Dolphins of Black Isle and Red Sea

We had to get there for 3.45pm in time for the correct tide. The place got busy and we wanted a good view. The carpark filled, and perhaps five dozen people armed with binoculars, telescopes and long lens cameras cheerfully trooped into position, expectantly waiting for the dolphins to show. We were at Chanonry Point between Fortrose and Rosemarkie on the Black Isle, the peninsula considered to be an ideal location with fine views across the Moray Firth to Fort George. We waited and waited, and save a few tails splashing the water some distance out, the Bottlenose Dolphins failed to keep their appointment. Disappointed dolphin watchers sullenly returned to their cars, group by group. Some would return on the morrow, while others’ schedules left no room. Thankfully, my family and I had been treated to a dolphin show earlier in the afternoon when we walked along the beach to inspect some sea caves from Rosemarkie. Splashing about in the water, it was as though the marine mammals wanted us to know that they were there.

Bizarrely, some Bible translations render Exodus 26:14, a text which describes the materials of the Tent of Meeting, as referring to Dolphin skins, but other versions translate it the skins of badger, goat, 'sea cow' seal or just 'fine leather': see here for the comparisons. Three types of dolphin make the Arabian Gulf their home (the Bottlenose Dolphin, the Humpback Dolphin, and the Finless Porpoise) so if the mysterious Hebrew word tachash does refer to this creature, it would not have been impossible to obtain it. That said, building the Tabernacle in the wilderness and away from the sea does make the acquisition of dolphin leatherware a rather difficult feat; the worship of God is often costly, but it is never beyond our reach. That word tachash is used also in Ezekiel 16:10, describing God’s generous, husbandly provision for Israel, His wayward wife:

I clothed you with an embroidered dress and put sandals of fine leather on you. I dressed you in fine linen and covered you with costly garments. (NIV)

Sandals of dolphin skin do not sound terribly pleasant, nor would they pass the standards of today’s eco-police. Yet this fine leather of tachash bespeaks luxury and rarity, much as seeing live dolphins off Black Isle. I suspect that the Tabernacle’s leather came from such other creature, yet it is still worth exploring one more aspect of the dolphin’s flesh. It constantly peels as new skin cells replace the old. A bottlenose’s outermost skin layer may be replaced every couple of hours which is nearly ten times faster than humans’ skin. This helps maintain a smooth body surface and helps increase swimming efficiency by reducing drag. There is an inbuilt renewal here. Although the Tabernacle could not itself create new human beings, redeemed from the Fall and revived by the Spirit, it pointed to One who would, the Lord Jesus. By coming to God through Him, one is revived, renewed and revitalised- daily, hourly, instantly. My physical skin continues to die and become dust, but my spirit has never been quicker, and the day is coming when my physical form, too, shall be ever fresh and vital.

Dolphins are intelligent, wonderfully designed creatures who provide thrills for humans when they consent to put on a good show. Yet their incredible skin (which surely did not evolve, but was intelligently designed) bespeaks our resurrection bodies, which their candidature for the tabernacle’s building materials might testify.