Chapter 38

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The altar of burnt offering that Bezalel constructed (doubtless with the assistance of other skilled men who worked under his direction) was basically a hollow square box made of wood overlaid with copper or bronze. This altar measured five cubits (7.5 feet [c. 2.3 meters]) in length, five cubits in width, and 3 cubits (4.5 feet [c 1.4 meters]) in height. At its four corners were four horn-like projections. Four copper or bronze rings, with two on one side of the altar and two on the opposite side, were used to insert the wooden poles overlaid with copper or bronze. These poles functioned as the means for carrying the altar. A grating consisting of a copper or bronze network was positioned inside the hollow boxlike altar. The four copper or bronze rings were attached to the corners of the grating. Bezalel was also involved in making various copper or bronze utensils for use at the altar — pots, shovels, bowls or basins, forks or meat hooks, and fire pans. (38:1-7; compare 27:1-8 and see the Notes section.)

The altar of burnt offering had its designated location in the courtyard around the tabernacle. At the entrance to this courtyard, certain women appear to have been given services to perform, and they apparently contributed their copper or bronze mirrors. These mirrors provided enough copper or bronze to fashion a basin and its base. The priests could wash their hands and feet with the water in this basin that was located in the courtyard. (38:8)

For the courtyard, linen hangings had to be made. These hangings, with a height of 5 cubits (7.5 feet [c. 2.3 meters]), measured 100 cubits (150 feet [c. 45.7 meters]) on the south and north sides, and 50 cubits (75 feet [less than 23 meters]) on the west side. The 50-cubit east side had an entrance that measured 20 cubits (30 feet [c. 9 meters]) across and that had an entrance screen of fine twisted linen embroidered with blue (or blueish purple), purple (or reddish purple), and crimson yarns. Copper or bronze pillars supported the linen hangings on the four sides of the courtyard. The hangings were suspended from silver hooks and bands (rings or hoops) attached to the pillars. Both on the north and south sides, the 20 pillars were secured in copper or bronze bases, and the 10 pillars on the west side had ten corresponding copper or bronze bases. The arrangement on the east side required three pillars for the 15-cubit (22.5-foot [c. 6.9-meter] hangings on each side of the entrance, and four pillars for supporting the 20-cubit (30-foot [c. 9-meter] entrance screen. All the pegs needed for attaching the tabernacle outer covering and the courtyard hangings to the ground were made of copper or bronze. (38:9-20; compare 27:9-18.)

The Levites who would be using the various utensils to carry out their tasks in the courtyard served under the direction of Ithamar the son of Aaron the high priest. (38:21)

Bezalel the son of Uri and grandson of Ur of the tribe of Judah was responsible for the construction of everything according to the instructions that Moses had received from YHWH. Oholiab the son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan worked along with Bezalel. He was a skilled craftsman, designer, and embroiderer, an expert in using blue (or blueish purple), purple (reddish purple), and scarlet yarn or material and fine twisted linen. (38:22, 23)

The gold the people contributed for the construction of the sanctuary amounted to 29 talents and 730 shekels (approximately 2,208 pounds avoirdupois [c. 1000 kilograms]) “by the shekel of the holy place.” The reference to the “holy place” or sanctuary suggests that the shekel was based on the standard weight at the tabernacle. (38:24 [39:1, LXX]; see the Notes section.)

The contributed silver came to 100 talents and 1,775 shekels (approximately 7,595 pounds avoirdupois [c. 3440 kilograms]) At the time of the census, each man who was 20 years of age or older paid half a shekel. This payment corresponded to the “shekel of the holy place” or the sanctuary, suggesting that it was based on the standard weight at the tabernacle. Average weights of ancient shekels indicate that a half shekel or a bekah would have weighed about 0.2 ounce avoirdupois (c. 0.1835 ounce troy; c. 5.7 grams). The number of men who paid a half shekel is listed as having been 603,550. (38:25, 26 [39:2, 3, LXX]; regarding the number 603,550, see the introductory section to Gleanings from Exodus and the Notes section.)

Most of the silver was used to cast the bases or sockets for the frames of the tabernacle and the pillars from which the curtain that separated the Holy from the Most Holy was suspended. Each one of the 100 bases or sockets was made from one talent of silver. From the 1,775 shekels of silver, hooks were made for the pillars and an overlay for their tops, and bands were fashioned around the pillars. (38:27, 28 [39:4, 5, LXX])

The amount of copper or bronze the people contributed came to 70 talents and 2,400 shekels (approximately 5,345 pounds avoirdupois [c. 2,421 kilograms]). This metal was used for the bases or sockets that supported the pillars from which the hangings of the courtyard were suspended. Other pillars requiring the copper or bronze bases or sockets were the ones at the entrance of the “tent of meeting” or the tabernacle and at the entrance of the courtyard. Additionally, the wooden framework of the altar was overlaid with copper or bronze, and the grating of the altar was made from this metal, as were all of the altar utensils. Pegs made from copper provided the means for attaching the courtyard hangings and the uppermost tabernacle covering to the ground (38:29-31 [39:7-10, LXX]; see the Notes section.)


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 wood is commonly considered to have been acacia wood because of its suitability for the framework and furnishings of the tabernacle and its availability on the Sinai Peninsula.

Fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus agrees with the Masoretic Text that the amount of gold shekels was 730. According to another Septuagint reading, the number is 720. (38:24 [39:1, LXX])

Calculations are based on a talent weight of 34.2 kilograms and 75.5 pounds avoirdupois, and a shekel weight of 11.4 grams and 0.403 ounce avoirdupois.

The Septuagint translator did not transliterate the Hebrew designation bekah (a half shekel) but chose to express the value as a coin (the drachma) that was in use during his time. (38:26 [39:2, LXX])

Fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus and the Masoretic Text are in agreement in stating the number of copper shekels to have been 2,400. Another reading of the Septuagint, however, is 1,500 shekels. The reference to 470 talents of copper or bronze in Codex Alexandrinus is definitely an error. (38:29 [39:7, LXX])

The arrangement of the text in the Septuagint differs from that of the Masoretic Text.