In Exodus 25:3-7 (NASB)

3 This is the contribution which you are to take from them: gold, silver, and bronze, 4 violet, purple, and scarlet material, fine linen, goat hair, 5 rams’ skins dyed red, fine leather, acacia wood, 6 oil for lighting, balsam oil for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, 7 onyx stones and setting stones for the ephod and for the breastpiece.

From reading this passage, can see that items (metals, yarns, oils, ...) are being organized by categories. For clarification, here's the categories I'm talking about

  • Metals - gold, silver, and bronze

  • Yarns - violet, purple, and scarlet

  • Materials - linen, goat hair

  • Leather - rams's skins, fine leather

  • Oils - oil, balsam oil

  • Stones - onyx and setting stones

Is the order within of items within the categories relevant?

  • 1
    Undoubtedly, yes. The next question is : Can we perceive the reason for the order ? Which is the more difficult question. Up-voted +1.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jan 28, 2021 at 20:41

1 Answer 1


The traditional interpretation of the order of these items, used to build the tabernacle, is in terms of proximity to the holy of holies and cost.

Gold, Silver, and Bronze

According to the JPS Tanakh commentary

The metals are listed in descending order of value. This, in turn, determines their use for various objects; the closer the object is to the Holy of Holies, the more valuable the metal of which it is made. Sarna, N. M. (1991). Exodus (p. 157). Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society.

As for value, this is true even today, and as for proximity to Holy of Holies, let's see if it checks out.

(Note that even in the text of Exodus ch 26-27, the description of items goes outward from the Holy of Holies)

Bronze items in the tabernacle

Bronze is often a symbol of the law and also of judgement, so the sacrificial service often happens in the context of a bronze item. Here are all the bronze items:

  • bronze clasps holding joining together the outer covers of the tent (Ex 26.11)
  • brazen bases of pillars at the entrance to the tent (Ex 26.37)
  • four horns of the brazen altar in which sacrifices were offered, outside the tent (Ex 27.2)
  • pots, forks, pans for removing fat of offerings outside the tent (Ex 27.3)
  • bronze grate on the sacrificial altar with bronze rings for burning the fat/meat (Ex 27.4)
  • poles for carrying the brazen alter overlayed with bronze (Ex 27.10) ltar of sacrifice in front of the tent
  • 20 pillars with bronze bases at the courtyard around the tabernacle (Ex 27:17-18)
  • Re-iteration that bronze is to be used for all the equipment of the sacrificial service, from the altar burning the fat to the grate and pots and pans, etc. And all the tent pegs. Ex 27.19
  • Bronze basin for washing placed between the brazen altar and the tent (Ex 30)

Silver Items in the Tabernacle

Note, silver is often a symbol of redemption, which is why people are purchased with silver, silver is required for restitution, and sometimes people who have been redeemed are clothed with silver items.

Silver items in the tabernacle:

  • The 20 wooden frames (boards, planks) for the floor of the tabernacle have 40 silver bases or pegs (one at each end of the board) (Ex 26.19)

  • 8 frames (boards) used for the doubled room at the end of the tabernacle will have 16 silver bases. This room will be for the holy of holies. (Ex 26.25)

  • The curtain of holy of holies is attached to 4 gold-covered pillars with gold hooks attached to silver bases (Ex 26.32)

  • Outside the tabernacle, the south courtyard will have 20 pillars with bronze bases (mentioned before) but the hooks and bands will be silver (Ex 27.10)

  • Same for north courtyard (Ex 27.11)

  • Ex 27.17, all the pillars on the courtyard will have silver bands and hooks.

Uses of Gold in the Tabernacle

Gold is often a symbol of righteousness.

Gold uses in the tabernacle:

In the Holy of Holies:

  • The Ark is overlaid with gold inside and outside, with gold molding all around, with gold rings and poles for carrying overlayed with gold. Ex 25.11-13

  • Ex 25,16-17. The "atonement" cover of the ark is pure gold as are the cherubim. The cover is also called the mercy seat.

In the Holy Place, but outside the Holy of Holies:

  • The table of shewbread overlayed with gold "all around" and its rim overlayed all around. Ex 25.24-25

  • 4 gold rings for carrying the table with acacia poles Ex 25.26-27

  • Acaia poles must also be covered with gold all around Ex 25.28

  • All the service (plates, ladels, bowls, pitchers) used at the table must be pure gold (Ex 25.29)

  • The lampstand from pure gold and the snuffers (Ex 25.31-40)

At the border of the tabernacle:

  • 50 gold clasps for joining the curtains to each other (Ex 26.6)

At the floor of the tabernacle:

  • The boards (with the silver pegs) overlayed with gold with gold rings - Ex 26.29


  • The 4 acacia pillars (with the silver base) separating the holy of holies will be overlayed with gold and using gold hooks - Ex 26.32

  • The 5 acacia pillars (with the bronze base) at the entrance overlaid with gold - Ex 26.37

Conclusion for metals

So it does appear to check out, that the order of the metals represents the orders they are used from the holy of holies outward.

Editorial remark: In the age of covid, I can't help but think the gold is treated as a type of sanitary layer, preventing any holy item in the ark from touching anything but gold. It is perhaps a metaphor that the presence of God can only dwell in righteousness. Similarly, the bronze bases of the poles have a sanitary connotation, preventing the poles from touching the earth, and same for the silver pegs on the planks. I think of the metals as playing this role.

Blue, Purple, Red yarn

JPS commentary again:

blue, purple, and crimson yarns These are the most expensive dyed yarns of antiquity. The sequence, once again, reflects their relative value and thus the degree of sanctity that attaches to the objects in which they are used, starting with the Holy of Holies. The dyes were all obtained from animal sources, and the yarns were to be used for the Tabernacle hangings and coverings and for the priestly vestments.

blue In the Bible, Hebrew tekhelet is frequently paired with Hebrew ʾargaman, purple, both being dyes produced from the murex, a marine snail termed ḥillazon in rabbinic tradition. This creature exudes a yellow fluid that becomes a dye in the red-purple range when exposed to sunlight. The desired shade was obtained by varying the species of murex and by adding other ingredients. Tekhelet was probably closer to a violet tint, while ʾargaman had a more reddish hue. The Phoenician coast was famous for its dyeing industry. Immense quantities of marine-snail shells dating to the fifteenth century B.C.E. have been found at Ugarit. Modern attempts to reconstruct the process have shown that it required thousands of snails to produce sufficient dye for one robe. This, together with the intensity of the labor and the superiority of the dye’s richness and stability, made the products very costly. Hence, possession of tekhelet-dyed or ʾargaman-dyed fabrics were marks of wealth, nobility, and royalty. Sarna, N. M. (1991). Exodus (p. 157). Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society.

Here in Exodus they are mostly used together.

The word for "blue" occurs 14 times in Ex 25-28, always in combination with "purple and crimson" and always in that order as part of "blue, purple, crimson yarn and finely twisted linen" except for the following cases where it is alone:


  • Ex 26.4 Blue loops joining the curtains of the tabernacle together.

Priestly garment:

  • Ex 28.28 Blue cord tying breastpiece to the ephod's waistband
  • Ex 28.31 Robe of Ephod made from purely blue yarn
  • Ex 28.37 A gold medallion with the word "A sacred thing for Yahweh" will be tied to the Turban with blue cord

Purple and Crimson never occurs outside the triplet of 'blue, purple, crimson' in Ex 25-28. All these occurences refer to the yarns that

  • making up the curtains in the tabernacle separating the holy of holies from holy place (Ex 26.31)
  • on the screen at the entrance (Ex 26.36)
  • on the screen at the gate of the courtyard (Ex 27.16)
  • the ephod is made from blue, purple, crimson yarns and so is the waistbelt and the breast piece (28.5-8)
  • so are the pomegranates on the hem of the blue robe (Ex 28.30)

Note that in the descriptions of the ephod materials, whenever "blue, purple, crimson yarn" occur, so does "gold" and "finely twisted linen" with the exception of the pomegranates on the hem, which are just the yarn.


In the tabernacle:

As mentioned previously, linen is used in the ephod and whenever the yarn is used, except for the pomegranates on the robe. It is not used independently in the tabernacle.

Priestly garments: The tunic, turban and sash are made from linen only. In all other uses, linen is part of the material involving the blue, purple, crimson yarn.

Goat Hair

  • Ex 26.7 11 goat hair curtains form the outer part of the tabernacle. (These are joined with bronze clasps.)

This is the only role it plays.

red-dyed ram's skins, fine leather

Only used as part of the 3 layer covering for the tent (Ex 26.14), with the hair (goat hair) then the skin (fine leather) and then the blood (red-dyed ram's skin). This is one of my favorite images of the tabernacle, as a type of the human body.

Again, note the order is from holy of holies out, so the red-died rams's skins are mentioned before the fine leather.

Rest of materials

As used in the tabernacle or priestly garment

  • oil ("pure, beaten olive oil) only used in the lamp Ex 27.20
  • Stones and onyx only used for ephod, not the tabernacle

About the onyx, there are two onyx stones with 6 of the 12 tribes engraved on each worn on the ephods shoulder, and then onyx is one of the 12 stones in the breastplace of righteousness.

Preliminary conclusions

There is a lifetime of study to understand this beautiful symbolism, and my understanding just scratches the surface, but here are some areas for further exegesis

  • There does appear to be evidence that the order is important in both preciousness and proximity to the holy of holies. Here we should divide the materials used in the tabernacle from those in the priestly garment and conside them in two batches. The one inversion is that goat hair is mentioned before the rams skins and leather, when it should be mentioned last if we are directly radiating out from the holy of holies. But if we consider them all as a unit "goat hair, red died rams skins, fine leather", then this unit should be last and is last in the series of materials starting with gold.

  • There is symbolic importance of the material as well. Looking at the metals we have gold, silver, bronze -- righteousness, redemption, judgement (or law).

God's presence requires gold, nothing touches the most holy objects except for gold. This is true for the three objects: the ark, table of the presence, the lampstand, and anything these objects could possibly touch.

For those (gold covered) items in the holy place (boards, pillars), whenever they touch the ground, there must be a silver layer between them and the ground.

For the sacrificial offerings, (blood, fat, meat) they must only touch bronze objects.

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