Exodus 26 – Design of the Tabernacle

The Tabernacle of Moses is the first dwelling place described by God Himself for Him to dwell among His people. It is very important for us to understand the tabernacle of Moses before we understand how Christ made His dwelling or tabernacle among us. The twenty sixth chapter of Exodus is about the design of the Tabernacle of Moses. Let’s go through each verse to understand it’s design.

Curtains of Linen

Exod 26:1-2 “Moreover you shall make the tabernacle with ten curtains of fine woven linen, and blue, purple, and scarlet thread; with artistic designs of cherubim you shall weave them.

  • The length of each curtain shall be twenty-eight cubits, and
  • the width of each curtain four cubits.

And every one of the curtains shall have the same measurements.

From the above passage we had to construct the tabernacle with the following details.

  • Total curtains = 10
  • 1 Curtain = 28 x 4 cubits

Exod 26:3

  • Five curtains shall be coupled to one another, and
  • the other five curtains shall be coupled to one another.

And

  • you shall make loops of blue yarn on the edge of the curtain on the selvedge of one set, and
  • likewise you shall do on the outer edge of the other curtain of the second set.
  • Fifty loops you shall make in the one curtain, and
  • fifty loops you shall make on the edge of the curtain that is on the end of the second set,

that the loops may be clasped to one another. And you shall make fifty clasps of gold, and couple the curtains together with the clasps, so that it may be one tabernacle.

From the above passage, the 10 curtains are divided into 2 sets (5 curtains in each set). Each set is made of 5 curtains with size of 28 x 20 cubits.

Curtains of Goats’ Hair

Exod 26:7-8 You shall also make curtains of goats’ hair, to be a tent over the tabernacle. You shall make eleven curtains.

  • The length of each curtain shall be thirty cubits, and
  • the width of each curtain four cubits;

and the eleven curtains shall all have the same measurements.

It is very important to note that the curtains of goat hair is not the tabernacle itself but a tent or a covering over the tabernacle. From the above passage we had to construct the tent for the tabernacle with the following details.

  • Total curtains = 11
  • 1 Curtain = 30 x 4 cubits

Exod 26:9-14

  • And you shall couple five curtains by themselves and
  • six curtains by themselves, and

you shall double over the sixth curtain at the forefront of the tent.

  • You shall make fifty loops on the edge of the curtain that is outermost in one set,
  • and fifty loops on the edge of the curtain of the second set.

And you shall make fifty bronze clasps, put the clasps into the loops, and couple the tent together, that it may be one.

  • The remnant that remains of the curtains of the tent, the half curtain that remains, shall hang over the back of the tabernacle.
  • And a cubit on one side and a cubit on the other side, of what remains of the length of the curtains of the tent, shall hang over the sides of the tabernacle, on this side and on that side, to cover it.

You shall also make a covering of ram skins dyed red for the tent, and a covering of badger skins above that.

One set is made of 5 curtains with size of 30 x 20 cubits. Another set is made of 6 curtains with a size of 30 x 24 cubits.

The key to finding out the correct way of constructing the tabernacle is by overlapping the curtains of the tabernacle and the curtains used for covering of the tabernacle. If we do so, there must be some remaining length/extra length from the curtains used for covering.

  • half a curtain extra on one side (which forms the back of the tabernacle). It can either be 15 cubits extra on length side (or) 2 cubits extra on width side.
  • 2 cubits extra (where 1 cubit on each side), “hangs” over the sides.
  • The 6th curtain is folded and hanged over the front of the tabernacle.

Here is the Math puzzle: This check is so essential so that we can verify if our understanding of the measurements are correct.

  • Total curtains used for covering for tabernacle is 30 x 44 = 1320 sq cubits.
    • Since 6th curtain is doubled, half a curtain can be reduced from the total covering, i.e., (30 x 4)/2 = 60 sq cubits
    • Half a curtain hangs on the back of the tabernacle, , i.e., (30 x 4)/2 = 60 sq cubits
    • 1 cubit hangs on both sides. Since we had subtracted the area of a curtain already (half + half as per above points), we can calculate the area of the remaining curtains on both sides. (11 – 1)  curtains x 4 cubits width x 2 cubits = 80 sq cubits.
    • Hence, the total covering that we must account for from the curtains of the tabernacle is 1320 – (60 + 60) – 80 = 1120 sq cubits.
  • Total curtains for the tabernacle is 28 x 40 = 1120 sq cubits. All is accounted for in the covering for the tabernacle as above.

In the above scaled illustration, the gray color represents the covering curtains of goat hair and the dark color represents the tabernacle curtains. We can clearly see how they overlap and fit the above mentioned calculations in the Scripture.

Boards and Sockets

Exod 26:15-17 And for the tabernacle you shall make the boards of acacia wood, standing upright.

  • Ten cubits shall be the length of a board, and
  • a cubit and a half shall be the width of each board.

Two tenons shall be in each board for binding one to another. Thus you shall make for all the boards of the tabernacle.

One board when stood upright it is 10 cubits in length and 1.5 cubits in width.  There are 2 tenons in each board for binding one to another.

Exod 26:18-25 And you shall make the boards for the tabernacle,

  • twenty boards for the south side. You shall make forty sockets of silver under the twenty boards: two sockets under each of the boards for its two tenons.
  • And for the second side of the tabernacle, the north side, there shall be twenty boards and their forty sockets of silver: two sockets under each of the boards.
  • For the far side of the tabernacle, westward, you shall make six boards. And you shall also make two boards for the two back corners of the tabernacle. They shall be coupled together at the bottom and they shall be coupled together at the top by one ring. Thus it shall be for both of them. They shall be for the two corners. So there shall be eight boards with their sockets of silver–sixteen sockets–two sockets under each of the boards.
  • South side = 20 boards
  • North side = 20 boards
  • West side (back side) = 6 + 2 = 8 boards

On each side of the tabernacle, if 20 boards are joined together standing upright, we have a wall of total length 1.5 x 20 = 30 cubits and a height of 10 cubits. On the back, we have 8 boards which gives a length of 1.5 x 8 = 12 cubits.

Thus we have a solid structure having a dimension of 30 x 12 sq cubits (represented in the above scaled illustration as red color) with a height of 10 cubits where the curtains of size 40 x 28 can be placed upon. The curtains of the tabernacle will hang 8 cubits on each sides (totally 16 cubits extra) and will provide an extra 10 cubits to cover the back.

Exod 26:26-30 And you shall make bars of acacia wood:

  • five for the boards on one side of the tabernacle,
  • five bars for the boards on the other side of the tabernacle,
  • and five bars for the boards of the side of the tabernacle, for the far side westward.
  • The middle bar shall pass through the midst of the boards from end to end.

You shall overlay the boards with gold, make their rings of gold as holders for the bars, and overlay the bars with gold. And you shall raise up the tabernacle according to its pattern which you were shown on the mountain.

5 bars on each side and the back to make sure the boards stand together. The middle bar will pass through the midst of the boards from end to end.

The Veil and Screen

Exod 26:31-37 “You shall make a veil woven of blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen. It shall be woven with an artistic design of cherubim. You shall hang it upon the four pillars of acacia wood overlaid with gold. Their hooks shall be gold, upon four sockets of silver. And you shall hang the veil from the clasps. Then you shall bring the ark of the Testimony in there, behind the veil. The veil shall be a divider for you between the holy place and the Most Holy. You shall put the mercy seat upon the ark of the Testimony in the Most Holy. You shall set the table outside the veil, and the lampstand across from the table on the side of the tabernacle toward the south; and you shall put the table on the north side.

There are 4 pillars upon which a veil is made with woven of blue, purple, and scarlet thread and fine woven linen. This veil divides the Most Holy place and the holy place within the tabernacle. The dimensions of the most holy place is not mentioned.

You shall make a screen for the door of the tabernacle, woven of blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen, made by a weaver. And you shall make for the screen five pillars of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold; their hooks shall be gold, and you shall cast five sockets of bronze for them.

There are 5 pillars upon which a door screen is made with woven of blue, purple, and scarlet thread and fine woven linen.

Traditional and Alternate Views

Based on the above description, we can finally arrive the view of the tabernacle as represented above.

Nearly all scholars agree that the description in Exodus is insufficient to provide an accurate picture of the tabernacle and there are several translation uncertainties and assumptions made. Instead of joining the curtains on the length side, alternate views of connecting through width were also suggested. You can refer to Project 314 for more details on alternate design of the Tabernacle of Moses.