As Rabbinic interpreters have long recognised, there are many echoes of the creation narrative (Genesis 1-2) in the description of the tabernacle in Exodus 25-40).
- ‘The Spirit of God, present at creation (Gen. 1:2) filled Bezalel and the craftsmen who created the tabernacle with creative gifts (Exod. 31:1–11).’
- ‘Israel made the tabernacle, even as God made the world, as a dwelling place for God (Exod. 25:8–9; Ps. 104:1–4).’
- ‘God instructed them to erect the tabernacle on New Year’s Day to underscore this new beginning (Exod. 40:2, 17).’
- The seven days of creation are mirrored in the sevenfold command of God to Moses (Ex 25:8; 30:11, 17, 22, 34; 31:1, 12). Indeed, the seventh and last of these references introduces the Sabbath command.
- The Hebrew word for “make” (ʿasah, e.g. Ex 25:8) is also used of God’s making of the world (Gen. 1:7, 16, 25, 26, 31; 2:3–4, 18; 3:21).
- In Ex 25, the raw materials of the tabernacle – metals (gold, silver, bronze), linen (flax), goat’s wool, leather hides, dyes (red from grubs, blue from snails, purple mixed), acacia wood, olive oil, semiprecious gems, spices for fragrant oil, and incense – draw on the riches of God’s creational resources. Other materials are represented by images: almonds, trees, flowers, and pomegranates.
- The construction of the tabernacle utilised the creative gifts of spinning, weaving, sewing, dyeing, metallurgy, woodworking, lapidary, making perfume, and tanning.
- ‘The daily work within the tabernacle involved the basics of human life: light, oil, bread, water, meat, fire, and the protection of the cherubim, represented on the ark and woven into garments.’
- ‘The tabernacle engaged all five senses: the sound of bells on Aaron’s hem; the smell of the fragrant oil that anointed everything; the sight of brightly-colored blue, purple, and scarlet curtains; the taste of meat from the altar, the only source from the domestic herds; and the texture of the curtains that formed the tabernacle walls.’
- God’s ‘seeing’ and pronouncing ‘very good’ everything he had made are echoed in Moses’ ‘seeing’ that they had made the tabernacle just as the Lord had commanded (Ex 39:43; 40:16, 19, 21, 23, 25, 27, 29, 32).
(Based on, and quoting from, Bruckner, Exodus (Understanding the Bible Commentary Series, p232)
Matthew Henry: ‘When Moses, in the beginning of Genesis, was to describe the creation of the world, though it is such a stately and curious fabric and made up of such a variety and vast number of particulars, yet he gave a very short and general account of it, and nothing compared with what the wisdom of this world would have desired and expected from one that wrote by divine revelation; but, when he comes to describe the tabernacle, he does it with the greatest niceness and accuracy imaginable. He that gave us no account of the lines and circles of the globe, the diameter of the earth, or the height and magnitude of the stars, has told us particularly the measure of every board and curtain of the tabernacle; for God’s church and instituted religion are more precious to him and more considerable than all the rest of the world. And the scriptures were written, not to describe to us the works of nature, a general view of which is sufficient to lead us to the knowledge and service of the Creator, but to acquaint us with the methods of grace, and those things which are purely matters of divine revelation. The blessedness of the future state is more fully represented under the notion of a new Jerusalem than under the notion of new heavens and a new earth.’
Fretheim: ‘The tabernacle is a microcosm of creation, the world order as God intended it writ small in Israel, a beginning in God’s mission to bring creation to the point where it is perfectly reflective of the divine will.’
Fretheim quotes Levenson: ‘The function of these correspondences is to underscore the depiction of the sanctuary as a world, that is, an ordered, supportive, and obedient environment, and the depiction of the world as a sanctuary, that is, a place in which the reign of God is visible and unchallenged, and his holiness is palpable, unthreatened, and pervasive.’
Fretheim, again: ‘At this small, lonely place in the midst of the chaos of the wilderness, a new creation comes into being. In the midst of disorder, there is order. The tabernacle is the world order as God intended writ small in Israel. The priests of the sanctuary going about their appointed courses is like everything in creation performing its liturgical service—the sun, the trees, human beings. The people of Israel carefully encamped around the tabernacle in their midst constitutes the beginnings of God’s bringing creation back to what it was originally intended to be. The tabernacle is a realization of God’s created order in history; both reflect the glory of God in their midst.’
Enns comments: ‘The precise measurements of the structure combined with the symbolism of the curtains and the furnishings are not without deep significance. The tabernacle seems to represent a microcosm of creation itself. The splendor and beauty of the materials used—fine fabrics, precious metals, and stones—affirm the goodness of the created world. The precise and perfect dimensions of the tabernacle indicate a sense of order amid chaos.’
The creation and the tabernacle, then, represent two divine building projects. ‘In the midst of a fallen world, in exile from the Garden of Eden—the original “heaven on earth”—God undertakes another act of creation, a building project that is nothing less than a return to pre-Fall splendor. The tabernacle, therefore, is laden with redemptive significance, not just because of the sacrifices and offerings within its walls, but simply because of what it is: a piece of holy ground amid a world that has lost its way. If this is a correct understanding of the tabernacle, we begin to see why the writer of Exodus devotes so much space to its description.’ (Enns)