Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
1. General arrangement. The tabernacle may be described as a quadrangular enclosure of boards, sumptuously overlaid with gold, and fitted beneath into sockets of silver (vers. 15-30). Over this were placed
(1) the tabernacle-cloth proper - a finely-woven double curtain of byssus, glowing all over with figures of cherubim, in blue, and purple, and scarlet (ver. 1).
(2) A tent cloth of goats' hair (ver. 7).
(3) Exterior coverings. These consisted of rams' skins dyed red, and of skins of seals (ver. 14). Loops and taches united the two divisions of the tabernacle and tent-cloths. The clasps in the one case were of gold (ver. 6), in the other of brass (ver. 11). Internally, four pillars supported a magnificent veil, also wrought in blue, and purple, and scarlet with figures of cherubim (vers. 31, 32). This divided the sacred enclosure into two apartments, the outer, the holy place, and the inner, the holy of holies, the true dwelling of Jehovah. The division, as already seen, "corresponded to the design of the tabernacle, where Jehovah desired not to dwell alone by himself, but to come and meet with his people' (Keil). The holy of holies, accordingly, contained the ark; the holy place, the symbols of the vocation of the people. It was the place of the people's approach to God. Another curtain, "wrought with needlework," and, like the veil, suspended from pillars by hooks of gold, hung before the entrance in front. The pillars, in this case, were five in number (vers. 36, 37). For details, dimensions, and theories of arrangement, consult the exposition. No scheme yet propounded is entirely free from difficulties. The general measurements, and the mention of "pins" in Exodus 27:19, point strongly in the direction of a tent form such as that suggested by Mr. Fergusson (Dict. of Bible, art. Temple). A difficulty, on this theory, arises from the statement that the veil was to be hung" under the taches" (ver. 33). But the expression, "under the taches," may be used of a high-roofed structure with some degree of latitude, otherwise we must suppose that the veil originally divided the sanctuary into two apartments of equal size.
2. Glory and beauty of the dwelling-place. Within the limits of its dimensions, the tabernacle was really a place of great splendour - a costly and magnificent erection. We should err, however, in going much beyond the general effect to be produced in seeking for symbolical meanings. The shittim wood, the precious metals, the colours, the finely-embroidered linen fabrics, have significance only as adding to the beauty and richness of the place designed for Jehovah's abode. The end was, as far as possible, to rear a residence worthy of" the King of glory," or, from another point of view, to set forth, by the external splendour of the dwelling, the surpassing glory and magnificence of him who dwelt in it. Thus also was enhanced the idea of the singular honour enjoyed by those who were permitted to minister before him (see Fairbairn). The cherubic figures woven into the tabernacle drapery, point, if our interpretation of these figures is correct - to the host of angels who continually attend Jehovah, who are his willing servants in all that relates to his kingdom, who take so deep an interest in its progress, who furnish to his people a constant model of obedience (Matthew 6:10), and who may be viewed as joining with them, in all their services, in the worship of their King. They are part of the heavenly community, to which, as citizens in God's kingdom, we belong (Hebrews 12:22). The chapter suggests the following general reflections: -
1. Whatever glory or beauty the tabernacle possessed was derived ultimately from God. Man could but work up materials furnished to him by the Maker of all. So with the "beauties of holiness" in the Church. It is God who gives us of his grace, and who works in us to will and to do of his good pleasure (Philippians 2:13).
2. The tabernacle, in another aspect of it, was a product of human art and skill. The plan was Divine; the materials were from God; but the workmanship was man's. It is a characteristic of the "spiritual house" which God is now building on earth, that it also is being reared by human agency, and that each individual has it in his power to contribute something to its beauty. Every holy life that is being lived is the weaving of a beautiful fabric for the adornment of this house.
3. God's condescension is seen in his willingness to dwell with Israel in this wilderness-made abode. Magnificent as it was, it was but a paltry abode to offer to the maker of heaven and earth - to the possessor of all things. Yet Jehovah did not spurn it. He sought an abode with men. His dwelling in the tabernacle was, in some aspects of it, a grander thing than his inhabitation of the infinities of space. It told of a God who does not spurn to enter into personal relations with his creatures. He will stoop as far as holiness permits, in his endeavour to reach them, and to lift them up to communion with himself.
4. The tabernacle, glorious as it was, was but the type of dwelling-places more glorious than itself. We have found the antitypes in the once abased, but now glorified, humanity of Christ; in the renewed heart of the believer; in the redeemed Church as a whole. God prefers the temple of the humble and contrite heart to the grandest building ever reared by hands of man (Isaiah 57:15). - J.O.
I. GOD'S COMMANDMENT THAT A DWELLING-PLACE SHOULD BE PROVIDED FOR HIM. Against even the least degree of image-making there was a stern edict; and we might also have expected that there would be equal sternness in forbidding the creation of aught in the shape of a holy house. For what on the face of it would seem more probable than this, that the erection of a holy house would be a strong inducement towards the fashioning of some visible representation of Deity? Thus we might conjecture; but our conjectures soon get swept away as we are made clearly to understand that it was a good thing for Israel that Jehovah their God, their guide, and their unfailing support, should have a dwelling-place in the midst of their dwelling-places. Such a dwelling-place was no necessity for him, but to the people it was a help so great, that it became a necessity; and so we see they were more than permitted, they were even commanded, to construct an enclosure which should be reckoned the house of God. When we want to find one of our fellow-men, we reckon that it is at his house we shall find him easiest; and just as it is possible, by going and making proper request at the palace-gates, to get a great favour from a king without even a momentary vision of his face, so an Israelite was to be taught that by going to the holy dwelling of Jehovah - whom no man had seen or could see - he might unquestionably secure Divine benefits. As there was a condescension in the new dispensation, so there was in the old. He who became to a certain extent circumscribed in the limits of a human body, only carried out into a more abiding and far-reaching mystery, the circumscribing which first became a fact at Sinai. He who has the heaven for his throne and the earth for his footstool, chose to make the narrow limits of the tabernacle his peculiar dwelling-place. He meant Israel to understand that he was there, as he was nowhere else.
II. THE PECULIAR FORM WHICH THIS DWELLING-PLACE ASSUMED. Ever as the people dwelt in tents, easily set up and easily taken down, so God, in the midst of them, likewise dwelt in a tent. There was of course an elaboration and costliness about the tent of Jehovah, such as could not be found in the tents of even the noblest and wealthiest of the people; but still it was essentially a tent. A correspondence obtained between this tabernacle with all its splendid adornments which could not have obtained, if even the plainest of true buildings had taken its place. It is most needful for us to remember that the house of God in the midst of his people was not a building that had foundations. It was strictly suited to their wants. It was more suited to their immediate future than they themselves had any apprehension of; and we cannot but feel that for one thing, God had in view their forty years' wandering. They had not yet sinned the sin which led to this penalty; but that sin was before the mind of him who knew their expectations and their instability. Then it would appear also that God had nothing else than a tabernacle in view, even after his people secured each one their place in the lot of their temporal inheritance. It is not perhaps too much to say that the erection of the splendid temple which glorified Solomon's reign was no part of the Divine intent. God made the erection of that imposing mass to work in with his intent; but in the end it proved to have no more stability than the tabernacle which preceded it. Bear in mind what Jesus said of the temple which was standing in his time. His disciples in admiration pointed to the great stones which went to compose it; but Jesus in the discernment of his heart nevertheless was able to point out that not one stone should be left on another. The temple seemed more stable than the tabernacle; but it was only a seeming. Well-meaning men, not able to escape from carnal notions, may make God's house to take the temple-form, but God himself will take care that it has the tabernacle-reality. It is not in what we can make with our hands, be we ever so liberal, be we ever so diligent, that God can find a real abode. His real abode is in ourselves, in each of us who are holy and perfected individuals through our believing connection with Christ, and still more in the midst of his perfected people, joined together in the inexpressible, indestructible harmony of heaven. - Y.
e.g., thoughts must be expressed in words; the vision of the artist must take form on canvas or in marble. So, too, with the Divine ideas; they also must be embodied, and as presented for man's instruction, they must be so embodied that man may apprehend them. The unseen must be made visible; the pattern on the mount must be modelled and reared up upon the plain. Notice -
I. THE DIVINE IDEAL. Moses was shown the original Divine embodiment, not a mere toy model which he was to enlarge, but the actual God-fashioned tabernacle, in all the perfection of its related parts. So far as man was concerned, it might be a purely ideal structure; but the ideals of earth are the realities of heaven. The holy of holies, and the holy place, and the outer court - all these must exist, or Moses could not have been shown them. May we not also discern dimly that reality which Moses saw? The holy of holies, where God's throne is set - heaven in its innermost recesses, screened off from earth by the blue sky-curtain, which no unaided eye can pierce. The holy place and the outer court, God's earthly sanctuary, his Church in this world, related on the one side to heaven, and on the other to the world around it; the visible heavens are, in some sort, an expression of this Divine idea, illuminated by the sun (cf. Psalm 19.), and with the earth - from man's standpoint - forming a kind of outer court. Even this true tabernacle (cf. Hebrews 8:2) is only an embodiment of the Divine idea; but then it is the Divine embodiment, the expression found for it by God himself.
II. THE HUMAN COPY. The divine ideal as divinely embodied is still beyond man's understanding; it needs to be translated for men into language with which they are familiar. The child must be spoken to as a child (Isaiah 28:11), "with stammering lips and a feigned tongue." The tabernacle of nature expresses God's idea in polysyllables; the tabernacle which Moses reared translates it into easier language. Notice -
1. The holy of holies.
(1) The sanctity of the Divine dwelling-place emphasises the sanctity of its Divine inmate. "Clouds and darkness are round about him." "Holiness becometh his house for ever."
(2) "Righteousness and judgment are the establishment of his throne;" it is founded upon a guarded law.
(3) Mercy rejoiceth over judgment. God is just, or righteous, but also the justifier who makes righteous. "Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other."
2. The holy place. God has made it possible for man to approach him. They who may not bear the presence may yet be admitted to the ante-chamber. The Church is the link between heaven and earth, as the high priest is the link between the Divine and human. Notice -
(1) The golden altar. The fumes of the incense may penetrate the veil, which shuts out the priest who offers it. Prayer can go where the worshipper cannot go.
(2) The golden candlestick. No lamp needed in the holiest place (cf. Revelation 21:23). Here, when man meets with God, for man's sake the lamp is needed. The light derived from God must be guarded by man, so only is the required illumination to be secured.
(3) The golden table. Furnished week by week with food satisfying alike to God and man. Such the Church - a heaven on earth. Prayer ascending towards the unseen holy; light from God carefully guarded; offerings wherein God and man both find satisfaction - such are the notes of a true Church, one wherein man may have communion with his Maker, holy as preluding to the holy of holies.
(4) The outer court. Here we have the first stage in man's progress from the world God-wards. The altar and the laver, sacrifice and purification, must come before communion. Consecration and cleansing precede intercourse and fellowship, and these again prepare for the beatific vision. Conclusion. - What is the central thought thus shadowed forth? Is it not this: -God's holiness can only be approached step by step, whilst the road by which we must approach it is that which will ensure for us growth in holiness. "The pure in heart shall see God;" the beatific vision is for those only whose spiritual eyesight has been prepared for its reception. We cannot come up to the throne of God save through the outer court and through the sanctuary; sacrifice and cleansing, illumination and communion; then, for those who can receive it, the open vision and the presence of God. - G.