Finishing the worship center
Bezalel builds the hollow altar1 Bezalel’s next project was the main altar for the worship center. This was the altar for burnt offerings. He made the sacrificial altar out of acacia wood. He shaped it into a square that was 7½ feet wide and long, and 4½ feet high (2.3 m x 1.5 m). 2 He shaped each of the four corners into what looked like an animal horn, attaching them to the altar so they formed one unit. Then he covered the wooden altar with a layer of bronze. 3 He also used bronze to make the utensils needed for sacrificing animals on the altar. These included fire pans to carry hot coals to start the fire, forks to position the sacrifice on the altar, bowls used in sprinkling rituals, shovels to scoop up the ashes, and buckets to haul the ashes away. 4 Bezalel made a bronze grating for the altar. He put the grating below the rim of the altar and extended it halfway down the altar. 5 He molded a set of four bronze rings, one ring for each of the four corners—to hold poles used to carry the altar. 6 He made the poles out of acacia wood and covered them with bronze. 7 Then he put the poles into the rings. He made the altar hollow.
Construction in the courtyard8 Bezalel make a large bronze bowl with a bronze base. He made them from bronze mirrors donated by women who would work at the entrance into the courtyard of the worship center. 9 Next, he made a courtyard for the worship center, and he surrounded it with a wall of curtains made from the finest linen. Curtains on the south side of the courtyard stretched 50 yards (46 m) long. 10 He supported the curtains with 20 bronze posts and bases. He hung the curtains from silver rods and hooks. 11 He did the same for the north side of the courtyard: curtains 50 yards (46 m) long. They hung from silver hooks attached to silver rods on bronze frames and support bases. 12 He made the courtyard 25 yards (23 m) wide on the west side, walled off by curtains hanging from silver rods on 10 silver posts and bases. 13 The courtyard on the east side also extended 25 yards (23 m) long. 14 The east side of the courtyard became the eastern gate, the courtyard entrance. Bezalel gave it two curtains, one on each side of the entrance. The curtain on the right stretched 7½ yards long (almost 7 m), supported by three posts and bases. 15 Curtains on the left side of the entrance also reached 7½ yards long, supported by three posts and bases. 16 Expert weavers made every curtain in the courtyard from the finest linen. 17 All the posts in the courtyard were silver and seated in bronze bases. They were equipped with silver rings and hooks. 18 The courtyard entrance was 10 yards (9 m) wide, covered with curtains. A weaver made the curtains out of the finest linen, embroidered with decorations in blue, purple, and crimson. 19 Bezalel supported this curtain with four bronze posts and bases, equipped with silver rings and hooks to hold curtains. 20 He used bronze to make tent pegs for the worship center’s tent with its courtyard.
Price tag for the worship center21 Here’s an inventory of everything it took to build the tent worship center where the people of Israel kept the Ten Commandments. Moses instructed the people of his tribe, Levi, to compile the numbers. Aaron’s son Ithamar directed the audit and presented the report. 22 Master artisan Bezalel, of Judah’s tribe and son of Uri and grandson of Hur, made the worship center exactly as the LORD instructed. 23 Oholiab helped him. He was Ahisamach’s son from the tribe of Dan. Oholiab was an engraver and carver. He was also an expert in weaving and embroidering expensive linen of blue, purple, and crimson. 24 People of Israel gave gold in the Gratitude Offering. This gold, designated for the worship center, weighed just over a ton: 2,193 pounds (994 kg). That gold was used throughout the worship center. 25 The people also gave more than three tons of silver: 7,545 pounds (3, 420 kg). That’s based on the worship center’s standard weight for a shekel. 26 This silver came from a half-shekel tax, a fifth of an ounce (6 grams), paid by 603,550 men, ages 20 and older. 27 Most of this silver—7,500 pounds (3,402 kg)—became 100 silver bases for the tent sanctuary and the curtains. Each base weighed about 75 pounds (34 kg). 28 The other 45 pounds (20 kg) of silver became hooks and rings and covering for the tops of the posts that held up the curtains. 29 Bronze collected in the Gratitude Offering weighed two and a half tons (5,300 pounds, 2,407 kg). 30 Artisans used this bronze to make bases for the doorway into the tent sanctuary at the worship center. They also used it to make the sacrificial altar with the grating and the utensils needed to sacrifice animals. 31 They also used bronze to make pegs and bases for posts that supported the curtains walls of the courtyard along with the worship center’s sacred tent.
The writer’s description of the grating isn’t complete enough to give us an accurate picture of what the altar grating looked like or why it was there. Scholars are left guessing, which many of them love to do. Some scholars say the writer was describing decorative grating around the bottom half of the altar—a bit like wainscoting with bronze. Others picture the altar a little like a deck sitting above an area with lattice fencing below the deck. The lattice was to the deck what the grating was to the altar. Others describe the grading as the kind of thing barbecue aficionados would understand: the grating of a barbecue grill. Still others note that Exodus 27:8 says the altar was hollow. So they speculate that the grating was a metal strainer placed inside the altar, looking a bit like the strainer in which French fries are dipped into hot oil. This strainer inside the altar would allow ashes and grease from animal fat to fall to the ground. It would also have helped create a draft to fuel the fire. In addition, the metal framing would have reinforced the structure of the wooden altar, making it stronger. A full-grown dead bull can weight a ton (about 900 kg) or more.
Levites were priests and worship associates responsible for directing Israel’s worship practices and maintaining the worship center, and later the Jerusalem Temple (Numbers 18:21-24). Priests later conducted similar reports and censuses (Numbers 1:17-19).
This sacrificial offering goes by various names: fellowship offering, elevation offering, symbolic offering, special offering, and wave offering. The Hebrew word can mean to wave, lift, or blow. It was what some scholars say was mainly an expression of gratitude to God.
A shekel was a unit of weight in Bible times. It varied from place to place, but was usually a little less than 10 grams, a third of an ounce. And it was slightly heavier than a quarter or a euro.
If there were over 600,000 men, it’s a fair guess there were about 600,000 women. Put them together, and there may have been at least two children per couple. That’s about 2.4 million souls marching into the Sinai badlands, with their livestock. Those numbers seem unrealistic to many readers. If they walked in rows 100 yards (91 meters) long as they crossed the parted sea (Exodus 14:22), the column of one line after another would have stretched about 20 miles (32 kilometers). Commentators have suggested a variety of solutions. Here are three: TRUST GOD. This theory embraces the biblical story as accurate history. 600 CLANS. Another suggests the Hebrew word for “thousand” elep, can refer simply to a group of people, such as an extended family known as a clan, or a group of clans, called a tribe. So if there were 600 clans, there could have been fewer than 20,000 people—which is still a lot in a desert. SYMBOLIC NUMBERS. Another theory sees a hidden message in names. Hebrew letters had number equivalents, as did letters in other languages. A census of the Israelites said there were 603,551, which included Moses (Exodus 38:26). When we tally up the numbers for the phrase commonly used to refer to the Israelites, “sons of Israel,” the letters add up to 603,551. So the theory here is that all the Israelites came out of Egypt, however many there were.
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