The Tabernacle

The Tabernacle is a deep and important subject to understand in the Bible. The Israelites dwelled in tabernacles and they eventually made a Tabernacle for God to dwell in. God instructed the Israelites to have a Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:33-44) where the Israelites would dwell in tabernacles for seven days (see also my article on the Holy Spirit for more on this). We later see the Tabernacle become a Temple. Then Jesus comes who says that He is the Temple and later we are told that believers are temples of the Holy Spirit.

The Tabernacle was very rich with symbolism. Lets look at the Tabernacle of Moses.


The Tabernacle of Moses (aka the Tabernacle of Testimony) was a sanctuary (Exodus 25:8) that God instructed Israel to make. It was a smaller version of the Holy Temple in modest form and could be transported as Israel traveled. The purpose of the tabernacle was God's presence and sacrifices. Later, the tabernacle of David would focus on worship.

In Exodus we read that Israel left Egypt and camped before Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:1-2). Moses goes up the mountain to meet with God who descended on the mountain (Exodus 19:3). Moses gets the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20; Exodus 31:18) and instructions from God, including commands to make an altar (Exodus 20:24; Exodus 24:4) and then a tabernacle (Exodus 25:8-31:18). When God is giving Moses these instructions on Mount Sinai for 40 days and nights, the Israelites go to Aaron and say they don't know what has happened to Moses and convince him to make gods that will go beofre them. Aaron makes a golden calf and altar before it (Exodus 32:1-6). God tells Moses to go down and when he sees the golden calf, he trows the Ten Commandment tablets and breaks them (Exodus 32:19). Moses moves his tent outside the camp and calls it the tabernacle of meeting (Exodus 33:7). God tells Moses to make two more tablets and go back up the mountain. Moses is on the mountain another 40 days and nights and God writes the Ten Commandments on the new tablets (Exodus 34:28). Moses goes down and Israel constructs the tabernacle (Exodus 35-40). God then fills the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34-35). When God's presence left, they would leave (Exodus 13:21-22; 40:36-38; Numbers 9:15-23). God even gave them an angel to guide and protect them (Exodus 23:20; 32:34; 33:2). The tabernacle was very detailed and intricate, and is rich with symbolism. There are seven pieces of furniture in the Tabernacle and each one is symbolic of you and how you are made in the image of God.

The closer you come to the Holy of Holies, the closer to come to the image of God, so that we "may participate in the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4). The Tabernacle, as well as us, are both made in the image of God. This is why Paul wrote, "Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?"

The Parts of the Tabernacle


The Bronze Altar - This is in the outer courtyard and where we must begin. The Altar of Burnt Offering brings to our mind the Lord Jesus who was slain for us. This is where the sacrifice is made for our sins and therefore can enter God's presence. Three separate piles of wood burned on the altar. The largest pile was where the sacrifices were burned. The second provided the coals for the Golden Altar of Incense and were fueled by the finest fig wood. The third was the "perpetual fire" which constantly burned on the altar. Nothing was placed on it and no coals were taken from it. (Leviticus 6:9,12-13) The glory of the Lord appeared and fire came out before the Lord to consume the burnt offering and the fat on the altar. (Leviticus 9:24) When Moses setup the tabernacle on the first day of the first month, states that the fire "went into the Holy of Holies and from there it went out to the Golden Altar and then to the Outer Altar, causing the incense and the sacrificial parts to go up in smoke.

The Brazen Laver (Wash Basin) - This is where we are washed and made clean, symbolic of our initial conversion experience, and subsequent water baptism and sanctification (cleansing). The concept and practice of departing from the filthiness of the world and from the filthiness and rebellion of our flesh and our spirit are begun in the act of water baptism and carried on each day as we wash our robes and make them white in the blood of Christ. When we approach the brazen laver, which was essentially a large bowl filled with water, we notice that we can see ourselves in the reflection off the shiny brass. When we are converted, we need to first look at ourselves and recognize our condition. We see what must be cleansed, however, just seeing our condition doesn't make us clean. Jesus and the Holy Spirit cleanse us. James 1:22-25 says that the Bible is like a mirror and through the Law (the Bible), we see our condition and error. However, it is only through Christ and the Holy Spirit's work that we are actually cleansed.

It is interesting to note that the laver was sprinkled with oil, symbolic of the Holy Spirit. Oil floats on the surface of water, and when you break the surface of the water, you are covered with the oil.


The Holy Place, also called "the Sanctuary" or "Tent of Meeting," is the first of the two rooms inside the Tabernacle, the other is called the Most Holy Place. These two rooms are perhaps mentioned in Revelation 4:3 as the two stones John saw in God, jasper and carnelian, which could further be symbolic of the Son and the Holy Spirit. It is here that we enter the presence of God and the Lord begins to really work on our soul. As a result, when entering the Holy Place, everyone was required to take off their shoes, even the High Priest.

Gold Table of Showbread - This bread is referred to in the Hebrew as the "Bread of Presence" or "Bread of the Display of His Presence." It was to portray the coming Messiah. Little did even Moses know then how much the tearing of this bread would depict the tearing of the flesh of the Messiah, Yeshua who is Jesus. Jesus expressly preformed this tearing or breaking of the Showbread the night before His Crucification at the “Last Supper.” He even referred to this bread as His own body when He said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” Thus He equated the Bread He broke as the Showbread of the Sanctuary. That night, in that small, sanctuary-esk, upper room, Jesus spoke of what He was about to do as well as what He was about to become. He was about to fulfill the very fabric of that which the Hebrew children had been observing and practicing for 1500 years. The Table of Showbread would be served to mankind.

The Gold covered, Acacia wood table that the bread sat on is called the “Pure Table” and is mentioned twenty one times by Moses alone. The wood represents the “tree” Jesus would be crucified on and the Gold represents the purity of His sacrifice.

The Lampstand - This light reveals the smoke (glory) of God and the rest of the room, it reveals God (with Jesus as the light of the world), and reveals you (Psalm 36:9). However, light doesn't burn forever so they had olive oil (symbolic of the Holy Spirit) to keep the lamp burning. The fire of cleansing, baptism by fire..

This is where the seven candles, representing the seven Spirits of God (Revelation 4), are filled with oil:
* Spirit of the LORD
* Spirit of wisdom
* Spirit of understanding
* Spirit of counsel
* Spirit of might
* Spirit of knowledge
* Spirit of the fear of the LORD

Jesus was pictured in Isaiah 11 and it says the Spirit of the Lord rested on Him and names these seven characteristics.

The Lampstand was interestingly also known as the "Tree of Life." (John 8:12)

Every part of the Tabernacle speaks to Jesus, who is so much more than simply a door to the Father.

The Golden Altar of Incense (Exodus 30:1-10) - Also known as the "Golden Censer" (Hebrews 9:3-4). Represents our prayers. The five foundations of prayer are Worship/Adoration, Devotion, Intercession, Supplication, and Contemplation. These five foundations of prayer correlate with the five spices (Exodus 30:34-38) that were perfectly balanced and blended together as the Incense that would burn on top of the Golden Altar of Incense. The Lord’s Prayer stated by Jesus in Matthew 6, is a completion of all five foundations of Prayer - Worship/Adoration, Devotion, Intercession, Supplication, and Contemplation.

The five spices that were burned and rose to God as a "sweet fragrance" were Stacte, Onycha, Galbanum, Frankincense, and Salt. The first four were to be in equal amounts. As for the salt, it says, "You shall make of these an incense, a compound according to the art of the perfumer, salted, pure, and holy." The aromas of the first three of these are naturally sweet. The aroma of the last two, Frankincense and salt are not sweet, but when blended with the other three they become sweet. Like so many things in your life there times when what seems bitter in itself, becomes sweet in light of the whole. Like incense, all true prayer comes from God, it enters our spirit, and we breathe it back to Him.

Those five spices blended together are:

Stacte (aka Myrrh Extract) - Stacte is the Greek word for "nataf." It is a resin that exudes in clumps called "tears" from the a tree or shrub. It is generally considered to be the purest form of Myrrh, extracted from the Myrrh tree. The flow is apparently reddish brown and the stacte is clear.

Onycha - Onycha is the Greek word for "shecheleth," which is the original Hebrew word used for the ingredient in the consecrated incense. Widely thought to be Labdanum, a resin produced from rock rose. Labdanum is the gray-black resin that exudes from the branches of the rock rose bush. Labdanum, after it matures, becomes black. The word shecheleth is certainly related to the Hebrew word shechor (black), denoting the color of the shecheleth used in the ketoret formula. Onycha is a play on the word onyx which was a gem most esteemed by the ancients. The petals of this plant are shaped like fingernails and have petals with scarlet and black fingernail-shaped markings, thus its historically acclaimed connection with the Greek ονυξ onyx. The blossoms are about three inches across, white with at the base of each petal a blotch of brilliant scarlet-rose which deepens into black.

Onycha in Greek means "fingernail" or "claw." Claws were used in ancient Egypt to collect labdanum. Pharaohs were pictured with this claw (a nekhakha) resting on their breasts. Claws, or rakes, were used to collect the labdanum from the cistus bushes and smaller claws, or combs, were used to collect labdamun from the beards of the wild goats. Removing and peeling the very sticky, adhesive labdanum from these very temperamental animals caused them to cry out, to "peel out by the concussion of sound," or to "roar" out in protest. The original Hebrew word for onycha was שחלת, shecheleth, which comes from a root meaning "to roar" or "peeling off by concussion of sound." In Aramaic, the root SHCHL signifies "retrieve." For thousands of years labdanum has been retrieved from the beards of goats and the wool of lambs by this method. The resin was peeled off of the goats beard, lambs wool, and from the lambadistrion. The Pharaohs beard was made up of goats hair which was held together and scented by labdanum. When the royal kingly Pharaoh spoke it was as the lion's "roar," the voice of god to the people. The Pharaoh was called the "incarnation of Atum. The lion was a zootype of Atum. He is called the lion-faced in the Ritual. He is addressed as a lion god, the god in lion form." Pharaohs were often depicted as part human and part lion wearing the false beard saturated with labdanum. This beard was inspired by the lion's mane and was part of the various sphinx depicting the Pharaohs. A sphinx of Pharaoh Hatsheput displays a lion's mane and the pharaoh's manufactured beard. Strong defines the root word of shecheleth as "to roar; a lion (from his characteristic roar)." Labdanum was used not only as a perfume and adhesive for the Pharaohs beard but was also used by the Egyptian art of the apothecary in an incense known as kyphi which was rolled into small balls and burned upon coals of fire. However labdanum could also be an ingredient of a powdered incense. When aged it becomes more fragrant but it also becomes very brittle and hard. The fresh resin is a soft, sticky, and tar-like substance that is sweet, flowery, musky, and reminiscent of honey or ambergris with a hint of sweet leather. Rabban Simeon, the son of Gamliel, said that wine was used to make onycha become hard. Herodotus affirms that it was much used by the Arabians in perfumes. According to Pliny the Elder (23 - 79 CE), who mentions its fragrant smell, it was the extract of an herb called " ladan." Labdanum was known as "Arabic ladan."

Galbanum - Galbanum is an aromatic gum resin, the product of certain umbelliferous Persian plant species, chiefly Ferula gummosa (synonym F. galbaniflua) and Ferula rubricaulis. Galbanum-yielding plants grow plentifully on the slopes of the mountain ranges of northern Iran. It occurs usually in hard or soft, irregular, more or less translucent and shining lumps, or occasionally in separate tears, of a light-brown, yellowish or greenish-yellow colour, and has a disagreeable, bitter taste, a peculiar, somewhat musky odour, an intense green scent. Rashi of the 12th century comments on this passage that galbanum is bitter and was included in the incense as a reminder of deliberate and unrepentant sinners.

Frankincense (Olibanum/Lebonah) - Frankincense, also called olibanum and in Biblical Hebrew lebonah, is an aromatic resin obtained from trees of the genus Boswellia, particularly Boswellia sacra, B. carteri, B. thurifera, B. frereana and B. bhaw-dajiana (Burseraceae). The English word is derived from Old French "franc encens" (i.e., high quality incense) and is used in incense and perfumes.

There are four main species of Boswellia that produce true frankincense and resin from each of the four is available in various grades. The grades depend on the time of harvesting.

Frankincense is tapped by slashing the bark, which is called "striping," and allowing the resin to bleed out and harden. These hardened resins are called "tears." The first incision yields the purest and whitest resin, while the product of the after incisions is spotted with yellow, and loses its whiteness altogether as it becomes old. Exuodus 30:34 specifies "pure frankincense" so this would be from the first incision. There are several species and varieties of frankincense trees, each producing a slightly different type of resin. Differences in soil and climate create even more diversity of the resin, even within the same species. Some of the trees grow to a considerable height and send down their roots to extraordinary depths. Boswellia Sacra trees are considered unusual for their ability to grow in environments so unforgiving that they sometimes grow out of solid rock. The initial means of attachment to the rock is unknown but is accomplished by a bulbous disk-like swelling of the trunk. This growth prevents it from being ripped from the rock during violent storms that frequent this region. This feature is slight or absent in trees grown in rocky soil or gravel.

Frankincense was also used as an accompaniment of the meal-offering (Leviticus 2:1, 2:16, 6:15, 24:7). When burnt it emitted a fragrant odour, and the incense was a symbol of the Divine name (Malachi 1:11 ; Song of Solomon 1:3) and an emblem of prayer (Psalm 141:2 ; Luke 1:10 ; Revelation 5:8, 8:3). It was often associated with myrrh (Song of Solomon 3:6, 4:6) and with it was made an offering to the infant Jesus (Matthew 2:11). A specially "pure" kind, lebhonah zakkah, was presented with the showbread (Leviticus 24:7).

Salt - We all know what salt is but why was it added to the incense? There are several theories. "...salt was the only preservative known in ancient times. By reason of its powerful antibacterial properties (though these were not understood at the time, of course), salt was observed to preserve foods that would otherwise putrefy rapidly, especially in the hot climate in which most Israelites lived. Accordingly, salt became important as both an actual preservative and as a symbolic preservative, and terms such as "of salt" became equivalent in meaning to "permanent." At a minimum, adding salt to the incense symbolized the desire that it remain always pure and preserved and not old or rancid. Beyond this it probably also symbolized the fact that the sacred incense represented a part of the ritual remembrance of the covenant of Yahweh with His people. Thus the requirement of v. 35 that "it is to be salted and pure and sacred" means something like "it must be understood as a permanent symbol of my covenant, which is pure and holy with my people, who are to reflect the fact that I make promises that are permanent and that I myself am absolutely pure and holy."[1] Salt was an important addition to all offerings. In Leviticus 2:13 we read, "And every offering of your grain offering you shall season with salt; you shall not allow the salt of the covenant of your God to be lacking from your grain offering. With all your offerings you shall offer salt." In Numbers 18:19, it says, "All the heave offerings of the holy things, which the children of Israel offer to the Lord, I have given to you and your sons and daughters with you as an ordinance forever; it is a covenant of salt forever before the Lord with you and your descendants with you." Nore also 2 Kings 2:20-21 where Eisha says, "Bring me a new bowl, and put salt in it." So they brought it to him. Then he went out to the source of the water, and cast in the salt there, and said, "Thus says the Lord: 'I have healed this water; from it there shall be no more death or barrenness.'" In the New Testament, we are the salt of the Earth (Matthew 5:13).


The Ark of the Covenant - Contains the golden pot of manna (symbolic of Christ, the Bread of Life), the Tablets of the Law (Word of God), and the miraculous rod of Aaron that budded (the supernatural elements of God, the works of the Holy Spirit that produce fruit in your life). The first Ark, the Ark of Noah, was to save man and was made from wood covered by tar or pitch. But, it was inferior in-so-much-as it only saved eight people. It did not make a way to save mankind. A better Ark was coming. The second Ark, the Ark of the Tabernacle of Moses, is also made with wood but instead of being covered with pitch, it is covered with Gold. The wood that it is made from represents humanity or mankind. More specifically it prophetically represents Jesus the Messiah who came in the form of man and in doing so made himself of no Heavenly reputation. Wood is common, and the prophet Isaiah wrote that the beaten and crucified one would be common or uncomely. Yet, as common as Jesus made Himself to be in the view of mankind, He was far from common in the view of Heaven. The wood of the wooden Ark covered with Gold depicts this reality - fully man and simultaneously fully God; two materials, two natures, in one person. It’s representation is prophetically clear - God was manifest in the flesh (1 Timothy 3:15-16) and there was found no sin in Him. The solid Gold Crown around the edge of the top of the Ark is the Crown of the only one worthy of having every knee bow and every tongue confess His lordship over all.

When the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies, he would bring blood to sprinkle on the Mercy Seat as he approached it. This acknowledged five things:
1. Atonement was through blood sacrifice
2. Admission that someone else had to shed their blood for them to be forgiven
3. Administration of justice and judgment withheld
4. Allows mankind to have relationship with God
5. Accepted until Christ would be the perfect sacrifice

The Mercy Seat - Covers the Ark, has two cherubim guarding it. God stationed two Cherubim at the entrance to the Garden of Eden - “Lest they eat from the Tree of Life and live forever.” The two cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant also represent the two cherubim that guarded the Gate to Eden. Anyone who had sin and entered here would die. Therefore, in so tearing the Veil, the firmament was also torn, making a way for man to once again come to the Father. The Gate to Eden had been opened.

The Veil - The Tabernacle of Moses had a veil between the Most Holy Place and the Holy Place.


The Tabernacle of David was different than the Tabernacle of Moses. For example, the Tabernacle of David did not have a seperation between the Most Holy Place and the Holy Place. It was a single undivided tent and not separated by a veil. Later, the Temple that Herod built in 30 BC has a thick veil that was torn in two from top to bottom when Christ died. It was 4 inches thick according to Josephus, the famous Jewish historian. The veil tearing symbolized our ability to come to God, as the heavens being torn symbolized God coming to us. Now the way was made complete.

Another major difference was that the Tabernacle of David had lots of worship, day and night. When they brought the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem, it is described as follows:

"Then David and all the house of Israel played music before the Lord on all kinds of instruments of fir wood, on harps, on stringed instruments, on tambourines, on sistrums, and on cymbals." "And so it was, when those bearing the ark of the Lord had gone six paces, that he sacrificed oxen and fatted sheep. Then David danced before the Lord with all his might; and David was wearing a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the trumpet" (2 Samuel 6:5,13-15).

We also read that Solomon built a Temple in 960 BC and it was finished in 953 BC (1 Kings 6:37-38). That same year (953 BC) the Tabernacle of Moses goes extinct and is taken out of use and stored in a room in the new Temple (2 Chronicles 5:5-6). This temple gets destroyed in 586 by Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon (2 Kings 24:13; 2 Kings 25:9). The Second Temple is built by Zerubbabel after captivity in 515 BC (Haggai 2:1-9). Then the Third Temple is built by Herod in 30 BC. In 30 AD, Jesus rises from the dead and the Fourth Temple is His body, the Church (Ephesians 1:19-22). The Third Temple is destroyed in 70 AD as Jesus predicted in Matthew 24:1-2 and Luke 21:5-6, and of Jerusalem in Luke 21:20-24.

This is a very rich subject with a lot of types and shadows (symbolism). I don't have time to get into the symbolism of the types of materials, colors, etc. but I encourage you to do an Internet search or get a book on this in the Christian bookstore.


1. Stuart, Douglas K. "Exodus," The New American Commentary.

Note - Much of the technical information on the incense was taken from Wikipedia and other sources.

© Todd Tyszka
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