On the far end of the Courtyard was the actual tent. At God’s command, only priests could enter here. It was 15 foot high, 15 foot wide, and 45 foot long, or 675 square feet. If the footprint of the tabernacle was the size of an average church, this area was as large as a platform. The walls were planks of acacia wood connected with pegs and silver sockets. On top were crossbars covered in gold. Covering the structure were four layers of tapestries, the first linen, the other three of animal hides.
A curtain with the design of a cherub woven into it hung to divide this space. On the front side of the curtain was the second area of the tabernacle, the Holy Place. A golden lampstand (menorah in the Hebrew) with seven separate lights burned continually. While the menorah provided light, the priest daily placed fresh bread on the gold covered table next to it.
Past the Holy Place and through the dividing curtain was the third area, the Holy of Holies. This innermost area was accessed just once a year, and that only by the high priest. Here was the most important piece of furniture in the tabernacle, the ark of the covenant.
Like all the other furnishings in the Tabernacle, the Ark was made of acacia wood. The acacia tree was hardy enough to grow in the wilderness, and its wood was exceptionally dense and resistant to decay. The ark was 3 and 3/4 feet in length, and 2 and 1/4 in width and depth, and covered in gold. At God’s instruction, Moses placed the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments inside, and later Aaron’s rod and a pot manna.
On top of the box was a cover, known in Hebrew as the kepporeth, which means “propitiation” or “mercy seat.” Here, under the golden wings was the very throne of God. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, only the high priest was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies. Hebrews 9:7 says, “But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the signs the people had committed in ignorance.” With the shedding of blood the tabernacle was cleansed, and the sins of the nation were covered. On this particular day God showed up, appearing in a cloud on the mercy seat.
Reading these passages in Exodus and Leviticus can be so much like chewing cardboard. I know I’ve skipped over them many times. Maybe you’ve come to this point and are asking yourself, “So what? What does this have to do with my life?” To squeeze spiritual meaning out of the tabernacle, some have turned to creative allegory. The gold covering the acacia wood represents sanctification. The scarlet in the curtains represents Jesus’ blood. They see a cross shape in the tabernacle layout. The bronze bases are the firm foundation God’s Word provides and so on.
One of the most useful tools of Biblical interpretation is to allow the New Testament to shed light on the meaning of the Old. The best commentary on Scripture is other passages in the Bible. In the New Testament, especially in the letter of Hebrews, we find the tabernacle often used as an illustration to help us understand and fully appreciate the character and work of Jesus Christ. Hebrews 8:5 tells us the old tabernacle was a shadow, an outline, a hint of the true tabernacle in heaven. Hebrews 9:9 calls the tabernacle an “illustration” of the greater more perfect tabernacle (Hebrews 9:11).
Instructions crammed on a page in six-point font are painful to interpret. Please show pictures. That’s why we enjoy putting together Legos because the instructions are full of illustrations. What does the figure of the tabernacle teach us about Jesus?