Hebrew mishkan, 'ohel; Greek skeenee. A miniature model of the earth, as Israel was a pattern to all nations. The earth shall at last be the tabernacle of God's glory, when He will tabernacle with men (Revelation 21:3). Mishkan is from shakan "to dwell," a poetical word, from from whence comes shekinah. As ohel represents the outward tent of black goats' hair curtains, so mishkan is the inner covering, the curtain immediately on the boards; the two are combined, "the tabernacle of the tent" (Exodus 39:32; Exodus 40:2; Exodus 40:6; Exodus 40:29). "House" (bet) applies to the tabernacle when fixed in Canaan, Israel's inheritance; originally appearing in Beth-el; finally designating the church of the New Testament (1 Timothy 3:15.) Qodesh and miqdash, "sanctuary," are applied to
(1) the whole tabernacle (Exodus 25:8),
(2) the court of the priests (Numbers 4:12), and
(3) in the narrowest sense to the holy of holies (Leviticus 4:6).
The same tabernacle was in the wilderness and in Shiloh; the external surroundings alone were changed (Psalm 78:60; Joshua 18:1; 1 Samuel 3:15). The inner mishkan (Greek naos) was the same, surrounded by an outer covered space into which "doors" led. Samuel slept, not in the inner mishkan, but in one of the outer chambers. The whole, including the outer chambers, was called heeykal (Greek hieron), "palace." The predominating color was sky blue (Exodus 25:4; Exodus 26:4; Exodus 28:28; Exodus 28:31; Exodus 28:37); the curtain, loops, veil, high priest's lace of the breast-plate, ephod robe, mitre lace. The three colors employed, blue, scarlet, and purple, were the royal colors and so best suited to the tabernacle, the earthly palace of Jehovah. The three principal parts of the tabernacle were the mishkan, "the DWELLING PLACE"; the tent, 'ohel; the covering, mikseh.
The materials for the mishkan were a great cloth of woven work figured with cherubim, measuring 40 cubits by 28, and a quadrangular enclosure of wood, open at one end, 10 cubits high, 10 wide, and 30 long. The size of the cloth appears from the number and dimensions of the ten breadths ("curtains") of which it consisted (Exodus 26:1-6; Exodus 26:26-28; Exodus 36:31-33). The VEIL was 10 cubits from the back, according to Philo and Josephus. (See VEIL.) THE TENT was the great cloth of goats' hair, 44 cubits by 30, and five pillars overlaid with gold, and furnished with golden hooks (waw), used as to the veil and the tent curtains; taches, "qeres," belong to the tabernacle cloth and the tent cloth of the sanctuary, Exodus 26:6; Exodus 26:33), from which hung the curtain that closed the entrance. The covering was of rams' and tachash (skins of marine animals, as seals; badger skins. (See BADGER) Fergusson ably shows that an ordinary tent sheltered the inner mishkan. The common arrangement makes
(1) the fabric unsightly in form and the beauty of its materials mainly concealed; also
(2) drapery could not be strained over a space of 15 feet without heavily sagging, and a flat roof could not keep out rain; also
(3) the pins and cords essential to a tent would hardly have place if the curtains were merely thrown over the woodwork and hung down on each side; also
(4) the name "tent" implies a structure in that shape, not flat roofed; also
(5) the five pillars in front of the mishkan would be out of symmetry with the four pillars of the veil, and the middle of the five pillars would stand needlessly and inconveniently in the way of the entrance.
The five are quite appropriate to the entrance to a tent; the middle one, the tallest, supporting one end of a ridge pole, 60 ft. long. The heads of the pillars were joined by connecting rods (KJV "fillets ") overlaid with gold (Exodus 36:38). There were five bars for each side of the structure, and five for the back, the middle bar alone of the five on each wall reached from end to end (Exodus 26:28), as here shown. The red rams' skins covering was over the goats' hair, and the tachash skins above this (Exodus 26:14). The tent cloth was laid over the tabernacle cloth so as to allow a cubit of tent cloth extending on each side in excess of the tabernacle cloth; it extended two cubits at the back and front (Exodus 26:13; Exodus 36:9; Exodus 36:13). The roof angle was probably a right angle; then every measurement is a multiple of five cubits, except the width of the tabernacle cloth, 21 cubits, and the length of the tent cloth, 44 cubits. Each side of the slope would be about 14 cubits, half the width of the tabernacle cloth. The slope extends five feet beyond the wooden walls, and five from the ground.
The tent cloth would hang down one cubit on each side. The tent area (judging from the tabernacle cloth) thus is 10 ft. by 21 ft.; the tent cloth overhanging at the back and front by two cubits, i.e. half a breadth. The wooden structure within the tent would have a space all around it of five cubits in width; here probably were eaten the sacrificial portions of meat not to be taken outside, here too were spaces for the priests, like the small apartments round three sides of the temple. The five pillars must have stood five cubits apart. Each chief measurement of the temple was just twice that of the tabernacle. The holiest place, a square of ten cubits in the tabernacle (according to inference), was 20 cubits in the temple; the holy place in each case was a corresponding double square. The porch, five cubits deep in the tabernacle, was ten cubits in the temple; the side spaces, taking account of the thickness of the temple walls, were five cubits and ten cubits wide respectively; the tabernacle ridge pole was 15 cubits high, that of the temple roof (the holy place) was 30 cubits (1 Kings 6:2).
In Ezekiel 41:1 'ohel is "the tent." Josephus (Ant. 3:6, section 4) confirms the view, making the tabernacle consist of three parts: the holiest, the holy place, the entrance with its five pillars, the front being "like a gable and a porch." Fergusson observes, "the description (Exodus 26 and Exodus 36) must have been written by one who had seen the tabernacle standing; no one would have worked it out in such detail without ocular demonstration of the way in which the parts would fit together." The brazen altar and the tabernacle were the two grand objects within the court. The tabernacle was Jehovah's "dwelling place" where He was to "meet" His people or their representatives (Exodus 25:8; Exodus 29:42-43; Exodus 27:21; Exodus 28:12). "The tabernacle (tent) of the congregation" (rather "of meeting" without the article) is in the full designation "the tabernacle of the tent of meeting" (Exodus 40:2; Exodus 40:29), i.e. not of the people meeting one another, but of Jehovah meeting with Moses, the priest, or the "people": "'ohel moed" (Numbers 10:3). "The tabernacle (tent) of the testimony" (i.e. having within it the tables of the law) is another name (Acts 7:44; Revelation 15:5), Hebrew 'eduwth (Exodus 38:21, where it ought to be "the testimony".)
The ark contained it; and the lid of the ark, the mercyseat, was the place where Jehovah met or communed with Israel. As the Israelite theocracy was God's kingdom, so the tabernacle was His palace, where the people had audience of God and whence He issued His commands, embodied in the testimony within the ark. The altar of burnt offering outside marks that only through shedding of blood can sinful man be admitted within His courts; and the mercy-seat within the veil, sprinkled with blood of the victim slain outside, typifies Christ, our propitiation or propitiatory within the heavenly holy of holies (Romans 3:25), who is the sinner's only meeting place with God. Once admitted within the courts by the propitiation of Christ, we as king priests can offer incense of prayer and praise, as the priests burnt incense with holy fire on the altar of incense within (Psalm 141:2; Malachi 1:11). The separation of the church from the world is marked by the exclusion of any but priests from the holy place, and of the people from the congregation while unclean; the need of holiness by the various purifications (compare Psalm 24).
The king-priestly functions belonging to Israel in relation to the world, but declined through slowness of faith (Exodus 19:6; Exodus 20:19; Deuteronomy 5:27-28), Jehovah keeps for them against Israel's restoration (Isaiah 61:6; Isaiah 66:21). The tabernacle represents God dwelling in the midst of Israel, and Israel drawing nigh to God through atonement and with offerings, prayers, and praises. Christ's body is "the antitypical tabernacle which the Lord pitched, not man" (Hebrews 8:2). Through His glorified body as the tabernacle Christ passes into the heavenly holy of holies, God's immediate presence, where He intercedes for us. His manhood is the "tabernacle of meeting" between us and God, for we are members of His body (Ephesians 5:30). John 1:14, "the Word was made flesh and tabernacled among us." The "veil's" antitype is His rent flesh, or suffering humanity, through which He passed in entering the heavenly holiest for us (Hebrews 5:7; Hebrews 10:19-20).
His body is the temple (John 2:19). The tabernacle or temple is also a type of the church founded on Christ, the meeting place between God and man (Ephesians 2:18-22). As 10 (= 1 + 2 + 3 + 4) the number for completeness predominates in the tabernacle itself, so five the half of ten, and the number for imperfection, predominates in the courts; four appearing in the perfect cube of the holiest expressed worldwide extension and divine order. The shittim or acacia, wood implied incorruption and imperishableness of divine truth. As the court represents the Jewish dispensation, so the holy place the Christian and the holiest place the glorified church. The church having passed through the outer court, where atonement has been once for all made, ministers in the holy place, as consisting of king priests (1 Peter 2:5; 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6; Revelation 5:10) without earthly mediator, with prayer, praise, and the light of good works; and has access in spirit already (Hebrews 10:19), and in body finally, into the heavenly holiest.
In another point of view the court is the body, the holy place the soul, the holiest the spirit. The tabernacle was fixed at Shiloh (Joshua 18:1). Then the ark was taken by the Philistines, and returned to Baale or Kirjath Jearim; then the tabernacle was at Nob and Gibeon until the temple was built (1 Samuel 4; 1 Samuel 6; 1 Samuel 21:1; 1 Chronicles 13:5; 1 Chronicles 16:39; 2 Samuel 6:2; 2 Samuel 6:17). The tabernacle was made in strict accordance with the pattern God revealed to Moses' mind; nothing was left to the taste and judgment of artificers (Exodus 25:9; Exodus 25:40). It answered to the archetype in heaven, of which the type was showed by God to Moses (mentally it is probable) in the mountain (Hebrews 8:5). Bezaleel of Judah and Aholiab of Dan were divinely qualified for the work (Exodus 31:3) by being "filled with the Spirit of God in wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and all workmanship." (See BEZALEEL; AHOLIAB.) The sin as to the golden calf delayed the execution of the design of the tabernacle.
Moses' own "tent" (not mishkam, "tabernacle") in this transition stage was pitched far off from the camp (to mark God's withdrawal from apostate Israel) as "the tent of meeting" provisionally, to which only Moses the mediator and his faithful minister Joshua were admitted (Exodus 33:3-11). Another outline law was given, another withdrawal of Moses to an interview alone with God followed. The people gave more than enough materials (Exodus 36:2; Exodus 36:5-6), and their services as workmen and workwomen (Exodus 35:25). The tabernacle was now erected on the first day of the second year from the Exodus, no longer "far off," but in the midst of the camp. Israel was grouped round the royal tabernacle of the unseen Captain of the host, in definite order, His bodyguards immediately around, the priests on the eastern side, the other three Levite families on the other three sides; Judah, Zebulun, Issachar, outside on the E.; Ephraim, Manasseh, Benjamin on the W.; Dan, Asher, Naphtali on the N.; Reuben, Simeon, Gad on the S.
The cloud, dark by day, fiery red by night, rested on the tabernacle so long as Israel was to stay in the same encampment; it moved when Israel must move (Exodus 40:36-38; Numbers 9:15-23). Jehovah's name, the I AM, distinguishing the personal Creator from the creature, excludes pantheism and idolatry, as conversely the seemingly sublime inscription on Isis' shrine at Sais, identifying the world and God, involves both: "I am all that has been, and is, and shall be, and my veil no mortal has withdrawn" (Clemens Alex. de Isaiah et Osir., 394). Moses' authorship of the Pentateuch is marked by the fact that all his directions concerning impurity through a dead body relate to a tent such as was in the wilderness, nothing is said of a house; but in the case of leprosy a house is referred to (Numbers 19:11; Numbers 19:14; Numbers 19:21; Leviticus 13:47-59).
As to the Levites' service (Numbers 3-4) of the tabernacle, exact details as to the parts each family should carry on march are given, such as none but an eye-witness would detail. The tabernacle with the camp of the Levites was to set forward between the second and third camps (Numbers 2:17); but Numbers 10 says after the first camp had set forward the tabernacle was taken down, and the sons of Gershon and Merari set forward bearing the tabernacle, and afterward the second camp or standard of Reuben. This seeming discrepancy is reconciled a few verses after: the tabernacle's less sacred parts, the outside tent, etc., set out between the first and second camp; but the holy of holies, the ark and altar, did not set out until after the second camp. The reason was that those who bore the outside tabernacle might set it up ready for receiving the sanctuary against its coming (Numbers 10:14-21). No forger in an age long before modern criticism was thought of would invent such a coincidence under seeming discrepancy.