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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 38

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-20


Exodus 38:1-8

THE FURTHER PROGRESS OF THE WORKTHE CONSTRUCTION OF THE FURNITURE FOR THE COURT.—Exodus 38:9-20.—AND OF THE COURT ITSELF. On the completion of the tabernacle, Bezaleel and his assistants turned their attention to the court and its furniture; and constructed, first, the altar of burnt offering (Exodus 38:1-7); secondly, the bronze laver (Exodus 38:8); and thirdly, the hangings, pillars, connecting-rods, hooks and pins for the circuit of the court (Exodus 38:9-20). Exodus 38:1-7 correspond to Exodus 38:1-8 of Exodus 27:1-21.; Exodus 27:8 corresponds to Exodus 27:18 of Exodus 30:1-38.; and Exodus 30:9-20 correspond to Exodus 30:9-19 of Exodus 27:1-21.

Exodus 38:3

The pots. This translation is better than that of Exodus 27:3, which is "pans." Buckets or scuttles to convey the ashes from the altar to the ash-heap (Le Exodus 1:16) are intended.

Exodus 38:8

Of the looking-glasses of the women. This interesting fact has not been previously mentioned. Bronze plates, circular or oval, admitting of a high polish, were used by the Egyptian women as mirrors from a very early date, and may be seen in the Egyptian collection of the British Museum. They have handles like those of our fire-screens, generally also of bronze. It was natural that the Hebrew women should possess similar articles, and should have taken care to bring them with them out of Egypt. The sacrifice of them for a sacred purpose is rather to be ascribed to their own serf-denying piety than to any command issued by Moses (Spencer). Which assembled. Literally, "who came by troops." Women assembled themselves by troops at the entrance of the "tent of meeting" set up lay. Moses (Exodus 33:7), as at a later date we find Hannah (1 Samuel 1:9-12) and other women who were less worthy (1 Samuel 2:22) doing. The women who showed this zeal were those that made the sacrifice of their mirrors for God's service. There is no reason to suppose (with Hengstenberg and others) that they constituted a regular "order."

Exodus 38:10

Their fillets. Rather, "their connecting-rods," as in Exodus 27:10.

Exodus 38:17

The overlaying of their chapiters of silver. This is additional to what is recorded in Exodus 27:1-21; and is parallel to what we find related of the tabernacle pillars in Exodus 36:38. Filleted with silver. Rather, "connected with silver rods." Compare Exodus 27:17.

Exodus 38:18

The height in the breadth was five cubits. The height of the hangings all round the court was required to be five cubits, or seven and a half feet (Exodus 27:18). It appears by the expression here used—"in the breadth"—that the material was woven of exactly this width.

Exodus 38:19

Their chapiters. This again is additional to the directions given Compare the comment on Exodus 38:17.


Exodus 38:8

The triumph of female piety over female vanity.

Hebrew women were, it must be presumed, much like other women in their natural dispositions, and therefore not without their share of personal vanity. The fact, that in all the haste of their sudden departure from Egypt they had not omitted to carry with them their metal mirrors, is indicative of this. The mirror was the most valued of toilet articles, and the most indispensable for effecting that end, at which almost all women aim—the making the best of those advantages of personal appearance which nature has vouchsafed to them. It is difficult to imagine any material sacrifice to which a woman would not more readily have consented than the loss of her mirror. Yet we know that the sacrifice was made by large numbers; for the laver was a vessel of considerable size. Let us consider then,

1. The motive of the act;

2. the antecedent conduct which led up to it;

3. the reward which it obtained.

I. THE MOTIVE OF THE ACT. No other motive can be conceived of than true piety. Piety loves to make offerings to God. Piety does not count the cost. Piety, the gift of grace, can triumph over nature; transform a poor vain worldling into a saint; make no sacrifice seem a hard one. It must have been piety which made these women give their mirrors, either,

1. In addition to their personal ornaments (Exodus 35:22), or

2. In default of them.

Some after offering their ear-rings, rings, necklaces, bracelets, and the like, may have desired, from pure love of God, to give more, and casting about to consider what more they could give, may have bethought them of their mirrors. Others may have had no personal ornaments to give; and if unable to spin, may have had nothing else but their mirrors which they could contribute. In either case, piety was at the root of their giving.

II. THE ANTECEDENT CONDUCT WHICH LED UP TO IT, They who contributed their mirrors were women wont to "assemble at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation." In other words, they were such as had previously made all the use they could of their religious opportunities. We see that God does not shower down his precious gifts of grace at random—but "helps such as help themselves." He granted the priceless grace of self-denying love to those who were constant in serving him at the place where he had "set his name," and was to be found of them that sought him. Much prayer, much waiting upon God, had gone to form the character of those who now found themselves able to make a willing sacrifice of their vanity.

III. THE REWARD WHICH THEIR ACT OF SACRIFICE OBTAINED FOR THEM. It obtained for them the high reward of special mention in God's holy word—a place in his "Valhalla"—a record in his "Roll of worthies." Of the other offerings we know not, for the most part, whether they were made by men or women—much less by what class of men, or what class of women. Only here, and in Exodus 35:25, Exodus 35:26, is the sex specified, and only here the class. Let women take this to heart. Let them be ready to sacrifice to him all their adornments—"braided hair and gold and pearls, and costly array" (1 Timothy 2:9)—let them be ready to sacrifice even, if need be, their personal charms (as many do in fever or small-pox hospitals), and they will not be forgotten by him—they will not go without a recompense. If their act be not recorded in any other book it will be written in that heavenly record, out of which all will be judged at the last day (Revelation 20:12).

For other Homiletics on the subjects of this chapter, see those on Exodus 27:1-21.


Exodus 38:1-21

The brazen altar, the laver, and the court.

See Homilies on Exodus 27:1-20; Exodus 30:17-22.—J.O.

Exodus 38:8

The mirrors of the women.

The women assembling at the door of the tabernacle (see Hengstenberg's "Egypt and the Books of Moses,"—"The Institution of Holy Women ") gave up their mirrors for the making of the laver. Learn—

1. Peculiar devotion to God expresses itself in acts of sacrifice.

2. Religion gives power to make sacrifices.

3. It weans the affections from the world.

4. It gives superiority to the motives of personal vanity. The mirror is peculiarly a woman's instrument of self-pleasing. It is her means of pleasing the world.

5. Religion teaches godly women to study simplicity in personal adornment (1 Peter 3:1-5).

6. Self-denial in outward adornment is valueless, unless" in the hidden man of the heart," there be the positive inward adornment of holiness (1 Peter 3:4). This was taught by the use to which Moses put the offerings—the making of the "laver." Regeneration is the true beautifier.—J.O.


Exodus 38:1-31

The Court and its lessons.


(1) The altar on which the sacrifice for Israel's sin was laid, and their own offerings accepted. Christ is the foundation and the power of all our service.

(2) The laver. It was fashioned from the mirrors of the women, The adornment of the outward was exchanged for inward purity, the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit. It stood there for the daily use of God's priests. They could pass into God's presence only as their defilement had been washed away. "Without holiness no man shall see the Lord." Are we being washed ere that hour comes when we must appear before him?

2. The construction of the court.

(1) God's grace makes a separation between the Church and the world. To break down this is to undo God's work.

(2) The wall of separation was fine twined linen. It is a separation not only between faith and unbelief, but between righteousness and unrighteousness.

(3) The world sees the results only, the means by which they are attained are hid from its view; but the results are a call to come and see.

3. The order in which they were made. The altar first, then the laver, and, last of all, the enclosing of the court. First, Christ and his sacrifice; next, the washing of regeneration by him through the Spirit; and, last of all, the gathering together of the Church. This is the Divine order. The true Church has ever this history. None have a right to be there on whom the work of altar and laver has not first been done.


1. The record of it is kept. There is nothing of all that is given for God's service, the history or place of which is forgotten.

2. The use to which it is applied. The gold is put to the highest use; the silver—the redemption money—is the foundation of the sanctuary; the brass is used for the altar, the laver, and the court. Each is put to its proper use, and a place is found for all. No gift can be brought to God which he will not employ.—U.

Verses 21-31


THE SUM OF THE TABERNACLE, OR WEIGHT OF THE METALS EMPLOYED IN IT. Before dismissing the subject of the construction of the tabernacle, Moses places on record the sum of the gold, silver and bronze contributed and consumed in the work. At the same time he informs us who was the accountant by whom the sum was made up (Exodus 38:21), and what were the portions of the work formed of each metal (Exodus 38:24, Exodus 38:27, Exodus 38:28, Exodus 38:30, Exodus 38:31). Incidentally he mentions the number of the congregation at this period (Exodus 38:26), and the weight of the "sockets" or "bases" (Exodus 38:27).

Exodus 38:21

This is the sum. Or "numbering" (as in Numbers 26:63). The tabernacle of testimony. The tabernacle, i.e; of which the great glory was that it contained "the testimony" or "Two Tables." Compare Exodus 25:16. For the service of the Levites. Literally "a service of the Levites by the hand of Ithamar," etc.—i.e. "a service which was performed by the Levites at the command of Ithamar." It is somewhat remarkable that the direction of the Levites should be assigned to Ithamar, rather than to Nadab or Abihu.

Exodus 38:22

Bezaleel made all. The direction of the whole work by Bezaleel is here asserted more definitely and decidedly than elsewhere. Compare Exodus 31:2-6; Exodus 36:1, Exodus 36:2.

Exodus 38:23

Aholiab's special gifts are here pointed out. He was

1. An artificer (a general term with no special application);

2. A skilled weaver; and

3. An embroiderer.

Altogether, his business was with the textile fabrics—not with the wood-work or the metal-work—of the sanctuary.

Exodus 38:24

The gold. The value of the gold has been estimated by Canon Cook at £175,075 13s. 0d. of our money; by Thenius at 877,300 Prussian thalers, or about £131,595. It was certainly under £200,000. De Wette and others have argued that the possession of so large a sum in gold at this time by the Hebrew nation is inconceivable. But most critics are of a different opinion. Gold was very abundant in Egypt at the period, being imported from Ethiopia, a rich gold-producing country (Herod. 3.23; Diod. Sic. 3.11), as well as taken in tribute from the nations of Asia. The wealth of Rhampsinitus (Rameses III.), a little later than the exodus, was enormous. According to the preceding narrative (Exodus 12:35, Exodus 12:36) much of the wealth of Egypt had, at the moment of their quitting the country, passed from the Egyptians to the Hebrews. If they numbered two millions of souls, their gold ornaments are likely to have been worth very much more than £200,000 of our money. On the shekel of the sanctuary, see the comment upon Exodus 30:13.

Exodus 38:25

The silver. The silver seems to have amounted to about four times the weight of the gold; but the value of it was very much less, not exceeding £40,000 of our money (Cook). It may seem surprising that this should have been so; but there are grounds for believing that both in Africa and in Asia gold was more plentiful than silver in the early ages. And it is certainly much more suitable for ornaments. Of them that were numbered. See above, Exodus 30:12-16. The silver for the sanctuary was collected by a compulsory tax, of the nature of a church-rate. This produced the amount here given, No estimate is made of the weight of the silver freewill offerings (Exodus 35:24), nor is any account given of their application. It has been suggested that they were returned to the donors as superfluous, which is certainly possible,

Exodus 38:26

A bekah for every man. Literally, "for every head." From twenty years old and upward. Compare Numbers 1:3, Numbers 1:22, etc. Six hundred thousand, etc. It is remarkable that this number agrees exactly with the sum total of the numbering in Numbers 2:32, which took place about six months later, and was exclusive of 22,000 Levites. Perhaps the number was lost in this place, and restored from Numbers 2:32, without its being recollected that the Levites were not included in that reckoning.

Exodus 38:27

The sockets of the sanctuary and of the veil See above, Exodus 36:24, Exodus 36:26, Exodus 36:30, and Exodus 36:36. The numbers given are 40, 40, 16, and 4, making exactly the hundred.

Exodus 38:28

Hooks for the pillars. See above, Exodus 38:10, Exodus 38:12, Exodus 38:17, and Exodus 38:19. Chapiters. See Exodus 38:19. Filleted them. Rather, "connected them with rods"

Exodus 38:29

The brass of the offeringi.e; the bronze which had been brought by the people in answer to the invitation of Moses (Exodus 35:24).

Exodus 38:30, Exodus 38:31

The sockets. See Exodus 36:38. The brazen altar and the brazen grate. See Exodus 36:1 and Exodus 36:4. The vessels. See Exodus 36:3. The sockets of the court. See above, Exodus 36:11, Exodus 36:14, Exodus 36:15, Exodus 36:17, and Exodus 36:19. The pins of the tabernacle and of the court. See above, Exodus 36:20.


Exodus 38:24-31

Great wealth worthily employed.

I. THE AMOUNT EXPENDED BY THE ISRAELITES WAS GREAT ABSOLUTELY. Although the materials contributed for the construction of the tabernacle are quite within the estimate which would reasonably be formed of the wealth of the Israelites from the general tenor of the narrative, yet they certainly reach altogether to such an amount of value as would constitute a very serious call on the resources of such a people. The worth of the metals alone was not far short of a quarter of a million of our money. (Gold, £175,000; silver, £40,000; bronze (say) £15,000—total, £230,000.) The precious stones, the spices, the wood-work, the raw material for the cloths, the dyed rams' skins and seals' skins, have to be added, and would raise the sum total to at least £250,000. This was contributed by a population of about two millions; which may be regarded as equivalent to 10s. a family, or half-a-crown a head. Now the entire taxation for imperial purposes of each British subject is about £2 a head, of which the amount paid in direct taxation is not more than 5s. a head. So that the Israelite of the 13th or 14th century, b.c; paid at one time for church purposes of his own free will, half as much as the British subject of the present day pays directly for State purposes in the whole course of the year. Thus the amount was great absolutely, and showed a noble spirit in those who contributed.

II. THE AMOUNT EXPENDED WAS ALSO GREAT RELATIVELY TO THE PURPOSE OF THE EXPENDITURE. What was required was a structure sixty feet long by thirty, with a skirting for a court or precinct 150 feet long by seventy-five. The main structure, or tabernacle, would be about the size of a small college chapel. The precinct would be smaller than most churchyards. Yet upon these two objects, without making any estimate for labour, a quarter of a million of money was spent. On the first blush, one asks, how was it possible for so enormous an outlay to be made? The answer is, by the lavish use of the precious metals, especially gold. That the structure might be rich, splendid, magnificent, gold and silver were lavished upon it, both externally and internally—scarcely any wood was seen—nothing caught the eye but costly fabrics of rich colour, and masses of silver or gold. A warm, harmonious, rich result was no doubt produced; and nomadic Israel, unable to compete with the settled nations in the size and grandeur of its "holy place," erected for itself a sanctuary, which in its own way was unequalled and unique.

III. THE OBJECT OF THE EXPENDITURE WAS A WORTHY ONE. If a people have temples at all, men will always judge their religious views, more or less, by them. If Israel was to have a place of worship—and it may be doubted whether any race of men will ever be able to do without one—it would certainly be subjected to rough criticism and comparison. The Egyptian temples were magnificent—of vast size, of the most solid construction, of handsome material, elaborately painted and adorned; they delighted those who worshipped in them, and challenged the admiration of extraneous beholders. Israel, in the desert, could not possibly vie with these. But it might construct a work perfect in its kind, of a different class, which would compensate for smallness of size by richness of material and artistic elaboration. It could show in this way its sense that men should give to God of their best. It could secure an extraordinary degree of beauty, finish, and elegance. The nations among which the tabernacle passed—even those who heard an account of it—must have been impressed with the feeling that here was a people which thoroughly believed in its God; which thought nothing too good for him; which was ready for his sake to submit to much self-sacrifice. And the people itself must also have been impressed by its own work. No such apostasy as the worship of the calf ever took place after the tabernacle had been constructed. It was no longer faith, but sight, which told them, that "God was in the midst of them." The sense of this begat a courage and a confidence, which supported the nation under many trials, and many temptations. They had never to regret the outlay which they had made upon their "tent-temple."

Application.—There has been much church-building in modern times, but in no instance such a lavish outlay as that here held up to our imitation. Germany, indeed, has completed the Dom of Cologne; but not much of the money was subscribed; for the most part, it came out of the general taxation of the country. Glasgow, Edinburgh, Calcutta, have raised cathedrals; but the cost has not been very considerable. The spirit of munificence has been shown rather by individuals than by any nation; and, in England at any rate, the nineteenth century will not, it is to be feared, be signalised among others by the completion of any really first-rate ecclesiastical edifice. New dioceses are formed; but new cathedrals, worthy of taking rank with the masterpieces of former times, do not arise. The prevailing practice is to convert a parish church into a cathedral. May it not be hoped that ere long some new diocese, where wealth abounds, will devote to its cathedral some such amount as the Israelites in the desert contributed towards their tabernacle, and raise an edifice which will prove to the world that Post-Reformation England does not yield to the England of the Middle Ages in the virtue of Christian munificence?


Exodus 38:21-31

The enumeration of the metals used.

This served a useful purpose—

1. As an account rendered to the people of what had been done with their gifts.

2. As gratifying a very laudable wish of the contributors to know how much the sum-total of their contributions amounted to.

3. As giving a just idea of the splendour and costliness of the building.

4. As a testimony to the liberality, willingness, and unstinting self-sacrifice of all classes in the congregation.

5. As specially indicating the destination of the atonement-money—the making of the "sockets" on which the tabernacle was reared (Exodus 38:27).

6. As a lesson of exactitude in church finance. A church is not at liberty to deal in a slovenly manner with its receipts and disbursements. Careful accounts should be kept and published. This

(1) Gives confidence in the management;

(2) is an encouragement to giving;

(3) prevents charges of maladministration;

(4) is a prevention against waste.—J.O.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Exodus 38". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/exodus-38.html. 1897.
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