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This article is about the Jewish portable sanctuary. For the Catholic structure, see Tabernacle (Catholic).
Exod 40 - setting up the tabernacle.jpg
The Tabernacle (Hebrew: מִּשְׁכָּ֥ן, mishkan, dwelling, from שְׁכָּ֥ן shekan to dwell) was the portable dwelling place of God as He traveled with the people of Israel for four hundred seventy-nine years, before the construction of the Temple of Jerusalem.


The tent

Bible record: Exodus 26

The Tabernacle proper was a tent of acacia wood (a symbol of man, hard to work with and prone to have many knots[1]) overlaid with gold (a metal of royalty or deity[1]), standing 10 cubits high, 30 cubits long, and 10 cubits broad, covered with curtains of goat hair, ram's skins dyed red and "tahash" skins. (Indeed, the English word skin derives from the Greek σκείν or skein, which itself derives from the Hebrew shekan to dwell, of which mishkan is the present participle.[1]) The sides of the tabernacle were not whole, but were composed of acacia boards, each ten cubits long and 1.5 cubits broad. Each board had five rings of gold spaced at regular intervals; five bars of acacia wood overlaid with gold and thrust through the rings held each of the three sides of the Tabernacle together. Each board had two protuberances, or tenons, at its base, and sockets of silver (a metal of redemption[1]) held the boards together by their tenons. The tent used twenty boards on the south side, twenty on the north side, and six boards on the west side, with two corner boards added to finish the west side. The east side of the tent was open, and five pillars of acacia wood overlaid with gold guarded that entrance. A screen of blue and purple and scarlet formed the east "wall" and hung on hooks of gold. Each pillar rested on a socket of brass (a metal of judgment[1]).

The tent was covered first with ten curtains of blue, purple, and scarlet, decorated with cherubim. Each curtain was 28 cubits long and 4 cubits broad. Five curtains were joined together in each of two sets, and then the two sets were joined by fifty blue loops on each edge, with clasps of gold holding the loops. Next came a covering of goat hair, consisting of eleven curtains, each thirty cubits long and four cubits broad. The curtains were joined in sets of five and six, and the sixth curtain was doubled. The two sets were joined by fifty clasps of brass joining fifty pairs of loops. Last of all came a covering of red ram skins and a covering of ערת תחשׁים taḥash skins.[2]

The inside of the tent was divided into two compartments, the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. The partition between the two was located ten cubits from the west wall and guarded by four pillars of acacia wood overlaid with gold. The Holy of Holies was a perfect cube, ten cubits deep by ten cubits wide by ten cubits high. A veil of blue and purple and scarlet, decorated with cherubim, hanging on four pillars, divided the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. The veil hung on hooks of gold, and each pillar rested on a socket of silver.

The courtyard

Bible record: Exodus 9-19

The Tabernacle Courtyard surrounded this tent; it was 100 cubits long, 50 cubits broad, and 5 cubits high. Twenty pillars stood on the south side, twenty on the north, and ten pillars each on the east and west sides. Each pillar was made of acacia wood overlaid with gold, rested on a brass socket, and had a silver hook. On these hooks hung curtains of white linen, except for a twenty-cubit gate on the east side of the courtyard. Those curtains were of blue, purple, and scarlet. Each pillar had two guy ropes to secure it, one on the inside and the other on the outside, secured to a brass peg.

The furniture

The Tabernacle had the following articles of furniture: a Brass Altar, a Brass Laver, a seven-candle Lampstand, the Table of Showbread, an Altar of Incense, and, of course, the Ark of the Covenant The ark was the one piece of furniture placed inside the Holy of Holies. The altar of incense rested in the Holy Place next to the veil dividing it from the Holy of Holies. The lampstand stood on the south side of the Holy Place, and the table of showbread to the north. The brass altar and brass laver rested outside the tent.

Incense and Oils

God also gave Moses specific recipes for a special oil for anointing the Tabernacle, and for the incense to burn on the altar of incense and in a brass censer before the ark of the covenant on the Day of Atonement. The recipe for the holy incense is given here. The anointing oil was to be made from five hundred shekels of myrrh, two hundred fifty shekels each of cinnamon and fragrant cane, five hundred shekels of cassia, and a hin of olive oil. With this oil Moses was to anoint the tent, the ark of the covenant, and all the other articles of Tabernacle furniture, and also to anoint Aaron and his sons. (Exodus 30:22-33 )

The fuel for the lampstand was to be clear pressed olive oil. (Exodus 27:20-21 )


Bible record: Numbers 4

The procedure for taking down the Tabernacle and preparing its components and furniture for transport was necessarily elaborate, because the penalty for touching any of the furniture in an improper manner was death. First, Aaron and his sons took down the partition veil that defined the Holy of Holies and draped it over the Ark of the Covenant. Then they covered this with tahash skin and then with blue linen, and insert its carrying poles. To prepare the Table of Showbread they first spread a blue cloth on it, then placed its dishes and pans and other utensils on this cloth. Then they would spread a scarlet covering and then a tahash skin covering, and insert the carrying poles. They would cover the Lampstand and the Altar of Incense with blue cloth and then with tahash skins. The altar of incense had its own carrying poles, while the lampstand had a set of carrying bars that it rested on. Lastly they would place the utensils for the altar of incense and the table of showbread into a blue cloth, cover them with tahash skin, and place them on a set of carrying bars.

Outside, they removed the ashes from the Brass Altar and cover it with a purple cloth. Then they placed the brass utensils for this altar onto this cloth, spread a tahash skin over these, and insert the carrying poles.

Then and only then would the Kohathites carry out all the articles of furniture, under the supervision of Eleazar, son of Aaron.

The Gershonites would next take down all the courtyard and tent coverings and hangings (except the partitioning veil for the Holy of Holies, which was draped over the ark of the covenant) and carry them away, under the supervision of Ithamar, son of Aaron.

Then the Merarites would take down all the pillars, boards, bars, and sockets, and carry these away. Ithamar would also supervise this work.

Camp arrangement and marching order

Bible record: Numbers 2

The Tabernacle was at the center of the massive camp of the Israelites. Directly next to the Tabernacle courtyard, Moses and Aaron and the sons of Aaron would camp to the east, before the Tabernacle gate. The Kohathites would camp to the south, the Gershonites to the west, and the Merarites to the north.

The remaining Israelites would camp further away from the Tabernacle. The tribes of Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun would camp on the east side and would constitute the first rank in the marching order. The tribes of Reuben, Simeon, and Gad would camp on the south side and would constitute the second rank. (The Levites would march between the second and third ranks, with the Kohathites leading, the Gershonites second, and the Merarites third.) The tribes of Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin would camp on the west side and would constitute the third rank. Finally the tribes of Dan, Asher, and Naphtali would camp on the north side and would constitute the fourth and last rank.

Dedication and consecration

On the third day of the third month in the year of the Exodus of Israel (3 Sivan 2513 AM, or May 29, 1491 BC), the Israelites arrived at the base of Mount Sinai.[3] On that day, God proclaimed the Ten Commandments to the people.[4] On the next day, Moses built an altar, erected twelve pillars to represent the Twelve Tribes of Israel, and received sacrifices offered by the firstborn of each tribe. On that same day, Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy elders of Israel climbed the mountain to see the glory of God. Then everyone came down the mountain, except Moses, who remained at the top (and also Joshua, who stayed further down the slope). He remained for six days, and then God spoke to him and gave him the instructions for the Tabernacle, and also the Sacerdotal Garments (including the Breastplate of Judgment) and the procedures for the dedication of the Tabernacle and the consecration of Aaron and his sons. This happened on 10 Sivan 2513 AM (June 5, 1491 BC). Moses spent a total of forty days on the mountaintop.[5]

On 14 Tammuz 2513 AM (July 9, 1491 BC), the Golden Calf incident occurred.[6] After this, Moses ordered the people to set up a temporary tent of meeting outside the camp, where Moses alone would commune with God. Moses interceded for the people, and then God ordered him to cut two more stone tablets and bring them back to the mountaintop, where Moses spent another forty days.[7] After this, on or about 1 Elul 2513 AM (August 24, 1491 BC), Moses collected an offering for the construction of the Tabernacle, plus a capitation tax of one-half shekel each from the adult men. The offered construction materials were so abundant that Moses ordered the people to stop giving.[8]

Construction of the parts and furnishings of the Tabernacle seems to have begun on or about 3 Eitanim 2514 AM (September 24, 1491 BC). The work required about six months.[9]

On 1 Abib 2514 AM (April 17, 1490 BC), the Tabernacle was completed and erected. On that occasion, the glory of God filled the enclosure.

On 1 Zif 2514 AM (May 17, 1490 BC), God ordered Moses to take the first general census of the Israelites[10] and to anoint the Tabernacle and begin the process of consecration for Aaron and his sons.[11] The consecration process (Exodus 29 ) required seven days, and at the end of that time, God kindled the fire in the brass altar for the first time.

Sadly, Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu brought strange fire into the Holy of Holies on or about the tenth day of the second month (10 Zif 2514 AM, or May 26, 1490 BC), and died. After that, God made the ordinance for the Day of Atonement, to take place on 10 Eitanim of every year thereafter.

Career of the Tabernacle

The Tabernacle moved with the camp of Israel until Israel entered Canaan. Apparently it was erected semi-permanently at Shiloh during the era of the Judges. Finally, King David erected the tabernacle in Jerusalem, (2_Samuel 6:17 ) where it stood until the construction of the Temple of Jerusalem by Solomon.[12]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Brown, Alan B., MDiv, ThM; personal interview with User:TerryH on 8 December 2008
  2. Septuagint "blue skins", Vulgate "violet skins", KJV "badgers' skins". Hebrew ערת תחשׁים "uwr't taḥashim / 'orot taḥashim", "skins taḥashim" (plural). The singular form is עור תחשׁ "uwr taḥash / 'or taḥash". "Badgers' skins" violate the biblical context of Leviticus 11:27-28 which forbids touching the carcasses of all creatures that walk on paws. Several 20th century versions render 'or taḥash as the skin of a sea mammal, as "sealskin", "sea cow hide", "porpoise skin", "dolphin skin", "narwhal skin", "dugong hide", "manatee hide". These proposals violate the biblical context of Leviticus 11:10-12 which forbids touching the carcasses of all creatures in the waters, in the seas, in the rivers, that have not fins and scales, because they are unclean שִׁקַּץ "sheqats" abominations. Other versions have the skins of antelopes or the skins of goats, which are clean. The okapi, giraffe and rhinoceros have also been proposed. Many current versions render the Hebrew term 'orot taḥashim by the generic interpretation "fine leather", adding a brief footnote stating that the Hebrew meaning is "uncertain" or "obscure". Recent 20th and 21st century Jewish, Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant versions tend to support the most ancient interpretations of taḥash as a color, as dark, nearly black, indigo, violet, purple, azure, blue, beaded (sheep? ram?) skins or leather. See article Badger skins (Bible).
  3. James Ussher, The Annals of the World, Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2003, pgh. 194
  4. Ussher, op. cit., pghh. 195-196
  5. Ussher, op. cit., pghh. 197-198
  6. Ussher, op. cit., pgh. 200
  7. Ussher, op. cit., pghh. 202-205
  8. Ussher, op. cit., pghh. 207-208
  9. Ussher, op. cit., pgh. 210
  10. Ussher, op. cit., pghh. 214-215
  11. Ussher, op. cit., pgh. 216.
  12. Jimmy Albright, "Tabernacle," in The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Brand C, Draper C, and England A, eds. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2008, pp. 1550-1552

See also