(Picture: The Tabernacle in the Wilderness; illustration from the 1890 Holman Bible. From Wikipedia)
There are certain assertions made by Catron and Sadongei that deserve examination. They say that all of the costly materials were available because the Hebrews looted the Egyptians, but in Exodus 12 the Israelites asked the Egyptians specifically for silver, gold, and clothing. Nowhere in the flight from Egypt are the other materials used to build the Temple mentioned. Catron and Sadongei say the materials for the Tabernacle didn’t really belong to the Hebrews. However, the goods received from the Egyptians can be seen as the wages denied by slavery. Were the people, as Catron and Sadongei say, foregoing an expected life of ease by donating to the Tabernacle? In the modern age, it’s easy to think of gold and silver objects as equivalent to money, but it’s unclear that the Israelites would have seen it the same way. It’s not unlikely that the silver and gold objects included idols, so the freewill offering of these items represented a turning away from idols, which would seem to be much more to the point.
The Israelites built the Tabernacle using the gold and silver they received from the Egyptians, as well as materials they are not recorded as having received, such as wood, oil, spices, and hides. It is difficult to believe they have been to the sea (that area being fortified militarily by Pharaoh) to get the colors necessary for purple and scarlet yarn, which perhaps they could have made on their own. So, these additional materials presumably have been obtained either through events not recorded in Exodus, or through generosity of the Egyptians exceeding the requests of the Israelites, or through an unrecorded miracle.
The most likely possibility is that these were obtained in the defeat of the Amalekites (Exodus 17) or as trade with or gifts from Jethro (Exodus 18). The Israelites might also have looted some material from the drowned Egyptian army. So, the gold, silver and clothing might represent back wages for their time of slavery, but everything else represents lagniappe—something extra not promised by the Lord.
Some interesting points about the Tabernacle and its furnishings:
The artifacts of the tabernacle include the Ark, the Table with the Bread of Presence, a seven-branched menorah and an Altar of Incense. The Ark was surrounded by curtains, and outside there was a courtyard with an altar for sacrifice.
The place where the priest was to meet with God was “above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the Ark” (Ex. 25:22). The cherubim have their wings extended to form an inner sanctum for this meeting.
The total weight of the metals involved were one ton of gold, 3 3/4 tons of silver in half ounce (donated from 603,550 men), and 2 1/2 tons of bronze. The gold was brought by both men and women, but the silver by the men alone. Why? Is the implication that women withheld silver, or that their donations were purer?
The basin for washing was made from the mirrors of the women who served at the entrance of the Tabernacle (Ex. 38:8). These are generally taken to be copper.
Two men, Bezalel of Judah, and Oholiab of Dan directed all the artisanry. Bezalel was filled with the Spirit of God and therefore had knowledge and skill, while Oholiab was a teacher (Ex. 35:30-34).
“Urim is derived from the Hebrew for ‘light’, or ‘to give light”, and Thummim from ‘completeness’, ‘perfection’, or ‘innocence’. In view of these derivations it is surmised by some scholars that the sacred lot may have had a twofold purpose in trial ordeals, viz. Urim served to bring to light the guilt of the accused person, and Thummim to establish his innocence.” (Catholic Encyclopedia)
There is a lot of symbolic meaning in the accoutrements of the priests and the Tabernacle, which Catron and Sadongei slide over. The menorah brings to mind the Burning Bush, and the seven lamps the seven days of the week or, in the imagery of Revelation, the seven spirits of God. The precise construction, with the lamps supported by almond flowers, presumably has meaning. Each almond flower has five petals, so the number of flowers would seem to be 22 and the number of petals 110 [See note]. Could these represent 10 commandments + 12 tribes? And could the branches of the menorah have been distributed around the central post to form a hexagon? Do the ten curtains surrounding the Ark correspond to the Ten Commandments?
While there is no certain answer to these questions, it is worth reflecting on the significance of numbers as used in Exodus. The Tabernacle is the closest physical representation we have of the Kingdom of Heaven. As Catron and Sadongei note, in the Christian understanding, the human heart is the Tabernacle in which Christ dwells. Therefore, for those with eyes to see, every object, every number, and even the origin of each object of the Tabernacle is imbued with important meaning about Heaven and about ourselves. Jesus will tell us this in Luke 17: 21. saying:
The Kingdom of God is within you/in your midst
Whereas God has previously manifested to the Israelites from a distance, the Tabernacle brings the Lord inside the encampment. The Israelites see the cloud, the Presence of the Lord, rising from the Ark on days that they are to travel, and the fire, also the Presence, kindled in the cloud at the night.
Deuteronomy 28-30 add urgency to the keeping of the Law. Deuteronomy 28 describes the blessings of fertility, prosperity, power, and security promised by God for following the Law, and the curses of barrenness, poverty, illness, powerlessness, and insecurity promised for breaking the Law. It contains a passage that Ezekiel (12:2), Jesus (Mark 8:18) and Paul (Romans 11:8) will echo:
But to this day the LORD has not given you a mind that understands or eyes that see or ears that hear. (Deut. 29:4)
Chapter 29 reaffirms the blessings and the curses and promises that “the whole land will be a burning waste of salt and sulfur” for generations after the Lord punishes those who break the Law. Chapter 30, however, offers the chance for repentance and renewal of the covenant. It promises that the Word of God is “in your mouth and in your heart.” In the Christian understanding, Jesus is that Word, and the Word is Love.
Note: An earlier version contained an error in which the count of petals was incorrectly stated to be 120. This would only be true if there were 24 flowers.