Exodus 25-28: Tabernacle and sacred clothing

Exodus 25-27 is a very detailed description of the tabernacle (also called the “tent of meeting”) that the Israelites are to construct.  For a colorful 3D model, see here.  All of the materials for the tabernacle–the gold, silver, copper, hides, etc–are to be donated.

The tabernacle is a mobile tent that God is meant to dwell in while he is staying with the Israelites.  The tent itself is 30 by 10 cubits and 10 cubits in height.  It is covered by 4 layers of tent material, and separated by a screen from the courtyard.  Inside the tent is the holy place, which contains a table holding show bread and a lampstand (menorrah).  Both the table and the lampstand are made of pure gold.  Separated from the Holy Place by a curtain is the Holy of Holies, the place where God dwells.  Here, the ark of the covenant rests.  This ark is a rectangular box, 2.5 x 1.5 x 1.5 cubits, made out of acadia wood and overlayed with gold.  Inside this ark are the stone tablets containing Israel’s covenant with God.  Above this ark are two golden cherubim, with their faces facing each other.  Finally, outside the tent of meeting altogether, in the courtyard, is a sacrificial altar with 4 horns at the corners.  Its utensils (scrapers, basins, flesh hooks, fire pans) must be of copper, as must the meshwork inside the altar.

Chapter 28 designates Aaron and his sons as priests, and describes the clothing they must wear.  They must wear a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a fringed tunic, a headdress, and a sash, all with very precise specifications.  Inside the breastpiece of decision they shall place the Urim and Thummim, the instrument of decision.

Commentary:

  • God will dwell above the two cherubim on the ark (25:22).  A cherubim is a composite winged creature, frequently serving in the Ancient Near East as protective spirits for kings and their palaces.
  • The Tabernacle resembles a royal residence, especially the royal tent in Egyptian military camps.  It is also similar to the temples of surrounding nations.
  • The Urim and Thummim is probably a divination device.  It consisted of lots that the priest would draw out of his breastpiece, indicating a positive, negative, or noncommital answer to a question posed to God (see Num. 27:21, 1 Sam. 14:41)
  • Aaron’s robe has a hemline with pomegranate tassels and golden bells (28:33).  The pomegranate was a well-known symbol of fertility.  The bells could have been used to scare away demons, given the ominous warning “that he may not die”
Layout of the tabernacle and its courtyard

Layout of the tabernacle and its courtyard

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