The Purpose of the Wilderness Tabernacle: The Metals and Their Meaning
On Mount Sinai, Moses received more than just the Ten Commandments. Also included were the detailed instructions for building a meeting place for God and His people. The Tabernacle was a temple of worship that involved specific protocols and procedures. These protocols purposely provided a possible means for God's people to dwell with Him per God's request.
Let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.
— Exodus 25:8
From the fall in Genesis up until the Tabernacle construction, the Bible records people occasionally walking and talking with God but not dwelling with Him. As we shall see, it is within the framework of this Old Testament sanctuary that God draws His people closer to Himself through an intricate sacrificial system. This arrangement can speak volumes to us today about the specifics of such a great salvation and indescribable gift.
. . . how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation . . . ?
— Hebrews 2:3
Every detail that Christ accomplished to restore our relationship with God can be discovered in the particulars of the wilderness tabernacle.
In this lesson, we will learn that giving is not random. God asks specifically for certain things, and lying resident within the symbols of each is a precious lesson concerning God's lavish provision. We begin with the metals.
The first requested items for the Tabernacle construction project concerned three metals: gold, silver, and bronze (sometimes translated brass but most likely copper).
And this is the offering which you shall take from them: gold, silver, and bronze (copper) . . .
— Exodus 25:3
Two of these were acquired before leaving Egypt.
. . . let every man ask from his neighbor and every woman from her neighbor, articles of silver and articles of gold.
— Exodus 11:2
Now the children of Israel had done according to the word of Moses, and they had asked from the Egyptians articles of silver, articles of gold, and clothing. And the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they granted them what they requested. Thus they plundered the Egyptians.
— Exodus 12:34-36
The Bible doesn't expound on where the third metal, copper, came from, but we could assume that the women were already in possession of it in the form of mirrors, before leaving Egypt.
He made the laver of bronze (copper) and its base of bronze (copper), from the bronze (copper) mirrors of the serving women who assembled at the door of the tabernacle of meeting
— Exodus 38:8
Copper mirrors still exist today.
Special Properties of This Metal Trio
These three metals have many things in common, and viewing their physical commonalities can give us clues as to why these metals go together in Bible typology. Each one exhibits the necessary elements of salvation that made it possible for us to be in contact with God.
- Gold, silver, and copper are the first three on the list of seven metals of antiquity as they are the first three to be discovered from a human history perspective, and relative to this, they are native metals.
The tabernacle has its roots in the very first tabernacle of the garden in Eden.
- They are all three known as group eleven elements and appear together vertically on the periodic table of elements, as displayed in the above chart. They are understood to be transition metals that form a bridge between two sides of the periodic table.
These metallic elements will illustrate for us how God bridged the gap between heaven and earth, that sin created, through His Son Jesus.
- Only gold, silver, and copper qualify as genuine, noble metals based on their electron structure, making them resistant to corrosion and oxidation. Although silver and copper can tarnish in color, this process does not break down the metals themselves. Tarnish is simply a reactive coating on the surface.
The tabernacle concerns connection with eternal and unchanging things.
- These three also are noted for their antimicrobial features that resist both bacteria and viruses.
Contact with God is cleansing and healing. It is interesting that when Moses destroyed the golden calf, he burnt it, ground it to powder, put it in water, and made the children of Israel drink it. With its germ-fighting qualities, this could have been a remedial prescription for possible infectious conditions that may have occurred when they "rose up to play" before their self-created god.
- All three are ductile, which means they can be stretched into a thin wire as well as malleable.
Contact with God through His prescribed system will soften us and make us pliable in His hands.
- All three are excellent conductors of heat and electricity.
Contact with God includes power that we cannot generate nor produce in and of ourselves.
Reading just a little bit into these natural properties of metal gives us a glimpse of heavenly, eternal, and spiritual illustrations that we will look at more specifically with each metal.
In relationship to heavenly things, science theorizes that these metals came from other heavenly bodies that either collided with the planet or trajected these elements towards and into it at some point in creative history. This theory might explain why there is a heavenly or spiritual association with metals in the Bible and why God uses them in connection with the spiritual act of worship. Silver and gold, in particular, were used in the fashioning of idols; the other "gods."
The idols of the nations are silver and gold,
The work of men’s hands.
— Psalm 135:15
These metal's heavenly origins also explain why these three metals, and only these three metals, are used in the construction of this tabernacle of worship patterned after heavenly realities.
Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us
— Hebrews 9:24
The Currency of Metals
Gold, silver, and copper are referred to as the "royal family" in the world of metals because all of them are considered currency metals and, therefore, can be attached to concept ideas having to do with value. These are used in this respect in the New Testament when Jesus sends out His disciples.
Provide neither gold nor silver nor copper in your money belts.
— Matthew 10:9
Also, currency implies transactions between parties, of which this structure is all about. Our spiritual condition concerned a transaction. Salvation, therefore, required a transaction. Economic metaphors and language are standard tools used in the Bible to express concepts of sin and righteousness.
. . . the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
— Romans 8:23
These metals will serve as tools in this portion of our lesson to understand the illustration of value and transaction, considering that the price that was paid was something even more precious than these.
. . . you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot . . .
— I Peter 1:18-19
The first mentioned of these metals is gold. Gold's very first occurrence is in Genesis chapter two. Once again, we see the temple pattern themes with their origins in Genesis.
And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads.
The name of the first is Pison: that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; And the gold of that land is good . . .
— Genesis 2:10-12
Gold is the only metal mentioned before the fall. Gold also stands alone as the last said metal of the Bible at the restoration of all things in the heavenly city.
And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.
— Revelation 21:21
Gold' s connection with God's pure, glorious, eternal, and holy characteristics is displayed in plan "A" of creation and restored in plan "B."
The writer of Hebrews also makes this connection with gold, holiness, and glory when discussing the Old Testament tabernacle with three mentions of gold in the "Holiest of All."
behind the second veil, the part of the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of All, which had the golden censer and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold, in which were the golden pot that had the manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant; and above it were the cherubim of glory (these were gold too) overshadowing the mercy seat.
— Hebrews 9:3-5
Gold is set apart (holy) from the others; in that, it is the only one of the three metals that do not tarnish. It remains virtually unchanged throughout the course of time and exposure, hinting at the glorious eternal illustrations gold exhibits for us in terms of faith. Faith is the currency of heaven.
Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life.
— I Timothy 6:12
Gold and Faith Refined
Gold in scripture is symbolic of tried and tested faith in the goodness of God. Faith finds its most exquisite exhibit in a life that glorifies Him.
Gold and faith are both refined and purified by fire.
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ . . .
— I Peter 1:6-9
In connection with this concept of gold, glory, and tested faith, the Hebrew word for glory means heavy with substance. Gold is understood to be very dense and, therefore, heavy metal.
For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory
— II Corinthians 4:17
A characteristic of gold is that it is the most pliable and versatile metal. It is so soft that it can be scratched with a fingernail.
“You shall also make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it, like the engraving of a signet: HOLINESS TO THE LORD.
— Exodus 28:36
As our faith comes forth as pure gold through test and trial, He will inscribe on our lives His holiness. May we be as pliable and malleable as gold in our faith as we trust him in and with everything.
. . . Today, if you will hear His voice “Do not harden your hearts, as in the rebellion, As in the day of trial in the wilderness . . .
— Psalm 95:7
Silver and Redemption
Each of these metals is considered currency metals, but silver is the one most commonly tied to expressions of monetary transactions in the Bible.
Interestingly, the Hebrew word for silver, many times translated money in the Bible is the present-day Hebrew word for money which is keceph כֶּסֶף.
Silver will illustrate for us the price paid for our redemption in monetary terms. Our ransom was not without cost, as was also mentioned in another section.
In terms of the tabernacle, silver was the foundation that undergirded the entire Holy Place connected with the Holy of Holies. Silver illustrates for us that the whole Christian life lived in fellowship with God is undergirded by the redemption price paid on our behalf.
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works
— Titus 2:11-14
This redemptive concept can also be understood when viewed through the census taking atonement money described in Exodus chapter thirty.
Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “When you take the census of the children of Israel for their number, then every man shall give a ransom for himself to the Lord . . . This is what everyone among those who are numbered shall give: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary . . . The half-shekel shall be an offering to the Lord . . . when you give an offering to the Lord, to make atonement for yourselves. And you shall take the atonement money (silver-keceph כֶּסֶף) of the children of Israel, and shall appoint it for the service of the tabernacle of meeting, that it may be a memorial for the children of Israel before the Lord, to make atonement for yourselves.
— Exodus 30
This requirement was given after God had delivered His people from slavery to the Egyptians. God purchased their lives with the blood of lambs (a type of Christ) from their harsh servitude, and now they owed their lives to Him.
This would be classic Ancient Near Eastern covenant practice, in that, if someone saved your life, you were indebted in service for life to the one who saved you. The value of restoring a servant was thirty shekels of silver.
If the ox shall push a manservant or a maidservant; he shall give unto their master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned.
— Exodus 21:32
Jesus, the Son of God, humbly takes on this servant position to save us.
the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for man
— Matthew 20:27-29
In return, we become His servant.
"those who by faith have become sharers in the blessings of redemption, have ceased to their own property and become that of their redeemer . . . ye are not your own"
— William Brown
Jesus used monetary/ownership imagery to communicate this same concept to the religious rulers who were seeking to entrap Him concerning the payment of taxes.
Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His talk. And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men. Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”
But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, “Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? Show Me the tax money.”
So they brought Him a denarius (a silver coin).
And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?”
They said to Him, “Caesar’s.”
And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left Him and went their way
— Matthew 22:15-22
He was essentially telling them that they owed their lives to the one whose image they were created to bear. Caesar's image was on the silver coin and therefore belonged to him. God's image was stamped on humankind from the beginning, and He now stakes His claim.
God created man in His own image
— Genesis 1:27
Biblically speaking, there is a connection between blood atonement and silver.
For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.
— Leviticus 17:11
Silver was considered the price of blood. Blood was the pure precious commodity required for the cost of redemption. The scene of the betrayal of Judas illustrates this connection for us.
Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him (Jesus) to you?” And they counted out to him thirty pieces of silver . . .
Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.”
And they said, “What is that to us? You see to it!”
Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself.
But the chief priests took the silver pieces and said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, because they are the price of blood.” And they consulted together and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day.
— Matthew 26:14-16, 27:3-9
Copper and Judgement
Our final metal is copper translated bronze or brass in most translations and concerns God's rightful judgment of sin.
There is no copper in the Holy Place or the Holy of Holies. It is found in the outer court, where the judgment of sin takes place. This outer portion of the structure was entirely undergirded and pillared with copper.
Just about everything concerning the altar of burnt offering, where sacrifices were made at the door, typifying God's judgment on sin, was covered in copper.
Copper was also used to make the laver of water, as was discussed earlier. This particular furnishing also was housed in the outer court and dealt with a type of self-judgment.
A great example of this connection between copper and judgment is offered to us in a scene where the children of Israel fall under God's judgment and are eventually carried away captive by the Babylonians. Copper receives nine mentions in the account of their exile. Nine can be a number that expresses divine judgment.
At Riblah the king of Babylon slaughtered Zedekiah’s sons before his eyes and also slaughtered the Judean commanders. Then he blinded Zedekiah and bound him with bronze (copper) chains...
Now the Chaldeans broke into pieces the bronze (copper) pillars for the Lord’s temple and the water carts and the bronze (copper) reservoir that were in the Lord’s temple,and carried all the bronze (copper) to Babylon. They took the pots, shovels, wick trimmers, sprinkling basins, dishes, and all the bronze (copper) articles used in the temple service. The commander of the guards took away the bowls, firepans, sprinkling basins, pots, lampstands, pans, and drink offering bowls whatever was gold or silver.
As for the two pillars, the one reservoir, and the bronze (copper) bulls under the water carts that King Solomon had made for the Lord’s temple, the weight of the bronze (copper) of all these articles was beyond measure. One pillar was 27 feet tall, had a circumference of 18 feet, was hollow—four fingers thick— and had a bronze (copper) capital on top of it. One capital, encircled by bronze (copper) latticework and pomegranates, stood 7½ feet high
— Jeremiah 52:10-11. 17-23
The book of Ezra records the return of these captives after seventy years, as was prescribed. Among the list of returned items that went with them was only one tiny mention of copper compared to 18 mentions of silver and gold.
And I separated twelve of the leaders of the priests—Sherebiah, Hashabiah, and ten of their brethren with them— and weighed out to them the silver, the gold, and the articles, the offering for the house of our God which the king and his counselors and his princes, and all Israel who were present, had offered. I weighed into their hand six hundred and fifty talents of silver, silver articles weighing one hundred talents, one hundred talents of gold, twenty gold basins worth a thousand drachmas, and two vessels of fine polished bronze (copper), precious as gold.
— Ezra 8:24-27
Understanding the symbolism of these metals helps us discern that their judgment was complete and left behind in Babylon other than the two vessels, which I would surmise was the altar of burnt offering and the laver.
The examples of connections between copper and judgment are endless.
The judgment of sin involved a blood sacrifice. Interestingly, copper is the only one of the three metals with a reddish hue.
There is a progressive story that unfolds, with these three metals, that speak to how we connect with God through His one and only Son.
To "pass over" into the presence of God, which was in the Holy of Holies, one had to first "pass-through" the entrance of the outer court founded in copper, with a sacrifice, showing us that the first order of business is dealing with our sin.
He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
— Hebrews 9:26
The next "pass over" occurred at the entrance of the Holy Place, connected to the Holy of Holies, where the presence of the Lord was. This part of the structure was undergirded with silver, which represented the redemption price that was paid at the expense of God's one and only Son Jesus.
How much more shall the blood of Christ (recall blood's connection with silver), who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.
There will be no meeting with God in the glorious golden Holy of Holies without our sins forgiven and the price of our redemption paid. Our sin required destruction. And our lives need to be purchased back.
"The Tabernacle: Its Priests and Its Services" by William Brown. Oliphant, Anderson & Ferrier, Edinburgh and London Publishers. Original copyright 1899
"Tabernacles in the Wilderness" by John Ritchie Kilmarnock Scotland 1891
"Seeing Christ in the Tabernacle" Ervin N. Hershberger. Vision Publishers 2007
Questions & Answers
Is the picture of the Wilderness Tabernacle at the top of the page the same as the model built in Timnah, Israel?
Yes, the image is the Timnah model. It is from Wikimedia Commons. Thank you for asking. I will be adding this info to the article.Helpful 2
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