THE PENTATEUCH PART II: EXODUS
Exodus chapters 25:1-26:37
Instructions for the Holy Sanctuary Part I
A love poem to the Holy Spirit who tabernacles in my soul:
O Holy Inhabitor of my soul, sweep me up in Your embrace and let my frail body be transformed by the strength of Your cleansing love into the indestructible temple of Your dwelling place. Knit in me, O Holy One, the desire to serve You without reservation, without the fears of pleasing men and without the selfish temptations that can lure me into sin. As You possess me, my Paraclete, teach me to love as You have loved me, with gentleness and mercy "that I might be willing to forgive even when confronted by the forces of malice and hatred. Kindle in me a fire, my Beloved, that bursts forth from every pour of my being as I live to image Christ in my relationships and in how I present myself to the world. Let my life be a symphony whose every movement is a witness to my faith and my love for You so that all men and women will look at me and see the likeness of my holy Lord mirrored in my every word and deed. Use me up, Possessor of my soul, so that when my life is spent I can prostrate myself before the heavenly throne of judgment knowing that Your Spirit burned within me with such warmth that I continually sang Your praises and sought Your company until the last mortal spark of life carried me across the threshold of death into eternal life. Amen.
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While they were in the desert our ancestors possessed the Tent of Testimony that had been constructed according to the instructions God gave Moses, telling him to work to the design he had been show. It was handed down from one ancestor of ours to another until Joshua brought it into the country that had belonged to the nations which were driven out by God before us. Here it stayed until the time of David. He won God's favor and asked permission to find a dwelling for the House of Jacob, though it was Solomon who actually built a house for God. Even so the Most High does not live in a house that human hands have built: for as the prophet says: "With heaven my throne and earth my footstool, what house could you build me, says the Lord, what place for me to rest, when all these things were made by me? Acts 7:44-50 (St. Stephen quoting Isaiah 66:1-2)
The Israelites clearly understood that although Yahweh intended to dwell among His people that He was not confined to one region or one ethnic group, unlike the regional gods of the pagan peoples. They understood that the creation of the heavens and the earth was God's cosmic macro-Temple while the earthly Sanctuary and later the Jerusalem Temple represented the universe in miniature "God's cosmic micro-Temple where His presence resided with His people in a unique way (Levenson, Sinai & Zion, pages 138-144). According to the priest/historian Flavius Josephus the design of the Temple and its various elements was intended to reflect God's sovereignty not only over the earth but over the universe: for if anyone do but consider the fabric of the tabernacle, and take a view of the garments of the high priest, and of those vessels which we make use of in our sacred ministration, he will find.. [..] ... they were every one made in a way of imitation and representation of the universe (Antiquities of the Jews 3.7.7). Josephus noted that the material used and the stars, planets and winged cherubim designs woven into the textiles all represented God's dominion over all of created space above and below the heavens.
Chapters 25-26: The Instructions for Building the Sanctuary
You will make it all according to the design for the Dwelling [miskan ] and the design for its furnishings which I shall now show you.' Exodus 25:9
This section of the narrative addresses Part V of the covenant treaty formulary: The Dispossession of the Covenant Documents and the Succession Arrangements. In this section Moses, standing on the cosmic mountain at the entrance to the heavenly Sanctuary, receives instructions on where to keep the two stone tablets of covenant treaty document and instructions on how to build an earthly Sanctuary.
Question: What is the purpose of the Sanctuary and
Answer: The Sanctuary will fulfill a three-fold purpose:
In order for Yahweh to safely dwell among His people, a central mobile Sanctuary must be built which encloses a Tabernacle that will be a "dwelling place" for God's Presence in the midst of Israel. The Sanctuary is to be a sacred structure that will not only provide a place for the God of Israel to "tabernacle" among His people, but it will also accommodate the people's ritual liturgical worship of the God who dwells among them as the people journey to the Promised Land of Canaan. The Sanctuary and its holy Tabernacle will also serve as the rallying point for the twelve tribes when they are disbursed throughout the land of Canaan, each tribe taking possession of their own tribal lands.
It is the Tabernacle as the dwelling place of Yahweh among His people and the cosmic focal point of the union between man and God that will provide a place of centralize liturgical worship and spiritual renewal for succeeding generations of the Israelites who are intended to continue as a unified nation in covenant with Yahweh. The covenant documents of the Decalogue, which bind Israel in covenant with Yahweh in the current generation and in all future generations, are to be kept in the Tabernacle of the Sanctuary in a box whose name defines its purpose " the "Ark of the Covenant."
In the Pentateuch there are five different Hebrew terms or titles for the sacred space Moses was instructed to build. All five are used in Exodus chapters 25-38:
(see Brown-Driver-Briggs: Hebrew Lexicon, pages 874, 1014, 416-417; and Strong's Exhaustive Concordance "tent," "tabernacle," "sanctuary."
Please read Exodus 25:1-9: Moses' Instructions for a
Free-will Offering to Build the Earthly Sanctuary
25:1Yahweh spoke to Moses and said, 2 Tell the Israelites to set aside a contribution for me [to bring Me gifts]; you will accept a contribution [you shall accept gifts for Me] from everyone whose heart prompts him to give it. 3And this is what you will accept from them: gold, silver and bronze; 4materials dyed violet-purple, red-purple and crimson, fine linen, goat's hair; 5rams' skins dyed red, fine leather [ tahas = skin*], acacia wood [wood from the trees of Shittim]; 6oil for the light, spices for the anointing oil and fragrant incense; 7cornelian [lapis lazuli] and other stones to be set in the ephod and breastplate. 8Make me a sanctuary [miqdas] so that I can reside among them. 9You will make it all according to the design for the Dwelling [miskan ] and the design for its furnishings which I shall now show you.'
* the meaning of this Hebrew word is uncertain.
[..] = literal translation (Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-English, page 206).
For the first time since liturgical worship was established on God's cosmic mountain in Eden, where heaven and earth were joined and Yahweh dwelled in fellowship with His first human children, God reveals to Moses His plan to re-establish the same unique covenant relationship He enjoyed before the Fall of mankind's first parents in a meeting place that again joins heavenly and earthly liturgy (Levenson, Sinai & Zion, pages 123-127). In the creation of the first earthly Sanctuary God provided everything that was needed, but in the second cosmic focal point of worship and fellowship God invites His covenant partners to contribute to the building of the Sanctuary. The list of items required to build the Sanctuary in many ways recalls what was present in Eden: gold, jewels, and a special tree (Gen 2:9-12, 16; Ex 25:3-7). Tradition has associated the required "wood of the trees of Shittim" (usually translated as "wood of the acacia tree") with the trees from the Garden of Eden.(1) The description of the required materials so similar to what was found in Eden is a reminder that the Sanctuary was intended to return man to the ideal relationship with God that was enjoyed in the Edenic Sanctuary (Gen 2:9-12).
Yahweh spoke to Moses and said... In the instructions for creating the earthly Sanctuary this formula saying will be repeated seven times (Ex 25:1; 30:11, 17, 22, 34; 31:1, 12), dividing the instructions for the Sanctuary into seven sections.
Question: What other seven-times repeated formula
saying does this repetition recall from the Creation event that divided that
narrative into seven sections/days? Hint: the answer is not "God (Elohim)
said," a formula repeated ten times in the Creation event (Gen 3, 6, 9, 11, 14,
20, 24, 26, 28, and 29).
Answer: The formula "God saw it was good" was repeated seven times in the creation of the heavens and the earth, dividing the Creation event into seven days (Gen 1:4, 10, 13, 19, 21, 25, and 31).
Question: What is the link between the last of the seven formula statements in
Genesis 1:31 and the last of the formula statements
in Exodus 31:12?
Answer: Both formula statements are followed by a passage establishing the Sabbath as a day of rest after six days of labor.
The earthly Sanctuary was to be constructed from the free-will offerings of the people. It was to be a replica of the heavenly Sanctuary and was to contain seven kinds of sacred furniture, the design of which Moses was shown in the heavenly Sanctuary.
THE SEVEN CLASSES OF FURNITRUE IN YAHWEH'S HOLY SANCTUARY
...these maintain the service only of a model or reflection of the heavenly realities; just as Moses, when he had the Tent to build, was warned by God who said: See that you work to the design that was shown you on the mountain. Hebrews 8:5
|Sacred Furniture||Description and Function|
1. The Ark of the Covenant
Ex 25:10-16; 26:34; 37:1-5
|An acacia wood box covered inside and outside with pure gold. It will house the stone tablets of the Decalogue. It is to be placed in the most sacred space "the Holy of Holies.|
2. The Mercy Seat
Ex 25:17-22; 37:6-9
|Moses is instructed to place the solid gold Kapporet on top of the Ark of the Covenant. This lid is known as the "mercy seat" or "seat of atonement." It is the meeting place between God and His people. The figures of two solid golden cherubim with outstretched wings are to be mounted on the top of the lid of the mercy seat.|
3. The Golden Table of the Bread of the Presence
Ex 25:23-30; 37:10-16
|An acacia wood table covered with pure gold. It will hold 12 loaves of unleavened bread, one loaf for each tribe of Israel. It is to be placed in the Holy Place on the north side opposite the lamp-stand.|
4. The Golden Menorah lamp-stand
Ex 25:31-39; 37:17-24
|It must be made of pure gold. It must have one central trunk with 6 branches, three on each side of the main branch forming 7 branches with cups shaped in the form of calyxes, almond blossoms, and buds upon which its lamps are to rest. It is a visual representation of the burning bush/tree (Ex 3:2) and a visual reminder of the physical presence of God among His people. It is to be kept continually burning in the Holy Place on the south side opposite the Table of the Bread of the Presence.|
5. The Golden Altar of Incense
Ex 30:1-10; 37:25-28
|Made of acacia wood covered with pure gold. The smoke from the burning incense represents the prayers of the faithful rising to heaven. It is to be placed in the Holy Place directly in front of the curtain which covers the entrance to the Holy of Holies.|
6. The Bronze Altar of burnt offerings
Ex 27:1-8; 38:1-7
|Made of acacia wood and covered with bronze. It is the only altar upon which animal sacrifice to Yahweh can be made. It is to be placed in the middle of the Outer Courtyard.|
7. The Bronze Basin
Ex 30:18-21; 38:8
|Made entirely of bronze from the mirrors of the women, it is to hold the holy water for ritual purification before entering the Holy Place of the Tabernacle. It is to be placed in the Outer Courtyard in front of the entrance to the Holy Place.|
See the chart on measurements below.
M. Hunt, copyright 2000
Exodus 25:2: Tell the Israelites to set aside a contribution for me [to bring Me gifts]; you will accept a contribution [you shall accept gifts for Me] from everyone whose heart prompts him to give it. The donation of the gifts is a religious offering. The word translated "gifts" or "contribution" in Hebrew is terumah. It is technical term referring to specifically that which is to be set aside by its owner to be dedicated for a sacred purpose. Produce (Num 15:19ff), money (Ex 30:13ff), or animal sacrifice (Ex 29:27) were all acceptable gifts (JPS Commentary: Exodus, page 157; Childs, The Book of Exodus, page 523).
Question: What kinds of materials were requested?
Answer: The list included: gold, silver, bronze, linen, dyed linen textiles and threads in shades of blue, purple and red, woven goat's hair, rams' skins dyed red, leather skins of the dolphin or sea cow (?), acacia wood, olive oil, spices, incense, semi-precious/ precious stones.
The requested metals are gold, silver, and bronze. Bronze is an alloy of copper and tin that was used extensively in the Near East as early as the third millennium BC. The dyes for biblical blue (tekhelet) and purple ( argaman) were obtained from the murex marine snail that exudes a yellow fluid which becomes red-purple when exposed to sunlight and a blue color when not exposed to sunlight.(2) The crimson (tola'at shani) dye was obtained from eggs of scale insects of the Coccidae family that fed on oak trees.
Exodus 25:4b-5: fine linen [ses], goat's hair; 5 rams' skins dyed red, fine leather [ tahas = skin*]... The Hebrew word ses is an Egyptian loan word which most scholars believe designates "linen," the preferred Egyptian textile, but others suggest the curtains were made of wool (Josephus identied the cloth as linen: Antiquities 3.6.1-4 [103, 110, 124, 128-29]). The exact meaning of the Hebrew word tahas (plural = tehashim; singular = tahas/tahash) is uncertain. In Scripture the Hebrew word always refers to one of the coverings of the Tabernacle with one exception in Ezekiel 16:10 where it refers to the material from which women's sandals are made. Because of the similarity to the Arabic word for both the dolphin and the dugong (sea cow) most scholars favor those translations, although a few others favor "badger." The Hebrew word shoham is a stone often mentioned in the Bible, for example in Genesis 2:12 this stone is mentioned as one of the gems native to the "land of Havilah" near the garden in Eden and Ezekiel 28:13 records that shoham was a gem in the mantle of the Serpent who was in Eden (JPS Commentary: Exodus, page 157-58; Davis, Exodus, page 261-62; Childs, The Book of Exodus, page 523).
Exodus 25:6-7: ...oil for the light, spices for the anointing oil and fragrant incense; 7 cornelian [lapis lazuli?] and other stones to be set in the ephod and breastplate.
Pure olive oil will be used to light the golden lamp-stand (menorah) in the Tabernacle (Ex 27:20-21; 37:29), and special incense will be burnt upon a golden incense altar "the description of the incense altar and the recipe for the incense will be given later (Ex 30:1-9, 34-38; 37:25-29). The ephod was part of the High Priest's liturgical vestments. It was similar to an apron with shoulder straps and waist ties. It had two shoulder pieces studded with onyx stones. The breastplate was a small (c. 9 inches by 9 inches) pouch which held two cult objects known as the urim and thummim.(3) The breastplate was worn on the chest of the priest over the ephod and was attached by golden chains to the shoulder pieces of the ephod. On the front of the breastplate were twelve different precious stones arranged in four rows upon which were engraved the names of the twelve tribes of Israel (Ex 28:6-30).
Exodus 25:8-9: Make me a sanctuary [miqdas] so that I can reside among them. You will make it all according to the design for the Dwelling [miskan] and the design for its furnishings which I shall now show you.'
The purpose of the Sanctuary was to contain a special dwelling place to allow God's Presence to safely dwell among His covenant people.
Question: Where did Yahweh show Moses the design for
the Dwelling and its furnishings?
Answer: The Tabernacle and its furnishings are earthly replicas of what Moses saw in the heavenly Sanctuary.
The admonition to make the Tabernacle and its furnishings according to the design Moses saw in the heavenly Sanctuary/ Temple will be repeated five times (Ex 25:9, 40; 26:30; 27:8; Num 8:4). That a celestial Temple existed is corroborated by inspired writers in both the Old and New Testament. Visions of the heavenly throne room were seen by the prophets Isaiah (Is 6:1-8) and Ezekiel (Ez 1:4-28). The prophet Micah foresaw Yahweh coming down from "His holy abode," from "His dwelling-place" to "stride upon the heights of the earth" (Micah 1:2-3). The psalmist declared: Yahweh is in his holy temple! Yahweh, his throne is in heaven; his eyes watch over the world, his gaze scrutinizes the children of Adam (Ps 11:4), and the psalmist and other sacred writers wrote that the footstool of God's heavenly throne was the earthly Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies of the earthly Tabernacle (Ps 99:5; 132:7; Is 66:1; 1 Chr 28:2; 2 Chr). In the New Testament St. John the Apostle also witnessed the cosmic throne room of the heavenly Sanctuary (Rev 4:1-11). He saw incense about to be offered on a heavenly altar of incense (Rev 4:8). The Book of Revelation, which records St. John's visions, mentions altars seven times (Rev 4:8; 6:8; 8:2, 5; 9:13; 11:1; 14:18 and 16:7).
Moses was commanded to copy what he saw in the heavenly Sanctuary, either from his vision of the various sacred furnishing or from a blueprint of their design. In the building of the Jerusalem Temple King David will also receive the specifications from God concerning the plan of the Temple (1 Chr 28:11-19). The inspired writer of the Letter to the Hebrews, quoting Exodus 25:9, wrote that the man-made items placed in the Sanctuary were only shadows of the heavenly realities (Heb 8:5).
Please read Exodus 25:10-22: The Design of the Ark of the
25:10 You must make me an ark of acacia wood, two and a half cubits long, one and a half cubits wide and one and a half cubits high. 11You will overlay it, inside and out, with pure gold and make a gold molding all round it. 12You will cast four gold rings for it and fix them to its four supports: two rings on one side and two rings on the other. 13You will also make shafts of acacia wood and overlay them with gold 14and pass the shafts through the rings on the sides of the ark, by which to carry it. 15The shafts will stay in the rings of the ark and not be withdrawn. 16Inside the ark you will put the Testimony which I am about to give you. 17You will also make a mercy-seat of pure gold, two and a half cubits long and one and a half cubits wide, 18and you will model two great winged creatures of beaten gold, you will make them at the two ends of the mercy-seat. 19Model one of the winged creatures at one end and the other winged creature at the other end; you will model the winged creatures of a piece with the mercy-seat at either end. 20The winged creatures must have their wings spread upwards, protecting the mercy-seat with their wings and facing each other, their faces being toward the mercy-seat with their wings and facing each other, their faces being towards the mercy-seat. 21You will put the mercy-seat on the top of the ark, and inside the ark you will put the Testimony which I am about to give you. 22There I shall come to meet you; from above the mercy-seat, from between the two winged creatures which are on the ark of the Testimony, I shall give you all my orders for the Israelites.'
That these instructions for the Ark of the Covenant are so detailed points to the importance of this special chest.
Exodus 25:10: You must make me an ark of acacia wood, two and a half cubits long, one and a half cubits wide and one and a half cubits high.'
The Hebrew word translated here as "ark" is the Hebrew word aron (it is not the same word used for the "ark" of the great Flood or the "ark" into which baby Moses was saved in the waters of the Nile). In addition to the Hebrew word aron referring to the sacred Ark of the Covenant, the same word is found in reference to a collection box in the Temple (2 Kng 12:10-11; 2 Chr 24:8, 10-11) and the coffin of Joseph (Gen 50:26).
The sacred Ark is known in Scripture by three titles:
(Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. I, "Ark of the Covenant" page 386-7).
Moses was commanded to make the Ark of the Covenant of acacia wood, shittim in Hebrew. In Scripture the word shittim is always mentioned in association with the timbers used in the construction of the Tabernacle and its various parts with the exception of Isaiah 41:19 where, in Yahweh's beautiful poem prophesying Israel's liberation and restoration after the exile, God promises to restore the wastelands with various trees including shittim trees. Most scholars have identified this wood as coming from the acacia tree. There are about eight hundred different species of acacia, but only a few have upright trunks suitable for cutting boards for construction. Those species of acacia wood provide very hard, insect resistant boards (Anchor Bible Commentary, vol. II, "flora /acacia," page 804).
The "cubit" ( ammah, literally "forearm") is the designated biblical measurement. In ancient times the cubit was normally understood to be the distance from a man's elbow to his middle fingertip and was referred to in Scripture as "the cubit of a man" (Dt 3:11). However, as societies became more sophisticated, the cubit was standardized. The standard Hebrew cubit was 17.5 inches and was slightly shorter than the common Egyptian cubit of 17.6 inches; the Egyptians also had a royal cubit equal to 20.65 inches. The Israelites later had a long or royal cubit which was measured in the width of a man's palm; it was about 20.4 inches, a hand breadth wider than a standard cubit which was six palms.
The question is which cubit was used in the construction of the Tabernacle? Was it the common Israelite cubit of 17.5 inches or, since Moses had been educated in the Egyptian royal court and the Israelites were trained as slaves in Egyptian building techniques, was the cubit used in the construction of the Tabernacle the Egyptian common cubit of 17.6 inches or the Egyptian royal cubit of 20.65 inches? In speculating on the sizes of the various pieces of sacred furniture in the Tabernacle, in the chart below we have used the approximate modern equivalency of the common Egyptian cubit of 17.6 inches or 44.7 centimeters.
Measurements of the furniture in the Tabernacle
Common Egyptian cubit = 17.6 inches
|Ark of the Covenant||3 ft 8 in||2 ft 2 3/8 in||2 ft 2 3/8 in|
|Table of the Bread of the Presence||2 ft 11 3/16in||1 ft 5 5/8th in||2 ft 2 3/8th in|
|Altar of Burnt Offerings||7 ft 4 in||7 ft 4 in||4 ft 4 3/4th in|
|Altar of Incense||1 ft 5 5/8th in||1 ft 5 5/8th in||2 ft 11 1/4th in|
Common Egyptian cubit = 44.7 cm
|Ark of the Covenant||111.76 cm||67.06 cm||67.06 cm|
|Table of the Bread of the Presence||89.41 cm||44.7 cm||67.06 cm|
|Altar of Burnt Offerings||223.52 cm||223.52 cm||134.11 cm|
|Altar of Incense||44.7 cm||44.7 cm||89.41 cm|
Exodus 25:18: and you will model two great winged creatures of beaten gold, you will make them at the two ends of the mercy-seat.
Question: When was the last time winged creatures
were mentioned in Scripture? See Gen 3:23-24.
Answer: When Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden Sanctuary in Eden winged creatures were sent to guard the entrance and to protect the Tree of Life.
Question: Does the command to make these golden
images of winged creatures above the Mercy-seat violate the commandment not to
create idols? See
Ex 20:4, 23; 25:18-20; 26:31;
1 Kng 6:23-28; 7:23-26.
Answer: The prohibition was against making any cult images of Yahweh or false gods with the intent of worshiping an idol. Images like the cherubim were not intended for worship. They had to be acceptable because God Himself instructed the people to create them. In addition to the figures of the golden cherubim on the Kapporet (Mercy-seat) God commanded the creation of other such forms:
The Catechism teaches that these images pointed symbolically to the salvation mission of the Redeemer-Messiah as Jesus Himself taught in the Gospel of St. John 3:14-15, speaking of His sacrificial death on the altar of the Cross and comparing His elevation on the cross as necessary to the salvation of the world just as it was necessary for the people to look to the raise up image of the bronze serpent to be saved (Num 21:4-9). Also see CCC 2129-2132.
In Scripture the cherubim are mentioned as guardians of the garden Sanctuary in Eden and the Tree of Life. They seem to function as a protection against sin, maintaining the undefiled holiness of God. They are also responsible for the forces of nature and served as God's mobile throne (1 Sam 4:4; 2 Sam 6:2; 22:11; 2 Kng 19:15; Ps 18:10; 80:1; 99:1; Ez 1:4-28; 10:1-17). In the Tabernacle their images will be woven or embroidered upon the curtain that separates the Holy Place from the Outer Court (Ex 26:1) and the curtain that separates the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place of the Sanctuary (Ex 26:31).
Exodus 25:16: Inside the ark you will put the Testimony which I am about to give you. The intended meaning of the Hebrew word edut (the accepted translation being "testimony"), following other Near Eastern parallels, refers to the stipulations in a treaty imposed by a great King on his vassal. The "testimony" is the Decalogue ("ten words") written on two tablets which we most often refer to as the Ten Commandments. The Ark of the Covenant was the visual reminder of the presence of God with His chosen people, and it was the designated receptacle to hold and preserve the covenant treaty documents: the two tablets of the Ten Commandments. This purpose gave the Ark its other name "the "Ark of Testimony," recalling the binding covenant treaty that Yahweh formed with Israel (Ex 25:22; 26:33; 40:21). See CCC 2058.
Question: In addition to being called the "Ten Words" (Decalogue)
or the Ten Commandments, what other names are the two stone tablets, or the
words engraved on them, called? See Ex 25:22; 26:33; 31:18; 32:15; 34:29; 39:28;
Dt 9:9, 11, and 15.
Later the Ark would also come to hold a pot of the manna with which Yahweh had physically nourished and sustained Israel in her desert journey (originally place beside the Ark with the Book of the Covenant) and the branch of the High Priest Aaron which miraculously came to life and blossomed (Ex 16:34; Num 17:23/17:8; Heb 9:4).
Exodus 25:21-22: 21You will put the mercy-seat on the top of the ark, and inside the ark you will put the Testimony which I am about to give you. 22There I shall come to meet you; from above the mercy-seat, from between the two winged creatures which are on the ark of the Testimony, I shall give you all my orders for the Israelites.'
The name "Ark of the Covenant" defines its function. The ark was the chest that protected the tablets of the Ten Commandments, making the tablets a treasure entrusted to Israel. The divine testimony of God hidden in the Ark became the guarantee of the fulfillment of the promises of the covenant made at Sinai.
The Ark served as a support for the solid gold Kapporet/ Kapporeth (see Ex 37:1-9). The Kapporet was placed on top of the Ark (which was opened at the top). But the Kapporet was more than a lid to cover the treaty document of the Ten Commandments. This is evident from the Hebrew root for this word (kpr) which means "to make atonement" (Childs, The Book of Exodus, page 524); therefore, its name does not simply imply its function as a "covering" for the top of the Ark. The inspired writer of Hebrews called the Kapporet a "throne of mercy" (Heb 9:5), and in English Bible translations the Kapporet is often translated as "Mercy-Seat" or "Seat-of-Atonement." The Hebrew name Kapporet and its English translations denote not a physical or material covering but a spiritual covering. That spiritual "covering" was not intended for the physical tablets of the Law. The whole purpose of the Law was that it was to be revealed continuously as the voice and will of Yahweh. The "covering" of the Kapporet was atonement for the sins of the covenant people in the blood of ritual sacrifice and the mercy and forgiveness extended by God to His people from the earthly throne of His Mercy-Seat.
The third purpose of the Ark of the Covenant was its use as Yahweh's holiest altar of sacrifice. The other two altars were the bronze Altar of Burnt Offerings in the Sanctuary Courtyard (Ex 27:1-8; 29:36-37), and the golden Altar of Incense (see Ex 30:1-10; Lev 4:7) that stood in the Holy Place in front of the curtain that covered the Holy of Holies and hid the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy-seat. Since the means of atonement for the sins of the covenant people had to be carried out upon the earthly throne of mercy "the Kapporeth, the Ark became an altar in a ceremony that cleansed Yahweh's Bride the covenant people of sin and again bound Israel the Bride to Yahweh the Bridegroom. Once a year, on the Feast of Yom Kippur (kpr), the "Day of Atonement" (Ex 30:10; Lev 16:1-34; 23:26-32; Num 29:7-11; Heb 9:6-14) the Ark served as the 3rd holy altar of Yahweh when the holiest of sin-offerings was sprinkled on the Kapporet. In the ordinary sacrifices on ordinary days, on Sabbath celebrations, and during the days of the seven annual Sacred Feasts of Yahweh (Lev 23; Num 28-29), the blood of the sacrificed victims was sprinkled and then poured out at the corners of the great bronze Altar of Burnt Offerings in the courtyard of the Temple, but on the Feast of Atonement the blood of the sin sacrifice was sprinkled upon the horns of the golden Altar of Incense that stood in the Holy Place (Ex 30:10) and was also sprinkled seven times on the east (front) of the Kapporeth that rested on top of the Ark of the Covenant (Lev 16:14-16).
The tablets of the Decalogue were Israel's greatest national treasure. Unlike the Book of the Covenant written by Moses, the tablets were written "with the finger of God" (Ex 31:18; Dt 5:22) and were preeminently the words of Yahweh given to the people as a unified covenant nation and to each Israelite individually as a path of life (Dt 30:16) "the commands were given in the first person: "I AM Yahweh" (Ex 20:2) and were given to the people expressed by the singular personal pronoun "you" (Ex 20:3-17; CCC 2063).
Please read Exodus 25:23-30: The Table for the Bread of
the Presence and Other Utensils Used in Worship
25:23 You must also make a table of acacia wood, two cubits long, one cubit wide and one and a half cubits high. 24You will overlay it with pure gold, and make a gold moulding all round it. 25You will fit it with struts of a hand's breath and make a gold moulding round the struts. 26You will make four gold rings for it and fix the four rings at the four corners where the four legs are. 27The rings must lie close to the struts to hold the shafts for carrying the table. 28You must make the shafts of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. The table must be carried by these. 29You must make dishes, cups, jars and libation bowls for it; you must make these of pure gold, 30and on the table, in my presence, you will always put the loaves of permanent offering.'
The first instructions for constructing the Tabernacle concerned the most sacred two pieces of furniture: the Ark and the Mercy-Seat that were to be placed in the Tabernacle's Holy of Holies (debir), the Tabernacle's most sacred space. The next set of directions concern the next most sacred space "the Holy Place (hekel).
Question: What three items will be placed in the other
room of the Tabernacle, the Holy Place? See Ex 40:22-27 and the chart of the
Sanctuary in handout #2.
Answer: The Table of the Bread of the Presence, the lamp-stand/ Menorah, and the Altar of Incense.
All the furnishings in the Holy of Holies (also called the Most Holy Place) and in the Holy Place were to be made of gold or gold covered, including the necessary service vessels. The table to hold the "bread of the Presence" was to be made of acacia wood overlaid with gold and with a gold fence or moulding around the top of the table. Four gold rings were to be attached to the table with two wooden poles covered with gold placed through each pair of rings to transport the table.
Question: Where was the table to be placed in the Holy Place? See Ex 40:22-24.
Answer: The table was to be placed on the north side of the Holy Place across from the golden Menorah lamp-stand
Question: What was the function of the golden table
in the Holy of Holies? See Ex 25:30; Lev 24:5-9; 1 Sam 21:4-7.
Answer: The table was made to hold the twelve loaves of the permanent offering of unleavened bread set out on the table in two equal rows. The bread was to remain on the table for an entire week until the Sabbath when they were replaced by freshly baked loaves. The old loaves were to be eaten by the priests in the Holy Place.
In verse 30 the Hebrew words lechem panim are usually translated "bread in the face (of God)" or "bread of the Presence (of God)," translations supported by Exodus 25:30 ("in my presence") and by 1 Samuel 21:7. The loaves were flat, oblong loaves of unleavened bread (Mishnah: Menahot 5.1, 9.4b; Antiquities of the Jews 3.10.7and 6.6.6). The significance of the twelve loaves is not explained in Scripture but tradition teaches that the loaves symbolized the twelve tribes of Israel like the twelve standing stones in Exodus 24:4 or the twelve stones in the High Priests breastplate (Ex 28:9-12; Mishnah: Menahot 5.1- 9.4). These loaves were to be a tamid offering (literally "standing," meaning a permanent/ perpetual offering).
Please read Exodus 25:31-40: The Golden Menorah
25:31 You will also make a lamp-stand of pure gold; the lamp-stand must be of beaten gold, base and stem. Its cups, calyxes and petals, must be of a piece with it. 32Six branches must spring from its sides: three of the lamp-stand's branches from one side, three of the lamp-stand's branches from the other. 33The first branch must carry three cups shaped like almond blossoms, each with its calyx and petals; the second branch, too, must carry three cups shaped like almond blossoms, each with its calyx and bud, and similarly for all six branches springing from the lamp-stand. 34The lamp-stand itself must carry four cups shaped like almond blossoms, each with its calyx and bud: 35one calyx under the first two branches springing from the lamp-stand, one calyx under the next pair of branches and one calyx under the last pair of branches "thus for all six branches springing from the lamp-stand. 36The calyxes and the branches will be of a piece with the lamp-stand, and the whole made from a single piece of pure gold, beaten out. 37You will also make seven lamps for it and mount the lamps in such a way that they light up the space in front of it. 38The snuffers and trays must be of pure gold. 39You will use a talent of pure gold for the lamp-stand and all its accessories; 40and see that you work to the design which was shown you on the mountain.'
The next sacred furnishing that stood in the Holy Place was the golden Menorah (lamp-stand). No dimensions are given for the lamp-stand. The menorah was to be constructed of solid gold with a central shaft from which six branches sprang "three from the right and three from the left. Each of the six shafts extending from the central shaft was to have three almond-blossom cups with calyxes and buds (v. 33). The central shaft was to have four almond-blossom cups, calyxes and buds, and a bud was to be placed at the point where each of the pairs of shafts joined the central shaft (vs. 34-36). Seven lamps were to be placed on the top of each shaft of the lamp-stand (v. 37). Golden snuffers and snuff-holders were also to be made for the lamp-stand (v. 38). The total amount of gold used to create the lamp-stand was to be one talent, which equates to about 100 pounds or 50 kilograms of gold (v. 39).
Question: How many branches and lamps did the menorah
have? What is the significance of this number?
Answer: There were seven branches and seven lamps. The number seven is one of the most important symbolic numbers in the Bible and is an expression of completeness and perfection "especially spiritual perfection.
Question: What was the position of the menorah in the
Holy Place? See Ex 40:24.
Answer: On the south side of the Holy Place opposite the golden Table of the Bread of the Presence.
Question: According to the text what was the practical
purpose of the lamp-stand? See verse 37.
Answer: To light up the Holy Place of the Tabernacle.
Question: From the detailed description of the
menorah and its lamps what was the stylized form of the lamp-stand?
Answer: It was a burning tree/bush with forms like calyxes and buds, reminiscing of the burning tree/bush where Yahweh first called Moses near the holy mountain of Sinai in Exodus 3:1-6.
The primary function of the lamp-stand was to light the interior of the sacred space but the light of the menorah also symbolized the Divine Presence of the spirit of Yahweh who resides in the midst of His people as He was present to Moses when God called to Moses from the burning tree/bush.
Question: Where did the Israelites as former slaves
get all the precious metals to make the framework and the furniture for the
Sanctuary and its Tabernacle? See Ex 12:35-36.
Answer: From the gold and silver the Egyptians gave them when they left Egypt.
The two sacred spaces of the Tabernacle were to be partitioned into two unequal spaces that were to be divided by a curtain.
Please read Exodus 26:1-14: The Textiles and Hangings for
the Tabernacle of the Sanctuary
26:1 The Dwelling itself you will make with ten sheets of finely woven linen dyed violet-purple, red-purple and crimson. You will have them embroidered with great winged creatures. 2The length of a single sheet is to be twenty-eight cubits, its width four cubits, all the sheets to be of the same size. 3Five of the sheets are to be joined to one another, and the other five sheets are to be joined to one another. 4You will make violet loops along the edge of the first sheet, at the end of the set, and do the same along the edge of the last sheet in the other set. 5You will make fifty loops on the first sheet and fifty loops along the outer edge of the sheet of the second set, the loops corresponding to one another. 6You will also make fifty gold clasps, and join the sheets together with the clasps. In this way the Dwelling will be a unified whole. 7You will make sheets of goat's hair to form a tent over the Dwelling; you will make eleven of these. 8The length of a single sheet must be thirty cubits and its width four cubits, the eleven sheets to be all of the same size. 9You will join five sheets together into one set, and six sheets into another; the sixth you will fold double over the front of the tent. 10You will make fifty loops along the edge of the first sheet, at the end of the first set, and fifty loops along the edge of the sheet of the second set. 11You will make fifty bronze clasps and insert the claps into the loops, to draw the tent together and to make it a unified whole. 12Of the extra part of the sheets that overlap, half is to hand down the back of the Dwelling. 13The extra cubit on either side along the length of the tent sheets must hang down the sides of the Dwelling on either side to cover it. 14And for the tent you will make a cover of rams' skins dyed red and a cover of fine leather over that.'
The instructions for the furnishings of the Holy Place and Holy of Holies have been completed and now instructions are given concerning the coverings that serve as the roof and sides unifying the two sacred spaces of the Tabernacle.
Exodus 26:6: You will also make fifty gold clasps, and join the sheets together with the clasps. In this way the Dwelling will be a unified whole. Large sheets of textiles and animal skins formed the roof and sides of the Dwelling (verses 6-14)
Question: How many colors were used in the textiles
for the Sanctuary? See Ex 26:1 and 27:16.
Answer: Three colors were used to dye the linen for the Sanctuary: red, blue, and purple but there were four colors represented in the sheets that covered the framework of the Tabernacle and that surrounded the entire courtyard area of the Sanctuary: natural linen (beige) panels embroidered with red, blue, and purple.
Flavius Josephus, himself a priest of the Old Covenant Herodian Temple in Jerusalem, described the symbolize of the four colors used in the textiles for both the desert Tabernacle and the Jerusalem Temple: for the fine linen was proper to signify the earth, because the flax grows out of the earth; the purple signified the sea, because that color is dyed by the blood of a sea shell fish; the blue is fit to signify the air, and the scarlet will naturally be an indication of fire (Antiquities, 3.7.7 ).
Question: How many coverings were to lay over the
Dwelling/Tabernacle of the Sanctuary which housed the Holy Place and the Holy
Answer: There were three or four coverings depending on the interpretation of the text.
In Mishnah: Sabbat 28a two opinions are given: 1) there is a third layer composed of dyed ram skins and a fourth layer of tahash skins, or 2) there were three layers with the third layer composed of half ram skins and half tahash skins (which as an outside covering would have looked rather odd if only the ram's skins were dyed red). Whether three or four layers, with each layer, one on top of the other, the structure was to be weather resistant and completely dark except for the light of the Menorah.
The text gives many details concerning the layers of curtains to cover the Tabernacle. The sheets of the innermost curtain that covered the Tabernacle was held together by loops fastened to golden clasps, the next layer by loops and bronze clasps, but since no loops or clasps are mentioned for the outer curtains they were presumably sewn together or overlapped (all equivalent measurements from The Anchor Bible Commentary: Exodus, pages 406-11):
Josephus seems to suggest that there was both a third and fourth layer. He describes the woven goat-hair curtain and then adds: There were also other curtains made of skins above these, which afforded covering and protection to those that were woven... (Antiquities of the Jews, 3.6.4 ).
Please read Exodus 26:15-30: The Framework of the
26:15 For the Dwelling you will make vertical frames of acacia wood. 16Each frame must be ten cubits long and one and a half cubits wide. 17Each frame must have twin tenons; that is how all the frames for the Dwelling must be made. 18You will make frames for the Dwelling: twenty frames for the south side, to the south, 19and make forty silver sockets under the twenty frames, two sockets under one frame for its two tenons, two sockets under the next frame for its two tenons; 20and for the other side of the Dwelling, the north side, twenty frames 21and forty silver sockets, two sockets under one frame, two sockets under the next frame. 22For the back of the Dwelling, on the west, you will make six frames, 23and make two frames for the corners at the back of the Dwelling; 24these must be coupled together at the bottom, and right up to the top, to the level of the first ring; this for the two frames that must form the two corners. 25Thus there will be eight frames with their silver sockets: sixteen sockets; two sockets under one frame and two sockets under the next frame. 26You will make crossbars of acacia wood: five for the frames of the first side of the Dwelling, 27five crossbars for the frames of the opposite side of the Dwelling, and five crossbars for the frames which form the back of the Dwelling, to the west. 28The middle bar must join the frames from one end to the other, halfway up. 29You will overlay the frames with gold, make gold rings for them, through which to place the crossbars, and overlay the crossbars with gold. 30This is how you must erect the Dwelling, following the design shown you on the mountain.'
Verses 15-30 contain instructions on how to build the framework of the Tabernacle that enclosed the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies and held the curtains. Older commentaries (including Josephus' description in Antiquities 3.6.3 ) favor the interpretation that wooden boards formed a solid gold covered wooden walled structure but newer commentaries favor a construction that was a series of opened frames fitted upright into silver sockets and tenons which the layers of curtains covered. Such a frame would be lighter, making transportation of the pieces easier, and in the interior the beautifully embroidered linen curtain could be seen. If the structure was solid wood the beautiful interior embroidered curtain would not have been visible. The structure was evidently flat on top since there is no mention of ridge poles. Bedouin tents still display this same rectangular framework covered flat roofed construction. In a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1998 I saw such a Bedouin structure in the West Bank.(5)
The wooden structure of the Tabernacle was made of 48 wooden frames/boards with each wooden frame/board measuring ten cubits long and 1.5 cubits wide (approximately 15 feet high by 27 inches wide). If the structure was not made of solid wood planks then the frame was make like a trellis with two vertical arms joined to one another (Ex 26:17). The are 48 frames were to be arranged with 20 frames for each of the two sides and 6 for the rear western wall, plus 2 additional frames that were to be placed at the rear corners, presumably for additional support at the corners (Ex 26:24). Bronze rings were to be attached to the frames and long rods or bars (5 per side) were to be slid through the rings to hold the framework together.
Review of the construction of the Tabernacle:
The dimensions of the Tabernacle are not given in the biblical narrative have been calculated from the recorded dimensions of the curtains and the frames used to construct it. Taking the dimensions for the curtain and frames into account makes the dimensions of the Tabernacle 30 cubits long by 10 cubits wide. The ceiling height was 10 cubits. The Holy Place would then be 20 cubits long by 10 cubits wide and the Holy of Holies was a cube shaped room 10 cubits long by 10 cubits wide and 10 cubits high or circa 15 x 15 x 15 feet or 4.6 m square. (see The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 6, "Tabernacle," pages 292-300). The 10 cubits (15 foot) high walls of the Tabernacle were twice the height of the enclosure for the entire Sanctuary which was 5 cubits high. The entire Sanctuary complex measured 100 cubits by 50 cubits or c. 150 ft. (c. 46 m.) by c. 75 ft. (c. 23 meters). (Ex 27:18).(6)
26:30: This is how you must erect the Dwelling, following the design shown you on the mountain.'
Question: How many times has this command been
Answer: This is the third time the command was given to Moses.
Please read Exodus 26:31-37: The Tabernacle's Inner and
26:31 You will make a curtain of finely woven linen, dyed violet-purple, red-purple and crimson, and embroidered with great winged creatures, 32and put it on four poles of acacia wood overlaid with gold, with golden hooks for them, set in four sockets of silver. 33You will put the curtain below the clasps, so that inside behind the curtain, you can place the ark of the Testimony, and the curtain will mark the division for you between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. 34You will put the mercy-seat on the ark of the Testimony in the Holy of Holies. 35You will place the table outside the curtain, and the lamp-stand on the south side of the Dwelling, opposite the table; you will put the table on the north side. 36For the entrance to the tent you will make a screen of finely woven linen embroidered with violet-purple, red-purple and crimson, 37and for the screen you will make five poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold, with golden hooks, and for them you will cast five sockets of bronze.'
The two sacred spaces of the Tabernacle were enclosed as one unified space under the three /four layered coverings (Ex 26:6; 36:13), but the two spaces were to be separated by a fine linen curtain woven in colors of blue, purple, and red and embroidered with winged cherubim. This beautiful curtain or "veil" was intended to close off the cube shaped 10 cubits x 10 cubits x 10 cubits Holy of Holies (c. 15 x 15 x 15ft.) from the Holy Place which was 20 cubits long by 10 cubits wide and high (Ex 26:35-36; 36:35-38). The inner curtain was to be hung with golden hooks on four acacia wood poles with silver sockets, and the poles were to be overlaid with gold. A second curtain at the entrance was to close off the Holy Place from the Outer Courtyard (Ex 26:37-38). The entrance curtain was to be hung on five poles of acacia wood overlaid with gold, hung with golden hooks and with bronze sockets at the bases of each of the five poles. Only the priests entered the Sanctuary on a regular basis to offer service to Yahweh; the people were confined to the courtyard unless they were eating a communion meal (thank or peace offerings) in the Holy Place (Lev 7:11/ 7:1-38/7:28; 19:5-8).
Question: How was the Sanctuary to be divided
spatially and spiritually? See handout #2.
Answer: It was divided into three parts with increasing degrees of holiness:
Question: How was Mt. Sinai a prototype of the Sanctuary?
Answer: Both the mountain and the Sanctuary had three levels of increasing holiness:
(Presence of God)
(leaders of the tribes)
/ Base \
(the covenant people)
Holy of Holies
(dwelling place of God)
(the covenant people)
The Sanctuary was composed of three spaces: (1) the Holy of Holies and (2) the Holy Place, the two spaces that formed the Tabernacle, and (3) the Outer Courtyard. But enclosed by the wooden frames and their sheets of fabric the Sanctuary was a unified whole.
Question: Looking at the Sanctuary in the light of
the revelation of God imparted by Jesus Christ, what does the three-in-one plan
of the Sanctuary symbolize?
Answer: The unity of the Most Holy Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit "three in one.
Question: What was the orientation of the Sanctuary
according to the four points of the compass?
See Exodus 26:22, 33-35; 27:9-16;
40:20-30; Num 3:38.
Answer: The Sanctuary faced the east, with the opening to the courtyard on the eastern wall of the enclosure facing the rising sun and the Holy of Holies in the western most part of the Sanctuary.
Question: What connection can be made to the Book of
Genesis in movement entering the Sanctuary from the east and the most sacred
space in the west of the structure and leaving the Sanctuary by moving to the
east? See Gen 3:24 (literal translation is "in the east" of the garden God
posted the cherubim); 4:16 (Cain is sent east in exile); 13:11 (Lot chose to
leave Abraham and move eastward); 19:17 (the angels urged Lot to flee to the
hills in the west toward Abraham, but Lot chose to go east to Zoar); 25:6
(Abraham's other sons by Keturah settle in the east).
Answer: This arrangement is consistent with what we observed in Genesis after the Fall where movement to the east was moving away from God while movement to the west (in this case moving into the Sanctuary) was drawing closer to God who dwelt in a special way in the Holy of Holies located in the western-most part of the Sanctuary.
Originally all Catholic churches were oriented in this same east to west arrangement with the altar located in the west and the entrance to the church in the east. St. Peter's Cathedral in the Vatican is oriented this way.
Part II of the plan for the Sanctuary at Sinai will continue next week.
Questions for group discussion:
For the Old Covenant people of God the Sanctuary and its Tabernacle that traveled with them on their journey to the Promised Land of Canaan was a constant visual reminded that Yahweh was present among His people. In the smoke rising from their sin sacrifices on the great bronze altar in the Outer Courtyard they had the assurance that God had received the essence of their sacrifices and had forgiven them their sins, and in the communion sacrifices and sacred meal eaten in the Presence of God in the Holy Place they had faith that fellowship with God had been restored.
Question: Do we have those same assurances and how does God manifest Himself to us as we journey in His presence to the Promised Land of heaven? How is commitment to the New Covenant established by Jesus Christ and New Covenant liturgical worship similar to what was established by God for His covenant people at Sinai and what is different? What elements are the same? For example: Old Covenant worship included altars, priests, incense, holy days of obligation, sacred images, sacrifice and a sacred communion meal. There were also precepts, prohibitions, commands, and covenant obligations like circumcision.
Question: For the Old Covenant people to worship at the Sanctuary and offer sin and communion sacrifices at Yahweh's altar was the definition of unity with God. As the New Covenant people of God how do we have unity with God in our journey to salvation, or how is it that we move away from God and journey to disaster on our own?
Question: How is the Mass the New Covenant "cosmic mountain?"
1. The Septuagint calls the wood for the Sanctuary "incorruptible trees," which was the unique condition of the Tree of Life in the garden Sanctuary.
2. The Phoenician cities of the Mediterranean coast became famous for producing dyes. Huge quantities of the remains of the murex sea snails have been discovered at the Phoenician city of Ugarit. Modern attempts to produce the richly colored biblical dyes have shown that it required thousands of snails to produce enough dye for one piece of textile. The quantities of the dye producing snails and the intensity of the labor to produce the dye made the dyed textiles very costly; therefore, the possession of tekhelet-dyed cloth or argaman-dyed fabrics became marks of great wealth, nobility and royalty (see Judg 8:26; Jer 10:9; Ez 23:6; Est 1:6; 8:15; Dan 5:7, 16, 29). In order to secure such a large quantity of sea snails to produce the dyes for the blue and purple textiles, Mt. Sinai must have been a reasonable distance from the Red Sea.
4. Bedouin tents are typically made of spun black goat hair today just as they have been for over a millennial (Anchor Bible Commentary: Exodus, page 407.
5. A frame construction portable pavilion was discovered in Giza, Egypt dating to c. 2600 BC. This structure had a frame that came apart for transportation and was apparently covered tent-like with curtains. It was discovered intact (except for the curtains) with a chair, bed and head-rest and is known as the portable pavilion of Hetep-heres. A number of depictions of portal shrines have been discovered on bas-reliefs and terra cotta pots (Davis, Exodus, page 252 [drawing], 269).
6. Solomon's Temple enclosure of the Holy Place and Holy of Holies in Jerusalem will be 60 cubits long by 20 cubits wide. The Tabernacle is therefore a 1:2 scale model of the future Temple (1 Kng 6). However, the ceiling in the Temple will be 30 cubit high, a 1:3 ratio to the Tabernacle's 10 cubit ceiling.
Catechism references for Exodus chapters 25-26 (* indicates Scripture quoted or paraphrased in the citation).
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