I recently saw an ad for a plastic model of a car engine. The model included about 1000 pieces that had to be fitted together in the correct order to make the engine turn and work as intended. That would be an interesting project, but if you have ever worked on something like that, you probably know that following the instructions is very important. Forget one part or try to connect it at the wrong time and you will have a big problem.
In today’s message from Exodus 36, we will see something similar. The time had come for the Israelites to put together the tabernacle along with its furnishings and garments for the priests. This would be the nation’s center for worshiping the Lord and would need to be put together right in order to please Him. As we look through the chapter, we will see the governing principles, the wonderful problem, and the specific process for putting everything together.
- The governing principles (1-2)
If I had thought about it last week, I could have included verse 1 with chapter 35. However, if I had, we would have missed some wonderful thoughts that are found in verse 1. Notice the governing principles found in this verse.
a. The Lord gifted these people with the abilities to do the work.
“Every member of the crew, which was probably a large number of folk, was engaged in the building of the tabernacle with the wisdom and understanding God has given them” (McGee 311). The workers were not inherently gifted by birth, training, or experience, although those things may have been helpful. Ultimately, it was God who had given them the abilities they needed to do the work.
This is something we should remember when we start taking pride in our abilities and talents. Do you remember what Paul said about this? “It is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). You would not have accomplished anything if the Lord not been protecting, strengthening, enabling, training, and establishing you. So, keep that in mind and give God the glory when you are successful. He is the one who gave you your abilities.
b. The Lord expected them to do it as He had commanded.
This second principle is one that is very important. When the Lord gave Moses instructions about how to build the tabernacle, He wasn’t ambiguous about what He wanted to be done. He didn’t just give people a pile of materials and then let them do what they thought best. He had specific ideas about the way it should be constructed. They were to do “according to all that the LORD has commanded.”
We ought to live by this same principle. God, in His infinite wisdom, has a plan which He wants us to carry out. He tells us how to live, how to evangelize, and how to be in the world but not of it. When we try to do things differently than what God prescribes, we end up with mixed results. When we give up holiness to accomplish group worship, we lose something. When we incorporate worldly methods into our evangelism, we end up with something that is not good. Does this mixture of good and evil please the Lord? No, he would be displeased because we would be disobeying one command to obey another.
APPLIC. We must remember both of these principles. First, it is the Lord who has given us the talents we have. We are nothing more than what God has made us to be. Secondly, these talents are to be used as He instructs. We must follow God’s instructions if we want to be pleasing to Him.
- The wonderful problem (3-7)
Moses called the gifted people to begin the work. Bezalel, Aholiab, and other gifted people answered the call and began to use the donated materials to build God’s tabernacle.
a. The artisans received the items offered by God’s people (3).
At that point, a certain amount of materials had been donated for the work. The workers gathered what had been given and used it where each was needed. Gold was used in some areas while cloth and yarn were used elsewhere. And the pile of materials was not depleted because volunteers kept donating more materials as they worked.
b. The artisans told Moses there was too much (4-5).
Something interesting happened as they worked. Although they were using materials and completing assignments, the pile of materials kept growing. After taking inventory of the situation, someone told Moses that they had too much material to work with. It was “much more than enough.” Just how much was given? If you would like an idea of how much material was given, “an inventory of materials is included in 38:21-31” (Hannah 160).
Moses had to stop the offerings due to too much stuff. “This is really amazing in the light of the fact that these people were fresh out of slavery. They had never owned anything before and now that they had riches you would think they would not be so willing to give it away. But they gave liberally, joyfully, and enthusiastically to their God” (McGee 312). This was a sign that these givers loved the Lord more than their wealth.
That must have been a thrilling situation for Moses. Having dealt with the golden calf incident, he may have been wondering how the people would respond when asked to give for the true God’s worship? Was there anyone who loved the Lord? Would anyone give? And then he saw the answer to these questions… they gave more than enough. What a great situation! But now it was time to put everything together. How would things turn out?
- The specific process (8-38)
You may recall that the Lord had previously given instructions on how the structure of the tabernacle was to be put together along with the furniture and priestly outfits (Ex. 26). With those instructions in hand, the rest of the chapter describes how the workmen followed those instructions and put everything together.
a. The inner curtains were put together (8-13).
The workers made ten curtains which were woven from fine linen and colorful thread. Each curtain measured 28 cubits (42 feet) in length and 4 cubits (6 feet) in width. If you are wondering why the curtains were only 6 feet wide, it may be that this was the width of the loom used to weave the curtains.
Once the beautiful weaving was completed, two large pieces were made by attaching five of the curtains together. The end of each curtain had 50 loops of blue yarn by which they were attached to the other curtain. The loops were connected by 50 golden clasps. I know that it would have looked better, but this makes me think of hanging a shower curtain by those shower rings.
Now the big question: Which end of the curtains was attached? To this point, we are not told if the short end (6 feet) or the long end (42 feet) of the curtain was attached. The answer is found in verse 13. These curtains were put together to create “one tabernacle.” Think of what a tent looks like. It has two “curtains” attached to make a two-sided tent. The tabernacle was a two-sided tent with each side made up of five 42′ x 6′ sections. When the five were connected, they made one 42′ x 30′ side of the tent. Perhaps a picture would be helpful.
b. The outer covering was put together (14-19).
On top of the linen tabernacle was built another tent made to protect the interior from the elements. This covering was slightly larger than the linen one. It was made of 11 curtains which each measured 30 cubits (45 feet) in length and 4 cubits (6 feet in width). Five of these were coupled together with 50 loops of yarn and bronze clasps. When coupled together, one side measured 45′ x 30 feet and the other was 45′ x 36′. This was covered with water shedding animal pelts (see footnote in Bibliography). The exact nature of the skins is not something we are sure of, but they were used to protect the interior of the tabernacle from the weather.
c. The wood structure was put together (20-34).
The interior of the tabernacle had a rectangular, wooden wall structure. The walls were made from acacia wood overlaid with gold. These boards measured 10 cubits (15 ft) long by 1.5 cubits (2.25 feet) wide. They were each held together by two tenons (like tongue and groove) and were placed in silver sockets on the ground. There were 20 boards on the south, 20 boards for the north, and 6 boards for the west side. All of these boards were held together by long wooden bars which attached to the wall by rings.
Which way were these boards mounted? I think that it would make most sense if they were mounted vertically in each silver socket. This would mean that each long side measured 45 feet (2.25′ x 20) by 15 feet tall. This would match the length of the previously mentioned curtains.
d. The veil and screen were put together (35-38).
The first separating curtain mentioned is the veil. “The tabernacle has an inner veil that separated the main tabernacle into two compartments; the smaller compartment was called the Holy of Holies and the larger compartment was called the Holy Place” (McGee 312). This beautiful veil was made of blue, purple, and scarlet thread and had a pattern that looked like cherubim. This was mounted to a framework made of four gold-plated, acacia wood pillars.
The second separating curtain was the screen that covered the entrance to the tabernacle. This was made from blue, purple, and scarlet thread and fine-woven linen. This screen was held up by five pillars with golden parts and bronze sockets.
Whew! That last part must have left some of us swimming in numbers and measurements. But you must admit that these measurements give us a detailed understanding of what the tabernacle looked like. It must have been a beautiful structure to see, and a beautiful place to worship the Lord.
What do we take from this chapter?
We have seen that (1) the Lord gifted the workers with the ability to build the tabernacle just as He required, (2) the people willingly donated more than enough materials to complete the project, and (3) the workers built the tabernacle just as God intended. God told them what to do and they did it.
One commentator summarized this chapter, by saying that “the whole mass of Scripture consists chiefly of two corresponding groups… precept and example; on the one hand the directions as to what we are to do to fulfill the divine will, and on the other, the example of those who have actually fulfilled it” (Bush 274).
While we are not called to build a tabernacle today, we do have New Testament commands which the Lord expects us to carry out. What are these precepts? We ought to love on another. We ought to study the Scriptures for ourselves. We ought to meet with God’s people on a regular basis. We ought to praise the Lord. We ought to pray. We ought to speak the gospel of Jesus to others. There are many others, but you get the point. God has given us precepts to live by. The question now is this: Are we doing what He has commanded?
Bush, George, Exodus Vol. 2, Minneapolis: James & Klock, 1852, reprint 1976, pp. 271-75.
Hannah, John D., “Exodus” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Old Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1989, p. 160.
McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. I, Genesis through Deuteronomy, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1981, pp. 311-12.
“The Tabernacle and Court” as viewed at https://www.esv.org/resources/esv-global-study-bible/illustration-02-tabernacle/ on 11/5/22.
“What translation philosophies have caused such a wide variation in the translation of tachash skins?” as viewed at https://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/218/what-translation-philosophies-have-caused-such-a-wide-variation-in-the-translati on 11/5/22.
This is an interesting explanation of what the skins actually were. “Badgers, porpoises, sea cows, and seals are all unclean animals. In order to get the skin of any of these animals you would obviously have to kill it first. However, touching the carcass of an unclean animal is specifically called a sin and required a trespass offering… It doesn’t make much sense that God would command His people not to touch the carcasses of unclean animals, while at the same time requiring skins of unclean animals for the outer covering of the Tabernacle which itself was constructed as the means for atoning for sins. This is perhaps in part why some of the more modern Bible translations such as the English Standard Version (ESV) and Good News Translation (GNT) tend to go with “goatskins” or “fine leather,” respectively, in addition to the Egyptian word for leather…”
“What was the tabernacle of Moses?”, as viewed at https://printer.gotquestions.net/GeneratePF?articleId=2545 on 11/5/22.