Reading in Deuteronomy, near the end of the book, we see that Moses is rapidly nearing the end of his earthly life, and God calls Moses and his servant and soon-to-be replacement, Joshua, to a tent where Joshua will be commissioned by God to become the leader of the Israelites and continue the role that Moses had.
Deuteronomy 31:14 TNIV reads:
14 The LORD said to Moses, “Now the day of your death is near. Call Joshua and present yourselves at the tent of meeting, where I will commission him.” So Moses and Joshua came and presented themselves at the tent of meeting.
However, the same passage in the NLT reads:
14 Then the Lord said to Moses, “The time has come for you to die. Call Joshua and present yourselves at the Tabernacle,[a] so that I may commission him there.” So Moses and Joshua went and presented themselves at the Tabernacle.
1. Deuteronomy 31:14 Hebrew Tent of Meeting; also in 31:14b.
Notice the footnote.
The KJV also reads:
14 And the LORD said unto Moses, Behold, thy days approach that thou must die: call Joshua, and present yourselves in the tabernacle of the congregation, that I may give him a charge. And Moses and Joshua went, and presented themselves in the tabernacle of the congregation.
A little bit different there.
Nearly all the translations I checked used the phrase, “Tent of Meeting”.
First question: Are the “tent of meeting” and the “Tabernacle” the same thing?
I realize that tabernacle is the word for “tent” in Hebrew. But it also is clear that most translators and scholars believe the Tabernacle and the Tent of Meeting are two different things. While the Tabernacle was constructed by the Israelites just as God instructed Moses on Mount Sinai, following a myriad of of detailed instructions that had to be done just exactly right, the Tent of Meeting was a different tent – just a tent – that Moses erected outside the camp, which was a place where God came down and met with Moses, and occasionally with Moses and other people as well.
A study note in the NET Bible for Exodus 33:7 reads:
A widespread contemporary view is that this section represents a source that thought the tent of meeting was already erected (see S. R. Driver, Exodus, 359). But the better view is that this is a temporary tent used for meeting the Lord. U. Cassuto explains this view very well (Exodus, 429-30), namely, that because the building of the tabernacle was now in doubt if the Lord was not going to be in their midst, another plan seemed necessary. Moses took this tent, his tent, and put some distance between the camp and it. Here he would use the tent as the place to meet God, calling it by the same name since it was a surrogate tent. Thus, the entire section was a temporary means of meeting God, until the current wrath was past.
Second question: Was the Tent of Meeting a temporary place until the Tabernacle was constructed? And then was the tent which is spoken about in Deut. 31 as the place where Joshua was commissioned and Moses “decommissioned” actually the Tabernacle? Therefore are the terms “Tent of Meeting” and “Tabernacle” used interchangeably in these passages in the Pentateuch?
Third question: Were the “Tent of Meeting” and the “Tabernacle” two separate tents with two separate functions throughout the exodus and the conquest of Canaan?
Fourth question: is the translation of “tent of meeting” as “Tabernacle” by the KJV and NLT translators in Deut. 31:14 correct? Or should they have stuck with “tent of meeting” like the other translations?
Fifth question: Is the “Tabernacle of the Congregation” as the KJV translates it the same as the Tabernacle, or could it be the same as the temporary “tent of meeting”?
I’m trying to picture this event in my mind. Did Moses and Joshua go to the Tabernacle, with all the people of Israel gathered to watch as Joshua is commissioned as their leader? Or did Moses and Joshua go to a tent outside the camp, by themselves, and meet with God in the pillar of cloud and fire, where Joshua was commissioned, with the Israelites possibly watching from afar?