CURTAIN/VEIL: Yeriah, tent curtains (Strong’s 3407); Paroket, curtain as divider (Strong’s 6532); Masak, entrance veil, hanging, screen, covering (Strong’s 4539); Masveh, wearing a veil (Strong’s 4533).
In Hebrew: Yeriah, (ye’ree’ah) יריעה; Paroket, (faro’ket/paro’ket) פרכת; Masak, (ma’sahk) מסך; Masveh, (mas’vey) מסוה.
I like curtains. They’re decorative and they have a purpose: they keep the sun out and the nosey neighbours from peeking in. Curtains are also a kind of protection that we can hide behind. And they’ve been around for many millennia, serving the same purpose. They have a place in the story of human existence, and the great epic adventure, portrayed in the Bible, gives curtains a significant part to play.
There are four main Biblical Hebrew words that are primarily translated as curtain or veil: Yeriah, Paroket, Masak, and Masveh. We’ll take a look at each of these words.
Yeriah: The Outer Curtain of the Tabernacle
Before there was Solomon’s Temple, the House of YHWH was the Tabernacle, a moveable tent that was able to be picked up and carried with the nomadic Hebrew people. Exodus has given us a detailed description of what this great sacred tent looked like, including the size, colour, decor and material of the curtains, and how they were joined together:
Exodus 26:1-14 (see also Exodus 36:8-19)
“Moreover, you shall make the tabernacle with ten curtains [eser y’rioht] of fine twisted linen and violet, purple, and scarlet material; you shall make them with cherubim, the work of a skilled embroiderer. The length of each curtain [ha-y’riah] shall be twenty-eight cubits, and the width of each curtain [ha-y’riah] four cubits; all the curtains [ah-y’rioht] shall have the same measurements. Five curtains [ha-y’rioht] shall be joined to one another, and the other five curtains [ha-y’rioht] shall be joined to one another. You shall make loops of violet on the edge of the outermost curtain [ha-y’riah] in the first set, and likewise you shall make them on the edge of the curtain [ha-y’riah] that is outermost in the second set. You shall make fifty loops in the one curtain [b-y’riah], and you shall make fifty loops on the edge of the curtain [ha-y’riah] that is in the second set; the loops shall be opposite each other. You shall also make fifty clasps of gold, and join the curtains [ha-y’rioht] to one another with the clasps so that the tabernacle will be a unit.
Then you shall make curtains [y’rioht] of goats’ hair as a tent over the tabernacle; you shall make eleven curtains [y’rioht] in all. The length of each curtain [ha-y’riah] shall be thirty cubits, and the width of each curtain [ha-y’riah] four cubits; the eleven curtains [y-rioht] shall have the same measurements. You shall join five curtains [ha-y’rioht] by themselves and the other six curtains [ha-y’rioht] by themselves, and you shall double over the sixth curtain [ha-y’riah] at the front of the tent. You shall make fifty loops on the edge of the curtain [ha-y’riah] that is outermost in the first set, and fifty loops on the edge of the curtain [ha-y’riah] that is outermost in the second set.
You shall also make fifty clasps of bronze, and you shall put the clasps into the loops and join the tent together so that it will be a unit. The overhanging part that is left over in the curtains [bi-yrioht] of the tent, the half curtain [ha-y’riah] that is left over, shall hang over the back of the tabernacle. The cubit on one side and the cubit on the other, of what is left over in the length of the curtains [y’rioht] of the tent, shall hang over the sides of the tabernacle on one side and on the other, to cover it. And you shall make a covering for the tent of rams’ skins dyed red and a covering of fine leather above.”
The artisan Bezalel was designated as chief artisan of the Tabernacle in Exodus 36, and it was an important artistic assignment. The Tabernacle was the tent that housed the Presence of YHWH. It was to be His home base on earth. What better commission could there be for an artist, than to design a dwelling place for the Creator?cf
A tent was a residence, and the loss of your tent was the tragic loss of your home. This was a metaphor used repeatedly by Jeremiah, the prophet:
My soul, my soul! I am in anguish! Oh, my heart! My heart is pounding in me; I cannot keep silent, because, my soul, you have heard the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war.
Disaster upon disaster is proclaimed, for the whole land is devastated; suddenly my tents are devastated, and my curtains [y’riohtai] in an instant.
Jeremiah prophesied during the threat of the Babylonian invasion. The loss of home was at the forefront of his mind and in the minds of all who were under siege. Jerusalem was destined to become homeless.
My tent is destroyed, and all my ropes are broken. My sons have gone from me and are no more. There is no one to stretch out my tent again or to set up my curtains [y’riohtai].
For the shepherds have become stupid and have not sought YHWH. Therefore they have not prospered, and all their flock is scattered.
When your tent was at risk, you were at risk. Homelessness was, and is, a terrible thing. Habakkuk (3:7) spoke of the distressed tents of Cushan and the trembling tent curtains of Midian; and Jeremiah (49:28-29) prophesied that Kedar’s tent curtains would be uprooted in terror. These metaphors of distressed and fallen curtains pointed to terrible events that would fall upon Israel’s enemies.
But the metaphor, tying the health of the nations to the virility and stability of tent curtains, wasn’t always negative. Isaiah took the metaphor and expressed that Israel’s success would amount to the expansion of tent curtains:
“Enlarge the place of your tent; stretch out the curtains [wi-y’rioht] of your dwellings, do not spare them; lengthen your ropes and strengthen your pegs.
For you will spread out to the right and to the left. And your descendants will possess nations and will resettle the desolate cities.”
Finally, the unidentified poet of Psalm 104 showed YHWH displaying heaven like a tent curtain:
Bless YHWH, my soul!
YHWH my God, You are very great; You are clothed with splendour and majesty, covering Yourself with light as with a cloak, stretching out heaven like a tent curtain [ka-y’riah].
The heavens are like YHWH’s tent curtains for us, and the earth is where our feet rest. We are under the curtains of His domain!
Paroket: the Divider
Another Hebrew word that is often translated as veil or curtain is paroket. It comes from the root word, perek (6531), meaning to break apart or divide with severity. A paroket breaks apart space. It is, essentially, a space breaker.
The Tabernacle was divided up into different spaces. As seen above, Exodus 26:1-14 outlined the organization of the tent curtain walls (yeriah), but further down in the chapter we read about a veil (paroket) that broke up the space. The veil created a partition within the Tabernacle between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place… the place where YHWH’s Presence in the Ark of the Testimony was housed.
“You shall also make a veil [paroket] of violet, purple, and scarlet material, and fine twisted linen; it shall be made with cherubim, the work of a skilled embroiderer. Then you shall hang it on four pillars of acacia overlaid with gold, their hooks also of gold, on four bases of silver. You shall hang up the veil [ha-paroket] under the clasps, and bring in the ark of the testimony there within the veil [la-paroket]; and the veil [ha-paroket] shall serve as a partition for you between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. You shall put the atoning cover on the ark of the testimony in the Most Holy Place. And you shall set the table outside the veil [la-paroket], and the lampstand opposite the table on the side of the tabernacle toward the south; and you shall put the table on the north side.”
Furniture placement instructions were given in relation to the placement of the veil. The continually burning lamp was to be placed outside the veil [la-paroket] which is before the testimony (Exodus 27:21; see also Leviticus 24:3). The acacia wood altar, which was overlaid with gold, was to be placed in front of the veil [ha-paroket] that is near the ark of the testimony (Exodus 30:6).
Not just anyone could breach the divide and enter the sanctuary of the Tabernacle, which housed the lamp and the altar. Only Levitical priests could perform the necessary functions that occurred behind the first veil. Anyone not unauthorized to go behind the veil would face death:
“Behold, I Myself have taken your fellow Levites from among the sons of Israel; they are a gift to you, dedicated to YHWH, to perform the service for the tent of meeting. But you and your sons with you shall attend to your priesthood for everything that concerns the altar and inside the veil [la-paroket], and you are to perform service. I am giving you the priesthood as a service that is a gift, and the unauthorized person who comes near shall be put to death.”
When there were animal sacrifices for sin offerings, the blood of the sacrifice was sprinkled before the veil:
Leviticus 4:5-6 (see also Leviticus 4:16-17)
Then the anointed priest is to take some of the blood of the bull and bring it to the tent of meeting, and the priest shall dip his finger in the blood and sprinkle some of the blood seven times before YHWH, in front of the veil [paroket] of the sanctuary.
Within the sanctuary, but behind the veil,j was the Holy of Holies. The veil separated the Ark from the rest of the sacred space. It divided the space from Holy to Most Holy. Only the High priest could breach the divide, but not on just any day:
Now YHWH spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they had approached the presence of YHWH and died. YHWH said to Moses:
“Tell your brother Aaron that he shall not enter at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil [la-paroket], before the atoning cover which is on the ark, or he will die; for I will appear in the cloud over the atoning cover.”
Only on the Day of Atonement could the High Priest, under very strict conditions, go behind the veil and stand in the presence of Ark of the Covenant (see Leviticus 16:11-17). The curtains guaranteed the division.
Masak: A Covering Curtain
Masak is another Hebrew word frequently translated as curtain, covering curtain or screen.
He [Bezalel] also made a curtain [masak] for the doorway of the tent, of violet, purple, and scarlet material, and fine twisted linen, the work of a weaver.
Masak was usually associated with a curtain covering at some sort of entrance, like a doorway or a gate:
Interestingly, there was a certain family that was responsible specifically for the Tabernacle curtains:
Numbers 3:25-26 (see also Numbers 4:25)
Now the duties of the sons of Gershon in the tent of meeting included the tabernacle and the tent, its covering, and the curtain [u-masak] for the entrance of the tent of meeting, and the
curtains (hangings) of the courtyard, the curtain [masak] for the entrance of the courtyard which is around the tabernacle and the altar, and its ropes, according to all the service concerning them.
The Gershonites had the duty of caring for the entrance curtains (masak) of the tent and courtyard. But a masak was more than just entrance curtains. The word was also used to denote protection.
When David was hiding from his rebellious son, Absalom, two of David’s spies were protected by the use of a masak:
2 Samuel 17:17-20
Now Jonathan and Ahimaaz were staying at En-rogel, and a female servant would go and inform them, and they would go and inform King David, for they could not allow themselves to be seen entering the city.
But a boy did see them, and he told Absalom; so the two of them left quickly and came to the house of a man in Bahurim, who had a well in his courtyard, and they went down into it. And the woman took a cover [a curtain: et ha-masak] and spread it over the well’s mouth and scattered barley meal on it, so that nothing was known.
Then Absalom’s servants came to the woman at the house and said, “Where are Ahimaaz and Jonathan?”
And the woman said to them, “They have crossed the brook of water.”
And when they searched and did not find them, they returned to Jerusalem.
The woman protected Ahimaaz and Jonathan by creatively using a curtain to hide them. The entrance to the well was covered by an entrance curtain and camouflaged with grain. It was a clever choice.
Psalm 105 was a song that recalled the great escape from Egypt, led by Moses and it spoke of YHWH’s protection using a masak:
Then He brought the Israelites out with silver and gold, and among His tribes there was not one who stumbled.
Egypt was glad when they departed, for the dread of them had fallen upon the Egyptians.
He spread out a cloud as a covering/curtain [l-masak], and fire to illumine by night.
They asked, and He brought quail, and satisfied them with the bread of heaven.
He opened the rock and water flowed out; it ran in the dry places like a river.
For He remembered His holy word with His servant Abraham; and He led out His people with joy, His chosen ones with a joyful shout.
YHWH’s presence, as a protective cloud, was like a curtain covering and sheilding them by day. But just as easily as He could cover them with a curtain, He could also withdraw the curtain.
When the people rejected YHWH, He honoured their rejection by removing the curtain of His defense. The enemies could storm the gate because the entrance curtain of God’s protection had been removed:
Then your choicest valleys were full of chariots, and the horsemen took positions at the gate. And He removed the defense [the covering: et masak] of Judah.
On that day you depended on the weapons of the house of the forest, and you saw that the breaches in the wall of the city of David were many; and you collected the waters of the lower pool.
Then you counted the houses of Jerusalem and tore down houses to fortify the wall. And you made a reservoir between the two walls for the waters of the old pool.
But you did not depend on Him who made it, nor did you take into consideration Him who planned it long ago.
The people would hold on as long as they could, but once protection was lifted, and the entrance curtains crashed, there wasn’t much left to hold onto. The Babylonians seized Jerusalem and Judah was sent into exile.
The New Temple has No Curtain
God’s Sacred Space on earth had an interesting transition. It started with a moveable Tent made of curtains, then a Temple nailed in one place, and then a living, flesh, House of God.
The advantage of a Tent/Tabernacle was it’s flexibility. It could move with the people so that God would always be present among them. The people wanted Him to be with them, and He accommodated. But when David wanted to build an immovable House of God, YHWH had objections:
1 Chronicles 17:1-5 (see also 2 Samuel 7:1-4)
And it came about, when David lived in his house, that David said to Nathan the prophet, “Look, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of the covenant of YHWH is under tent curtains [y’rioht].”
Then Nathan said to David, “Do whatever is in your heart, for God is with you.”
But it happened that same night, that the word of God came to Nathan, saying, “Go and tell David My servant, ‘This is what YHWH says: “You shall not build a house for Me to dwell in; for I have not dwelt in a house since the day that I brought up Israel to this day, but I have gone from tent to tent and from one dwelling place to another.”’”
YHWH had always been a mobile God. The idea of nailing God into one place made no sense, and it was not what God wanted. David was God’s anointed king and the ancestor to the Anointed One (the Messiah) who would bring salvation and He would not be the one to raise permanent walls for God to be boxed in.
YHWH, instead promised a permanent house for His believers. He would make a house for David, not the other way around:
2 Samuel 7:11b-16
“YHWH also declares to you that YHWH will make a house for you. When your days are finished and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come from you, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he does wrong, I will discipline him with a rod of men and with strokes of sons of mankind, but My favour shall not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from you. Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever.”
So David was not to build a Temple; instead a descendant would build a Temple in YHWH’s name. Solomon assumed he was this son:
1 Kings 5:2-5
Then Solomon sent word to Hiram, saying, “You know that David my father was unable to build a house for the name of YHWH his God because of the wars which surrounded him, until YHWH put them under the soles of his feet. But now YHWH my God has secured me rest on every side; there is neither adversary nor misfortune. So behold, I intend to build a house for the name of YHWH my God, just as YHWH spoke to David my father, saying, ‘Your son, whom I will put on your throne in your place, he will build the house for My name.’”
Was Solomon the son YHWH spoke of?
Yeshua (Jesus), the Son of God, brought a radically different kind of Temple.
The Jews then said to Him, “What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?”
Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
The Jews then said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and yet You will raise it up in three days?”
But He was speaking about the temple of His body. So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.
The body was a Living Temple for believers. How we live, how we breathe, it was all meant to be a reflection of the Creator whom we follow. But this new Temple had no curtain.
The Temple of YHWH- Yeshua Breaking the Barriers
Yeshua (Jesus) was the Anointed One sent by YHWH to save us from the finality of death. This was His mission and this was His purpose. His death paid the price so we could live freely in YHWH’s Kingdom.
So it should not be a surprise to anyone that at the moment of His death, the veil in the Temple was torn from top to bottom.
And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and gave up His spirit. And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split. Also the tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection, they entered the holy city and appeared to many. Now as for the centurion and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the other things that were happening, they became extremely frightened and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”
Yeshua conquered death, returned from the grave, and opened the gate that would allow us to go back to the Garden and lovingly face our Creator. The curtains (masak) at the gate were lifted!
With this metaphor it makes absolute sense that the curtain would tear from top to bottom! Yeshua was a Living Temple who was raised up after three days. When the curtain was torn from top to bottom, it opened the Holy of Holies to everyone. It was no longer just for the High Priest, it was an invitation for every body to meet God without barriers.
This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and reliable and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.
Yeshua was the King and High Priest who entered behind the veil and then He tore the curtain down so we would have full access to the God who loves us.
If you recall, cherubim were embroidered on the Tabernacle curtains [paroket] (Exodus 26:1, 31). Why cherubim? Because it was cherubim who were left to guard the gates when Eve and Adam were expelled from the Garden.
So He [YHWH] drove the man out; and at the east of the Garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.
When the Temple curtains were torn at the time of Yeshua’s death it was as if the cherubim opened the gates to the path leading back to the Tree of Life. The Garden of Eden was reopened to all humans in relationship with their Creator. Humans were redeemed because Yeshua paid the entrance fee.
The very end of the Biblical story shared this good news ending:
And he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the Tree of Life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illuminate them; and they will reign forever and ever.
It’s a beautiful end to the Bible’s beautiful story of redemption and love. But we’re not there yet.
Masveh: The Face/Heart Veil
People are still living as if there is a curtain restricting their entrance back to YHWH. To drive the metaphor home… many have veiled their hearts in shadow and refuse to open the curtains and see the light.
There is another veil discussed in the Bible (masveh)… a veil to cover one’s face. Moses wore a veil after He encountered YHWH on Mount Sinai:
And it came about, when Moses was coming down from Mount Sinai (and the two tablets of the testimony were in Moses’ hand as he was coming down from the mountain), that Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because of his speaking with Him.
So when Aaron and all the sons of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to approach him. Then Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the rulers in the congregation returned to him; and Moses spoke to them. Afterward all the sons of Israel came near, and he commanded them to do everything that YHWH had spoken to him on Mount Sinai. When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil [mas’veh] over his face.
But whenever Moses went in before YHWH to speak with Him, he would take off the veil [ha-mas’veh] until he came out; and whenever he came out and spoke to the sons of Israel what he had been commanded, the sons of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone. So Moses would put the veil [et ha-mas’veh] back over his face until he went in to speak with Him.
The presence of YHWH was so powerful and impacting that Moses would have to cover his face after he had been in the presence of YHWH, to protect those around him.
Paul, (whose trade, it should be noted, was tent-making (Acts 18:3), reflected on this story about Moses’ veiled face:
2 Corinthians 3:12-18
Therefore, having such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech, and we are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not stare at the end of what was fading away. But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in the Messiah.
But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their hearts; but whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. But we all, with unveiled faces, looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.
With Yeshua’s death and resurrection, He paved the way for us to return peacefully to the Father. The need to cover our faces after encountering YHWH was no longer necessary. But many still live with hardened minds and veiled hearts today. The curtain has been torn wide open, but people can still draw the curtain closed around them and remain in darkness.
The author of Hebrews really understood the metaphor of the veil: Yeshua opened the veil when His blood was spilled (just like a sacrificial lamb at the Temple), so we could confidently enter into the Holy Place.
Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, through His flesh, and since we have a Great Priest over the house of God, let’s approach God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
Let’s hold firmly to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let’s consider how to encourage one another in love and good deeds, not abandoning our own meeting together, as is the habit of some people, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
Now that our passage back to the Garden has been paid for, our focus should be on reflecting God’s image to everyone around us. We ought to encourage each other to keep our hearts free from any barriers holding us back from YHWH. The curtain was torn down for a beautiful purpose… let’s not be responsible for hanging it back up again.
Next week: Revisiting BOOK