For the construction of a tabernacle devoted to the worship of YHWH, the utensils that would be needed, and the garments for the men who would be functioning as priests, Moses was divinely directed to obtain a voluntary offering from the people. YHWH decreed that the contribution of materials would come from “every man whose heart [was] willing” or every man who in his inmost self was motivated to want to share in the offering. The items needed were gold, silver, copper or bronze, “blue” or “blueish purple” yarn, cloth, or wool; yarn, cloth, or wool dyed purple or “reddish purple”; scarlet material (double scarlet [LXX]), fine linen (twisted linen [LXX]), goats’ hair, ram skins dyed red; hyacinth-colored skins (LXX [uncertainty exists about the kind of skins the Hebrew word designates]), acacia wood (decay-resistant wood [LXX]), olive oil for the lamps, spices for the anointing oil and for the incense, onyx (shóham [sardius (LXX)]) stones and precious and semi-precious stones to be placed in settings for the ephod and for the breastpiece. (25:1-7 [25:1-6]; see the Notes section.)
The sanctuary to be constructed was to be a rectangular tent-like structure, a tabernacle. It and its furnishings were to be made according to the pattern YHWH would show Moses. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews referred to this when indicating that the priestly services were conducted in a “copy of the true one [literally, true ones (probably because the tabernacle consisted of two parts)],” the real holy place where God is. (25:8, 9 [25:7, 8]; Hebrews 8:5; 9:24, 25)
The most sacred item to be fashioned was the ark of the covenant in which the two tablets containing the “Ten Words” or “Ten Commandments” (the “testimony” [25:16, 21 (25:15, 20)] were to be stored. Its measurements were to be 2.5 cubits (45 inches [c. 114 centimeters] in length, 1.5 cubits (27 inches [c. 69 centimeters]) in width, and 1.5 cubits (27 inches [c. 69 centimeters]) in height. With the exception of the cover, the ark was to be constructed of (decay-resistant [LXX]) wood (commonly considered to have been acacia wood because of its suitability for the purpose and its availability on the Sinai Peninsula) and to be overlaid inside and outside with pure gold. A beautifully fashioned border was to be designed for the top of the Ark. According to the Septuagint, this would have been a border of twisted (or braided) gold. (25:10, 11 [25:9, 10]; see the Notes section.)
To facilitate carrying the ark, it was to be equipped with four gold rings on its four corners, and poles were to be inserted in these rings. The poles were to be constructed of the same wood as the ark and overlaid with gold. According to the Hebrew text, the ark did not rest on the ground but was fashioned with “four feet” or four supports at the four corners. The Hebrew text also indicates that the rings were to be attached on the four feet, which possibly means that the rings were just above the feet. In the Septuagint, there is no mention of “feet.” It says that the rings were placed on the sides of the ark, with two being on one side and two being on the other side. Once in position in the rings, the poles were not to be removed, assuring that the ark would not be touched. (25:12-15 [25:11-14])
The cover (or propitiatory) of the ark, measuring 2.5 cubits in length and 1.5 cubits in width (45 inches [c. 114 centimeters] by 27 inches [c. 69 centimeters]), was to be fashioned of pure gold. Two cherubs of gold consisting of hammered work were to be positioned on the cover, with one cherub at one end and the other one at the other end. Their outspread wings were to be designed to overshadow the cover, and their faces were to be toward one another and looking down, evidently in an attitude of worship. Thereafter, from above the cover of the “ark of the testimony” and from between the cherubs, YHWH would communicate with Moses everything that he would then relate to the “sons [or people] of Israel.” (25:17-22 [25:16-21]; see the Notes section)
Like the “ark of the testimony,” the table for the display of the showbread was to be constructed of wood and overlaid with pure gold. The designated measurements were: 2 cubits (36 inches [c. 92 centimeters]) long, one cubit (18 inches [c. 46 centimeters] wide, and 1.5 cubits (27 inches [c. 69 centimeters]) high. A rim or border of one handbreadth (3 inches [c. 8 centimeters]) was to be beautified with gold molding (moldings of twisted or braided gold [LXX]). For carrying purposes, the table was to be designed with gold rings attached to the four corners at its four legs. Through these rings, two gold-covered wooden poles were to be positioned. Various other utensils, including the ones to be used on the table, were to be made of gold. On the table itself, the showbread was to be placed. This bread is literally named the “bread of faces,” for it would always be before the “face” or the presence of YHWH as an offering to him. (25:23-30 [25:22-29])
A pure gold lampstand of hammered work was to provide illumination in the holy compartment of the tabernacle. Three branches on each side of the central shaft, or seven branches in all, were to be equipped with lamps. Alternating knobs and flowers (possibly almond blossoms) provided the decorative elements for the central shaft and the six branches. Gold fire pans and gold snuffers or tongs were to be fashioned for the lampstand. The gold tongs may have been used to remove the burnt lampwicks that would be deposited in the gold fire pans. With its utensils and lamps, the lampstand was to be made from one gold talent (about 92 pounds troy or about 75.5 pounds avoirdupois [c. 34 kilograms]) according to the pattern Moses had been shown at the top of Mount Sinai. (25:31-40 [25:30-40]); see the Notes section.)
Considerable uncertainty exists whether the Hebrew word shóham (25:7 [25:6]) designates onyx. The Septuagint is inconsistent in how it renders this word (berýllion [beryl], ónyx, prasinos [“light green” stone], sárdion [sardius], smáragdos [“bright green” stone, probably emerald], and soóm [possibly carnelian]).
The tabernacle and its furnishings were designed to be portable. This confirms that the Israelites wandered in the wilderness and moved from one location to another location. Once they were permanently settled in the land and had an established location for the tabernacle, frequent movement ceased and portability would not have been as important as it had been initially.
There is archaeological evidence for a cubit of approximately 17.5 inches (44.5 centimeters), but 18 inches (c. 46 centimeters) for a cubit (as commonly found in many reference works) is used in Werner Bible Commentary because it reduces the number of fractions involved when calculating cubit measurements in inches, feet, centimeters, and meters.
The ark represented God’s presence, and so the reference to it as the “ark of the testimony” (25:22 [25:21]) could indicate that it served as a testimony or witness that God was present in the midst of the Israelites. Another significance for the designation “ark of the testimony” would be that in it the “testimony” (the two tablets of stone inscribed with the Ten Commandments) was stored. The tablets served as a testimony respecting the commands the Israelites were obligated to observe, and this testimony would be a witness against them if they failed to live up to these commands. In verse 21 (20), the Septuagint refers to placing the “testimonies” or “witnesses” in the ark. This may be because there were two stone tablets.
According to the Septuagint rendering, the decorative elements for the lampstand consisted of bowls shaped like nuts or shaped like the blossoms of nut-bearing trees. It refers to the lampstand and the three arms on each side of the central shaft as designed with buds and lilies. (25:30-34 [25: 31-35])