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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Exodus 26


THE TABERNACLE, Exodus 26:1-37.

It will now be seen that the entire sanctuary was composed of several distinct parts. The first to be erected was an oblong enclosure of boards set in sockets, and bound together by bars and rings. Exodus 26:15-30; Exodus 36:20-34. This was called mishcan, ( משׁכן ,) or dwelling, and constituted the tabernacle proper. It was divided into two apartments by an ornamented vail hung on golden plated pillars of acacia wood. Exodus 26:31-33. This board structure was covered with a number of curtains: first, the tabernacle cloth, or coupling of curtains described in Exodus 26:1-6, (comp. Exodus 36:8-13;) next, the tent-cloth of goats’ hair, which was spread over the tabernacle cloth as a protection and an additional covering above, (Exodus 26:7-13; Exodus 36:14-18;) over this, again, was spread an additional covering of red rams’ skins, and still another of seal (badger) skins above that . Exodus 26:14. These several coverings were designed to make the roofing impervious to the rain . In the following description we have first the ten curtains which formed the ceiling, (Exodus 26:1-6), next, the goats’ hair curtains, (7-13,) then the rams’ and seal skin coverings, (14,) after which the mishcan, (15-30,) then the vail which divided the holy place from the holy of holies, (31-33,) then the positions of the sacred vessels, (34, 35,) and finally, the hangings and pillars for the doorway, (36, 37.)

Verse 1

1. The tabernacle The word here is המשׁכן , and denotes more strictly the board structure described below, Exodus 26:15-30, but came to be used of the entire structure, including the curtains . These golden plated boards were to be securely covered above, and the coverings are first described .

Ten curtains Or, hangings, so called, according to Gesenius, from their tremulous motion . Of the fabrics and colours of which they were made see Exodus 25:4, notes . Here it is noted that the fine linen was twined, or twisted . The material, in various colours, was twisted or woven together, by the most skilful workmanship, and upon the whole cherubim of cunning work, that is, figures of the cherubim, the skilful work of a weaver, were to be embroidered. These highly ornamental curtains were to form the visible ceiling of the sanctuary.

Verses 2-3

2, 3. Length… eight and twenty cubits… breadth… four cubits Hence, when coupled together in two great pieces of five curtains each, they would form a great tent cloth twenty-eight by forty cubits (about 42 x 60 feet) in dimensions. This would be ample for covering the mishcan of boards, described below. Exodus 26:15-30.

Verses 4-6

4-6. Fifty loops… fifty taches The two great curtains were to be united together by hooks and eyes, for the taches of gold were evidently clasps, or hooks, adapted for easy coupling of the two large pieces . Thus united it would be one tabernacle, that is, one immense tabernacle cloth . For the manner in which these curtains were put up and arranged, see note at the end of the chapter .

Verse 7

7. Curtains of goats’ hair For the use of this material for tents see Exodus 25:4, note .

Covering upon the tabernacle Literally, for a tent ( אהל ) over the tabernacle, ( משׁכן . ) This then was to form a regular tent cover, while the one just previously described was to serve more for interior ornamentation .

Verse 8

8. Thirty cubits… four cubits There being eleven of these, if joined like the others described above, there would be a great tent cloth thirty by forty-four cubits (45 x 66 feet) in dimensions, two cubits by four (3 x 6 feet) greater than the other . Comp . note on Exodus 26:2; Exodus 26:4.

Verse 9

9. Five curtains by themselves The expression by themselves seems evidently to mean the same as “together one to another” in Exodus 26:3. These eleven breadths were to be coupled together like those ten in two great pieces, and the putting five in one and six in the other would provide that their places of union by loops and taches (Exodus 26:10-11) would not, when spread over the roof, coincide with those of the tabernacle cloth of ten curtains .

Double the sixth So that half of it would hang over in the forefront of the tent . Comp . on Exodus 26:12.

Verse 11

11. Taches of brass Corresponding with the goats’ hair, as gold with the fine linen . Exodus 26:6.

Couple the tent together So that the tent cloth or cover would be united by the coupling into one immense tent cloth after the manner of the tabernacle cloth as shown in Exodus 26:6.

Verse 12

12. The half curtain that remaineth One half of the sixth curtain was to be doubled or folded in the front, and this would allow another half curtain to hang over the back side of the tabernacle ( mishcan) but the exact manner of its adjustment is not described.

Verse 13

13. A cubit The length of these curtains being thirty instead of twenty-eight cubits, like the former, (Exodus 26:2,) provision was thus made for their extending one cubit on each side of the tabernacle beyond the tabernacle cloth.

Verse 14

14. A covering To be placed still above the goats’ hair tent-cloth, as an additional protection .

Rams’ skins… badgers’ skins See note on Exodus 25:5. Whether these extra coverings of skins were coextensive with the entire roof, we are nowhere told, but in the absence of specific information we are hardly justified in the conclusion that one or both of them served only for a coping. No doubt the common customs of adjusting tent cloths among a nomadic people were presupposed, and definite information on some matters of detail was considered unnecessary.

Verse 15

15. Boards Planks hewn out of shittim wood, and so prepared that they could be arranged standing up, that is, set upright to form the framework of the tabernacle .

Verse 16

16. Ten cubits… a cubit and a half About fifteen feet long and a little over two feet wide . The thickness is not given . The acacia trees now found in the Sinaitic desert are said to be not of sufficient size to make boards of this measure . If this be true, it may be observed (1 . ) that nothing requires us to suppose that every board was made out of one piece of timber . Skilful workmanship could as easily make such boards out of many pieces as it could make the golden candlestick out of many small pieces of gold . (2 . ) It is probable that the ancient growths of those regions were far greater than those which are now seen .

Verse 17

17. Two tenons Small projections from the bottom of each board to set in the sockets mentioned in Exodus 26:19.

Verse 18

18. Twenty boards From this we learn the length of the mishcan or tabernacle of boards, namely, thirty cubits, (45 feet,) since each board was a cubit and a half wide . Exodus 26:16.

South side southward Or, Negebward toward the right . The person is supposed to face the same way as the structure, namely, to the east, in which case the south would be to his right.

Verse 19

19. Forty sockets Or bases; since two of these were to be placed under each board to receive the two tenons. Comp . Exodus 26:17. They were evidently of the nature of morticed blocks of silver, which formed a continuous foundation for the board structure, and would serve to separate and keep the lower ends of the boards from the ground.

Verse 22

22. Westward… six boards The tabernacle was to face eastward, toward the rising sun, and that side of the board structure was left open, to be enclosed only by curtains . Exodus 26:36. But the west side, or end, was to be securely fastened with boards, as were the north and the south sides, (18, 20.)

Verses 23-25

23-25. Two boards… for the corners The exact form and purpose of these boards it seems impossible to determine with absolute certainty . They were to be somehow coupled together at base and top unto one ring. Some have thought that the two westward corners consisted of two boards so fastened together at right angles as to make one double piece from top to bottom. This of course would add one board, a cubit and a half less the thickness, to the length of the tabernacle. Another solution is, to suppose that the boards for the two corners were to be made double (Hebrews twins) and clasped together with rings beneath and above, so as to form one united piece just double the width of the other boards. Thus the eight boards which filled up the west end would be equal in width to ten other boards, and make the breadth of the tabernacle one half its length. But according to Philo ( Life of Moses, 3: 7) and Josephus, ( Ant., 3: 6, 3,) and all Jewish tradition, the dimensions of the tabernacle were thirty by ten cubits, and this corresponds with the relative measures of the Solomonic temple. 1 Kings 6:2. It is better, therefore, to suppose these corner boards to have been composed each of two narrow boards coupled together at right angles, and made to lap around the northwest and southwest corners . By joining the two pieces so as to allow one half a cubit of each corner board to fill out the supposed ten cubits interior breadth of the tabernacle, we have a simple and reasonable explanation. The six boards made nine cubits of this breadth, and the two corner boards supplied the other cubit. Thus also, as Dr. James Strong has observed in his recent work on the Tabernacle, “the whole angle would be greatly strengthened, as well as ornamented, by the overlapping on the lower side.” The west end, accordingly, was made up of eight boards, and each of these, corner boards as well as the rest, had two sockets, like those on the north and south sides. Josephus says: “As to the wall behind, where the six boards together made up only nine cubits, they made two other pillars, and cut them out of one cubit, which they placed in the corners, and made them equally fine with the other.”

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Verses 26-29

26-29. Bars The description and design of these are easy to be understood . “They held the whole firmly together,” says Josephus, “and for this reason was all this joined so fast together, that the tabernacle might not be shaken either by the winds or by any other means, but that it might preserve itself quiet and immovable continually . ” These bars of shittim wood, as well as the boards, were overlaid with gold, and were made to pass through gold rings or staples, which were fastened in each board as places (Hebrews, houses) for the bars. They were five in number for each side and for the western end, the middle bar in the midst of the boards on each side reaching from end to end . Whether these bars were to be on the outside or inside of the boards is not stated, and both views have had their advocates . Most probably they were on the outside, as thus, in putting up and taking down the structure, there would be less occasion to invade the holy places. As the middle bar extended the whole length of the wall of boards, it is naturally inferred that the other four did not, and hence the general conclusion that there were but three rows of bars on each side, the upper and lower row consisting of two bars, each running half the length of the middle bar.

Verse 30

30. Thou shalt rear up the tabernacle The making and erection of the tabernacle involved a great many details which are not here recorded; but as Moses was shown the fashion thereof, (Hebrews its judgment,) he understood perfectly what was judged, and ordered to be, the appropriate arrangement of each part .

Verses 31-32

31, 32. A vail פרכת , a separation, a dividing curtain to separate the two inner apartments of the sanctuary . Exodus 26:33. The material and workmanship were to correspond exactly with those of the tabernacle curtains . Exodus 26:1. The relative position of the four pillars, with their hooks of gold and their four sockets of silver, is left indefinite . But their position and distance from each other must have been different from the five pillars of the doorway . Exodus 26:37.

Verse 33

33. Hang up the vail under the taches What taches are here meant? The only use of this word has been to describe the gold and brass hooks which were to couple the tabernacle and tent curtains . Exodus 26:6; Exodus 26:11. If these are referred to, the gold taches of Exodus 26:6 would be most naturally understood, and the vail that separated the two holy places would have hung directly under the coupling of the great tabernacle-cloth . This again would indicate that the sanctuary was divided into two rooms of equal size, which appears to be contrary to all tradition . There seems, however, no insuperable objection to making these taches identical with the hooks mentioned in the preceding verse . There is nothing in the immediate context to suggest the taches of the tabernacle curtain, mentioned Exodus 26:6; so that, if they were intended, there should have been added here some qualifying word . In the absence of such word the most natural reference seems to be to the hooks ( ווים ) just mentioned . The innermost room formed by this dividing vail was the appointed place for the ark of the testimony, (see Exodus 25:10-22, notes,) and was known as the most holy, or, more literally, the holy of holies . Like “the oracle,” the corresponding apartment in the temple, it has been commonly supposed to have been in the form of a perfect cube, (see 1 Kings 6:20, note,) and this is believed to have prompted the description of “the holy Jerusalem” in Revelation 21:16.

Verse 35

35. Table… candlestick For description see Exodus 25:23-37, and notes . They were to be set over against each other, that is, on opposite sides of the holy place, the table on the north side, and the candlestick on the south side . The golden altar of incense, which was to stand between, in front of the vail, is mentioned further on, in connexion with the laws for offering incense . Exodus 30:1-10.

Verses 36-37

36, 37. Hanging for the door A pendent curtain, or covering, of the same material as the vail (31) and the tabernacle-cloth, (Exodus 26:1,) but wrought with needlework. So this was the work of an embroiderer, ( רקם ,) that of a weaver, ( חשׁב . ) This was to hang on five pillars, while that within hung upon four, but as this was to be for the door of the tent, not of the mishcan, or board structure, it may have been larger than the other . Its hooks, like those of Exodus 26:32, were of gold, but the sockets were to be of brass; those within, of silver .

The plan of the tabernacle as above described, and the adjustment of curtains and coverings, have long been a perplexing problem for interpreters. Perhaps it is too much to expect that now, after the lapse of so many centuries, every detail of its construction can be restored so as to clear up all the statements of this narrative.

Taking first the structure of boards, as it has been described in Exodus 26:15-25, there can be little doubt as to its main features. Its general appearance must have been such as is exhibited in the cut at Exodus 26:26-29.

The next difficulty is concerning the place and purpose of the tabernacle curtains described in Exodus 26:1-6. According to some writers they were spread over the board structure like a pall over a coffin. Supposing the breadth of this structure to have been ten cubits, (see note on Exodus 26:23-25,) this covering, being twenty-eight cubits long, (Exodus 26:2,) would have reached over the two outer sides unto about one cubit from the base, for the boards stood ten cubits high. Exodus 26:16. The goats’ hair covering, being two cubits longer, (Exodus 26:8,) would, when spread over this, have reached completely to the base. This certainly makes a very simple and natural arrangement, but is open to several serious objections. (1.) The ornamental curtains would have been concealed from view, except, at most, the one third which would be visible as a ceiling over the interior. This objection, however, may be offset by saying that, like the most holy place, they were not designed to be seen, and the “cunning work” upon them was but a fitting indication for the interior and symbolical purpose which they served. (2.) The coverings spread flat over the top must, especially by reason of the great weight of the skins, have become soon depressed and so sunken in as to hold pools of water rather than prove a protection against the rain.

Another theory is, that this ornamental curtain was arranged to hang down on the inside of the boards, and so form an ornamental tapestry for the walls as well as for the ceiling. But (1.) a purpose so special would seem to have required more particular definition in the narrative. (2.) This would have entirely concealed the golden-plated boards. (3.) It would also, like the theory just stated, have exposed the roof to the depression and dampness necessarily consequent upon such a flat surface of curtains.

Mr. T.O. Paine represents the two sets of five curtains as coupled together at the ends, (Exodus 26:3,) and hanging double and in festoons on the inside of the boards, at about the height of a man’s head, four cubits, above the floor. His view is in the main adopted by Dr. James Strong in his recent (1888) work on the Tabernacle. But (1.) there is no more ground for making these curtains run in festoons around the interior walls than there is for making the goats’ hair curtains hang in the like form, for both sets are spoken of in the same general way. Such a totally different purpose of the two sets of curtains would certainly have demanded more notice than we can find in the text of the sacred writer. (2.) Such an arrangement, moreover, would not only have concealed a large portion of the boards, but also, hanging in folds, the colours and “cherubim of cunning work” must have been so hidden from view that no one could distinguish or trace their outlines. Strong’s adjustment of the curtains, however, largely obviates this last objection.

A theory proposed by Fergusson, in Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible, (article “Temple”) assumes that the tabernacle must have had, “as all tents have had from the days of Moses down to the present day,” a ridge and a ridge pole, and he supposes that the angle formed by the two sides of the roof was a right angle. The ornamented tabernacle curtain, being the first thrown over the ridge pole, and fastened at the sides, would have served as a lining to the rest, and have formed with its colours and cunning work a visible roof, or ceiling, over the entire structure. Over this as a protecting covering were thrown the other curtains described above. He thinks, however, that the seal skins were used only “for a coping or ridge piece to protect the junction of the two curtains of rams’ skins, which were laid on each slope of the roof, and probably only laced together at the top.” This view is not without objections, but it helps to solve some of the difficulties of the problem. The cuts show the plans of Paine and Fergusson in their main outlines. On the symbolism of the tabernacle, see at the end of chapter 40.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Exodus 26". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.