Exodus 25-40 Moses Erects God’s Tabernacle


1. Summary

• Moses gave God’s instructions for the Tabernacle and the priesthood

• God cursed the Israelites when they disobeyed His instructions given by Moses.

• God blessed the Israelites when they built the tabernacle as the Lord commanded and Moses taught

2. Structure

a Tabernacle instruction (Ex.25:1-31:18)

b Failure and forgiveness (Ex.31:1-34:35)

a’ Tabernacle construction (Ex.35:1-40:48)


I. Tabernacle Instruction (25:1-31:18)

A. General Analysis

-The Tabernacle and its Furnishings (Ex.25:1-27:19)
-The Priests and their Services (Ex.27:20-30:38)
-The Craftsmen (Ex.31:1-11)
-The Sabbath (Ex.31:12-17)
-The Ten Commandments (Ex.31:18)

B. Detailed Analysis

1. Historical Background

Before considering the meaning of the Tabernacle, we will review the events which have led up to its construction. In the beginning, no Tabernacle was required. Adam and Eve met with God throughout the Garden of Eden. This friendliness turned into alienation after the Fall. It was no longer so easy for creatures to enter God’s presence. Indeed, it became impossible, apart from through heads of families sacrificing on altars at specific locations. However, by the time of the Exodus, Israel had grown from an extended family into a large nation. This was why God commanded Moses to build a Tabernacle by which the united nation might properly approach Him. The temporary structure of the Tabernacle was suited to the nomadic existence of the Israelites at that time. Later, when the conquest was completed and the nation settled in Canaan the structure was made more permanent with the building of the Temple.

More than one-third of Exodus (chaps. 25-31; 35-40) is devoted to the establishment of Israel’s cultic framework, in particular to the erection of, and the regulations for the use of, Israel’s tabernacle. This is no meaningless cultic digression, but emphasizes the goal of the exodus and the importance of a worshipful response in Israel’s continuing covenantal relationship.[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 32.[/footnote]


2. God is King

The covenant established God as Israel’s king. As a king he “required” a royal residence in which to dwell and rule. The worship of God was the ultimate end and purpose of the exodus. Israel moves from bondage to worship.

We need to remember that the tabernacle within the camp was a visible reminder of Israel’s form of government. As the earthly palace of the heavenly king, the tabernacle pointed to the locus of final political authority in Israel. The worship response for which the tabernacle called was therefore recognition of divine kingship exercised over Israel and, in this sense, was also a political act. Worship is therefore the protocol by which access to the divine king may be obtained. The Book of Exodus thus presents Israel as a worshiping community regulated by its divine king.[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 40.[/footnote]


3. God is near

The Tabernacle, which means “Dwelling Place” was God’s way of living in the midst of Israel.

The glory of his presence which had provided both protection and comfort would now reside in the centre of the Israelite camp.[footnote]B Arnold and B Beyer, Encountering the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 107.[/footnote]

The tabernacle symbolizes God’s immanence in Israel’s midst. But God’s grace has designed a worship form in which distance from deity is minimized and nearness is stressed.[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 39[/footnote]


4. God is holy

The location, architectural design, building materials, and accessibility of the tabernacle all highlight the fact that a holy God dwelt in the midst of the Israelites.
a. Circles of holiness
There were circles of holiness surrounding the tabernacle. Outside of the camp was the realm of the Gentiles and the unclean. There were no special qualifications required for those in this space. However, only those who were in covenant with God and were ritually clean were permitted to move into the camp. Only Levites, who were specially consecrated to the service of the Lord, were permitted to set up their tents in the vicinity of the tabernacle, and they surrounded the site. The Levites, in other words, served to buffer the tabernacle from the rest of the camp. Even most Levites were not permitted to minister close to the tabernacle, however. This service was restricted to one family of Levites, the descendants of Aaron. Furthermore, the most holy place of all, the inner sanctum of the tabernacle where the ark was kept, was the most restricted space of all. Only the current high priest could enter, and he only once a year – on the Day of Atonement (Lev.16).
b. Precious materials
Also, as one got nearer to the Most Holy place the building materials became more precious. This gradation can be seen in the four coverings of the tabernacle.

The outermost curtain was the most functional; it was a covering of the hides of sea cows (Ex. 26:14). Exposed to the elements, this water-repellent material was a perfect external covering for the tabernacle. In addition, layers of rams skins dyed red and goat hair also served to protect the contents of the building. The innermost curtain was a carefully and intricately crafted curtain of “finely twisted linen and blue, purple and scarlet yarn, with cherubim worked into them”. This curtain is the one that could be seen from the inside of the tabernacle. Its sky-like color and the presence of the heavenly creatures demonstrate that the tabernacle was considered to be heaven on earth. Thus the closer the material was to the ark, the more precious it was. This principle is borne out for the metallic materials as well (Haran). Out in the courtyard, less precious materials like bronze and silver are found (Ex. 27:9-19). In the tabernacle itself, gold and the even more precious “pure gold” are used to construct the furniture of the tabernacle (the ark [Ex.25:10-22], the table [Ex.25:23-30], and the lampstand [Ex.25:31-40]).[footnote]R Dillard and T Longman, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993), 69-70.[/footnote]


5. Description of the Tabernacle

The detailed descriptions of the Tabernacle are found in Exodus 25-28, 30, and 35-40. Moving from the outside to the inside we will briefly consider the various parts of it (see diagrams below).
a. Outer hangings
The outer curtains enclosed a perimeter measuring fifty by one hundred cubits (75ft by 150 ft). This court was designed to separate Israel as a holy possession of God and keep it distinct from the Gentiles.
b. The tabernacle tent
Inside the outer hangings was a large tent measuring 15ft by 45 ft. This was curtained off into two sections, the holy place and the holy of holies.
c. The altar of burnt offering
Just inside the outer curtain door was the bronze altar of burnt offering on which were offered the blood sacrifices and grain offerings. This signified that the way of approach to God is by sacrifice: without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins. This altar was tended by the priests. The layman may slay his offering; but the priest must perform the sacrifice. It was within this sacred enclosure that the sacrificial meal (peace offerings) was to be eaten by the offeror and his family.
d. The laver
This was a large wash basin made of bronze, in which priests had to wash their hands and their feet before offering sacrifice or entering the holy place. It was not for the use of the people.
e. The holy place
This was the first of two compartments in the tabernacle. It measured 30 ft by 15ft and contained three sacred pieces of furniture: the table of showbread, the lampstand and the altar of incense. Only the priests were permitted to enter this. At the front there was a curtain or screen – the outer veil – which was exactly like the hanging at the entrance of the outer court. Beyond this veil there was a second, which divides the interior into two rooms, the holy place and the holy of holies. This veil differed from the other two only in having cherubim embroidered on it, to symbolize the immediate presence of God.
f. The table of showbread
On the right of the holy places was the table of showbread. Twelve fresh unleavened loaves (symbolizing the twelve tribes) of fine flour were placed on this every Sabbath and were eaten only by the priests. The bread was an offering to the Lord of the fruit of the people’s labor, but at the same time it served to acknowledge God’s provision of food for the nation.
g. The lampstand
On the left was the candlestick with its seven oil lamps which were to be fed with pure olive oil, and they are tended by the priests. It burns from evening until morning. The lampstand may have represented God as a light to Israel or perhaps Israel as a light to the Gentiles (Isa.42:6), reflecting the glory of the Lord by their godly lives.
h. The altar of incense
This was the most important of the furnishings of the holy place. This is indicated by the fact that it stood in front of the veil which separated the holy of holies from the holy place. Each morning and evening, when the priest trimmed the lamps, he placed a pot of incense on this altar, which itself was kindled with live coals taken from the altar of burnt sacrifice. This was never to be allowed to go out. This incense which was to burn per-petually before the Lord symbolized the prayers of God’s people.
i. The holy of holies
This was on the other side of the inner curtain which was used to separate it off from the holy place. This small sanctuary, measuring 15 ft by 15ft, had only one piece of furniture, the ark of the covenant. None were allowed to pass behind this veil but the high priest, and he only on one day in the entire year, the Day of Atonement.
j. The ark of the covenant
This was also called the ark of the testimony because the tables of stone containing the Ten Commandments were placed in it. This consisted of a chest 2.5 by 1.5 cubits, covered by a lid of solid gold. On this were two cherubim facing each other with outstretched wings and looking downward at the surface of the lid which was known as the “mercy-seat” or “propitiatory”. The ark represented the presence of God in the midst of His people. It was from here that Moses heard the voice of God speaking to him from behind the veil, a unique honor not shared by Aaron or any of Aaron’s successors in the priesthood.
Placed in front of the ark were the golden pot of manna and the rod of Aaron which had blossomed. Later they were placed inside it.
k. The Shekinah
The holy of holies was in complete darkness, so far as natural light is concerned. But it was filled with the brightness of the Shekinah, that light of God’s presence, which was seen in the pillar of cloud and of fire.
[footnote]Nelson’s complete book of Bible maps and charts (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997), Electronic Edition.[/footnote] [footnote]Ibid., Electronic Edition.[/footnote]  

6. Four Features of the Tabernacle

O T Allis highlights four features of the tabernacle.[footnote]O T Allis, God Spake by Moses (Philipsburg: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1951), 88-91.[/footnote] a. The Practical
The tabernacle had the form of a nomad’s tent. It was possible to take it down, pack it, and move it to the next location. This mobility was necessary because the people of God were wandering in the wilderness and unsettled in the land. The materials used in its construction were such as the people had or could obtain. Boards of solid gold would have been too heavy to move and very costly. Apart from the utensils used in the sanctuary, only the mercy-seat with its cherubim and the candlestick were of gold.
b. The Artistic
There was a beautiful symmetry of design in the tabernacle and its appointments. The gold and silver and brass, the fine linen of the curtains, the elaborately embroidered hangings or veils, made this sanctuary a thing of “glory and of beauty”. It was the worthy model for the glorious temple of Solomon.
c. The Symbolic
There is a marked appropriateness in the various appointments of the tabernacle. But there has been much difference of opinion as to the extent to which symbolism is to be discovered in it. The holy of holies was a perfect cube. It is natural to see in this the type of the New Jerusalem, of which “the length and the breadth and the height of it are equal” (Rev.21:16). Since gold was the most precious metal known to the ancients, it was right that it should be used for nearly everything connected with the tabernacle itself; while brass, a much less valuable metal, was used for everything connected with the outer court and its furnishings. In this way a sharp and important distinction was made between the court of the people and the sanctuary of the Lord.
d. The Religious
The whole pattern of the tabernacle is designed to emphasize the fact that God dwells amid but apart from His people. He is invisible, unapproachable in holiness: His people are sinful and may not enter His holy presence. His blessings must be mediated by a priesthood. Only the priests can offer sacrifice for sin on the great altar of sacrifice. Only they may enter the holy place and burn incense there. Only the high priest may enter the holy of holies. Thus the holiness of God, the sinfulness of man, the necessity of mediation by the priest and atonement by the blood of sacrifice are vividly presented to the mind of the worshipper.

7. Tabernacle and Sabbath

Exodus 25-31, which contains Tabernacle building instructions, concludes with instructions regarding the Sabbath. Chapters 35-40, in which the Tabernacle is actually built, commence with similar instructions regarding Sabbath observance. The Tabernacle and Sabbath are thus vitally connected.
The Hebrew root shabat can mean stop or rest, but the underlying meaning points to that which gives completeness, usually by bringing a series to an end (see Gen. 2:1-4), and thus to that which provides a culminating point or purpose. As an end to the Exodus, then, Sabbath worship in the Tabernacle is presented as the culminating point. Similarly there is the divine command to build a Temple after the conquest of Canaan. Creation, Exodus and Conquest leads to Sabbath worship.

8. Authorization of Mosaic worship

The Tabernacles building instructions are given in seven speeches, each of which commences with “the Lord said to Moses”. This stresses both the divine origin of the Tabernacle and Moses’ special place in its construction. Moses is given the Divine commission (Ex.25:9). These are to be lasting ordinances (Ex.27:21, 28:43), for the generations to come (Ex.29:42; 30:8,10,21,31; 31:13,16). There is a Divine promise of His presence if they obey (Ex.29:44-45). And, after it has been asserted some twenty times that the guiding and governing principle, “as the Lord commanded Moses”, has been faithfully observed, the tabernacle is accepted and consecrated, the all-enveloping cloud being the sign of the Lord’s entering into possession of His earthly dwelling-place.
Moses’ Message: My worship legislation came from God; rebellion will lead to judgment, compliance to blessing.

C. New Testament Analysis

1. Christ the Tabernacle

All of the Old Testament symbols for God’s dwelling on earth were provisional and temporary. They all pointed forward and anticipated the coming of Jesus Christ, God’s own Son, who “became flesh and tabernacled among us” (John 1:14). Ultimately, the tabernacle and temple, which represented heaven on earth (Heb.8-9), looked forward to the merging of heaven and earth in the New Jerusalem (Rev.21-22).
He is the sacrifice, the altar (Heb.13:10), the laver (Titus 3:5; 1Jn.1:9), the lampstand (Jn.8:12), the showbread (Jn.6:35), the intercessor (Heb.7:25; Rev.8:3-4), the holy of holies (Jn.14:6; Heb.9:24), mercy seat (Heb.9:5), the dwelling place of God (Col.1:9).

2. The heavenly blueprint

The Tabernacle is an earthly replica of heavenly realities.

It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us (Heb.9:23-24).


II. Failure and Forgiveness (31:1-34:35)

A. General Analysis

a Israel rebels against covenant (Ex.32:1-29)

b Moses intercedes to avert divine threats (Ex.32:30-33:23)

a’ Israel renews covenant (Ex.34:1-35)

B. Detailed Analysis

1. Apostasy (Ex.32:1-29)

Chapter 32 illustrates a repeated theme in Israel’s history, her tendency to apostasy. The serious trials at the Red Sea, Marah and the wilderness of Sin had produced murmurings. However, this narrative occurs after the solemn covenant ceremony when they entered into covenant relationship. They had nothing to complain about.
The making of the bull was a flagrant breach of the first three commandments. The deliverance from Egypt, the awe-inspiring giving of the Law at Sinai, and the solemn ratification of the Covenant were all quickly forgotten. The Israelites had been living for generations in a polytheistic and idolatrous environment; and it was not easy to throw off its spell and return to the pure monotheism of Abraham.
In the aftermath of this idolatry Moses took the tabernacle (or tent of meeting) outside the camp. This evidenced God’s dis¬pleasure with Israel and also the esteem in which he held Moses.

2. Violation and Mediation


Problem Intercession Result
Threat of destruction
“Do not destroy”
God relents
Realization of great sin
Offer of substitution
God denies request
Denial of divine presence
“Remember your people”
“Go with us”
“Show me your glory”
(Ex.33:12-13, 15-16, 18)
God agrees
(Ex.33:14, 19-20)
“Shining face”
[footnote]R Pratt, Lectures on Genesis to Joshua (Orlando: RTS).[/footnote] This section shows the awful consequences resulting from rejecting Moses and the blessings bestowed when they follow him. It demonstrates how much Israel needed Moses’ prayers and presence.
Moses’ Message: Without my intercession, your sins would have brought destruction upon you.

3. God’s glory (Ex.33:18)

In verse 18 Moses prays “I beseech thee, shew me thy glory”. God said “I will make all my goodness pass before thee”. His response is, “I will show you my goodness,” as if to say, “My glory is to be seen in my goodness”. His mercy, grace, slowness to anger, abundance in loving kindness and truth, His forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin and yet not clearing the guilty but visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and children’s children. It is in these things that the people shall truly see the glory of God. It is by means of these attributes that God will be glorified in the world.
All the way through the Old Testament we see this, time and time again, this passage is quoted. We find it quoted in the Pentateuch, in the Prophets, in the Psalms, in the book of Nehemiah, and in Jonah. Over and over God’s people go back to this revelation that was given to Moses that day. This is God’s revelation of himself. This is the way God wants to be known by his people. These are the terms by which God will be honored by his people.
The emphasis in this account is on the revelation of the name “The LORD”. This name is a synonym for and summary of all God’s goodness and covenant faithfulness. It is proclaimed to Moses as an expression of the continuity of the promises.

4. Moses’ Glory

The glory which shone on Moses’ face resulted from close encounter with God. The veil over it indicated that Moses’ relationship with God was unique and could not be shared with Israel. It was to communicate distance between himself and unbelieving, disobedient Israel.

Revelation in the remainder of the OT will come to Israel through mediators, prophets, priests, kings, judges, and wise men. Never again in the OT will the situation of Exodus 19-20 occur, when all Israel stood before the divine presence and heard the divine word individually.[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 41.[/footnote]

Moses’ Message: God will only deal with you, and you can only deal with God, through His evidently authorized mediator.

5. Israel’s folly and God’s Grace

Two accounts of Israel’s sinful idolatry (Ex.24:12-18; 31:18-34:28) frame the gracious provision of instructions for a monotheistic Tabernacle.

This structural scheme helps underscore the point that Yahweh’s Tabernacling among his people is Yahweh’s idea from beginning to end. It is not their idea; for while he is giving these instructions to Moses on Mount Sinai, the Israelites are busy setting up their own pagan idol and its makeshift altar. Yahweh’s choice to dwell among his people is based on divine grace and forgiveness rather than on human merit. He has chosen to live among his people despite their unworthiness.[footnote]D Dorsey, The Literary Structure of the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 82.[/footnote]

C. New Testament Analysis

1. Book of life (Ex.32:2)

And the Lord said “Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book”. The book of God is a theme that goes all the way through scripture. We find it in the Pentateuch, numerous times in the rest of the Old and New Testaments. It is a book where the names of all of God’s children are recorded.

He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels (Rev.3:5).


2. The superiority of Christ

The glory of God that was reflected in the face of Moses is now reflected in those transformed by Christ’s spirit.

But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away: How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious? For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory. For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth. For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious. Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech: And not as Moses, which put a veil over his face, that the children of Israel could not steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished (2Cor.3:7-13).


3. Substitution

As Moses was willing to die for the sake of the people (Ex.32:10), so Jesus substituted himself for his people.

4. Israel’s failure

Though Israel will prove unworthy as a nation, the ideals of the Sinai covenant will not be jettisoned, but will find new expression in the more powerful and effective new covenant (Heb. 7):

For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: And they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more. In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away (Heb.8:7-13)


III. Tabernacle Construction (35:1-40:38)

A. General Analysis

Preparing the Tabernacle (Ex.35:1-36:7)

Building the Tabernacle (Ex.36:8-39:43)

Filling the Tabernacle (Ex.40:1-38)

B. Detailed Analysis

1. Parallels between command and obedience

The importance of the Tabernacle is underlined by the positioning of it (at the end of the book) and the number of chapters devoted to it (25-40). The building commands are given and then the exact obedience is noted.

Command Obedience
Priestly Vestments
Altar of Incense
Ex.35:10-19; 35:30-36:1, 35:1-3
[footnote]R Pratt, Lectures on Genesis to Joshua (Orlando: RTS).[/footnote]  

2. Authorization of Moses

When the tabernacle is constructed as God commanded, the glory of God descends upon Israel (Ex.40:36-38). Whereas the book opened with human groaning, it concluded on a note of divine glory. Whereas the book opened with Israel enslaved and unable to worship God, now they are free and able to serve Him.
Moses’ Message: Obedience to God’s message and messenger will be rewarded with God’s glorious presence.

3. The Glory (Ex.40:34-38)

The purpose of the Exodus was so that Israel could worship God and so that God could dwell in the midst of His people. Exodus therefore climaxes with the coming of God’s glorious presence into the newly constructed Tabernacle.

Thus the Tabernacle was the partial fulfillment of the patriarchal promise that God would be with the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Eventually the temple in Jerusalem would replace the Tabernacle as the habitation of God’s presence.[footnote]B Arnold and B Beyer, Encountering the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 115.[/footnote]

They have been multiplied and now they have God’s presence. They are being gradually prepared for life in the Promised Land.

Exodus closes with the erection of the tabernacle, which is then filled with the divine presence, Yahweh’s glory cloud that will lead Israel to Canaan (Ex.40:34-38)…This concludes a book that has re-counted a transition in Israel’s fortunes wrought by the exodus redemption.[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 41.[/footnote]

C. New Testament Analysis

1. Christ our glory- filled Tabernacle

As the tabernacle was the place of approachable divine presence on earth, so Jesus tabernacled among us.

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth (Jn.1:14).


IV. The Message

Original Message: God expects Israel to worship as He instructed through Moses, with blessing for obedience and cursing for rebellion
Present Message: God expects Church to worship as Christ instructed (foreshadowed by Moses), with blessing for obedience and cursing for rebellion.