What is the Tabernacle in the wilderness?

by Matt Slick

The Tabernacle in the wilderness was a portable tent that God ordered to be constructed after the Israelites were freed from the Egyptian captivity and were wandering in the desert. The Tabernacle is the place where God dwelt with the Israelite people (Exodus 25:8). It was the meeting place (Exodus 30:6), the tent in which the presence of God dwelt and the high priest once a year would offer atoning sacrifices for sins of the nation of Israel. The Tabernacle consisted of a large outer court and several pieces of furniture:

  1. The Altar of Burnt Offering, 5 cubits1 by 5 cubits by 3 cubits, (Exodus 27:1)
  2. The Bronze Laver, (Exodus 30:17-20)
  3. The Lampstand, (Exodus 25:31)
  4. The Table of Show Bread, (Exodus 25:23-30; 26:35)
  5. The Altar of Incense, (Exodus 30:1)
  6. The Veil, (Exodus 26:31-35)
  7. The Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 26:33)

The Tabernacle was located outside the camp of the Israelites (Exodus 33:7).  The overall dimensions of the entire construction, which included the outside linen hangings, were 100 cubits by 50 cubits (Exodus 27:9-13) with the inner tabernacle being 30 cubits long and 10 cubits wide. That would make the total construction 150' x 75' or "46 m x 23 m, with the actual tabernacle being 45 feet by 15 feet or 9 m x 4.5 m.  The eastern half of the courtyard contained the tabernacle itself in the western half of the courtyard contained the vessels used in the service of the tabernacle.  "It cost 29 talents 730 shekels of gold, 100 talents 1,775 shekels of silver, 70 talents 2,400 shekels of brass (Ex. 38:24–31)."2It was last mentioned in 1 Chronicles 21:29. David erected a new, permanent tabernacle in Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:17:  1 Chronicles 16:1).

The tabernacle itself was divided into two sections by a veil (Exodus 30:6) which separated the Holy Place (Leviticus 16:2; Hebrews 9:2) from the Holy of Holies (Hebrews 9:3).  Within the Holy of Holies was the Ark of the Covenant covered by the Mercy Seat. Within the Ark of the Covenant was "a golden jar holding the manna, and Aaron's rod which budded, and the tables of the covenant," (Hebrews 9:4).

The Tabernacle is was also called the "Tabernacle of the Testimony," (Exodus 38:21) which is a reference to the two tablets of the 10 Commandments that are kept in the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies.

  • Exodus 25:3-7, The materials used in the construction of the tabernacle consisted of gold, silver, bronze, linen, goat hair, ram skin, porpoise skins, acacia wood, oil, incense, onyx stones.
  • Exodus 26:1, 7, 14-15, 26,  the plans for the construction of the tabernacle
  • Exodus 31:1-6, skilled labor to be used in its construction.
  • Exodus 27:9, 12, 18, dimensions stipulated




  • 1. a cubit was about 18 inches, or 46 centimeters
  • 2. Easton, M. G. Easton’s Bible Dictionary. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1893.

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.