"And behold, this is the whole meaning of the law [of Moses], every whit pointing to that great and last sacrifice; and that great and last sacrifice will be the Son of God, yea, infinite and eternal." (Alma 34: 14).
Every single component of the tabernacle was described by the Lord to Moses. It is not presumptuous to believe that the very placement of the holy vessels within the tabernacle had some purpose, meaning, or symbol. It is not presumptuous to believe that the placement or physical layout of the tabernacle was meant to point to Jesus Christ.
There is however, no single consensus among scholars regarding the physical placement of the holy vessels. In regards to physical placement, the following assumptions will be made:
- The physical arrangement of the tabernacle points to or teaches of Jesus Christ.
- Since the tabernacle was portable, the physical arrangement would be easy to recreate.
- The physical arrangement would be functional (i.e. not prohibit human passage).
In attempting to recreate my own scale model of the tabernacle, the physical placement of the altar of sacrifice, laver, table, menorah, altar of incense, and the ark came into question. One theory of arrangement is depicted here in the diagram to the right. Click on the diagram for greater resolution.
The author of the diagram uses scriptural references to determine the arrangement. It should be pointed out that the general placement of the ark, laver, and altar of burnt offerings is generally accepted (the exact placement is debatable.) What is the least clear in terms of placement is the three vessels of the Holy Place. Based on scripture, the author concludes the articles are not specifically stated to be in a straight line, but since it does not state otherwise, the assumption can be made.
The author takes further leeway in using books from the Apocrapha to assert the three vessels should be in a straight line, which happens to fit the notion that the arrangement forms a cross, in reference to the crucifixion of Jesus.
Based on a scale model of the tabernacle and all the vessels therein, the arrangement as asserted by the author will be recreated in the following diagram to the left.
It is apparent that this arrangement would severely hinder any person from passing by these vessels and into the Holy of Holies. Given the sacred nature of these articles, and the fact two of them had burning contents, it would be unwise to have them placed in such a way were they could be bumped and possibly knocked over. The table of shew bread had large jars of wine which if bumped into might cause the contents to spill. This arrangement has a cluttered feel not in keeping with the order, symmetry, simplicity, and harmony apparent in the works of the Lord.
Since the exact location of the holy vessels is not mentioned in scripture, there can be no definitive answer. The aforementioned diagram is the most exhaustive attempt to provide proof for a theory of placement. The author used sound logic and reasoning, however I do not believe any attempt was made to place a scale model of the vessels in the arrangement described as I have done. Based on the inefficient placement this theory suggests, I must reject it.
By adding the guides from 1 to 7 and 5 to 11 (not in the the aforementioned diagram) we find they intersect the 5 to 10 line and the 2 to 7 line inside the holy place. I have also added the lines 3 to 8 and 4 to 9. The intersection of these lines is also within the Holy Place. In this manner the Levites could take down and set up the tabernacle knowing the precise location of each of the vessels. It is interesting to note the placement of the vessels within the Holy Place form a triangle pointing to the Holy of Holies.
So here are the facts. The arrangement I have created is based on scripture. While the precise location is not given, the general arrangement is. The use of guide lines between pillars (similar to surveying) is based on the diagram of which I could not find the source. So this is a theory. The best evidence I can provide to support my theory is based on harmony with other scripture.
If you look at the diagram I created, you will note that only a certain number of the pillars around the courtyard are used as guides. The absolute minimum number of posts a person would need to establish the location of all the holy vessels is 12 of the 60 posts. To me this in not a coincidence and is in fact alluded to in Eph. 2: 19-21 which reads:
"Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord..."I feel it necessary to emphasize the significance of the number 12 in the scale model. Upon creating the tabernacle in Sketchup, I started with the size of the courtyard, 100 x 50 cubits. I then drew in the guides as depicted in the Hebrew diagram based on sub divisions not pillar locations. At that point in time I had not yet created the pillars. In the Sketchup program I created the prototype pillar and placed it at one corner of the courtyard. I then replicated the prototype and placed the replica at another corner. Based on scripture, I inputted the appropriate number of pillars along a single side. The program would then place 19 pillars spaced equally between the prototype and the replica. It was after I had nearly finished the model that I realized the guide lines matched up directly with the posts, and that the minimum number of posts needed to place all vessels was twelve.
Based on the aforementioned scripture in Ephesians, it is clear the Courtyard pillars are not the foundation of the structure in the commonly held definition of the word. However, the 1828 Webster dictionary defines foundation additionally as basis or groundwork of something. In this case the pillars (Apostles) are to serve as the (basis, foundation) upon which the gospel of Jesus Christ would be administered.
There is an incredible amount of symbolism this idea provides. The apostasy came about as a result of the death of the Apostles. The direct revelation between the Lord and His church, and the Priesthood were cutoff from the earth. Without the guides provided by the Apostles (pillars) it would be impossible to determine the leadership, guidance, and authority of the church as a whole. It would be impossible to administer the church under the guidance of the Lord. In relation to the tabernacle, it would be impossible to set up the exact location of the vessels without guides. A person attempting to set up the tabernacle by not looking at the pillars (Apostles) would get close, but it would not be in the precise spot the Lord had dictated.
For example, attempting to set up the Laver without the guides might get you within a couple of inches at best of the precise location. Attempting to perform a baptism without Priesthood keys, witnesses, proper methodology, and preparation might get you close, but it is not the manner which the Lord had prescribed. Hence it would not be a valid baptism.