Sunday, June 5, 2011

Exodus 40:17 - When was the Tabernacle setup: day or night ?

While working on my Tabernacle Explorer 3D, one very interesting question arose that I feel compelled to answer: when was the Tabernacle actually setup? Was it during the day? Or was it during the night ?

Well, according to the Law of Moses, the day begins after sunset and ends right before the sunset.

Exodus 40:17 provides us only with the date when the Tabernacle was setup:
17 And it came to pass in the first month in the second year, on the first day of the month, that the tabernacle was reared up.


‎17 ‏וַיְהִ֞י בַּחֹ֧דֶשׁ הָרִאשׁ֛וֹן בַּשָּׁנָ֥ה הַשֵּׁנִ֖ית בְּאֶחָ֣ד לַחֹ֑דֶשׁ הוּקַ֖ם הַמִּשְׁכָּֽן׃

As you can see, we are only told that the Tabernacle was setup on the 1st of Abib, of the second year after Exodus from Egypt. But no information provided as to the time of the setup of the Tabernacle.

Did Levites start to assemble the Tabernacle right after sunset and worked through the night? Or did assembly of the Tabernacle begin at some other time of the Hebrew day?

The answer to this question can be found right in the original text, in the last verse of the Book of Exodus, in Exodus 40:38, and also in Numbers 9:15-16.

Let's take a look at Exodus 40:38:
38 For the cloud of the LORD was upon the tabernacle by day, and fire was on it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys.


38 ‏כִּי֩ עֲנַ֨ן יְהוָ֤ה עַֽל־הַמִּשְׁכָּן֙ יוֹמָ֔ם וְאֵ֕שׁ תִּהְיֶ֥ה לַ֖יְלָה בּ֑וֹ לְעֵינֵ֥י כָל־בֵּֽית־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל בְּכָל־מַסְעֵיהֶֽם׃

Now, let's compare it with the description provided in Exodus 40:33-34:
33 And he reared up the court round about the tabernacle and the altar, and set up the hanging of the court gate. So Moses finished the work.

34 Then a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.



‎33 ‏וַיָּ֣קֶם אֶת־הֶחָצֵ֗ר סָבִיב֙ לַמִּשְׁכָּ֣ן וְלַמִּזְבֵּ֔חַ וַיִּתֵּ֕ן אֶת־מָסַ֖ךְ שַׁ֣עַר הֶחָצֵ֑ר וַיְכַ֥ל מֹשֶׁ֖ה אֶת־הַמְּלָאכָֽה׃ פ

‎34 ‏וַיְכַ֥ס הֶעָנָ֖ן אֶת־אֹ֣הֶל מוֹעֵ֑ד וּכְב֣וֹד יְהוָ֔ה מָלֵ֖א אֶת־הַמִּשְׁכָּֽן׃

Now we can most definitively say that the Levites started to assemble the Tabernacle sometime after sunrise on the 1st of Abib, so most likely the Tabernacle was fully assembled several hours later, by the early morning hour. This is because the description states that the cloud[of smoke] covered the Tabernacle, not the cloud[of fire]. Thus, as the description states, so it was: the Cloud (Pillar of Smoke) covered the Tabernacle.



And by the evening of the very same day (1st of Abib), the fully assembled Tabernacle was for the very first time covered with Pillar of Fire, like so:


So, as you can see, this question is a prime example of how seemingly minute details can be extracted from the original text just by carefully reading and comparing relevant verses.

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