“And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them. According to all that I shew thee, after the pattern of the tabernacle, and the pattern of all the instruments thereof, even so shall ye make it.””
The Lord revealed to the prophet Moses a vision of the tabernacle. This vision showed Moses the pattern or the blueprint of the holy structure where the Lord would dwell. The materials, placement, and dimensions were all shown to him in intricate detail. Upon receiving this pattern, Moses gathered materials from the voluntary donations from the children of Israel and began to build the structure and components patterned after the vision he had received.
Exodus chapter 40 details the actual setup of the tabernacle after all of its various components had been constructed. The order in which the various components of the tabernacle were set up is as follows: the sideboards of the inner sanctuary were set atop the foundation sockets, the four coverings were then draped over the inner sanctuary (v.2), the ark was placed in the Most Holy Place (v.3), the veil of the temple was hung (v.3), the table of shewbread and candlestick were arranged in the Holy Place (v.4), the altar of incense was placed (v.5), the door of the Holy Place was hung (v.5), the altar of burnt offerings was placed (v.6), the laver was placed (v.7), and finally the outer courtyard pillars and hangings were setup (v.8).
The vision of the tabernacle which the Lord revealed to Moses certainly had the holy vessels placed in a certain location for a specific purpose. Where exactly were those locations? It is not unreasonable to assume that (1) the Lord wanted the vessels and structure to be placed in the exact locations He revealed in the vision, and (2) Moses wanted to build and place everything as closely as possible to the revealed vision so as to replicate the “pattern of the tabernacle” shown unto him.
So as Moses began to take the holy vessels and place them in the tabernacle as described in Exodus 40, he either asked the question “Lord, where exactly do you want this?”, or he had previously staked out the positions of all the components based on the pattern of the tabernacle”. Either way, it was the Lord who designated where they should go. Moses was literally building a house for the Lord, and then helped the Lord ‘move in’ by placing all the furniture. When you help a friend move into a new home, you naturally will ask them were they want the sofa, couch, bed, etc.
The scriptural record does not specify the exact position of the vessels within the tabernacle. They do however provide the general locations in relation to one another. The following image details the general location of all the holy vessels based on the scripture references provided.
Based on the scriptural references provided in the preceding image, there is no way to establish the exact location of the vessels as the Lord revealed to Moses in the vision. As a result, there are many different ideas and theories as to where the vessels were actually placed. The following images demonstrate a few of the many different ideas for the physical layout of the tabernacle.
As the preceding image shows, there are differences in opinion as to where the ark goes, which direction it faces, the size of the laver, and where it goes, and how the vessels in the Holy Place are arranged. Without the actual blueprint it is difficult to find exactly how the Lord set up the tabernacle. Another example of a proposed layout is shown in Figure 2. In this diagram, created by R.H. Mount, Jr. M.E., an attempt is made to demonstrate the vessels were laid in the pattern of a cross.
Figure 3 shows what the Figure 2 would have looked like using a scale model.
It is apparent the arrangement in Figure 3 would severely hinder any person from passing by these vessels and into the Most Holy Place. While it is true the Most Holy Place was entered into only once a year, the High Priest would still have to pass by. Given the sacred nature of these vessels, and the fact that 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 shewbread had large jars of wine, which if bumped into might cause the contents to spill out. In my opinion, this arrangement has a cluttered feel not in keeping with the order, symmetry, simplicity, and harmony apparent in the works of the Lord.
Figure 2 is one of the most exhaustive attempts to provide proof for a theory of placement. Yet even this theory does not attempt to specify the exact location of each vessel. As the creator did not attempt to arrange the vessels in a scale model, he did not see the actual effect it would have. This individual did however understand the tabernacle symbolized the role of Jesus Christ in helping mankind return to the presence of the Father. Once can understand how the symbolic cross arrangement made by the vessels as show in Figure 2 might have merit. Based on the scale model however, I do not believe the arrangement in Figure 2 is accurate.
In attempting to ‘build’ a scale model of the tabernacle, the question of where everything should be placed came into question. My search for an answer led me to the pixilated image depicted in Figure 4. The writing is in Hebrew, and the resolution is the best I could find. In my opinion, this is the most reasonable and logical method of placement that I have been able to find. Note how the positions of all the vessels within the tabernacle are established except for the vessels in the Holy Place.
In a book titled My Father’s House, by Richard Holzapfel and David Seely, a more simplified diagram of the same nature as Figure 4 is depicted in Figure 5. Notice again however the locations of all vessels is not established.
Holzapfel and Seely refer to this diagram by stating “[The Lord's] perfection was symbolized by a series of square courts and cubes, climaxing in the Holy of Holies, which contained the Ark of the Covenant and the tablets of the law.” Figures 4 and 5 reveal a method that would be very simple to use in placing the vessels. This method becomes even more important when it is remembered the tabernacle was a portable structure. During the forty year journey in the wilderness this structure would have been disassembled and reassembled numerous times. Some means would have been established to ensure the vessels would be in the exact right place.
Please continue on to this link, which discusses the symbolism of the layout.