Chapter 2: Overview of the Tabernacle

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

by Craig Munro, Scotland














This overview of the Tabernacle will start with a bird’s eye view and then move slowly through the gate towards the Holiest of all.  We will:

  • frame in our minds the picture of what it looks like;
  • establish the figure of the Tabernacle as a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ;
  • outline the framework as given by the sixteen chapters in Exodus that deal with the Tabernacle;
  • describe the broad features of the Tabernacle in the way it is segmented, described and orientated;
  • ensure that the function of the Tabernacle as the dwelling place of God is understood;
  • highlight the formation of the Tabernacle, including the contribution of materials, construction and transportation;
  • enter the forecourt with its gate, linen walls, altar and laver;
  • review the fabrics placed over the Tabernacle;
  • examine the fixtures and fittings of the Tabernacle, including the golden boards, silver sockets, bars and rings;
  • admire the furniture in the holy place, including the lampstand and the golden table;
  • breathe the fragrance from the golden altar;
  • cautiously step through the veil and gaze at the fulness of the Tabernacle in the Holiest of all.


It is good when we get an overall picture of the Tabernacle and can frame it all in our minds.  Imagine you are walking though the desert of the Sinai Peninsula.  Dominating the skyline above you is Mount Sinai and down below is the Red Sea sweeping down into the Indian Ocean.  Looking south-west is the continent of Africa with the Egyptian shore clearly visible; looking east is the Arabian Peninsula.  In the valley below are tens of thousands of black tents made from goat skin.  The people are neatly arranged into twelve tribes and orientated around a large tent, the court of which has a white linen wall, and the large seal-skin covered tent itself is on the western side of this rectangular courtyard.  A cloud of glory resides over this tent by day and a fiery pillar by night.  In the forecourt an altar blazes with fire and men in priestly clothes are functioning.  A brass cauldron, called a laver, full of water, glints in the sun, and the crowds gather outside the gate on the east side with animals for sacrifice.  The order and reverence with which they move in and around this sanctuary is most impressive.  These people are the children of Israel, the tent structure is the Tabernacle, and the cloud evidences the very dwelling presence of God in it.  The whole life of the nation revolved around the Tabernacle, both on the journey to the land and, for many years, in the land of Canaan.


But what has the Tabernacle to do with us today?  Well, everything!  As we shall see, the Tabernacle is really a picture of God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  Before Christ came in the flesh, God sent into the world this image, this ‘photograph album’ called the Tabernacle for us to get a glimpse of the glory of Christ.  There are two facets to this image: it represents Christ in heaven and it represents Christ on earth.

The Tabernacle is a representation of Christ in glory.

The New Testament establishes that the Tabernacle on earth is a picture of the “true” Tabernacle in heaven, where Christ ministers:

  • “… of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man” Heb.8.2;
  • “Christ being come a high priest of good things to come, by a [or ‘with a’] greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building” Heb.9.11;
  • “Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true [‘copies of the true things’ E.S.V.]; but into heaven itself” Heb.9.24;
  • “For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things [‘true form of these realities’ E.S.V.]” Heb.10.1;
  • “… which are a shadow of things to come; but the body [substance] is of Christ” Col.2.17.

The Tabernacle in the wilderness is a picture of the true and eternal Tabernacle in heaven where God dwells; not that there is an actual tent in heaven, but the principles seen in picture form on earth are fully worked out in heaven, where the eternal truth of the Person of Christ as the true Tabernacle is on full display, and every detail speaks of the Lord Jesus.  The lid of the ark of the covenant (the mercy seat/propitiatory), for example, speaks of Christ: “whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation [‘mercy seat’] through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God” Rom.3.25.  Furthermore, the veil between the holy place and the Holiest of all speaks of Christ’s flesh: “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which He hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, His flesh” Heb.10.19,20.  There is, therefore, no doubt that the Tabernacle is a physical representation of truths about Christ.

The Tabernacle is a picture of the Incarnation of Christ on earth.

The references above to the “mercy seat” and the “veil” show that the Tabernacle in the wilderness also speaks of the life of the Lord on earth as a Man.  The word ‘tabernacle’ is used of the Incarnation of Christ.  There was a glorious day when God became a real Man and ‘tabernacled’ amongst us on earth: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt [‘tented/tabernacled’] among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” Jn.1.14; compare Heb.2.14,15.  The Tabernacle had to be in a wilderness, as it was a picture of the arid, sinful moral conditions of the human world when the Lord Jesus came into time.  The expressions “He was in the world” Jn.1.10, and again, “He was there in the wilderness” Mk.1.13, portray this wonderful truth very clearly.


This figure of Christ in the Tabernacle must be an important representation of Christ; for example, we have two chapters on the whole of Creation (Genesis chapters 1 and 2) and sixteen chapters (Exodus chapters 25 to 40) on the Tabernacle.  It is also referred to or alluded to frequently throughout the rest of our Bible.  For example, the Tabernacle and associated subjects (including the priesthood and the sacrificial system) pervade the Epistle to the Hebrews.

The sixteen chapters in Exodus about the Tabernacle can be divided as follows:

  • Description of the Tabernacle – chapters 25-27; 30
  • Preparation of the priests and people who would serve in and worship at the Tabernacle – chapters 28,29; 31-34
    • Preparation of the priesthood: priestly garments and consecration of priests – chapters 28,29
    • Preparation of the people: skilled workers Bezaleel and Aholiab; sin at Sinai and repentance – chapters 31,32
    • Revelation of God to Moses – chapters 33,34
  • Contribution for and formation of the Tabernacle – chapters 35-39
  • Completion and erection of the Tabernacle – chapter 40

Prescription of the Tabernacle

The details for the Tabernacle were dictated by God Himself, and Moses was commanded to make it after the pattern that was shown to him in Mount Sinai, Ex.25.9,40; 26.30; 27.8; Num.8.4; Acts 7.44; Heb.8.5.  The instructions are incredibly precise and detailed.  Moses was not at liberty to change the image; the pattern could not be altered in any way.  We ought to be very careful about the language we use about the Person of Christ, and the activity and character of His house, remembering how careful Scripture is in the way it describes both the Person and work of Christ and church order.  Divine language is accurate.  When we do not understand something – for example, how the Deity of Christ and the manhood of Christ combine in one wonderful Person – we should simply use Scriptural language and leave the Spirit of God to illuminate our minds as to the meaning.


As we approach the Tabernacle, we ‘remove our shoes’, as we are on holy ground.  The way the Tabernacle was segmented, described, and orientated is different to anything else we would ever read about.

Segmentation – Three Parts in One

God could have had the Tabernacle made in four or five parts, but He chose to have it made in three parts: a courtyard, a holy place and a most holy place.  The number three speaks of a place representing the triune God Himself.  The first part of the Tabernacle was a courtyard, where there was an altar representing Christ and His sacrifice at Calvary.  Within this large courtyard was a large ‘tent’, which included a holy place where there was incense and the oil for the lamp, symbolising the Holy Spirit.  The third section of the Tabernacle was accessed from the holy place, through a veil, into the Holiest of all, where God dwelt between the cherubim.  The Holiest of all contained the tables of the Law, speaking of the presence and authority of God the Father.  The three-part Tabernacle, therefore, represents the triune God.  It also illustrates three phases of the Lord’s service.  The courtyard, which was the part of the Tabernacle open for all to see, speaks of His public ministry.  The holy place speaks of that part of the Lord’s life that could only be understood by a few, that is, those with priestly eyes.  The Holy of holies speaks of the part of the Lord’s life that was known only to God. 

  • In Ex.25.3-7 we have the materials described for the Tabernacle:
  • “And this is the offering which ye shall take of them; gold, and silver, and brass” – three metals;
  • “and blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine linen” – three colours with which the fabrics were dyed;
  • “and goats’ hair, and rams’ skins dyed red, and badgers’ skins” – three animal coverings;
  • “and shittim wood, oil for the light, spices for anointing oil, and for sweet incense” – three natural products from plants or shrubs;
  • “onyx stones, and stones to be set in the ephod, and in the breastplate” – three places where the stones would be placed (two shoulders for two onyx stones and the breastplate for the other stones).

God also provides three liquids in the Tabernacle (blood, water and oil), three articles of furniture in the holy place (table, lampstand and altar of incense) and three families of Levi to carry the Tabernacle (Gershon, Kohath and Merari, Numbers chapter 3).  The meal offering in the holy place was also prepared in three ways: flat plate, frying pan and oven, Leviticus chapter 2.  There is no doubt that the Divine number three is stamped across the Tabernacle.  We cannot explain the Trinity, but we can stand in awe and worship.

Description – Inside to Outside

If the Tabernacle is a ‘picture book’ of Christ, then it is fascinating to see the order in which the picture pattern is described by Moses.  It is described from the inside to the outside, from the ark of the covenant, inside the Holiest of all, chapter 25, to the brazen altar, in the outside court, chapter 27.  God sees things in a different way to us and His images are inside to outside: spiritual to physical.  The Holiest of all (a picture of heaven) is described first, before moving to the outside court (a picture of earth).  The details, as it were, are given from God’s standpoint, as He moves out to meet humans in all their need.  The construction of the Tabernacle, however, is described in the opposite manner: from the outside to the inside, Exodus chapters 35 to 37.  That is because the direction that we can appreciate Divine truth is in this order, that is, from man to God.  We progress from natural light, in the courtyard, to a Divinely lit lamp, in the holy place, through to the ‘Shekinah’ glory of God, in the Holiest of all.

The Tabernacle was not the courtyard as such but the part where the Lord dwelt amongst His people, Ex.25.8.  In fact, strictly speaking there is also a distinction between the “tabernacle” and the “tent” Ex.26.1,6,7; Num.3.25.  The “tabernacle” refers to the curtains of fine twined linen dyed in blue and purple and scarlet.  The “tent” refers to the curtains of goats’ hair draped over the top of the fine twined linen.  The word “tent” (ohel) means ‘covering’ and would remind us of the temporary nature of the Tabernacle; the ideas of protection, portability, and pilgrimage are here.  The word “tabernacle” (mishkan) means ‘a dwelling place’ and reminds us of the presence of God.  These words are distinct but sometimes the word “tent” (ohel) is translated “tabernacle” in English, for example: “And they shall bear the curtains of the tabernacle (mishkan), and the tabernacle (ohel) of the congregation” Num.4.25.

Orientation – Westward

The Tabernacle is not only found in a particular location (the wilderness), but is orientated in a particular direction.  The Tabernacle had to be placed in an east to west direction; not in any other.  East always speaks of moving away from God, Gen.3.24; 4.16; 11.2; 12.8, and pagans often worshipped the sun eastward, Ezek.8.16.  This orientation of the Tabernacle pointing westward is a picture of the Lord Jesus, Who always moved in the will of His God and Father, unlike all mankind, who moved away from God eastward.


The function of the Tabernacle is described fully in these words: “that I may dwell among them” Ex.25.8.

Habitation – “dwell”

The Tabernacle was the dwelling place of God on earth: “And let them make Me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them”(residence).  Furthermore, the Scripture states: “And there I will meet with thee” (relationship), “and I will commune with thee”(revelation), “from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubims which are upon the ark of the testimony” Ex.25.8,22.  The Tabernacle was God’s meeting place with man; it is called the “tent of meeting” Ex.39.40, N.K.J.V.  There are principles laid down here which are developed later in the Scriptures concerning the “house of God” 1Tim.3.15.  For example, the truth that the Lord Jesus later revealed about the local church, when He said, “there am I in the midst” Matt.18.20, was found in germ form in the Tabernacle.

Location – “among them”

This principle of God dwelling in the midst of His people and amongst His people in a collective sense is developed fully in the New Testament, Matt.18.20.  The Tabernacle was the great gathering centre of His people: the only place for corporate worship and sacrifice.  Even today, God will have no other place than His assembly!  There is no such thing as ‘denominationalism’ in the Scripture, or hierarchies of church order.


We would like briefly to consider how the Tabernacle was constructed, and how people contributed to its manufacture, transportation and erection.


God could have made the Tabernacle Himself, but He said, “Let them make Me a sanctuary” Ex.25.8.  What a wonder that we can be involved in the service of God’s house!  Two men are singled out for their skill and ability in helping to build the Tabernacle: Bezaleel, of Judah, and Aholiab, of Dan, Ex.35.30,34.  These men were not only permitted to work in the Tabernacle but were equipped for the task as well: “Them hath He filled with wisdom of heart, to work all manner of work” v.35.  God not only elects us for service; He equips us as well.  This ‘house’ requires wisdom in its construction.


He wanted people of willing hearts to contribute to His house, Ex.35.5; 36.2.  God is pleased to accept my contribution, however small.  In the case of the children of Israel it would be some thread, a pin, some purple dye, a goat fleece; but it would only be accepted if it was according to the pattern.  This expectation, the privilege of contributing to God’s house and the fact that we all, as believers, have been individually fitted to help in the development of the assembly, is a principle we treasure today, 1Cor.3.8.  We hear again the words of David: “thou mayest add thereto” 1Chr.22.14.

Completion and Transportation

The Tabernacle was designed for a pilgrim people and made to be portable.  Rings were fastened on the sides of the furniture for staves to be able to hold them up so that they could be moved across the desert floor.  It is a reminder that the Lord Jesus walked amongst us.  Each stage in the journey was for the glory of God.  We, too, all have a specific task to do.  Sometimes it may seem menial: like the individual carrying a tent pin in the Tabernacle!  But that pin was essential to keep the Tabernacle up and so is our service for the Lord.  Furthermore, sometimes the children of Israel were carrying under the cover of the cloths a wealth of gold, including the ark of the covenant, but they could not see it.  In the days of our pilgrimage let us shoulder the work of God with joy!  We little know the value of what we are carrying for the Lord; one day it will all become clear.


As we enter through the gate of the Tabernacle into the forecourt, we are struck by the white linen surrounding the courtyard, a flaming brazen altar and a laver.

The Gate

On the eastern side of the Tabernacle was one gate, reminding us of the one way to God through the Person of the Lord Jesus, Jn.10.9; 14.6.  The gate speaks of salvation.

The Walls of the Court

Israel would see a perimeter wall of white, enclosing a rectangular area measuring one hundred cubits by fifty cubits, five cubits high (about 7.5 feet to 8.5 feet), surrounding the Tabernacle, Ex.27.9-13,18.  Fine linen in the Bible speaks of righteous acts, Rev.19.8.  There is a separation being made between that which is holy and that which is ‘of the world’.  The courtyard, therefore, speaks of separation.  The walls of the court are a vivid picture of the distinction between God’s ways and man’s ways.  God expects a difference between the standards in the world and the standards in His house, and this is still true today: “that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” 1Tim.3.15.  We must remember that He will not lower His standards because of the prevailing morals in the world: “Holiness becometh Thine house, O Lord, for ever” Ps.93.5.

The Brazen Altar

There was a large brazen altar just inside the gate, speaking of sacrifice, Ex.27.1-8.  The altar was the first article of furniture that priestly men would come to as they passed through the gate.  No one could pass the altar without sacrificing.  The altar speaks of Calvary and the suffering of Christ: “who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people’s: for this He did once, when He offered up Himself” Heb.7.27.  First and foremost, the Saviour answers to the sacrifice on the altar and He came to die for sin and for the glory of God.  The altar also reminds us of God receiving the first place in worship as people entered His presence.  The fact that the heat of fire would have been felt by the offerer as he approached the gate reminds us of the greatness of God, Who is described as a “consuming fire”, and One Who is to be feared and approached with a holy awe.

The Laver

The only other piece of furniture in the forecourt was the laver, which stood between the altar and the Tabernacle itself, Ex.30.17-21; 38.8.  The laver speaks of sanctification.  It was used by the priests to wash their hands and feet, and likely for water to wash the sacrifice before it was burnt, Ex.30.18; 40.30,31.  Water speaks of the Word of God, Eph.5.26, and we must constantly be dipping into the reservoir of Scripture for daily cleansing.  The laver, therefore, would speak of moral cleansing and ‘moral fitness to serve’.  The blood at the altar may stand for judicial cleansing, where sins were forgiven, epitomising Calvary: reminding us of our position in Christ and legal right to serve.  However, the laver speaks of our condition of soul which must be practically and daily cleansed by the application of the Word of God.  The altar would fit us to serve but the laver would make our service fitting.  Believers’ sins are all forgiven on the basis of the sacrifice of Christ for our sins, Heb.10.10-14, but God still requires us to be holy, 1Jn.1.9.  A sanctified life is expected for the believer: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” Rom.12.1.

In conclusion, as you enter the forecourt, the way to God is seen in the gate; the white fine linen walls would remind us of the work of God to separate us from the world; the altar, as the first article of furniture, would reinforce the truth that the worship of God is the apex of all service; and the laver would underscore the importance of the Word of God to maintain us in priestly activity.


The Coverings and the curtains

The two outer “coverings” of the Tabernacle, Ex.26.1-14, were made of badgers’ (or dugong or seal) skins, and rams’ skins dyed red.  The two inner “curtains” consisted of one layer of goats’ hair and an inner layer of fine twined linen and blue, purple and scarlet.  These colours of the coverings and the curtains will all be shown from Scripture in later chapters to speak of the superabundant glories of Christ.

Badgers’ Skins: Separation unto God — Ex.26.14

Those outside the Tabernacle would see the impervious layer of dugong skin.  This is called badgers’ skins in the King James Version, but the material was used to make shoes, Ezek.16.10, and was likely to be waterproof, which, for example, would be so of the skin of an aquatic creature, perhaps of a seal or a dugong, a sea cow, readily available in the Red Sea.  This waterproof layer would not be a particularly appealing colour: probably a blue-grey (this is how the Septuagint renders it).  Outwardly the Tabernacle was not beautiful to look at.  This would remind us of what is written about when the Lord Jesus came: “there is no beauty that we should desire Him” Isa.53.2; “He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not” Jn.1.10.  The Lord Jesus came down to men and veiled His full glory, taking the garb of a Galilean peasant.  He was unrecognised.  As the sealskin would also provide a waterproof and protective layer for the Tabernacle, so the Lord Jesus was impervious to the corruption around Him.  He did not sin, 1Pet.2.22.  These glories are only open to the eye of faith, 1Cor.2.9-16.

Rams’ Skins Dyed Red: Consecration unto Death – Ex.26.14

The rams’ skins dyed red were the next “covering” layer.  The ram is uniquely associated with consecration, Ex.29.27,31; Lev.8.22.  The word “consecration” in these references is obtained from the verb “to be consecrated” Ex.29.29, which means the ‘filling of the hands’.  It reminds us of One Whose hands were always filled in the service of God.  Just as the ram of Moriah was caught in the thicket, Gen.22.13, so the Lord Jesus was caught up in the ‘thicket’ of Divine purpose and could not move from accomplishing the will of the Father.  His “meat” was “to do the will of Him that sent” Him, “and to finish His work” Jn.4.34.  The fact that the rams’ skins had to be dyed red would remind us that the culmination of this consecrated service was at Calvary, where there He laid down His life for us all and was “obedient unto death” Phil.2.6-8.

No size or scale is given for these two coverings.  Can we put a measure on His consecration or the extent of His separation?

Goats’ Hair: Expiation of Sin – Ex.26.7-13

It is goats’ hair and not goats’ skin that makes up the curtains and the third layer: an expensive, dark cashmere-like set of curtains; compare S of S.1.5.  The goat is uniquely associated with the sin offering, Num.29.22,25,28,31,34,38.  It reminds us of the One Who bore our sins in His own body on the tree, 1Pet.2.24; 2Cor.5.21.  The goat is also marked by its ability to climb the highest of terrains and pick its way across the rockiest of crags.  So, our Lord Jesus Christ placed each foot in the path of righteousness and scaled the greatest of heights for sin to be eternally put away.  The function of the goats’ hair curtains was “to cover it” Ex.26.13: that means, to cover the Tabernacle.  There are eleven curtains (altogether forty-four cubits in length and thirty cubits in breadth) which cover over all the ten fine linen curtains (forty cubits long and twenty-eight cubits in breadth) and the boards below it with one curtain to spare: so His death has made a covering for all and sin has been dealt with in a superabundant fashion.  There is nothing limited about the work of Christ for sin.  Paul said to Timothy: “Who gave Himself a ransom for all” 1Tim.2.6.

The word “tent” for the goats’ hair describes the protection and the shelter/covering of the place.  The word “tabernacle” for the next layer, the fine linen, describes the purpose and the significance of the place where God dwells.  The word “tent” describes what Christ has done for me through His death, in the forgiveness of sins, and the word “tabernacle” what Christ has brought me into, His dwelling place.

Fine Linen: Perfection of Christ – Ex.26.1-6

Underneath the goats’ hair were ten curtains of fine linen.  Linen was a luxury item.  It would remind us of the quality, dignity and perfection of Christ, speaking of His righteous acts and characteristics, Rev.19.8.  Four Gospel writers describe Christ in four beautiful portraits. The fine linen (uniquely mentioned first here, suggesting the white colour is dominant in the curtains) would remind us of the sinless, perfect manhood of Christ.  The blue reminds us of Christ and His glory as the One from heaven Who walked down here in the desert conditions of earth.  He said, “Ye are from beneath; I am from above” Jn.8.23.  The purple speaks of royal wealth and dignity, Judg.8.26; Esther 1.6; Prov.31.22.  Our Lord Jesus was given the purple to wear in mockery, Mk.15.17-20, but the purple befits Him as the King of kings and Lord of lords, Rev.19.16.  The scarlet reminds us of the sufferings of Christ.  The word is actually “worm” scarlet and is often translated “worm” for example, Jonah 4.7; Ps.22.6.  A little worm or caterpillar was crushed to death to make this colour.  How fitting!  Scarlet is associated with cleansing the leper, Lev.14.6; with the red heifer, Num.19.6; and with the blood of the covenant, Heb.9.19.  Our Lord Jesus wore scarlet after He was sentenced to die on the cross, Matt.27.28.  This colour uniquely reminds us of the shame and suffering of Christ.


The coverings and curtains are held up by a structure of boards covered in gold, standing on silver sockets, side by side, supported by bars and rings.

Boards Coated in Gold: Standing in God’s Presence – Righteousness, Ex.26.15-29

The Tabernacle contained forty-eight boards, all “standing up[right]” Ex.26.15, on large silver sockets.  There were twenty boards on the north side (thirty cubits long), twenty boards on the south side (thirty cubits long), and six boards and two corner boards on the west side (approximately ten cubits long).  On the east side there were no boards, but five pillars, on sockets of brass, Ex.26.37.  Each board and pillar was made of wood covered in gold and was ten cubits high (approximately 15 feet; just under 5 metres) and one and a half cubits wide (about 2.25 feet; just under 0.75 metres).  People are often portrayed as trees and as wood, for example, Judg.9.8-15; S of S.2.3; Mk.8.24; Jude v.12; Rev.11.4.  There seems no doubt that the shittim (acacia) wood, cut down, Job 19.10, and made to stand upright and fit into the Tabernacle, could be a picture of believers who have been cut down out of nature’s ‘forest’ and made fit to stand upright in the presence of God: “Let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them” Ex.25.8.  The fact that they are coated in gold would remind us that as believers we are “accepted in the beloved [One]” Eph.1.6. Our standing before God is not due to any righteousness of our own, but only because we are in Christ, the righteous One.

Boards on Sockets of Silver: Soul Ransomed – Redemption

Each board sat on two sockets of silver.  The weight of each socket was over 30 kilograms and so under each board was added over 60 kilograms of silver!  The shifting sand of the desert afforded no solid basis for testimony.  The One Who was the foundation of the assembly in Corinth is also the One on Whom we stand: “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” 1Cor.3.11.  Scripture records where this silver came from, Ex.30.11-16.  It is called the atonement money; not that anyone could buy salvation or atonement for his soul.  It is interesting that it was only half a shekel; it was the same for everyone, irrespective of stature or capacity; each soul has the same value.  It was hardly a contribution to the ransom of the soul; instead, it was an acknowledgment of the incalculable cost required for every soul: “For the redemption of their soul is precious, and it ceaseth for ever” Ps.49.8.  Later, in the New Testament, Peter would record the spiritual meaning of this act by each Israelite: “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” 1Pet.1.18,19.  The ransom price for our soul that this small piece of silver speaks of is none other than the ransom price paid in full by the blood of Christ: “who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time” 1Tim.2.6.  Our basis for standing in the presence of God, our foundation, is that ‘‘Jesus died and that He died for me’’. ‘‘The Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me’’ Gal.2.20.  The fact that this silver foundation was the foundation of God’s house and dwelling place reminds us not only that Christ died for the Church, Eph.5.25, but that He bought the local assembly with His own blood, Acts 20.28.

Boards Standing Side by Side: Support in Christ – Fellowship

The solid boards sat side by side, “set in order” Ex.26.17.  The forty-eight boards standing side by side in the presence of God is a beautiful picture of unity and the fellowship of God’s people in His house: “ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” 1Pet.2.5.  As Paul says, “In whom ye also are builded together for a habitation of God through the Spirit’ Eph.2.22.  What a privilege to be in assembly fellowship!  Fellowship is an active thing; it is tremendous to be able to stand side by side with our brethren and sisters for the sake of Christ.  We are not designed to be alone spiritually or to ‘go solo’, but to be ‘in fellowship’.  Individual responsibility to the collective whole is a theme in Scripture.  There are many members but one body, 1Cor.12.20.  When one member suffers, all the other members suffer with it, 1Cor.12.26.

Boards Strengthened by Bars on Each Side: Strength for Christ – Gift

The boards were kept in place by fifteen bars, and rings at the corners of the structure, making it a very stable structure, Ex.26.26-30.  Each board had rings on it for the bars, v.29.  The bars may speak of gifts given to the assembly to strengthen us.  Just as each board had a responsibility to support the bars, so each believer has a responsibility to the fellowship to support the gifts given to the church.  There were five bars on each side strengthening the boards.  Five is a number reminding us of God’s grace and kindness to us.  There are five ‘bars’ mentioned in Ephesians for the strengthening of God’s people: “And He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” Eph.4.11-13.  God’s people need spiritual gifts to support them.  Let us treasure them.


The priest would move into the Tabernacle through the door of fine twined linen, which hung on five pillars.  He would enter the holy place, of length twenty cubits, breadth ten cubits and height ten cubits.  Around him would be gold-covered boards ten cubits high gleaming in the light of the lampstand; above him was the curtain and in front the veil of fine twined linen, blue, purple and scarlet, with embroidered cherubim.  Around him would be three articles of furniture: in the centre, the altar of sweet incense; to his right, on the north side, the table of shewbread, and to his left, on the south side, the golden lampstand.  At a very basic level the triune God is teaching us that in His immediate presence there are three eternal attributes: love, light, and life.  Perhaps the three articles of furniture also remind us of the triune God, with the bread a symbol of the body of Christ, Matt.26.26, the oil the Holy Spirit, Zech.4.2-6, and the cloud of incense the prayers of God’s people to the Father, Rev.8.3,4.

Light: lampstand Sight Holy Spirit Illumination (Oil/Light)
Life: bread Sustenance Lord Jesus Incarnation (Body/Bread)
Love: sweet incense Smell Father Incense (Prayer)

In this first compartment of the Tabernacle, the holy place, two items of furniture are brought to our focus: the golden lampstand, placed on the south side, and the table of shewbread, placed on the north side.  The golden lampstand, Ex.25.31-40; 27.20,21; Lev.24.1-4, speaks of sight and truth; and the table of shewbread, Ex.25.23-30; Lev.24.5-9, speaks of sustenance and grace.

The lampstand (menorah) was the only light in the Tabernacle.  The light speaks of Christ: “Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world: he that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life’” Jn.8.12.  “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” 1Jn.1.5.  There was no other light but the oil-filled seven lamps.  As will be shown shortly, the oil speaks of the Holy Spirit and only the Holy Spirit can open up the heart of the believer to the truth of God, Zech.4.6.  The Lord Jesus said of the Holy Spirit, “He shall glorify Me” Jn.16.14.

The golden table (shulchan) contained twelve loaves of bread, representing the twelve tribes of Israel.  The loaves were replaced fresh each week.  The bread reminds us of God’s provision in the Lord Jesus Christ for His own people.  “And Jesus said unto them, ‘I am the bread of life: he that cometh to Me shall never hunger: and he that believeth on Me shall never thirst’” Jn.6.35; “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” Jn.6.51.

God would have light and life in His presence: “In Him was life; and the life was the light of men” Jn.1.4.  There is a wonderful balance in Christ.  “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other” Ps.85.10.

The Golden Table of Shewbread

As we consider the table of shewbread, two principles come to our notice:

God First

God wanted bread in His presence.  Shewbread is composed of two Hebrew words meaning ‘food’ and ‘face’.  The twelve cakes were to be set upon the table “before Me [‘My face’] alway” Ex.25.30.  The literal rendering would be ‘bread of the face [presence]’: each cake was to be separately seen by God.  God wanted to enjoy them for seven days before they were eaten.  There is a clear principle here: God first; worship before service.  Bread (and wine too, presumably: the drink offering was poured out here, Num.28.7-9) was always before Him.  Melchizedek would bring bread and wine, Gen.14.18, and as “priest of the most high God” he was a picture of the Priesthood of Christ, Genesis chapter 14; Hebrews chapter 7.  The Lord Jesus would leave bread and wine as the symbols for Him to be remembered, 1Cor.11.23-33.  Christians do this as the first exercise of every new week, Acts 20.7; 2.42.

God’s Fellowship

This is the first recorded table in Scripture.  The sceptic asks: “Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?” Ps.78.19.  The answer is yes, and it is His purpose to do so.  God desires fellowship with His people.  It is called the “pure table before the Lord” Lev.24.6, and “My table” Ezek.44.16.  God enjoys the fragrant life of Christ, the flawless Man Who in unbroken fellowship with the Father’s will moved in absolute perfection.  His people are seen united in Him.  It reminds us of Paul’s teaching to the Corinthians: “ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table and of the table of devils [‘demons’]” 1Cor.10.21.  God wants us to have communion with Him.  The sons of Aaron were to eat the shewbread in the holy place every sabbath, Lev.24.9.  The Christian can now enjoy communion with Christ every day.  Every sabbath hot bread was laid upon the table.  It was never allowed to go stale.  Let us enjoy Him fresh and not feast at any other table.

The Golden Lampstand

A further two principles can be observed in the golden lampstand:


The lampstand provided light for sanctuary service.  It would give “light over against it” Ex.25.37; that is, it would project light over towards the table.  It was to give light “before the Lord continually” Lev.24.3, and so the seven lamps would light up the holy place.  It would also light up itself, Num.8.2, the central gold stem, a beautiful picture of Christ as the Light of the world.  God still insists on light in His presence.  God will not tolerate darkness in His house.  Sin has no place here, neither does ignorance.  God is a God of holiness and revelation.

Filling with Oil

The lamps had to burn “continually” Lev.24.2, and “always” Ex.27.20, day and night, so fresh supplies of oil (from beaten olives) would be required daily.  The tongs, Ex.25.38, would be used to trim the wicks morning and evening (causing the light to ‘ascend’; see Num.8.2,3, where the verb in “thou lightest” and “he lighted” means ‘to cause to ascend’).  The light would never go out in the sanctuary.  Throughout the long night of the absence of Christ from earth, it is ours to shine for Him until the morning dawns.  The oil for the light speaks of the Holy Spirit: “This is the word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts” Zech.4.6.  The Holy Spirit is eternal and ‘continual’, and He must be given His full place in God’s house, 1Thess.5.19.  In addition, the fact that the priests had to be diligent and consistent in keeping the lamps lit is a reminder that the ministry of Christ by the Spirit necessitates much spiritual exercise on our part if it is to be sustained as God would have it to be.


The Golden Altar and the Sweet Incense

The third item of furniture in the holy place was the golden altar, as described for us in Exodus chapter 30.  This chapter has two subsections that relate to this item of furniture:

The Golden Altar of Incense Ex.30.1-10 Supplication
The Sweet Incense Ex.30.34-38 Smell/Sweetness

We observe four principles of the fragrance of the Tabernacle:

Priestly Order

The order in which the golden altar in Scripture is presented is full of instruction; it is not a mistake that it is described in Exodus chapter 30 and not chapter 25.  God begins with the ark and the mercy seat in chapter 25, in the Holy of holies, and then moves into the holy place and describes the furniture (at the end of chapter 25) and the fabrics and framework (chapter 26).  God then moves out into the courtyard and describes the brazen altar and the gate in chapter 27.  Then we have the holy garments of the priest and the consecration of the priesthood in chapters 28 and 29.  It is God coming out in the full revelation of Himself, but all with a view to man going into His presence.  The golden altar is particularly associated with this latter thought: man going into God’s presence.  It is, therefore, fitting that the golden altar is described in chapter 30, after the consecration of the priests, as it relates to priestly function.  It is particularly associated with the maintenance of the service in the sanctuary.  Christ, as great High Priest, is presently maintaining our cause in heaven, Heb.9.24; Heb.4.14,16.  That is why the laver is also described in chapter 30: we need the Word of God to maintain us in holy priestly service.

Priority of Prayer

God decreed that right in front of His majestic presence would be the golden altar.  The exact location of the altar could not be more clearly described, Ex.30.6.  The golden altar speaks of priestly intercession in prayer.  The Psalmist likened his prayer to incense burning in God’s presence: “Let my prayer be set forth before Thee as incense” Ps.141.2.  It was associated with prayer even before the New Testament had revealed its connection with prayer: “And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense” Lk.1.10.  This connection with prayer is made explicit in the Book of Revelation: “And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne.  And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand” Rev.8.3,4.  God is making absolutely clear the priority He places upon the prayers and worship of His people through the High Priestly ministry of His Son.  What priority do we place on prayer and worship?  The first assembly commenced in prayer meetings, Acts 1.13,14, and prayers were a regular feature of the early assembly gatherings, Acts 2.42.  The prayer meeting was the powerhouse.  What priority does it have with us?

Praise – Ex.30.6-8

The golden altar is also linked with praise and worship: “all they from Sheba shall come: they shall bring gold and incense; and they shall shew forth the praises of the Lord” Isa.60.6.  “For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same My name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto My name, and a pure offering: for My name shall be great among the heathen, saith the Lord of hosts” Mal.1.11; compare S of S.1.3.  The writer to the Hebrews expresses our responsibility clearly: “By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name” Heb.13.15.  Much of what we present in worship is faulty, but when it passes through the hands of our High Priest it becomes a sweet savour to God.  Each company of God’s people “offer[s] up”, as a holy priesthood, “spiritual sacrifices”, which He makes “acceptable to God” 1Pet.2.5.  The hymnwriter has said, “To all our prayers and praises, Christ adds His sweet perfume”.

God would have us link the brazen and golden altars closely.  The fire consumes the offering on the brazen altar, then hot coals are taken to the golden altar and they cause the incense to ascend.  Our worship is to be fervent, hot from occupation with the cross, like the coal from the brazen altar, and for the pleasure of God.  This is our noblest and highest occupation.  The worship of the early assemblies, whether in prayer or song, was all “to God” 1Pet.2.5, and the absolute best (the Bible calls it “fruit”) that their hearts could offer concerning the Lord Jesus, Heb.13.15.  Their worship rose higher than thanksgiving for their blessings, but became occupied with Him and His glory.

Permeation and Purity of the Fragrance – Ex.30.9,36-38

The fragrance in His presence was unique and could not be copied, 30.9,37,38.  As priests moved out into the courtyard and then went to their own tents, they would carry the smell with them; compare Jn.12.3.  They would not need to tell anyone that they had been in God’s presence (beware of those who tell you how long they pray!).  There are saints today for whom a few moments in their company lets you know that, like Anna of old, Lk.2.36-38, they have spent time in the sanctuary with Christ; compare the expression, “been with Jesus” Acts 4.13.  How precious are these dear saints!  In the world, where there is a savour of death unto death, it is ours to bring forth a savour of life unto life, 2Cor.2.16.  No one could copy this smell or offer anything else on the altar than that which had been so carefully prescribed.  If they did this, they would be cut off.  “God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth” Jn.4.24.  Unsaved people cannot understand spiritual things, 1Cor.2.14; the godly can tell the difference and smell the fragrance.  No man-made innovation can manufacture worship, although many ways are tried in Christendom.  The worship of the local church is purely spiritual, Jn.4.24, not relying on natural resources or thinking, but arranged entirely by the Holy Spirit to the glory of God.  The Lord Jesus is the One “to whom” we gather, 1Pet.2.4, and the ‘Chief Hymnist’ in the gathering, Heb.2.12.


The high priest was permitted once per year to enter from the “holy place” and through the veil into the Holiest of all, Ex.25.8-22; 26.31-35; Heb.9.1-14; Rev.11.19.  The Holiest of all was a cube of ten cubits composed of gold-covered boards standing on silver sockets, on the west, north and south sides.  On the ceiling and hanging on golden clasps on the eastern side (the “vail”), there were fine twined linen curtains embroidered with cherubim and blue, purple and scarlet.  In the centre of the room were two golden cherubim made out of the same talent of gold as the mercy seat, which formed the lid of the ark of the covenant.  The mercy seat and the cherubim covered the ark, which was made of acacia wood covered in gold, two and a half cubits long (just under 1.25 metres) and one and a half cubits (just under 0.75 metres) wide and high, containing the Ten Commandments written with the finger of God, 1Kgs.8.9.  In front or at the side of the ark were placed the book of the covenant, Deut.31.26; a golden pot of manna, Ex.16.33; Heb.9.4; Rev.2.17; and Aaron’s rod that budded, Num.17.8-10; Heb.9.4; and there was a cloud of incense from a golden censer, Heb.9.4.

We will consider four impressions and principles of which the high priest would have been deeply aware as he entered the Holy of holies.


The first feeling that the high priest would have on entering the Holiest of all would be fear at the incomprehensibility of God.  He would move with trepidation and humility.  If the veil were to be closed again after him there would be no light apart from the light of Jehovah’s presence.  God Who “dwel[t] in the thick darkness” Ex.20.21; 1Kgs.8.12, also dwelt “between the cherubims” Ps.80.1; 99.1.  No foot could enter here apart from the high priest, and that only once per year, Heb.9.7, and, of course, Moses, Ex.25.22; 33.11.  No one could be familiar here.  The awe of the priest at the majesty of God would be palpable: gold was everywhere.  The pure gold speaks of the Divinity of Christ (gold is used of heaven, of kings and of Divine things, Rev.21.18,21; Matt.2.11).  The cloud of glory that abode on it is said “to dwell” (Hebrew shakan) Ex.25.8; 40.35, from where we get the Hebrew transliteration ‘Shekinah’ glory.  Let us never get familiar with the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ is God.  In the Holiest of all there was no image of God.  God never allowed Israel to make an image of Him, as He is invisible and incomprehensible, Deut.4.12!  However, He did give us ‘pictures’ of the One Who is “the image of the invisible God” Col.1.15, and all the objects in the Holiest of all spoke of Him.  The high priest would not make any sudden movements, and certainly he would not dare to touch the ark as he placed the blood upon the mercy seat and sprinkled the blood seven times before it, Leviticus chapter 16.  The Lord Jesus has made it possible for us to enter into God’s presence on the basis of His blood.  It is of this place in heaven (“the true tabernacle”) that the writer to the Hebrews says, “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus” Heb.10.19.  What an honour; what a responsibility!


The high priest would move into the Holiest of all with a sense of anticipation and desire for education; things had been hidden from his view and there was more to see.  The ark was made of pure gold, but the gold covered acacia wood; the manna was ‘hidden’; the tables of the covenant were ‘inside’ the ark.  The dimensions of the ark also added to that sense of there being more to see.  Each dimension is a half measure: two and a half cubits by one and a half cubits by one and a half cubits.  The half measures in the Tabernacle are worthy of study but here the idea of additionality is brought before us.  We will never be able to fully comprehend the Person of Christ.  Like the queen of Sheba, we can say of Christ: “the half was not told me: thy wisdom and prosperity exceedeth the fame which I heard” 1Kgs.10.7.  The high priest would be educated by the ark, as it contained the Word of God, 1Kgs.8.9; this is why it is called the ark of the testimony.  At the side of the ark was the book of the covenant, Deut.31.26.  This speaks of the One Who was “the Word” Jn.1.1.  He was the ‘Book’: the full expression of God, the Living Word.  There was One of Whom it could be said, “I delight to do Thy will, O My God: yea, Thy law is within My heart” Ps.40.8; compare Ps.1.2.  God is teaching us of the full revelation of the Father in Christ.  The book was central to the Tabernacle and God’s written Word is still the basis of testimony today and our education in Divine truth.


The high priest would feel a deep sense of God’s mercy as he entered the Holy of holies.  Blood was placed on the mercy seat (the propitiatory), between God, Who was between the cherubim, and the Law of God, which had been broken by man.  God’s wrath was placated, propitiated: so that if not even one person ever chose to ask for forgiveness or mercy God could on a righteous basis forgive sinners, because His wrath against sin in its entirety had been appeased/propitiated.  “Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation [‘a mercy seat’] through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God” Rom.3.24,25; 1Jn.2.2; 4.10.

Resurrection and Reconciliation

The high priest would be strengthened by entering the Holiest of all.  The rod that budded speaks of Christ raised again to life in resurrection, like the dead rod of Aaron producing living almonds and blossom.  The One Who has power to take twelve dead sticks and make one of them live and bud and blossom and yield almonds, Num.17.8-10, is the One Who can infuse life into a dead nation and a dying people who are away from God.  The golden pot of manna, which was perpetually fresh, would remind us of the Lord Jesus as the Bread of Life.  The One Who had power to feed two million people every day for forty years is spoken of in the “hidden manna” Rev.2.17, and has power to feed God’s people eternally.  The deadness and distance has gone, and people can be reconciled to God and have fellowship with Him eternally.  To God be all the glory!


The Tabernacle has been shown to be a ‘picture textbook’ of Christ.  This broad sweep has left out many precious details.  Every part of the Tabernacle offers more glimpses of the glory of our blessed Saviour.  Therefore, this section of Scripture has been treasured for centuries by serious Bible students.  In many ways it provides proof of inspiration, as the patterns and principles established in the Tabernacle are found throughout our Bible.  It also has proved to be a treasure trove of material for worship.  We trust that all will be stirred up by God’s Holy Spirit to search the Scriptures and prove the worth of Christ in every facet, fixture, fabric and piece of furniture of the Tabernacle.