Book of Exodus Chapter Twenty-Six Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
The Skillful Workman
We've seen the plan for the furniture and framework to be within the tabernacle, with the exception of the altar of incense, to be revealed in Exodus 30:1-10. In this chapter the various coverings over the structure will be seen, making the framework into a dwelling place where the Lord would encounter Israel. The careful design for the inner curtains of the tabernacle is described first, in Verses 1-3: "Moreover you shall make the tabernacle with ten curtains of fine twisted linen and blue and purple and scarlet material; you shall make them with cherubim, the work of a skillful workman. 2 The length of each curtain shall be twenty-eight cubits, and the width of each curtain four cubits; all the curtains shall have the same measurements. 3 Five curtains shall be joined to one another, and the other five curtains shall be joined to one another." Notice that the curtains were not to be created by just anybody. They were "the work of a skillful workman," and it should occur to us that our gifts and talents were not given to us merely for our income or pleasure. They are loaned to us for His purposes. The "twisted linen" signifies yarn composed of various colors woven together in the Egyptian style, with the figures of the mighty cherubim embroided into the curtains. The proposed tabernacle, outlined in these verses, was to be forty-five feet long, fifteen feet wide and fifteen feet high. It would be covered with woven fabrics and adorned with the cherubim described in Ezekiel Chapters 1 and 10.
Verses 4-5: "You shall make loops of blue on the edge of the outermost curtain in the first set, and likewise you shall make them on the edge of the curtain that is outermost in the second set. 5 You shall make fifty loops in the one curtain, and you shall make fifty loops on the edge of the curtain that is in the second set; the loops shall be opposite each other." The "loops" of these verses were to exactly meet and be joined together in each section. Verse 6: "You shall make fifty clasps of gold, and join the curtains to one another with the clasps so that the tabernacle will be a unit." The clasps were to fasten this inner curtain of the two halves of the tent together. And you might wonder, why was there a curtain? Why not leave it open for all to see? This earthly copy of the heavenly temple is seen in much of Scripture and these curtains formed an important function—the eyes of the people were veiled so they could not see. As Paul stated in 2 Corinthians 3:15-16, "To this day, whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed." This tabernacle and everything of God is not to be found by sight, but through faith in the Lord.
Verses 7-13 are similar, except they describe an outer covering over the inner lining. "Then you shall make curtains of goats’ hair for a tent over the tabernacle; you shall make eleven curtains in all. 8 The length of each curtain shall be thirty cubits, and the width of each curtain four cubits; the eleven curtains shall have the same measurements. 9 You shall join five curtains by themselves and the other six curtains by themselves, and you shall double over the sixth curtain at the front of the tent. 10 You shall make fifty loops on the edge of the curtain that is outermost in the first set, and fifty loops on the edge of the curtain that is outermost in the second set. 11 You shall make fifty clasps of bronze, and you shall put the clasps into the loops and join the tent together so that it will be a unit. 12 The overlapping part that is left over in the curtains of the tent, the half curtain that is left over, shall lap over the back of the tabernacle. 13 The cubit on one side and the cubit on the other, of what is left over in the length of the curtains of the tent, shall lap over the sides of the tabernacle on one side and on the other, to cover it." This goats' hair tent covering consisted of eleven lengths joined together, it was two cubits longer than the inner one, and was two cubits broader. The eleventh was only two cubits as it was to be doubled. The outer covering barely touched the ground on all sides.
A final protective but also beautiful covering is in Verse 14: "You shall make a covering for the tent of rams’ skins dyed red and a covering of porpoise skins above." The skin of rams dyed red is a reference to the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, who gave His red blood for you and me. The "porpoise" is best understood as a sea cow, an aquatic herbivore related to the manatee. The tough skin of these water creatures was often used to make durable sandals. All of this heavy structure would be supported by the "boards" seen in Verses 15-18: "Then you shall make the boards for the tabernacle of acacia wood, standing upright. 16 Ten cubits shall be the length of each board and one and a half cubits the width of each board. 17 There shall be two tenons for each board, fitted to one another; thus you shall do for all the boards of the tabernacle. 18 You shall make the boards for the tabernacle: twenty boards for the south side." Weather and insect resistant acacia wood was chosen for this use also. And note that God caused the people to bring from Egypt precisely all that was needed to build this tabernacle to the Lord. He is providing everything you will need in the future also.
Isn't it interesting how precise these dimensions were? The words of these verses are more than just about a tent. It's all about people and the way God intends to interrelate with us. Verses 19-24 intoduce us to the framework that was to hold the tabernacle in place: "You shall make forty sockets of silver under the twenty boards, two sockets under one board for its two tenons and two sockets under another board for its two tenons; 20 and for the second side of the tabernacle, on the north side, twenty boards, 21 and their forty sockets of silver; two sockets under one board and two sockets under another board. 22 For the rear of the tabernacle, to the west, you shall make six boards. 23 You shall make two boards for the corners of the tabernacle at the rear. 24 They shall be double beneath, and together they shall be complete to its top to the first ring; thus it shall be with both of them: they shall form the two corners." Twenty of the upright boards were to be on each side of this very large tent, fit into sockets that would be forced into the ground at each stop through the wilderness. All of this was to surround the Holy of Holies, where only the high priest could enter once a year and the Holy Place. Just as God supported this tent effectively, He intends to support His people, now and forever.
This tent as it is outlined in these chapters, is the temple that would offer direction and forgiveness to the people of Israel for many years to come. The temple was to be filled with God's Holy Spirit, and with that idea, we should all consider 1 Corinthians 3:14-17—"Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?...For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple." Ponder those verses in 1st Corinthians as you read Verses 25-29 : "There shall be eight boards with their sockets of silver, sixteen sockets; two sockets under one board and two sockets under another board. 26 Then you shall make bars of acacia wood, five for the boards of one side of the tabernacle, 27 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 rear side to the west. 28 The middle bar in the center of the boards shall pass through from end to end. 29 You shall overlay the boards with gold and make their rings of gold as holders for the bars; and you shall overlay the bars with gold." Each board is important if the temple is to be complete. Every board that supported a side or was a beam the top; each socket and every bar to carry this tent is essential. And so are those who have faith in the Lord—each one is precious, holy and necessary in God's plan for us all. You may feel obscure and off to one side, bored to be a board, but you are important. You are part of God's plan and have a place in His work to redeem this world.
We tend to deviate from God's intentions, but He will fashion us and place us appropriately, for He is the Master Craftsman who will make us into a place of beauty. That's what Verse 30 symbolizes: "Then you shall erect the tabernacle according to its plan which you have been shown in the mountain." Nothing is out of place—you will perfectly function in His holy temple, now and forever.
If you can't imagine how the veil in God's Temple looked, at least let the colors become real in your imagination: Verse 31 continues—"You shall make a veil of blue and purple and scarlet material and fine twisted linen; it shall be made with cherubim, the work of a skillful workman," to separate the Holy of Holies from the outer Holy Place. Rich, primary colors were everywhere, and in Verse 32—"You shall hang it on four pillars of acacia overlaid with gold, their hooks also being of gold, on four sockets of silver." Blue, purple, deep red, fine twisted linen, gold, silver—colors and substances valued by humanity. And from God's perspective, we ARE that temple, by His grace, through faith in the Lord.
The tabernacle, which was to house the Holy and Most Holy places, was to be forty-five feet long, fifteen feet wide and fifteen feet high. Everything was specific, just as your preparation for eternity and mine is flawless in its preparation. We get off track, but God has the outcome. He IS the Skillful Workman who is bringing us into concert with one another to make us corporately and individually functional and beautiful. In Verse 33, "You shall hang up the veil under the clasps, and shall bring in the ark of the testimony there within the veil; and the veil shall serve for you as a partition between the holy place and the holy of holies." The crafted "mercy seat" was to be placed just as it should be and is seen in Verse 34: "You shall put the mercy seat on the ark of the testimony in the Holy of Holies."
In Verse 35, "You shall set the table outside the veil, and the lampstand opposite the table on the side of the tabernacle toward the south; and you shall put the table on the north side." This table is the "table of shew bread" described in the preceding chapter. It was to be "outside the (inner) veil" leading to the Holy of Holies and it was to be on the north side of the tabernacle. When open, the Holy Place could be seen, but when closed it was hidden. We are given His Holy Spirit, initiating a process that opens the Place of God to all who have faith in the Lord.
Verses 36-37: "You shall make a screen for the doorway of the tent of blue and purple and scarlet material and fine twisted linen, the work of a weaver. 37 You shall make five pillars of acacia for the screen and overlay them with gold, their hooks also being of gold; and you shall cast five sockets of bronze for them." In every aspect of this Tabernacle, the work was done by an expert. No shoddy workmanship allowed. And that's the way it is in your life and mine. The Skillful Workman is continually at work in our lives, fashioning us together into something of infinite lovliness. Revelation 21:2 refers to us as the "New Jerusalem...a bride adorned for her husband," and that's what we are—made beautiful because He really loves you and me.
Father, fashion us according to Your pattern. Let our lives count for Your purposes and be in Your will. Lead us through the curtain and into Your Presence. We trust in You, Lord. In Jesus Name. Amen.