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acacia in the Bible

Hebrew: שִׁטָּה —transliteration: shittah

also known as: Acacia raddiana

This word appears in the NRSV, NKJV and NIV, but not in the King James Bible, where it is simply called “shittah” (Isaiah 41:19 KJV) or “shittim” wood (Exodus 25:5 KJV).

It is believed that “shittah” is the red acacia tree (a tree that produces gum-arabic used in commerce by exuding a natural complex heteropolysaccharide—from damaged stems which solidifies). Its wood is called shittim wood (Exodus 26:15, 26; 25:10, 13, 23, 28, etc.). The bark is pale reddish or greenish.

Illustration from Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen

This species is called Vachellia seyal (aka Acacia seyal, aka White Whistling Thorn. Like the common hawthorn, it is a somewhat gnarled and thorny shrub and tree.

It is found in abundance in the Sinai peninsula.

Gum arabic is used in the arts as a binder and suspender for paint powders and as an additive in ceramic glazes. Is is also used in foods as a thickening agent and emulsifier. It has been harvested since antiquity.

God instructed that this thorn wood by used in construction of the Holy Tabernacle—and that it be covered with gold (Exo. 26:29).

Acacia is also the name of a large genus of shrubs and trees which have been provisionally divided into 5 genera: Acacia, Vachellia (former subgenus Acacia), Senegalia, Acaciella and Mariosousa.

Use in the Holy Tabernacle

The Lord said to Moses,

“Speak to the people of Israel, that they take for me a contribution. … gold, silver [etc.] …acacia wood… [etc.] And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it.

They shall make an ark of acacia wood. Two cubits and a half shall be its length… You shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and outside shall you overlay it… You shall make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold.

…You shall make a table of acacia wood. …overlay it with pure gold and make a molding of gold around it… You shall make the poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold, and the table shall be carried with these. …

…You shall make upright frames for the tabernacle of acacia wood. Ten cubits shall be the length of a frame, and a cubit and a half the breadth of each frame. There shall be two tenons in each frame, for fitting together. So shall you do for all the frames of the tabernacle. …

…You shall make bars of acacia wood, five for the frames of the one side of the tabernacle, and five bars for the frames of the other side of the tabernacle, and five bars for the frames of the side of the tabernacle at the rear westward. The middle bar, halfway up the frames, shall run from end to end. You shall overlay the frames with gold and shall make their rings of gold for holders for the bars, and you shall overlay the bars with gold. …

…And you shall make a veil …And you shall hang it on four pillars of acacia overlaid with gold, with hooks of gold, on four bases of silver. …

…You shall make a screen for the entrance of the tent… And you shall make for the screen five pillars of acacia, and overlay them with gold. Their hooks shall be of gold, and you shall cast five bases of bronze for them.

…You shall make the altar of acacia wood… make poles for the altar, poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with bronze…

—excerpts from Exodus 25-26 ESV

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Article Version: February 10, 2020