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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 26

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-37


Exodus 26:1-37

THE TABERNACLE. The sacred furniture which the tabernacle was to contain having been described, with the exception of the "altar of incense" the description of which is reserved for Exodus 30:1-38. (Exodus 30:1-10)-directions were next given for the sacred structure itself. This was to consist of three main things—

1. A quadrangular enclosure thirty cubits long by ten broad, open at one end, and on the other three sides enclosed by boards of acacia-wood overlaid with gold—called the mishkan, or "the dwelling-place," in our version usually translated "tabernacle."

2. A tent of goat's hair, supported upon poles, and stretched by means of ropes and tent-pegs in the ordinary manner over the mishkan. This is called the 'ohel—which is the usual word for a "tent" in Hebrew, and is so translated generally (Genesis 4:20; Genesis 9:21; Genesis 13:1-31; Genesis 18:1, etc.), though in this chapter, unfortunately, "covering" (Exodus 30:7); and

3. A "covering"—mikseh, to be placed over the 'ohel, composed of rams' skins dyed red, and seals' skins (Exodus 30:14). Subordinate parts of the structure were—

(a) The sockets, or bases, which were to receive and support the upright boards (Exodus 30:19-25);

(b) The bars which were to hold the boards together (Exodus 30:26-29);

(c) The veil, stretched on pillars, which was to be hung across the" dwelling-house," and to separate it into two parts, the "holy place" and the "holy of holies" (Exodus 30:31-33); and

(d) The curtain or "hanging" at the open end of the "dwelling-place," where there were no boards, which was intended to close that side of the structure when necessary (Exodus 30:36, Exodus 30:37).

Exodus 26:1

The fine linen covering (Exodus 26:1-6).

Thou shalt make the tabernacle with ten curtains. These "ten curtains" are explained in the verses which follow to be ten "breadths," so fastened together as to form practically a single curtain or awning, which constituted the cieling or inner covering of the tabernacle. The mode of its arrangement is not quite certain. Some suppose that it was really a part of the "tent," being laid over the same framework as the goats' hair curtain (Fergusson, Cook); others believe it to have been strained across the mishkan and fastened to the top of the boards on either side, thence depending, either inside or outside (Bahr, Keil). The former supposition appears the more probable. Fine twined linen is linen the threads of which are formed of several fine strands twisted together. This is often the case with Egyptian linen. On blue and purple and scarlet, see the comment upon Exodus 25:4. Cherubims of cunning work. Rather, "cherubim, the work of a skilled weaver." Figures of cherubs were to be woven into the hangings in the loom itself, not embroidered upon them afterwards.

Exodus 26:2

Eight and twenty cubits. This is the exact length required for a rectangular tented roof over such a space, which should descend (as tent roofs usually do) within about seven feet of the ground. The comparison made in Exodus 26:12, Exodus 26:13, between the fine linen covering of the mishkan and the goats' hair covering of the "tent," implies that the one was directly under the other, and that both were arranged in the same way. The breadth of four cubits. This gives for the entire length of the curtain (4 by 10), 40 cubits, or ten cubits more than the length of the boarded space. The roof must thus have been advanced some distance in front of the tabernacle proper, or rectangular boarded space. Every one of the curtains shall have one measure. They shall all, i.e; have the same measure.

Exodus 26:3

When the ten "breadths" had been woven, five were to be sewn together to form one portion of the awning, and the other five to form another portion, the reason for this being, probably, that if all the ten breadths had been sewn together, the awning would have been too cumbrous to have been readily folded together, or easily conveyed when the people journeyed.

Exodus 26:6

The Authorised Version gives the sense fairly. The two curtains, each composed of five "breadths," were to be united by means of one hundred loops, fifty on each curtain, which were to be coupled together by fifty "taches" or clasps. The loops were to be of the "blue" material used generally in the textile fabrics of the tabernacle (Exodus 25:4; Exodus 26:1, Exodus 26:31, Exodus 26:36), and the "taches" or clasps were to be of gold. In this way the covering of the mishkan was to be completed.

Exodus 26:7

The goat's skin tent-cloth (Exodus 26:7-13).

From the inner covering of the tabernacle the directions proceed to the external covering, or rather coverings, which constituted the real strength of the structure, and its protection from wet or stormy weather. Curtains of goats' hair, such as the Arabs still use, as the ordinary covering of their tents, were to form a true "tent" ('ohel) above the tabernacle, being supported by tent-poles, and kept taut by means of cords and pegs (Exodus 27:19; Exodus 35:18). See the representation in Dr. W. Smith's Dictionary of the Bible, vol. 3. p. 1454, which is reproduced in the Speaker's Commentary, vol. 1. p. 376. To be a covering. In Exodus 36:14, we have—"he made curtains of goats' hair for the tent over the tabernacle," which is far better. The word used in both places is the same ('ohel). Eleven curtainsi.e; "eleven breadths." Compare Exodus 36:1.

Exodus 26:8

The length … shall be thirty cubits. A tent with a rectangular roof, over such a chamber as the mishkan, brought down, as tents usually are, within six or seven feet of the ground, would have required a covering of this length. If the slope of the roof had been greater, the covering must have been longer. The breadth … four cubits. This gives for the entire covering, when made up, a width of forty-four cubits, or sixty-six feet. As the entire length of the mishkan was only thirty cubits, or forty-five feet, it is evident that the tent projected considerably beyond the tabernacle, either at both ends, or, at any rate, at one end. Probably the projection was at one end only—viz; in front; where it constituted a porch, eighteen or twenty feet deep. The temple, which was modelled after the tabernacle, had a porch fifteen feet deep.

Exodus 26:9

Thou shalt couple, etc. As with the inner awning of linen, so with the goats' hair tent-cloth. The whole when made up was to be in two pieces, for convenience of transport. (See the comment on Exodus 26:3.) The number of breadths in the tent-cloth being uneven, the two pieces were to be of different sizes, one containing five, and the other six, "breadths." Thou shalt double the sixth curtain in the forefront of the tabernacle. "Tabernacle" here is a mistranslation; since the Hebrew word is 'ohel, "tent." The meaning may be, either that the sixth breadth was to be doubled back upon the fifth, or that half of it was to be doubled back upon the other half. The latter view is to be preferred, since otherwise the extra breadth would have been superfluous.

Exodus 26:10

Fifty loops in the edge of the curtain that coupleth the second. Rather, "fifty loops at the edge of the second curtain of coupling." The two portions of the goats' hair covering were to be united in exactly the same way as those of the inner awning of linen. Fifty loops were to be sewn on to the edge of the extreme, or outermost, breadth of each portion, and these loops were to be connected by clasps or links. The outermost breadth on which the loops are sewn, is called the curtain of coupling."

Exodus 26:11

Fifty taches of brass. Rather "of bronze." The links of the inner curtain were of gold (Exodus 26:6).

Exodus 26:12

The remnant which remaineth, etc. Both this and the next verse presume a very close connection between the fine linen covering of the mishkan and the goats hair tent-cloth which protected it. "The remnant that remaineth" is the half-breadth by which the tent-cloth would overlap the linen covering at the back of the tent, when at the front half of the eleventh breadth had been turned back upon the other half (see comment on Exodus 26:9). This "remnant" was to be 'allowed to hang down over the back part of the tabernacle.

Exodus 26:13

And a cubit. Rather, "And the cubit." The cubit by which the goats' hair tent-cloth, which was thirty cubits across (Exodus 26:8), would exceed the linen covering, which was twenty-eight cubits (Exodus 26:2), on either side of the tabernacle, was to be allowed to hang down, like a valance, hiding so far the golden boards of the tabernacle.

Exodus 26:14

The outer protection (Exodus 26:14).

And thou shalt make a covering for the tent. Nothing is said of the size of this covering; but, as its object was clearly to protect the roof of the tent from penetration by wet, it seems reasonable to suppose that it extended at least as far as the boards of the tabernacle. To do this, it must have been thirty cubits long, and fourteen broad.

Exodus 26:15

The boarding of the tabernacle (Exodus 26:15-30).

Boards … of shittim wood. These boards were to be fifteen feet long by two feet three inches broad, and, if they were each of a single plank, can scarcely have been furnished by any of the acacias which now grow in the Sinaitic peninsula. It is possible, however, that they were made up of two or more planks, since the name by which they are designated, kereth, is thought to be applied in Ezekiel 27:6, to the "deck of a ship." Standing up. The way in which they were to be made to "stand up" is explained in Ezekiel 27:17 and Ezekiel 27:19. They were not to have one end sunk in the ground, but to be fitted by means of "tenons" into silver "sockets."

Exodus 26:17

Two tenons. Literally, "hands." Projecting rods, such as those common in our dinner tables, seem to be meant. They may have been of metal, let into the boards to a certain depth, and projecting several inches beyond them. Or, possibly, they may have been of acacia wood. In one boardi.e. "In each board"—no doubt, at the bottom of each. Set in order one against the other. Arranged, i.e; at regular intervals, the position of each corresponding to the position of its fellow.

Exodus 26:18

Twenty boards. Each board being a cubit and a half in width (Exodus 26:16), the length of the chamber was, necessarily, thirty cubits. On the south side southward. Literally, "On the south side, to the right." The Orientals regarded it as natural to look to the east, and spoke of the east as "in front," the west as "behind," the north as "on the left," and the south as "on the right hand."

Exodus 26:19

Forty sockets of silver. Nothing is said of the shape of these "sockets." They were certainly very massive, as each contained a silver talent (Exodus 38:27), and thus weighed from eighty to ninety pounds. It has been supposed that they stood on the ground, and formed a sort of continuous base, out of which the planks rose. But this would have constituted a very unsafe structure. Kalisch is probably right in his view, that the sockets were let into the ground resembling those at the bottom of a gate, into which the bolt is pressed down. Each socket received one of the "tenons."

Exodus 26:20

The second side … the north side. The north side, or left hand, was always regarded as less honourable than the south side or right hand (see Genesis 48:13-20), probably because in the northern hemisphere the sun illumines the south side. It showed the superior dignity of the south side that the golden candlestick was set against it (Exodus 40:24).

Exodus 26:22, Exodus 26:23

For the sides of the tabernacle westward. Rather, "for the back" (τὰ ὀπίσω—LXX.). Here there were to be six boards only, which would give the abnormal and improbable width of nine cubits. The additional cubit required was no doubt obtained from the corner boards, or posts, each of which added to the (internal) width half a cubit (see Exodus 26:23).

Exodus 26:24

They shall be coupled together beneath … unto one ring. This is very obscure, and might be explained in several ways. Perhaps it is best to suppose that the coupling was by the "bars," cf. Exodus 26:26-29, the ends of which fitted into a sort of double ring, like the figure 8, attached to the corner posts. Above the head. Rather "at" or near the head."

Exodus 26:25

And they shall be eight boards. Counting in the two comer boards, or posts, the boards of the back would be eight. Each of them was to have two "tenons," like the boards of the sides, and every "tenon" was to have its own silver "socket." Thus the "sockets" would be sixteen, two under each board.

Exodus 26:26-28

Bars of shittim wood. To give greater stability to the structure, to keep the boards in their places, and to prevent there being any aperture between them, five bars were to be made for each side, and the same number for the end, of the mishkan, which were to be passed through rings attached to the boards—one at least to each—and thus to hold the boards firmly together. The middle bar in each case was to extend the whole length of the enclosure (Exodus 26:28), and thus in two cases to be thirty cubits, or forty-five feet long. The exact length, and the disposition of the other bars is not indicated; but it is with reason conjectured that two were above and two below the "middle bar" that all were horizontal—and that each coupled together one half of the boards of each side. The length of each was probably fifteen cubits; and the ends which reached the two comer posts at the back ran into the corner rings, which were shaped so as to receive the two bars (see Exodus 26:24). It is not said whether the bars were inside or outside the mishkan; but the best authorities suppose them to have been outside.

Exodus 26:29

The rings were to be of solid gold; the boards and the bars of acacia wood overlaid with gold.

Exodus 26:30

According to the fashion. Where the description was incomplete (and it could not but be incomplete in many points), Moses was to follow his recollection of the "pattern," which either in vision, or otherwise—he had seen in the mount This would be his best guide, for

"Segnius irritant animum demissa per aures,

Quam quae sunt oculis subjecta fidelibus."

Exodus 26:31-35

The veil and the ordering of the holy places.

Exodus 26:31

A vail. The veil was to be of the same material and workmanship as the inner covering extended over the mishkan, and like that, was to have figures of cherubim woven into its texture by a skilled weaver.

Exodus 26:32

Four pillars. The contrast between these four pillars of the interior, and the "five pillars" at "the door of the tent" (Exodus 26:36, Exodus 26:37), is striking, and justifies the supposition that the veil in the tabernacle did not completely divide the holy of holies from the holy place, but formed a screen, above which the space was open. If the veil had been hung from the top of the tented roof, so as completely to separate the two places, there must have been fire pillars, or at any rate an odd number, m the interior. Their hooks shall be of gold. These are hooks attached to the pillars, for the purpose of their having the curtains hung upon them. Upon the four sockets. The word "sockets" has no article. Translate—"Thou shalt hang it upon four pillars of shittim wood overlaid with gold, with their hooks of gold, and standing upon four sockets of silver. The pillars probably had "tenons," like the boards (Exodus 26:17), which were inserted into silver sockets, let into the ground.

Exodus 26:33

Thou shalt hang up the veil under the taches. If the "taches" of Exodus 26:6 or even of Exodus 26:11, are intended, and" under" is to be taken strictly as" immediately under," the mishkan must have been divided by the veil into two equal, or very nearly equal parts; and the tabernacle must in an important particular have completely differed from the temple. In the temple the holy place was twice the length of the holy of holies (1 Kings 6:16, 1 Kings 6:17). It is possible that "under "may be used vaguely, or that the "taches" of this verse are the "hooks" of Exodus 26:32. That thou mayest bring in. Rather, "And thou shalt bring in." The clause is directive. The most holy. Literally, "the holy of holies"—the inner chamber, that within the veil, which constituted the adytum, or innermost recess of the tabernacle. The ark and the mercy-seat were the special furniture of this inner sanctuary. To these is added later (Exodus 30:1-10) the altar of incense.

Exodus 26:35

The table here is, of course, "the table of shew-bread" described in the preceding chapter (Exodus 26:23-30), immediately after the mercy-seat It was to be set "without the veil," in the holy place or outer chamber, against the north wall. The candlestick is the seven-branched lamp-stand described in Exodus 25:31-39. It was to be placed over against the table, and consequently on the south side (Exodus 40:24).

Exodus 26:36, Exodus 26:37

The entrance to the tent.

Exodus 26:36

Thou shalt make a hanging. A curtain which could draw up and. down, seems to be intended. When let down, it probably covered the entire eastern side, or front of the tabernacle. When raised, it allowed the eye to penetrate into the holy place.

Exodus 26:37

Five pillars. The central pillar was, no doubt, as Mr. Fergusson long ago pointed out, one of two tent-poles, which supported between them a ridge-pole, over which were thrown the coverings that formed the roof of the tent. Its height was probably fifteen cubits, so as to give a due slope to the roof. The two pillars nearest to the central one probably measured ten cubits, and stood in line with the two walls of the mishkan. The outer pair would then have a height of five cubits, and support the two extremities of the goats' hair covering. Their hooks. The hooks whereby the "hanging" was attached to the pillars. Compare Exodus 26:32. Sockets of brassi.e; of bronze. These were probably let into the ground, like the other sockets.


Exodus 26:1-37

The symbolism of the tabernacle structure.

I. That the HOLY OF HOLIES typified heaven itself is declared in the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 9:7-12). In it were the forms of cherubim, representing the angelic choir, and between them was the manifestation of the presence of God himself. It was cut off from the rest of the sanctuary by the veil, which none was to lift save the High Priest once a year: "the Holy Ghost thus signifying, that the way into the holiest of all"—i.e; into heaven—"was not made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing" (Hebrews 9:8).

II. THE VEIL thus typified and represented the separation between man and God—the awful barrier which shuts out from the Divine presence all, even the holiest, unless they have with them the blood of expiation, "that speaketh better things than that of Abel." The veil was covered with cherubic forms, reminding men of those watchers at the gate of Eden, who with "a flaming sword that turned every way, kept the way of the tree of life" (Genesis 3:24). Men saw in the thick curtain that hid the holiest from view, that heaven was shut to them, unless a "new and living way" could be found, whereby they might enter. They had impressed upon them the awful holiness and inaccessibility of the Supreme Being, and their own unworthiness to approach him. They learnt that God had hidden himself from them, until some "better time," When the veil would be rent, and in and through their true High Priest, and through faith in his blood, they might "have boldness to enter into the holiest."

III. The tabernacle outside the veil—THE HOLY PLACE, as it was called—represented the church militant. Here was perpetual worship offered to the God behind the veil. Hither were all who had received the holy anointing, and so been made "priests to God" (Revelation 1:6) privileged to enter. Here was a perpetual thank-offering presented to God in the shew-bread that lay always upon the table. Here was illumination from the sevenfold lamp which typified the Holy Spirit (see above on "the symbolism of the candlestick "). The place was "all glorious within" (Psalms 45:13)—on the wails "clothing of wrought gold,"—above, a canopy of fine twined linen, and blue and purple and scarlet, with cherubim of cunning work" interwoven into it—at either end a curtain of nearly similar materials. Those who looked on the tabernacle from without saw the goats' hair, and the rams' skins, and seals' skins, and perceived in it no beauty that they should desire it. The beauty was revealed to those only who were within. So now, the Church is despised and vilified by those without, valued as it deserves only by those who dwell in it. Again, the structure seems weak, as does the structure of the Church to worldlings. A few boards, an awning, a curtain or two—what more frail and perishable! But, when all is "fitly joined together, and compacted by that which every joint supplieth" (Ephesians 4:16), when by a machinery of rings and bars, and tenons and solid sockets, and pillars and hooks, the whole is welded into one, under Divine direction and contrivance, the fragility disappears. "God's strength is made perfect in weakness." A structure is produced which continues, which withstands decay, which defies assaults from without, which outlasts others seemingly far stronger, and bids fair to remain when all else is shattered and destroyed. "Behold! I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." The tabernacle, frail as it was, lasted from the exodus until the time when Solomon expanded it into the temple. Our tabernacle, the Church, will endure until it shall please God to merge it in a new and wonderful creation—"the new Jerusalem" (Revelation 21:2, Revelation 21:10-27; Revelation 22:1-5).

IV. THE CURTAIN AT THE ENTRANCE symbolises the fact, that there is a division between the Church and the world. The curtain may be lifted at times; but the world has only glimpses of the real inner life of the Church, does not fully see it, does not comprehend it. The life consists in worship—in contemplation, prayer, and praise. The world "cares for none of these things." It may glance curiously at the external fabric, and scoff a little at the contrast between the homely goats' hair that shows itself in one part, and the "blue and purple and scarlet, and fine twined linen wrought with needlework" that is seen in another; it may be angered at the sight of "pillars overlaid with gold," and ask scornfully, "Wherefore this waste?" But it does not care to consider seriously the fitness of these things, or to weigh the reasons for them. The only interest which it feels is one arising from cupidity: the Church, it thinks, would be worth plundering; and it looks forward hopefully to the time when it will "divide the spoil."

V. The support of the entire fabric upon TENONS and SOCKETS indicates that the Church is detached from earth, has here no resting-place, no continuing abode, awaits removal to heaven. What is of the earth, is earthy. If the Church were of the earth, if it were a human institution, if it rested on human wisdom, or power, or affection, it would be swayed by human emotions; it would seek those things which are the main objects of human desire; it would cease to witness for God; it would be powerless to raise man above himself and fit him for the life which is to come. But the Church is not of man's building. Christ built it. It is his. He is its "chief corner-stone;" and there—fore, "while it touches earth, it belongs altogether to heaven."


Exodus 26:1-37

Jehovah's dwelling.

Instructions are now given for the making of the "dwelling-place," of that sacred house or tent which was to be the special abode of Jehovah, and within which, when reared according to the fashion shown to Moses in the mount (Exodus 26:30), the sacred articles described in the previous chapter were to be deposited. We need not encumber our homily with the minutiae of construction. It will suffice to direct attention to the general arrangement of parts, and to the costly and beautiful character of the erection as a whole.

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 (Exodus 26:15-30). 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 (Exodus 26:1).

(2) A tent cloth of goats' hair (Exodus 26:7).

(3) Exterior coverings. These consisted of rams' skins dyed red, and of skins of seals (Exodus 26:14). Loops and taches united the two divisions of the tabernacle and tent-cloths. The clasps in the one case were of gold (Exodus 26:6), in the other of brass (Exodus 26:11). Internally, four pillars supported a magnificent veil, also wrought in blue, and purple, and scarlet with figures of cherubim (Exodus 26:31, Exodus 26:32). 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 (Exodus 26:36, Exodus 26:37). 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" (verse 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.


Exodus 26:1-37

The tabernacle itself.

Consider here—

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; hut 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.


Exodus 26:30

God dwelleth not in temples made with hands.

An idea, to be realised, must be embodied; 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. Psalms 19:1-14.), 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.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Exodus 26". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/exodus-26.html. 1897.
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