Moses has already received blueprints for three key pieces of furniture—box, table, and lampstand—but he doesn’t yet know what to do with them. As God delivers the plans for his tabernacle, he now provides an architectural structure and directions for where to place each piece of furniture.
Observation of Exodus 26:1-37
Most repeated words: curtain (24 times) frame (23x), make (22), tabernacle (16), side (13), base (12), one (11), two (11)
- The structure is made primarily of curtains and wood frames
Though I often call the entire structure the “tabernacle,” I notice that the word “tabernacle” is reserved here for only the first layer of curtains (Ex 26:1-6).
- Ten curtains, made of linen and blue, purple, and red yarn.
- Cherubim shapes are embroidered into it.
- Sewn together into two sets of 5 curtains.
- The two sets are connected by 50 golden clasps put through loops sewn into the edge of each set.
- If laid flat, the whole “tabernacle” would be a rectangle, measuring 28 cubits by 40 cubits, with a 40-cubit line of gold clasps across the middle.
The “tabernacle” is covered by a “tent” made of goatskins (Ex 26:7-13).
- The formation of this tent is similar to the tabernacle, in that it has a bunch of smaller pieces sewn or clasped together.
- Except it has 11 starter pieces instead of 10.
- This gives it an extra 2-cubit swath of cloth to tuck over in front (Ex 26:9), and an extra 2-cubit swath to trail off the back (Ex 26:13).
- Also, the starter pieces are 2 cubits wider than the tabernacle starter pieces (30 cubits vs. 28 cubits), so they will have an extra cubit on each side to hang over the sides to cover it (Ex 26:13).
The “tent” is covered by two more layers of cloth made from hides (Ex 26:14).
The bones of the structure consist of 48 boards (“frames”), 10 cubits long, held upright by silver bases (Ex 26:15-30).
- Each board is not merely a plank of lumber, but more like a ladder shape, such that it has two feet (called “tenons” in the ESV) to fit into its two bases.
- Incidentally (and I didn’t realize this on my own, I saw it in the IVP New Bible Dictionary when I needed help visualizing everything), this open shape to the frames would enable someone inside the structure to see the beautiful embroidery of the tabernacle curtains.
- The boards are overlaid with gold and placed side-by-side, with 5 gold-covered wooden bars running horizontally across them to hold them together.
- There are 20 boards each on the north and south sides. At 1.5 cubits per board, that makes those sides 30 cubits long.
- There are 6 boards to make the west side, with two extra boards at the corners for support. This back side will be ~9 cubits long, perhaps adding a little for the corner supports.
- So the entrance will be on the east side.
When the “tabernacle” curtains are draped over the wooden frame, the line of golden clasps will go across the ceiling, exactly two-thirds of the way in (20 cubits from the entry way).
A veil is to be woven and embroidered just like the tabernacle curtains, hung on four pillars, and attached to the golden clasps in the ceiling (Ex 26:31-33).
- This veil divides the structure into two rooms (Ex 26:33).
- The mercy seat covers the box with the testimony in the inner room, the “Most Holy Place” (Ex 26:34)—a room that measures 10 cubits by 10 cubits by ~9+ cubits. It’s pretty much a cube.
- In the outer room, the table goes on the north side, and the lampstand goes on the south side (Ex 26:35).
The entrance gets a screen, woven to look like the tabernacle curtains, and hung on 5 gold-covered wood pillars (Ex 26:36-37).
The chapter’s structure:
- Outer two layers
- Vertical frames and horizontal bars
- Inside veil
- Where to place the three furniture pieces
Interpretation of Exodus 26
Some possible questions:
- Why is this here?
- How many of the details have symbolic meaning?
My answers (numbers correspond to the questions):
- The obvious answer may not be ultra-satisfying, but we must at least start there: This is here so these people can build a tent of meeting for Yahweh. Before considering any potential symbols or religious meaning, we need to acknowledge the historical character of this text. This was a real thing that real people built in real time, because God told them to. Why are there so many details? So they can actually build the thing. Why must they build the thing? So Yahweh their God can dwell in their midst (Ex 25:8).
- That said, we know these things were written to teach both them and us about the Lord who dwells with his people. So what do we learn? I’m not comfortable giving symbolic meaning to every detail—such as the colors of the yarns or the number or length of the boards—because the text itself does not do that. But what the text does do is give clear echoes of what’s gone before. With embroidered cherubim (something like sphinxes?), a tree-shaped lampstand, a place to eat, and a place to meet and speak with Yahweh God (Ex 25:22), they and we think of Eden (Genesis 2-3). And the whole thing is covered with animal skins, just as Yahweh covered his ashamed people in Gen 3:21. This structure provides a return to paradise, a place to meet with God and live with him. But it’s even better than Eden, in that the good gold of Havilah (Gen 2:11-12) has already been brought in to make it all shine.
Train of thought: Weave fabric to cover a frame, all so Eden can shine.
Main point: When God dwells with his people, it’s a paradise better than Eden.
Connection to Christ: The connection remains that Jesus is the full and final Immanuel, God with us. But the angle this chapter takes is that, when Jesus returns what we lost, he multiplies it and makes it even better (Rev 19:6-8, Rev 21:1-4, Mark 10:29-30).
My Application of Exodus 26
Paradise is not sitting alone, sipping lemonade on a beach with a gripping book (this is what I imagine). It is not even for me to go back to the innocence of Eden. What Jesus has given me—the knowledge of God through him—is even better. I need to believe this.
And when I believe it, I won’t be so prone to waste as much time on pathetic attempts to re-create paradise in my image, through obsessions with simple pleasures like video games or movies or social media surfing.
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