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About ... Israel's ancient Tabernacle

Structure and Symbolism


The Tabernacle of Israel

Exodus 25-40; Hebrews 9-13 What is the Tabernacle?

The Tabernacle was a moveable "tent of meeting" that God
commanded Moses to build. God wanted to dwell among his people,
the Israelites. He wanted to have fellowship with them and be
able to communicate with them.

The Tabernacle and its courtyard were constructed according to a
pattern set by God, not by Moses. We study the Tabernacle to
understand the steps the Lord laid out for a sinful people to
approach a holy God. The Tabernacle was built approximately 1440
BC, and was the place where God dwelt with his people for 400
years. It was used from the time of the Exodus until the time of
King Solomon, when the Temple was built. The Tabernacle was the
center of the Israelite camp. The 12 tribes of Israel camped
around the Tabernacle in a special arrangement.

The Tabernacle faced East. The Priets would enter from the East
and would walk West into the Holy Place.
Three tribes of Israel were on the East. To the north was
Issachar, to the south was Zebulun. In the middle of those two
tribes was Judah.
On the West side of the Tabernacle was Ephraim to the north.
Benjamin to the south. In the middle of those two tribes was
On the North side of the Tabernacle was Naphtali to the west. Dan
to the east. In the middle of those two tribes was Asher.
On the South side of the Tabernacle was Gad to the west. Dan to
the east. In the middle of those two tribes was Asher.


1. Brazeb altar for sacrifice: Christ's sacrifice: Believers are
God's dwelling place (1 Cor.6:19).

2. Laver of Brass for washing: Cleansing through confession: 

3. Lampstand: Enlightened by the Holy Spirit: God's presence is
among us (Exodus 40:34-38).

4. Table of Showbread: Fed by the living word: 

5. Altar of Incense: Prayer, communication, intercession: As
believers we are part of a priesthood (1 Peter 2:5,9):

6. Through the Veil into the Most Holy Place: Entering God's
presence boldly through Christ:

7. Priest and garments: Service to God and others:

The Tabernacle shows a pattern of worship prescribed by God
(Hebrews 10:19-25).


Gate of the Court

First, a person would enter the Gate of the Court to offer a
sacrifice for sin or thanksgiving. 
a. Hanging curtains (blue, purple, scarlet, white) 
b. Four pillars of brass
c. Sockets of bronze (brass)
d. Hooks and fillets (clasps) of silver on the tops of the

Exodus 27:10,11,14-16; Exodus 38:14-18,19; John 10:9 
20 cubits wide x 5 cubits high 
The length of a cubit is not accurately known

Court Fence  
After passing through the gate, the person would come into the
court. The court fence was made of a long piece of linen held up
by posts that surrounded the Tabernacle. Only priests from the
tribe (family) of Levi were allowed to touch the Tabernacle, so
the fence protected people from coming too close accidentally.
a. Linen curtains
b. Pillars, sockets, hooks, and fillets (tops and rods)
c. Pins of bronze held the linen curtains in place 

Exodus 27:9-18; 38:9-20; 40:33
100 cubits long x 50 cubits wide x 5 cubits high 

Brazen Altar

God wanted to dwell among his people. How does a holy God dwell
among sinful people? First God required the people to offer a
sacrifice for their sins. God told Adam and Eve that the result
of their sin was death. God, however, had mercy on humankind and
provided them with a way to temporarily cover their sin. Instead
of immediately requiring their own blood (death), God allowed the
blood of an animal to atone or take away sin, making it possible
for the worshippers to enter into God's presence.


Only the finest animal--a perfect one - was good enough. God
asked them for a perfect, flawless sacrifice because:

* The animal represented an undeserving recipient of a deserved
* God wanted people to trust in his provision, so he asked
that the sacrifice be valuable.
* The perfect animal foreshadowed Jesus, the perfect sacrifice
who atones for sin once for all.

Because these sacrifices only temporarily covered the sins of the
people, they needed to be offered on a regular basis.
The people would bring the offering and would put their hand on
the head of the lamb while it was killed. This symbolically, yet
temporarily, put their sins onto the animal, and the animal died
in their place.
The brazen altar was made of acacia (shittim) wood and covered
with bronze. The four corners had horns. There were bronze
shovels, basins, fleshhooks (forks), and fire pans to collect
ashes. A bronze grate with a ring in each corner was put under
the brazen altar. Carrying poles made of acacia wood covered with
bronze were used to carry the altar.

Genesis 2:17; 3:21; 4:3-7; Exodus 27:1-8, 40:6,10,29; Leviticus
1; 16:1,2,16; 17:11; Isaiah 59:2; Romans 3:23; Hebrews 9:25;
10:10, 26-31
5 cubits long x 5 cubits wide x 3 cubits high 


Several offerings were offered at the Altar: 

* Burnt offering of bulls, sheep, goats, doves, or pigeons
* Grain offering of cakes or wafers of fine flour
* Peace offering of a goat or lamb
* Sin offering of a bull or lamb
* Trespass offering of a female from the flock: a lamb, goat kid,
dove, pigeon, or grain

Leviticus 1-6; Leviticus 7:11; Hebrews 8:3; 9:11-14,18-22;

Bronze Laver

The rest of the steps were performed by the priests on behalf of
the people. After making the sacrifice, the priest washed himself
at the brass laver. This washing purified the priest and prepared
him to enter the Tabernacle. The Lord said that the priest must
wash so that he would not die.
The brazen laver was made from brass mirrors donated by the
women. It may have had a shiny mirrored surface which would help
the priest wash thoroughly and to remind him that the Lord sees
past the outward appearance, straight into the heart.

Exodus 27:1-8; 40:6,10,29; Exodus 30:17-21; 40:7,30-32;
Ephesians 5:26; Hebrews 10:22
Size unknown


Tabernacle - The Tent of Meeting

The priest entered the Tabernacle through the curtains at
the entrance. The Tabernacle was divided into two sections - the
Holy Place and the Most Holy Place (Holy of Holies) - which were 

made of:

a. Goats' hair covering with linen covering beneath 
b. Ram skin covering dyed red
c. Badger, porpoise, or sea cow skin covering rs  
d. 48 boards
e. 100 sockets (96 silver sockets for the boards,
   four under the pillars of the veil)
f. Bars
g. Pillars, hooks
h. Curtains at the entrance Exodus 25-26

30 cubits long x 10 cubits wide x 10 cubits high 

Holy Place

Every day the priests entered into the Holy Place to serve the
Lord. Inside were the table of showbread, the seven-branched
golden lampstand, and the altar of incense in front of a veil
that separated the Holy Place from the smaller area, the Most
Holy Place. 
Exodus 26:33; Hebrews 9:2,6 
10 cubits wide x 20 cubits long 

Golden Lampstand - candlestick

The lampstand provided light in this otherwise dark room. The
priests trimmed the wicks to keep them burning brightly. The
lampstand or candlestick was made from a single piece of gold. It
was not pieced together. It had a central shaft with six
branches, three on each side, making it a seven-branched
lampstand. Each branch had knobs, flowers, and an
almond-shaped bowl to hold pure olive oil.
Exodus 25:31-40 Size unknown

Table of Showbread 

On the table of showbread, the priests placed twelve loaves of
bread made from fine flour, representing the twelve tribes of
Israel. The loaves were a continual reminder of the everlasting
promises between God and the children of Israel, and a memorial
of God's provision of food. The bread was eaten by Aaron
and his sons and was replaced every week on the Sabbath. The
table of showbread was made of acacia wood. It was overlaid with
gold and had a crown or frame of gold around it. Gold carrying
poles were put through rings on the corners of the table. There
were also gold dishes, pans, pitchers, and bowls.
Exodus 25:23-30; Hebrews 9:2
2 cubits long x 1 cubit wide x 1.5 cubits high 

Altar of Incense

The High Priest burned incense on the altar of incense every
morning and evening. The four corners of the altar each had a
horn; and a crown, or moulding, on the edge. Once a year, on the
Day of Atonement, the horns of the altar were sprinkled with the
blood of the sin offering.
The Lord required that special incense be burned constantly on
the altar of incense. It was a special sweet incense, a mixture
of spices to be used only for the Tabernacle. God specifically
required this recipe. None other was to be burned on the altar.
The incense was a matter of life and death, as Leviticus 10:1-2
clearly show us, when two of Aaron's sons offered a "strange
fire" before the Lord and were struck dead. The altar of incense
was made from acacia wood covered with gold.
In Luke 1:5-17, the priest Zechariah was in the Holy Place when
an angel appeared near the Altar of Incense. Zechariah fell down
with fear. The angel announced that God had heard Zechariah's
prayers and that he and his wife would have a son named John (the
Baptist) who would turn many of the children of Israel to the
LORD their God.
Exodus 30:1-37; Hebrews 9:2
1 cubit long x 1 cubit wide x 2 cubits high 



The veil was a divider between the Holy Place and the Most Holy
Place where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. It was a barrier
between God and man. Only the High Priest would enter into the
Most Holy Place.
The veil was made of heavy woven cloth. There was no separation
in the middle. The High Priest had to go around the side. A woven
veil of blue, purple, and scarlet thread, with designs of
cherubim embroidered on it, was hung on four pillars of acacia
wood overlaid with gold. Four gold hooks were put in four sockets
of silver.
Later when the Temple was constructed, it followed a similar
design. The thick veil of the Temple tore from top to bottom when
Jesus died. This symbolizes the ability of every believer, not
just a High Priest, to approach God through the death of Jesus.
Exodus 26:31-33; Hebrews 10:19,20 
10 cubits x 10 cubits 

Most Holy Place Holy of Holies

The High Priest entered the Most Holy Place only once a year, the
Day of Atonement. The focus was the Ark of the Covenant. The
glory of God rested upon the lid of the Ark (Mercy Seat). The
high priest entered to sprinkle blood on the Mercy Seat to atone
for his sins and the people's sins.
Exodus 26:33,34; Hebrews 9:3
10 cubits long x 10 cubits wide 

Ark of the Covenant - Ark or the Testimony 

The central focus of the entire Tabernacle was the Ark, in
the Most Holy Place, where God spoke to the High Priest above the
Mercy Seat - the area where the winged cherubim face each other.
Annually, the High Priest would sprinkle blood on the Mercy Seat
to atone for the sins of all the people. Then the friendship
between God and his people was restored. God reached out and made
it possible for people to know him.
The Ark was made of acacia wood. It was overlaid with gold, with
a crown or molding around the edge. Carrying poles were placed
through the four gold rings. The poles were wood overlaid with
gold. The Mercy Seat was placed on top of the Ark.

The contents of the ark included:

a. The stone tablets with the Ten Commandments ("the Testimony")
given by God. The Law given by God reminded the people that God
would protect them if they were obedient to him.

b. A jar of manna reminded the people that God constantly
provides for them.

c. Aaron's rod, which budded and bore fruit, proved that Aaron
was chosen by God. The rod also reminded the people that God has
the power to bring life from death.

John 6:44; Ephesians 2:8,9; Exodus 25:10-16; Hebrews 9:4 
2.5 cubits long x 1.5 cubits wide x 1.5 cubits high

Mercy Seat

The Mercy Seat was symbolic of God's divine throne and presence.
With the sprinkling of blood on the Mercy Seat, the judgment of
God is transformed into grace and mercy. The Mercy Seat was made
of pure gold. Two winged cherubs facing each other with their
wings outstretched towards each other were on it. The Mercy
Seat was beaten or hammered from one solid piece of gold. It was
placed above the Ark.
Exodus 25:17-22; Hebrews 9:5
2.5 cubits long x 1.5 cubits wide 

Cloud and Pillar of Fire

The LORD manifested His presence with a cloud by day and a pillar
of fire by night. This cloud or pillar of fire would rest above
the Tabernacle, directly above the Mercy Seat. When the cloud or
pillar of fire moved, the children of Israel followed it.
Wherever it stopped, they camped there until it moved again.
Exodus 25:8,22; 29:43; 40:34-38


* The Ark of the Covenant was made of acacia wood and covered
with gold. The Ark was the first item of furniture constructed
after God told Moses to build the Tabernacle. It was the place
where God met with and talked with Moses (Exodus 25:10-22).

* The Tabernacle was built to house the Ark of the Covenant. The
Ark of the Covenant was intended to be the central focus of the
Most Holy Place in the Tabernacle, and 400 years later in the
Temple (Ex.40:1-21).

* The Ark of the Covenant rested in the Most Holy Place behind a
thick curtain. This heavy veil in the Temple was tom from top to
bottom at the moment of Jesus' death (Exodus 26:3133; Matthew

* God set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the Ark and stand
before him, to serve him, and to bless his name. Only the High
Priest was allowed to enter the Most Holy Place. He entered
once a year on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, to sacrifice and
to sprinkle blood on the Mercy Seat to atone for the sins of the
people (Deut.10:6; Lev.16; Ex.37:6-9).

* The Mercy Seat was placed on top of the Ark of the Covenant. It
included the winged cherubim that faced each other. God dwelled
between the cherubim and spoke to the priest (2 Samuel 6:2 and
Psalm 99:1).

* There are two lists in Scripture about the contents of the Ark
of the Covenant:

Hebrews 9:4 says that the Ark contained the stone tablets with
the Ten Commandments (the "tables of the covenant"), a golden jar
(pot) of manna, Aaron's rod (stick) that budded.
Exodus 25:16 and Deuteronomy 10:5 list the stone tablets with
the Ten Commandments. Other verses mention that a jar of manna
(Exodus 16:32-34) and Aaron's rod (Numbers 17.10) were laid
before the testimony and were to be kept for future generations.

Blood Of animals
Exodus 12:5 
Leviticus 1-7
Blood of Jesus 
Hebrews 9:12;13:12; 1 John 1:7  
Not enough Offered over and over   
Leviticus 1-7  
Hebrews 9:7-9; 10:4

Enough  Offered  just  once  
Hebrews 9:12,26

Leviticus 1-7  

Hebrews 9:25,26

For a day, for a year    
Exodus 29-30   
Hebrews 10:1-4

Hebrews 7:26,27
Hebrews 9:12-15

Exodus 30:10       
Hebrews 9:25

Romans 6:10
hEBREWS 9:25-28


Aaron, The High Priest 
Exodus 28; Exodus 39:1-31


The Lord made Aaron, Moses' brother, the first High Priest. He
was to be holy, to stay away from anything that would defile him,
because he was an intermediary between the LORD and the people.
Only Aaron's descendants were allowed to be priests. Aaron was
from the tribe of Levi. The Levites were the only ones allowed to
move the Tabernacle and to carry the Ark. 
Numbers 1:51


The priest's clothes were made for glory and beauty. He wore a
tunic, undergarments, cap, and turban (or mitre) of fine linen.
The priest wore a blue robe with the ephod with onyx stones on
each shoulder bearing the names of the sons of Israel. He wore a
gold breastpiece set with twelve precious stones carved with the
names of the twelve tribes of Israel. This was worn over the
priest's heart and was a memorial before the Lord. The Urim and
Thummim, objects used to determine the LORD'S will for his
people, were placed in the breastpiece.


The High Priest made sacrifices of bulls and goats for his own
sins and for the sins of the people. He placed the blood of the
sacrifice on the altar to atone (pay) for sins and to receive the
LORD'S forgiveness. The priest came before the LORD to ask for
decisions. He ministered to the LORD by taking care of the
Tabernacle, keeping the wicks trimmed, placing new bread on the
altar, and burning incense daily. The priest would also pronounce
people to be "clean," or acceptable. For example he would
pronounce a person clean if he or she had become defiled by
having a skin disease or by touching a dead body.

JESUS, The Better High Priest 
Hebrews 4:14-5:10; 6:19-10:22


Jesus was a fulfillment of the perfect priesthood. He was not
from the line of Aaron, but from a higher line, the order of
Melchizedek, which made him a better High Priest. He lives
forever, unlike Aaron, who eventually died and passed on the
priesthood to his sons. Jesus is both priest and king, whereas
Aaron was a priest only. Jesus was holy and never sinned, and
does not need to offer sacrifices for himself. He was tempted in
every way, but did not give in, All those who follow Jesus may
now approach God in the Holy Place. 
Hebrews 10:19


Jesus did not sacrifice animals, because the blood of animals did
not take away sin; it simply made the person ceremonially
cleansed. Jesus offered himself, the perfect Lamb of God. He was
the perfect sacrifice that was required - one perfect sacrifice -
to take away sins for all time. His willing, voluntary death was
the last sacrifice ever needed. "He is able to save forever those
who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make
intercession for them." Jesus serves as our High Priest in
heaven, and appears in God's presence on our behalf.
Hebrews 7:25 NASB


Sin Offering and Guilt Offering (Leviticus 4-6; Numbers 15:1-12)

Sin offerings and guilt offerings focus on paying for sin. The
sin offerings atoned for sins against God. The guilt offerings
were for sins against others, and included paying damages with
interest. Various animals were offered, depending on the person's
position and income. Priests and leaders, as examples to others,
had to offer larger sacrifices for sin, while the poor offered
what they could afford. Blood was sprinkled in the Holy Place,
smeared on the horns of the Altar of Incense, and poured on the
altar. The parts of the animal were burned, often with wine
poured on them (drink offering). In some cases, the meat could be
eaten by the priests. Since the priests were full-time Tabernacle
workers, sacrificed animals were their main source of food.

Christ's Offering: 

Isaiah 53:10 
Matthew 20:28
2 Corinthians 5:21

Paying for Damages: 

Matthew 5:23,24
Luke 19:1-10

Leaders as Examples: 

1 Timothy 3:1-7; 5:19,20

Providing for Christian Workers:

Philippians 4:18
1 Corinthians 9:13,14 
1 Timothy 5:17,18

BURNT OFFERING (Leviticus 1) 

This sacrifice represented complete dedication and surrender to
God. The animal, the best of the flock, bore the worshipper's
sins, and died in his/her place. After the blood was sprinkled on
the altar, the animal was burned. None of it was roasted for


Psalm 51:16,17 
Matthew 26:39 
Romans 12:1


Philippians 2:17 
2 Timothy 4:6, 7

GRAIN (Meal) OFFERING (Leviticus 2) 

This offering was given to God in thankfulness. The people
brought fine flour, unleavened cakes, or roasted grain to the
priests. The priests burned a symbolic handful at the altar, and
could partake of the rest. There was very little ceremony


Matthew 26:6-10
2 Corinthians 9:7-11 


Psalm 100 
Hebrews 13:15,16 

Psalm 147 
Philippians 4:6

FELLOWSHIP (Peace) OFFERING (Leviticus 3; 7:11-38)

This offering symbolized fellowship and peace with God through
shed blood. After some meat was ceremonially waved toward heaven
and given to the priests, worshippers and their guests could
share in the feast as a meal with God.


Colossians 1:20 
Acts 10:36 

God's Feast: 

Luke 14:15-24
1 Corinthians 11:17-26 
Jude 1:12
Revelation 3:20

THE JOURNEY OF THE ARK of the Covenant from Mt.Sinai
1450 BC

1. Exodus 25 God gives Moses directions to build the Ark of the
2. Exodus 26:31-33 The Veil is woven
3. Exodus 40:1-21 The Ark is placed in the Tabernacle

Numbers 17:8,10 Aaron's rod laid before the Testimony

4. Leviticus 16; Numbers 4,10,14; Deuteronomy 10 
The Ark is carried for 40 years in the Wilderness
5. Joshua 3 Priests carry the Ark across the Jordan Rive
6. Joshua 4 People build a memorial after the Jordan River parts
7. Joshua 6 The Ark is carried around Jericho: Jericho's walls
8. Joshua 8 After conquering the town of Ai. the covenant (law of
Moses) was remembered at Mt. Ebal
9. Joshua 18:1 Tabernacle at Shiloh

1400 BC

10. Judges 20:27 Ark taken to Bethel
11. 1 Samuel 1:3; 3:3 The LORD speaks to the child Samuel who is
sleeping near the Ark at Shiloh
12. 1 Samuel 4 Philistines take the Ark of God
13. 1 Samuel 6 The Philistines return the Ark to the town of Beth
14. 1 Samuel 6:19-21 Men struck dead for looking into the Ark
15. 1 Samuel 7 Ark brought to the house of Abinadab in Kiriath
Jearim; stays there 20 years
16. 1 Samuel 14:18 Saul brings the Ark to war camp temporarily
17. 2 Samuel 6 Ark moved on a cart to the house of Obed-Edom for
three months; Uzzah struck

1000 BC

18. 2 Samuel 6:12-17 David brings the Ark to Jerusalem and places
it in a tent that is set up for it
19. 2 Samuel 15 David flees Jerusalem with the Ark but sends Ark
back to Jerusalem   
20. 1 Kings 8 Solomon has Ark brought into Most Holy Place in    
the Temple
21. 2 Chronicles 34:14-35:3 Josiah recovers book of the Law and
puts the Ark in the Temple
22. 2 Chronicles 36:19 The Babylonians destroy and burn the
Temple in Jerusalem 
23. Jeremiah 3:16,17 Jeremiah the prophet wrote that the Ark
would not be thought of or missed nor would another be made.
It would be replaced by the LORD'S presence

500 BC


To be continued

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