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Discover the Purpose and Pattern of the Tabernacle Exodus 25:8 by Dr Terry Harman

Updated: Dec 5, 2023


Model of the Tabernacle (Mishkan) of Moses – Teaching Prop of The Tabernacle Man


Why Study the Outdated Tabernacle?

The basic purpose of the Mishkan was to provide a visible reminder that the Lord who delivered the Hebrews from Egypt had not and would not abandon them in the wilderness. The pattern of the Mishkan encouraged the people to live a life of holiness!


When I began teaching on the Tabernacle, the high priest garments, and the five Levitical offerings, I received a great deal of pushback from Jewish and Christian people. The resistance from the Jewish side of the fence was, “The Temple no longer exists. The Romans destroyed it in 70 C.E. The sacrificial system has been replaced by the sacrifice of the heart – prayer.” Yet, some branches of Judaism eagerly await the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem and the reestablishment of the sacrificial system as described in the Torah. On the other side of the fence, Evangelical Christians in particular would proclaim, “Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection did away with the need for a sacrificial system. Jesus fulfilled the Law of Moses and the sacrifices.”


Still adherents of Judaism and Christianity both reference the

Tabernacle of Moses in their sacred texts and

continue to study the relevance of the Tabernacle.


For My Jewish Readers

The Mishkan is studied every year in the routine reading cycle of the Torah. Numerous Parsha and thirty chapters of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy are devoted to the subject of the Mishkan, and the Levitical offerings associated with the Mishkan. Although the Mishkan was the portable place of worship for nearly four centuries, it provided the pattern for the first and second Temples in Jerusalem. The Mishkan was the forerunner of the intended permanent house of prayer in Jerusalem.


For My Christian Readers

Four chapters of the letter to the Hebrews are specifically devoted to the tabernacle. Jesus is referred to not only as the “High Priest” but superior to the sacrificial system of Leviticus. It would seem logical to learn what the purpose of the sacrifices was and the role of the High Priest to better understand the claims of the book of Hebrews!

Handwoven High Priest Garments Used by The Tabernacle Man

In addition to the Letter to the Hebrews, the book of Revelation has several references to the holy vessels of the tabernacle and the temple. Scholars generally date the writing of the book of Revelation around 95 AD. These references illustrate the early church was aware of the importance of the vessels of the Tabernacle and the Temple.


* Altar of burnt sacrifice Rev. 6:9

* Sea of glass may be a reference to the laver Rev. 4:6

* Seven golden lampstands Rev. 1:12

* Golden altar of incense Rev. 8:3

* Hidden manna once contained in the golden pot Rev. 2:17

* The Ark of His Covenant Rev. 11:19

Ark of the Covenant Constructed by Dr. Terry Harman


2 Timothy 3:16 informs Christians that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” Jesus did not ignore the Temple in Jerusalem of his day. Keep in mind that during the time of Jesus and his disciples the New Testament did not exist. The Torah, the Writings, and the Prophets were studied. Luke states there was a direct correlation between the Jewish writings and himself.


“And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” Luke 24:27 KJV


The Bible only records a few chapters about the creation of the world but there are no less than fifty chapters directly relating to the Tabernacle. In my humble opinion, studying the Tabernacle or Mishkan is relevant to Judaism and Christianity.


Paying for Tabernacle

The Hebrews experienced the first Passover in Egypt. Moses led the former slaves from the bondage of Egypt across the Red Sea and now they were camped below Mount Sinai. Although they no longer lived in Egypt, the people needed to learn a new pattern of living because there was a whole lotta Egypt still in the people.


Once settled before Mount Sinai, the first thing God instructs Moses to do is collect a free-will offering for the building of a sanctuary. The people are asked to donate gold, silver, copper, blue, purple, and scarlet yarns, fine linen, leather, wood, olive oil, incense, and precious gemstones.


(Exodus 25:3-7). Where did they find all of these things in the desert? They didn’t. The Hebrews brought these materials with them when they left Egypt. I thought they were slaves in Egypt. How did they acquire these riches? The Egyptians gave the materials for the Tabernacle before the Hebrews exited the land! (Exodus 12:35-36 JPS 1917)


“And the children of Israel did according to the word of Moses; and they asked the Egyptians jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment. And the LORD gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. And they despoiled the Egyptians.”


Purpose of the Tabernacle: Exodus 25:8

“And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.”

The purpose of the Mishkan was to create a sacred space as a tangible reminder that the God who delivered the people from the bondage of Pharoah did not abandon them in the desert. He now dwelled AMONG the people encamped around the Tabernacle. The Hebrew word Mishkan means, “dwelling” or “settling.”


A few years ago, I asked a friend of mine, Rabbi Michael Stevens to help me understand the Hebrew meaning of Mishkan. He shared the following wordplay on the Hebrew letter mem. I love the Hebrew language. I thought of a couple of mem-words you might find helpful in your teaching.


Meaning of Mishkan

First, the verb lishkon, with the root shin-kaf-nun, means to live in, occupy, or dwell in. In modern Hebrew, neighbors are sh'cheinim; a neighborhood is a sh'chunah. With a mem in front of the root letters, you get Mishkan, a tabernacle, the dwelling-place of God or God's glory. Another form of the same word is sh'chinah, God's presence.

Another word comes from the root letter reish-pei-aleph. The word rofei means doctor or healer. God is called rofei cholim, the healer of the sick. The word for healing is r'fu'ah; we wish someone who is ill a r'fu'ah s'leimah, a complete (and speedy) recovery. With a mem in front of the root letters, you get mirpa'ah, a health clinic.

One more: we are created b'tzelem Elohim, in the image of God. The root letters of tzelem are tzadi-lamed-mem. With a mem in front, we get matzleima, a camera.

What was the purpose of the Tabernacle? The Lord did not require a tent or a building to live in. His presence is everywhere. He did not need a specific location to dwell in to be the neighbor of the Israelites. The construction of the Mishkan was not about God’s needs but man’s needs.


The construction of the Mishkan was not about God’s needs but man’s needs.


The people needed a tangible location with an established structure dedicated to the Lord they thought had abandoned them due to their terrible sins. Sandwiched between the revelation of the pattern given to Moses to build the Tabernacle (Exodus 25-31) and the actual construction of the Tabernacle (Exodus 33-40) is the record of one of the darkest moments in Jewish history – the worship of the golden calf in Exodus 32. The event of the golden calf seems to interrupt the narration of the actual erecting of the Mishkan.

Golden Calf Prop Built by Hector Marin and Dr. Terry Harman

After being spared from the death angel in Egypt, experiencing deliverance from the hands of Pharoah, and crossing through the Red Sea, the people grow weary of waiting for Moses to descend the mountain and convince Aaron to build a god to deliver them from the wilderness. In between the time Moses receives the blueprint for the Mishkan and his descent down the mountain the people sin. Instead of forsaking the Israelites the Lord’s divine attribute of mercy and longsuffering would be experienced. The Lord provided a way for the people to experience his forgiveness and presence.

Rabbi Pinchas Winston in his article, Holiness: The Golden Calf and the Mishkan states,


Did not the episode of the golden calf occur after the mitzvah to construct the Mishkan was given? The Talmud answers: Reish Lakish said: The Holy One, Blessed is He, does not inflict the Jewish people until He has first made their remedy. (Megillah 13b). In other words, the Torah speaks about the Mishkan before the episode of the calf to inform us that it existed, at least conceptually, before the sin of the calf. It had been “prepared” in advance by God, to be ready to cure the spiritual illness that would result from the sin. Nevertheless, the building of the Mishkan was only a partial remedy for the golden calf . . .


In other words, before the sin of the golden calf the Shechinah was prepared to dwell within every Jew; every Jew would have been his own personal Mishkan. As Rashi later explains, this changed as a result of the calf because it left the Jewish people vulnerable to sin, an intolerable situation for the Shechinah and a dangerous one for the Jewish nation. A compromise was needed. To remain among the Jewish people, but not within them, the Shechinah commanded the construction of the Mishkan to act as a temporary sanctuary for the Divine Presence until an actual temple could be built in Eretz Yisroel. Though this greatly reduced the personal experience of Shechinah, it at least left room for sin and teshuvah. The full article may be read at Holiness: The Golden Calf and the Mishkan Torah.org

The pattern of the Tabernacle

The Lord lays out for Moses detailed instructions for the Mishkan's design or “pattern”. Moses is told to construct the Mishkan and the holy vessels according to the “pattern” he was shown on the mountain (Exodus 26:30). The Lord promised the people that he would “dwell in their midst” if they would commit themselves to set aside a location and a portable tent dedicated to drawing closer to Him.


The Mishkan was visible proof that even after a terrible national sin the spiritual damage could be repaired. The community set aside their time and donated their free-will offerings or treasure and offered their talents to the building of the Mishkan. The heartfelt intention of their time, talent, and treasure would sanctify, set apart and make holy the location and the tent dedicated to His worship. By doing this the congregation would experience his divine presence or Shechinah in their midst.


For your further study

I leave you with the old notes I found in a box tucked away in my garage. I do not know when the notes were written. But I offer them now for your edification.


The Pattern of the Tabernacle: Holiness


The free-will offerings sanctified the intentions of the congregation.

The linen fence sanctified the location.

The four coverings sanctified the Mishkan.

The Mishkan sanctified the space of worship.

The holy vessels sanctified the three courts of the Mishkan.

The garments sanctified the servants (Levites and High Priest).

The rituals of worship sanctified the time.

The Ark of the Covenant sanctified the Covenant made with the Lord.

But The Divine Presence or the Shechinah

sanctified the nation.

Conclusion

Spiritually speaking, we need a space and time set aside to nourish our souls. Living on the earth and going about our daily routines has a way of bringing about spiritual illnesses. Sometimes through our actions and often through no fault of our own, our soul becomes polluted with the sin of the world around us. We desire a clean slate. We yearn for the experience of forgiveness. We crave the restoration of purpose in our life. Our sacred spaces and our times of repentance, and service help cleanse the pollution of our souls. We can return again to a fresh walk with the Lord. We are like a mini Mishkan or Tabernacle. We house the spirit of the Almighty. His divine spark lives within us. For the Shechinah to dwell amid our sacred communities and for us to experience his presence in our souls, we too must be made holy as he is holy (Leviticus 19:2, 1 Peter 1:16).


For further study

If you would like to take a Walkthrough of a full-size representation of the Tabernacle of Moses a link will be provided at the end of this blog. In the video, I walk the viewers through a full-size tabernacle with all of the holy vessels on display. The purpose of this blog is to discuss the basic purpose of the Mishkan as a designated place where the Lord communicated his desire for a holy people and the Israelites revealed their intentions as they drew closer to the Holy One.

Rabbi Stevens has been a guest writer for The Tabernacle Man. Here’s the link.

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