Israel’s Tabernacle Shadows
THE will of the Creator, Jehovah God, is that all his intelligent creatures worship him. The very first place for his worship on earth was the garden of Eden. Because of God’s presence there it served as a sanctuary. Among other places mentioned in the Bible as places of worship was the tabernacle or “tent of meeting” that God commanded Moses to construct in the wilderness. It served as a sanctuary from 1512 B.C. until the completion of Solomon’s temple, 1027 B.C., some 485 years.
God gave Moses specific instructions regarding the building of this tabernacle and its furnishings: “See that you make them after their pattern that was shown to you in the mountain.” More than that, he also had Moses make a record of it all. Why? Because it was “a shadow of the good things to come.” By considering these prophetic shadows or patterns we can better understand and appreciate God’s ways, they being part of the ‘things that were written aforetime for our instruction that we might have hope.’—Ex. 25:40; Heb. 10:1; Rom. 15:4.
Of course, if we listened to the higher critics of Christendom we would have no basis for such hope. Thus Harper’s Bible Dictionary asks us to believe that “the disappearance of the Tabernacle from the historical sections of the Bible . . . casts doubt on the historicity of the Tabernacle as described in the Hexateuch. . . . The details of elaborate construction, trappings and trimmings, all requiring highly skilled workers, expensive materials, . . . do not fit into the life of migrants.” And the Interpreter’s Bible, commenting on Exodus 26:1-37, categorically states: “The tabernacle here presented never actually existed. It is the product of the priestly imagination.” Thus these “authorities” would have us believe that all the references to the tabernacle in the Pentateuch and in Joshua are merely so much pious fiction, palmed off by priests returning from Babylon for the purpose of setting themselves above the prophetic element in Israel!
However, let it be noted that the Israelites who built the tabernacle and its furnishings were not constant migrants. They had spent upward of two hundred years in Egypt, long enough to learn many skills. Besides, we are told that God’s holy spirit came upon such as Bezalel to equip them fully for the work. As for the source of the “expensive materials,” did not the Egyptians literally shower the Israelites with gifts of silver and gold after suffering the tenth plague in order to speed their departure?—Ex. 12:33-36; 31:1-5.
As for claims that the tabernacle is not in the historical sections of the Bible, this simply is not true. Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, First Samuel, First Kings and First Chronicles all have references to it, and so does the book of Acts. Stephen specifically referred to the tabernacle in the wilderness. In his letter to the Hebrews Paul did likewise, saying: “Moses, when about to make the complete tent, was given the divine command: For says he, ‘See that you make all things according to the pattern that was shown you in the mountain.’” More than that, the inspired apostle goes on to describe in detail the compartments and the furnishings of this tabernacle. So let us proceed with our faith-strengthening consideration of Israel’s tabernacle shadows.—Heb. 8:5; 9:1-5; Acts 7:44.
Shortly after the Israelites crossed the Red Sea Jehovah gave Moses instructions regarding the “tabernacle,” mishkán, or “tent” of meeting, óhel. Until it was erected, on the first day of the second year after they came out of Egypt, Moses’ own tent served as a “tent of meeting,” God’s presence being indicated by a cloud hovering at the entrance of the tent. Doubtless the voice Moses there heard was that of God’s mouthpiece, even as was the voice heard by Adam and Eve in Eden.—Ex. 33:7-11.
In contrast to Moses’ “tent of meeting,” which he had pitched far outside the encampment of the Israelites, the tabernacle was located at its very center. It was surrounded by the four divisions of the tribe of Levi, and beyond these were the twelve tribes, three on each side. The cost of its construction at today’s prices would be well over $2 million or close to one million British pounds.
The tabernacle was a rectangular structure, fifteen feet wide, fifteen feet high and forty-five feet long, having about half the floor space of but having a much higher ceiling than the average Kingdom Hall.* It consisted of two compartments, the Holy, which was thirty feet long, and the Most Holy or “Holy of holies,” which was a fifteen-foot cube. So that the tabernacle could be easily transported in their journeying it was constructed of light materials and in a way that permitted easy dismantling. The two sides and the rear consisted of a series of fifteen-foot-long gold-covered panel frames twenty-seven inches wide. These were fastened in silver socket pedestals and held together by five bars running lengthwise to which they were fastened.—Ex. 26:15-30.
The entrance faced east and was divided by five posts behind which hung a curtain colorfully embroidered. Dividing the larger Holy from the Most Holy were four posts behind which hung a similar curtain or veil. Four coverings protected the tabernacle from the weather as well as the eyes of the curious. The first was of embroidered wool and linen, the second of camel’s hair, the third of ram skins dyed red, and the fourth of sealskins.—Ex. 26:1-14, 31-34.
The tabernacle was situated in the rear or western half of a courtyard 75 feet wide and 150 feet long. Surrounding the courtyard was a curtained fence made of linen, seven and a half feet high. It was supported by copper* posts with pegs of silver. Its entrance was on the east side, being guarded by a thirty-foot gate or screen, beautifully decorated.—Ex. 27:9-19.
Between this gate and the tabernacle itself stood a copper altar, seven and a half feet square and four and a half feet high. Between this altar and the tabernacle rested a large copper basin filled with water and used by the priests for washing their hands and feet before entering the tabernacle.—Ex 30:17-21; 38:1-8.
In the first and large compartment, known as the Holy, were three pieces of furniture: a small gold-covered incense altar, a gold-covered table for the “showbread” or “bread of Presence,” and a six-armed lampstand, hammered out of pure gold. This room also contained the various utensils needed for the service performed in it.—Ex. 37:10-28; 39:37, 38.
The Most Holy compartment contained only one piece of furniture, the Ark of the covenant. This was a chest almost four feet long and a little more than two feet wide and high. Upon it rested the “mercy seat,” a slab of pure gold to which were beat on two golden angels, cherubs facing each other with wings outstretched, thus screening the mercy seat. Above these cherubs appeared the supernatural Shekinah light, indicative of Jehovah’s presence.—Ex. 37:1-9.
In the chestlike Ark were kept the two tables of stone on which Jehovah had engraved the Ten Commandments, a golden bowl of manna as a memorial of the way Jehovah had supernaturally fed Israel forty years, and the rod of Aaron that had miraculously budded, blossomed and borne fruit overnight to demonstrate to the rebellious heads of the other tribes that Jehovah had indeed chosen the tribe of Levi for temple service, a point disputed after the divine execution of rebellious Korah and his clan. Additionally, here was where the scrolls of the inspired Scriptures were preserved, both originals and copies.—Num. 17:1-10; 1 Sam. 10:25; 2 Ki. 22:8, 13; Heb. 9:4.
Upon reaching Canaanland the Israelites appear to have set up the tabernacle first at Gilgal and then moved it to Shiloh at the time of the division of the land among the tribes. Later we read of its being at Nob and then at Gibeon. (Josh. 14:6; 18:1; 1 Sam. 21:1; 1 Chron. 21:29) From the time of the high priest Eli until the dedication of Solomon’s temple a rather peculiar condition prevailed, for the tabernacle appears to have been located at one place and the ark of the covenant at another. Among the places where the Ark rested were the land of the Philistines, Bethshemesh, Kiriath-jearim, the house of Obed-edom and Mount Zion.—1 Sam. 4:11; 6:13, 20, 21; 7:1, 2; 2 Sam. 6:11, 12.
TYPES, SHADOWS AND PICTURES
What did all these things foreshadow, picture or typify? To appreciate the answer to that question we must have clearly in mind God’s purpose to have two separate and distinct destinies for the obedient of mankind. On the one hand, there is the “little flock” of 144,000 that will have a heavenly destiny, standing upon Mount Zion with Jesus Christ. On the other hand, there are all the rest of obedient ones of mankind whose destiny will be an earthly Paradise and who are known as the “other sheep.”—Luke 12:32; John 10:16; Rev. 14:1, 3; 21:4.
The encampment of the twelve tribes of Israel foreshadowed, particularly on Israel’s day of atonement, all obedient ones of mankind who will benefit from Christ’s sacrifice even as the Israelites benefited from the sacrifices offered on their behalf. Those outside the encampment pictured the world at enmity with God and which will perish at Armageddon. The fenced-in courtyard where the Levites served typified the condition of humans having a righteous standing before God. Jesus, while on earth, occupied this condition by reason of his perfection, even as do his consecrated footstep followers by reason of their being declared righteous due to their faith in Christ’s shed blood.—Rom. 5:1, 9.
The first compartment of the tabernacle itself, the Holy, foreshadowed the condition of spiritual sonship and sanctification enjoyed by all those “born again,” and access to it is therefore limited to those having been declared righteous. The furniture of the Holy also pictured these, in varying aspects. The golden candlestick with its seven lamps pictures them holding forth the light of God’s Word. The table of showbread pictures them as holding forth God’s Word as the bread of life. And the golden incense altar pictures them offering up the sweet incense of prayers and heart devotion to God.—Matt. 5:14; 4:4; Rev. 8:3; Luke 1:9, 10.
The Most Holy pictured heaven itself, the very presence of Jehovah being represented both by a cloud covering the cherubs of the mercy seat and the supernatural Shekinah light. It was here that atonement for the sins of the entire nation of Israel was made once each year on the tenth day of the seventh month. This was done by the high priest bringing in and sprinkling before the mercy seat the blood of a sacrificed young bull and a goat that had previously been slain in the courtyard and choice parts of whose body were afterward consumed on the copper altar in the courtyard.
Revealing the meaning of all this—and hence not leaving us in doubt—the apostle Paul wrote: “The priests enter the first tent compartment at all times to perform the acts of sacred service, but into the second compartment the high priest alone enters once a year, not without blood, which he offers for himself and for the sins of ignorance of the people. However, when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come to pass . . . 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. For Christ entered . . . heaven itself, now to appear before the person of God for us.”—Heb. 9:6, 7, 11, 12, 24.
What purpose did the tabernacle together with its sacrifices serve? As part of the Law arrangement they helped the Israelites away back there to keep separate and distinct from the nations round about them and to survive until the Messiah came. These things were also given to show them their need of a Redeemer.—Heb. 10:1-4.
Today Israel’s tabernacle shadows are of force and value to both the “little flock” and the “great crowd” of “other sheep.” Both classes benefit from the great antitypical day of atonement sacrifice, Christ’s ransom, though in varying degrees. And while only the little flock are shown as serving in the courtyard and in the Holy of the tabernacle, the picture at Revelation 7:9-17 shows a great crowd of “other sheep” serving in the temple. Both classes therefore are under the obligation to shine forth the light of truth and to offer to all the spiritual bread of God’s Word. Thus for both classes Israel’s tabernacle shows the blessed benefits they have received and will yet receive in God’s new world as well as their responsibilities. How true that all these things have been recorded for our instruction and comfort!
Based on a “cubit” of eighteen inches
Termed brass in the King James Version but actually copper, there being but one Hebrew word for copper, brass or bronze. Deuteronomy 8:9 shows this metal is mined. Both brass and bronze are alloys. Brass contains copper and zinc; bronze contains copper and tin; so brass and bronze are not mined as such.