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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

Exodus 27

Verse 1

1. And thou shalt make an altar. The altar of whole burnt-offerings ( holocaustorum) is here described, which, however, it was called by synecdoche, for not only entire victims were burnt there, but also parts of them only, as we shall see in Leviticus. The burnt-offerings received their name from their ascending, (147) whereby the Israelites were reminded that they had need to be purified, that they might ascend to God; and at the same time were instructed that whatever corruption there might be in the flesh did not prevent the sacrifices from being acceptable and of a sweet savor to God. It is clear that from the first beginning of the human race there were burnt-sacrifices, suggested by the secret inspiration of God’s Spirit, since there was no written Law; nor can we doubt but that by this symbol they were taught that the flesh must be burnt by the Spirit, in order that men may duly offer themselves to God; and thus they acknowledged, under this type, that the flesh of Christ must receive this from the divine power, so as to become a perfect victim for the propitiation of God; thus, as the Apostle testifies, he offered himself through the Spirit. (Hebrews 9:14.) But fuller mention of this subject will be made elsewhere. The altar was so constructed that the sacrifices might be cast upon a grate placed within it, and thus they were covered by its external surface. The ashes were received into a pan, so that they should not fall about upon the ground and be trodden under foot, but that reverence might be inculcated even towards the very remnants of their holy things. (148) That the victims were bound to the four horns, which stood out from the four corners, is plain from the words of Psalms 118:27, “Bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar.” And this also is the beginning of a proper offering of spiritual sacrifices, that all the lusts of the flesh should be subdued, and held captive as it were unto the obedience of God. Wherefore even Christ, although in Him there was nothing which was not duly regulated, was nevertheless bound, in order to prove His obedience; as He had said, “Not as I will, but as thou wilt.” (Matthew 26:39.) The altar was carried on staves, to obviate the necessity of having more than one; else there would have been danger of their being compelled, by the very difficulty of carrying it, to leave it behind after it was made, if they were setting about a long journey; and this would have been the seed or ground of superstition, whilst no other could be built which was not spurious.

(147) C. alludes to their Hebrew name, עלה, the primary signification of which is mounting upwards. — W

(148) “ Mais que la sainctete des sacremens ,” etc. — Fr. be an hundred cubits, and the breadth fifty every where, and the height five cubits of fine twined linen, and their sockets of brass.

Verse 9

9. And thou shalt make the court. There were two courts divided from the sanctuary, one for the priests, the other common to the whole people. To the first chambers were annexed, in which the Levites dwelt, who were the keepers of the tabernacle; and thus sometimes the courts are spoken of in the plural number, and especially in the Psalms, (Psalms 64:4.) It is the court of the people which is here referred to, where they consecrated the victims, offered their prayers, and were reconciled to God. In this manner the condition of mankind was shewn to the Israelites, by their being forbidden to enter the Temple, whilst at the same time they were reminded that men, although unworthy outcasts, are received by God, if only they seek Him simply, and with due humility, mindful of their own unworthiness. Hence the consolation in which David gloried, (149) “I had rather dwell in the courts of the Lord, than in the splendid tents of the ungodly.” The court was formed by four curtains, two of which, on the north and south sides, were 100 cubits long, and supported by 20 pillars, whose bases were of brass, and their capitals (150) and fillets of silver; on the east and west, each curtain was 50 cubits long, supported by 10 pillars. The length spoken of is not from the ground upwards, but from their opposite corners: for the court was twice as long as it was broad, as is said in Exodus 27:18. There would be an appearance of contradiction in the fact that Moses afterwards speaks of two sides, and assigns fifteen cubits to each, if he did not immediately go on to mention the hanging or curtain, which covered the gate of the court, and which he sets at twenty cubits. Thus the measure will be correct, and the passage will be quite accordant; for, after he has said in Exodus 27:13 that the curtain on the east side should consist of fifty cubits, he adds in explanation that there were two curtains at the sides of the door, and a third between them to cover the door, making up in all the fifty cubits. But the door was covered by the hanging, that the Israelites might reflect in themselves, whenever they went into the sanctuary, that it was no profane or common ( promiscuum) place; but if they came thither in purity and chastity, they might be assuredly persuaded that they were safe under the protection of God. Finally also the majesty of holy things was shewn them in this type, in order that they might reverently approach the worship of God; and they were reminded of their own unworthiness, that they might humble themselves the more before God, and that fear might beget penitence, whilst moderation in the desire of knowledge was recommended to them, that they might not be unduly inquisitive. The religion of the Gentiles also had its secret shrines with the same object, but for very different causes; for it was a brutal religion, for which veneration was sought by darkness, and the disguise of ignorance; whereas God, whilst He retained His people in modesty and simplicity, at the same time set before them the Law, from which they might learn whatever it was right and useful for them to know.

(149) It will be seen that he quotes Psalms 84:10, somewhat parathrastically.

(150) A. V. , hooks.

Verse 20

Exodus 27:20

And thou shalt command the children of Israel. I have transferred these two passages from elsewhere, since they relate to the service of the tabernacle; for the children of Israel are commanded to contribute as much oil as may be sufficient for the seven lamps. Now, since Divine illumination and the grace of the Holy Spirit were, as we have seen, the truth of this symbol, God requires pure oil, i.e., not muddy, or mixed with lees, for, had it been in any respect faulty, so much would have been detracted from the dignity of the mystery. Its purity, then, shewed that nothing mean or common was signified by it; that the Israelites also might bring with them pure minds, and duly prepared and disposed to consider the spiritual light. He again repeats, that the oil must be supplied seasonably at its proper hours, so that the lamps may be always burning; that thus the children of Israel might learn that nothing is more opposed to the worship of God than obscurity and darkness; and that it is not to be interrupted at intervals, (137) but that the direction of the Spirit should shine from heaven in a perpetual flow. Thus, in the second passage cited, He thrice reiterates the word “continually,” to shew that the true light should never be put out in any respect. This office God enjoins upon the priests, because they ought to be ministers of light when they are interpreting the Law, which David calls “the lamp of our feet, and the light of our paths.” (Psalms 119:105.) But what is the meaning of the offering (of the oil) by the people, since men are possessed of no power for the spiritual enlightening of their own minds? I reply that, in the types of the Law, the several parts are not to be so scrupulously forced to the rule, as if there were nothing in the outward sign with which the reality did not correspond; and again, that although men having nothing of their own and of themselves to bring, yet, that they may more diligently exert themselves in their endeavors to serve God, they are justly required to dedicate themselves and all that they have to God. At the end, where the words “a statute for ever” are added, understand them to mean, until the real manifestation of those things, of which the candlestick and its lamps were a type. This point I have discussed in Genesis (138) It is called “a statute from the (139) children of Israel,” ( a filiis Israel,) since God requires its observance from them; unless it be preferred to translate it with Jerome, “Before ( coram) the children of Israel.” The exposition of others, “among ( apud) the children of Israel,” or from the fathers to the children, is harsher, and altogether forced.

(137) “ Et que ce n’est point assez d’estre eselaire par bouffees;” and that it is not enough to be enlightened by puffs. — Fr.

(138) “ Au dix-septieme chapitre de Genese ” — Fr.

(139) מאת , from the. A. V., on the behalf of. C. adheres to S.M. , and in so doing he has kept close to the Hebrew. — W.

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Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Exodus 27". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". 1840-57.