Exodus 25
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics

I. GOD REQUIRED THESE FROM THE PEOPLE. It might have been thought that in order to make this holy habitation, this tent for God travelling along with his people, God himself would have in some way supplied the material. Even as he gave Moses the stones on which the law was written (in the first instance at all events), so he might have made a sanctuary to descend in marvellous manner into the midst of Israel. But it pleased him, who we may be sure always does the wise and fitting thing, to act differently. He required the materials for this sanctuary from the people. They could not provide food for themselves - but they could provide such a dwelling-place for Jehovah as he would approve and accept. These people who had required so many interventions of God to deliver and secure them had yet been carrying with them in the midst of all their helplessness the great store of wealth indicated in this passage. It is somewhat perplexing to consider the revelation thus afforded of the Israelite condition. In their hearts these people were sinful, idolatrous, unbelieving, unstable - it is humiliating to gaze on the sad exhibition of human nature they present - and yet they had managed to surround themselves with these treasures. They were those who had been laying up treasures on earth; and so far these treasures had been of little use; for what will it profit a man to have all this store of gold and silver, and brass and fine linen, and what not, if he lack the daily bread? - all the efforts of the people, all their scraping, had ended in the bringing of these things into the wilderness where they seemed of no use. Even gold and silver would not buy bread in the wilderness. But now, behold how God can take this gold and silver and show how to make a profitable and acceptable use of it. When we begin to look regretfully on the results of our natural efforts as if those efforts had been wasted, he comes in to overrule our ignorance and folly. By his consecrating and re-arranging touch, the treasures upon earth can be transmuted into treasures in heaven.

II. THE WILLINGNESS THAT MARKED THESE GIFTS. These materials, valuable as they were, yet yielded in respect of worth to an element more valuable still These rare and... . . beautiful materials, workable into such beautiful forms, could have been gotten without human intervention at all, if that had been the whole of the necessity. As not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed like one of the lilies, so nothing man can make with his utmost art is so beautiful as the handiwork of God. Nor is the question altogether one as to what is beautiful to the outward eye. The value of beautiful forms is a thing only too easily exaggerated. But no one can exaggerate the beauty of a spiritual action, the beauty of a gift where the willingness and devotion of the whole heart are manifest. This tabernacle might be a very inferior structure, when measured by such principles as dictated Grecian art; but this was a thing of no consequence when compared with the higher consideration that its materials were freely brought. There was none of that extortion and slavish toil, such as we read of in connection with some of the huge fabrics of ancient civilisations. What blood and tears, what reckless expenditure of human life, for instance, in the construction of buildings like the pyramids! When we look at the great buildings - aqueducts, roads, of ancient times - we must not look at the outward appearance only. These Israelites doubtless had helped in the building of splendid structures; but the foundation of these structures was laid in oppression, and therefore on their topstone rested a destroying curse. There was nothing about all the tabernacle more beautiful than the willingness that marked the gift of the materials. There was no specific demand on any particular person. Let everyone consider for himself whether he will give, and how much. A free-will offering of the inferior brass would be of ever so much more value than an extorted one of gold or silver, or precious stones.

III. THE MATERIALS OF THE GIFTS. Evidently such things were taken as the people had by them; but of these things the very best were taken. Being already in the possession of the people, and valued by them, they were exactly the things to test the willingness of their disposition. When God asks us to give, he asks us to give of our best. All this gold and silver symbolised what was most precious in the heart within. One is reminded of Paul's words with respect to the materials that might be laid upon the foundation given in Christ (1 Corinthians 3:12). We must not bring to God just what we do not want ourselves. The value of the gifts constituted a most searching test of willingness, and willingness was the particular quality that needed to be tested at this time. Men willing to give gold and silver, might be reasonably supposed as willing to give anything else within their power. Then there was a test also in the variety of the gifts. The man without gold and silver would not escape the responsibility of considering what he could do in the way of another gift. For the needs of the tabernacle God required a large diversity of materials; and probably there were few in Israel but could do something towards the supply if only they were so disposed. - Y.

A message to the people. Like messages are often sent, but seldom welcomed. Even when God demands an offering, many people grudge to give it; they yield, as to a kind of heavenly highwayman, of necessity if at all. Consider here: -


1. Purpose. Jehovah will give the people a visible sign of his presence in their midst. He will have a home amid their homes, a tent dwelling like in character to their dwellings. More than this - he will be their guest. They shall provide for him the sacred tent. If we count it an honour for a town to receive and entertain a member of our royal family, how much greater an honour to be permitted to entertain the head of the royal family of heaven!

2. Materials. All manner of things required (vers. 3-7), so that all can share the privilege of providing them. Some may give a few gold ornaments; even a poor man may yet find some goat's hair for cloth. Not a member of the nation but can do his part in helping to rear the tabernacle for God. All gifts can be used, so that each may have a share in the work.

3. A precedent for ourselves. God treats us as he treated Israel. He asks our help in building for him a spiritual temple, a dwelling-place in which men are the living stones. Some can give personal effort; some can give money to assist the actual workers; no one so poor but that he can give something. Surely the opportunity of helping God is one which ought not to be undervalued.

II. THE CONDITION OF ACCEPTANCE. All may help, but on one condition - they must help "willingly," with the "heart." The offering is valued not on its own account, but as a symbol of that which is more valuable. Gifts to God are a kind of human sacrament, which God deigns to receive at the hands of man: they are acceptable as outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace. If the grace be wanting, the gifts are worthless. God is good enough to make needs for himself that his creatures may have the privilege of satisfying them; if they degrade the privilege into a tax, he would rather be without their assistance. How often is this forgotten! We give to God, when asked, for many reasons. It is the proper thing to do, and respectability requires it; or it will get our name into some subscription list; or we may have an uneasy feeling that we ought to give, and to soothe our uneasiness we must do something. "Grudgingly and of necessity" is the epitaph which must be written above such wasted offerings. God cannot accept as gifts offerings which are never truly given. He may use them, for they are his in any case to do as he wills with them; he cannot, however, enter them in his inventory as received from the giver who nominally presents them. Only he who gives with his heart has his name set down in the inventory of God. The two mites of the widow are remembered; the talents of the ostentatious tax-payer are forgotten.

III. THE RESPONSE MADE. The people of Israel realised their privileges. They remembered what God had done for them, and were eager to manifest their gratitude. They gave even more than enough (Exodus 36:6, 7). Their hearts stirred them up, and their spirits made them willing (Exodus 35:21); so that they even had to be restrained. What an example for us! Church debts, fettered missionary enterprise, ministers of the Gospel converted into persistent yet unsuccessful beggars; what are the Lord's people doing when such phenomena abound? Do we not need to be reminded of the privilege offered us, which is so fearfully profaned? Do we not need to stir up our hearts, and to take active measures to make our spirits willing? The roused heart loosens the purse-strings; only the willing spirit can offer the willing and generous gift. - G.


1. Of material supplied by his redeemed. To them only request and direction come - " Let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them." This is still our high calling, to make God a dwelling-place in the earth. Are we obeying? Is God being glorified by us?

2. Of their free-will offerings. There is no constraint; everything is free and spontaneous - the loving gifts of children, not the forced labour of slaves.

3. Of their choicest and best, and yet,

4. of things named by God himself. Even here we are not left to impose burdens upon ourselves. God's word and the Spirit's voice in the heart will direct us.

II. GOD IS THE ARCHITECT OF HIS OWN SANCTUARY. The building and furniture are to be in every particular according to his own plan (ver. 9). We may not bring into God's worship or service our own devices. The stepping aside from the simplicity of God's ordinances is disservice. It is contempt of God or open rebellion to his authority. - U.

The covenant being now ratified, everything was prepared for Jehovah taking up his abode with the people. He would dwell among them as their King. In keeping with the genius of the dispensation, commands are given for the erection of a visible sanctuary. It is here called "mikdash, or sanctuary (ver. 8), and "mishkan," or dwelling-place (tabernacle, ver. 9), the latter being the name most commonly applied to it. Considering the purpose which the sanctuary was to serve, and the "plenitude of meaning" designed to be conveyed by its symbolism, it was necessary that the whole should be constructed under immediate Divine direction. A plan of the tabernacle, embracing minute details, was accordingly placed before the mind of Moses on the mount (ver. 9). It was presented in its completeness to his inner eye, before any part of it was set up on earth. The ark of Noah, the tabernacle of Moses, and the temple of Solomon (cf. 1 Chronicles 28:11, 12, 19), are probably the only buildings ever erected from plans furnished by direct revelation. In the building of the spiritual temple - the Church - God is himself not merely the architect, but the builder; and the beauty and symmetry of the structure will be found in the end to be perfect (cf. Revelation 21.). Consider -

I. THE MATERIALS OF THE TABERNACLE. These were ordered to be collected before the work began. They were to be -

1. Costly and various - representing

(1) every department of nature (mineral, vegetable, animal);

(2) the richest products of each, so far as accessible in the desert (gold, silver, fine linen, dyed skins, precious stones, etc.);

(3) all varieties of human skill. The design was to make a palace for Jehovah: a beautiful and glorious house.

2. Abundant. There was to be no stint in the gifts. Profuse liberality befitted the occasion. Grudging in our gifts to God betrays an unworthy spirit.

3. Free-will offerings (ver. 2). This point is put in the foreground. The people were to bring an offering - "Of every man that giveth it willingly with his heart ye shall take my offering." Observe in this -

(1) The people first offered themselves to God (Exodus 24:7), then their gifts. This is the true order. Compare what is said of the Macedonian believers (2 Corinthians 8:1-6).

(2) The giving of themselves to God was followed by the devotion to his service of the best of their possessions. The consecration of self, as formerly remarked, includes all other consecrations. If we are God's, then all is God's that is ours. He has the first claim on everything we have. Our best ought cheerfully to be dedicated to him.

(3) God values only such gifts as come from a willing heart. He loves the cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7). He puts no value on givings which are not cheerful.

(4) Free-will offerings are necessarily various in kind and amount. Not all could give gold, or silver, or precious stones. Some, whose means were small, could probably give only their labour in working up the gifts of the wealthier. Each gave as he was able, and according to the kind of material in his possession. So far, however, as the gifts were offered willingly, they met with God's acceptance. The giver was accepted in his gift, not according to its absolute amount, but according to his ability, and to the spirit in which he gave. (Cf. 2 Corinthians 8:12.) And all the gifts were needed. The variety which they exhibited was part of their appropriateness. What one could not furnish another could. Many kinds of gifts are required in Christ's service, and there is none so poor but he can furnish something which others have not at command. The Lord accepts, and will use, all.

(5) God's dwelling with his people must rest on a voluntary basis. They must wish him to dwell among them, and must prove their wish by voluntarily providing the materials for his sanctuary. A living Church will show its desire for God's presence, and will evince its gratitude, and its sense of obligation to him, by large and willing gifts in his service. These, indeed, are not conclusive as proofs of genuine spiritual interest; but the absence of them speaks with sufficient plainness of spiritual coldness.

(6) The ideal state in the Church is that in which "ordinances of Divine service" are freely supported by the gifts of the people. This principle found distinct expression, not simply in the freewill offerings for the making of the tabernacle, but in the general arrangements of the Jewish economy. The law prescribed amounts - commanded tithes, etc., but the fulfilment of the obligation was left to the individual conscience. It was not enforced by legal means. What was given had to be given freely.

II. THE IDEA OF THE TABERNACLE. Some remarks on this subject seem called for before entering on the study of details. A firm grasp of the central idea is essential to a right understanding of the parts. The tabernacle may be considered -

(1) Actually, as the literal dwelling-place of Jehovah with his people;

(2) symbolically, as in its different parts and arrangements symbolical of spiritual ideas; and

(3) typically, as prophetic of better things to come. The typical treatment, however, will best be connected with what is to be said under the two former heads.

1. Actually, the tabernacle was the place of Jehovah's dwelling with his people (ver. 8). This is to be viewed as, on the one side, a privilege of the Church of Israel; but, on the other, as a step towards the realisation of the great end contemplated by God from the first, as the goal of all his gracious dealings with our race, namely, the taking up of his abode among them. God seeks an abode with men. He cannot rest with perfect satisfaction in his love to them till he has obtained this abode (Psalm 132:13, 14). He wishes to dwell with them. The history of revelation may be viewed as but a series of steps towards the realisation of this idea. The steps are the following -

(1) God dwelling with men in the visible sanctuary of the Jews - the tabernacle and temple. This served important ends. It brought God near to men. It enabled them to grasp the reality of his presence. It was, however, but a very imperfect stage in the realisation of the truth. It would not have suited a universal religion. There was, besides, no congruity between the nature of the spiritual Deity and a building "made with hands." It was but an outward, local presence which this visible sanctuary embodied. The union between the dwelling and the Dweller was not inherent or essential; it could at any moment be dissolved. Higher realisations of the idea wore possible.

(2) God dwelling with men in Christ. Christ pointed to himself as the antitype of the temple (Matthew 12:6; John 2:19-22). He was Immanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23). The fulness of the Godhead dwelt in him (John 1:14; Colossians 1:15; Colossians 2:9). The temple in this case is not a mere material structure, but a holy, and now perfected, humanity. The union is personal and indissoluble. The revelation of God, through the medium of humanity, cannot rise higher than it has done in Christ. The life of God in the individual and in the Church is but the unfolding of the fulness already contained in him (John 1:16). This unfolding, however, is necessary, that the temple-idea may reach its complete fulfilment. A third stage, accordingly, is

(3) God dwelling in the soul of the believer. Rather, we should say, in the humanity of the believer - body, soul, and spirit forming, unitedly, a habitation for God through the Holy Ghost (1 Corinthians 6:19). In this tabernacle, as in the former, there is the innermost shrine - the holy of holies of the spirit, the "inner man" in which is deposited the law of the Lord (Ephesians 3:16); a holy place - the soul or mind, with its lamps of understanding, etc.; and an outer court - the body - the external side of the being, open and visible to all. The individual, however, taken by himself, is but a fragment. The full idea is realised

(4) in the Church as a whole - the whole body of believers, in heaven and on earth, with Christ as Head. This is the true and the living temple (Ephesians 2:21, 22). Realised in part on earth, and wherever a portion of the Church of Christ exists, the perfection of the manifestation of the idea is reserved for the future and for glory. Cf. Revelation 21:3 - "The tabernacle of God is With men," etc. The idea of the Jewish tabernacle thus finds its fulfilment

(1) in the body of Christ;

(2) in the body of the believer;

(3) in the body of the Church.

2. Symbolically - the tabernacle figured out, in its structure, its contents, and its arrangements, various spiritual truths.

(1) On the ark and its symbolism, see next homily.

(2) The separation into two apartments had as its basis the twofold aspect of God's fellowship with man. The holy of holies was God's part of the structure. Its arrangements exhibited God in relation to his people. The outer apartment - the holy place - exhibited in symbol the calling of the people in relation to God. The shew-bread and the lighted lamps, with the incense from the golden altar, emblematised aspects of that calling. See next homily.

(3) The arrangements of the tabernacle had further in view the symbolising of the imperfect condition of privilege in the Church under the old economy. A veil hung between the holy place and the holy of holies. Into this latter the high priest only was permitted to enter, and that but once a year, and not without blood of atonement. The mass of the people were not allowed to come nearer than the outer court. They could enter the holy place only in the persons of their representatives, the priests. All this spoke of distance, of barriers as yet unremoved, of drawbacks to perfected communion. The arrangements were of such a nature as studiously to impress this idea upon the mind. Accordingly, at the death of Christ, the removal of these barriers, and the opening of the way for perfected fellowship between God and man, was signified by the striking circumstance of the rending of the veil (Matthew 27:51). It is implied in the teaching of Scripture that a like imperfection of privilege marked the condition of the departed just, and that this also was removed by Christ, who, passing into the highest heavens, made manifest, both for them and for us, the way into the holiest of all. (Cf. Hebrews 9:6-13; Hebrews 10:19, 20; Hebrews 11:39, 40; Hebrews 12:23.) - J.O.

God announces to Israel that he is about to take up his abode in their midst, and that various offerings are to be used in the construction of a suitable dwelling-place. Observe here -

I. JEHOVAH'S CONDESCENDING REGARD FOR THE WANTS OF ISRAEL. This tabernacle with all its belongings was not constructed for any real need that Jehovah had of it. The people had to construct tents for themselves because they needed them, and the making of a tent for Jehovah was also in condescending compliance with their need. This thought is brought out still more clearly by the parallel reference to the incarnation in John 1:14, where it is said that the Word tabernacled among us. Something in the shape of an ever visible dwelling-place of God was given to the people, that thus they might comfort their hearts with the assurance that he was constantly near them, sympathising with them in their changing circumstances and requirements. The people had been compelled to go to Sinai, there to be impressed with the majesty of God and receive his commandments; but at Sinai they could not stay. With all its glories and revelations, it was but a halting place on the way to Canaan. God had indeed already given an assurance of his daily providence in the manna; but he now added a further sign than which none could be more expressive, none more illustrative of the desire of God to adapt himself to the spiritual blindness and infirmity of men. He took for himself a tent like the rest of the travellers through the wilderness. Where a dwelling place is we look for an inhabitant, and especially where it is manifestly kept in order and regularly attended to. If at any moment an Israelite was in doubt whether God was indeed with the people, here through the sight of the tabernacle was his readiest resource to expel all doubt. God's own house with its services and attendants was continually before him to rebuke and remove his unbelief.

II. THOUGH JEHOVAH CONDESCENDED TO DWELL IN A TENT, YET THAT TENT HAD TO BE A HOLY PLACE. The condescension was simply a condescension in circumstances. God himself remained the same. He who was holy and jealous, when removed to a distance from the people, amid the clouds and sounds of Sinai, was not the least altered as to his vigilant holiness by coming down to the apparent limitations of a tent. Coarse and humble though the tent appears, there is an unspeakably glorious inhabitant within whose presence exalts and sanctifies the tent. God himself thus furnishes an illustration of the truth that those who humble themselves shall be exalted. He needs not to preserve his glory by extraneous and vulgar pomps. And just because this dwelling-place of God was a tent, the people needed to remember its function with peculiar carefulness. Though it was only a tent, it was God's tent. A very mean tent, that in ordinary circumstances would excite no attention, would be carefully guarded if the king happened for a night to make his abode therein.

III. THIS HOLINESS WAS MADE CONSPICUOUS BY THE CHARACTER AND FORM OF THE TABERNACLE AND ITS FURNITURE. Just imagine if, instead of prescribing an exact pattern for everything, God had left the people' to make any sort of structure they liked. In the first place there would hardly have been unanimity. Those who might have been very willing and united in the bestowal of raw material would at once have split asunder in attempting to settle how the material was to be used. Then, even if a majority had proceeded to action, they would probably have introduced something idolatrous, assuredly something that savoured rather of human error than Divine truth; and the error would have been none the less because those who committed it, committed it in a spirit of cordial devotion to what they believed was best. What an exposure is thus made of the plausible notion that if only men are in earnest, God will accept the will for the deed! As to the supply of the raw material, God stipulated for free will there - perfect liberty either in giving or withholding. But the raw material once gathered, the freedom of the givers was at an end. God himself supplied the moulds in which the gifts were to flow. A dwelling-place for God must supply all his wants for the time being. He must have just exactly those ordinances of worship and those channels of Divine distribution which he deems best. God's wants, as we see more and more from a careful study of the Scriptures, are not as man's wants; and therefore we must wait humbly for him to reveal what it is impossible for man to conjecture. The materials for the tabernacle and the instruments thereof were human and earthly, but the patterns are Divine and heavenly. We know not into what beautiful, glorious, and serviceable forms man and his belongings may be wrought, if only he will humbly and attentively wait for directions from God above. These Israelites, when all was finished according to the pattern in the mount, had then something to show which would make an impression on men of the right sort in the outside world. Here was an answer to the question, "Where is now your God?" Visible he himself is not; but here is a dwelling-place not in anything constructed after art and man's device, but entirely of Divine direction. All our institutions are nothing unless we can trace them to the inspiration and control of God. - Y.

Exodus 25:10-16
When Jehovah provided for Israel an abiding record of his holy will, it was needful that Israel should also provide an appropriate receptacle. Nor was it left to Moses and the people to determine what might be most appropriate. Jehovah arranged things so that all the religious service of the people gathered around the two tables of stone. An Israelite gazing upon the great holy place of another nation and inquiring what might be its innermost treasure hidden and guarded from all presumptuous approach, would get for answer that it was some image graven by art and man's device; and he would further learn that the supposed will of this deity found its expression in all licentious and abominable rites. But, on the other hand, a gentile, looking towards Israel's holy place and inquiring what might be behind the curtains of the tabernacle, and expecting perhaps to hear of some magnificent image, would be astounded with a very different reply. No image there! and not only no image, but words graven by God's desire which forbade fabrication of everything in the shape of an image. Within that gilded box of shittim wood there lie written the leading requirements for those who would obey the will of Jehovah. Litera scripta manet. The spot where that ark had a resting-place was a sacred spot, not approachable by the common multitude: but this was not because there was anything to conceal. The recesses of heathenism will not bear inspection. The character of the deity worshipped corresponds with the degradation of the worshippers. But here is the great distinction of that Divine service found in Israel, that however vile the people might be, and even the officiating priests, an exposure of the hidden things of their sacred place would have been an exposure of their apostasy. No Israelite needed to be ashamed of what lay within the ark on which he was bound to look with such veneration, which he was bound to guard with such assiduity; and if it be true that every human heart ought to be a sanctuary of God, then the very heart of hearts should be as the ark of the testimony in the sanctuary of old. Our hearts should be better than our outward services. We should have the consciousness that God's will has a real, an abiding, a cherished, a predominating place in our affections. All the actions of life should flow from the fountain formed by the ever living force of a Divine will within us. Let us ever consider the internal more than the external. If the internal be right, the external will come right in due time. If God's commandments - the full scheme of Christian virtues - are indeed written in our hearts, then all superficial hindrances and roughness can only last for a little time. The Divine life ruling within must subdue all things to itself. - Y.

I. THE ARK (vers. 10-22). The place where the Lord meets and communes with us.

1. It contained the testimony. The light of the meeting-place with God is the word concerning righteousness and sin. There is no communion with God if that be left out. The law which searches and condemns us must be honoured as God's testimony.

2. Between God and the law we have broken is the mercy seat, sin's glorious covering, on which the cherubim - emblems of the highest intelligence and purity of creation - look, and before which we also bow, with adoring awe.

3. Over the mercy seat rests the cloud of God's glory. We shall meet God only as we seek him here. His glory can be fully revealed and the might of his salvation proved here alone.


1. The bread was the emblem of God's people. The twelve cakes represented the twelve tribes. The fruit of the great Husbandman's toil is to be found in us.

2. God's joy is to be found in us. The Lord's portion is his people.

3. We are to be prepared and perfected for his presence, and to be for ever before him (ver. 30).


1. It is made of pure gold, the only metal that loses nothing, though passed through the fire and whose lustre is never tarnished.

2. It was the only light of the holy place. The true Christian Church the only light which in the world's darkness reveals the things of God and the pathway to his presence. - U.

The instructions for the making of these essential parts of the tabernacle furniture occupy the remainder of the chapter. The directions for making the altar of incense are postponed to Exodus 30:1-10. The reason seems to be that the uses of this altar could not be described without reference to commands which were to be given respecting the altar of burnt-offering - to which the altar of incense stood in a certain relation of dependence - and to the ordinance for the institution of the priesthood. The instructions have respect to the internal relation of the parts.

I. THE ARK AND MERCY SEAT (vers. 10-23). This was the heart of the sanctuary - the throne of Jehovah. As the nucleus of the whole structure, it is described first.

1. The ark proper (vers. 10-17). For details, consult the exposition. A plain wooden box or chest, overlaid within and without with pure gold, and borne upon staves, for the insertion of which rings were provided in its feet or corners, its structure could not well have been simpler. On the resemblances and differences between this ark and the religious arks of the Egyptians, see the interesting article in "Kitto's Cyclopaedia." The ark, in the religion of Israel, was simply a depository for the two tables of stone - the tables of the covenant. In its freedom from idolatrous symbols (in this respect a contrast to the Egyptian arks), it was a testimony to monotheism; in the character of its contents, it testified to the ethical foundation of the religion - to the severe and stern morality which formed its basis. If ever doubt is cast on the pure moral character of the Hebrew faith, it should suffice to refute it, to point to the ark of the testimony. What a witness to the ruling power of the moral in this religion that, when the sacred chest is opened, the sole contents are found to be the two stone tables of the moral law (ver. 16)! The deposition of these tables in the ark, underneath the mercy seat, had three ends.

(1) They testified to the fact that God's kingdom in Israel was founded on immutable justice and righteousness (Psalm 89:15; Psalm 97:2). Even grace, in its actings, must respect law. Favour cannot be dispensed on terms which make the law "void" (Romans 3:31). If sin is pardoned, it must be with full recognition of the law's claims against the sinner. The ultimate end must be to "establish the law" (Romans 3:31). Only in the Gospel have we the clear revelation of how, on these terms, mercy and truth can meet together, and righteousness and peace can kiss each other (Psalm 85:10; Romans 3:21-27).

(2) They testified to the covenant obligation. The tables were, as Oehler calls them, "the obligatory document of the covenant." As such they were laid up in the heart of the sanctuary.

(3) They testified against Israel's sins and backslidings. They testified against all sin in Israel, but especially against rebellion and deliberate apostasy. This appears to be the special force of the expression - "the testimony," "tables of testimony," etc. (Cf. Deuteronomy 31:26, 27 - "Take this book of the law, and put it in the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there for a witness against thee. For I know thy rebellion," etc.)

2. The mercy seat (ver. 17). The mercy seat, or propitiatory, made of pure gold, served as a lid or covering to the sacred chest. The name, however, as the Piel form implies, had more especial reference to the covering of sins. Sprinkled with blood of atonement, the mercy seat cancelled, as it were, the condemnatory witness of the underlying tables - covered sin from God's sight (ver. 21). From above this mercy seat, and from between the two cherubim that were upon it, God promised to meet with Moses, and to commune with him (ver. 22). The gracious element in the covenant with Israel here reaches its distinct expression. Jehovah could "by no means clear the guilty;" i.e., he could not call sin anything else than what it was, or tamper in the least degree with the condemnatory testimony of the law against it; but he could admit atonements, and on the ground of expiatory rites, could forgive sin, and receive the sinner anew to his favour. The mercy seat thus foreshadowed Christ, as, in his sacred Person, the great Propitiatory for man (Romans 3:25) - priest, sacrifice, and mercy seat in one. On the basis of mere law, there can be no communion between God and man. The blood-sprinkled mercy seat must intervene. Only on the ground of Christ's mediation and intercession, can God transact with sinners.

3. The cherubim (vers. 18-23). The cherubic figures were formed from the same piece of gold which constituted the mercy seat, and rose at either end of it, with wings overspreading the place of propitiation, and faces turned inward. On the various interpretations, see the exposition. The view which finds most favour is that which regards the cherubim, not as real and actual, but only as symbolic and imaginary beings - hieroglyphs of creation in its highest grade of perfection. Egyptian and Assyrian art abound in similar ideal forms, most of them representative, not of qualities of the creature, as distinct from its Creator, but of attributes of God revealed in creation. This view, also, has been taken of the cherubim of Scripture, but it must be rejected as untenable. We confess that, after all that has been written of the purely ideal significance of these figures - "the representative and quintessence of creation, placed in subordination to the great Creator" - we do not feel the theory to be satisfactory. We incline very much to agree with Delitzsch: "The Biblical conception considers the cherub as a real heavenly being, but the form which is given to it changes; it is symbolical and visionary." (Hist. of Redemption, p. 29.) It seems fair to connect the cherubim with the seraphs of the temple-vision in Isaiah 6:2; and this, taken with Genesis 3:24, points strongly in the direction of an angelic interpretation. The conception, however, unquestionably underwent development, and in the highly complex form in which it appears in Ezekiel may quite possibly take on much more of the ideal character than it had at first; may, in short, closely approximate to what is commonly given as the meaning of the symbol. Confining ourselves to the figures of the tabernacle, we prefer to view them, with the older writers, and with Keil and others among the moderns, as symbolic of the angel hosts which attend and guard the throne of Jehovah, zealous, like himself, for the honour of his law, and deeply interested in the counsels of his love (1 Peter 1:12). The angel-idea is so prominent in the theology of Israel that we should expect it to find some embodiment in this symbolism. And what finer picture could be given of angels than in these cherubic figures, who, with wings outspread and faces lowered, represent at once humility, devotion, adoration, intelligence, service, and zeal? On the angels at the giving of the law, see Deuteronomy 33:2. On the assembly or council of holy ones, see Psalm 89:6-9. The wings of the cherubs constituted, as it were, a protecting shade for those who took refuge under them in the Divine mercy (Psalm 91:1). Jehovah's guards, they appear in the symbol as ready to defend his Majesty against profane invasion; as avengers of disobedience to his will; as sheltering and aiding those who are his friends. They are, when otherwise unemployed, rapt in adoration of his perfections, and deeply attent on the study of his secrets. So interpreted, the cherubs are hieroglyphs of the heavenly spiritual world.

II. THE TABLE OF SHEW-BREAD (vers. 23-31). The table was part of the belongings of the holy place. This shows it to have been primarily connected, not with the relation of God to Israel, but conversely, with the works and services of the people, in their relation to Jehovah. Like other articles in the sanctuary, the table was to present a golden exterior, and on it were to be placed twelve cakes of shew-bread (ver. 30; Leviticus 24:5-9), with flagons for purposes of libation (ver. 29). The shew-bread had thus the significance of a meat-offering. The sense may be thus exhibited. Bread is the means of nourishment of the natural life. The twelve cakes represented the twelve tribes. The presentation of the bread on the table was, accordingly,

1. A recognition of Jehovah's agency in the bestowal of what is necessary for the support of life. Natural life is supported by his bounty. The cakes on the table were a grateful acknowledgment of this dependence. Spiritually, they pointed to the higher bread with which God nourishes the soul. They remind us of our duty to give thanks for this, not less than for the other. The true bread is Christ (John 6:32).

2. A dedication of the life so nourished to him whose goodness constantly sustained it. We take this to be the essential feature in the offering. The life-sustaining food and drink is placed upon the table of Jehovah. In the act of placing it there, the tribes offer, as it were, to God, the life which it sustains, and which is derived from his bounty. The meaning could not be better expressed than in words borrowed from St. Paul - "Unto which promise, our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come" (Acts 26:7). Perpetual consecration - a life fruitful in good works, and acts of holy service to God. This is the conception which is embodied in the shew-bread. Here, also, the symbolism points to a life higher than that nourished on material bread, and might almost be said to pledge to Israel the gift of the higher bread needed for it. Fed on this bread from heaven - i.e., on Christ, who gave himself for us (John 6:51), we are to live, not to ourselves, but to him who died for us, and rose again (2 Corinthians 5:15).

III. THE GOLDEN CANDLESTICK (vers. 31-40). This sacred ornament was, like the mercy seat, to be made of pure gold. Art was to be allowed to do its best to make it massive, shapely, beautiful. Stem and branches were to be wrought with great artistic skill. The lamps, seven in number, fed with beaten olive oil (Exodus 27:20, 21), were to burn all night in the sanctuary. The immediate design of its introduction was, of course, to illuminate the holy place. Symbolically, the candlestick represented the calling of Israel to be a people of light. Compare, as regards Christians, Matthew 5:14, 16; Philippians 2:15. The church is the abode of light. It has no affinity with darkness. The light with which it is lighted is the light of truth and holiness. The lamps are the gifts of wisdom and holiness, which Christ bestows upon his people. Their own souls being filled with light, they become, in turn, the lights of the world. The oil which feeds the light is the oil of God's Holy Spirit. Note - we cannot make a higher use even of natural girts, say of knowledge or wisdom, than to let their light burn in the sanctuary - in the service of God. - J.O.

Exodus 25:17-22
The ark already indicated as the repository of the two tables, is now further indicated as the resting-place of the mercy seat and the cherubim. Thus there was presented to the thoughts of the people a Divinely constituted whole, a great symbolic unity which set forth the glory and the mystery of God's presence as no unaided human conception could have done, however sublime, however sincere. The ark, the mercy seat, and the cherubim once made and placed in position, were hidden away from the general gaze. Bezaleel looked no more upon his handiwork. But though the things behind the veil were themselves hidden, yet their general character and relations were known. Hidden in one sense, in another sense they were all the more manifest just because they were hidden. It was perfectly well known that behind the veil God made himself known as the God of the commandments, the God of the mercy seat, the God shining forth between the cherubim. The proximity of the mercy seat to the tables of the law was an excellent way of showing that the requirements inscribed on these tables were to be no dead letter. If they could not be honoured by a heartfelt and properly corresponding obedience, then they must be honoured by a heartfelt repentance for transgression, an adequate propitiation, and an honourable forgiveness. There was a place for profound and permanent repentance, and a place for real and signal mercy to the transgressor: but for a slurring over of disobedience there was no place at all. Very close indeed are the law and the gospel. The law, when its comprehensiveness and severity are considered, magnifies the gospel; and the gospel, when we consider how emphatically it is proclaimed as being a gospel, magnifies the law. Then we have also to consider what may be signified by the presence of the cherubim; and surely we shall not go far wrong in connecting these golden figures here with the presence of those awful guardians who prevented the return of Adam and Eve to the scene of earthly bliss which they had forfeited. The presence of these cherubim suggested a solemn consideration of all that man had actually lost; God looking from between the cherubim, was looking as it were from the scene of the ideal human life on earth; that life which might have been the real, if man had only persisted according to the original injunction of his Maker. Thus the cherubim are associated, first with the barrier against return, and then with the working out of a plan for glorious and complete restoration. There is here no word of the flaming sword. The cherubim seem to be regarded as contemplative rather than active, somewhat as St. Peter phrases it when he speaks of things which the angels desire to look into. Over against the delight of those faithful ones who guarded Eden, we must set the thought of those in whose presence there is such inexpressible joy over the repenting sinner. God looked forth from between these symbols of the unsullied creatures who serve him day and night continually, and towards those people whom, though at present they were disobedient, carnalised, and unsusceptible, he nevertheless called his own. Sinners may be so changed, renewed, and energised as to be joined in the most complete harmony of service even with the cherubim. - Y.

The cherubim were to be of one piece with the mercy seat, the whole a lid, or guard above the lid, to the ark or chest which contained the tables of the law.


1. The symbol. They are not described here; but by comparing the various passages in which they are re[erred to we may get a general notion as to their appearance. Ezekiel, who must have been familiar with their appearance, describes them as seen in his vision (Ezekiel 1.), four wings, four faces, etc. In Revelation

4. the same idea is seen in a developed form, four creatures having each a different face, and each having six wings. This latter feature suggests identity with the seraphim in Isaiah's vision (ch. 6.), and the name "seraphim," which seems connected with fire or burning, reminds us of the "flaming sword" with which the cherubim are associated in Genesis 3:24. In any case wings, fire, and a mixture of the human and the animal in their appearance are characteristic features.

2. That which is symbolised. Wings in Scripture almost always represent the wind. The appearance of the cherubim is as fire. Their faces are those of the chief beasts - the lion, the bull-calf, the man, the eagle. Their form tends towards the human. On the whole, we may say they represent nature under her manifold aspects, nature as interpreted chiefly through the natural man in his perfection regarded as a part of nature. The cherubim shadow forth the natural creation according to the Divine ideal. The clause in the Te Deum - "To thee, cherubim and seraphim continually do cry," is the Benedicite condensed into a sentence!


1. Position. One piece with the mercy seat. Nature, in spite of appearances, is a manifestation of God's mercy to man. His voice may not be in the tempest or the fire, yet the tempest and the fire form a canopy to that throne whence issues the "still, small voice." If we regard the mercy seat as typical of Christ (cf. Romans 3:25), then we are reminded of the mysterious relation which exists between Christ and nature (Colossians 1:17; John 1:1, etc.).

2. Office. Here they protect the ark and its contents, as in Genesis 3:24, they "keep the way of the tree of life." The way of the tree of life is the way of righteousness, the way of the law of God. Thus the cherubim above the ark declare that nature, a manifestation of God's mercy, is also the guardian of God's law.


1. Nature does guard the way of the tree of life, the law of God. There is a tendency implanted in the very constitution of nature which "makes for righteousness." Break a law, and, by God's merciful ordinance, you are compelled to reap the penalty. Sin in secret, yet you cannot escape the cognisance of this vigilant, sleepless, unconscious sentinel [cf. Eugene Aram's dream]. It is "full of eyes within and without."

2. Nature is a manifestation of mercy. Undiscoverable transgression would be irretrievable damnation. Christ, too, is one with the mercy seat; nature is rooted in the Divine Word. If we go to that throne of grace we may still obtain mercy, and win, through Christ, peace with the avengers. - G.

Exodus 25:23-30
Between the ark of the testimony and the table of the shew-bread we see this great correspondence - that they were of the same material of shittim wood and had the same adornment of gold. But along with this correspondence there was a great difference, in that the ark of the testimony stood within the veil, while the table of shew-bread stood without. The ark of the testimony had the mercy seat above it, while the table of the shew-bread had the lighted candlestick over against it. There must be some significance in having the table on the people's side of the veil rather than God's side; and may it not be that the table with its bread and the candlestick with its light were meant to set forth God's providential support and illumination of all his people? The shew-bread was not so much an offering presented to God as something placed on the table by his command, regularly and unfailingly, to symbolise the unfailing regularity with which he supplies his people in their ordinary wants. The daily meat offering with its fine flour was the representation of the labour of the people: and so we may take the shew-bread as representing that blessing of God without which the most diligent toil in sowing and watering avail nothing. The God of the shew-bread is the God in whom we live and move and have our being; we cannot do without him for the necessities and comforts of natural life. Were he to cease the operations of his energy in nature, it would soon be seen how utterly fruitless is all our working just by itself. A great and efficient providing power cannot be denied by whatsoever name we choose to call him. Would we know him and more of him than we can ever know in nature - we must think of what lies within the veil. He gives us the things belonging to the outer holy place, the bread and the light, the natural strength and the natural wisdom, in order that we may come to know him in his spiritual demands and his ability to satisfy the deepest demands of our hearts. The God who gives that bread to his people, of which the shew-bread was an ever renewed sample, gives it that we whose lives are continued by the bread may spend them to his glory. God feeds us that we may be in all things his servants, and not in anything our own masters. - Y.

Exodus 25:31-40
As the shew-bread was a symbol of what Jehovah gave to his people in one way, so the lighted candlestick in all the preciousness of its material and elaboration of its workmanship was a symbol in another way. And even as the shew-bread was in magnitude only as a crumb of all the great supply which God gives in the way of food, so the candlestick even in full blaze was but as a glimmer compared with all the light which God had gathered and arranged in various ways to guide and cheer his people. But glimmer though the light of the candlestick might be, it was quite enough to act as an inspiring and encouraging symbol for all who, seeing, were able to understand. From that place between the cherubim, shrouded as it was in awful sanctity, there radiated forth abundance of light for every one in Israel who was disposed to profit by it. In heathendom the perplexed went long distances to consult renowned oracles, only to find that for all practical purposes they might just as well have stayed at home. There was a great boast of illumination; but the reality turned out ambiguous and delusive. But here is the seven-branched candlestick (seven being the perfect number) to indicate that God would assuredly give all needed light to his people. On one side stood the shew-bread, and over against it the light. So we need God's guidance to show us how to use what materials he puts in our hands for our support. It is only too easy for man, following the light of a corrupted nature, to waste, abuse, and degrade the choice gifts of God. Consider the vast quantities of grain that instead of passing through the hands of the baker to become food, pass through the hands of the brewer and distiller to become alcohol. In all our use of the resources which God has placed in our hands, we must seek with simplicity of purpose and becoming humility for God's light, that we may be assured of God's will. God has placed us in the midst of such profusion that we may use it for him and not for self. And is not a lesson taught us in this respect by the very candlestick itself? It was made of gold. The Israelites at this time seem to have had great store of gold; and left to their own inclinations, they gave it for shaping into an image to be worshipped. Now, by causing this candlestick to be made of gold, Jehovah seemed to summon his people to give their gold to aid in supporting and diffusing his light. What God gives may be a curse or a blessing, just according to the spirit in which we receive and use it. We can desire no nobler office than to be ourselves as lamps, doing something to shed abroad that great, true light of the world, which radiates from the person of Christ. He who is living so as to make Christ better known amid the spiritual darkness of the world has surely learnt the great lesson that God would teach to all ages by this golden candlestick in his sanctuary of old. - Y.

The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database.
Copyright © 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2010 by Biblesoft, Inc.
All rights reserved. Used by permission. BibleSoft.com

Bible Hub
Exodus 24
Top of Page
Top of Page