Coverings of the Tabernacle of Moses: part 2, Goat Hair Covering Exodus 26:7 by Dr. Terry Harman
Exodus 26:7 JPS 1917
And thou shalt make curtains of goats’ hair for a tent over the tabven curtains shalt thou make them.
The Rationale of the 4 Part Series
Both Judaism and Christianity understand our bodies and souls to be God’s Temple (see also Silberberg, The Inner Dimension of Plag Hamincha, Chabad.org; Hecht, What was the Holy Temple? Chabad.org; 1 Corinthians 6:19). Therefore, in these four-part series, I intend to first, examine the historical or practical use of each cover and second, offer personal application of each cover of the tabernacle as it applies to our bodies and soul as our temples or in this study, tabernacles. Today we focus our attention on the second covering woven from goat hairs.
In case you did not read the first part of this series a quick review is necessary for understanding the context. The roof of the tabernacle was constructed of four separate coverings: (a) an inner wall hanging of multicolored wool and linen with cherubim; (b) a covering made of goat hair similar to a nomadic tent; (c) a covering of ram skins dyed red; (d) and a covering of skins from the mysterious tachash creature. The Bible does not reveal the purpose of each covering. This missing purpose leads many to speculate and often becomes more of an allegorical reaffirmation of their interpretive bias.1
In part one we studied the relevance of the inner wall hanging of multicolored wool and linen with cherubim. In part two we will focus our attention on the second protective covering made from goat hair. Without protection, the fine linen, and colorful cherubim of the first covering would soon fade and become damaged if it were exposed to intense sunlight, sandstorms, rainstorms, and harsh changes in the temperature of desert life.
Materials Gathered from Free-Will Offerings - Exodus 35:29 JPS 1917
The materials were gathered from free-will offerings. No one was forced to participate in the construction of the tabernacle. Especially talented women were tasked with spinning raw goat fibers and weaving the goat hair covering.
“The children of Israel brought a freewill offering unto the LORD; every man and woman, whose heart made them willing to bring for all the work, which the LORD had commanded by the hand of Moses to be made.”
Wise and Stirred Hearts - Exodus 35:25-26 JPS 1917
And all the women that were wise-hearted did spin with their hands, and brought that which they had spun, the blue, and the purple, the scarlet, and the fine linen. And all the women whose heart stirred them up in wisdom spun the goats’ hair.
Exodus 35:25 reveals the “wise-hearted” women went to work right away and started spinning the colorful yarns needed for the inner covering and the veils of the tabernacle while other women whose “hearts were stirred up” went to work weaving the second covering made from goat hair. The women applied their talents and skills to the work of the tabernacle. What is the difference between a wise heart and a stirred heart?
All the women who were “wise-hearted” or sensible and prudent in religious endeavors (חַכְמַת־ chach-mat) and whose hearts were “stirred” or moved, awakened, or aroused up (נָשָׂ֥א na-sa) in “wisdom” or spiritual matters (בְּחָכְמָ֑ה be-chah-be-Mah), “spun” or offered up their talents to weave the goat hair covering.
There is a difference between being wise or knowledgeable about a need and doing something to meet that need such as possessing a skill set to spin wool into thread and then taking your skills to the next level and applying that talent (spun the goat’s hair) because your heart is moved or stirred when you see the bigger picture and are wise enough to understand your service to the Lord on a spiritual level.
The Practical Purpose of the Goat Hair
Working our way from the inner part of the tabernacle, the second covering was made of spun goat hair. The rough texture of the goat hair was not as beautiful as the multicolored linen of the first covering, but it was important. The goat hair protected all of the golden holy vessels of both chambers of the tabernacle.
Traditional nomadic tents are made from goat hair. Not only is it a strong fiber when twisted together, but it also serves two purposes. First, when the temperature of the desert reaches an extreme, the weave pattern of the goat hair loosens and allows air to flow through the material while blocking the wind and direct rays of the sun.
The dark brown or black color absorbs the heat, leaving the tent between 10 and 15 degrees cooler inside the tent than outside. If you have ever been in the summer heat of the southwest United States, you will recall the significant temperature drop whenever you move inside any shade.
Photo by Daniel Smith of Redeemer of Israel, 2016
Second, when rain falls the woven goat hair contracts making the weave tighter. The natural oils of the goat hair and the tighter weave help to naturally repel the rain protecting anyone and anything valuable under its cover!
Color of the Goat Hair – White, Black, or Brown?
When researching the various interpretations of the goat hair covering, I found some disagreement between the Christian and Jewish viewpoints. Christian sources depict the second layer as skins from white-haired goats, whereas Jewish sources depict this cover not as goat skins, but rather as a covering made from “goat hair” woven together similar to the nomadic tents of the Bedouins. The color is a mixture of dark brown and black hair.
In the past, I would study the writings of Rav Yaakov Medan of Rashei Yeshivat Har Etzion. His study of the curtains of the Mishkan is invaluable. Unfortunately, the links to his writings are no longer active but I want to give credit where credit is due. Below is a portion of his comments concerning the Mishkan.
“The curtains comprising the ohel, on the other hand, are not necessarily beautiful. They are black - the color of goat hair in this region in biblical times. When these curtains covered the Mishkan curtains, the Mishkan would probably have looked like one of the Bedouin shepherd tents familiar to us from the Negev; a black tent made of goat hair. . . . God is the Supreme King of kings, and the nation of Israel is His royal flock. As King, it is appropriate that a magnificent palace be built for Him from the finest of materials. . . But God is not only King; He is also a Shepherd and Am Yisrael is His flock in the wilderness.”
White Goat Hair - Christian Viewpoint Dark Brown or Black Goat Hair - Jewish VIewpoint
I prefer the darker wool fiber in comparison to the goat skins with long white hair. White goats were imported to the region much later on. In Israel, the most common goat is the black Capra Mambrica. The characteristic dark brown or black wool gives rise to the admiration of the adored in Song of Songs 4:1 JPS 1917.
Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; Thine eyes are as doves behind thy veil; Thy hair is as a flock of goats, that trail down from mount Gilead.
Living in a Cultural Egypt
I can only speak from my perspective. Your experience may be completely different from my experience. Today, if you are an observant Jew or a dedicated Christian, your lifestyle or viewpoint may have been challenged by the “world” we live in. You may wonder if you are living in a cultural Egypt that not only does not share your values and principles but vehemently opposes your convictions to the point of personally condemning you. These attacks may come without provocation on your part. You are simply walking your path in a way that you believe best honors the Lord and keeps you in line with the principles found in the Bible.
I realize that every generation looks back at the younger generation and often says, “Back in my day . . . this would not have been tolerated . . . what in the world is happening to us!” The generation before us probably had the same thing to say about our wardrobe, music choices, work ethic, and lingo. Technology has opened up a different “can of worms.”
I work and live in a world that condones, excuses, advertises, sings about, and glorifies the excessive use of alcohol and drugs. The culture of addiction is available in every restaurant, movie, TV program, neighborhood, and social media. I am bombarded daily with the culture of Egypt I once was a slave. The difference now is the allure of the old lifestyle in of null effect. The “good times” were never really that good. The “fun and the excitement” were temporary and came with a tremendous cost to me and anyone crazy enough to be around me. We must guard against the appetites and hunger of Egypt.
God is like a shepherd guiding and guarding his flock against the dangers of the desert. The goat hair covering reminds me, I need the protection of a Shepherd in my life. Our soul requires protection and guidance to remain spiritually healthy. On a mystical level, we can enter the holy place as we seek his presence in the holy of holies. But we cannot live there. The spiritual highs of the holy of holies are not made to last. Therefore, our souls need the covering of The Shepherd to ensure the influences of this world do not pollute our souls. The spiritual and mystical moments in life are not meant to last forever. These moments must be renewed.
Bedouin tents have patches. The sun’s intensity frays the fabric. Daily use results in tears or holes being created. The goat hair covering has to be maintained with patches. Otherwise, the wind, dust, and rain make their way inside the tent. Likewise, when the winds and the rain of this world penetrate my spirit, I need a spiritual patch. Confession and repentance not only provide forgiveness but through worship, prayer, and study become a patch for the hole in my soul. We need spiritual protection.2
1 On the one hand, many Christian commentators go to great lengths to explain the symbolic meaning and the types and shadows represented by each covering as it relates to the redemptive nature of Jesus. On the other hand, Chasidic writings draw heavily from Jewish mystical thoughts of Kabbalah. Many English-speaking students of the Bible find the insights of mystical Judaism fascinating but difficult to understand without years of immersion alongside a Rabbi.
Although well-meaning, the type and shadow approach, too often, is devoid of the historical context. The study of types and shadows method to scripture can be rewarding and inspirational. One must be careful not to see a type or shadow in every passage.
If the type or shadow is stretched so far from the plain sense of the verse, I am left wondering, if everything is a shadow of things to come, then what was the understanding of the original audience and early readers of scripture? Without the plain sense of the scripture indicating the purpose for each covering, we are left with the speculation of the commentary we are reading.
You may conclude, I have delved into a speculative interpretation of this portion of scripture that is far removed from the historical context.
2 The goat hair of the tabernacle also reminds me of the two goats of Yom Kippur - the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16. One goat was sacrificed to the Lord as a sin offering for the penalty of sin. The other goat was led out to the wilderness bearing the guilt of the nation.