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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

Exodus 26

Verse 1

1.Moreover, thou shalt make the tabernacle. In the whole construction of the tabernacle we must remember what we have already seen, that the Israelites were instructed by external figures how precious a thing is the worship of God, and therefore that they must diligently beware lest it should be polluted by any meanness. For all this richness and magnificence of ornament was the very contrast to meanness. They were also reminded that, if they would be accounted pure worshippers of God, they must avoid all uncleanness, for the tabernacle was the type of the Church. Thus it is certain that by its external ornaments the excellency of spiritual gifts was designated. On this ground Isaiah, discoursing of the perfect glory of the Church as it would be under the reign of Christ, says,

"I will lay thy stones with fair colors, and lay thy foundations with sapphires; and I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones,”
(Isaiah 54:11;)

by which words he plainly signifies that the Church would be adorned with heavenly beauty, since all kinds of graces shone forth in her But the chief excellency of her adornment must be referred to the instruction which renews us into the image of God. Thus David, when he celebrates the beauty of God’s house, assigns this honor chiefly to the exercises of faith and piety:

"One thing have I desired of the Lord,” he says, “that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.” (Psalms 27:4.)

Was this that he might feed his eyes with empty pictures, with its costly materials, and with the exquisite workmanship of it? Assuredly he does not speak of gazing inquisitively at it, but thus alludes to its visible workmanship, that with the spiritual eyes of faith he may consider the glory more excellent than the whole world, which was there represented. Nor indeed did anything magnificent appear in the tabernacle to delight men’s eyes, but rather was all its richness and excellence covered up with goats’ hair and paltry leather, in order that believers beneath that hidden beauty might reflect on something higher than the carnal sense.

It will suffice to have given these general hints; I now descend to particulars, in which let not my readers expect of me any conceits which may gratify their ears, since nothing is better than to contain ourselves within the limits of edification; and it would be puerile to make a collection of the minutiae wherewith some philosophize; since it was by no means the intention of God to include mysteries in every hook and loop; and even although no part were without a mystical meaning, which no one in his senses will admit, it is better to confess our ignorance than to indulge ourselves in frivolous conjectures. Of this sobriety, too, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews is a fit master for us, who, although he professedly shews the analogy between the shadows of the Law and the truth manifested in Christ, yet sparingly touches upon some main points, and by this moderation restrains us from too curious disquisitions and deep speculations. In the first place, curtains are made of twilled linen, and blue, purple, and scarlet, which, when coupled together, made an inclosure of forty cubits; for they were ten in number, and the breadth of each was four cubits. By “cunning work,” commentators are agreed that embroidery is meant, especially when God commands that cherubim should be made in them. But some translate the word cherubim by the general name of pictures, (140) which, although it is not grammatically incorrect, yet, since we have before seen that angels were designated by this word, it; is more probable that figures of angels were everywhere scattered over them; for, when the majesty of God is represented to the life by Daniel 7:10, “ten thousand times ten thousand” are said to stand around His judgment-seat, Ridiculous is it of the Papists (141) to infer from hence that churches would be empty and unsightly unless they are adorned with images; for in order that the similitude should hold good, they must needs hide their images under a triple covering, lest the people should be able to see them; and then, how would they be “the books of the unlearned” (idiotarum), as they call them? (142)

Now, since the seraphim, of which Isaiah makes mention, (Isaiah 6:2,) signify the same as the cherubim, and are said “with twain of their wings to cover their faces, and with twain their feet,” their images must be veiled, in order to correspond with them. Besides, it is preposterous, as I have said, forcibly to transfer these rudiments, which God delivered only to His ancient; people, to the fullness of time, when the Church has grown up and has passed out of its childhood. But how far the Jews were from worshipping the cherubim, the heathen poets bear them witness; for Juvenal, speaking of them, said,

"Qui puras nubes, et coeli numen adorant;” (143)

and God extorted these words from an impure and licentious man, that all might know that the Law of Moses lifted his disciples to things above. A threefold covering is then described, the inner one of goats’ hair, another of rams’ skins dyed red, and the outer one of badgers’ skins; a wooden frame is then added, to strengthen the tabernacle within by its firmness, since otherwise the curtains would have got out of place at the slightest motion. The boards were of shittim-wood, overlaid with gold, either only gilt or covered with gold plates; each of them was supported by two silver bases, (144) like feet, and they were joined together by bars, passed through rings of gold. In this space the whole tabernacle was contained, which then was distinguished into the outer sanctuary and the Holy of holies. Besides these there was the court in which the people were to stand, because it was not lawful for them to enter the sanctuary, to which the priests alone had access, and they only when clean. Thus David, after having exclaimed, “How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts,” immediately adds, “My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord;” and again, “for a day in thy courts is better than a thousand,” (Psalms 84:1;) and again, “Worship the Lord in his holy court.” (145) (Psalms 29:2.) But on so plain a matter there is no need of the abundant proofs which he furnishes. The disposition of the tabernacle is said again, in Exodus 26:30, to have been shewn in the mount, that the people should not rest their attention on the visible tabernacle, but with the understanding of faith should penetrate to heaven, and direct their minds to the spiritual pattern, the shadows and types of which they beheld. Neither here must we philosophize too curiously. The allegory will please the ears of many, that by the two bases are meant the Old and New Testament, or the two natures of Christ, because believers rest on these two supports. But with no less probability we might say, that two bases were placed beneath each of the boards; either because godliness hath the promise of this life and of that which is to come; or because we must resist on both sides the temptations which assail us from the right and from the left; or because faith must not limp nor turn to the right or left: thus there would be no bounds to trifling. They allegorically explain that the covering of the tabernacle was made of rams’ skins, (146) because the Church is protected by the blood of Christ, who is the spotless lamb; but I ask, what do the badgers’ skins, which were above, mean? Why was the covering of goats’ hair put below? Wherefore, sobriety is our best course.

(140) S. M. is the translator who has here rendered cherubim, pictures. V. renders it, paraphrastically, “pulchra varietate contextum.” — W.

(141) See Institutes, vol. 1, p. 122, et seq.; see also Petr. Martyr, Loci. Com. Cl. Sec., cap. 5; and Becon, Catechism, Part 3; Parker Soc. Edit., pp. 61, 62.

(142)Idcirco enim pictura in ecelesiis adhibetur, ut hi, qui literas nesciunt, saltem in parietibus videndo legant, quae legere in codicibus non valent.” — Greg. Magni, lib. 9, indict, 2, epist, 105, ad Serenum Massil. Episc.

(143) The actual words of Juvenal, Sat. 14:97, are: —

" Nil proeteter nubes, et coeli numen adorant ;”
Nought but the clouds, and heaven’s God adore.

(144) A. V., “ sockets."

(145) C. quotes the translation of the V. , “in atrio sancto ejus.” See note on Psalms 29:2, in C. Society’s Commentary, vol. 1, p. 476.

(146) Arietes rubricati, Christus sanguine passionis cruentatus; significantur etiam martyres, etc. —Gloss. Ord.

Verse 31

31.And thou shalt make a vail. The inner shrine or recess was covered by one vail; the sanctuary was divided from the court by another. By both the people were admonished how reverently God’s majesty must be regarded, and with what seriousness holy things are to be engaged in, so that they might not approach God’s presence without fear, nor boldly break in upon the mysteries of things sacred. But by the vail the obscurity of the shadows of the Law was principally denoted, that the Israelites might know that the time of full revelation had not yet come, but that the spiritual worship of God was as yet enshrouded in a vail; and thus might extend their faith to their promised Messiah, at whose coming the truth would be discovered and laid bare. Wherefore, when Christ rose again from the dead, “the vail of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom,” (Matthew 27:51;) and an end was put to the ceremonies of the Law, because God then presented Himself in His living and express image, and the perfect reality of all the ceremonies was manifested. Now, therefore, in the light of the gospel, we behold “face to face,” what was then shewn afar off to the ancient people under coverings. (2 Corinthians 3:14.) Yet, although there is now no vail to prevent us from openly and familiarly looking upon Christ, let us learn from this figure that the manifestation of God in the flesh is a hidden and incomprehensible mystery. (1 Timothy 3:16.) It is not without reason that Christ Himself compares His body to the temple, because the fullness of the Godhead dwells in it. (John 2:19.) Let us then know assuredly that the Father is in the Son, and the Son in the Father, (John 17:21;) but if it be asked in what manner, this is ineffable, except that the eternal Son of God, who, before the creation of the world, possessed the same glory with the Father, (John 17:5,) that even He is now man, that “He might be the firstborn among many brethren.” (Romans 8:29.)

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Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Exodus 26". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cal/exodus-26.html. 1840-57.