Discovering the Symbolism of the Tabernacle Coverings

Biblical symbolism. A complex subject, and one I am inadequate to fully address in all its minuteness. I’m no scholar–far from it–I’m just a simple Christian woman who wants to understand the Bible better. I have to start someplace, right?

I introduced this topic in Intrigued by Biblical Symbolism. The imagery we find in the Old Testament points us to the Savior revealed in the New Testament. Focusing on the Exodus from Egypt: What does the blood brushed onto the doorframe represent? Christ. What does the unleavened bread broken during Passover represent? Christ. What does the manna from heaven represent? Christ. What does the water from the rock, and the rock itself represent? Christ. What does the brass serpent lifted up on a pole represent? Christ. Did you think it’s just the New Testament that speaks about Jesus? No. ALL SCRIPTURE tells us about the Messiah. We find Him testified by the Old Testament through the means of various foreshadowings and types. This is a fascinating study, and I am just beginning to look into it. Right now, I would like to share with you some of my thoughts on the tabernacle coverings. Please take note though, that as far as the tabernacle coverings are concerned, what I think is merely speculation. Because the Bible does not specifically say what each curtain symbolizes, I cannot say anything with total certainty. But I’d like to give it a try, anyway.

God gave Moses instructions for building the tabernacle which was to be His dwelling place among the Hebrew people. Part of that included the design for the tabernacle coverings. You can read about this in Exodus 26 and 36. Here they are:

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  1. Fine twined linen; with blue, purple and scarlet, woven with pictures of cherubim
  2. Goats’ hair
  3. Rams’ skins dyed red
  4. Badgers’ skins

Underneath all these curtains were boards overlaid with gold which formed the frame for the tabernacle. Today, I’d like to zoom in on the curtains themselves, recognizing that there is still much, much more to be discussed regarding all the other components of the tabernacle!

As I read about the coverings, I wonder: why so many? Isn’t it enough to have one underneath to form the tabernacle, and one over the top to form a weatherproof barrier? I believe that each curtain has a meaning, something for us to learn from it, that could only be expressed by the presence of all four curtains together. Though no explicit explanation is given in Scripture, this is what I think they mean; though, I could be wrong!

Fine twined linen

This layer was right next to the boards overlaid with gold, and was the most beautiful. This was referred to together with the boards underneath as the “one tabernacle.” This may signify the sweetness and splendor we discover in God as we draw close to Him. It may also represent the beauty of the church, spoken of as the temple of God.

Goats’ hair

This layer overlapped the entryway and had to be passed through first, before gaining entrance into the tabernacle. This curtain was the “tent.” I’m reminded of the goats used as a sin sacrifice. Also, Jesus told us that at the end of the age, He will separate the goats on his left and the sheep on His right; so goats are representative of sinfulness. Jesus became sin for us. On the cross, He was cursed of God for our sake. Our sins, which separated us from God, were transferred onto Him. We must accept this exchange by faith before we can enter in the presence of God, and experience His glory within our hearts.

Rams’ skins dyed red

Dyed red. That speaks of the blood Jesus shed on the cross for our sins. The goat symbolizes sin, while the ram speaks of majesty, nobleness, and innocence. Jesus spilled His sinless, pure blood for our vile, disgusting offenses. The perfect for the imperfect. The pure for the impure. The noble for the ignoble. We deserve nothing from God. Our best efforts are trash. Little old sweet ladies? If we only knew the ugly thoughts that even they can sometimes have. The tiniest speck of sin is too profane to coexist in the presence of the Holy Lord God Almighty. That is why Jesus had to take our place. We could never live up to God’s standards of perfection. Many have tried; all have failed. Except Jesus.

Badgers’ skins

Ugly badgers’ skins. When Jesus came to earth as a man, His appearance was nothing to be admired. Just average. His true nature and mission were hidden from those who didn’t care to know more about Him, and revealed to those whose hearts yearned for the true Messiah. The badgers’ skins of the tabernacle looked ordinary to outside observers. Who could tell the wondrous glory of that which lay hidden within? Only those who were allowed to pass within the interior had a personal knowledge of the gorgeousness of the inner tabernacle. Humanity without Christ sees Jesus as just an ordinary man. Their hearts are blinded to Who He really is. Only the Holy Spirit can open their eyes to see Jesus as God and Savior.

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Can you see how the curtains of the tabernacle were most likely designed by God to point us to Jesus? Now, the Bible does not openly say what the coverings signify; I have taken the liberty of interpreting them based on my own understanding of Scripture. However, the Bible is clear that whatever was written in the Old Testament was written as an example to us, to teach us about Jesus and salvation. So, I don’t think that I’m too far off, if I’m off at all.

“… the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle.” Hebrews 8:5

“So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.” Colossians 2:16-17

“For whatever things were written before were written for our learning…” Romans 15:4a

“Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” 1 Corinthians 10:11

“… the Holy Spirit indicating this, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing. It was symbolic…” Hebrews 9:8-9a

Here are some additional references that I found helpful in studying this topic:

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7 thoughts on “Discovering the Symbolism of the Tabernacle Coverings

  1. Thank you for this study. I have never wondered about the curtains. You present- not only a great question- but a very logical answer (hypothesis, I know)! Considering the fact that OT symbols are EVERYWHERE, I can easily get on board with your interpretation here. Once again, thanks!

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    • You’re welcome! You know, I had never really wondered about the curtains before, either. All this is new to me. But I long to gain a thorough knowledge not only of the NT, but also of the OT as well, something I feel has been lacking in my education up until now. Some symbols are clearly defined by the NT, while others are not. However, my brain can’t help trying to discover the possible meaning. Since God doesn’t do anything except on purpose (He is very intentional about everything) I don’t doubt that there is rich meaning in EVERYTHING passed down to us from the OT.

      Thank you for your feedback!
      -Jessica

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  2. Dear Jessica, your testimony was published on Ms.Kinuko’s japanese blog.I read the article today in the morning.Thank you for sharing your precious experience to us japanese readers. Not only testimony but your message is so encouraging.
    To know biblical symbolism is so great I think, because through it we can touch perfection of God’ s plan.Thank you so much.
    (I confessed to my Phillipina friend that I started to cover my head
    the other day,she smiled at me and said ‘It’s symbolism!’.)

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    • Thank you, Sanae, for your very kind words about my headcovering testimony! I’m so happy to hear that it was an encouragement to you.

      I’m impressed with your courage in telling your friend about starting to headcover! How wonderful that she responded with understanding!

      You are right when you say that through a knowledge of symbolism we can touch on the perfection of God’s plan. Thank you for putting it so beautifully!
      -Jessica

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  3. This is so cool, but can you go further in this study and explain how this the Tabernacle covering is symbolic of the covering on the head of women. This is a rich study and there is a beautiful connection here.

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  4. Pingback: A Woman who is Fulfilled | TRUTH AT HOME

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