(1.) A house or dwelling-place (Job 5:24; 18:6, etc.).
(2.) A portable shrine (Comp. Acts 19:24) containing the image of Moloch (Amos 5:26; marg. and R.V., "Siccuth").
(3.) The human body (2 Corinthians 5:1, 4); a tent, as opposed to a permanent dwelling.
(4.) The sacred tent (Hebrews mishkan, "the dwelling-place"); the movable tent-temple which Moses erected for the service of God, according to the "pattern" which God himself showed to him on the mount (Exodus 25:9; Hebrews 8:5). It is called "the tabernacle of the congregation," rather "of meeting", i.e., where God promised to meet with Israel (Exodus 29:42); the "tabernacle of the testimony" (Exodus 38:21; Numbers 1:50), which does not, however, designate the whole structure, but only the enclosure which contained the "ark of the testimony" (Exodus 25:16, 22; Numbers 9:15); the "tabernacle of witness" (Numbers 17:8); the "house of the Lord" (Deuteronomy 23:18); the "temple of the Lord" (Joshua 6:24); a "sanctuary" (Exodus 25:8).
A particular account of the materials which the people provided for the erection and of the building itself is recorded in Exodus 25-40. The execution of the plan mysteriously given to Moses was intrusted to Bezaleel and Aholiab, who were specially endowed with wisdom and artistic skill, probably gained in Egypt, for this purpose (Exodus 35:30-35). The people provided materials for the tabernacle so abundantly that Moses was under the necessity of restraining them (36:6). These stores, from which they so liberally contributed for this purpose, must have consisted in a great part of the gifts which the Egyptians so readily bestowed on them on the eve of the Exodus (12:35, 36).
The tabernacle was a rectangular enclosure, in length about 45 feet (i.e., reckoning a cubit at 18 inches) and in breadth and height about 15. Its two sides and its western end were made of boards of acacia wood, placed on end, resting in sockets of brass, the eastern end being left open (Exodus 26:22). This framework was covered with four coverings, the first of linen, in which figures of the symbolic cherubim were wrought with needlework in blue and purple and scarlet threads, and probably also with threads of gold (Exodus 26:1-6; 36:8-13). Above this was a second covering of twelve curtains of black goats'-hair cloth, reaching down on the outside almost to the ground (Exodus 26:7-11). The third covering was of rams' skins dyed red, and the fourth was of badgers' skins (Hebrews tahash, i.e., the dugong, a species of seal), Exodus 25:5; 26:14; 35:7, 23; 36:19; 39:34.
Internally it was divided by a veil into two chambers, the exterior of which was called the holy place, also "the sanctuary" (Hebrews 9:2) and the "first tabernacle" (6); and the interior, the holy of holies, "the holy place," "the Holiest," the "second tabernacle" (Exodus 28:29; Hebrews 9:3, 7). The veil separating these two chambers was a double curtain of the finest workmanship, which was never passed except by the high priest once a year, on the great Day of Atonement. The holy place was separated from the outer court which enclosed the tabernacle by a curtain, which hung over the six pillars which stood at the east end of the tabernacle, and by which it was entered.
The order as well as the typical character of the services of the tabernacle are recorded in Hebrews 9; 10:19-22.
The holy of holies, a cube of 10 cubits, contained the "ark of the testimony", i.e., the oblong chest containing the two tables of stone, the pot of manna, and Aaron's rod that budded.
The holy place was the western and larger chamber of the tabernacle. Here were placed the table for the shewbread, the golden candlestick, and the golden altar of incense.
Round about the tabernacle was a court, enclosed by curtains hung upon sixty pillars (Exodus 27:9-18). This court was 150 feet long and 75 feet broad. Within it were placed the altar of burnt offering, which measured 7 1/2 feet in length and breadth and 4 1/2 feet high, with horns at the four corners, and the laver of brass (Exodus 30:18), which stood between the altar and the tabernacle.
The whole tabernacle was completed in seven months. On the first day of the first month of the second year after the Exodus, it was formally set up, and the cloud of the divine presence descended on it (Exodus 39:22-43; 40:1-38). It cost 29 talents 730 shekels of gold, 100 talents 1,775 shekels of silver, 70 talents 2,400 shekels of brass (Exodus 38:24-31).
The tabernacle was so constructed that it could easily be taken down and conveyed from place to place during the wanderings in the wilderness. The first encampment of the Israelites after crossing the Jordan was at Gilgal, and there the tabernacle remained for seven years (Joshua 4:19). It was afterwards removed to Shiloh (Joshua 18:1), where it remained during the time of the Judges, till the days of Eli, when the ark, having been carried out into the camp when the Israelites were at war with the Philistines, was taken by the enemy (1 Samuel 4), and was never afterwards restored to its place in the tabernacle. The old tabernacle erected by Moses in the wilderness was transferred to Nob (1 Samuel 21:1), and after the destruction of that city by Saul (22:9; 1 Chronicles 16:39, 40), to Gibeon. It is mentioned for the last time in 1 Chronicles 21:29. A new tabernacle was erected by David at Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:17; 1 Chronicles 16:1), and the ark was brought from Perez-uzzah and deposited in it (2 Samuel 6:8-17; 2 Chronicles 1:4).
The word thus rendered (`ohel) in Exodus 33:7 denotes simply a tent, probably Moses' own tent, for the tabernacle was not yet erected.