The Tabernacle Chapter 9: The Outer Curtains
The outer curtains may be the most unusual features of the Tabernacle. There are three layers of outer curtains, goats’ hair, rams’ skins dyed red, and badgers’ skins. The curtains of goats’ hair is generally considered the second covering of the inner curtains, and grouped as such. From a study point of view, I think they are much easier grouped and compared with the two outer curtains of skins.
This chapter is based on Exodus 26:7-14, and 36:14-19.
The first detail you may notice about the covering of goats’ hair is, it is referred to as hair, while the two other coverings are referred to as rams’, and badger skins. What is the difference between hair and skins? The answer is found in Exodus 35:26. And all the women whose heart stirred them up in wisdom spun goats’ hair. The curtains of goats’ hair was spun. Hence, they are not goat skins, but spun goat hair.
The death of the goat was not necessary, the hair could be collected during the shedding season, or combed out. Ref. Textiles and clothing, page 77 By Elisabeth Crowfoot, Frances Pritchard, Kay Staniland. The course outer hair was not used. It is not possible to spin the course outer hair. The soft inner layer of hair has been prized, often compared to the consistency of silk. The goat hair was spun into threads, which were used to manufacture curtains. How the Israelites spun the hair is a mystery. Spinning the hair required a certain skill, as exclaimed in Exodus 35:26.
Israel did not have machines to spin the hairs, or weave threads. All of this was achieved through manual labor. During this process, God appeared in the form a pillar of the cloud by day, to protect them from the scorching sun. The work may have progressed through the night, as God also appeared as a pillar of fire at night.
The miles of thread required were most likely spun by hand, rolling the hairs against the thigh, while carefully pulling the finished thread. A fellow worker would roll the yarn into a ball. This gave the volunteer work force time to reflect on every experience in Egypt. They shared storied of everything they suffered in Egypt. As God sent a cool breeze under the shade of His cloud, they remembered the long had hours of forced labor in the fields of Egypt’s elite. Many swapped stories of the unjust beating they received. They had witnessed an entire generation die in bondage. Now they were free.
Days were spent reviewing every plague experienced in Egypt. They all saw water turn to blood, causing the death of fish, and everything that lived in the water. They commented on proof the plagues came from God, because once the water was healed, God brought up adult frogs over all the land. They also witnessed the lice, and flies. They recounted how the cattle of the Egyptians died, while their cattle flourished. When that ended, every Egyptian broke out in painful boils, while not a single Israelite was effected.
One of the most miraculous plagues was the hail of fire. Egypt suffered damage beyond imagination. Houses perished, crops burned, many of the surviving cattle left in the field died, while not a single spark reached the homes of the Israelites. They exchanged stories about the destruction they witnessed from the edge of their fields. They told one another about the Egyptian families, who made their way to Goshen, seeking protection from the wrath of God.
When the fires caused by the hail peaked a cloud was seen on the eastern horizon. When they expected to see the sun rising in the east, a thick cloud of locusts blackened the sky. A plague of locust far worse than any seen before covered the land of Egypt. Every piece of vegetation left from the fire was devoured within hours.
When the sun should have been seen rising in the east, the cloud of locust once again filled the sky. After the locust had passed beyond site, the darkness remained for three days. As they labored under the cool shade of the cloud, they recalled the days of darkness in Egypt. It was more than the darkness of a typical night. It was a supernatural darkness. While not a light was seen in all the land of Egypt, Israel had light in their homes.
The event they talked about most of all was the Passover. The father of the family went out to the flock to choose the best lamb. Many were accompanied by children, using the opportunity to pass the spiritual lesson to the younger generation. They tied up the lamb next to the house until the fourteenth day of the month. Many of them reminisced about the hopes and dreams their husband talked about after slaying the lamb. With all the plagues they had just witnessed, their hopes hung on this new ceremony. This time something seemed different. All week long the woman sung about God, the deliverer.
The Egyptians were all but helpless. Most of their Egyptian owners had already expressed the desire they had for the Israelites to leave. They knew the plagues came from an angry god, more powerful than they have ever witnessed. The Egyptians spent weeks praying, delivering offerings to the temples, and sacrificing. Each attempt to appease the gods seemed to bring more wrath. It seemed all of their gods had turned against them. The gods of water, sun, moon, fire, and rain had all spoken. As far as they were concerned, there was not another god to turn to. The priests pointed their fingers at Israel as the cause, and counseled Pharaoh to send Israel away.
Everyone had a story to tell about the night of the Passover. Some claimed to have seen the angel of the Lord. Descriptions varied greatly. Some claimed he was as tall as one hundred feet. Others, as small as ten feet tall. Some described him with wings, others without. The woman laughed as they recounted the fear most of the men displayed, while listening to the screams from near, and distant homes.
It was a night when the air was heavy, and blacker than the days the sun was shut out of Egypt. Those who did peak outside reported they could feel the darkness. One woman told of how she opened the door just a crack. The light from the opening shone only a few feet, and disappeared. It was as if a mysterious force was able to gather even the light from a lamp. No one ventured to go outside.
Not many talked about the meal that was eaten in silence. Few of the women were able to express their feelings about that night. A mixture of hope and fear, as they eat, listening to the screams and howls from neighboring homes. There were not many voices from Goshen. Most of the people followed the instructions given by Moses. But the eerie noise from Egypt no one would ever forget. It began as a distant scream. Soon many voices joined into a chorus of howls and moans. Hours passed as one voice after another joined in a mixture of screams, weeping, chants, and prayers.
Inside the homes of Goshen everything was silent as they stared into each other’s eyes, and at the lamb. Some wandered what all these instructions meant. Others knew the lamb was a symbol of a deliverer, but could not understand why they had to consume such a symbol. The evening brought more questions than answers as the waited for the morning.
What a glorious day it was when word spread throughout Goshen, Pharaoh had commanded Israel to leave. Free, free at last was shouted through the streets. Praise the Lord for His power is great. He is the God of the sea, and the air, the rain, and every creeping thing. This was the beginning of their journey, what they had anticipated as a short walk to freedom in a new land.
As the woman worked on spinning the goats’ hair, and weaving the curtains, some of the men were busy gathering up the rams’ skins, and preparing the dye. Red dye was derived from worms, they same worms found in the left over manna. Some collected worms, and extracted the dye, while others heated large pots of water mixing in the red dye. Some men brought for ram skins, while others hung them up to dry. It was amazing how everyone worked together with a single goal in mind, to follow God’s instructions to the letter.
The outer layer of badger skins has always been a mystery to me. My first though has been, why badgers? I thought badgers were unclean animals. Why would God us an unclean animal to cover His Tabernacle? A search of the word badger in the Bible does little to answer the question. The next obvious place to look is the definition of the original word.
Probably of foreign derivation; a (clean) animal with fur, probably a species of antelope: – badger.
Strong’s Concordance defines the badger as a clean animal, probably a species of antelope. I don’t like the probably attached to the definition, but at least they are honest in letting the world know, an explanation of badger skins may remain a mystery, until Jesus returns.
Each of the curtains contains a number of spiritual elements. Goat hair represents something which was carried with them out of Egypt. While Israel’s goats were protected through a number of plagues, Egypt’s perished. The hair was easy to collect, and did not require the life of the goat. It required skill to spin the hair. A skill which is all but lost today. The goat hair curtains were hidden, placed between the scarlet, purple, and blue curtains, and the rams’ hair curtains dyed red.
Compare these attributes to the God’s word. Israel did not have the Bible, nor the books of Moses when they left Egypt, but they did have the stories of Genesis which had been passed down from generation to generation. Both the goat hair, and God’s word were carried out of Egypt. As the word of God grew, so did Israel’s flocks. Spinning goat hair requires a simple, but special skill, referred to as wisdom in Exodus 35:26. God’s word often has a hidden meaning, just below the surface, just like the curtain of goat hair.
The goat head curtains were held together by fifty taches of brass fitting through fifty loops in each curtain. As we have seen, brass represents a connection between God and man. Brass also represents man’s duty of service to one another. A fitting symbol for the layer of curtains nearest to the inner curtains.
The next layer of curtains is ram skins dyed red. The red can represent two things, sin, or Jesus’ blood, shed for our sins. This is a fitting symbol. The blood of Jesus covering the work of imperfect men. These symbols draw us back to the many lessons Jesus used to teach His disciples. It seemed no matter how Jesus tried, no matter what method, or example He used, at best it would have only a temporary effect on them. It wasn’t until after His sacrifice and resurrection, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the disciples began to understand the plan of salvation.
The very outer layer of the Tabernacle is nothing short of a mystery. The fact the KJV describes these curtains as badger skins illustrates the depth of this mystery. This brings to mind another covering which has also been a mystery to most students of the Bible, but one more easily solved.
The ark build by Noah was covered with pitch. Physically pitch is a water proof coating of tar, often interpreted as bitumen. When the definition of the word pitch is studied, it reveals a very exciting message.
Genesis 6:14 Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch.
Pitch: H3722 kaphar
A primitive root; to cover (specifically with bitumen); figuratively to expiate or condone, to placate or cancel: – appease, make (an) atonement, cleanse, disannul, forgive, be merciful, pacify, pardon, to pitch, purge (away), put off, (make) reconcile (-liation).
This example shows one of the many times God chose to use a word having two meanings, one physical, the other spiritual. In this case, to cover with bitumen describes the water tight coating on the physical ark. The other definition describes a spiritual covering, to forgive, to be merciful an atonement.
The mystery of the outer curtains is a fitting symbol for the Tabernacle. We know very little from the outside. We don’t know what the skins were made of, how they were held together. We do not know the size, or even the color. All we know is, they are part of God’s design. The outer curtains present us with a choice. To either stand outside, and stare at the mystery, or enter into the Tabernacle, and investigate all its symbols.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it. Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them! (18) If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: when I awake, I am still with thee. Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: Psalms 139:6-7, 17-18, 23.
A journey through the layers of curtains reveal the story of salvation. Beginning at the outer curtain we see the mystery. Why God chose to provide such little information on the outside covering of His Tabernacle is a mystery in itself. The next layer of red ram skins represents Jesus’ sacrifice. This symbol if first seen in Genesis. And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son. (Genesis 22:13)
Inside of Jesus’ sacrifice, we find a curtain made of spun goat hair, representing the skill, and wisdom not only to build the Tabernacle, but to spread the news of salvation. Of all the curtains, the goat hair illustrates human work in the plan of salvation. This layer was covered on the outside, and inside by Jesus’ salvation.
The inside curtains contained God’s colors, scarlet, purple, and blue. The scarlet of course represents Jesus’ sacrifice, purple, His royalty, and blue, the law. Each playing a major role in God’s plan of salvation.
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Exodus 26:7-14 And thou shalt make curtains of goats’ hair to be a covering upon the tabernacle: eleven curtains shalt thou make. (8) The length of one curtain shall be thirty cubits, and the breadth of one curtain four cubits: and the eleven curtains shall be all of one measure. (9) And thou shalt couple five curtains by themselves, and six curtains by themselves, and shalt double the sixth curtain in the forefront of the tabernacle. (10) And thou shalt make fifty loops on the edge of the one curtain that is outmost in the coupling, and fifty loops in the edge of the curtain which coupleth the second. (11) And thou shalt make fifty taches of brass, and put the taches into the loops, and couple the tent together, that it may be one. (12) And the remnant that remaineth of the curtains of the tent, the half curtain that remaineth, shall hang over the backside of the tabernacle. (13) And a cubit on the one side, and a cubit on the other side of that which remaineth in the length of the curtains of the tent, it shall hang over the sides of the tabernacle on this side and on that side, to cover it. (14) And thou shalt make a covering for the tent of rams’ skins dyed red, and a covering above of badgers’ skins.
Exodus 36:14-19 And he made curtains of goats’ hair for the tent over the tabernacle: eleven curtains he made them. (15) The length of one curtain was thirty cubits, and four cubits was the breadth of one curtain: the eleven curtains were of one size. (16) And he coupled five curtains by themselves, and six curtains by themselves. (17) And he made fifty loops upon the uttermost edge of the curtain in the coupling, and fifty loops made he upon the edge of the curtain which coupleth the second. (18) And he made fifty taches of brass to couple the tent together, that it might be one. (19) And he made a covering for the tent of rams’ skins dyed red, and a covering of badgers’ skins above that.
Numbers 4:5-12 And when the camp setteth forward, Aaron shall come, and his sons, and they shall take down the covering vail, and cover the ark of testimony with it: (6) And shall put thereon the covering of badgers’ skins, and shall spread over it a cloth wholly of blue, and shall put in the staves thereof. (7) And upon the table of shewbread they shall spread a cloth of blue, and put thereon the dishes, and the spoons, and the bowls, and covers to cover withal: and the continual bread shall be thereon: (8) And they shall spread upon them a cloth of scarlet, and cover the same with a covering of badgers’ skins, and shall put in the staves thereof. (9) And they shall take a cloth of blue, and cover the candlestick of the light, and his lamps, and his tongs, and his snuffdishes, and all the oil vessels thereof, wherewith they minister unto it: (10) And they shall put it and all the vessels thereof within a covering of badgers’ skins, and shall put it upon a bar. (11) And upon the golden altar they shall spread a cloth of blue, and cover it with a covering of badgers’ skins, and shall put to the staves thereof: (12) And they shall take all the instruments of ministry, wherewith they minister in the sanctuary, and put them in a cloth of blue, and cover them with a covering of badgers’ skins, and shall put them on a bar:
Numbers 4:13-14 And they shall take away the ashes from the altar, and spread a purple cloth thereon: (14) And they shall put upon it all the vessels thereof, wherewith they minister about it, even the censers, the fleshhooks, and the shovels, and the basons, all the vessels of the altar; and they shall spread upon it a covering of badgers’ skins, and put to the staves of it.
Numbers 4:24-25 This is the service of the families of the Gershonites, to serve, and for burdens: (25) And they shall bear the curtains of the tabernacle, and the tabernacle of the congregation, his covering, and the covering of the badgers’ skins that is above upon it, and the hanging for the door of the tabernacle of the congregation,