Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Moreover thou shalt make the tabernacle with ten curtains of fine twined linen, and blue, and purple, and scarlet: with cherubims of cunning work shalt thou make them.XXVI.
(1-37) The sacred tent which was to form the “House of God,” or temple, for Israel during the continuance of the people in the wilderness, and which in point of fact served them for a national sanctuary until the construction of the first temple by Solomon, is described in this chapter with a minuteness which leaves little to be desired. It is called ham-mishkân, “the dwelling,” and ha-’ohel, “the tent” (Exodus 26:36)—the former from its purpose, as being the place where God “dwelt” in a peculiar manner (Exodus 25:22); the latter from its shape and general construction, which resembled those of other tents of the period. The necessary foundation was a framework of wood. This consisted of five “pillars,” or tent-poles, in front (Exodus 26:37), graduated in height to suit the slope of the roof, and doubtless five similar ones at the back, though these are not mentioned. A ridge-pole must have connected the two central tent-poles, and over this ridge-pole the covering of the tent, which was of goats’-hair (Exodus 26:7), was no doubt strained in the ordinary way by means of cords and “pins,” or tent-pegs (Exodus 35:18). Thus an oblong square space was roofed over, which seems to have been sixty feet long by thirty broad. Within this “tent” (‘ohel) was placed the “dwelling” (mishkân). The “dwelling” was a space forty-five feet long by fifteen broad, enclosed on three sides by walls of boards (Exodus 26:18-25), and opening in front into a sort of porch formed by the projection of the “tent” beyond the “dwelling.” Towards the open air this porch was closed, wholly or partially, by a curtain (Exodus 26:36). The “dwelling” was roofed over by another “curtain,” or “hanging,” of bright colours and rich materials (Exodus 26:1-6). It was divided into two portions, called respectively “the Holy Place,” and “the Holy of Holies”—the former towards the porch, the latter away from it. These two places were separated by a “vail” hung upon four pillars (Exodus 26:31-32). Their relative size is uncertain; but it may be suspected that the Holy of Holies was the smaller of the two, and conjectured that the proportion was as one to two, the Holy of Holies being a square of fifteen feet, and the Holy Place an oblong, thirty feet long by fifteen. The whole structure was placed within an area called “the Court of the Tabernacle,” which is described in the next chapter.
1. THE FINE LINEN COVERING.
(1) The tabernacle.—Literally, the dwelling (see Exodus 25:9, where mishkân first occurs). It is a derivative from shakan, translated by “dwell” in the preceding verse.
Ten curtains.—The same word (yĕri’ah) is used for the constituent parts of the covering, and for the entire covering, or, at any rate, for each of the two halves into which it was divided (Exodus 26:4-5). In the first use, it corresponds to what we should call “a breadth.”
Fine twined linen—i.e., linen thread formed by twisting several distinct strands together. Egyptian thread was ordinarily of this character.
Blue, and purple, and scarlet.—See the Notes on Exodus 25:4.
Cherubims of cunning work.—Rather, cherubim, the work of a cunning weaver. Ma’asêh khoshêb and ma’asêh rokêm (Exodus 26:36) seem to be contrasted one with the other, the former signifying work where the patterning was inwoven, the latter where it was embroidered with the needle. The inweaving of patterns or figures was well understood in Egypt (Herod, iii. 47; Plin. H. N., viii. 48).
The length of one curtain shall be eight and twenty cubits, and the breadth of one curtain four cubits: and every one of the curtains shall have one measure.(2) The length . . . eight and twenty cubits.—Mr. Fergusson has shown that to cover over a space twenty cubits wide with a roof, the two sides of which should meet at a right angle, a tent-cloth almost exactly twenty-eight cubits long would be required.
The five curtains shall be coupled together one to another; and other five curtains shall be coupled one to another.(3) The five curtains.—It is anomalous that the article should be used here. Probably it has crept in from “the curtains” of the preceding verse. The meaning is that five “breadths” should be sewn together to form one curtain, and five other “breadths” to form another, and then that the two curtains so formed should be joined into one by means of “loops” and “taches.” The object of making two curtains instead of one was clearly portability. The entire covering would have been too heavy and too bulky to be conveniently carried in one piece.
And thou shalt make loops of blue upon the edge of the one curtain from the selvedge in the coupling; and likewise shalt thou make in the uttermost edge of another curtain, in the coupling of the second.(4) From the selvedge in the coupling.—Rather, at the coupling. The selvedge, i.e., nearest to the place where the two curtains were to be coupled together.
Fifty loops shalt thou make in the one curtain, and fifty loops shalt thou make in the edge of the curtain that is in the coupling of the second; that the loops may take hold one of another.(5) That the loops may take hold one of another.—Rather, correspond one to another. They were not to “take hold,” but to be attached by golden links.
Taches, or clasps. These might be split-rings, or links like modern sleeve-links.
And it shall be one tabernacle.—Rather, and (so) the tabernacle shall be one. The division of the curtain which formed the roof into two portions tended to make a division in the tabernacle itself. To prevent this, the two curtains were to be so looped together as to be practically one. Thus the tabernacle itself became one.
(7-13) An awning such as that described in Exodus 26:1-6 would have neither kept out sun nor rain. For this purpose an ordinary cloth of goats’-hair was requisite, and accordingly Moses was instructed to make a second covering, which was to be of this material, and to extend over the whole of the first, thus externally concealing it. This second covering was, like the first, to be in two portions (Exodus 26:9-11), each of them made up of several “breadths,” but the two portions were not to be of the same size. Both were to be thirty cubits in length, but the hinder portion was to contain five “breadths,” while the portion in front was to contain six. Thus the outer covering was six feet broader than the inner one. The object was the protection of the inner covering, which was overlapped at both ends by the outer one (Exodus 26:9; Exodus 26:12).
(7) To be a covering.—Literally, to be a tent. (See the first Note on the chapter.)
Eleven curtains—i.e., eleven breadths. (See Note 2 on Exodus 26:1.)
The length of one curtain shall be thirty cubits, and the breadth of one curtain four cubits: and the eleven curtains shall be all of one measure.(8) Thirty cubits.—The additional cubit on either side (comp. Exodus 26:2) would hang down and form a “valance” along the sides of the tent. (See Exodus 26:13.)
And thou shalt couple five curtains by themselves, and six curtains by themselves, and shalt double the sixth curtain in the forefront of the tabernacle.(9) Thou . . . shalt double the sixth curtain in the forefront of the tabernacle.—The additional “breadth” was to be doubled back upon itself, so giving a sort of finish to the roof in the front of the structure.
And the remnant that remaineth of the curtains of the tent, the half curtain that remaineth, shall hang over the backside of the tabernacle.(12) The remnant that remaineth.—Even after the doubling back, the goats’-hair covering would be half a breadth wider than the linen one. This half-breadth was to be allowed to hang down at the back of the tent.
(14) As the object of the two outer coverings must have been to keep out rain, we must suppose them to have protected not only the ridge of the roof, but, at any rate, the whole of the mishkân. Their length must, therefore, have been at least thirty cubits, and their breadth fourteen.
(15-30) The various coverings which have been described had it for their object to roof over and protect an oblong chamber or “dwelling,” within which God was to manifest Himself and to be worshipped. The directions which follow (Exodus 26:15-33) are for the construction of this chamber. It was to be enclosed by boards of shittim wood, fifteen feet high by two feet three inches wide, which were to be plated with gold, and made to stand upright by being inserted into solid sockets of silver. The two sides were to contain, each of them, twenty such boards, and thus to be forty-five feet long, while the connecting wall was to be composed of six such boards, together with two corner posts (Exodus 26:23), giving it a length, probably, of ten cubits, or fifteen feet.
(15) Boards . . . of shittim wood.—On the possibility of boards fifteen feet long by two feet three inches wide being cut from the Acacia seyal, see the last Note on Exodus 25:5.
Two tenons shall there be in one board, set in order one against another: thus shalt thou make for all the boards of the tabernacle.(17) Two tenons.—By “tenons” here are meant projections, probably round, from the end of each plank, made to fit into holes prepared for them in the “sockets.” They were to be “set in order one against another”: i.e., placed regularly at certain intervals, so that each corresponded in position to its fellow.
And thou shalt make the boards for the tabernacle, twenty boards on the south side southward.(18) On the south side southward.—Rather, on the south side to the right. The tabernacle faced the east, and was regarded as looking in that direction. Thus its south wall was on the right.
And thou shalt make forty sockets of silver under the twenty boards; two sockets under one board for his two tenons, and two sockets under another board for his two tenons.(19) Forty sockets.—Each “socket” was to receive one of the “tenons.” As there were twenty boards (Exodus 26:18), and two tenons to each board (Exodus 26:17), the sockets had to be forty.
And for the sides of the tabernacle westward thou shalt make six boards.(22) For the sides of the tabernacle westward.—Rather, for the back of the tabernacle (LXX., τῶν ὀπίσω). (See Note on Exodus 26:18.) The west is always regarded as “behind” by the Orientals.
Six boards.—Six boards, presumably of the same width with the others (Exodus 26:16), would extend a length of nine cubits only, or thirteen and a half feet. The tenth cubit seems to have been made up by the corner boards, or posts, which are counted with the “six” boards as forming the back of the tabernacle in Exodus 26:25.
And they shall be coupled together beneath, and they shall be coupled together above the head of it unto one ring: thus shall it be for them both; they shall be for the two corners.(24) They shall be coupled together beneath.—The corner boards were to be coupled to the others in two places, below and above, in each place by means of one ring. Rings, through which passed the ends of the bars mentioned in Exodus 26:26-29, are supposed to be meant.
And they shall be eight boards, and their sockets of silver, sixteen sockets; two sockets under one board, and two sockets under another board.(25) Sixteen sockets.—Two for each corner board, and twelve for the six boards between them.
And thou shalt make bars of shittim wood; five for the boards of the one side of the tabernacle,(26) Bars of shittim wood.—The object of the “bars” was to hold the “boards” together, and prevent there being any aperture between one board and another. They were fifteen in number, five for each of the three sides of the boarded space. The “middle bar” on each side was to extend from end to end of the tabernacle (Exodus 26:28), the four bars above and below being shorter, each coupling together probably one-half of the boards of its side. The bars were passed through “rings” attached to the boards (Exodus 26:29), each board having at least one such ring. It is probable that they were placed outside the tabernacle walls.
And five bars for the boards of the other side of the tabernacle, and five bars for the boards of the side of the tabernacle, for the two sides westward.(27) For the boards of the side of the tabernacle, for the two sides westward.—This is quite unintelligible. Translate, for the boards of the side of the tabernacle, which is at the back westward.
And the middle bar in the midst of the boards shall reach from end to end.(28) In the midst of the boards.—Rather, midway in the boards—equi-distant, i.e., from the bottom and the top.
And thou shalt rear up the tabernacle according to the fashion thereof which was shewed thee in the mount.(30) According to the fashion thereof which was shewed thee.—See Exodus 25:9; Exodus 25:40. However minute—even tediously minute—the description, there would necessarily have been a multitude of particulars, not to be described in words, where Moses would have to be guided by the pattern that he had seen.
(31) Thou shalt make a vail.—It was of the essence of the mishkân that it should have an outer and an inner sanctuary, a place for the daily ministrations of the priests, and an adytum or penetrale of extreme holiness, in which was to be the Divine Presence, and into which the high priest alone was to be privileged to enter, and he but once in the year. (See Exodus 30:10; Leviticus 16:2-34; Hebrews 9:7.) The separation between these two chambers was to be made by a vail of the same materials and workmanship as the inner covering of the mishkân (Exodus 26:1).
And thou shalt hang it upon four pillars of shittim wood overlaid with gold: their hooks shall be of gold, upon the four sockets of silver.(32) Four pillars.—These seem to have been true pillars or columns, and not tent-poles. They were probably of equal height, and equally spaced, and were perhaps connected at the top by a cornice or beam. Together with the vail they formed a screen, which shut off the “Holy of Holies” from the outer chamber. They were, doubtless, of the same height as the boards, i.e., fifteen feet (Exodus 26:16).
Their hooks.—Each pillar was to have a hook near the top, whereto the vail was to be attached.
Upon the four sockets.—Heb., upon four sockets.—Each pillar was to have its “socket,” into which it was to be inserted, and which was itself probably to be sunk into the ground.
And thou shalt hang up the vail under the taches, that thou mayest bring in thither within the vail the ark of the testimony: and the vail shall divide unto you between the holy place and the most holy.(33) Thou shall hang up the vail under the taches.—The “taches” meant are the links whereby the two portions of the inner covering were connected together (Exodus 26:6). If “under the taches” means directly under them, we must regard the mishkân as divided into two chambers of equal size. It is possible, however, that “under” may be used with some vagueness, and that the “Holy of Holies” may in the tabernacle, as well as in the Temple, have been only half the size of the outer chamber.
That thou mayest bring in.—Heb., and thou shalt bring in.
(34, 35) The sole furniture of the most holy place, or “Holy of Holies,” was to be the ark, with its covering of the mercy-seat. In the “Holy Place” without the vail were to be the “table of shewbread” against the north wall, and the “golden candlestick” opposite to it, against the south wall. Intermediate between them, but advanced nearer the vail, was to be the “golden altar of incense” (Exodus 30:6; Exodus 40:26), which, however, is not here mentioned.
(36, 37) It is essential in the East to shut out light and heat, whence tents have always doors. These are usually made of a piece of cloth, which is raised for a man to enter, and falls behind him. But for a tent of the size described, which seems to have been above twenty-two feet high in the centre, something more was required. The “hanging” spoken of appears to have been a beautifully embroidered curtain, which could be either drawn up or let down, and which was attached by golden “hooks” to five pillars plated with gold, thus dividing the entrance into four equal spaces.
And thou shalt make for the hanging five pillars of shittim wood, and overlay them with gold, and their hooks shall be of gold: and thou shalt cast five sockets of brass for them.(37) Five pillars.—The odd number is surprising, especially compared with the “four pillars” of the interior (Exodus 26:32), until we remember that a tent such as that described must have a pillar, or tent-pole, in the middle of its gable-end, and an equal number of supports on either side. It is, in fact, this fifth pillar which, together with the use of the word ’ohel, gives to the tent theory of Mr. Fergusson, now generally adopted, its solid basis.
Their hooks.—The hooks from which the hanging was to be suspended. (Comp. Exodus 26:32.)
Sockets of brass.—Rather, “of bronze.” (See Note on Exodus 25:3.)