31) From any part of the camp the tabernacle could always be easily located, because of the cloud by day and the fire by night, that stood over the Most Holy, where the ark of the covenant was situated.—Ex. 40:36-38.
In moving the tabernacle and its furniture and utensils, the priests carried the ark of the covenant, and the Kohathites the holy furniture. They transported these things on their shoulders, walking. (Josh. 3:8, 14; 4:10, 16-18; Num. 4:4-15; 7:9) The Gershonites, having two wagons, transported the tent cloths (except the curtain to the Most Holy, which was placed over the Ark [Num. 4:5]), the tabernacle coverings, screen, the related tent cords and certain service utensils. (Num. 4:24-26; 7:7) The Merarites, with four wagons, took care of the very heavy items, the panel frames and the pillars, socket pedestals and related tent pins and cords of both the tabernacle and the courtyard.—Num. 4:29-32; 7:8.
After Israel crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land, the tabernacle was set up at Gilgal. (Josh. 4:19) It was relocated at Shiloh during the time of dividing the land (Josh. 18:1), where it remained for years (1 Sam. 1:3, 24) before being moved to Nob. (1 Sam. 21:1-6) Later it was at Gibeon. (1 Chron. 21:29) When the ark of the covenant was moved to Zion by David, it had not been in the tabernacle for many years. But until the temple was built by Solomon, sacrifices were still offered at the tabernacle in Gibeon, it being called “the great high place.” (1 Ki. 3:4) After the construction of the temple, Solomon had it brought up and apparently stored there.—1 Ki. 8:4; 2 Chron. 5:5; see ARK OF THE COVENANT; BOOTH; HOLY PLACE; MOST HOLY; TEMPLE.
The apostle Paul throws light upon the pictorial significance of the tabernacle. In a context discussing the pattern made by the tabernacle and the services carried on therein, he speaks of Jesus Christ as “a public servant of the holy place and of the true tent, which Jehovah put up, and not man.” (Heb. 8:2) Farther on he says: “Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come to pass through the greater and more perfect tent not made with hands, that is, not of this creation.” (Heb. 9:11) The tent in the wilderness was an arrangement set up by God’s command for approach to him in true worship, an arrangement for typical removal of sins. Being an illustration (Heb. 9:9), it would foreshadow the arrangement that God established in which the great High Priest Jesus Christ could serve, appearing in heaven before his Father with the value of his sacrifice that can actually remove sins. (Heb. 9:24-26) Through this arrangement faithful men can have real approach to God. (Heb. 4:16) The heavenly “tent of the witness” or tabernacle was seen by the apostle John in vision.—Rev. 15:5.
The apostle Peter, being a spirit-begotten son of God with the hope of heavenly life in association with Christ Jesus, spoke of his fleshly body as a “tabernacle.” It was a ‘dwelling place,’ but was only temporary, since Peter knew his death was near and his resurrection would not be in the flesh, but in the spirit.—2 Pet. 1:13-15; 1 John 3:2; 1 Cor. 15:35-38, 42-44.
For the various articles of furniture and equipment used in the tabernacle, see articles under individual names.
[Picture on page 1569]
THE TABERNACLE As it might have looked with the interior exposed