The Hebrew word translated as tent or “tabernacle” (Exodus 25:9) comes from a verb which means “to dwell.” In this sense it is correctly translated as “residence” (Leviticus 26:11), “campsite” (Numbers 1:51), and “dwelling” (Numbers 16:24).
During the days of the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, a tent was the common dwelling, and later, tents were common dwellings for the nomadic tribe of Sinai. The Exodus account speaks of two special tents, dwellings, or tabernacles. The original “tent of meeting” (Exodus 33:7), set up outside the camp, was an ordinary tent where God met with His people prior to the construction of the Tabernacle. “Now Moses took a tent and pitched it outside the camp, at a distance from the camp; he called it the tent of meeting. Anyone who wanted to consult the Lord would go to the tent of meeting that was outside the camp” (Exodus 33:7). At the original tent of meeting, “the Lord would speak with Moses face to face, just as a man speaks with his friend, then Moses would return to the camp. His assistant, the young man Joshua son of Nun, would not leave the inside of the tent” (Exodus 33:11).
On Mount Sinai, God gave instructions for a second tent, a second special dwelling place or tabernacle. This tent was to be set up, not outside the camp, but in the middle of the camp, within the curtained compound known as the Tabernacle. While the first tent of meeting was cared for by Joshua, an Ephraimite, the Tabernacle was served by Aaron and the Levites.
In intricate detail, God instructed Moses to build the Tabernacle’s framework of acacia wood overlaid with gold (Exodus 26:1-37). The framework consisted of upright supports, each “fifteen feet long and twenty-seven inches wide” (Exodus 26:16), twenty on the north, twenty on the south, and eight on the west, each set on “silver bases” (Exodus 26:19). Butted together, side-by-side, these planks became a solid gold-plated wall. These upright supports were held together by five horizontal, gold-plated crossbars with “rings of gold as the holders for the crossbars” (Exodus 26:29). On the east side, God instructed Moses to make the opening by placing “four gold-plated pillars” with “a curtain of blue, purple, and scarlet yarn, and finely spun linen with a design of cherubim worked into it” (Exodus 26:31-32).
The covering of the Tabernacle is interesting, made of four specific layers of material. The interior layer, visible only to the priests serving inside the Tabernacle, was made of “finely spun linen, and blue, purple, and scarlet yarn, with a design of cherubim worked into them” (Exodus 26:1). Cherubim were God’s agents sent to protect the Garden of Eden and the Tree of Life from fallen mankind. It’s certainly possible that the Cherubim sown into the tapestries of the Tabernacle were a reminder of the holiness and a not-so subtle warning against those who might intrude into that holy space.
Three additional layers covered the tent. Above the “finely spun linen” was a layer of material made from “goat hair” (Exodus 26:7), a reminder of the kid goat that was offered to atone for sin (Numbers 28:15, Leviticus 16:7). The third layer was made of “ram skins dyed red” (Exodus 26:14). The top layer, visible from the outside, was variously translated as “a covering of fine leather”(Exodus 26:14, CSB), or “badger skin” (NKJV), or “porpoise skin” (NASB).
This drab-colored two-room tent, built by God’s blueprints, was the dwelling place of God among His people. “I will also meet with the Israelites there, and that place will be consecrated by my glory. I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar... I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God. And they will know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt, so that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God” (Exodus 29:43–46).