General Structure and Design

Lesson 2 - Exodus 35:5-19


In the last lesson we saw some tremendous truths from the purpose behind God's command to build the Tabernacle. We will find that the Tabernacle is filled with many more types through which God could instruct His people, but first we need to become familiar with the general details of the Tabernacle and how it was constructed. In future lessons we shall study the more particular details as we explore every facet of this tent within which God would dwell. So in this lesson let us walk around and view the Tabernacle as a whole, and from this vantage point we shall see a number of great lessons about the way in which man may approach God.

I. The Appearance

There are two passages in the Bible that fully describe the structure of the Tabernacle. The first is found in Exodus 25:1 - 30:10 where God gives Moses the exact dimensions and assembly instructions for the entire Tabernacle and its contents. The second passage is found in Exodus 35:4 - 39:43 which describes the Tabernacle as it was built by the children of Israel. It is not possible in one lesson to read these lengthy passages, but fortunately there are a couple of smaller passages which give a short but complete list of all components. One of these, which we have chosen for our text, is found in Exodus 35:5 - 19. Within these few verses is a basic summary of all that went into the building of the Tabernacle.

The Tabernacle may be thought of as having three areas: The Outer Court, The Holy Place, and The Most Holy Place. However, when we look at the general structure and design, there are basically two parts: The Tabernacle Proper and the Outer Court. In order to get a good idea of its general appearance, we will now summarize the full descriptions given in Exodus for each of these parts and see how the components listed in our text fit together.

A. The Tabernacle Proper

First there is the Tabernacle proper, that is the tent itself, comprised of two distinct structures - a building and a covering.

1. The Building

A major part of the Tabernacle proper were a set of boards which formed a sort of U-shaped building with the opening facing East. Each board was 1 cubits wide, 10 cubits high, and according to the Jewish historian Josephus, 4 fingers thick (a cubit was the length from the elbow to the fingertip usually approximated as 18 inches). Each board was made of Shittim (Acacia) wood overlaid with gold, and had two tenons on the bottom made to fit into two sockets (mortises) made of silver. Both the North and South walls consisted of 20 boards making the entire length 30 cubits (45 feet). The West wall consisted of 6 boards and then Exodus 26:23 says there were 2 boards for the corners making a total of 8 boards. The boards were fastened together with 5 horizontal bars of shittim wood overlaid with gold. The middle bar was to span the entire length of a wall. With 15 foot high walls of gold, the inside of this building must have been spectacular.

There is some disagreement as to the width of the building which the Bible does not indicate in any way. Some people believe the corner boards were not the same size and set the width to 10 cubits (the same as the height). However, the plain reading would indicate that every board was the same size. Since the corners are differentiated from either wall and since the Hebrew word translated "corner" carries a sense of bending (2 Chronicles 26:9), it seems more likely that these corner boards were angled. This would make it difficult to express the exact width of the Tabernacle explaining why it is not given in Scripture.

2. The Covering

There are 4 layers of curtains or coverings that went over the building, however there is some disagreement as to whether this formed a flat or a pitched roof. Our text (pins and cords) and other verses, such as Exodus 39:32-33, make it clear that the Tabernacle was a Tent which clearly implies a pitched roof. Furthermore, a flat roof would have had serious problems with rain (perhaps not in the desert but the Tabernacle was used in Canaan) and would have made the inside dark and hot.

The inner layer consisted of 10 curtains made of interwoven linen threads (white in color and perhaps similar to the material duck). Woven into the tapestry were figures of Cherubims perhaps using the purple, blue, and scarlet threads described in Exodus 26:1. Each curtain was 4 cubits wide and 28 cubits long. Two sections were made, each consisting of 5 curtains sewed together. Each section had 50 loops on one edge which were joined together with 50 taches (hooks) of gold thus forming one complete piece.

The outer layer consisted of 11 curtains made of goat's hair. Each of these curtains were 4 cubits wide and 30 cubits long. Again, there were two sections made except that in this case one section had 6 curtains. The two sections were coupled together using 50 loops and taches. When laid on top of the inner layer, this outer covering would extend 1 cubit on either side (being 2 cubits longer) as described in Exodus 26:13. In addition, the section with 6 curtains was placed in front and the 6th curtain was doubled over (that is folded over) the inner layer. Since only half of the 6th curtain would be folded over, this would leave another half of a curtain extra which the Bible says would hang off the back side (Exodus 26:12). This grand design made sure that the seams of the inner and outer layers would overlap one another.

Finally, there were two more layers that apparently covered those described above. However, all that is said is that the first was made of ram's skin dyed red and the outermost was made of badger's skin.

3. The Veils

The Tabernacle was divided into The Holy Place and The Most Holy Place (the inner most compartment) by a veil hanging on golden taches (hooks) attached to 4 pillars. The pillars were made of shittim wood overlaid with gold and placed in sockets (bases) of silver. The Veil was made of interwoven linen of purple, blue, and scarlet with figures of Cherubim woven in. No width or height is given for the pillars and veil, though according to Jewish writers the veil was 4 fingers thick. The Bible does not indicate the location of the Veil but most people believe it was around 10 cubits from the West wall making The Most Holy Place one third of the Tabernacle.

The Eastern opening of the Tabernacle was covered by another veil or hanging which is called the door of the Tabernacle in Exodus 26:36. This door was very similar to the inner veil except that in hung on 5 pillars and there are no Cherubims mentioned. Only within The Most Holy Place could one find Cherubims (more on that will be said of course in future lessons).

4. The Furniture

Inside The Most Holy Place was a single piece of furniture - the Ark of the Covenant with its Mercy Seat. On the North side of The Holy Place was the Table of Shewbread, on the South side was the Golden Candlestick, and just in front of the veil was the Altar of Incense. We will discuss each of these in great detail in future lessons but at least we need to understand for now where they were located. One thing that ought to be pointed out now though is that all of these pieces of furniture, including the dishes and utensils, were either made or covered with pure gold!

B. The Outer Court

Surrounding the Tabernacle proper was an outer court containing two more pieces of furniture and enclosed by something like a fence.

1. The Fence

The fence was made of hangings of interwoven linen supported using silver hooks attached to pillars made of brass. It was rectangular in shape with the North and Side sides being 100 cubits long (50 yards) and the East and West sides being 50 cubits (25 yards). Along the North and South were 20 pillars of brass resting in sockets (bases) of brass. Along the East and West were 10 pillars making an even spacing all around the court of 5 cubits (7 feet) between pillars. The height of the fence is given also as 5 cubits. Centered in the Eastern side was the door to the outer court which was 20 cubits (30 feet) wide. This door was unique from the rest of the fence because it was interwoven with blue, purple, and scarlet threads just as the Tabernacle door.

2. The Furniture

If you were to walk from the outside into the outer court, you would first come to the Brazen Altar. The Tabernacle was placed in the Western part of the court and outside its door was placed the Laver. Both of these pieces of furniture were either made or covered with brass.

II. The Application

Now as we have a good understanding of the appearance of the Tabernacle, what lessons may we learn from its general structure and design? What typology can we find that would have taught the children of Israel some basic truths about God and the way of salvation? As we consider these things, there is a warning that we ought to keep in mind. We need to be careful about assigning more meaning than was designed and intended by God. As Patrick Fairbairn put this, "to seek for some deeper and spiritual reasons for such things as the boards and bars, the rings and staves, the different sorts of coverings, the loops and taches, etc., is to go entirely into the region of conjecture, and give unbounded scope to the exercise of fancy" (Typology of Scripture).

For example, some believed that the color blue pictured heaven, some saw the sky-like majesty of God, and some the depth of the ocean. We ought to be careful and consider what the color blue would have meant to the Israelites. Some take the boards which were placed upright to represent those who are pillars in the Church. While these thoughts are indeed lovely, we ought to remember that the Tabernacle was made to be portable and some of the materials were probably selected because of their availability. For instance, shittim wood was readily available in the area they were in (Mt. Sinai) and in addition it was light in weight, less likely to suffer corruption, and would have met the requirements needed for the length of the boards and bars.

1. The Majesty of God

First, we might marvel at the amount of gold, silver, and brass that was used - approximately 3 tons of gold, 5 tons of silver, and 4 tons of brass (Exodus 38:24 - 31). Surely though, a house for the Sovereign God of the Universe demanded the finest materials and the most exquisite beauty. Gold, so highly treasured by man throughout all ages, was only used in the Tabernacle proper making such a distinction between the dwelling place of God and the outside.

2. The Way to God

If we were to walk around the 7 high fence around the Outer Court, it obviously was too high to see inside or climb over and was made to prevent one from peeking or crawling under. The only way to get to God was through the door. Jesus claimed, "I am the door" and this precisely what Jesus meant when He said "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me" (John 14:6). The way to God was both well marked and wide enough for any to enter. Remember the door to the Outer Court was around 30 feet wide. The colors of blue, purple, and scarlet were used almost exclusively for the door to the Outer Court, the door to the Tabernacle, and the Veil clearly highlighting the path to God. Salvation is clear and easy if you just follow God's directions.

Was there was some significance to the fact that the Tabernacle faced the East other than being the direction of the sunrise? If the Israelite's knew anything of the Fall of Man, they might have recalled that it was on the Eastern side of Eden where God placed the flaming sword and Cherubims. Apparently, the entrance to Eden too was at the East. All that Eden meant to Adam was pictured again in the Tabernacle with man standing at the Eastern gate, but this time Praise God there was a way now provided to come into His presence. Though the Cherubim still marked the presence of God, this time there was no flaming sword to bar the way but instead "the Door".