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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 27

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries


Exodus 27 details the instructions for the Great Bronze Altar that occupied the prime position in the Court of the Tabernacle (Exodus 27:1-8), also the instructions for the making of the court itself (Exodus 27:9-19), and finally the instructions for the perpetual light in the Sanctuary, which could be none other than that provided by the golden candlestick (Exodus 27:20-21).

Verses 1-8


“And thou shalt make the altar of acacia wood, five cubits long, and five cubits broad; the altar shall be foursquare: and the height thereof shall be three cubits. And thou shalt make the horns of it upon the four corners thereof; and the horns thereof shall be of one piece with it: and thou shalt overlay it with brass. And thou shalt make its pots to take away its ashes, and its shovels, and its basins, and its fleshhooks, and its firepans: all the vessels thereof thou shalt make of brass. And thou shalt make for it a grating of network of brass; and upon the net shalt thou make four brazen rings in the four corners thereof And thou shalt put it under the ledge round the altar beneath, that the net may reach half way up the altar. And thou shalt make staves for the altar, staves of acacia wood, and overlay them with brass. And the staves thereof shall be put into the rings, and the staves shall be upon the two sides of the altar, in bearing it. Hollow with planks shalt thou make it: as it hath been showed thee in the mount, so shall thou make it.”

The symbolism of this Great Bronze Altar has to do with the death of Christ as an Atonement for the sins of the whole world; and although the exact location of it was not here given, it evidently stood somewhere near the grand entrance into the court of the tabernacle, being by far the most important thing that fell upon the eyes of anyone entering the court.

“The bronze (brass) speaks of manifested divine judgment (Numbers 21:9, John 3:14, Revelation 1:15). At Calvary, Christ met the burning heat of divine justice against sin. Upon this altar the burnt offering was completely consumed, portraying Him who knew no sin, yet was `Made… sin for us, enduring the full wrath of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).’“(F1)

Dominating as it did the entrance area of that enclosure typifying the whole world, it was an effective symbol of the sublime truth that Jesus Christ in his mission of salvation for all men through his vicarious sacrificial death, dominates all human history. No other event of like importance ever occurred. All of the correspondence, publications, newspapers, treaties, and legal business of the whole world are dated with reference to His birth; and this goes on and on without interruption in every city of mankind! Behold the Sacrifice for our sin!

“Thou shalt make the altar” The Hebrew text here does not speak of “an altar” but of the altar.(F2) This was the “place where” the Lord recorded his name, and here was where he promised to meet and to bless the people (Exodus 20:24).

“Five cubits… three cubits” The dimensions of the ark in feet would have been 7 1/2 feet square by 4 1/2 feet in height.

“The horns of it” These were very unusual for an altar. In fact, “They seem to have been peculiar to the Israelites.”(F3) This should be no surprise to us, because God who designed this altar did not need to consult the pagan nations around Israel for any element of its design. The speculations mentioned by Dummelow that, “The horns of the altar had some connection with the worship of Jehovah in the form of a bull,”(F4) are the grossest type of superstition. There is absolutely nothing in the Word of God to suggest that these “horns” of the sacred altar had any resemblance or connection whatever with bulls’ horns. These horns were nothing more than turned up corners of the altar itself; and it is significant that in the Far East today one may notice this same upward thrust of the corners of prominent buildings, and that a religious meaning to this design is understood by Orientals to have been involved in the origin of the custom. This custom, so widespread on earth, doubtless had its origin in this altar. One native who explained this phenomenon to this writer said, “Well, it is as if the building itself were praying to God for protection and help.” This is what the altar did, not only for Israel, but is what the Great Antitype is still doing “in heaven interceding!” Horns were symbols also of power, productivity, glory, strength, etc.

“Pots to take away the ashes” The Hebrew here carries the idea of “the ashes of the fat,”(F5) meaning the ashes that came from the burning of the fat. All of the tools here were to be made of brass, the same being a common symbol of judgment throughout the Bible. When Christ, the Judge of all people, appears as the Final Judge in Revelation, “His feet were like unto burnished brass” (Revelation 1:15).

“A grating of network of brass” Keil thought this was a bench-like projection going completely around the outside of the altar, about half way up the altar from the ground, and that, “The priest stood upon this,”(F6) when placing wood, or arranging the offering. Leviticus 9:22 appears to confirm this view; but it cannot be received as certain. Such an arrangement would have been, in the eyes of some, a violation of God’s requirement concerning “no steps” to his altar (Exodus 20:26). Keil refuted that view by supposing that the level of the grating was reached by means of an earthen ramp, and not steps.

“Staves… overlay… with brass” These were devices for carrying the altar, being similar in all ways to the staves of the several articles of furniture within the tabernacle itself, except that these were to be overlaid with brass. There was a progression from that which is less precious to that which is more precious as the worshipper moved from the entrance of the court to the Holy of Holies, as indicated by the brass overlay here, and the gold overlay within.

“Hollow with planks shalt thou make it” These planks were covered over with brass; and that fact coupled with God’s instructions, “An altar of earth shalt thou make unto me” (Exodus 20:25) have led to the conclusion that what is called “the altar” here was actually the bronze overlaid box that was filled with earth to provide the actual altar. We see nothing unreasonable in such an assumption.

Verses 9-19


“And thou shalt make the court of the tabernacle: for the south side southward there shall be hangings for the court of fine twined linen a hundred cubits long for one side: and the pillars thereof shall be twenty, and their sockets twenty, of brass; the hooks of the pillars, and their fillets, of silver. And likewise for the north side in length there shall be hangings a hundred cubits long, and the pillars thereof twenty, and their sockets twenty, of brass; the hooks of the pillars, and their fillets, of silver. And for the breadth of the court on the west side shall be hangings of fifty cubit their pillars ten, and their sockets ten. And the breadth of the court on the east side eastward shall be fifty cubits. The hangings for the one side of the gate shall be fifteen cubits; their pillars three, and their sockets three. And for the other side shall be hangings of fifteen cubits; their pillars three, and their sockets three. And for the gate of the court shall be a screen of twenty cubits, of blue, of purple, and of scarlet, and fine twined linen, the work of the embroiderer; their pillars four, and their sockets four. All the pillars of the court round about shall be fillets with silver; their hooks of brass, and their sockets of brass. The length of the court shall be a hundred cubits, and the breadth fifty every where, and the height five cubits of fine twined linen, and their sockets of brass. All the instruments of the tabernacle in all the services thereof, and all the pins of the court, shall be of brass.”

This paragraph of instructions is clear enough for anyone who will take the trouble carefully to note what it says. It is a measure of how desperate the cause of destructive criticism actually is that the enemies of the Bible should have attempted to use this paragraph at all. There is allegedly a problem relative to the placement of the 60 pillars enclosing the 50 cubits X 100 cubits of the court. Even Philo thought these instructions were incorrect and proposed to solve the “problem” by reducing God’s number of 60 pillars to 56, and then counting all four of the corners twice!(F7) It is amazing that simple solutions sometimes cannot be understood by men who are accounted to be among the wisest on earth. Rylaarsdam, one of the authors of The Interpreter’s Bible commented on this alleged problem thus:

“It is impossible to reconcile the demands (of this passage) with the complete symmetry at which the writer obviously aims. Even Kennedy’s clever interpretation fails because it results in putting the screen out of center in the east end. It seems clear that we are here face to face with the sort of inadvertent slip typical of an amateur, which, however obvious, often escapes discovery until one is confronted by the impasse it implies. It reminds us that this plan, produced in the study, was never actually implemented.”(F8)

The following diagram, known for centuries, shows exactly how these instructions were implemented:

2This arrangement of the 60 pillars2
35 cubits apart satisfies perfectly the3
4Biblical requirement that twenty should4== Entrance
5be on each side and ten at each end.5== “
6Notice that two of the four corners are6== “
7counted with ends and the two other7== “
8corners are counted with sides.8

The only possible objection to this arrangement is the mention of “their pillars four, and their sockets four” for the gate of the court in Exodus 27:16. The same passage, however states emphatically that the gate shall be composed of “twenty cubits,” that is, four panels of five cubits each. Now, what about the “four pillars’? This number is actual, because the two external panels can receive credit for only one-half of each of the external pillars (4, and 8 in the diagram). As a matter of fact, if one takes the whole length of the surrounding “wall,” having exactly sixty panels and sixty pillars, every single panel in the whole arrangement is supported by one half a pillar on each side of it. Therefore, if one should take any four panels in the whole sixty cubits of the enclosing “fence,” those four panels would be supported by three whole pillars in the center and an additional one-half of the two on the outside of the four chosen, making exactly four panels and four pillars; but due to the arrangement, the four panels would touch five pillars. This is exactly the way it is in the diagram. The diagram here is an adaptation of the one offered by F. C. Cook in 1879!(F9)

We shall therefore leave it up to the unbiased student as to whether God or Rylaarsdam was the “amateur” mentioned in his comment.

For some who still fancy to find something wrong here, the mention of “twenty cubits” (four panels of 5 cubits each) as the size of the entrance should clear up everything. Since there can be only one panel per pillar for the whole 60 panels and 60 pillars, the fact of four panels actually touching five pillars should be no problem. It is a fact that every panel in the whole arrangement touches two pillars; and the only way for properly counting panels (without resorting to the calculation of two half-pillars for each panel) would necessarily be that of counting only the single pillar on one side or the other, the right or the left, depending on whether one began with a pillar or a panel.

Now look at the “Entrance” in the diagram. Does it have “four pillars” as the divine instructions required? Or are there five pillars? Look at the count. Since, on that east end, we began counting with a pillar, the panel in front of it (to the northward) belongs to pillar one, etc. This leaves exactly four pillars credited to the Entrance as the holy text required, the same being 4, 5, 6, and 7. No. 8 cannot be included, because it also belongs to the panel in front of it (northward). This arrangement also leaves exactly three pillars on each side of the entrance as required by Exodus 27:14, the three pillars on the south of the entrance being 1, 2, and 3, and those on the north side of it being 8, 9, and 10, as reckoned with their respective panels, of course!

It may appear to some that we have devoted more than the required space for this exegesis; but the widespread ignorance of the critical community regarding the truth revealed here, and their willingness to make the most ridiculous and preposterous allegations based upon their ignorance provide sufficient reason for looking into the alleged “problem” carefully.

Verses 20-21


“And thou shalt command the children of Israel, that they bring unto thee pure olive oil beaten for the light, to cause a lamp to burn continually in the tent of meeting, without the veil which is before the testimony, Aaron and his sons shall keep it in order from evening to morning before Jehovah: it shall be a statute forever throughout their generations on behalf of the children of Israel.”

That the light mentioned here is that to be provided by the golden candlestick appears in the definite article “the light,” the same being the only light mentioned thus far in the narrative, and the further fact of its location within the sanctuary before the veil that screened off the Holy of Holies (Exodus 27:21).

The requirement for “beaten oil” distinguished it from olive oil made by crushing olives in a stone press. The finer oil was made by gently pressing the olives in a mortar.(F10)

The ordering of the light “from evening to morning” was thought by Keil to, “consist, according to Exodus 30:7-8 and Leviticus 24:3-4, in placing the lamps upon the candlestick in the evening and lighting them, that they might give light through the night, and then cleaning them in the morning and filling them with fresh oil.”(F11) Some believe that the Golden Candlestick was kept continually lighted both day and night. “But if we regard the lamp as extinguished during the day, we would then be required to understand `continually’ here as `regularly, every night.”(F12) We prefer the view that it was kept burning continually day and night. In support of this, it does not appear from the descriptions given us that there was any other light whatever available in the sanctuary.

Exodus 27:20-21 have appeared to be misplaced in the views of some scholars, Rylaarsdam, for example, saying, “This regulation (Exodus 27:20-21) was probably inserted here by an editor to serve as an introduction to the section on the priests (Exodus 28-29).”(F13) Such a view is possible only in those who reject God’s authorship of the whole Pentateuch through Moses. There is a far greater mystery to us in that “phantom editor” so frequently summoned to the aid of critics, than there is in the mystery of these verses appearing just here. To us, there is no problem whatever.

As this court of the tabernacle was completed and the articles of furniture assigned to their several places, one of the first things to become apparent was the absolute need of illumination, without which, much of the elaborate construction would have remained in perpetual darkness. Therefore, these verses which relate the provision of the light are most logically placed. Whether we are right or wrong on this is actually immaterial. As Rawlinson so truthfully phrased it:

“It is frequently difficult, sometimes impossible, for the keenest human intellect to trace the connecting links between one portion of God’s Word and the next. In such cases, it is best not to speculate on the nature of the connection, but to content ourselves in laying to heart the lesson which each portion teaches separately.”(F14)

The first thing God did in creation was to command, “Let there be light”; and it can hardly be an accident that the first thing God did here upon nearing the completion of the tabernacle was to issue the commandments of Exodus 27:20-21, which for that tabernacle had identically the same function, “Let there be light!”

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Exodus 27". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/exodus-27.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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