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Holman Bible Dictionary
The Old Testament mentions three tents or tabernacles. First, after the sin of the golden calf at Mount Sinai the “provisional” tabernacle was established outside the camp and called the “tent of meeting” (Exodus 33:7 ). Second, the “Sinaitic” tabernacle was built in accordance with directions given to Moses by God (Exodus 25-40 ). Unlike the tent of meeting, it stood at the center of the camp (Numbers 2:1 ). Third, the “Davidic” tabernacle was erected in Jerusalem for the reception of the ark (2 Samuel 6:17 ).
The original “tent of meeting” was a provisional edifice where God met with His people (Exodus 33:7-11; Exodus 34:34-35 ). Apparently, only Moses actually entered the tent to meet God. Joshua, Moses' “servant” (Exodus 33:11 ), protected and cared for the tent. After the golden calf was made,
God refused any longer to acknowledge Israel as His people and to dwell in their midst. Estrangement brought distance between God and the people because of their sin. Because of this situation and to symbolize it, Moses pitched this “tent of meeting” outside the camp (Exodus 33:7 ). Ultimately, God promised again to go into the midst of Israel (Exodus 34:9 ).
The exact nature of this tent is uncertain. It apparently formed the headquarters of the camp until the building of the “Sinaitic” tabernacle. Joshua guarded the tent in Moses' absence (Exodus 33:11 ). Since the earliest Greek translation, some would equate Moses' tent in Exodus 18:7 with the tent of meeting, but Scripture does not explicitly make this connection. The people could all go to the tent of meeting to seek the Lord ( Exodus 33:7 ) either in looking for God's answer to a judicial case, in petition, in worship, or for a prophetic word. Apparently, Moses acted as the prophet who took the people's questions to God and received an answer, since “to seek Yahweh” usually appears in prophetic contexts. Prophetic content appears with the tent also in Numbers 11:16-29 . Moses installed Joshua as his successor at the tent (Deuteronomy 31:14-15 ).
Moses called it the tent of meeting because it was the place of revelation. There God met His people when the pillar of cloud descended to the door of the tent (Exodus 33:9 ). It may have borne its appropriate name from the first, or perhaps Moses used the name from the instructions which he received regarding the permanent tabernacle (Exodus 27:21 ).
Apparently, the tent did not become a national sanctuary. It did not contain an ark or those items necessary for worship, nor did it possess a priesthood. This tent was cared for by Joshua (Exodus 33:11 ), while Aaron was responsible for the tabernacle (Leviticus 10:7 ). The cloud descended on this tent when Moses came to inquire of God, but the cloud stayed on the permanent tabernacle and the glory of the Lord filled it so Moses could not enter it (Exodus 40:34-35 ,Exodus 40:34-35,40:38 ).
The center of attention in the wilderness narratives is the tabernacle with rich decorations, curtains, bread of the presence, ark, lights, and altar. This is the portable sanctuary Israel carefully delegates to the priests and Levites for transportation (Numbers 3:1 ). The camp of Israel has this tabernacle as its center (Numbers 2:1 ). This, too, is the tent of meeting (Exodus 27:21 ), where holy God comes to sinful people. Here the sacrifices and atonement procedures of Leviticus were carried out (Book of Leviticus).
“There will I meet with the children of Israel, and the tabernacle shall be sanctified by my glory. And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will be their God” (Exodus 29:43 , Exodus 29:45 ).
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Tabernacle'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hbd/t/tabernacle.html. 1991.