In Exodus 38, Moses describes the cost of constructing the Tabernacle. In addition to various animal skins and fine linens, the Tabernacle’s curtains, supports, furniture, and sacred instruments required “29 talents and 730 shekels” of gold and “100 talents and 1,775 shekels” of silver (Ex 38:24–25). If those measurements don’t make much sense to you, they didn’t to me either. But I did some math.
According to archaeological evidence, a talent—a unit measuring an object’s weight—was between 65 and 75 pounds, and a talent was equal to 3,000 shekels. So the total weight of gold used in the Tabernacle’s construction was between 1,900.795 lbs (29x65 + .243x65, since 730 shekels = .243 talents) and 2,193.225 lbs (.243x75+29x75). That’s between 30,412.72 and 35,091.6 ounces. On February 3, 2019, 1 oz of gold is worth $1,317.93. Therefore, the gold required for constructing the Tabernacle was worth between $40,081,836.07 and $46,248,272.39.
I’m just a pastor, so you’ll have to forgive me if my math doesn’t check out and for leaving it to you to figure out the silver. My point stands. The Tabernacle might seem to us like a dusty tent, but it would have been glorious to behold. And it didn’t compare to the Temple, which Solomon constructed using the “100,000 talents of gold and 1,000,000 talents of silver, and bronze and iron beyond weight” (1 Ch 22:14) that David had saved up.
The opulence of these sacred gathering places puts the world’s greatest cathedrals to shame, not to mention the plain and undecorated rooms in which we Baptists worship. But that’s alright, our worship is glorious, not for its surroundings (gold that adorns walls, doors, pulpits, or pews), but for its object. Christians gather each week in unassuming buildings, high school cafeterias, and movie theaters to enter into the presence of God through Christ, the One who “tabernacled” among us and revealed the glory of the unseen God (Jn 1:14), and that’s the glory involved in corporate worship. The gold of the Tabernacle shined bright in the sun of ancient deserts, but it was as a shadow compared to the light and glory revealed in Christ.
1. Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Weights and Measures,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 2138.