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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 26

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries


Here we have the instructions for making the tabernacle proper, i.e., the curtain of fine linen making up the whole interior of the tent (Exodus 26:1-6). “Here the term tabernacle, in its stricter sense, refers to ten linen curtains with figures of cherubim woven into the blue, purple, and scarlet tapestry work.”(F1) Next, there are recorded rules for making the other three coverings of the whole structure, that of goat’s hair, the leather made of ram skins dyed red, and the covering of sealskins (Exodus 26:7-14). Then we have a section pertaining to the making of the “boards” (Exodus 26:15-25), and another with instructions for making the “bars,” and an order to erect the structure “after the fashion” showed Moses in the mount (Exodus 26:26-30). Exodus 26:30 is extremely important because it shows the limited and incomplete nature of all of these instructions. Having “seen” on the mount exactly what God wanted him to build, it was totally unnecessary for Moses here to write down all of the details. There were many things about making “a tent” that Moses already knew and understood perfectly! Another section detailed the making of “the veil,” the placement of certain articles of furniture, and the making of a “screen” for the door of the whole structure (Exodus 26:31-37).

One cannot fail to be disappointed by many of the commentaries on this chapter, which are preoccupied with problems arising from the incomplete nature of the instructions. One thing is sure, no one today, following these instructions, could go out and construct anything like what Moses built, that not at all being the purpose of these instructions. That the instructions are indeed incomplete is evident. We do not know if it had a flat roof, or a sloping roof like tents have today. Schick and Ferguson have presented models, quite different, of course, showing the traditional ridgepole and the sloping roof.(F2)

Kennedy exhibited a `model,’ having a flat roof, and giving the appearance of a black-draped coffin.(F3) Cook’s depiction has not one ridgepole, but three, and is considerably taller than other models.(F4) Regarding the boards mentioned here, the estimates of how thick they were ranges all the way from “about three inches”(F5) to about “eighteen inches.”(F6) That latter thickness would have meant that these beams weighed at least 1,200 pounds each.(F7)

“There is also uncertainty as to whether the rams’ skins and seals’ skins provided one covering or two coverings.”(F8) Commentators are also lined up on both sides of the question regarding “the boards.” Were they single planks, or frames of the size indicated? Were they monolithic, or pieced together? “We do not know the size of the sockets.”(F9) There are not two commentators anywhere who agree on what was meant by the doubling of the boards (Exodus 26:24). “The very meaning of the Hebrew term here rendered `doubled’ is not fully known.”(F10) Noth thought that “the bars” went “on the outside,” while others believe they went “inside.” Furthermore, regarding the pillars, did they go “inside” the fine linen curtains decorated with the cherubim, or on the outside, in which case the gold covered pillars would have been completely hidden!

Other examples of this incompleteness could be cited, but these are sufficient to show that God was not telling all future generations how to make that tabernacle, but Moses only. Therefore, we may only laugh at Rylaarsdam’s complaint, “How the five separate panels in each half were to be coupled to one another we are not told!”(F11) “We” were not being instructed here; Moses was receiving the instructions, and we may be certain that he understood them and carried them out perfectly. What a phenomenal misunderstanding of the word of God is inherent in the habit of faulting this passage on the basis that “we” cannot take them and build a tabernacle like the one that was built by Moses! The things that were mentioned in these verses were given for the purpose, not of enabling us to build a tabernacle, but for the purpose of giving facts about it that are pertinent and significant for all generations because, “they are copies of the things in heaven.”

Therefore, we pray that all of us may get out of the tabernacle building business and seek out the spiritual meaning of the facts given, which alone justifies their being recorded at all.

Before we look at the text, we must deplore the arrogant unbelief and blindness that critical scholars have brought to this chapter. Some have asserted that, “The tabernacle here presented never actually existed. It is a product of the priestly imagination, an “ideal structure.”(F12) Such denials remind one of the man brought up in the tropics who would not believe there was any such thing as ice, and when he was flown to see the great glacier of the Matterhorn, he insisted, “I still don’t believe it!”

Yes, that tabernacle existed. One element of it, the great veil that concealed the Holy of Holies, was made a component of every succeeding temple the Jews ever built, and existed down until the crucifixion of Christ, when it was rent in twain from the top to the bottom! The critics might as well deny the Magna Carta, the Battle of Waterloo, or any other historical event as to deny the existence of the Mosaic tabernacle.

Verses 1-6

“Moreover thou shalt make the tabernacle with ten curtains; of fine twined linen, and blue, and purple, and scarlet, with cherubim the work of the skilled workman shalt thou make them. The length of each curtain shall be eight and twenty cubits, and the breadth of each curtain four cubits: all the curtains shall have one measure. Five curtains shall be coupled together one to another; and the other five curtains shall be coupled one to another. And thou shalt make loops of blue upon the edge of the one curtain from the selvedge in the coupling; and likewise shalt thou make in the edge of the one curtain that is outmost in the second coupling. Fifty loops shalt thou make in the one curtain, and fifty loops shalt thou make in the edge of the curtain that is in the second coupling; the loops shall be opposite one to another. And thou shalt make fifty clasps of gold, and couple the curtains one to another with the clasps: and the tabernacle shall be one whole.”

It is apparent that the making of this tabernacle was to be an exceedingly costly thing. The candlestick alone, mentioned at the end of the last chapter would require “one talent of gold.” “That is about 60 kilograms of gold!”(F13) This amounts to more than 1,200 ounces, Troy weight; and at the current price of gold, the sum comes to more than $400,000.00. The “fifty clasps of gold” mentioned here as holding together only two curtains suggest that an immense sum was also expended on this inner curtain. The finest linens, skillfully tapestried in three colors of blue, purple, and scarlet, involving the most expensive dyes on earth were also used. The meaning is that only the most desirable and costly things that men knew were capable of being used as symbols of such things as the presence of God, the heaven of heavens, the holy Church that in time would appear, the Word of God, and other realities depicted.

The curtain was decorated extensively with cherubim, suggesting God’s presence and the obedience of all created things to his holy will. The use of ten boards, in multiples, such as 20 or 30, since ten is a perfect number, is a suggestion of the multiplied thousands and millions of persons who will ultimately benefit from God’s revelation.

Verses 7-14

“And thou shalt make curtains of goats’ hair for a tent over the tabernacle: eleven curtains shalt thou make them. And the length of each curtain shall be thirty cubits, and the breadth of each curtain four cubits: the eleven curtains shall have one measure. And thou shalt couple five curtains by themselves, and six curtains by themselves, and shall double over the sixth curtain in the forefront of the tent. And thou shalt make fifty loops on the edge of the one curtain that is outmost in the coupling, and fifty loops upon the edge of the curtain which is outmost in the second coupling. And thou shalt make fifty clasps of brass, and put the clasps into the loops, and couple the tent together, that it may be one. And the overhanging that remaineth of the curtains of the tent, the half curtain that remaineth, shall hang over the back of the tabernacle. And the cubit on the one side, and the cubit on the other side, of that which remaineth in the length of the curtains of the tent, shall hang over the sides of the tabernacle on this side and that side, to cover it. And thou shalt make a covering for the tent of rams’ skins dyed red, and a covering of sealskins above.”

The four coverings are all mentioned in these verses, but no instructions whatever are recorded regarding the last two: (1) The fine linen woven with the cherubim; (2) the goats’ hair, which may have been black; (3) the covering of rams’ skins dyed red; and (4) the covering of sealskins are all mentioned; and it is usually thought that the goats’ hair covering was the outermost of the four. All of these were properly installed, thus providing a “tent” of remarkable beauty and utility.

Whatever symbolism may be in these elements of the structure must pertain to such things as the “cherubim” in the inner tent, the three colors of blue, purple, and scarlet, and in the “rams’ skins dyed red,” in which one may find a suggestion of that “Great One,” traveling in the greatness of his strength and wearing the blood-red garments” (Isaiah 63:1-5).

Verses 15-25

“And thou shalt make the boards for the tabernacle of acacia wood, standing up. Ten cubits shall be the length of a board, and a cubit and a half the breadth of each board. Two tenons shall there be in each board, joined one to another: thus shalt thou make for all the boards of the tabernacle. And thou shalt make the boards for the tabernacle, twenty boards for the south side southward. And thou shalt make forty sockets of silver under the twenty boards; two sockets under one board for its two tenons, and two sockets under another board for its two tenons: and for the second side of the tabernacle, on the north side, twenty boards, and their forty sockets of silver; two sockets under one board, and two sockets under another board. And for the hinder part of the tabernacle westward thou shalt make six boards. And two boards shalt thou make for the corners of the tabernacle in the hinder part. And they shall be double beneath, and in like manner they shall be entire unto the top thereof unto one ring; thus shall it be for them both; for they shall be for the two corners, And there shall be eight boards, and their sockets of silver, sixteen sockets; two sockets under one board, and two sockets under another board.”

See the chapter introduction for a discussion of the essential ambiguity of all this.

That Moses understood these instructions may be considered certain; and, besides that, he had the privilege of clarifying any of the problems through a direct appeal to God, a privilege no other has. “The Scriptures do not give us enough information to picture all this exactly.”(F14) Of course the value of all this can be fully appreciated. Each one of these sockets weighed out at 95 pounds of pure silver.”(F15) That is over 1,100 Troy ounces at about $8.00 an ounce (circa 1984) giving a total monetary value of about $9,000.00 for each socket. They would have been heavy enough to give the boards firm anchorage. The tenons would have been projections made at the bottom of the boards and designed to fit into corresponding receptacles in the sockets. They would have been either of wood or metal. Perhaps the protrusions on the edges of the common type of boards used to extend our dinner tables are an example of what was meant here. At least, Rawlinson thought so.(F16)

Verses 26-30

“And thou shalt make bars of acacia wood; five for the boards of the one side of the tabernacle, and five bars for the boards of the other side of the tabernacle, and five boards for the side of the tabernacle, for the hinder part westward. And the middle bar in the midst of the boards shall pass through from end to end. And thou shalt overlay the boards with gold, and make their rings of gold for places for the bars: and thou shalt overlay the bars with gold. And thou shalt rear up the tabernacle according to the fashion thereof which hath been showed thee in the mount.”

“And the middle bar shall pass through from end to end” Since all of the external bars surrounding the tent were to be fitted into gold rings, it is apparently meant by this that the central one of those five external supporting bars running horizontally around the whole structure would be passed through the pillars themselves after the manner of extremely fine cabinet work.

“According to the fashion thereof” Unlike ourselves, Moses would have known from the pattern seen on the mount whether or not he was building a flat roof, and many other details which are simply not communicated in Moses’ account of the instructions received. “Where the description was incomplete (and it was incomplete in many points) Moses was to follow the `pattern’ he had seen in the mount.”(F17)

Verses 31-37


“And thou shalt make a veil of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen: with cherubim the work of the skilled workman shall it be made: and thou shalt hang it upon four pillars of acacia overlayed with gold; their hooks shall be of gold, upon four sockets of silver. And thou shalt hang up the veil under the clasps, and shall bring in thither within the veil the ark of the testimony: and the veil shall separate unto you between the holy place and the most holy. And thou shalt put the mercy-seat upon the ark of the testimony in the most holy place. And thou shalt set the table without the veil, and the candlestick over against the table on the side of the tabernacle toward the south: and thou shalt put the table on the north side. And thou shalt make a screen for the door of the Tent, of blue and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined lincn, the work of the embroiderer. And thou shalt make for the screen five pillars of acacia, and overlay them with gold; their hooks shall be of gold: and thou shall cast five sockets of brass for them.”

Two things of the most paramount importance appear in these verses: the construction and erection of the veil, and the placement of the articles within the tabernacle. We shall note the veil first.

Observe that all of the furniture was placed with reference to that veil, either within or without. Among many things, the veil typifies Christ, and thus we see that the placement of everything in our world is at last polarized with reference to Christ, i.e., within, or without! There is perhaps a greater weight of symbolism incumbent upon this veil than may be found in nearly anything else in the O.T.


1. The colors: blue, purple, and scarlet appear three times in this chapter: (1) in the inner covering of linen; (2) in this veil; and (3) in the screen at the entrance. That they carry a weight of symbolism is certain. Unger pointed out that:

“Blue signifies Christ’s heavenly origin. Purple suggests his royal lineage as David’s Son. Scarlet indicates his sacrificial blood shed for fallen mankind.”(F18)

William R. Nicholson read the symbolism thus: “Blue stands for his heavenly nature, scarlet for his earthly nature, and the perfect blending of the two colors to form the central panel of purple, symbolize the perfectly balanced person of Christ, completely man, and completely God, IMMANUEL.”(F19)

2. This veil symbolizes the mysteries of the O.T. The purpose of the veil was to hide, to conceal, to deny access; and, as long as that veil was in place, many of the plainest teachings of the O.T. would remain hidden in darkness. The veil is a double symbol of Christ; it represented the promised Christ as long as it remained intact, but when it was rent from the top to the bottom at the crucifixion of our Lord, it then represented the revealed Christ. Paul commented on this:

“Their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remaineth, it not being - revealed to them that it is done away in Christ. But unto this day, whensoever Moses is read, a veil lieth upon their heart, but whensoever it shall turn to the Lord, the veil is taken away (2 Corinthians 3:14-16).”

Right here, then, is the reason for so many foolish and irresponsible things being written about the O.T. Unregenerated, unsaved men who know not Christ are incapable of writing intelligently about the O.T. If this is not what the blessed Paul said in this passage, he didn’t say anything! As we have witnessed before, God’s people are extremely foolish, and are merely repeating the error of Eve, when they allow Satan to “explain” God’s Word for them!

3. In the rending of this veil which occurred at Calvary, there is an eloquent symbol of the victory of Christ over death. By its very location, standing between the compartments of the tabernacle which typified the Church and Heaven, the veil became thereby a symbol of death which separates Christians from their reward in Heaven. Isaiah said:

“And he (God) will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations. HE WILL SWALLOW UP DEATH IN VICTORY; and the Lord will wipe away tears from all faces.” (Isaiah 25:7-8)

The veil, therefore, over all people is the veil of death; and the rending of that veil (in the very act of his death) was a symbol of Jesus’ great victory over death. In that death, Christ not only triumphed over it through his resurrection, but he “through death slew him (Satan) that had the power of death” (Hebrews 2:14-15). What an eloquent symbol of that victory, therefore, was this veil in its terminal event, i.e., the rending of it by Christ!

4. There is a double symbolism of the veil as being in its pivotal position a symbol of the entire Mosaic Law, and also a symbol of the annulment that fell upon that Law by the establishment of the New Covenant, that latter truth being typified by the spectacular rending of it at the Crucifixion!

Even Westcott was reluctant to receive the veil as a type of Christ, for he pointed out that the chief function of the veil was that of concealment, whereas the great purpose of Christ was to “reveal God to men.” Of course, if one leaves out of view the “rending of the veil,” Westcott’s objection is valid; but in its being rent asunder by an act of God upon the occasion of Christ’s death, even that veil ultimately revealed heaven itself in the figure!

5. The veil was symbolical of the office of the Jewish high priest, since only he was permitted to pass beyond it, and that upon only one day in the year, namely, the Day of Atonement. Thus the “rending” in which that veil surrendered its office, there is the abolition of the office of an earthly high priest in the kingdom of God. No earthly high priest is now needed; the way is open for all. “There is (only) one mediator between God and man, himself also man, Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5-6), and he is not on earth but in heaven interceding for the redeemed.

6. The veil, and the Atonement services associated with it, symbolized the separation between God and man, one of its great functions being that of preventing any man’s approaching God, with the sole exception of the high priest, who indeed could approach, but only once in the year, and after first offering elaborate sacrifices for his own sins, and then, before approaching the mercy-seat, fogging up the whole area around the mercy-seat with clouds of sweet incense, the symbolism being that before God could bear to look upon men and forgive their sins, the human presence had to be sweetened substantially before God would even bear the sight of it! “In Christ,” of course, “a new and living way” has been opened up “through the veil,” that is to say, “the flesh of Christ” (Hebrews 10:20).

7. Most emphatically “the rent veil” is a symbol of the equality of all of God’s children. The Old Covenant had its priests, lesser priests they were, and the high priest who went behind the veil for the Atonement; but all such distinctions have forever disappeared in the kingdom of Christ, all the members of which are “kings and priests unto God” (Revelation 1:5). “All of you are brethren,” is the way Christ said it (Matthew 23:8); and the apostle Peter denominated all Christians as “a holy priesthood” (1 Peter 2:5; 1 Peter 2:9). To be sure the veil did not symbolize that until after it was rent; prior to that it symbolized just the opposite. Thus the most important thing about that veil that anyone could know is the fact that God rent it asunder.

Therefore, every time some would-be high priest gets behind a veil to hear a confession, or grant absolutions, or to perform any other mediatorial service whatever, he is only trying to bring back that old veil; but let the redeemed in Christ flee from such a thing. It is only that old veil trying to come back. Tear it down and trample upon it. Remember God rent it. Take it away forever! Glorious as it once was, its every function has been destroyed by God Himself. All Christians are equal. As Spurgeon said it: “If even upon thy deathbed some shaveling priest shall seek to hear thy confession or absolve thee of thy sins, lift thy bony hand from thy dying pillow and absolve him; thou hast the same right!”(F20) Let that old veil come no more between the “redeemed in Christ” and that ready “access” which every Christian has to God without benefit of any human mediator whatever.

One curiosity in this chapter is found in Exodus 26:18 and Exodus 26:22, where the words for the south side are, literally in the Masoretic Text, “to the side of the Negev, southward,” (Exodus 26:18), and “westward” (Exodus 26:22) is literally, “to the sea.” Critics, whose resourcefulness never fails to amaze us, have seized upon this as proof that Exodus was written long after the times of Moses at a time when Israel was comfortably settled in Canaan. Such an allegation, however, overlooks the fact that the original home of the Hebrews, dating back to the lives of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was Canaan, that being the period of course when the idiomatic expressions for the points of the compass became embedded in the language of the Israelites. The proof is therefore merely an allegation with no solid support whatever. We appreciate Fields’ effective handling of this evil criticism.(F21)

The placement of the articles of furniture, with the exception of the altar of incense is given in these verses. Perhaps a diagrammatic presentation is the best way to see this:

The Court
The Holy of Holies the Ark and the Mercy-seatTable of Showbread
Alter of IncenseBrass LaverThe Holy Place Sacrificing
Candlestick (Lampstand)

In sharp contrast to the limited and somewhat ambiguous instructions for many of the elements of the tabernacle, there is no uncertainty whatever regarding the location and the placement of the articles of furniture. They were placed as indicated in the chart above. From this, we may conclude that the principal symbolism of the articles of furniture was inherent in the manner and position of their placement in the holy structure. Having already examined the spiritual significance of items among the furniture, we shall now glance at the symbolism of the three divisions of the whole tabernacle. It was composed of the Holy of Holies, a perfect cube of ten cubits for all dimensions, a sanctuary called “The Holy Place” containing twice the amount of floor space as the Holy of Holies; and then there was the outer court, a much larger rectangular court fifty cubits by one hundred cubits in dimensions (75 feet by 150 feet), enclosing the entire tabernacle area. What is represented by these divisions?

A. Without any doubt, the Holy of Holies, where the presence of God is represented as being enthroned there, is a type of heaven itself.

(1) God was enthroned in both (Revelation 4:1-2).

(2) Divine light is in both (Leviticus 16:2; Revelation 21:23).

(3) Both have worshipping cherubim (Exodus 25:18; Revelation 4:6-8).

(4) Both are golden (Exodus 25:11; Revelation 21:18).

(5) Both are represented as perfect “cubes,” here as 10 X 10 X 10, (cubits), and heaven as a cube of 1,500 miles in width, breadth, and height (Revelation 21:16 ff).

(6) God’s law is in both, the tables of the testimony here, the eternal law of all the universe in heaven (Psalms 119:89).

(7) the Atonement was made in both, here, by the high priest on the Day of Atonement, and in heaven by Jesus Christ “once and for all” (Hebrews 9:11-13).

B. The Holy Place is a type of the church of God. Both this Holy Place and the church are the places lighted by the word of God (the candlestick); both are the special objects of God’s providence (the showbread); special privileges of prayer pertain to Christians in the church (the altar of incense); the only entrance to the Holy of Holies was by passing through the veil from the Holy Place, and the only entrance into heaven, according to the N.T. is by entering into God’s church, and thence through death (the veil) into heaven. Some are unwilling to see this; but Jesus’ parable of the Draw Net teaches exactly the same thing.

C. The Court must stand as a type of the whole world, as indicated by the two articles of furniture placed in it. The Altar, a type of the death of Christ, stood conspicuously at the very entrance of the whole enclosure, just as Christ’s death is by far the most conspicuous event of all history. The Laver also indicates this. Being a type of Christian baptism, by which Christians are said to be “translated out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of the Son of God’s love” (the church), the great Laver stood near the entrance to the Holy Place, and yet, still in the court, not in the Holy Place, indicating also the true place of baptism, not an ordinance within God’s church, but a transitional ordinance by which one enters God’s Church. It was for precisely this reason that all of the great cathedrals of Europe placed their baptisteries in a separate building outside their sanctuaries, and not within them.

In all of these incredibly significant and extensive symbolisms one finds the complete frustration of critical denials that God is indeed, through Moses, the author of every word of these magnificent chapters.

“And thou shalt make for the screen five pillars of acacia, and overlay them with gold” The same colors in this screen were those of the veil and the inner canopy. The gold attests the beauty of this formal entrance into the sanctuary.

In our diagram above, we have anticipated somewhat the revelations of subsequent chapters, the altar of incense, the great altar in the court, and the great laver, belonging not to this chapter but to later ones.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Exodus 26". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/exodus-26.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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