|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
8:1-11 The bringing in the ark, is the end which must crown the work: this was done with great solemnity. The ark was fixed in the place appointed for its rest in the inner part of the house, whence they expected God to speak to them, even in the most holy place. The staves of the ark were drawn out, so as to direct the high priest to the mercy-seat over the ark, when he went in, once a year, to sprinkle the blood there; so that they continued of use, though there was no longer occasion to carry it by them. The glory of God appearing in a cloud may signify, 1. The darkness of that dispensation, in comparison with the light of the gospel, by which, with open face, we behold, as in a glass, the glory of the Lord. 2. The darkness of our present state, in comparison with the sight of God, which will be the happiness of heaven, where the Divine glory is unveiled.
Verse 8. - And they drew out [It is uncertain whether יַאֲרִכוּ is transitive, as our A.V. renders it, and as in 1 Kings 3:14 = lengthen, in which case, however, it should almost be followed by אֵת, or intransitive, as in Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16; Deuteronomy 25:15, when the meaning would be, "The staves were long," but the latter rendering has the support of most scholars. As the oracle in the tabernacle was a cube of ten cubits, they cannot have been more than eight or nine cubits, and it is doubtful whether, the ark being only 2.5 cubits, they would be so long. Their length is mentioned in order to account for the ends being seen. It is immaterial to the meaning of the passage, however, which interpretation we put upon this verb. If we adhere to the A.V. then we must understand that, as it was forbidden to remove the staves from the rings at the corners of the ark (Exodus 25:12-15), they drew the staves forward towards one end of the ark; that they removed the staves altogether from the ark (Stanley) is a view to which the text lends no support] the staves, that the ends [Heb. heads. It is possible the ends of the staves were fitted with knobs. This would prevent their removal] of the staves were seen out in [Heb. from] the holy place [Marg. ark, the word found in the Chronicles v.9. It is questionable, however, whether הַקֹּדֶשׁ is ever used, by itself, of the ark (Gesen., Thesaurus, s.v.) It may be used of the most holy place (see on ver. 10), but here it would appear to designate the הֵיכָל (1 Kings 6:17), the body or "temple of the house" (Exodus 26:33; Hebrews 9:2). Its meaning appears to be so defined by the next words] before the oracle [i.e., a person standing in the holy place, but at the west end, near the entrance to the oracle (1 Kings 6:31), could see the ends of the staves. Several questions of considerable nicety suggest themselves here.
1. What was the position of the ark? Did it stand, that is to say, east and west, or north and south under the wings of the cherubim?
2. What was the position of the staves? Were they attached to the ends or to the sides of the ark?
3. How could the ends of the staves be seen, and by whom and when - on the occasion of the dedication only or in later years?
4. Why has our author recorded this circumstance? As to
1. the balance of evidence is in favour of the ark having stood north and south, in a line, that is, with the wings of the cherubim. For
(1) only thus apparently could the cherubim have "covered the ark and the staves thereof."
(2) If it had been otherwise, the "cherubim overshadowing the mercy seat," presuming that they were retained in the temple, would have had an unequal and one-sided position, for instead of being equally prominent, they would have stood, one with the back, the other with the face to the entrance and the holy place.
(3) Had the ark stood east and west the projecting staves would surely have been in the high priest's way in the performance of his solemn functions (Leviticus 16:12-15). That they served to guide him to the mercy seat is of course mere conjecture, and as such of no weight.
2. As to the staves, Josephus states (Ant. 3:07. 5) that they ran along the sides of the ark, and this would appear to be the natural and proper arrangement. It follows hence again that they cannot have been more than eight or nine cubits long, inasmuch as they found a place between the bodies of the cherubim, which cannot have been more than nine cubits apart.
3. The explanation of the Rabbins is that the ends of the staves were not really seen, but that they projected into the curtain and so made two visible protrusions or prominences. But this view hardly satisfies the requirements of the text, and it assumes that the ark stood east and west, which we have found good reason to doubt. But even if this were so, it is doubtful whether the staves, so long as they remained in the rings, could be made to reach to the door of the oracle, unless indeed they were lengthened for the purpose. How then were they seen? The following considerations may assist us to answer this question.
(1) The oracle, of course, in its normal state was in perfect darkness (ver. 12). Once a year, however, a gleam of light was admitted, when the curtain was drawn partially aside to permit of the high priest's entrance.
(2) When the curtain was drawn to one (probably the left) side, the light would fall, not on the ark, but on the ends of the staves projecting from the right or north end of the ark, which would thus be distinctly visible to the high priest. But
(3) at this time the high priest was not alone in the holy place. It was not required that "there should be no man in the tabernacle of the congregation," except when the high priest went in to make an atonement for the holy place (Leviticus 16:17). At an earlier stage of the service he would seem to have required assistance. According to the Mishna (Yoma), a priest held the basin of blood and stirred it to prevent coagulation, at the time of his first entry. Moreover
(4) his extremely doubtful whether the high priest can have drawn aside the curtain himself. Whether he entered three or four times on that day, at his first entry his hands were certainly full. If he carried "a censer full of burning coals of fire".. "and his hands (חָפְנָיו, both fits) full of sweet incense beaten small" (ib. ver. 12), it is clear that some other person must have drawn aside the veil for him. It is to this person, I take it, the priest who was privileged to draw aside the curtain, and possibly to others standing near - certainly to the high priest - that the ends of the staves were visible. Nor would a reverent look directed towards these objects - made originally for the Levites to handle - involve unhallowed curiosity. And if this were so, it would help to explain (4) the mention of this circumstance by our author. If it were a fact that year by year a gleam of light fell upon the staves, and if priest after priest testified of what he had seen, up to the time of writing ("unto this day;" see below), we can readily understand why a circumstance of so much interest should be recorded. And we have not an adequate explanation of its mention here, if we are to understand that the staves were seen on the day of dedication, when of course they must have been visible, and never afterwards, or that the staves were partially drawn out of their rings in order to show that the ark was now at rest], and there they are unto this day. [Same expression 1 Kings 9:21; 1 Kings 12:19; 2 Kings 8:22. At the date of the publication of this book, the temple was of course destroyed (2 Kings 25:9), so that at that day the staves were not there. But the explanation is very simple. Our historian has copied the words he found in the MS. he was using.]
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
And they drew out the staves,.... Not made them larger, as Ben Gersom, than those in the tabernacle of Moses, this place being larger than that; nor did they draw them wholly out, and lay them up in the sanctuary, there being no further use for them, the ark having now a fixed place, and not to be removed; which would have been contrary to Exodus 25:15 but they drew them out some little way:
that the ends of the staves were seen out in the holy place before the oracle; not in that part of the temple commonly called the holy place, in distinction from the most holy, for that seems to be denied in the next clause; nor could they be seen there, since there was a wall and a vail between them; though some think they might be seen when the door was opened, and the vail turned aside; and these also pushing against the vail, might be seen prominent, like the breasts of a woman under a covering, as the Jews express it; but the sense is, that the ends of these were seen out of the ark from under the wings of the cherubim, being a little drawn, in that part of the most holy place which is before the oracle or mercy seat:
and they were not seen without; neither quite out of the ark, nor without the most holy place, nor in the holy place; but were only seen by the high priest when he went in on the day of atonement, and served as a direction to him to go between them before the ark, and there perform his work (t); which, through the darkness of the place, and the ark being covered with the wings of the cherubim, he could not otherwise discern the exact place where it stood:
and there they are unto this day: when the writer of this book lived, even in the same situation.
(t) Vid. Misn. Yoma, c. 5. sect. 1.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
8. they drew out the staves—a little way, so as to project (see on Ex 25:15; Nu 4:6); and they were left in that position. The object was, that these projecting staves might serve as a guide to the high priest, in conducting him to that place where, once a year, he went to officiate before the ark; otherwise he might miss his way in the dark, the ark being wholly overshadowed by the wings of the cherubim.
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