The Tabernacle in the Wilderness

by Keith Cook

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The Altar of Burnt Offerings
"Thou shalt make an altar of shittim wood".

THE physical details of the Altar are provided in Exod. 27:1-8 and ch. 38:1-7. It was a shittim-wood, box-shaped structure measuring approximately 7 feet 6 inches long by 7 feet 6 inches high. The shittim wood planks were covered in brass. It was carried by staves also made of shittim wood, brass covered, which were attached by brass rings to the sides of the Altar.

Later, the censers of the two hundred and fifty rebels, associated with Korah, Dathan and Abiram (Num. 16:35-39), were added as a reminder to Israel of the destiny of flesh (return to the earth) which opposes Yahweh, and presumes to offer service which does not conform to the Divine pattern.

The Altar had four horns, each located in a corner; they were made of shittim wood overlaid with brass, and were one with the altar (Exod. 27:2). The sacrifices were bound to these horns (Ps. 11 8:27), this being the means of connecting the sacrifice with the Altar.

Priestly Activity

The area immediately adjacent to the Altar was the scene of considerable and constant activity. Here the priests ministered on behalf of the people (Exod. 29:38-44), performing a ministry of reconciliation (Lev. 8:15).

Here they partook of the offerings (Lev. 10:12) which they had accepted from the offerer on behalf of Yahweh, to slay, examine, prepare and offer it to Him so that He could partake of that which His people had presented to Him as their representative sacrifice (Lev. 1; 3:2,8,12 etc.).

By means of fire Yahweh partook of these sacrifices (Lev. 9:24), a fire which the priests had to keep burning day and night (Lev. 6:13).

"We Have An Altar..." (Heb. 13:10)

There were a number of typical features about the Brazen Altar of Burnt Offering that pointed forward to the Lord Jesus Christ (Heb. 13:10).

The location of the Altar in the Outer Court marked the importance of sacrifice, for it was the first object encountered upon entry. The willingness or otherwise to sacrifice is the testing point, both then and now, of the attitude of mind displayed by the offerer.

After the Lord had publicly declared his acceptance of Yahweh's principle of self-sacrifice in baptism (Matt. 3:13-15), he was led into the Wilderness for a period of trial. He successfully faced up to the challenge imposed upon him, so demonstrating under test evidences of his mental attitude towards his Father's Word and Will. He overcame every temptation imposed on him, rendering perfect obedience to every requirement (Matt. 4:1-10; Luke 4:1-13), and became the

anti-typical alter upon which lesser offerings can be presented to the Father.

The materials from which the Altar was constructed, therefore, pointed forward to the Lord. Especially selected Shittim wood (human nature Heb. 2:14-17), overlaid with brass that had been subjected to the afflictions of fiery trials (Isa. 53:3-8), resulted in a sacrifice and service that was acceptable to Yahweh. Therefore, he became the meeting place, propitiation (Rom. 3:25), between the repentant offerer and God in a "ministry of reconciliation" (cp. Rom. 5:10-11).

The sacrifice which the Lord presented upon the altar of entire dedication and complete obedience, was wholly consumed by the fire of God. It changed him from mortal nature to Divine; from the frailty of flesh to the strength of immortality.

"Present Your Bodies A Living Sacrifice" (Rom. 12:1)

It is essential that the sacrifices we are called upon to present to Yahweh he made in an acceptable manner. They must be according to the pattern shown in this Altar of brass and through the Lord Jesus Christ.

It is of prime importance for us to appreciate that our calling into the body of Christ for the purpose of becoming Yahweh's dwelling place, involves sacrifice -

Baptism is the symbol of this sacrifice (Rom. 6:1-6). It calls for a figurative death of the "body of sin", so that there is no longer servitude to sin, but a new life not dominated by fleshly desires, but "alive unto God" (vv. 11-14), having become His purchased possession. It is upon this basis that His work of our reconciliation through Christ is accomplished (2 Cor. 5:17-19).

By this means we are bound to the Christ-altar and have fellowship with the sufferings of him who was sacrificed for us (Phil. 3:8-10; 1 Pet. 32 4:13; 1 Cor. 5:7). Like the priests, we partake of the sacrifice. We do this each week in a symbolic way in partaking of Christ (1 Cor. 10:18), in "eating" of his body and "drinking" of his blood, through the bread and wine. This represents the assimilation of his teaching (the bread), and the manifestation of his life (the wine) and service. This service of dedication is a constant one, and by it Yahweh partakes of our sacrifice (Psa. 119:44,117).

Having been reconciled to God (Rom. 5:10), we "extend" that ministry (2 Cor. 5:18-20) by becoming instruments in God's hands for bringing others also into contact with the Christ-altar.

The Altar was a symbol to Israel of the presence of Yahweh; it was His "table" from which He partook of His "food" (Lev. 3:11; 21:6,17), as His fire utterly consumed the animal representative of flesh that was put to death and offered on the Altar.

The Prophecy of The Altar

The Altar was also a prophecy of the Lord's future activity (Heb. 3:3-6), when he will manifest himself sacrificially and judicially in his consuming fiery judgments upon ungodly and unrepentant mankind. In this work, the four horns represent the four living creatures of Rev. 7:11, extensions of Christ in the work of judgment upon the nations sacrificially gathered for their subjection to the purpose of Yahweh.

Habakkuk in ch. 3:3-6 presents a prophecy concerning Yahweh's manifestation through Christ and His saints for the purpose of judgment upon rebellious nations. Their activity is couched in the terms of sacrificial as well as judicial judgment. They will become the multitudinous Christ-altar through whom humanity's offerings will be made unto Yahweh.

The Laver
Exodus 30:17
"The washing of water by the Word" (Eph. 5:26).

LITTLE is recorded concerning this piece of furniture, yet it was extremely important. At the Laver the priests washed before attending on the Altar or entering the Tabernacle. Yet its shape or size is not given nor are we told what happened to it when it was conveyed from place to place. Paul aligns the Laver with the Word, writing:

"That he might sanctify and cleanse it (the Ecclesia) with the washing (Greek - loutron, or laver) of water by the word" (Eph. 5:26). The Word is the medium of sanctification (John 17:17), but its teaching is hot openly manifested but must be sought out and meditated upon. Perhaps that is why the Laver appears to be enshrouded with a certain element of mystery.

The Laver was a brazen vessel for the purpose of washing. It was made from the looking glasses of certain of the women of Israel (Exod. 38:8). In those days, mirrors (as the word should be rendered) were made of polished brass. The Laver was located between the Altar of Burnt Offering and the entrance into the Holy Place. Here the priests washed their hands and feet before approaching the Altar or entering the Holy Place.

These requirements impressed Israel with the lesson that all approaches to Yahweh, whether it he in sacrificial offering or tabernacle service and worship, must be preceded by the washing of the hands and feet.

The Laver was a very significant feature of the furniture of the Tabernacle. It acted like a pivot point in the activities of the priests as they went about their Ecclesial duties. The hands that performed the service to Yahweh were cleansed to ensure that all that was done was acceptable. The fact that typified the priest's walk before Yahweh and in His sanctuary, were cleansed of the pollutions of the earth. The cleansing was a regular experience to each priest occurring, no doubt, numerous times each day, as offering followed offering resulting from the many Israelites who needed to present their sacrifices at the Tabernacle door.

The principle of washing, or cleansing, finds frequent use in Scripture. The application of washing by water to illustrate the effect of the Word of God upon peoples' minds and lives, is also a familiar one.

The Cleansing Power of the Word

The Lord Jesus Christ demonstrated the principle in his temptation (Matt. 4:1-10; Luke 4:1-13). When faced with each temptation he drew upon the record in Deut. 6:13,16 and 8:3 to withstand and overcome it. He was in the wilderness and he applied the record of Israel's wilderness experiences!

The words recorded acted upon his mind like cleansing water to remove any human inclination to agree with the tempter's proposals. Thus figuratively, his hands and feet were "cleansed" as he prepared to enter his priestly service in the midst of the Israel Ecclesia of his day, and to be the sanctuary of Yahweh in Israel.

The Laver holds similar lessons for us. The water of the Word is able to cleanse us Sc) that our life's walk before Yahweh ("feet") and our service for Him ("hands") can he acceptable. (cp. Psa. 119.9; John 15:3; Titus 3:5; Eph. 5:26). In this last reference, Paul employs the original word 'loutron' which has been rendered "washing". As with the Lord, so we also must be mentally "washed" before we offer the sacrifice of service, or before we enter the fellowship and service of the Ecclesia Holy Place (Psa. 26:6).

How Can The Word Wash Us?

The question might be asked - How can printed words upon paper "wash" the mind and life of a person made of fleshly tissue? David answers the question in Psa. 119:9: "Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to Thy word." "Taking heed" of the Word means first using the senses of sight or hearing to enable the printed or spoken words to enter through to the thought processes of the Li rain. The repetition of this procedure results in that Word being "hid in the heart" (or mind, v.11). The increasing knowledge and understanding thus gathered begins to form a large proportion of the subconscious mind to play its part in promoting action. So the Psalmist wrote: "Thy word have I hid in my heart (his subconscious mind), that I might not sin against Thee" (v.11).

The effect of such "washing" of the Word will influence eyes, tongue, hands, feet, the whole body, as the motor nerves respond to the brain's commands. Thus, "as a man thinketh in his heart (or mind), so is he" (Prov. 23:7)

When the power of the written word is thus changed from words to mental attitudes (Phil. 2:5) and Godly actions (v.12), it can be said that the Laver is fulfilling its purpose as a symbol of the fleshly or carnal mind being surrendered, or offered, as were the brass mirrors of Godly women in Israel. The vessel thus becomes one that is "meet for the master's use" - one that will be filled with the Word for the cleansing of the servants of Yahweh. So Paul exhorted: "If a man therefore purge himself of these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work" (2 Tim. 2:21). He makes reference to the "laver of regeneration" in Titus 3:5, an expression that denotes the need of continual washing thereat. And the Psalmist declared: "I will wash mine hands in innocency: so will I compass Thine altar, 0 Yahweh" (Psa. 26:6). We need constant recourse to the Word of God, the antitypical Laver, that its regenerative influence may so dominate us to make our worship acceptable unto Christ at his coming. Thus: "Christ loved the Ecclesia, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the Laver of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious ecclesia, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing: but that it should be holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:25-27).

That was the lesson the Laver taught from its prominent position outside the Tabernacle door, as Israelites saw the priests constantly washing thereat, that they may offer acceptably before their God. If priests had to constantly wash, whose lives were given entirely to the will of God, how essential was the antitypical Laver, the Word of God, to every Israelite desiring salvation.

The Tabernacle Structure
"Builded together for an habitation of God" (Ephesians. 2:22).

DETAILS of the Ecclesial structure are provided in Exod. 26:1-30,36-37. The Tabernacle Structure measured 30 cubits long by 10 cubits wide by 10 cubits high or approximately 45 feet long by l5 feet wide by l5 feet high. It was divided into two rooms or compartments:

(1) The Holy Place of 30 feet by l5 feet by l5 feet;
(2) The Most Holy Place of l5 feet by l5 feet x l5 feet, or a cube.

These two compartments were separated by a veil of curtain that was supported by 4 pillars.

The entrance to the structure, that is to the Holy Place, faced eastwards, towards the Laver and Brazen Altar. The entrance to the outer court from the Holy Place was via a curtained opening made up of 4 curtains supported by 5 pillars.

The structure was walled on the North, South and West sides by boards of specially selected Shittim wood, each overlaid with gold and measuring 10 cubits or l5 ft long, 1-1/2 cubits or 2 feet 3 inches wide and 1/2 cubit or 9 inches thick.

There were 20 boards or pillars on the south and north sides and 6 (plus 2 extra corner boards) on the west side. Each board was provided with 2 tenons on the lower end, each of which was seated into a silver socket.

Each of these 3 walls was formed by means of the boards being held together by bars that were made also of Shittim wood and gold covered. Four such bars visibly traversed the length of each wall, and the boards, or pillars, were attached to the bars by means of gold rings. There was also an invisible bar (Exod. 36:33) that was shot through the center of the pillars transversely. In addition, each pillar was held in an upright position by cords fastened to each and to tent pins of brass driven into the ground of the outer court (Exod. 38:20).

The Coverings of the Tabernacle
"Blessed are they who are covered" Exodus 26:1-6.

THE coverings of the Tabernacle structure were in two distinct but related sections: The Mishkan and the Ohel.

The Tabernacle or Mishkan was ceiled by two sets of five curtains joined together to form a covering over the structure. Each curtain was made of fine twined linen and embroidery, worked in blue, purple and scarlet. Each measured 28 cubits long by 4 cubits wide, or 42 feet by 6 feet. The joining together of the two sets of five curtains was immediately over the veil which divided the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place (Exod. 26:31-33,36). They were joined by fifty golden taches (Heb. qeres, a knob, pin, or hook) connecting fifty loops of blue (Exod. 26:4-6).

The curtains were cunningly embroidered with Cherubim (Exod. 26:1) the faces of which thus looked into the inside of the Tabernacle.

Over the Mishkan was the covering of the Ohel or tent. (Exod. 26:7-14. "upon" (v.7) is rendered over in the R.V. See also Exod. 40:18,19 and Rotherham's translation).

The significance of the Ohel was that is was clearly conspicuous from a distance (Strong).

This covering comprised:

  1. Goats' Hair - Eleven curtains, each thirty cubits long by four cubits wide, or 45 feet by 6 feet. These were made up into two sets, one of five curtains and the other of six held together by the use of fifty brass clasps ("Taches") and fifty loops of blue upon each set. The sixth curtain of the front set was doubled (Exod. 26:9) over at the front of the Tabernacle, forming a porch-like arrangement. Half of the rear set of five curtains fell over the rear of the structure so that the two sets were joined over the veil. Hence the Holy Place was separated from the Most Holy both inside and out.
  2. Rams skins dyed red, concerning which no dimensions or quantities are recorded:
  3. Badger's skins for which, likewise, no quantities are provided. These skins are considered more reliably to be the skins of the Dugong. Records indicate that this mammal was found in the area of the Red Sea in times past or even quite recently. The Biological Journal of the Linnear Society, Vol. 5, No. 4, Dec. 1973, reports evidences of past and recent distribution and frequency of sightings of Dugong in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aqaba, Gulf of Suez, Sudan Coasts, Arabian South Coast and Persian Gulf Areas. (See also Animals of Bible Lands pp. 138, 139). The color of its skin is reported to have a bluish hue.

The shape of the structure has been generally described as either having a flat-top or a peaked top. There are factors in favor of each arrangement while others are against one or the other.

Figures of the True
"The Sanctuary... the true Tabernacle, which the Lord pitched" (Heb. 8:2).

THERE are a number of features connected with the Tabernacle structure and its coverings which illustrate to us the character and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

They become evident as we approach and view it as an Israelite would have done as he entered the Outer Court.

He would first look upon the entrance curtains (Exod. 26:36,37).

They typified Christ thus:

  1. The curtains comprised an entrance. In John 10:9 the Lord declared that he is "the door" i.e. into the holiness of the Ecclesial "sanctuary". As such he displayed his Father's righteousness (white) of character and truth (e.g. John 1:14). He put complete trust in his Father, and was in constant communion with Him (blue). Reconquered despite the weakness of the human nature (scarlet), which he shared with us all. In him the "blue" and the "scarlet" met and mixed (purple) proclaiming that Yahweh was manifest in and through His son.
  2. The curtains were supported by five pillars of Shittim wood, gold covered, standing upon brass sockets. Can we believe it was mere coincidence that there were five writers of the New Testament Epistles - Paul, Peter, James, Jude and John? Their writings were designed by the Spirit to expound the principles upon which Yahweh manifested Himself in His son, and would do so also in the minds and lives of those who believe and practise the teachings of the Epistles. Five is the number of "grace", which is proclaimed in the writings of these five "pillars", as well as through the Gospel. Grace enables us to enter the Ecclesia! "By grace are ye saved" (Eph. 2:5).
  3. The curtains were a constant reminder to the priests, who laboured in the Outer Court on behalf of those who approached Yahweh in sacrifice, that those who would progress into the Holy Place of the Sanctuary, must reveal the characteristics represented by the Tabernacle curtains.

Thus the curtains marked an important development in the progress of Yahweh's chosen priests, the true Israelites in faith. Through Christ they are called to enter into a closer dedication to the Name and Service of Yahweh so that He can dwell richly in them. Thus there will be displayed in them the same characteristics that were symbolized by the curtains, that were actually seen by Israelites in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Progress Into The Holy Place
"That ye may show forth the Virtues of Him who hath called you (1 Pet. 2:9).

Christ manifested the qualities shown in the Tabernacle curtains, and believers, constituting the multitudinous Christ, must do likewise. Upon the basis of Divine righteousness only (white), is it possible for Yahweh to manifest Himself (blue), through His chosen human (scarlet) servants, thereby also showing His own royal supremacy (purple) and, at the same time, that such are "a royal priesthood".

At this stage of development as Yahweh's "dwelling place", saints have developed beyond the stage of experience denoted by the brass of the Altar and Laver. The carnal mind, with its fleshly-inclined thinking and ideas, has been subjected to mental changes as the Word of Yahweh exercises its influence. And this mental change will have its outworking in the moral application of the Truth that will follow, and which was symbolized by the Holy Place which we are soon to enter. That stage in turn, will ultimately give place to a physical change of nature, denoted by the Most Holy Place which typified the ultimate development.

Meanwhile, in the same way as Christ's virtues and character have attracted us to him, so it is possible for us to influence others, drawing them into a closer relationship to the Lord by encouraging their similar development, mentally and morally.

The Two Coverings
The approaching Israelite would be aware of the coverings that were earlier described. He would see features that have been reproduced in the Lord Jesus Christ. These were symbolized first in the mishkan and second in the ohel.

(1) The first covering formed the Tabernacle, or the Dwelling. Here Yahweh dwelt. He also "dwelt" in Christ His Only Begotten Son and manifested Himself in the way typified in the entrance curtains. But Christ also was the bearer of the Divine glory, denoted by the faces of the Cherubim that were intricately and cleverly embroidered.

This beautifully foreshadowed the character of the Lord. His character mirrored the glory of Yahweh (John 1:14). And ultimately, his nature likewise reflected the same glory. In character and nature, he was "curiously wrought" by the Divine Craftsman into the "glory as of the only begotten of the Father" (Psa. 139:15; John 1:14), so that the perfected Son of God could proclaim, "1 am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well" (Psa. 139:14). Even in his mortality, Christ revealed the character of his Father.

As such, he became the covering for all those who have entered the Ecclesial Holy Place in him (Eph. 1:3; 2:6). He has surrounded, covered and embraced all who form, by Divine calling, the "Temple of God". Notice how frequently the Psalmist refers to the curtains as a covering (e.g. Psa. 17:8; 36:7; 59:1; 61:4; 63:7; 91:4).

(2) Over the Tabernacle including its curtains there was placed the Tent or Ohel. It was made of Goats' hair, recalling the sin offering. As such it pointed forward to Christ. His sacrifice provides us with our covering for sin (Rom. 4:7), without which we could not enter Yahweh's dwelling place, thc Ecclesia. The remaining skins indicated the nature he bore; a nature that was subject to the propensities and inclinations of sin and death - the man Christ Jesus, yet in whom is seen the character of the Deity in manifestation.