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The Biblical Significance of the Tabernacle

Teshima Ikuro

The word tabernacle is a translation of the Hebrew ohel and the Greek word skéneh. In the early church, the Greek noun skéneh and the verb skenein were often used as synonyms of the Hebrew word Shekinah, or the glorious dwelling of God (Rev. 21:3; John 1:14; Mark 9:5).

The essence of the tabernacle has its origin in the commandment of God to Moses at Mt. Sinai when God said to him, “You shall make the tabernacle that I might meet with the people and with you.” He gave this commandments, in order that the people would continue to meet with God. This is why the tabernacle is sometimes called the tabernacle of congregation, or rather, the tabernacle of encountering (ohel mo’eid) (Ex. 19:1-20:17; 24:12-31:18; 35-40; Lev. 8-9).

The tabernacle consisted of the outer court, the holy place (ulam hakodesh) and the holy of holies (kodesh hakodashim). In the holy place were the altar of incense, the menorah (the seven-branched lampstand) and the table of shewbread. In the holy of holies was the ark of the covenant made of acacia wood and overlaid with gold. It contained the two stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments were engraved. Therefore, the holy tabernacle was sometimes called “the tabernacle of witness” (ohel haedut).

The tabernacle of God was the dwelling place of God. It signified the most holy spot on earth. The tabernacle worship is a basic thought that flows consistently through the Old and New Testament. It dates back to the time of the Exodus, when faith in YHWH God was central in the life of the children of Israel, and continues to the end of the Book of Revelation (Chap. 21).

The tabernacle was not a permanent building, but a movable tent carried by the Israelites as they journeyed. In fact, not only in the time of Moses, but also after the Israelites entered the land of Canaan, it was moved from place to place. In this way, the impermanency and mobility of the tabernacle, as the place of worship toward YHWH God is the basic characteristic of worship throughout the Old Testament period. This tradition was carried on by succeeding generations. The Israelites were always surrounded by heathen Gentiles, so they carried on this tabernacle worship in military readiness. They always placed the tabernacle in the center of their camp as they moved forward (Num. 3).

The holy of holies, the place of the Shekinah glory, was kept in complete darkness. Inside of the holy of holies, there was the atonement seat of the blood beheld by the cherubim. These symbolized the spiritual character of the tabernacle faith.


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