Walls of the Tent
March 23, 2020

Exodus 26:1-14 moves from inside out, from the tabernacle curtain itself (vv. 1-6) to the goats' hair covering that lays over the tabernacle (vv. 7-13) to the goats and dugong leather that constitute the outermost coverings (v. 14).

Then the chapter changes course and moves outside-in: First the boards that make up the walls of the tent (vv. 15-25), to the bars that hold the walls together (vv. 26-30), to the veils that separate the court from the Holy Place and the Holy from the Most Holy (vv. 31-35).

The boards are of acacia wood (26:15) overlaid and glorified with gold (v. 29). Like the furniture of the tabernacle, they are equipped with gold rings, not, as in the case of the furniture, for carrying, but for the bars that provide support for the walls (v. 29).

Each board is ten cubits long (26:16), and they stand upright to form a wall roughly 15 feet tall. The boards are 1 1/2 cubits wide (v. 16), and when twenty are set side to side, they form a 30-cubit long wall (vv. 18, 20). The back wall is made from six boards (v. 22), for a total of nine cubits, but a corner post at each end adds a total of 1 cubit (vv. 23-24). (The east side is covered by a veil, and has no wall.) Thus we can infer the dimensions of the tabernacle as a whole from the description of the boards: 10 cubits tall x 30 cubits long x 10 cubits wide.

There is an oddity here. If the boards are solid wood and the tabernacle curtain hangs behind the boards, then they screen out the skillfully decorated curtain, with its multiple colors and cherubim designs. Why make the tabernacle at all if it's invisible? On the other hand, if the tabernacle hangs in front of the boards, it hides the gold-overlaid boards. Some have suggested that the boards weren't solid, but had panels cut out. The curtain hung behind the boards, but it was visible through the panels. Exodus never says so explicitly, but that seems the best solution to the puzzle.

Each board has two "tenons" (v. 17), projections at one end of the board that slot into two sockets of silver (vv. 19, 21). Gold boards in sockets of silver sounds familiar, not unlike Solomon's comparison of fitting words to "apples of gold in settings of silver" (Proverbs 25:11). The tabernacle is an architectural embodiment of the fitting, creative words of Yahweh.

As Vern Poythress has pointed out, the silver sockets symbolically match the silver hooks that hold up the curtain of the courtyard (27:10). The pillars of the courtyard are set in bronze bases. Thus, we have this arrangement: Court: bronze base, silver top; tabernacle: silver base, gold top. Poythress suggests we are to imagine the two zones stacked on top of each other. The tabernacle itself is the "second story" above the court. To enter the Holy Place is to ascend toward the second, heavenly story of the universe.

Yahweh comes to dwell among His people, dwelling in a tent among His tent-dwelling people. But the tabernacle is no ordinary tent. We can imagine that not every Israelite lived in a tent with walls, much less golden walls. Yahweh's is a royal tent, and suitably splendid. The tabernacle is the first of several gold or jeweled buildings in Scripture (Isaiah 54:12; Revelation 21:18). Cities with gold or jeweled walls are civic tabernacles.

The geographic movement of the passage is notable. The text describes the southern wall (v. 18), then the north (v. 20), and then the west (v. 22). In terms of furniture, the text moves from the lampstand (on the south of the Holy Place) to the table (north) to the ark (west). Cherubically, we're moving from eagle to man to lion. However we look at it, the text moves us from the outer sanctuary inward, toward the throne of Yahweh.

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