If we don’t know how to translate a word from the Bible, perhaps it’s best to keep the original language in place so folks are encouraged to dig a little deeper. Exodus 26:14 has to be the best example. The puzzling word in this verse is tachash—as in, “tachash skins.”
God wants tachash skins to make up the outer covering of the Tabernacle. This seems simple enough except for one problem. We don’t quite know what that is. It’s funny, then, to watch translators struggle to nail it down for their audience.
Quoting Exodus 26:14 in various translations,
NIV: “other durable leather”
NLT: “fine goatskin leather”
KJV: “badgers’ skin”
NASB: “porpoise skins”
ISV: “dolphin skins”
Aramaic Bible in Plain English: “skins of rams of sky blue”
Douay-Rheims Bible: “violet-colored skins”
New Heart English Bible: “sea cow hides skins”
The struggle is evident. I think the New American Bible comes in for the win here. They render it, simply, “…a covering of tachash skins.” In other words, we don’t know and we’re not even going to try.
Though we may never know for sure what tachash skins are, we have been given some insight as to why it was chosen. God’s selection isn’t without reasoning, and that reasoning is preserved in His Word. He selects this particular material to act as the outer layer of the Tabernacle because He wants us to see the Tabernacle from another angle. The insight is provided in Ezekiel 16:10 where God says, “I gave you expensive clothing of fine linen and silk, beautiful embroidered, and sandals made of [tachash].”
Ah-ha! Sandals made of tachash skins! Meaning, tachash is footwear material. The Tabernacle’s exterior is footwear material. If you think about it, this makes sense because the Tabernacle is like God’s sandal. The Tabernacle makes its way across the wilderness one step (or encampment) at a time. The Israelites reach their next stop at God’s direction; they drive stakes into the ground and set up camp. Then, when He is ready to move on, they pull up the stakes and move through the next stretch of their journey. The Tabernacle pulls up and lands, pulls up and lands, pulls up and lands. The picture here is appreciated: God is walking alongside His people, and His footprint is left in the dirt at every encampment they make along the way.
The physical nature of tachash skins becomes less important once we make the connection and see why God chooses it in the first place.