Exodus 26 The Tabernacle

Erection of the Tabernacle and Sacred Vessels by Gerard Hoet (1728)

Exodus 26

Moreover you shall make the tabernacle with ten curtains of fine twisted linen, and blue, purple, and crimson yarns; you shall make them with cherubim skillfully worked into them. 2 The length of each curtain shall be twenty-eight cubits, and the width of each curtain four cubits; all the curtains shall be of the same size. 3 Five curtains shall be joined to one another; and the other five curtains shall be joined to one another. 4 You shall make loops of blue on the edge of the outermost curtain in the first set; and likewise you shall make loops on the edge of the outermost curtain in the second set. 5 You shall make fifty loops on the one curtain, and you shall make fifty loops on the edge of the curtain that is in the second set; the loops shall be opposite one another. 6 You shall make fifty clasps of gold, and join the curtains to one another with the clasps, so that the tabernacle may be one whole.

 7 You shall also make curtains of goats’ hair for a tent over the tabernacle; you shall make eleven curtains. 8 The length of each curtain shall be thirty cubits, and the width of each curtain four cubits; the eleven curtains shall be of the same size. 9 You shall join five curtains by themselves, and six curtains by themselves, and the sixth curtain you shall double over at the front of the tent. 10 You shall make fifty loops on the edge of the curtain that is outermost in one set, and fifty loops on the edge of the curtain that is outermost in the second set.

 11 You shall make fifty clasps of bronze, and put the clasps into the loops, and join the tent together, so that it may be one whole. 12 The part that remains of the curtains of the tent, the half curtain that remains, shall hang over the back of the tabernacle. 13 The cubit on the one side, and the cubit on the other side, of what remains in the length of the curtains of the tent, shall hang over the sides of the tabernacle, on this side and that side, to cover it. 14 You shall make for the tent a covering of tanned rams’ skins and an outer covering of fine leather.1

 15 You shall make upright frames of acacia wood for the tabernacle. 16 Ten cubits shall be the length of a frame, and a cubit and a half the width of each frame. 17 There shall be two pegs in each frame to fit the frames together; you shall make these for all the frames of the tabernacle. 18 You shall make the frames for the tabernacle: twenty frames for the south side; 19 and you shall make forty bases of silver under the twenty frames, two bases under the first frame for its two pegs, and two bases under the next frame for its two pegs; 20 and for the second side of the tabernacle, on the north side twenty frames,21 and their forty bases of silver, two bases under the first frame, and two bases under the next frame; 22 and for the rear of the tabernacle westward you shall make six frames. 23 You shall make two frames for corners of the tabernacle in the rear; 24 they shall be separate beneath, but joined at the top, at the first ring; it shall be the same with both of them; they shall form the two corners. 25 And so there shall be eight frames, with their bases of silver, sixteen bases; two bases under the first frame, and two bases under the next frame.

 26 You shall make bars of acacia wood, five for the frames of the one side of the tabernacle, 27 and five bars for the frames of the other side of the tabernacle, and five bars for the frames of the side of the tabernacle at the rear westward. 28 The middle bar, halfway up the frames, shall pass through from end to end. 29 You shall overlay the frames with gold, and shall make their rings of gold to hold the bars; and you shall overlay the bars with gold. 30 Then you shall erect the tabernacle according to the plan for it that you were shown on the mountain.

 31 You shall make a curtain of blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and of fine twisted linen; it shall be made with cherubim skillfully worked into it. 32 You shall hang it on four pillars of acacia overlaid with gold, which have hooks of gold and rest on four bases of silver. 33 You shall hang the curtain under the clasps, and bring the ark of the covenant 1 in there, within the curtain; and the curtain shall separate for you the holy place from the most holy. 34 You shall put the mercy seat1 on the ark of the covenant 2 in the most holy place. 35 You shall set the table outside the curtain, and the lampstand on the south side of the tabernacle opposite the table; and you shall put the table on the north side.

 36 You shall make a screen for the entrance of the tent, of blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and of fine twisted linen, embroidered with needlework. 37 You shall make for the screen five pillars of acacia, and overlay them with gold; their hooks shall be of gold, and you shall cast five bases of bronze for them.

Constructing holy space is something every religious tradition has to think about and the way in which a tradition creates that space illuminates something about the people who worship there and the god or gods they attempt to worship. The tabernacle serves an unsettled people, a people who are still on their Exodus journey. It is designed to be transported across the wilderness and set up wherever the people dwell. It is a holy space for a God who is not associated with one particular place but rather a God that can move with the people and who desires to dwell among them. Even though there is the desire for a place where the LORD will dwell among the people there is still a need for zones of holiness. Paradoxically the God of Israel is viewed as being both unapproachable and yet approaching to dwell with the people. The tabernacle becomes a place to mediate the presence of the holy God.

The tabernacle is constructed out of the most valuable materials: Gold, silver and copper, acacia wood, died wool and tanned animal skins. Within the curtains, bars, bases and clasps used for the holiest regions the best material is used: gold and precious died wools in purple, blue and crimson. Wool, and in particular the three stated colors, may seem like an ordinary commodity in our time but in the ancient world purple, blue and crimson in particular are self-fixing colors that do not fade with the exposure to sun and water but are expensive to make because of the materials to make them being rare or dangerous to work with. (Myers, 2005, p. 235)  Purple was often a color associated with royalty precisely because of the cost of producing purple cloth. These curtains or sections are probably woven together and the cherubim designs are included as a part of the weaving. Each of these curtains is roughly forty two feet by six feet and a total of ten of these sections are made to enclose the most holy portion of the space. This is a space designed around the ark of the covenant described in the previous chapter that it will contain.

The worship space itself is big for a mobile structure, but it would not be big in terms of worship space that we would design for a modern congregation. Most of the people would never enter the tabernacle and certainly not the holy of holies with the ark, instead they would be outside the tabernacle while the priests would intercede, sacrifice and mediate the presence of the LORD to the waiting people. The curtains and bars and bases all set aside space and the ark, lampstand and table sit within the set aside space. It is the uncluttered worship space of an Exodus people.

Even when King David desires to build a temple (2 Samuel 7) there is resistance to the idea of transitioning from a tent and a tabernacle to a fixed temple. The LORD does not dwell in one specific place and within the construction of the temple there are some often unnoticed contrasts between the temple work and the tabernacle work. The tabernacle work comes from the voluntary offering of the people but the temple built under Solomon will involve conscripted labor and would be a part of the building projects that placed a heavy burden on the people and would eventually lead to the splitting of Israel away from Judah. Eventually the temple itself became such a focal point that it, the Davidic king and the city of Jerusalem became central for the identity of the people. During the Babylonian exile when Jerusalem, the king and the temple were lost the memory of God’s presence moving with the people in a mobile tabernacle may have been a source of comfort as they found themselves separated from their former home in a strange land and wondered how the LORD could be present.

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