Scripture Reference: Exodus 35:4 through 40:38
Suggested Emphasis: Practicing the same kind of generosity that led the Israelites to willingly give their possessions, talents, and time for the work of God.
On their journey to the land of promise God instructed the Israelites to build a tabernacle. This tent structure, its furnishings and even the clothes worn by the priests serving in it were special and beautiful. When asked to give supplies and use their skills go build the tabernacle the people were so willing and generous that Moses finally had to tell them to stop. When all the work was completed the presence of God filled the tabernacle and was visible to the people as a cloud by day and a fire by night. When the cloud moved then Israel knew it was time to pack up the tabernacle along with the rest of their belongings and move to the next stage in their journey.
In the time leading up to the building of the tabernacle Moses would go outside the camp and meet with God in what he called the “Tent of Meeting”. (Exodus 33:7-11) Now God was making his presence felt in the middle of the camp. When the people first left Egypt and crossed the Red Sea they followed a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. In the tabernacle God would again show his presence in the same way but this time it would be in the most holy part of the tent.
It had always been God’s intention that the people would build a tabernacle so that they could worship him in their travels to the land of promise. His presence would be centred in the tabernacle and the people would have a more tangible way of feeling his presence among them. It was in the tabernacle that the priests would perform their duties. God had given instructions for the tabernacle earlier when he met with Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 25:1-31:18) and they are repeated again in the Scriptures covered in this lesson.
Unlike many of the other events on the journey between Egypt and the land of promise the people seem to throw themselves joyfully into this project. Exodus 35:4-36:7 is filled with language of willingness and it is a joy to read the passage. Moses calls upon the people to give of their possessions and skills to build this special place for God.
- The Tabernacle Tent: Set in the middle of a larger courtyard, the tent of the tabernacle was divided into two parts divided by a curtain. The first room, called “the Holy Place”, contained the lampstand and the table and consecrated bread. Behind the curtain was the “Most Holy Place” which contained a golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant. The priests entered into the Holy Place to perform their duties but only the High Priest ever entered the Most Holy Place and that was once a year to offer sacrificial blood for the sins of the people. (Leviticus 16:1-34; Hebrews 9:1-14)
- The Ark of the Covenant: The ark was made of acacia wood and inlaid with gold on both the inside and outside. It contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant. Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory, overshadowing the atonement cover. (Exodus 37:1-9 and 25:10-22)
- Golden Lampstand: The lampstand was made of pure gold and had seven “cups” or places for lights. Olive oil was burned in each of the cups. God instructed that Aaron was to continually tend the lamps so they would be burning at all times during the day and night. (Exodus 37:17-24; 25:31-40; Leviticus 24:1-4)
- Table of the Showbread: This table was made of acacia wood and covered with gold. All of the utensils used on the table were also made of gold. Twelve fresh loaves of bread (representing the twelve tribes of Israel) were continually placed on the table as a food offering. Aaron and his sons were allowed to eat this bread as a priest’s share. (Exodus 37:10-16; 25:23-30; Leviticus 24:5-9)
- Altar of Incense: This piece of furniture was also made of wood and overlaid with gold. God gave specific instructions about what kind of spices should be used in the incense. And just like the lights, the incense was to be burned continually. (Exodus 37:25-29 and 30:1-10.34-38)
- The Brazen Altar: This altar was for sacrifices and it was made of acacia wood and overlaid with bronze. The grating and all of the utensils used in sacrifices were also made of bronze. Like the other larger pieces of furniture in the tabernacle, rings in each corner made it possible for large poles to be slipped through for lifting. This made it easier to transport the altar when the tabernacle was moved. (Exodus 38:1-7 and 27:1-8)
- Basin for Washing: This basin and stand were placed between the tent and the altar. Made of bronze, it served as a place for Aaron and his sons to wash and purify themselves upon entering the tabernacle. They were also to wash hands and even their feet when offering a food offering. (Exodus 38:8 and 30:17-21)
- Priestly Garments, Ephod, Breastpiece and Garments: Aaron and his sons were chosen as the first priests and all subsequent priests were required to be from their tribe, the tribe of Levi. God instructed Moses to have holy garments made for the priests. Aaron was the first high priest and God told Moses that the clothing would give Aaron “dignity and honour”. Although it is not clear exactly how, the breastpiece that Aaron wore was actually used in making decisions. It was covered in stones that represented the twelve tribes. (Exodus 39:1-31 and 28:1-43)
Once the building of all the parts was complete everything was assembled and placed in the appropriate places according to God’s specific instructions. The time had come for God to “dwell” in the tabernacle. In the ongoing journey to the promised land the Israelites would look to the tabernacle and know God was with them. When the cloud moved the tabernacle tent would be packed up and the entire camp would move on to the place where the cloud settled.
Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.
In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out—until the day it lifted. So the cloud of the Lord was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the Israelites during all their travels. Exodus 40:34-38 (NIV)
Way to Introduce the Story:
“How do we give to God?” Let the children discuss giving money in the collection bags (or plate) on a Sunday morning, helping to clean the church building, bringing food for the needy, etc. Children (and adults) often forget that we can do volunteer work—with no wages—for God’s people. You might want to find out what some people in your congregation do to serve God. Leading the discussion back to the Sunday collection . . . “Has anyone ever seen the collection container really full? What would you think if people filled the bags (or plate) with money? What if the bags ran over? What if they had to empty the bags and start over? What if people gave so much money that the elders at church had to tell them to stop because there was too much? Did you know that something like that happened in the book of Exodus?”
After God’s people left Egypt they walked a long time in the desert. They would only stay for a while in one place and then they would move to another. They did not have houses to live in because they had to keep travelling toward their new land.
All of the people had tents but the Lord wanted to build a special kind of tent. This tent would be very beautiful. It would be made of rich cloths and contain furniture inside made of gold. It would be put in the middle of the whole camp where everyone could see it. Do you know why this tent would be so special? Because this tent was to be the Lord’s tent! It would be called a tabernacle. The word tabernacle means “tent” or “dwelling place.”
Of course the Lord can live and be anywhere He wants at any time, but he chose to make the tabernacle his home and special place so that the people would think of Him every day. While the Israelites were on their journey through the desert they would know that God was in the tabernacle when they saw a cloud in the tabernacle tent. In the day God’s presence would be seen as a cloud and at night as a fire. When the cloud or fire moved to a new place the people could pack up the tabernacle tent and furniture and move it to the new place.
The Lord said that Moses’ and Aaron’s family or tribe were to take care of the tabernacle. They were descendants of Jacob’s son, Levi. Sometimes they were called Levites. Only Levites could work in the temple. Some of the workers would be called priests. The priests would help take care of the tabernacle and they would help the people worship the Lord. They would always wear special clothes in the temple. God chose Aaron to be the head priest or the High Priest. His sons would help him.
While Moses was on Mount Sinai, God gave him instructions for building the tabernacle. The materials were to be gathered, and then the tabernacle and the furniture for it would be made. God gave very specific instructions to Moses. The tabernacle and furniture were to follow God’s pattern exactly.
- The Tabernacle Tent was divided into two parts. The first part was called the “Holy Place” and only priests could go inside. The other part was called the “Most Holy Place” and this is where God would live. Only the High Priest could go in the Most Holy Place and only one time each year.
- The Ark of the Covenant was the most important piece of furniture in the tabernacle. It was a wooden box but it was covered on the inside and out with gold. Connected to the top of ark were statues of two angels, called cherubim, facing each other. The two stone tablets of the 10 commandments were kept inside as well as some manna to remember how God took care of his people.
- Golden Lampstand: The lampstand was made of pure gold and the seven lights burned with olive oil.
- A table made of acacia wood and covered with gold was made so that twelve loafs of bread could always be set on it. Aaron and the other priests were allowed to eat this bread.
- The tabernacle was a place where God lived so everything about it was special. It even smelled good. There was even an Altar of Incense so that incense could be burned all the time. This alter was made from wood and also overlaid with gold.
- Another altar was called the Brazen Altar and it was very big. This alter was made from wood but was covered all over with bronze. This was the place where the animal sacrifices were made.
- Because the tabernacle was the place where God lived everything about it was pure. There was a beautiful bronze basin for the priests to use for washing themselves.
- When the priests were performing their duties in the tabernacle they always wore special clothes. Aaron, the High Priest, even had a special breastplate that he wore. This breastplate had beautiful stones on it.
A lot of things were needed to build the tabernacle! Cloth, jewels, gold, special wood, animal skins, and all sorts of rich items would be needed. People with special talents would have to work very hard to build the tabernacle. The Lord did not want the people to buy the things for the temple. He wanted them to give all of the items. God wanted the people to show their love for Him by giving their own things. He also wanted the people to work for free in building the temple. Even if they did not have anything to give, they could still help with the work.
Moses told the people what God had asked them to do: to give offerings willingly—from the heart—to make the tabernacle. Where would the material come from? God’s people were in a desert area far away from any shops or people to trade with. There was no place where they could buy these supplies. They only had what they had been able to pack hurriedly when they left Egypt. They did have some clothing and articles of silver and gold that the Egyptians had given them just before they left.
As the Israelites remembered what God had done for them, they wanted to show their gratitude. One by one they began bringing their offerings to the Lord. As the materials arrived, Moses instructed the workers to begin. All kinds of craftsmen were needed: those who could work with wood and metal, those who could design and work with gems, those who could sew and weave and embroider, and those who could spin and make cloth. Lots of people volunteered to help.
Then something unusual happened! The people brought more and more things. The people were bringing so many offerings that they had to be asked to stop! The workmen had all they needed to finish the job God had given them. The work was completed in a little over five months. They had followed God’s instructions and a beautiful tabernacle was ready for worship.
When he saw that everything was just like God had commanded, Moses and his helpers set up the tabernacle in the middle of the camp. The priests began their work. The giant pillar of cloud and fire that the Israelites had followed since they left Egypt moved and settled on the tabernacle. God was now in his new home!
Ways to Tell the Story:
This story can be told using a variety of methods. Always remain true to the facts found in the Bible but help children connect to its meaning by using drama, visual aids, voice inflection, student interaction and/or emotion.
Click here for visual aids and story-telling methods.
Click here to download these illustrations and slideshow. Be selective. Each teacher is unique so only use the illustrations that best relate to the way YOU are telling the story in THIS lesson. Too many illustrations can be confusing so eliminate any that cover other stories or details you do not wish to emphasise in this lesson.
- What was God’s special tent called? The tabernacle
- What tribe served as priests in the tabernacle? The tribe of Levi (Levites)
- Who was the first High Priest? Aaron
Learning Activities and Crafts:
- Use commentaries and/bible dictionaries to look up drawings of the tabernacle and all of its furnishings. Also see what the priests wore.
- Make a tent.
- Older children can draw comparisons between Old and New Testament worship.
- Use a concordance to look up scriptures concerning giving to the Lord.
- Sing songs from the church song book concerning giving.
- To help children better understand the concept of generosity in everyday life situations try using this simple conversation starter called “Things Matter”.
- Colour a picture of the tabernacle. Use gold paint or glitter on the appropriate furnishings.
- Older children might make a replica model of the tabernacle or any one of its furnishings.
Check the Teaching Ideas page on this website for ideas that are adaptable to any lesson.
Other Online Resources:
- The tabernacle colouring page & puzzle worksheets (Calvary Curriculum)
- Ideas for teaching about money for older children (Ministry to Children)
- ‘Journey to the Promised Land’ game (Christian Crafters)
- Silly song about The Tabernacle (Philip Jenkins)
- Video: “3D Tabernacle of Moses” by Messages of Christ. Youtube video 1 minute and 52 seconds.
- Video: “The Tabernacle and the Messiah” by Messages of Christ. Youtube video just over 10 minutes long). Very good background information that explains the connection between the tabernacle and the future Messiah.