The Tabernacle is known in Hebrew as the Mishkan (משכן, “residence” or “dwelling place”). The word “sanctuary” is also used as its name, as well as the phrase the “tent of meeting.”
It was a portable dwelling place for the Divine presence from the time of the Hebrew Exodus from Egypt through the conquering of the land of Canaan. It was constructed under the supervision of Moses according to the pattern God showed him on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 25.8-9). Later, its elements were made part of the final Temple in Jerusalem built by Solomon in the 10th century BC.
Occasionally we hear people speak of a sanctuary, or place of worship, as “God’s House.” That can be a bit misleading – the LORD doesn’t need a house to live in. He is Spirit and is everywhere present (Psalm 139.7-10; John 4.24). Why, then, did God instruct His people to build Him a sanctuary, “that I may dwell among them?”
As former slaves of the Egyptians the Israelites had no doubt seen the magnificent temples of Egypt. They may have even been forced to build some of them. Now they were refugees in the wilderness, a vagabond band, bewildered and afraid.
The tabernacle was not only a place for God to dwell, it was also a place for them to worship. It was a portable sanctuary where the glory of God far surpassed any temple they had ever seen.