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The two chief objects within the Court were the Brazen Altar and the Tabernacle. Sacrificial worship was old, but the local Sanctuary was quite new. The Tabernacle is most frequently called the Tabernacle of the Congregation. A better rendering is supposed to be, "The Tent of Meeting." The Tabernacle was also called "The Tent of the Testimony," in allusion to the fact that it was the depositary of the Tables of the Law. The highest meaning of the structure was expressed by the Ark, which symbolised the constant presence of Jehovah. The Speaker's Commentary says: "We may regard the sacred contents of the Tabernacle as figuring what was peculiar to the Covenant of which Moses was the Mediator, the closer union of God with Israel, and their consequent election as 'a kingdom of priests, an holy nation': while the Brazen Altar in the Court not only bore witness for the old sacrificial worship by which the Patriarchs had drawn nigh to God, but formed an essential part of the Sanctuary, signifying by its now more fully developed system of sacrifices in connection with the Tabernacle those ideas of Sin and Atonement which were first distinctly brought out by the revelation of the Law and the sanctification of the nation." In the Ark there was no image or symbol of God. The Ark of the Covenant was never carried in a ceremonial procession. In all important particulars it differed from Egyptian shrines. When the Tabernacle was pitched the Ark was kept in solemn darkness. The staves were to remain always in the rings, whether the Ark was in motion or at rest, that there might never at any time be a necessity for touching the Ark itself or even the rings ( 2Sa 6:6-7 ). "The cherubims were not to be detached images, made separately and then fastened to the mercy seat, but to be formed out of the same mass of gold with the mercy seat, and so to be part and parcel of it" The Holy of Holies was a square of fifteen feet, and the Holy place an oblong thirty feet by fifteen. So far as known, "horns" were peculiar to Israelite altars.
The specification for the building of the tabernacle purports to be Divinely dictated. We can form some idea of the validity of such a claim, for we have the test of creation by which to try it. We can soon find out discrepancies, and say whether this is God's work or an artificer's. A revelation which bounds itself by the narrow limits of an architect's instruction admits of very close inquiry. Creation is too vast for criticism, but a tabernacle invites it. Let us, then, see how the case stands, whether God is equal to himself, whether the God of the opening chapters of Genesis is the God of the mount upon which, according to this claim, the tabernacle was Divinely outlined in expressive cloud. Note, at the very outset, that the account of making the tabernacle occupies far more space than the history of the creation of the heavens and the earth. We soon read through what is given of the history of creation, but how long we have had to travel through this region of architectural cloud. It seemed as if the story would never end. This is a remarkable corroboration of the authenticity of both accounts. A long account of creation would have been impossible, presuming the creation to be the embodiment and form of the Divine word executed without human assistance. That account could not have been long. When there is nothing, so to say, between God's word and God's deed, there is no history that can be recorded. The history must write itself in the infinite unfoldment of those germs, or of that germ with which creation began. A short account of the tabernacle would have been impossible, presuming that all the skins, colours, spices, rings, staves, figures, dishes, spoons, bowls, candlesticks, knobs, flowers, lamps, snuffers, and curtains, were Divinely described; that every tache, loop, hook, tenon, and socket was on a Divine plan, and that human ingenuity had nothing whatever to do with a structure which in its exquisite fashioning was more a thought than a thing. So far, the God of Genesis is the God of Exodus: a subtle and massive harmony unites the accounts, and a common signature authenticates the marvellous relation. When God said, "Let there be light," he spake, and it was done. There is no history to write, the light is its own history. Men are reading it still, and still the reading comes in larger letters, in more luminous illustration. When God prescribed lamps for the tabernacle he had to detail the form of the candlesticks, and to prescribe pure olive oil, that the lamp might always burn. You require more space in which to relate the making of a lamp than in which to tell of the creation of the light; you spend more time in instructing a little child than in giving commands to an army. God challenged Job along this very line. Said he, "Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?" There was no Job between the Creator and the creation; no Moses writing swiftly words Divine that had to be embodied at the foot of the hill. "Where is the way where light dwelleth; and as for darkness, which is the place thereof?" Mark well, therefore, the contrast of the accounts, and the obvious reason for the amazing difference.
The next point of observation relates to the completeness of the specification as corresponding with the completeness of creation. Lay the finger upon one halting line and prove that the Divine Architect was weak in thought or utterance at this point or at that. Find a gap in the statement and say, "He forgot at this point a small loop, or tache, or ouche, and I, his listener, Moses, must fill in what he left out." We do not know the meaning of great Gospel words until we read our way up to them through all the introduction of the initial covenants. We read backwards, and thus read ourselves out at the lower end of things, instead of reading in the order of the Divine evolution and progress, upward from height to height, until speech becomes useless, and silence must be called in to complete the ineffable eloquence. Could there have been more care in the construction of a heaven than is shown, even upon the page, without going into the question of inspiration, in the building of a tabernacle? Is it not also the same in such little parts of creation as are known to us? There is everywhere a wonderful completeness of purpose. God has set in his creation working forces, daily ministries. Nature is never done. When she sleeps she moves; she travels night and day; her force is in very deed persistent. So we might, by a narrow criticism, charge nature here and there with want of completeness; but it would be as unjust to seize the blade from the ear, and, plucking these, say, "Here we have sign and proof of incompleteness." We protest against that cruelty and simple injustice. There may be a completeness of purpose when there has not yet been time for a completeness of execution. But in the purpose of this greater tabernacle creation there is the same completeness that there is in the specification of this beauteous house which the Lord appointed to be built in the grim wilderness.
Consider, too, that the temporary character of the tabernacle was no excuse for inferior work. The tabernacle, as such, would be but for a brief time. Why not hasten its construction invent some rough thing that would do for the immediate occasion? Why, were it made to be taken up to heaven for the service of the angels it could not be wrought out with a tenderer delicacy, with a minuter diligence, as to detail and beauty. But to God everything is temporary. The creation is but for a day. It is we who are confused by distinction as between time and eternity. There is no time to God; there is no eternity to God. Eternity can be spelled; eternity can in some dumb way be imagined and symbolised in innumerable ciphers multiplied innumerable times by themselves till the mind thinks it can begin eternity. To God there is no such reasoning. When, therefore, we speak of lavishing such care upon a tabernacle, we mistake the infinity and beneficence of God. It is like him to bestow as great care upon the ephemera that die in the sunbeam as upon the seraphim that have burned these countless ages beside the eternal throne. We must not allow our ignorance, incompleteness, and confusedness of mind to interfere with the interpretation of these ineffable mysteries. But the tabernacle was built for eternity. So again and again we stumble, like those who are blind, who are vainly trying to pick their way through stony and dangerous places. The tabernacle was eternity let down an incarnation, so to say, of eternity, as a man shall one day be an incarnation of God. We mistake the occasion utterly. We fall out of the pomp of its music and the grandeur of its majesty by looking at the thing, and supposing that the merely visible object, how lustrous and tender in beauty soever, is the tabernacle. The tabernacle is within the tabernacle, the Bible is within the Bible, the man is within the man. The tabernacle in the wilderness represented eternal thoughts, eternal purposes of love. Everything is built for eternity: every insect, every dog, every leaf so frail, withering in its blooming. God builds for eternity in the thought, and in the connection, and in the relation of the thing which is builded. See how profound our iniquity in committing murder anywhere. "Thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not steal." It is one life, one property, a sublime unity of idea, and thought, and purpose. Do not segregate your life, or universe, and attempt a classification which will only separate into unholy solitude what was meant by the Divine mind to cohere in indivisible unity. We were built for eternity. Can God build for less time? Nothing is lost. The greatest of economists is God. "The very hairs of your head are all numbered "; "Not a sparrow falleth to the ground without your Father." When we speak about the temporary, we know not what we say; or we justly use that word, for the sake of convenience, as expressive of uses which themselves perish in their own action. But, profoundly and vitally viewed, even affliction is part of heaven; our sorrows are the beginning, if rightly accepted and sanctified, of our supremest bliss.
Mark, too, how wonderfully the tabernacle and the human frame correspond in perfection of detail and sublimity of purpose. It is not difficult to believe that he who made the tabernacle made Adam. The tabernacle grows before our eyes and Adam is growing still. The life which God is making is Man. Do not impoverish the mind and deplete the heart of all Divine elements and suggestions by supposing that God is a toymaker. God's purpose is one, and he is still engaged in fashioning man in his own image and likeness, and he will complete the duplicate. We must not fix our mind upon our mutilated selves, and, by finding disease, and malformation, and infirmity, and incongruity, charge the Maker with these misadventures. We must judge the Divine purpose in the one case with the Divine purpose in the other. I am aware that there are a few men who have from my point of view blasphemously charged the Divine work, as we regard it, in creation with imperfection. There have not been wanting daring men, having great courage on paper and great dauntless-ness in privacy and concealment, and who have lived themselves into a well-remunerated, respectable obscurity, who have said that the human eye is not ideally perfect. So we do not speak in ignorance of the cross-line of thinking which seeks to interrupt the progress of Christian science and philosophy. Is there not a lamp also within the human tabernacle a lamp that burns always, a lamp we did not light, a lamp trimmed by the hand Divine, a lamp of reason, a lamp of conscience, a lamp that sheds its light when the darkness without us is gathered up into one intense and all-obstructing night? and are there not parables in nature which help us to believe that this lamp, though it apparently flicker yea, though it apparently vanish shall yet throw radiance upon heavenly scenes, and burn synchronously with the glory of God's own life? You say, "Look at old age and observe how the mind seems to waver, and halt, and become dim and paralysed, and how it seems to expire like a spark." No, as well say, "Look at the weary man at night-time, his eyelids heavy, his memory confused, his faculties apparently paralysed, or wholly reluctant to respond to every appeal addressed to them; behold how the body outlives and outweighs the boasted mind." No, let him sleep; in the morning he will be young again. Sleep has its ministry as well as wakefulness. God giveth his beloved sleep. So we may "by many a natural parable find no difficulty in working ourselves up to contemplations that fill us with ecstasy, religious and sublime, as we call ourselves "heirs of immortality."
Did not Moses make the tabernacle? Yes; but who made Moses? That is the question which has never yet been answered. Change the terms as you please, that inquiry always starts up as the unanswerable demand. Your hand carved the marble, but who carved the hand? Singular, if the marble was carved, but the hand carved itself. Your tongue uttered the eloquence, but who made man's mouth? Who set within him a fountain of speech? Your mind planned the cathedral, but who planned the mind? It would have been more difficult to believe infinitely more difficult to believe that the mind made itself than that the cathedral fashioned its own symmetry and roofed in its own inner music and meaning.
Thus perusing the specification for the building of the tabernacle, and reading the account of the creation of the heavens, and of the earth, and of man, I find between them a congruity self-confirming, and filled with infinite comfort to the heart that yearns studiously over the inspired page in hope of finding the footprints of God. The living Christian Church is more marvellous than the tabernacle in this wilderness. The tabernacle was part of a development; the tabernacle was only one point in the history. We must judge things by their final purpose, their theological aspect and philosophy. What is the meaning of the tabernacle? the temple. What is the meaning of the temple? the living Church. So we find rude altars thrown together by careless hands, symbolising worship addressed to the heavens; then the tabernacle; then the temple; then the living fellowship. Know ye not that ye are the temples of the Holy Ghost? Know ye not that there is a foundation laid in Zion, a corner stone, elect, precious; and that we are built upon it, living stones; and that God is shaping the tabernacle of humanity as he shaped the tabernacle in the wilderness? Know ye not that we are builded together a holy house unto the Lord? Arrest not, even in theory, the Divine progress. The line from the beginning up till now has taken one grand course. Nothing has strayed away and left the Divine sovereignty. The wrath of man is still in the Divine leash, and hell is no independent colony of the universe. There is one throne, one crown; one increasing purpose runs through all we know. We wait patiently for the Lord, and when he says from his throne what Christ said from the cross, "It is finished," then we may be invited to say, in the terms which God himself used when he viewed creation, "Behold, it is very good."
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Exodus 26". Parker's The People's Bible. https://studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany