By Titus Chu
The Coverings of the Tabernacle
The tent of the tabernacle was made of four layers, or coverings. These layers represent the experience of those who love the Lord and desire to follow Him. The outermost layer was a covering of ugly badger skins, sometimes translated as porpoise skins. Under that was a layer of ram skins dyed red. Under the ram skins was a layer of goats’ hair woven like a blanket, and the innermost covering was made of curtains of fine twisted linen with blue, purple, and scarlet thread with cherubim (Ex. 26:1, 7, 14). If we were standing in the holy place, this last layer would be the ceiling above us.
As we consider these four layers, we shouldn’t think of them as simply something historical. Rather, we should recognize in them our condition as we stand before God individually and represent Him corporately. We are these four coverings. In a very real sense, we are the roof of the tabernacle.
The list of these coverings in Exodus 26 starts from the fine twisted linen on the inside and works its way out through the goat’s hair and the ram’s skin died red, to the badger skin on the outside. This is God’s perspective. He starts with the glory of our full salvation and then shows us where we came from. Our experience, however, starts from the ugly outer layer and works its way in. We start with what we see, and God starts with what He sees. We feel salvation starts with our ugly condition, but God shows us with this picture that He starts His salvation work with Christ as the fine twisted linen.
The operation of Christ as fine twisted linen gives us all the riches of life, intertwined with God, Christ, and all the saints. The goats’ hair represents our natural life, the rams’ skin dyed red represents our sinful nature which has been washed in His blood, and the rams’ skin represents our ugliness before God and man. God turns these negative layers into a protection for His testimony.
Because these other layers are there, we can have no pride. None of us can dare boast that we are special, above others in the church life, or that we have gained something on our own, because we have the constant reminders of the badger skin, the ram’s skin dyed red, and the goat’s hair.
The devil once thought he could be equal with God because he felt he had gained the fine twisted linen. However he lacked the other three layers. This allowed pride and boasting to fill his heart. It is God’s mercy to us that we have all four layers. His growth in us will produce a testimony that looks to those around us like ugly badger skin. No one will respect us. No one will say, “Wow! Here comes a spiritual man!” Yet the beauty of the fine twisted linen is hidden inside. This is God’s wisdom and our salvation.
God told Moses, “Moreover you shall make the tabernacle with ten curtains of fine twisted linen and blue and purple and scarlet material; you shall make them with cherubim, the work of a skillful workman” (Exo. 26:1). This verse surprised me when I first read it. It seems to imply that the entire tabernacle was made of just this covering. He said “make the tabernacle with…fine twisted linen”. Forget about the showbread table, the golden lampstand, the incense altar, and the ark of testimony. Forget about everything else. Just make the tabernacle with the curtains of fine twisted linen. God was so strong to impress us with the crucialness of this covering.
The church in Cleveland went through a lot to find and purchase the property on Warren Road, and then paid an even higher price to construct the meeting hall. There were not many of us, and no one was rich. But the Lord was faithful in the saints. Those who were there can tell you all the stories of labor and sacrifice. Even today, whenever I walk into the hall, I have to worship the Lord for his provision and the faithfulness of the saints to produce such a facility that has served the need of the church all these years.
During the time of building, winter began to set in, and snow was predicted. The footer was poured, the walls were up, and the trusses were set, but we had no roof. At this point a brother told me, “If it snows tonight, the whole project will have to stop until April.” This was because without a roof, there was no protection. Until we were under roof, nothing mattered. We worked and prayed desperately. Finally, the roof was finished, and immediately after it began to snow. Because the roof was on, the building work continued. The roof is so important.
The roof protects everything inside. If the roof is very good, the building is good. The roof also testifies of what is inside. If the roof is made of poor materials, we know that whatever is inside is also poor. If the roof is made of gold, we know that precious things must be inside.
The roof testifies of a building’s content. The content of the tabernacle was the most valuable thing in the universe, God Himself. This is why God seemed to forget everything else and told Moses to “make the tabernacle” from this covering. On the one hand the tabernacle was made of so many things, but on the other hand it was made of this one thing.
God would tell us to take care of the roof, because the roof represents the entire tabernacle. In fact, in His salvation, we are the roof. We are what people see, and we testify of what is inside.
Whether the church life can go on well or not has a lot to do with what kind of roof we are. If we are a sloppy roof, hiding in a corner doing our own things, the whole church will be unprotected. The snow will come in and the work will stop. If, on the other hand, we rise up according to the salvation we experience and become what God desires, a covering “of fine twisted linen,” the church will be protected and God will be testified.
The Bible is so strong. It says that when we raise up the structure of the tabernacle, we must take care of the roof, and make it “of fine twisted linen and blue and purple and scarlet material; you shall make them with cherubim, the work of a skillful workman”. The whole tabernacle is related to this.