Explore the Tabernacle in the Wilderness

The Tabernacle brought God down to live among his people

The Tabernacle in the Wilderness
The Tabernacle in the Wilderness.

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The tabernacle in the wilderness was a portable place of worship God commanded the Israelites to build after he rescued them from slavery in Egypt. It was used from a year after they crossed the Red Sea until King Solomon built the first temple in Jerusalem, a period of 400 years.

References to the Tabernacle in the Bible

Exodus 25-27, 35-40; Leviticus 8:10, 17:4; Numbers 1, 3-7, 9-10, 16:9, 19:13, 31:30, 31:47; Joshua 22; 1 Chronicles 6:32, 6:48, 16:39, 21:29, 23:36; 2 Chronicles 1:5; Psalms 27:5-6; 78:60; Acts 7:44-45; Hebrews 8:2, 8:5, 9:2, 9:8, 9:11, 9:21, 13:10; Revelation 15:5.

The Tent of Meeting

Tabernacle means "place of meeting" or "tent of meeting," since it was the place where God dwelt among his people on earth. Other names in the Bible for the tent of meeting are the tabernacle of the congregation, wilderness tabernacle, tabernacle of witness, tent of witness, the tabernacle of Moses.

While on Mount Sinai, Moses received minutely detailed instructions from God on how the tabernacle and all its elements were to be constructed. The people gladly donated the various materials from spoils they had received from the Egyptians.

The Tabernacle Compound

The entire 75 by 150-foot tabernacle compound was enclosed by a court fence of linen curtains attached to poles and fastened to the ground with ropes and stakes. At the front was a 30-foot wide gate of the court, made of purple and scarlet yarn woven into twined linen.

The Courtyard

Once inside the courtyard, a worshiper would see a bronze altar, or altar of burnt offering, where offerings of animal sacrifices were presented. Not far from that was a bronze laver or basin, where the priests performed ceremonial purification washings of their hands and feet.

Toward the rear of the compound was the tabernacle tent itself, a 15 by 45-foot structure made of an acacia wood skeleton overlaid with gold, then covered with layers made of goat hair, rams' skins dyed red, and goat skins. Translators disagree on the top covering: badger skins (KJV), sea cow skins (NIV), dolphin or porpoise skins (AMP). Entry to the tent was made through a screen of blue, purple, and scarlet yarn woven into fine twined linen. The door always faced east.

The Holy Place

The front 15 by 30-foot chamber, or holy place, contained a table with showbread, also called shewbread or bread of the presence. Across from it was a lampstand or menorah, fashioned after an almond tree. Its seven arms were hammered from a solid piece of gold. At the end of that room was an altar of incense.

The rear 15 by 15-foot chamber was the Most Holy Place, or holy of holies, where only the high priest could go, once a year on the Day of Atonement. Separating the two chambers was a veil made with blue, purple and scarlet yarns and fine linen. Embroidered on that curtain were images of cherubim or angels. In that sacred chamber was only one object, the ark of the covenant.

The ark was a wooden box overlaid with gold, with statues of two cherubim on top facing each other, their wings touching. The lid, or mercy seat, was where God met with his people. Inside the ark were the tablets of the Ten Commandments, a pot of manna, and Aaron's almond wood staff.

The entire tabernacle took seven months to complete, and when it was finished, the cloud and pillar of fire—the presence of God—descended on it.

A Portable Tabernacle

When the Israelites camped in the desert, the tabernacle was situated in the very center of camp, with the 12 tribes encamped around it. During its use, the tabernacle was moved many times. Everything could be packed into oxcarts when the people left, but the ark of the covenant was hand-carried by Levites.

The tabernacle's journey began at Sinai, then it stood for 35 years at Kadesh. After Joshua and the Hebrews crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land, the tabernacle stood at Gilgal for seven years. Its next home was Shiloh, where it remained until the time of the Judges. It was later set up in Nob and Gibeon. King David erected the tabernacle at Jerusalem and had the ark brought from Perez-uzzah and set in it.

The Meaning of the Tabernacle

The tabernacle and all its components had symbolic meanings. Overall, the tabernacle was a foreshadowing of the perfect tabernacle, Jesus Christ, who is Immanuel, "God with us." The Bible constantly points to the coming Messiah, who fulfilled God's loving plan for the salvation of the world:

We have a High Priest who sat down in the place of honor beside the throne of the majestic God in heaven. There he ministers in the heavenly Tabernacle, the true place of worship that was built by the Lord and not by human hands.
And since every high priest is required to offer gifts and sacrifices ... They serve in a system of worship that is only a copy, a shadow of the real one in heaven ...
But now Jesus, our High Priest, has been given a ministry that is far superior to the old priesthood, for he is the one who mediates for us a far better covenant with God, based on better promises. (Hebrews 8:1-6, NLT)

Today, God continues to dwell among his people but in an even more intimate way. After Jesus' ascension into heaven, he sent the Holy Spirit to live inside every Christian.