Coverings of the Tabernacle of Moses part 3, Ram Skins Dyed Red - Exodus 26:14 Dr. Terry Harman
Updated: Feb 5
Exodus 26:14 JPS 1917
And thou shalt make a covering for the tent of
rams’ skins dyed red and a covering of sealskins above.
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 layer 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 third cover, constructed with ram’s skins dyed red.
If you did not read the first part of this blog series, a quick review is necessary to understand 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 an allegorical affirmation of their interpretive bias.1
Christian and Jewish Differing Opinions
As we have seen in previous lessons, I do not always follow the popular viewpoints regarding the symbolism of the tabernacle. I beg to differ with the position of the ram skins that were dyed red were unseen because they were covered by the outer layer of badger skins.
Christian illustrators often depict the red skins as the third layer from the inside or the second layer from the top or just underneath the tachash skins. Jewish sources influenced my opinion on the color of the goat hair covering. Jewish sources also influenced my opinion regarding the construction of the roof of the Mishkan and the placement of the ram skins dyed red.
Illustration by Terry Harman depicting a two-part roof (tachash and red ram skins), 2023.
Christian Placement of Red Ram Skins – Unseen
One of the best full-size tabernacle exhibits is at the New Holy Land in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. The placement, color, and length of the four coverings follow the general Christian interpretation. On September 11, 2001, I visited a full-size tabernacle. Recently, a storm damaged the structure of the Tabernacle. If you plan to visit the tabernacle, please call first to see if the damages have been repaired.
Rev. Dick Ludig, of blessed memory, was the gifted teacher for twenty-six years at the New Holy Land exhibit. Rev. Ludig envisioned the design of the tabernacle at the park. Pictured with the tabernacle are Rev. Ludig and me dressed as the High Priest. Rev. Ludig was kind enough to allow me to be his “life mannequin” during one of his teachings and a visitor snapped this picture for us. He dies on March 20, 2019, at the age of ninety-one. I truly miss my yearly visits and times of “tabernacle talks” with him.
Rev. Richard James Ludig and The Tabernacle Man as the High Priest, 2001
The Eureka Springs exhibit was constructed to show three of the four coverings covering the entire structure of the tabernacle and fastened to the ground at a 45-degree angle by copper pegs. The inner covering with the cherubim is draped over the gold walls of the tabernacle and ends just above the silver sockets. This is the typical understanding of the coverings of the tabernacle.
The photo was taken with permission - New Holy Land Tabernacle, September 11, 2001
Jewish Placement of Ram Skins Dyed Red – Visible
As illustrated on the title page, I originally followed the typical order and arrangement of the four coverings – tachash (brown), red ram skins, goat hair (white), and last the multicolored linen with embroidered cherubim. In part two of this series, I explained the goat hair was more likely dark brown or black, patterned after the Bedouin tents of the desert. After further study, I am convinced by Jewish sources that my placement of the ram skins dyed red may also be incorrect!
Following the commentary on the book of Shemot by M.D. Cassuto to the book of Shemot (Magnes Press, Jerusalem, 5719), and the illustration of the Mishkan by Moshe Levine in his book, Melekhet Ha Mishkan (Tel-Aviv, 1970), Rabbi Yitzchak Levi’s explains there is a similarity between the tabernacle and the tents of the nomads in the wilderness. “Even today, Bedouins sometimes spread skins over their tents. The color red, striking to the eye even from a distance, also served other nations in ancient times as a sign of sanctified tents.”2
Similarities Between Bedouin and Military Tents
There are striking parallels between the Tabernacle and the military tents of commanders. Like the tabernacle, the military commander’s tent would have been erected in the center of the camp surrounded by his soldiers.3
Not only was a portion of the red skins visible from the outside but the red skins and the tachash skins probably covered the roof section of the Mishkan and did not drape over the roof to the ground. The sides of Bedouin tents drape over the side poles at a 90-degree angle, not a 45-degree angle as the tabernacle is often depicted. Rashi explains the goat hair covering may have been secured straight to the ground with copper stakes or pegs.4
Bedouin tent of the gypsy type5
Three Insights and the Red Ram Skins
Scientists suggest that we can have an emotional or psychological response to certain colors, especially when those colors are connected with important rituals or events in our life. The four colors of the tabernacle are important to understand. Each color represented different aspects of man's understanding of the holiness of God.
Blue is the color of the sky and is a reminder of the heavenly realm above (Exodus 24:10, Ezekiel 1:26, 10:1).
Purple was the color of the robes of kings and royalty (Judges 8:26) and a reminder of the majesty of the Lord.
White is the color of the warp – represents purity, cleansing, and the holy attribute of the Lord (Psalm 51:7, Isaiah 1:18).
Red or scarlet reminder of the blood of the korban (blood offerings) was meant to draw a sinful person closer to the Lord as they sought redemption and restoration (Isaiah 1:18).
Psychologists inform us that the color red provokes a strong emotional response to any of the colors. Red immediately attracts our attention. Red indicates, "This is important. Pay attention." In my opinion, the use of red dye carries significant meaning. Likewise, the tanning of the skins of a specific animal, the ram, a male sheep, may have three deeper spiritual connections.
1. Blood of the Passover Lamb - Need for Deliverance
First, the blood of the Passover lamb in Egypt was applied to the doorposts and lintel of the dwellings of the slaves (Exodus 12:7). The blood of the lamb was not just a "sign" for the death angel to Pass Over the household. The blood (Exodus 12:13) signified that the members of that house had made a "pledge" (Hebrew oth) and the blood was a "token" of that commitment. to the one true God. It was a visible sign that the Hebrew slaves were willing to die for taking such a stand. Why was the blood such a powerful statement?
Looking to the stars or the daily horoscope is nothing new. The Egyptians believed in the 12 Mazels or the constellations of the stars. The gods created the earth, but the Mazels controlled the events of the earth and the destinies of man. One of these deities was the Ram god - Amum Ra. His constellation was Aires the Ram! He was venerated in the spring of each year as the earth was renewing itself. The Ram god was worshipped because it was believed that he would ensure the growth and fertility of the crops and guarantee the strength and power of Egypt.
During the springtime of Passover, Aires was the prominent constellation in the sky. Therefore, sheep, and particularly the male ram, were considered sacred and deified by Egyptian culture. To slay such an animal was an act of defiance. The very thing Egypt considered a god would be slayed as a sign of Hebrew's allegiance to the One True God. Soon, the former slaves would experience physical deliverance from the grinding cycle of labor on Pharoah's schedule. Instead of bondage, deliverance! The freedom of choice to serve the Almighty on his calendar, not Pharoah's. From Chronos to Kairos.
2. Ram of Ordination - Need of the Blood of Anointing
Second, the Ram of Ordination was used in the inauguration of Aaron as High Priest and the establishment of the Levitical priesthood.
"And the other ram was presented, the ram of consecration, and Aaron and his sons laid their hands upon the head of the ram. And when it was slain, Moses took the blood thereof, and put it upon the tip of Aaron's right ear, and upon the thumb of his right hand, and upon the great toe of his right foot; and Moses dashed the blood against the altar round about." Leviticus 8:22-24 JPS 1917
Therefore, when the right ear lobe, right thumb, and right big toe were anointed with blood, that member was sanctified and set apart for holy purposes. Set free by the blood of the ram. From this point on Aaron and his sons were connected to the altar and services associated with the ministry of the tabernacle. From this point on, they would be God's representatives to the people.
Symbolically, there would be a fresh hearing of the Lord's voice, a fresh grasp of the Lord's work, and a fresh path for the Lord's anointed. Set apart by the blood of the ram. The noise of the past would no longer interfere with the voice of the Lord (ears to hear). The anointed would be able to grasp and perform the duties of the Lord (thumbs enable us to grasp objects and hold onto tools) and the priest's walk would no longer be hindered. He would be steadfast (Big toes provide us with the stability to walk.). If you are discouraged in your calling or need a fresh anointing, cry out to the Lord. Ask him to give you a refreshed sense of hearing, new strength in your hands to serve, and a renewed direction as you walk in faith.
3. Blood of the Sacrifices - Need for Restoration of Relationship
Third, the red is a specific reminder of the blood of the animal offerings in Leviticus. Life was in the blood of the animal (Leviticus 17:11). Substitutionary atonement was made possible through the blood of the animal, often a lamb. Maimonides taught the Lord only allowed the practice of ritual sacrifice as an accommodation due to our human weakness. The offerings or "korban" were permitted by God as a tangible means for his people to feel like they could "draw close to" a holy God. Scripture makes it clear, the Lord preferred "obedience over sacrifice" (cf. 1 Samuel 15:22, Isaiah 1:11, Jeremiah 7:21-23, Hosea 6:6).
We get "physicals" once a year to ensure we are healthy. If the Lord seems distant and far removed, do a "spiritual" checkup. If there is an area in our spiritual life that needs healing or mending, then seek the help we need from a trusted confidant and the Lord Almighty. Consider presenting yourself as a korban, a living offering, for the work of the Lord. Draw closer to him and he will draw closer to you.
Regardless of the three possibilities, the red ram skins called to mind the importance of the "tent of meeting" which was pitched in the center of the Israelite camp. If the red skins were visible on the roof of the tabernacle and resemble the centralized tent of a military commander in the Ancient Near East, it would also signal that this tent, the Mishkan or "dwelling place," is not just any tent. This tabernacle is one fit for a powerful King or General of an army. At this time Egypt was the world's dominant power with a pantheon of gods. The God of former slaves completely defeated all of the gods of Egypt.
"For I will go through the land of Egypt . . .
and against all the gods of Egypt, I will execute judgments:
I am the LORD."
Exodus 12:12 JPS 1917
From a distance, the tabernacle and its significance would draw the attention of the Israelites as they made their way to draw closer to God. 'Wake up! Pay attention! You have an appointment with The King of kings and The Lord of lords! You are entering consecrated ground set aside for holy purposes. If you need deliverance - freedom is available. I you need the anointing - present your body as a living sacrifice. If you need restoration - atonement and forgiveness are available.
Lord, help us to enter your house of prayer with the same anticipation and reverence.
Footnotes and Further Study
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 Levi, Rav Yitzchak, Lecture 100: The Way that the Building of the Mishkan Matched the Conditions in the Wilderness and the Manner of the Mishkan’s Construction, (2004). The link to this study no longer works. I access the original site on October 20, 2015. You may be able to access the study at https:etzion.org.il/en
“The shape of the Mishkan is very similar to the shape of the tents used by nomads in the wilderness. Thus writes Cassuto in his commentary: The Bedouin tents are constructed of a number of curtains, which are woven of threads spun from black goats' hair. The spinning and the weaving, as well as the sewing together of the curtains, are entrusted to the women. The men fix wooden pillars into the ground, on which they stretch the curtains, and in order to enable the tent to withstand all kinds of winds, they make the cords taut, tying one end to the top of the tent and the other to pegs that are driven into the ground. that tent is rectangular in shape.
The clear similarity between the structure of the Mishkan and the tents found during that period in the wilderness is not a technical issue. The Mishkan is a tangible symbol of the heavenly Mikdash. God's command to build it as it was seen on the mountain means that the earthly Mishkan is, as it were, a copy of the heavenly Mishkan. But in order that the people of Israel should be able to understand the meaning of the structure, it had to be built in the way that the people of that time would have imagined for themselves the seat of God. Indeed, Israel's neighbors imagined the seat of God as built in the form of a rectangular tent, upon which were spread out curtains, like the tents found in the wilderness, and the internal division of the tent and the vessels found therein parallel the common form of royal palaces in that period and their accoutrements – throne, footstool, candlestick, and table.”
3 Homan, Michael M., The Tabernacle in its Ancient Near East Context. The Tabernacle in Its Ancient Near Eastern Context - TheTorah.com, 2018.
Professor Michael M. Homan “The depiction of YHWH’s sacred tent as modeled on a military tent fits with the biblical context of YHWH as a ‘Divine Warrior.’ YHWH fights for Israel in Exodus 14-15, owns the tools for war in Deut 32:41-42, and is even called a “man of war” (אִישׁ מִלְחָמָה) in Exodus 15:3 and a “warrior” (גִּבּוֹר מִלְחָמָה) in Ps 24:8. Whenever the Tabernacle and Ark were set to be transported, Moses said (Numbers 10:35):
קוּמָה יְ-הוָה וְיָפֻצוּ אֹיְבֶיךָ וְיָנֻסוּ מְשַׂנְאֶיךָ מִפָּנֶי
Rise up, YHWH! May your enemies be scattered; may your foes flee before you.
For further study on God as a divine warrior in his tent see Michael M. Homan, “The Divine Warrior in His Tent: A Military Model for Yahweh’s Tabernacle,” Bible Review 16 (2000): 22-33, 55.
4 Sides Secured by Copper Stakes
“Pegs – a kind of copper nail made for the curtains of the Tent and for the hangings of the enclosure, fastened to these by cords all the way round them on their lower edge in order that the wind should not lift them up. I do not know whether they were stuck in the ground or whether they were merely tied to the edges and hung down, their weight loading the edges of the curtains that they should not move about in the wind” (Rashi Shemot 27:19).
5 Bedouin tent of the gypsy type near Beit Jibrin, Abstract/medium: G. Eric and Edith Matson
Photograph Collection adapted from Wikipedia.