The Tabernacle (A Study in Eisegesis)

Back in Israel’s desert-wandering years, there existed a big tent building that housed the various instruments of Jewish worship and sacrifice as well as the divine presence of God himself. God spends seven full chapters of Exodus describing in great detail the building plans, the materials, and the builders. Inevitably, various religious folks have spent countless hours since then missing the entire point of Hebrews 8 and 9 and instead randomly assigning each detail with mystical significance.

Go to any number of sermon series on the Tabernacle and you’ll hear widely varying guesses at how the sewing pattern for the priests’ linen underpants have great significance to the church today. (The robes, however, are completely irrelevant to anybody but high-church sissies)

Do the number of cubits divided by the tribes of Israel and added to the number of chapters in Exodus provide a clue to the length of the Tribulation? Is the table of showbread a symbol of faith promise missions or perhaps a covered dish supper? What exactly were the Urim and Thumim — and more importantly, how did the pastor get the set that he keeps in his study for use in deacon meetings?

Nothing thrills the heart of a fundamentalist pastor more than the opportunity to open the Word of God and discover there some obscure allusion that seems to validates his own opinions. Possibly. Maybe. Almost certainly.

96 thoughts on “The Tabernacle (A Study in Eisegesis)”

    1. Funny! Nice to have you back, BTW! You’ve been in many people’s prayers, including mine.

      1. Thanks! i’m still spending alot of time in bed/on painkillers so i don’t have much to say, but i try to find a few minutes to be silly here and there. getting better all the time. thanks for prayers!

  1. “What exactly were the Urim and Thumim — and more importantly, how did the pastor get the set that he keeps in his study for use in deacon meetings?”

    Actually, those would probably help shorten church business meetings. 🙄

    1. Who needs Urim or Thumim? The fundy pastor hears directly from God. The deacons are only there to agree to what was going to happen anyway.

      Back to the main topic, it is easier for fundy pastors and evangelists to grind through minutiae like the meaning of the different gems in the priest’s ephod than it is to teach the simple truths of Scripture like humility, moderation and faith, since those require some study and maybe some internal reflection.

      1. Your deacons must have been different from our deacons. Our deacons were there to protest about doing anything differently than they’d been doing for the past 40 years and to complain about people bringing coffee into Sunday School.

        Excellent point about teaching about minutiae, BTW! A relative of mine can alliterate obscure Bible passages like crazy, but he once punched a hole in the wall because he got so mad at his child. Wish he’d spent a little less time on the trivial and submitted more to the Spirit producing patience and gentleness in him.

        1. Me too. Then he could be perfect like you and me. We never lose our temper or have bad moments.

        2. @John, I never said I was sinless. I’m trying to make a point about a person who wouldn’t let his daughters have pierced ears or wear makeup, wouldn’t own a TV, and studied his KJV religiously, and who considers anyone who listens to CCM probably an apostate, but who TERRIFIED his family with his uncontrolled outbursts. I think punching your fist through a wall goes BEYOND the pale of normal expressions of anger. But thanks for attacking me when I’m simply trying to express my frustration with the double standard that has surrounded me my whole life.

        3. I apologize if it came across so harsh–just trying to point out that your comment came across strong too.
          Sorry if I offended you


        4. Not offended, John, although a little miffed originally. I don’t hold grudges. I realized that I could have added, “Of course, I need to become more Christlike myself first” to my original comment, but I don’t like always feeling obligated to try to give qualifications to everything I write lest someone take me the wrong way. Also no one would read my comments because they’d be too wordy if I did that! 🙂

          (Personally something that’s a little hard for me is the constant criticisms of pastors on this site and other “survivor”-type sites, but I understand that some pastors have been extremely abusive and so people are going to characterize them as that. I don’t expect them to add, “I know not every pastor is a tyrant” every time they say something derogatory, and I don’t think I’ve ever followed up such a comment by saying, “How dare you make fun of pastors? My husband is hard-working, dedicated, gentle man who sacrifices a lot for his ministry.” I know people need to vent.) But I did think this was a chance to say that sometimes the obstructionism and legalism comes from the deacon board not the pastor!

          So much for not being long-winded. I type too much! 😳

      2. I believe that in divination nowadays, the Urim and Thumim have been replaced by the Theremin. Which, if it doesn’t really work for divination, provides an appropriate sound effect.

        1. “…and who considers anyone who listens to CCM probably an apostate…”

          Sounds like he had one positive attribute.

  2. I have to admit that the foreshadowings (can I make that word?) of Christ seen in the tabernacle are awesome. But yes, things can be taken a little too far with the analogies. (And I loved the bit about the Tribulation.)

    1. There’s definitely a foreshadowing but it’s very non-specific.

      Hebrews just says “Hey, it’s a picture of Christ but I don’t have time to go into it. Moving along…”(that’s the Darrell Translation)

      As a general rule, I hesitate to assign meaning where the Bible itself assigns none.

      1. As a general rule, I hesitate to assign meaning where the Bible itself assigns none.

        Always a good hermeneutic rule, with the same principle applying to significance as well. As with Tolkien interpreting Beowulf, sometimes the significance of an insignificant detail is precisely that–it’s insignificant.

      2. “As a general rule, I hesitate to assign meaning where the Bible itself assigns none.”

        I agree, which is why I’m not that big into typology. It’s one thing if the Bible says “Remember that? That was a foreshadow of Christ (like Hebrews).” But it’s another thing entirely to make things represent other things that you have to turn your head sideways and squint at really hard to see. Kinda like those magic eye things. But then, I could never make those things work either.

      3. It is is interesting how Paul and the writer of Hebrews (Paual?) do assign some very interestign and far out typology and analogy to OT passages that if they hadn’t said os , and someone did today, it would seem crazy at times.

        It seems the only spiritual and logical thing to do is be stringent in interpretation and application, and always point out types and shadows as only that.

        BTW was Benjamin Keach a fundamnetalist then?

        1. BTW I agree with the post–so please don’t flmae me with attacks that I am merely defending

  3. Or, how about this: in most Scofield Bibles the cubit is supposed to be 18 inches long…take the dimensions of the Ark L,W,H x 18 inches and the Ark only comes to about 30 yards long…how is this even CLOSE to what was needed to rescue all those animals and eight humans?

    1. Noah just had small test tubes with the DNA samples for several million animals and terrestrial plants. Lots and lots and lots of small test tubes, stacked in the hold of the boat. Cloning technology was much more advanced in those days. Unfortunately, after the Flood Noah spilled wine on the parchment with the technical details, and the techniques have never been recovered.

      1. Thanks Stephen, I stand corrected. However, it may have been 150 yrds long but only 25 yrs wide and 15 yrds high? It’s still not that big.

        I believe I was thinking of Solomon’s Temple when I thought the dimensions weren’t that impressive.

        1. Genesis 6 lists the dimensions as 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide, and 30 cubits high. Figuring a cubit at 18 inches or a foot and a half, it works out to 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high, for about 1.5 million cubic feet of interior space (although that would be cut down by floors, walls, giant animals, etc.). That’s plenty of room for the three decks. Might be a little cramped for the elephants, but seeing as most modern rooms are only about 8 or 9 feet high anyway, it’s a reasonable height.

  4. I’ve got one about the breeches…

    Back on the Delphi boards, there was this one KJVO guy who insisted that the fact that the priests wore “breeches” meant that women should never wear pants. Never mind that there were people on the forum who actually studied Hebrew who knew that the “breeches” were actually underwear and proved absolutely nothing else. He could not make a decent connection between priests’ underwear and women’s slacks to save his life, no matter how hard he tried. We gave him the roughest time for it. 🙂

    For those KJVO lurkers reading: The “breeches” really were underwear. They were worn because the priests had to walk up on an elevated platform for some of their duties. Without the undies, there was a chance they could be unintentionally immodest; so skivvies became part of the uniform. It has nothing to do with trousers, nothing to do with women. If anything, the breeches prove that God expects modest behavior from men as well as women; so knock it off with the unbalanced preaching on the topic and get it right, mmm-kay? 😡

    1. The “breeches” (a questionable translation of the Hebrew word) were probably more like loincloths or diapers. Let’s just say it’s unlikely that the priests had on slacks, or even boxer shorts.

      1. In any event, BG, they were garments worn under the robe to prevent an accidental flash of the goods. Maybe I should have clarified that they weren’t BVDs for the KJVOs, but then… like they’d care.

    2. The pastor of my childhood church somehow came to believe that the ‘breeches’ worn by the priests were knee length and therefore it was ‘nakedness’ to show one’s thighs and to wear anything that would show anything above the knee was a sin. He also believed that it proved somehow that women should not wear pants. Fun times!

      1. Same here. Not only did our pastor proudly proclaim that he doesn’t wear shorts because its biblical not to show the “nekkidness” (spelled the way he said it) of the thigh, he’d gladly show any of us where in the bible it says so.
        If it’s 90 degrees out, I’m wearing shorts. Thanks anyways.

      2. Some jerk tried to use that argument on me and say that BJU had gone liberal by allowing women to wear skirts above the knee. I knew he was lying about BJU, called him on it, and let him know that he wasn’t worth listening to on history issues if he can’t get the current events right.

        Hyles devotee, what else can you expect?

      3. So, if you can get anything out of that, then women should not be wearing underwear? My wife will be most unpleased when I inform her that biblically, she must not ever wear underwear again, because they doth pertaineth to a man!

        1. So are we only banned from men’s underwear, or doth the thong, string bikini, and grannie panty also pertaineth to the man? Just need some clarification. LoL.

  5. I had to try to stay awake during some of these meetings when I was at FU. We had a guy come dressed up as the high priest and preached for a week on the Tabernacle. Let’s just say no detail was too insignificant to escape his notice.

    1. Yup, put on a costume and they know everything…The prohibition against dressing up for Halloween was lifted then I suppose…

  6. Call me an ignoramus, but I didn’t know the Crucifix was part of the original Tabernacle design.

    What’s this business about “Latter Rain” and “Former Rain”? What does weather have to do with it?

      1. Latter rain is mentioned in the Bible several times (9), mostly in the prophets Jeremiah to Zechariah, but also James and Deuteronomy. No idea what it is. Sometimes it’s probably literal latter rain that comes late in the season, but most of the time it seems to be talking of something prophetical, but I have no idea.

        1. If people knew what it meant, then it wouldn’t be any fun to preach about now would it? 😛

  7. Darrell, the pic of the first guy….was he an evangelist that cut hair? Those look like a pair of hair clippers my mom used to use on me…..hmmm….could you imagine having all the kiddies come forward to get “Fundied” while he preached?

  8. This brought up some PTSD memories from Pro-teens for me. My first year in Pro-teens was all tabernacle all the time. 12 lessons? Are you kidding? We had 36 lessons. Some of the kids even made their own models. I suppose I was reprobate even back then cause I didn’t.

    1. OMW – I had completely forgotten about Pro-Teens. Classic!! By the time I was old enough to be one, Pro-Teens had morphed to Young Peoples which in turn became Youth Group.

  9. “Available in flannelgraph” That is just too awesome. I remember when every Sunday school lesson had the wonderful flannel graphs

  10. If you should find yourself in the Lancaster, PA area, you can visit a life-size model of the tabernacle. It even has an animatronic Aaron! It’s at the Mennonite Information Center, of all places. They bought it off a traveling evangelist who was getting out of the biz – long story.

    1. Been there–it wa a great evangelsitic tool–especially to Jews. Kinda cheap, but well presented

  11. That’s awesome Darrell.

    I remember all those sermons about not living in the ‘outer court’, which quickly devolved into fundy rule-keeping.

    There are plenty of fantastic, practical, freeing, and life-altering truths about how to live the Christian life in the New Testament – but I didn’t hear many of those. I didn’t here any at Fundy U Florida. I did hear more sermons making stuff up about the Tabernacle then I care to remember. 😕

    Because so many Christians are unwilling to live by grace rather then rules, the plan truths of scripture are too often ignored. It is better to make stuff up about obscure facts to support their legalistic application.

      1. PCC

        God did teach me many things there. In fact I am very grateful to have gone.

        When I came there I was just like them. Through the nagative example of what they did and how they treated people I abandoned my self-righteous legalistic ways. God has since lead me to amazing realizations about living by grace.

  12. All this without mentioning that the ancient Hebrews believed G-d to have a physical presence in a specific place rather than being omnipresent.

    That’s a pretty crucial detail to omit, don’t you think?

    1. That’s a pretty far out of left field concept. And pretty easily disproven by a simple cursory reading of the Old Testament.

  13. Pastor Backlow just preached a sermon on this! He had the associate pastor build a to-scale model for us to view during the prelude and when we shook hands. It’s now going to stay in the foyer where we can look at it every week. Pastor Backlow couldn’t decide if he wanted it on the wall near the tracts or on the other side by the bathrooms.

    One point that stuck with me is how the Tabernacle used a lampstand with oil because candles hadn’t been invented yet. That was amazing! The lampstand was the sole means of light. That means that there is one source of light for our lives- the KJV. Also, we are to be lampstands in the world. And if your lampstand is fake (with Candles of Compromise) and doesn’t have the right source (the KJV), then you God may remove you from the Tabernacle! Just like the boy in the true story Pastor Backlow told who went to a youth activity on Friday night, but left there and didn’t go straight home. Instead, he went to hang out with his friends at the soda shop. He was rebelling against his parents and had a bottle of beer! On the way home, he was decapitated by a flying beer bottle tossed from a passing car!

    I couldn’t believe it!

    There is a man in our church who makes things out of wood. He is offering to make a play house that is like the Tabernacle that can go behind the children’s area of the church by the Nursery. He just has to figure out how to have it look like there is real fire in there. And how to keep the Brantley boys out of the Holy of Holies.

    1. I think some nice toy sheep along with other animals would benefit the children in the “tabernacle” so they could be informed of how the sacrifices were done and how every insignificant detail of the sacrifice was important. They may enjoy participating in a few “sacrifices” themselves. 😉

      1. But then… the kids themselves would want to participate in this activity. This rebellious generation of our days.

  14. Since this is on the Tabernacle I guess I’ll post this. The wierdest interpretation on the Tabernacle come from Jack Hyles in his book meet the Holy Spirit in the chapter the Holy Spirit and the opposite sex. he tries to draw parralells between the Holy of Hollies of the Tabernacle and the body of a girl. The points are as follows however if one reads my post they may want to be near a trash barrel in case they get sick to their stomachs and need to hurl. So here it goes:

    1. No one could look within the Holy of Holies except one man.(was about the inportance of modest clothing)

    2. God chose that man(marrying in Gods will)

    3.Only one man could touch the funishings within the Holy of Holies(no hanky panky until marriage).

    For a full read go here:

    If one really thinks about what he’s saying and the implications it soungs pretty creepy.

    1. This “marry in God’s will” idea seriously creeps me out. I don’t know why Fundyism has stepped on this spooky bandwagon. By God’s will they don’t mean 1)marry a believer or 2)don’t fornicate or commit adultery, but some New Age, transcendental “confirmation.” Fundy authorities still haven’t been able to exactly pinpoint how this occurs… 😯

      1. And the High Priest had to sprinkle the blood of the sacrificed goat and bull on the furnishings in the Holy of Holies…

        Somehow I don’t think the application of this concept would enhance the chances of a happy honeymoon.

      2. I’ve seen similar wording used to support what are basically arranged marriages. In that interpretation it is assumed that’God’s will’ always aligns pretty nicely with the opinions of the parents and their pastor…

  15. “Only one man could touch the funishings within the Holy of Holies”

    ….Yikes, that’s just not right to imply this sort of thing, but then again, he had a few hang-ups. 👿

    1. I think the sentence after the one you quoted is is creepier.

      “Only one man could enter, only one man could see, and only one man could touch!”

      I’m pretty sure my minds not in the gutter on this cause the implications flows from his own comparason.

      Its funny(well not funny,but interesting) that girls are th “temple that should not be touched.” and the boys who God chooses for the girl are the “high priests”. The chapter is called The Holy Spirit and the Opposite Sex, but the only thing that has to do with the holy spirit is mentiong that he indwells all belivers and then just focuses on girls.

  16. You know, at least Playboy is pretty up-front (haha) about their obsession with women’s bodies. Fundies try to hide their obsession with women’s bodies by creating rules for clothing and spiritualizing the woman’s body. Somehow a fundy woman is responsible for the lust in a fundy man’s heart if she isn’t clothed modestly. Why can’t the man be responsible for his own lust? Jesus preached against lust in the heart, not clothes on the the body causing lust in the heart.

    My monthly “modest wimmen’s clothing” rant!

    1. I believe that the harder a man rants against how immodest women are and how we’re all whores and yadda yadda, the more convinced I become that he’s got a porn stash in his house (under the bed, on the computer). I know too many male friends who have been trying to break free from porn addiction and who still have ridiculous hangups about sex as a result to believe otherwise. It really is about dumping the blame for one’s own issues onto someone else. Instead of Fundamentalist men accepting responsibility for their own lust and bad attitudes toward women, they just blame the women and stay innocent in their own minds.

      1. Could not agree more with you. It’s my personal belief that every single one of these “holier than thou” jerks that stands there and “preaches” against women, and other “sins” trying to appear more pious than the next guy will eventually be caught with his pants down. God meant what he said when he had Solomon write “Pride goeth before a fall…”

  17. I always felt like something of an outsider when it came to the Tabernacle. Other Christians always seemed to be so interested in all of the details of its construction, and they would go on and on about how awesome it was, yet I couldn’t help but think to myself, “It’s a tent. Sure, it’s a nice tent, but it’s still a tent.”

    My second thought was always that since (according to the Gospels) Christ tore down the barrier between us and God, allowing us to speak to God directly and ask for forgiveness, why all of the obsession with the tent? Er, Tabernacle.

    I never understood the fascination. I guess I never will.

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