Exodus 40:20
And he took and put the testimony into the ark, and set the staves on the ark, and put the mercy seat above on the ark:
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(20) He took and put the testimony into the ark.—By “the testimony” we must understand the two tables of stone, written with the finger of God, which Moses had brought down with him from the top of Sinai on his last visit (Exodus 34:29). On the use of the word “testimony” in this sense, see Note to Exodus 25:16. It is not proved by this passage that the Ark held nothing but “the testimony.”

Set the staves on the ark—i.e., placed them in the rings, ready for use. (See Exodus 25:14.)

40:16-33 When the tabernacle and the furniture of it were prepared, they did not put off rearing it till they came to Canaan; but, in obedience to the will of God, they set it up in the midst of their camp. Those who are unsettled in the world, must not think that this will excuse want of religion; as if it were enough to begin to serve God when they begin to be settled in the world. No; a tabernacle for God is very needful, even in a wilderness, especially as we may be in another world before we come to fix in this. And we may justly fear lest we should deceive ourselves with a form of godliness. The thought that so few entered Canaan, should warn young persons especially, not to put off the care of their souls.The testimony - i. e. the tables of stone with the Ten Commandments engraved on them Exodus 25:16; Exodus 31:18. Nothing else is said to have been put into the ark. These were found there by themselves in the time of Solomon 1 Kings 8:9; 2 Chronicles 5:10. The pot of manna was "laid up before the testimony" Exodus 16:34; Aaron's rod was also placed "before the testimony" Numbers 17:10; and the book of the law was put at "the side of the ark" Deuteronomy 31:26. The expression "before the testimony" appears to mean the space immediately in front of the ark. Most interpreters hold that the pot of manna and Aaron's rod were at first placed between the ark and the veil, and afterward within the ark Hebrews 9:4. It is very probable that the pot and the rod had been put into the ark before it was taken by the Philistines, but that they were not sent back with the ark and the tables. 1 Samuel 4:11; 1 Samuel 6:11. 16. Thus did Moses: according to all that the Lord commanded him—On his part, the same scrupulous fidelity was shown in conforming to the "pattern" in the disposition of the furniture, as had been displayed by the workmen in the erection of the edifice. No text from Poole on this verse. And he took and put the testimony into the ark,.... The ten commands, called the "testimony", because they testified and declared what was the will of God with respect to things to be done, or not done. The Targum of Jonathan says, he put the broken pieces of the tables into it; but what became of them, or were done with them, we nowhere read; and it does not appear that any other, but those that Moses hewed by the order of God, were put into the ark; see Deuteronomy 10:1.

and set the staves on the ark; that it might be ready to be carried whenever a remove was necessary:

and put the mercy seat above upon the ark; together with the cherubim.

And he took and put the {f} testimony into the ark, and set the staves on the ark, and put the mercy seat above upon the ark:

(f) That is, the tables of the law; Ex 31:18,34:29.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
20. See Exodus 25:16; Exodus 25:21 b; Exodus 25:14-15; Exodus 25:21 a. For the ‘testimony’ (i.e. the tables of stone with the Decalogue), see on Exodus 25:16.Verse 20. - The testimony - i.e., the two tables of stone containing the Ten Commandments (Exodus 25:16; Exodus 31:18). Set the staves on the ark. "Put the staves," that is, "into the rings, and left them there" (Exodus 25:14). Put the mercy seat above upon the ark. See Exodus 25:21. After the completion of all the works, the command was given by God to Moses to set up the dwelling of the tabernacle on the first day of the first month (see at Exodus 19:1), sc., in the second year of the Exodus (see Exodus 40:17), and to put all the vessels, both of the dwelling and court, in the places appointed by God; also to furnish the table of shew-bread with its fitting out (ערכּו equals לחם ערך Exodus 40:23), i.e., to arrange the bread upon it in the manner prescribed (Exodus 40:4 cf. Leviticus 24:6-7), and to put water in the laver of the court (Exodus 40:7). After that he was to anoint the dwelling and everything in it, also the altar of burnt-offering and laver, with the anointing oil, and to sanctify them (Exodus 40:9-11); and to consecrate Aaron and his sons before the door of the tabernacle, and clothe them, anoint them, and sanctify them as priests (Exodus 40:12-15). When we read here, however, that the dwelling and the vessels therein would be rendered "holy" through the anointing, but the altar of burnt-offering "most holy," we are not to understand this as attributing a higher degree of holiness to the altar of burnt-offering than to the dwelling and its furniture; but the former is called "most holy" merely in the sense ascribed to it in Exodus 30:10 namely, that every one who touched it was to become holy; in other words, the distinction has reference to the fact, that, standing as it did in the court, it was more exposed to contact from the people than the vessels in the dwelling, which no layman was allowed to enter. In this relative sense we find the same statement in Exodus 30:29, with reference to the tabernacle and all the vessels therein, the dwelling as well as the court, that they would become most holy in consequence of the anointing (see the remarks on Exodus 30:10). It is stated provisionally, in Exodus 40:16, that this command was fulfilled by Moses. But from the further history we find that the consecration of the priests did not take place contemporaneously with the erection of the tabernacle, but somewhat later, or not till after the promulgation of the laws of sacrifice (cf. Leviticus 8 and Leviticus 1:1.).
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