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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 25

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 1-9

2. Contributions for the construction of the sanctuary 25:1-9

"Only voluntary gifts were acceptable as materials for the Lord’s house (Exodus 25:2; Exodus 35:3; Exodus 35:21-22; Exodus 35:29), since love rather than compulsion is the basis of all truly biblical giving (2 Corinthians 9:7)." [Note: Youngblood, p. 113.]

Moses usually employed one of four different terms to describe the tabernacle each of which emphasizes one of its purposes, though other names also appear.

1. Sanctuary (Exodus 25:8) means "place of holiness" and stresses the transcendence of Israel’s God as an exalted being different from His people. However this verse also states that such a God would "dwell among" His people. [Note: See Angel Manuel Rodriguez, "Sanctuary Theology in the Book of Exodus," Andrews University Seminary Studies 24:2 (Summer 1986):127-45.]

2. Tabernacle (Exodus 25:9) means "dwelling place" and emphasizes God’s purpose of abiding near His people. The tabernacle looked like the other nomads’ tents that the Israelites lived in. They would have thought of it as God’s tent among their tents. It had furniture, just as their tents did.

"Just as they lived in tents, so God would condescend to ’dwell’ in a tent." [Note: Youngblood, p. 114.]

3. Tent of Meeting (Exodus 26:36; Exodus 29:42-43; Exodus 35:21) also stresses the imminence of God. God met with Moses and the Israelites in this tent. The verb translated "meeting" means a deliberate prearranged rendezvous rather than a casual accidental meeting. Some scholars believe that the tent of meeting was a structure different from the tabernacle and that it was always outside the camp of Israel. [Note: E.g., Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, p. 401.]

4. Tabernacle (or Tent) of Testimony (Exodus 38:21; Numbers 9:15; Numbers 17:7-8) indicates that the structure was the repository of the Law. Moses sometimes referred to the ark of the covenant as the "ark of the testimony" (Exodus 25:22) that contained the "two tablets of the testimony" (Exodus 31:18) on which were the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are the "testimony." They were the essential stipulations of the Mosaic Covenant, the heart of the relationship between God and His people.

God designed the tabernacle structure and all its furnishings to teach the Israelites about Himself and how they as sinners could have a relationship with Him.

"The thoughts of God concerning salvation and His kingdom, which the earthly building was to embody and display, were visibly set forth in the pattern shown [to Moses]." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 2:167.]

"The tabernacle also provided a prophetic prefigurement of the redemptive program of God as focused in Jesus Christ. . . . [It] was a remarkable picture of the high priestly work of Christ both here on earth and His eternal work in the heavens." [Note: Davis, pp. 245-56.]

"Probably the conception of the tabhnith, the ’model’ (Exodus 25:9), also goes back ultimately to the idea that the earthly sanctuary is the counterpart of the heavenly dwelling of a deity." [Note: Frank M. Cross Jr., "The Tabernacle," Biblical Archaeologist 10:3 (September 1947):62. For a good introduction to the background of the tabernacle, see G. Ernest Wright, "The Significance of the Temple in the Ancient Near East," Biblical Archaeologist 7:4 (December 1944):65-77. Cf. Exodus 25:40; Hebrews 8:5.]

Verses 10-22

The ark of the covenant 25:10-22

The ark was the throne of Yahweh where He dwelt in a localized way and met with the Israelites through their high priest. It was the seat of His sovereignty but also the place where He met with His people (Exodus 25:22). This is why directions for its construction come first. The testimony (Ten Commandments, Exodus 25:16; Exodus 25:22) lay inside the ark, which was a hollow box. God’s dwelling among His people and His relationship with them thus quite literally rested on the Ten Commandments. The mercy seat (Exodus 25:17) was the removable "lid" of this box and was solid gold. It was there that the high priest offered sacrificial blood once a year to atone for (cover) the sins of the Israelites as a nation. This offering made propitiation (satisfaction) for their sins for one year (cf. Leviticus 16).

The Greek word used to translate "mercy seat" here in the Septuagint (hilasterion) is another form of the word used to describe Jesus Christ as our propitiation in 1 John 2:2 (hilasmos). The mercy seat was for the Israelites temporarily what Jesus Christ is for all people permanently: the place where God found satisfaction.

"It [mercy] is a sweet word! A seat of mercy, baptised [sic] in mercy, from which mercy flows forth. Not wrath, not judgment, not indignation, but mercy is pouring forth from its original fountain in the heart of God." [Note: Meyer, p. 307.]

The cherubim (Exodus 25:18) were angels who "apparently have to do with the holiness of God as violated by sin." [Note: Unger’s Bible Dictionary, s.v. "Cherub," by Merrill F. Unger, p. 192.] They may have looked like winged human-headed lions. [Note: Youngblood, p. 122; cf. Kaiser, "Exodus," p. 455.] Josephus wrote that Moses saw these creatures around God’s throne when he was on Mt. Sinai. [Note: Josephus, 3:6:5. See John T. Bunn, "The Ark of the Covenant," Biblical Illustrator 9:4 (Summer 1983):50-53. Geoffrey Kind, "Where Is the Ark of the Covenant?" Prophetic Witness 8:2 (February 1984):9-10, suggested several possible answers to the title question. See also A. H. Tolhurst, "Whatever Happened to the Ark?" Ministry (June 1984), pp. 13-15.]

"The cherubim are connected with the throne as its guardians and/or bearers. In other cultures cherubim are minor deities protective of palaces and temple; in Israel they symbolized angelic guardians of the invisible throne of God." [Note: Waltke, An Old . . ., p. 460.]

Verses 10-40

3. The tabernacle furnishings 25:10-40

One writer identified three major problems the interpreter faces as he or she seeks to understand God’s revelation concerning the tabernacle. [Note: Davis, pp. 246-51.]

1. What was the length of the cubit, the standard measure of length? This is a problem because various nations had different lengths for their cubits. A cubit was usually the distance between the elbow and the middle fingertip. The length ranged from about 17 inches to 21 inches, but there is good reason to believe the Hebrew cubit at this time was 17.5 inches or about one and a half feet.

2. What about the information omitted in the text? Anyone who has tried to make a model or detailed drawing of the tabernacle and its furnishings has experienced frustration. The data given in the text is incomplete. Undoubtedly God revealed all the details to Moses. However, He has preserved only those details necessary for our understanding of the fundamental significance and functioning of the tabernacle in Scripture.

3. What was the exact shape of the tabernacle? The text does not enable us to know for certain if it had a flat roof or a gabled roof formed by a ridgepole. Both possibilities have problems connected with them, but the flat roof design seems more probable all things considered. A gabled roof would increase the measurement of the roof beyond the width of 15 feet so the curtains over the roof and sides would not fully cover the sides.

Another problem is the extent of typological teaching that God intended. A "type" is a divinely intended illustration. [Note: Charles C. Ryrie, The Holy Spirit, p. 23.] Thus all types are illustrations, but not all illustrations are types. How much detail did God intend to illustrate His character and relationship with His people?

We know the major aspects of the tabernacle and its furnishings are types because the New Testament writers identified them as such (Hebrews 3:4-5; Hebrews 8:5; Hebrews 9:8-9; Hebrews 9:23-24; Hebrews 10:20). However the amount of detail Moses preserved and the obvious correspondence of certain details not identified as types have led many commentators to conclude that God intended these details to be instructive too. Some commentators have taken this teaching to extend to the numbers and colors used that, in some cases in scriptural usage, do have symbolic significance. Some commentators have taken this too far in the judgment of other students of Exodus.

I prefer a cautious approach myself. It seems to me that there are many illustrations of New Testament truth in the Old Testament. This seems clear in view of the amount of detail God preserved here. It also seems clear since the illustrative significance of some features of the tabernacle is so obvious even though the New Testament does not identify them as types. An extremely conservative approach would be to identify as types only those things that the New Testament calls types (Gr. typos, cf. antitypos). These would include Adam (Romans 5:14), the wilderness wanderings of Israel (1 Corinthians 10:6; 1 Corinthians 10:11), the holy place in the tabernacle and temple (Hebrews 9:24), and the flood in Noah’s day (1 Peter 3:21). We could refer to other foreshadowings simply as illustrations. [Note: See Paul Lee Tan, Principles of Literal Interpretation of the Bible, pp. 36-39. Examples of extensive typological interpretation are Edward Dennett, Typical Teachings of Genesis; C. H. M[ackintosh], Notes on the Pentateuch, vols. 3-5; A. J. Pollock, The Tabernacle’s Typical Teaching; Samuel Ridout, Lectures on the Tabernacle; and H. W. Soltau, The Tabernacle, the Priesthood and the Offerings.]

Josephus, following Philo, interpreted the tabernacle, its furniture, and the priests’ garments symbolically. He wrote that the seven branches of the lampstand represent the courses of the planets. The colors of the curtains and clothing represent the four elements (earth, water, air, and fire). The two shoulder stones stand for the sun and moon. The 12 breastplate stones represent the 12 months or the 12 signs of the Greek zodiac. [Note: Josephus, 3:7:7.] His suggestions do not seem to be the best interpretations of the significance of these things.

Note that the order in which Moses described the things associated with the tabernacle in the text is not what one would normally expect. For example, we would expect that after the description of the altar of burnt offerings we would have a description of the laver. The altar of burnt offerings was the major piece of furniture in the courtyard and the first one the Israelite would meet as he entered the courtyard. The laver was the second most prominent item. It would catch the Israelite’s eye next. It was also the object between the altar and the tabernacle. However instead we read about the altar of burnt offerings, then the priestly vestments, then the consecration of Aaron, and then the laver. This order is due to the two emphases in the revelation. First, Moses described things that primarily manifest God, and second, things dealing with His people’s fellowship with God. The author described first things in the holy of holies where God dwelt, then things in the holy place, then things in the courtyard. This order focuses attention on the presence of Yahweh among His people, which was the most important feature of Israel’s life. The tabernacle itself also reflects the importance of Yahweh’s presence at the center of His people.

"The tabernacle was built on a ratio of Exodus 2:1 and on a radiating decrease value of metal: gold, silver, bronze, from the center [where God dwelt] to the outer edges." [Note: Livingston, p. 178.]

The materials that the Israelites were to use in the construction of the tabernacle and its worship were the finest and rarest available. This reflected the fact that nothing but the best was appropriate for response to Yahweh. What was at the center of priestly concern was not a building or a ritual but the Lord Himself, present as a gift to His people. [Note: Durham, p. 355.]

Verses 23-30

The table of showbread 25:23-30

This piece of furniture stood on the north side of the holy place, the right side as the priest entered from the courtyard. The priests placed twelve loaves (large pieces) of unleavened [Note: Josephus, 3:6:5.] bread in two rows [Note: William L. Lane, Hebrews 9-13, p. 220.] or piles [Note: Bill Mitchell, "Leviticus 24:6: The bread of the presence-rows or piles?" The Bible Translator 33:4 (October 1982):447-48.] on this table where they remained for seven days. They substituted twelve fresh loaves for the old bread each Sabbath (Leviticus 24:5-8). The term "bread of the Presence" (Exodus 25:30) means these loaves lay before God’s presence in the tabernacle. The Israelites did not offer this food for Yahweh to eat, as the pagans offered food to their gods. [Note: Kaiser, "Exodus," p. 456.]

They did so "as a symbol of the spiritual food which Israel was to prepare (John 6:27; cf. John 4:32; cf. John 4:34), a figurative representation of the calling it had received from God." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 2:171.]

"The twelve loaves constituted a perpetual thank offering to God from the twelve tribes for the blessings that they received from Him day by day." [Note: Davis, p. 255.]

"By its opulence as by the containers and the food and drink placed continuously upon it and periodically renewed, this Table announces: ’He is here,’ and here as one who gives sustenance." [Note: Durham, p. 362.]

Perhaps the bread signified both God’s provisions and Israel’s vocation. Israel was to be a source of spiritual food for the world (Exodus 19:5-6).

". . . the table and the bread of the Presence have been taken as a type of the church which stands in Christ’s (the ark) presence." [Note: Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., p. 302.]

Verses 31-40

The lampstand 25:31-40

This piece of furniture was probably similar in size to the table of showbread (Exodus 25:39). It stood opposite that table in the holy place against the south (left) wall. It weighed about 75 pounds. The tabernacle craftsmen fashioned it in the form of a stylized plant or tree. It connoted life and fertility.

"The signification of the seven-armed candlestick is apparent from its purpose, viz. to carry seven lamps, which were trimmed and filled with oil every morning, and lighted every evening, and were to burn throughout the night (chap. xxvii. 20, 21, xxx. 7, 8; Lev. xxiv. 3, 4). As the Israelites were to prepare spiritual food in the shew-bread in the presence of Jehovah, and to offer continually the fruit of their labour in the field of the kingdom of God, as a spiritual offering to the Lord; so also were they to present themselves continually to Jehovah in the burning lamps, as the vehicles and media of light, as a nation letting its light shine in the darkness of this world (cf. Matt. Exodus 25:14; Exodus 25:16; Luke xii. 35; Phil. ii. 15). The oil, through which the lamps burned and shone, was, according to its peculiar virtue in imparting strength to the body and restoring vital power, a representation of the Godlike spirit, the source of all the vital power of man; whilst the oil, as offered by the congregation of Israel, and devoted to sacred purposes according to the command of God, is throughout the Scriptures a symbol of the Spirit of God, by which the congregation of God was filled with higher light and life. By the power of this Spirit, Israel, in covenant with the Lord, was to let its light shine, the light of its knowledge of God and spiritual illumination, before all the nations of the earth. In its seven arms the stamp of the covenant relationship was impressed upon the candlestick; and the almond-blossom with which it was ornamented represented the seasonable offering of the flowers and fruits of the Spirit, the almond-tree deriving its name . . . from the fact that it is the earliest of all the trees in both its blossom and its fruit (cf. Jeremiah 1:11-12). The symbolic character of the candlestick is clearly indicated in the Scriptures. The prophet Zechariah (chap. 4) sees a golden candlestick with seven lamps and two olive-trees, one on either side, from which the oil-vessel is supplied; and the angel who is talking with him informs him that the olive-trees are the two sons of oil, that is to say, the representatives of the kingdom and priesthood, the divinely appointed organs through which the Spirit of God was communicated to the covenant nation. And in Revelation 1:20, the seven churches, which represent the new people of God, i.e., the Christian Church, are shown to the holy seer in the form of seven candlesticks standing before the throne of God." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 2:174-75.]

"In company with the Table attesting Yahweh’s Presence in bounty and the Ark attesting Yahweh’s Presence in mercy and revelation, the Lampstand symbolized Yahweh’s Presence in perpetual wakefulness, through the reminder of the almond tree and the continual brightness of the living fire (cf. Num 17:16-26 [Numbers 17:1-11]). The watcher over Israel never nodded, much less slept (Psalms 121:4)." [Note: Durham, p. 365.]

Like the showbread, the burning lamps may have symbolized both the character of God and the calling of Israel. The seven-branched lampstand (menorah) has been and is a popular symbol of Judaism and Israel even today around the world. A bas relief of the lampstand that stood in Herod’s Temple is still visible on an inside panel on the Arch of Titus that stands in Rome. The Romans built this arch following Titus’ destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

"The lampstand is commonly taken to be a type of Christ, usually on the basis of Revelation 1:4 [cf. Exodus 25:12-13]. It has also been taken as a symbolic image of the Law." [Note: Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., p. 302.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Exodus 25". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/exodus-25.html. 2012.
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