Israel’s Wonderful Way in Worship
COULD you imagine a small two-room house, on a lot seventy-five by one hundred and fifty feet, worth two million dollars? Why, you say, a house that costly would be a palace! And if it were a building that small it would have to be gold-plated! Yes, it would, and yet it is not all a fiction of the imagination. The glorious tentlike palace of Jehovah God was just such a structure and it was a reality. It was the tent of meeting, the wonderful way of Israel into the presence of the Most High in worship, the tabernacle in the wilderness.
So resplendent was the tabernacle of Israel in appearance, so magnificent in appointment, and yet so simple was it in engineering details that it could not have had its birth in the mind of man. Still, one group of higher critics states, “The tabernacle as here presented never actually existed. It is a product of the priestly imagination.” They claim that priests added the account of the building of the tabernacle to the Scriptures after the Babylonian exile in order “to illustrate a new theological conviction.”* This is a denial not only of Moses’ writings but also of Zechariah’s, for this latter prophet spoke of the days of these priests as a time of restoration of true worship, not that of a “new theological conviction.”—Zech. 8:1-13.
Despite the opinion of such men, God’s own Word says that the design was received under inspiration by Moses from the great Architect of the universe, Jehovah God himself. (Ex. 25:9) Christ Jesus accepted this statement. More than five centuries after the exile, and therefore after the account is supposed to have been tampered with, Jesus had these same Scriptures in the form we now know them today and he said in his prayer to Jehovah, “Your word is truth.” (John 17:17, NW) True Christians, then, can rely with confidence on the description of the tabernacle as it has been preserved for us.
The tabernacle was so simple in its construction that the account has little, actually, to say about the way it was to be put together and this very lack of description has caused confusion among those who have tried to reconstruct it. Some have pictured it as a tent with sloping sides and a ridge pole down the center,* but this conception requires too many structural details not mentioned or even suggested in the textual account. Other factors also rule out such a conception as impossible.
The point most open to discussion in the description of the tabernacle is the term translated “boards” in most versions of the Bible. This term is now understood to be “frames.”* (Ex. 26:15, AT; Knox; The Interpreter’s Bible) The New World Translation of the Hebrew Scriptures at this text renders the term “panel frames” with the footnote, “‘Panel frames,’ rather than ‘boards’, which would have been solid timbers and hence of ponderous size and weight.” These were twenty-seven inches wide by nine inches thick and fifteen feet high or long and heavily plated with pure gold. This means that, if they were solid ‘boards,’ each of the forty-six would weigh about a thousand pounds.* That would make the entire structure well over twenty tons. A preponderant weight!
It is evident, therefore, that they were not solid but were fashioned much like a modern window frame. Each frame had two tenons on the bottom that fitted neatly into holes in socket pedestals of silver, two socket pedestals to each panel. These socket pedestals were flat slabs of pure solid silver weighing about eighty-six pounds each* and they served as a foundation base for the building. Three walls of the building were panel frames but the entire east wall was a finely woven hanging that served as a screen or door.—Ex. 26:17-21, 36; 38:27.
On the outside of each panel frame were rings through which gold-plated bars were inserted to bind the frames together as one wall.* Evidently to simplify its erection, ten panel frames on each side and the six at the rear were first joined by bars at the top and the bottom of each section. It appears that these bars met at the rear corners and locked in some way at the two corner posts. Next, the ten panel frames forming the forward half of each side wall were set in place and similarly joined by bars at the top and bottom. Then a single bar on each of these three sides was inserted in rings the full length of the wall. These joined the two sections of each side wall together and further secured the corners.* The entire structure was fifteen feet wide and high by forty-five feet long, outside measure.—Ex. 26:16-18, 22, 26-29.
The frames thus being set side by side would form a double row of panels all around the three sides of the building.* The upright members of each frame, with the upright members of the frame adjoining it, would make pillars of gold nine inches square. Between these golden pillars, and each set in its own magnificent frame of pure gold, were the cherubs, giving mute but eloquent testimony that this was the place of Jehovah’s residence in Israel. These cherubs were exquisitely embroidered on the fine twisted linen covering that next commands our attention.
This covering was in two parts, each composed of five uniformly sized strips joined together to make a tent cloth thirty feet long by forty-two feet wide. One of these cloths covered thirty feet of the framework toward the front and the other covered the back fifteen feet and the rear wall of the framework. Since they were only forty-two feet wide they did not quite reach to the ground on either side of the building and therefore the ends would not be affected by ground moisture. Where the edges of these two large tent cloths met they were joined with loops of blue thread and gold hooks. Being in two parts they were much easier to handle in erecting and dismantling the tabernacle when the Israelites were on the march. The cherubs were so arranged in the pattern of the cloths that, when the cloths were in place over the framework, each cherub stood within a windowlike opening of the wall, as it were, looking in.*—Ex. 26:1-6.
To protect this elegant linen covering from the ravages of sun and rain three outer coverings were made. One, of goat’s hair, was no doubt tightly woven with perhaps a satiny sheen and would serve as a cushion for the other coverings of ram skins and seal skins. It is of interest that dimensions are given for only the one outer covering, that of goat’s hair, and it overlapped the linen covering on each side by a foot and a half. In spite of this the goat’s hair tent cloth, like the linen one, would not quite touch the ground.*
The outer two coverings, though, were no doubt made to reach to the ground and all must have been held securely in place by tent pins* and ropes, perhaps these even being sewed into the seams of the pieces that made up the various cloths. Another feature of all three of these outer coverings was the additional strip for the forward half of the covering. This half of the tent cloth was made of six strips in comparison with the five strips composing the forward half of the linen covering. This sixth strip of tent cloth was folded double and was used as an overhanging at the front of the tabernacle to form something like a small canopy or porch.—Ex. 26:7-14.
THE TWO ROOMS
The tabernacle was divided into two rooms by a curtain of material similar to the linen tent cloths. It was also embroidered with cherubs, blue thread and wool dyed reddish purple and coccus scarlet material being used. This was hung on four stately pillars of gold under the hocks of the linen covering. The first room of the building would therefore be thirty feet long and the second room would be a perfect cube of fifteen feet. Inside this second room was the most precious piece of furniture of the entire palace.—Ex. 26:31-33.
At the front and outside as an entrance was the screen mentioned earlier. This was suspended from five magnificent gold pillars that rested on copper socket pedestals. (Ex. 26:37) Another hanging similar to the curtain and the screen was the door of the courtyard in which the palace was situated. This made an entrance thirty feet wide.* All the pillars and their socket pedestals for the courtyard were gleaming copper.—Ex. 27:9-18.
What an awe-inspiring sight this magnificent temple of the wilderness must have been for the worshiping Israelites! And how thankful we, as recipients of the inspired Record, should be to know that its description has been faithfully preserved for our learning! Whether we see it clearly in the reconstruction or not we know that it was not fiction, for if it were, then our hope would be in vain. This is certain from the apostle Paul’s words where he describes the tabernacle as a reality and then says: “This very tent is an illustration for the appointed time that is now here, and in keeping with it both gifts and sacrifices are offered. However, . . . when Christ came as a high priest . . . he entered, no, not with the blood of goats and of young bulls, but with his own blood, once for all time into the holy place and obtained an everlasting release for us.”—Heb. 9:9-12, NW.
Higher critics, lacking vision, may scoff and discount the record, but true Christians believe with Jesus, ‘Your word is true.’
The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol I, page 1027.
As, e.g., Fergusson’s reconstruction, Smith’s Bible Dictionary, Vol. IV, page 3197.
Harper’s Bible Dictionary, page 722. Also, A New Standard Bible Dictionary, page 880.
A New Standard Bible Dictionary, page 880.
Avoirdupois weight or 115 pounds troy. (Ex. 38:31 (NW), footnote “c”) Since the length (13 1/2 inches) and width (9 inches) of these slabs or plates was determined by the size of the panel frames that they supported, allowing a hole for the tenon of 2 1/2 x 3 x 6 inches, their height could not have been much more than 2 1/2 inches. Those authorities who make these socket pedestals about a cubit (18 inches) high ignore the maximum weight of one talent assigned to each.
Hasting’s Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. IV, page 660.
Cook’s Commentary on Exodus, page 375. However, he inadvisably interprets the bars as being inside the structure.
Hasting’s Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. IV, page 661, illustration.
Although its dimension is exactly the same as the measure over and down both sides of the framework, some allowance must be made for the bars that fit on the outside of the frame and that would necessarily increase this over-all measure somewhat. Kennedy (ibid., page 661) calculates the nine-inch width of the wall as including the bars (6 inches for the frames and 3 inches for the bars).
Ibid., page 662.
In describing the hangings that served as a seven-and-one-half-foot fence around the courtyard Moses assigned one pillar to each seven and one half lineal feet of material. In this way he spoke of twenty pillars to each side and ten pillars to each end. Thus corner posts were counted only once and the total pillars was sixty. That means that the door into the courtyard was actually suspended from five pillars. Ibid., page 657.