Moses told the people after he returned from atop Sinai that God had given him plans for a tabernacle. “Every detail of how the tabernacle should be built, I have with me,” Moses explained. “Think how great an opportunity you are being given to show God your thanks for not blotting you out because of your sins.’
“God has ordered us to build this tabernacle,” Moses said to the crowd. “He will be pleased with us if we give generously and willingly of our materials, wealth, skills and labor. Every one can have a part in doing something for our Creator.”
Shouts of “What can we do?” and “Just how can we help?” came from all parts of the vast congregation.
Moses answered by telling them that all who were willing and able should bring in gold, silver, brass, cloth dyes, fine linen, goats’ hair, red rams’ skins, seal’s skins, acacia wood, oil, spices, incense and precious stones.
“There is also a need for willing workers who are skilled in carpentry, metal work, weaving, carving and all the crafts and arts necessary to build and decorate the tabernacle and everything connected with it” (Ex. 35:4-19)
Moses didn’t beg the people for anything. He simply told them what was required. The huge crowd broke up, and the Israelites returned to their tents.
“Do you really expect the people to come and offer all these things you mentioned?” Aaron asked Moses a short while after the crowed had melted away.
“You heard them shouting out to ask what they could do,” Moses replied. “That seemed to be a good sign that they are willing to do what is right. But by now I shouldn’t be surprised at anything they do.”
Aaron knew that Moses was thinking of the golden calf, and he suddenly felt a little uncomfortable. But just at that moment one of Moses’ officers shouted in to report that the tent was being surrounded by a growing crowd. Moses and Aaron leaped up and moved quickly toward the tent entrance.
“I trust that this isn’t a mob to protest against giving materials for the tabernacle,” Aaron murmured.
Emerging from the tent, Moses and Aaron looked out upon an increasing throng of Israelites holding various objects of all shapes and sizes.
“These people say they have come to give gifts for the tabernacle,” an officer explained to Moses and Aaron. “What shall we do” (vs. 20-29)?
“Assign men of good character to receive the gifts at once,” Moses answered. “Summon skilled men to immediately set up tents and enclosures in which to store those things.” Moses smilingly gazed at the people eagerly swarming toward his tent with their offerings.
“I told you I wouldn’t be surprised at anything they do,” he said to Aaron. “Perhaps I was wrong. What surprises me now is how they have so quickly and earnestly responded to my requests.”
For the next several days thousands of people came to give the things for which Moses had asked. Because the camps were spread out for several miles, it was far into the night when some of the gift-bearers arrived. They also wove diligently on their looms to produce the beautiful fabrics that were needed, and they brought daily that which had been finished. So generous were the people that more than enough was brought for the building of the Tabernacle.
Moses was pleased at this great display of zeal, unselfishness and ambition by so many of the people. It was plain to him that thousands of them were anxious to make up for their past sins. Still too fresh in their minds were the unpleasant memories of their wantonly prancing before the golden calf. But most of the people who came to give simply had a sincere desire to help because they realized that this was a wonderful opportunity to be of service to God.
There were also craftsmen, laborers, craftswomen and maidservants who fervently came to officer their services (Ex. 36:1-3).
God had already told Moses on Mt. Sinai whom to choose to head this task of making the tabernacle, and Moses had already proclaimed to the people that Bezaleel, a grandson of Hur from the tribe of Judah, would be in charge. Bezaleel’s assistant was to be Aholiab of the tribe of Dan.
These two men of good character were highly skilled in all the crafts of building and decoration, in teaching their helpers, and possessing good judgment and wisdom in the arts of material design and production. Moses had passed on to them the detailed instructions for building the tabernacle (Ex. 35:30-35).
Knowing how much material was necessary; Bezaleel realized that more than enough had been brought in. Even so, the people kept on coming with more. Bezaleel spoke to Moses, who quickly made it known that nothing more should be given. But there were some who had put off giving their share, and who rushed their offerings in too late to be accepted. They were like so many of us who mean to do what is right, but postpone doing it until it is too late.
Bezaleel and Aholiab lost no time in teaching those who needed instructions and assigning craftsmen and laborers to their various tasks. Soon everyone was busily and happily working. Carpenters started hewing boards out of the acacia logs and planks that had been brought in. Metal workers melted down or pounded out the metals. Weavers and seamstresses worked on cloth. Gem cutters planned how to use the precious stones.
However, the area around Moses’ tent couldn’t exactly be described as a beehive of activity. Workers weren’t rushing feverishly about. Work on the tabernacle was something that couldn’t be rushed. It required great care and skill, for everything that went into this project was to be made as close to perfection as human hands could make it. The men and women were very careful to perform superior workmanship in making God’s tabernacle and its furnishings.
Bezaleel and Aholiab did much of the work themselves – especially on such objects as the chest that was to contain the two tablets of stone on which the Ten Commandments are written, the altar on which sacrifices were to be made and the priests’ garments (Ex. 37:38-39).
Even though the workers applied themselves ambitiously, it required about six months to build the tabernacle. That was because there was a need for so much intricate and detailed workmanship.
During that time, nearly fifteen tons of gold, silver and brass were used. The total cost of the tabernacle and the outer court, measured in terms of present American money, would be over several million dollars. This represented only a small part of the wealth of the Israelites, which shows that the Egyptians must have given very liberally to them when the Israelites left Egypt a year previously. However, much of the wealth was picked up along the Red Sea gulf after part of Pharaoh’s army and equipment had been washed up on the shore.
Among the last things to be made were the special clothes to be worn by Aaron and his sons in their service as priests at the tabernacle.
As each item was finished, it was brought to Moses for his inspection and approval. Much time was required for him to carefully examine all workmanship in every detail. When he finally finished, he was satisfied that everything had been made strictly according to God’s instructions.
He called all the workers together and praised them for the excellent services they had performed and asked God’s blessing on them (Ex. 39:43).
Moses reminded them that God, who is perfect, is always pleased when men strive toward perfection in anything that is truly worthwhile, whether it is material, physical or spiritual. It is something to remember every time we put our minds and hands to a task. We are living in times when increasing numbers of people are trying to get more and give less. That is exactly the opposite of what pleases God. He likes things of high quality, and therefore we should put our best efforts into anything we set out to do.
By the time the tabernacle was finished, the Israelites had been gone a whole year from Egypt. God told Moses to get the tabernacle set up and ready for use on the first day of the second year of their journey from Egypt (Ex. 40:1-4, 17).
Just to the west of Moses’ tent (the one in which he lived – not the distant one in which he talked with God) was an open area in the center of the camps of the twelve tribes. It was there that workmen erected the tabernacle (Num. 1:50-54; 3:38).
To give privacy to the priests who would preside there, a long curtain of fine linen was strung on brass posts about ten feet high. The posts were held firm by cords and tent pins. This fence enclosed an area about two hundred feet long and one hundred feet wide. The space between the tabernacle and the fence was called the court of the tabernacle (Ex. 27:9-19; 38:9-20).
On the east end of the court an opening was left in the fence. It was the only gateway into the court. The altar was placed just beyond the opening. This special altar was about six feet high and about ten feet square. Every board in it was hewn from acacia trees that grew in the Mt. Sinai area, and every board was covered with brass. It was hollow inside (Ex. 27:8). Then it was filled so that the wood wouldn’t catch on fire (Ex. 20:14). Wood and offering were to be placed on the dirt altar.
Like everything else, the altar was made to be carried. There were strong brass rings on the corners of a brass gate that encircled the lower half of the altar. The boards of the altar rested on a narrow rim of the gate (Ex. 27:4-5). Through these rings long poles were to be inserted for lifting the altar from the dirt filling and for conveying the altar whenever the Israelites were directed to move their camps (Ex. 38:1-7).
Between the tabernacle and the altar was a huge bowl called the laver. This was always to be full of water in which the priests were to wash their hands and feet before going about their duties at the altar (Ex. 30:17-21).
The tabernacle was put up in the west section of the court. It was about sixty feet long, twenty feet wide and with walls twenty feet high. The three walls were built of gold-covered acacia boards set on bases of silver. The front end was open except for a curtain. To keep out the rain, dew and strong sunlight, a heavy curtain of seals’ skins was stretched over the top and the walls of the tabernacle. Underneath this heavy curtain were lighter curtains of rams’ skin, goat hair and linen. The linen curtain could be seen from the inside of the tabernacle. It was made of fancy figured cloth in bright colors. As for the floor, there was no need of building one, inasmuch as level ground would serve as such wherever the tabernacle would be set up (Ex. 26:1-25; 36:8-34).
The tabernacle had two rooms. The first one, which was to be entered from the curtained east end, was about forty feet long and twenty feet wide. This gold-covered room, spoken of as the holy place, contained three important things. A gold-covered table on which were to be placed twelve loaves of bread to represent the food offerings of the twelve tribes of Israel, a golden lampstand with places for seven oil-fueled lamps and a golden altar on which incense was to be burned.
The second room was only a half the size of the first room, or about twenty feet square. In this very sacred area, which was to be entered only by the high priest, only once a year, on the Day of Atonement, there was an object of great value. It was a wooden chest, covered with gold, called the Ark of the Covenant. This ark was about the size of a large trunk. It had a solid gold lid, called the mercy seat, on which were mounted two golden figures facing each other. Inside the chest were the two stone tablets on which were written the Ten Commandments. Aaron’s rod was also kept there. Then there was a special container in which there was manna, holy anointing oil and other objects of special meaning (Ex. 37:1-9; Heb. 9:3-8).
This holy of holies, as the inner room was called, was the place designed by God in which His glorious Presence was to abide while He led the Israelites on their journey to Canaan.
The people were told when the tabernacle was to be set up, and a huge crowd formed to see what it would look like when all the many part were put together. It was a colorful and majestic sight to witness its erection. However, it wasn’t possible to view the sacred rites that took place in ordaining the tabernacle, its contents and Aaron and his sons. “The curtained fence around the court prevented the people from seeing inside.
Moses was the first to enter the court after workmen had set it up. He anointed the various articles and utensils in the court and the tabernacle. From that time on they were to be regarded as holy.
Moses then brought Aaron and Aaron’s sons into the court. After they had washed their hands and feet in the laver, they put on the clothes they were to wear in their duties as priests. Moses anointed them with oil and they were ordained, by God’s power, to be priests in the service of the tabernacle. This also meant that their following generations of men were also to be priests.
Everything was put in order in the tabernacle. Bread was placed on the table in the holy place. The seven lamps were lighted. Sweet incense was burned on the golden altar. A burnt offering and a meat offering were made at the large altar (Ex. 40:17-33).
The Israelites had become accustomed to seeing the cloud of God move from Mt. Sinai and descend on the tent where Moses went to meet God outside the camps. Many of them noticed that the cloud moved down off the mountain peak after Moses and Aaron and his sons had been inside the tabernacle for a little while. But this time the cloud didn’t head for the tent outside the camps.
“Look at the cloud,” some cried out. “It’s moving down this way!”
Moving directly toward the crowd around the tabernacle, the cloud appeared to be increasingly enormous. Most Israelites had never been so close to it before. They began to be aware of its beautiful, sparkling, silvery quality. It was like something glowing with strong vibrant life. When it floated slowly down over the tabernacle, some of the spectators became so upset at this nearness to God that they fled away to their tents. Most of the people just stood and stared in silent awe.
Moses and Aaron and his sons were in the court of the tabernacle when the gleaming cloud suddenly descended on them. They found themselves enveloped in a luminous vapor which imparted to them a wonderful feeling of peace and energy. Moses had experienced this feeling before because of his closeness to God. To the others it was something so awesome that they respectfully backed out of the court through the curtained entrance in the east fence.
Moses stood where he was, waiting to see if God meant to speak to him. But there was only silence while the cloud became thicker and brighter. Blinding rays of multi-colored light burst from the tabernacle. Even with his hands over his closed eyes the brightness was too much for Moses. He groped his way toward the entrance and joined Aaron and Aaron’s sons outside the court (Ex. 40:34-35).
Many of the people, on witnessing the strange, brilliant light in the cloud over the tabernacle, began to realize how wonderful and merciful their God was, and they thanked Him for coming to lead them instead of slaying them.
Be watching for the next installment of The Story of the Bible.