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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 40

The Church Pulpit CommentaryChurch Pulpit Commentary

Verse 17


‘The Tabernacle was reared up.’

Exodus 40:17

I. There was no such thing as approaching the ‘the tent of meeting’ in the wilderness except by passing by an altar baptised in blood.—So for humanity to-day there is no successful approach to God possible save by that way of access opened for sinners by the precious sacrifice of Christ. The old-time Jew passing by the altar came to the laver, which indicated symbolically that a man when forgiven must proceed to be freed from sin, and that justification logically implies and demands sanctification.

II. Then, inside the Holy Place, stood the altar of incense, whose aromatic fumes ascended by the veil of testimony and even entered the Holy of Holies, thus fittingly symbolising prayer, which is the Christian’s vital breath and his always acceptable offering to God. Yet the incense required to be kindled with a coal from the altar of burnt-offering, which aptly teaches that prayer is acceptable only when it is based upon the sacrifice of Christ and offered in His name.

III. Opposite the incense altar stood the lampstand of beaten gold with its seven branches, typifying the perfect illumination afforded by the Holy Spirit, the light of the church, which in turn is the great light of the world. Only pure olive oil was used for the lamp-stand, only the pure oil of Christian grace and zeal enlightens humanity.

IV. Then there was the table of ‘presence-bread,’ so called because the shew bread was placed directly before the veil. This bread, together with the bowls of wine which it seems were placed in position near it, symbolised communion, man’s dependence upon God for daily food, and the giving of the ‘living bread’ from Heaven which is a necessity for the nourishment of the spiritual life.

V. The sanctuary veil sharply distinguished between the place where men might come and the inner shrine where God would dwell alone.—Beyond the veil, in a little room on which the Jew looked with unutterable awe, was situated the ark of testimony, a chest of acacia wood, containing the stone records of the Sinaitic law. The solid gold slab covering the ark was surmounted with cherubic figures with over-arching wings. Within the chest were the treasured tokens of the Law, above it hovered the ineffable glory associated with the ‘mercy seat’ of golden promise. So far, in this description, we have followed the order which the Jew would take in thought, passing from without inward, but the logical order is that of the text, which begins with God, and works outward from the ark of the testimony to the altar of burnt-offering, thus teaching that salvation proceeds from God as its originating source.

Even the tabernacle required to be anointed with consecrating oil, since everything must be hallowed that bears the name of God, and for a like reason Aaron and his sons were washed with water at the door of the tabernacle. Priests must be pure. Sanctity becomes God’s sanctuary. The Lord must be worshipped in ‘the beauty of holiness.’


(1) ‘There is a beautiful story told of the plan by which Strasburg Cathedral was built. The architect, Erwin von Steinbach, who was given the commission to build it, was greatly troubled lest he should not get his plan sufficiently noble. He had a daughter named Sabine, who was skilful in drawing, and one night, after they had wept together over the plans, she said to her father, “Don’t despair; God will help us.” After she fell asleep she dreamt that an angel came, and, when she had told her story, said, “You shall make the plan for the minster.” The angel and Sabine then set to work, and soon the plan was done. When she awoke there was a paper before her covered with drawing. Her father exclaimed, “Child, it was no dream. The angel really visited you, bringing the inspiration from heaven to help us.” He built the cathedral after the plan, and it was so beautiful that the people believed the story.’

(2) ‘God’s Tabernacle is set up as He commands. There is a tent, pitched among the tribes, which is His special dwelling. A prophecy the tent was of the Incarnation, when in Jesus Christ God lived among men: I remember how He spake of the Temple of His body. Yes, but a prophecy too of what I should be. In me, in my unworthy heart and life, the most high God may have His home. And oh, that it may be so!

Then, when the holy tent has been set up, it is sanctified; it is consecrated; with the anointing oil all its contents and furnishings are sprinkled. And should there not be something similar in my spiritual history? I ought to write Holiness to the Lord over all that I am and have.’

Verse 35


‘Then … the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle.’

Exodus 40:35

I. When the Tabernacle was finished, God took visible possession of it.—‘The cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle.’ God still makes the place of His feet glorious in the sanctuary, and again and again the place of prayer has been made beautiful with His Presence. But let us never forget that God dwelleth not in temples made with hands, except as men bring Him there. The heart is God’s true home. The true Shekinah, as Novalis said, is man. ‘Know ye not that ye are the temple of God?’ Thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy, ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit.’ Does God dwell in us? Has He taken up His abode in our hearts? All He waits for is to have the heart’s door flung open to Him.

II. The cloud, which was the visible token of God’s presence, decided all the movements of the Israelites.—When it rested, they rested; when it moved, they moved. Their journeys were all undertaken under the conscious guidance of God. And that remains the only safe method of travel. It is safe to go wherever God leads, but we rush on ruin if we venture on any path without His sanction and blessing. We are sometimes in difficulty as to what course we ought to take. How shall we decide matters? By seeing if God goes before us. The signs of His leading are never hard to discern. If He does not go before us, we had better stay where we are. ‘If Thy presence go not with us, carry us not up hence.’ But if we are conscious that we are following the leading of God, we may venture forward without fear.


(1) ‘The highest that thought can compass, or words express—God with us. This is the one all-pervading idea. Thus through all their wanderings these people literally dwelt “under the shadow of the Almighty.” Emphasise the condescension of Him who fills heaven and earth, thus to locate Himself day and night with His redeemed people, and by the constant sign of His presence in the cloud strengthening their faith in the unseen though ever-present Jehovah. The constant sense of God’s presence is our great need. It ennobles and transfigures life, which without it is a failure. The Saviour has anticipated this necessity, and provided for it ( Matthew 28:20).’

(2) ‘It is not survival from an effete and rude ritual which proclaims that “without shedding of blood is no remission.” The heart of the gospel is that Christ’s death makes access to the Holiest of all possible, and nothing else makes it possible. We must first betake ourselves to the altar of sacrifice, and then be cleansed in “the laver of regeneration,” before we can lift the heavy curtain shutting us out from the place where a priestly people kindles its incense of praise, trims its lamp of holy living, and offers all its works to God. The removal of the guilt that puts a gulf between God and us, which none but He can bridge, and which can be removed only by the death that takes away the sin of the world, must be followed by the baptism in the Holy Ghost which cleanses from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit. Then the way into the holy place is open for us here and now, and in due time the worshippers there will pass into the holiest of all, and dwell forever in the light of the glory between the cherubim. The steps as from within outwards are three,—the ark of the testimony, the altar of incense, the altar of burnt-offering. God comes out and down to us by these. By the same must we go up and go in to Him.’

Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Exodus 40". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cpc/exodus-40.html. 1876.
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