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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.




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 porpoise 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 porpoise skin covering, and insert the carrying poles. They would cover the Lampstand and the Altar of Incense with blue cloth and then with porpoise 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 porpoise 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 porpoise 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.[1] On that day, God proclaimed the Ten Commandments to the people.[2] 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.[3]

On 14 Tammuz 2513 AM (July 9, 1491 BC), the Golden Calf incident occurred.[4] 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.[5] 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.[6]

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.[7]

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[8] and to anoint the Tabernacle and begin the process of consecration for Aaron and his sons.[9] 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.[10]


  1. James Ussher, The Annals of the World, Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2003, pgh. 194
  2. Ussher, op. cit., pghh. 195-196
  3. Ussher, op. cit., pghh. 197-198
  4. Ussher, op. cit., pgh. 200
  5. Ussher, op. cit., pghh. 202-205
  6. Ussher, op. cit., pghh. 207-208
  7. Ussher, op. cit., pgh. 210
  8. Ussher, op. cit., pghh. 214-215
  9. Ussher, op. cit., pgh. 216.
  10. 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