MOSES had now returned from atop Sinai. God had given him plans for a tabernacle. "Every detail of how the tabernacle should be built, I have with me," Moses explained.
Why the Tabernacle?
"God has ordered us to build this tabernacle as a temporary dwelling for Him to be present with us. God has not yet promised to dwell in you by His Spirit. He has promised to be among you and with you in every crisis so long as you obey Him," Moses said to the crowd. "For now He will be pleased with us if we give generously and willingly of our materials, wealth, skills and labor. Every one can have a part in doing something for our Creator." Shouts of "What can we do?" and "Just how can we help?" came from all parts of the vast congregation. Moses answered by telling them that all who were willing and able should bring in gold, silver, brass, cloth dyes, fine linen, goats' hair, red rams' skins, seals' skins, acacia wood, oil, spices, incense and precious stones. "There is also a need for willing workers who are skilled in carpentry, metal work, weaving, carving and all the crafts and arts necessary to build and decorate the tabernacle and everything connected with it." (Exodus 35:4-19.) Moses didn't beg the people for anything. He simply told them what was required. The huge crowd broke up, and the Israelites returned to their tents. Before many hours, much of the necessary material was brought. Laborers, craftsmen, artisans and maidservants volunteered their services so readily that a crowd grew close to Moses' tent. (Exodus 36:1-3.)
Israelites Bring Many Valuable Offerings
"These people say they have come to give gifts for the tabernacle," an officer explained to Moses and Aaron. "What shall we do?" (Verses 20-29.) "Assign men of good character to receive the gifts at once," Moses answered. "Summon skilled men to immediately set up tents and enclosures in which to store these things." For the next several days thousands of people came to give the things for which Moses had asked. Because the camps were spread out for a few miles, it was far into the night when some of the gift-bearers arrived. They also wove diligently on their looms to produce the beautiful fabrics that were needed, and they brought daily that which had been finished. So generous were the people that more than enough was brought for the building of the tabernacle. Moses was pleased at this great display of zeal, unselfishness and ambition by so many of the people. It was plain to him that thousands of them were anxious to make up for their past sins. Still too fresh in their minds were the unpleasant memories of their wanton prancing before the golden calf. But most of the people who came to give simply had a sincere desire to help because they realized that this was a wonderful opportunity to be of service to God. God had already told Moses on Mt. Sinai whom to choose to head this task of making the tabernacle, so Moses proclaimed to the people that Bezaleel, a grandson of Hur from the tribe of Judah, would be in charge. Bezaleel's assistant was to be Aholiab of the tribe of Dan.
Israelites Work Industriously
These two men were of good character, highly skilled in all the crafts of building and decoration, in teaching their helpers, and possessing good Judgment and wisdom in the arts of material design and production. Moses had passed on to them the detailed instructions for building the tabernacle. (Exodus 35:30-35.) Knowing how much material was necessary, through figures Moses had given him, Bezaleel realized that more than enough had been brought in. Even so, the people kept on coming with more. Bezaleel spoke to Moses, who quickly made it known that nothing more should be given. But there were some who had put off giving their share, and who rushed their offerings in too late to be accepted. Bezaleel and Aholiab lost no time in teaching those who needed instructions and assigning craftsmen and laborers to their various tasks. Soon everyone was busily and happily working. Carpenters started hewing boards out of the acacia logs and planks that had been brought in. Metal workers melted down or pounded out the metals. Weavers and seamstresses worked on cloth. Gem-cutters planned how to use the precious stones. Work on the tabernacle was something that couldn't be rushed. It required great care and skill, for everything that went into this project was to be made as close to perfection as human hands could make it. The men and women were very careful to perform superior workmanship in making God's tabernacle and its furnishings. Bezaleel and Aholiab did much of the work themselves — especially on such objects as the chest that was to contain the two tables of stone on which the Ten Commandments are written, the altar on which sacrifices were to be made and the priests' garments. (Exodus 37, 38, 39.) Even though the workers applied themselves ambitiously, it required about six months to build the tabernacle. That was because there was a need for so much intricate and detailed workmanship.
Tabernacle Richly Decorated
Nearly fifteen tons of gold, silver and brass were used. This represented only a small part of the wealth of the Israelites, much of which had come from their former Egyptian neighbors or from being washed up on the east shore of the Red Sea after Pharaoh's army had been engulfed in water. Among the things made last was the special clothing for the priests As the items were finished, they were brought to Moses for inspection Nothing was approved until he was satisfied that it was made strictly according to God's instructions. Finally Moses called all the workers together to commend them for tasks done well, and to ask God's blessing on them. (Exodus 39:43.) He reminded them that God, who is perfect, is pleased when men strive toward perfection in anything worthwhile, whether it is material physical or spiritual. That's worth remembering when something needs doing. Too many people try to get more and give less, which is the opposite of God's way. Quality pleases Him, and quality requires one's best efforts. The Israelites had been gone a year from Egypt by the time the tabernacle was finished. It was set up and ready for use on the first day of the second year of the journey to Canaan. (Exodus 40:1-4, 17) Just to the west of Moses' tent was an open area centering the twelve camps. There workmen erected God's tabernacle that was to be taken down and moved whenever the people moved. (Numbers 1:50-54; 3:38.)
An Enclosure for the Tabernacle
To give privacy to the priests who would preside there, a long curtain of fine linen was strung on braced posts of brass about ten feet high. This fence enclosed an area about two hundred feet long and half as wide. The space between the tabernacle and the fence was called the court of the tabernacle. (Exodus 27:9-19 and 38:9-20.) The only entrance into the court was an opening left in the east fence. The altar, about six feet high and ten feet square, was just beyond the opening. Its boards, hewn from acacia trees grown in the Mt. Sinai area, were covered with brass. It was hollow inside (Exodus 27:8), but filled with earth to prevent the wood from burning. (Exodus 20:24.) Wood and offerings were to be placed on the dirt part, from which ashes could be removed daily (Leviticus 6:8-13) with shovels and pans made for that purpose. Like everything of the tabernacle, the altar was made to be carried. There were heavy brass rings on the corners of the brass grate encircling the lower half of the altar. The boards of the altar rested on a narrow rim of the grate. (Exodus 27:4-5.) Through the rings long poles were to be inserted for lifting the altar from the dirt filling for conveyance whenever the Israelites were directed to move their camps. (Exodus 38:1-7.) Between the tabernacle and the altar was a large brass bowl called the laver, always to be full of water. In it the priests were to wash their hands and feet before going about their duties. (Exodus 30:18-21.) The tabernacle was put up in the west section of the court. It was about sixty feet long. Its width and its walls were a third of the length. The walls were built of gold-covered acacia boards set on bases of silver. The front end was open except for a curtain. Another heavier, larger curtain of sealskin was stretched over lighter ones of rams' skins, goat hair and linen. Only the colorful, figured linen curtain could be seen inside the tabernacle, which needed no floor because it was always to be set on level ground. (Exodus 26:1-25; 36:8-34.) There were two rooms. The first one, covered with gold, was about forty feet long and half as wide. This was known as the holy place. It contained a gold-covered table that was to hold twelve loaves of bread to represent the food offerings of the twelve tribes of Israel, a gold lamp stand with places for seven oil lamps and a gold altar for burning incense. The second room was half the size of the first. This very sacred area was to be entered only by the high priest and only on the Day of Atonement, once a year. Here was a gold-covered wooden chest called the ark of the covenant, about the size of a large trunk. It had a solid gold lid called the mercy seat, on which were mounted two gold figures facing each other. Inside the chest were the two stone tablets on which God had engraved the Ten Commandments. Aaron's shepherd's rod was there. There was also a special container for manna, holy anointing oil and other objects of unusual meaning. (Exodus 37:1-9; Hebrews 9:3-8.) This holy of holies, as the inner room was called, was the place God designed for His glorious Presence while leading the Israelites on the journey to Canaan. A huge crowd formed to see how the tabernacle would appear when its many parts were put together. It was colorful and majestic, but only the upper part of the outside could be seen. The curtained fence prevented the people from witnessing even the sacred rites of ordaining the equipment in the court. Moses was the first to enter the court. After he anointed the articles and utensils there and in the tabernacle, they were to be regarded as holy. He then brought Aaron and Aaron's sons into the court. They washed at the laver and dressed in their priestly attire. Moses anointed them with oil, and they were ordained by God's power to be priests. This meant that their following generations were also to be priests. Everything was put in order. Bread was placed on the table in the holy place. The seven lamps were lighted. Sweet incense was burned on the golden altar. A burnt offering and a meat offering were made at the large altar. (Exodus 40:17-33.) The Israelites were accustomed to seeing the cloud move down from above Mt. Sinai and hover over the tent where Moses went to talk to God. This time it moved down toward the middle of their camps, appearing so close and large that some of the people fled to their tents. Those who stayed to watch noticed that the cloud had a beautiful, sparkling quality that exuded the feeling of vibrant life. While awed millions watched, it floated down over the tabernacle. Moses, Aaron and his sons were still inside when the luminous vapor settled down to impart a sensation of peace and energy Moses had experienced before. Rays of multicolored light moved through the vapor, becoming so intense the humans had to back out of the tabernacle to leave it to God to occupy.