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The Furnishings of the Tabernacle

Updated on March 21, 2010

The arranging of the furnishings of the Tabernacle:

In other articles on the Tabernacle we looked at the arrangement of the Tabernacle and saw that it consisted of 3 sections:

1) The Holy of Holies - Most Holy Place

2) The Holy Place

3) The Outer Court

Each of these sections of the Tabernacle had furnishings. These furnishings were:

The Ark of the Covenant, Altar of incense, The Table of Show bread, The Golden Lamp stand, The Bronze Laver and The Altar of Burnt offering.

In this article we want to look at how these various furnishings were laid out in the Tabernacle

Exodus 40:2-8

:2 "On the first day of the first month you shall set up the tabernacle of the tent of meeting.

:3 "You shall put in it the ark of the Testimony, and partition off the ark with the veil.

:4 "You shall bring in the table and arrange the things that are to be set in order on it; and you shall bring in the lampstand and light its lamps.

:5 "You shall also set the altar of gold for the incense before the ark of the Testimony, and put up the screen for the door of the tabernacle.

:6 "Then you shall set the altar of the burnt offering before the door of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting.

:7 "And you shall set the laver between the tabernacle of meeting and the altar, and put water in it.

:8 "You shall set up the court all around, and hang up the screen at the court gate.

The Ark of the Covenant was placed in the Holy of Holies, which was partitioned off with a veil.

The Altar of Incense was in front of the veil which covered the entrance to the Holy of Holies, when the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies, incense from the Altar would enter with him.

Next, the Table of showbread and the Lamp stand were placed in the Holy Place.

Finally the Altar of Burnt offering and the Bronze Laver were placed in the Outer Court.

The outer court had a screen / curtain which acted like a wall or fence all around the entire Tabernacle so that no one on the outside could look in.

A journey through the Tabernacle:

Your journey through the Tabernacle is a progressive one into God’s Presence, from the Altar through a blood sacrifice and eventually to the Ark: The Glory and Presence of God. We will now follow the steps of this journey.

An observer standing on the outside of the Tabernacle could not see within it’s walls, as the Outer Court was surrounded by a curtain of fine linen which made a ‘wall around it.

In order to enter the Tabernacle you would have to come through it’s only entrance, The Gate, bringing you into the Outer Court. Once you entered, you would first notice that all of the furnishings in the Outer Court were brass, which is used in scripture in connection to judgement for sin.

The Courtyard is the place where sin must first be judged and dealt with before you can proceed any further. The 2 furnishings here were designed to do this: The Altar and the Bronze Laver.

The Altar of Burnt offering - Exodus 27:1-8; Exodus 38:1-7

Upon entering the Outer Court through the Gate, you would immediately be confronted with the Brazen Altar.

It was about 7 ½ to 8 feet square, and about 4 ½ feet high. You would not be able to pass the altar without a sacrifice. No one can come to God without the blood sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for us.

The Outer Court was not full of altars, there was only one altar, and Israel was specifically commanded not to build other altars. This was THE ONLY place Israel was to bring their sacrifices.

(The other altar, further into the Tabernacle was not one for blood sacrifice, but to get to it, you first had to go through this altar)

There was only one cross of Jesus where He became the sacrifice. We are not to make our own ways to God, but can only come through the sacrifice which God has ordained.

The word ‘altar’ means ‘slaughter place’ and it is where the sacrifices were made.

There was nothing attractive or beautiful about the slaughter of animals. It was not meant to be pretty, as it was a place of Judgement. Sin was judged by death, the death of the animal was done in the place of the person offering. The animal was dying for the person as a substitute.

There was nothing attractive about the cross of Jesus. It has been portrayed by artists many times, but in reality it was a terrible place of execution and death, where Jesus died and took your place in sin as a substitute.

After the Altar, the next place you would come to would be the Bronze Laver:

The Bronze Laver - Exodus 30:17-21; Exodus 38:8

After the blood sacrifice at the Altar, the Laver was a place of cleansing and sanctification, for the Priests to wash themselves in before they did offerings etc and was typical of the Word of God and the Spirit of God which wash us.

The Laver was made of polished brass, like a mirror and was filled with water.

When the Priests were first set apart for the Priesthood, they were to cleanse their entire bodies. After that they were just to cleanse their hands and feet every time before they entered the Tabernacle.

During the day, as the Priest got dirty, he would come to wash at the Laver, and would see himself reflected back in the Polished brass.

The Word of God is a mirror to us (James 1). It also cleanses us (John 17:17; Psalm 119:9; John 15:3; Ephesians 5:26; Titus 3:5)

The Holy Place

From the Outer Court, you would see the Central erection of the Tabernacle, which had a veil as it’s door. This was the first veil.

Once inside the Tabernacle, in the Holy Place, you would notice that Brass was no longer in use, instead Silver and Gold, and you would encounter the next furnishings of the Tabernacle.

All the furnishings of the Holy Place were connected to fellowship with God: Communion, oneness with Him and Prayer.

The Table of Show bread - Exodus 25:23-30; Exodus 37:10-16

12 fresh bread cakes were to be baked, and placed upon the table (Leviticus 24:5-6), each Sabbath the priests were to partake and eat of this bread (Leviticus 24:9) and place new, freshly baked loaves on the Table. The Table was a place of fellowship and shows the bread of communion

The Golden Lamp stand - Exodus 25:31-40; Exodus 37:17-24

Opposite the Table of Showbread stood the Golden Lamp stand. It was not just a candlestick, with burning candles which would burn themselves up, but instead were lamps, fed by a continual supply of oil.

The primary purpose of the Lamp Stand was to bring light to the Holy Place. The Lamp stand was made of pure gold (not just wood overlaid with gold). It was made of 1 talent of Golf (see values for gold given below)

Altar of incense - Exodus 30:1- 10; Exodus 37:25-28

The Altar of Incense was in front of the veil which covered the entrance to the Holy of Holies, when the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies, incense from the Altar would enter with him.

Incense was offered on the altar daily by the High Priest (Exodus 30:7-10).

Also each year when the High Priest offered the Atoning blood sacrifice, he was to offer blood on the horns of the altar of incense on his way into the Holy of Holies. The Altar of incense in heaven is spoken of in Revelation in connection to the prayers of the saints which arise like incense.

Revelation 8:3-4

:3    Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne.

:4    And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended  before God from the angel's hand

The Holy of Holies

From the Holy Place to the Holy of Holies, you would have to pass through the Veil.

The Veil hid what was behind: The Ark and the Glory of God, and it blocked the entrance into God’s Presence.

Once inside the Veil, you would be in the very core of the Tabernacle and would find the Ark of the Covenant within.

The Holy of Holies was the very purpose for the Tabernacle. Everything else was part of the journey to get here. The Tabernacle was not made for the sacrifices or for the Candlestick or Laver, it was made for the Ark and for the Presence of God.

Without the Ark, all the rest of the Tabernacle was just empty form and rituals.

The Ark of the Covenant (Testimony) - Exodus 25:10-22; Exodus 37:1-9

The Ark was the most important part of the Tabernacle because of what it represented and stood for. It was regarded as the most sacred vessel in the Tabernacle and was to be treated with respect.

The entire Tabernacle was built around the Ark, which was a ’box’ 3 ¾ feet long, 2 ¼ feet wide and 2 ¼ feet high.  There are around 185 references to the Ark on the Old Testament.

Upon the lid of the Ark was the Mercy seat (note that it is not the ‘judgement seat’ - sin had already been judged in the outer court). Once here, a person was coming to receive mercy. (Hebrews 4:16)

Within the Ark were the Tables of the Law given to Moses by God. (also Aaron’s rod that budded and the Golden pot of Manna). Each year, on the day of Atonement, the High Priest would sprinkle blood on the Mercy seat (Exodus 25:21)

Jesus is our Mercy seat (1 John 2:1-2; Romans 3:25 - propitiation is the same Greek Word translated Mercy Seat in Hebrews 9:5)

Over the Ark stood statues of 2 Cheribums (angels) guarding the presence of God.

Between these angels and above the mercy seat there was a blinding light, which became known as ‘the Shekinah’. This was the manifest presence and glory of God, and was the only light in the Holy of Holies, as no natural light could get in.

It was from the Ark that God’s audible voice would speak to Moses and Aaron. (Exodus 25:22; Numbers 7:89)

It is no coincidence that the Ark was known as ‘the Ark of the Covenant’ because the covenant was central to Israel’s relationship and standing with God.

If it was not for the covenant, they would have no relationship with God.

The Ark’s journey through the Bible:

The Ark represented the glory and presence of God with Israel.

In Numbers 13 and 14 when Israel reached the promised land, they rebelled against God and God told them they were not to enter the promised land, but instead they tried any way, but the Bible says that the Ark did not go with them, showing that God’s presence was not in what they did and they failed.

40 years later, when God took Israel into the Promised land, the Ark was the first to go in. (Joshua 3:1-4).

The Ark was significant in battle, being mentioned 9 times in Joshua 1-14 connected to the taking of Jericho. It was carried around the City and the people followed it. God’s presence with His people was a sure sign of victory. Knowing God was with them gave them confidence in battle.

Many years later, in a very dark time in Israel’s history, when they were not walking close to God, the Ark was captured in battle by the Philistines. (1 Samuel 3-4). When the Philistines first heard that Israel was bringing the Ark into the battle, they were stuck with fear, as they knew what it meant to Israel when God’s presence was fighting with them!

However Israel was living in judgement for sin, and there was no power present with the Ark to save them. The Glory had departed from Israel (Ichabod) and the Ark was lost in battle.

When the Ark was in Philistine hands, it only brought them problems. They had taken it wrongfully and had no covenant with God, giving them no right to have it! Their gods were judged before the Ark, and they realised they had to return it to Israel. (1 Samuel 5:1-7)

They sent the Ark back to Israel, but it never returned back to the Tabernacle of Moses in Shiloh , but instead spent many years in Kirjath Jearim (1 Samuel 6:20-7:1) where it stayed through the reign of King Saul until the time of King David who brought it to the City of David (2 Samuel 6).

However David made the mistake of not transporting the Ark correctly, and a person was struck dead. Israel was expected by God to respect the Ark, reverencing His presence. David corrected his mistake and the Ark was moved properly.

The Ark finally was moved to Solomon’s Temple. In Moses’ Tabernacle it had rested on a floor of sand, showing it was in transition, but now in Solomon’s Temple it rested on a floor of gold, showing it’s journey was over.

The last mention of the Ark is in Jeremiah 3:15-17


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    • Smireles profile image

      Sandra Mireles 

      8 years ago from Texas

      Great article. Thanks.


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