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The Vessels of the Sanctuary
Chapters 25-31 are taken up with prescriptions regarding the Construction of a Tabernacle, i.e. a tent, to form the visible dwelling-place of Jehovah in the midst of His people, the place where He would meet them and receive their worship. The entire structure consisted of three parts. There was an outer Court, 100 cubits by 50, open to the sky, the sides of which were composed of curtains supported on pillars. The entrance was at the eastern end; inside, facing the door, was the altar of burnt offering, and behind that the brazen laver. Within this court and towards the western end was a covered tabernacle, divided by a hanging curtain into two chambers. The outer of these, called the Holy Place, contained the Table of Shewbread, the Candlestick, and the Altar of Incense. The Inner chamber, the Holy of Holies, or Most Holy Place, contained the Ark of the Covenant which supported the Mercy seat and the two golden Cherubim. The three parts, of which the entire structure was composed, were of increasing degrees of sanctity. Into the outer court came the worshippers when they brought their offerings. Into the Holy Place went the priests to perform their sacred offices; while into the Most Holy Place, which was the immediate Presence Chamber of Jehovah, went the high priest alone, and that only once a year on the great day of Atonement with special ceremonial. It has been questioned whether a tabernacle of this somewhat elaborate design and costly workmanship could have been erected by the Israelites in their present circumstances. This difficulty, however, has been exaggerated. In Egypt the Israelites were familiar with arts and manufactures, and they left Egypt with spoil of precious metals (Exodus 11:2; Exodus 12:35-36). Another difficulty has been discerned in the fact that no references to such an elaborate structure occur in the historical books previous to the time of Solomon. Some scholars accordingly hold that many of the details described here are of an ideal nature, the prescription of what ought to be rather than of what actually was carried out, ’the attempt of a devout and imaginative mind to give concrete embodiment to some of the loftiest and purest spiritual truths to be met with in the whole range of scripture.’ This difficulty, like the other, is of a negative kind, and we should be careful not to over-estimate it. In any case, the symbolism underlying the construction of the tabernacle with its furniture and ritual is unmistakable. The costliness of the materials teaches the lesson that God is to be served with the best that man can give. The harmony and exact proportions of its parts are a reflection of the harmony and perfection of the divine natine. The increasing degrees of sanctity which characterise the Court, the Holy Place, and the Holy of Holies, emphasise the reverence due by man to Him whose dwelling is in the high and holy place, and who yet condescends in His grace to tabernacle with man and to accept his imperfect worship 1-9. Gifts of materials for the tabernacle. 2. ’God loveth a cheerful giver’ (2 Corinthians 9:7).
3. Brass] rather, ’bronze,’ an alloy of copper and tin: see on Deuteronomy 8:9.
4. Blue, etc.] the yarns of which the hangings were to be woven by the women: see Exodus 35:25; Exodus 39:1.
5. Rams’ skins dyed red] red leather made of sheep skins. Badgers’ skins] RV ’sealskins,’ RM ’porpoise-skins.’ Shittim wood] RV ’acacia wood. ’The acacia (Heb. shittah, plur. shittim) is the characteristic tree of the Sinaitic peninsula. The wood is very durable and much used in furniture making.
7. On the ephod see Exodus 28:6.
8. That I may dwell among them] Strictly speaking, God cannot be said to dwell in one place more than in another. But as men realise His presence most vividly when they are consciously engaged in His worship, the place of worship becomes in a special sense a ’meeting-place ’with God (see Exodus 25:22) and a ’house, or dwelling-place, of God’: cp. Genesis 28:17. The expression is anthropomorphic at the best, and is felt to be inadequate as the spiritual nature of God is more fully realised: see John 4:20-24. In later times Jewish writers avoided saying that ’God dwells ’in any place, even in heaven itself. They said that He ’makes His Shekinah to dwell’ there. The ’Shekinah’ is the manifestation of God, especially in the bright cloud (see Exodus 40:34-35). The word is connected with the Heb. word for dwelling (mishkan) used in the next verse.
9. Pattern] This does not imply any visible or material model. It expresses the fact that Moses, during his long retirement with God on the mount, was divinely directed as to the most fitting way in which God might be worshipped. This inspiration does not exclude the exercise of the natural faculties, but presupposes them as the basis on which it may operate: see on Exodus 31:4. Hor does it exclude the appropriation, under divine sanction, of ideas suggested by certain features in the ritual of other nations with which Moses was already acquainted. See Intro, to Exodus, § 2, near the end.
Tabernacle] lit. ’dwelling.’ Here it seems to denote the entire fabric. The name is applied in particular to the sacred tent, standing in the midst of the court: see Exodus 26:1.
10-22. The Ark of the Testimony.
10. Ark] i.e. a chest or coffer. A cubit is about 18 in. Such sacred arks were well known to the Egyptians and Assyrians. They contained some image of the deity worshipped, and were carried with great pomp in processions at national festivals. It is significant of the spiritual nature of the Hebrew religion that the ark made by Moses contained no image, but instead a copy of the Moral Law. After the conquest of Canaan the ark remained for a long time at Shiloh (Joshua 18:1; 1 Samuel 3:3), and was at last brought by David to his capital at Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6; 1 Chronicles 13). Solomon placed it in the temple which he built (1 Kings 8:1), after which there is no further record of it. It may have been carried off by Shishak to Egypt (1 Kings 14:26) or by Nebuchadnezzar to Babylon (2 Kings 25:8-17). There seems to have been no ark in the second temple.
11. Crown] i.e. a ’rim’ or ’moulding’ which projected above the top edge of the ark to keep the ’mercy seat’ in its place.
16. Testimony] see on Exodus 16:34.
17. Mercy seat] RM ’covering.’ This is not to be regarded as a mere lid or covering of the ark, but has an independent significance. It is the golden throne of God where the people’s sins are ’covered,’ i.e. expiated or forgiven: see on Leviticus 1:4.
18. Two cherubims] ’Cherubim’ is the Heb. plural of ’cherub.’ The exact form of these cherubim is doubtful. Some suppose they were winged bulls such as are represented on Assyrian monuments as guardian spirits at the doors of temples or houses: cp. Genesis 3:24. Others take them to be of human form. They figure very often in Hebrew sacred art. They were introduced into the pattern of the curtain which screened off the Holy of Holies (Exodus 26:31). In Jewish thought the cherubim occupy the highest rank among the angels of heaven, and are the bearers or upholders of the throne of Jehovah, who is accordingly said to sit upon or between the cherubim (2 Kings 19:15; Psalms 18:10; Psalms 80:1; Psalms 99:1). In Ezekiel 10 the cherubim are identified with the four living creatures of Exodus 1 (see Ezekiel 10:20 and cp. Revelation 4:6). The figures of the cherubim upon the mercy seat were of course small; those in Solomon’s temple were of colossal dimensions (2 Chronicles 3:10-13).
19. of the mercy seat] RV ’of one piece with the mercyseat.’
20. Toward the mercy seat shall the faces.. be] This is probably what is alluded to in 1 Peter 1:12.
22. I will meet with thee] Hence the tabernacle is called the ’tent of meeting,’ i.e. the place where Jehovah meets with Moses and Israel, not the place where worshippers assemble, as the AV rendering ’tabernacle of the congregation’ seems to imply: see Exodus 29:42-43; Exodus 33:7.
23-30. The Table of Shewbread.
The ark alone stood in the innermost chamber. The table here described, on which lay twelve loaves (see on Exodus 25:30), stood in the second chamber, the Holy Place. On the Arch of Titus, still standing in Rome, there are sculptured the Table of Shewbread and the Golden Candlestick which the Emperor Titus carried off from the Temple, of Herod after the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70 a.d. These were not the original table and candlestick, but were no doubt exact copies of them.
25. Border] The representation of the table on the Arch of Titus referred to above shows a narrow rail running round the table about halfway down the legs, keeping them in position. This is probably what is meant here by the ’border.’
27. Over against] RV ’close by.’ The rings would be nearly halfway down the legs.
29. The dishes were the plates on which the loaves were brought to the table; the spoons were small vessels to hold the incense which was laid upon the bread (Leviticus 24:7); the covers (RV ’flagons’) and bowls held the wine of the drink offering which accompanied every meal offering. For to cover withal read with RV ’to pour out withal.’
30. Shewbread] lit. ’bread of the presence,’ BM ’Presence-bread.’ This consisted of twelve loaves of unleavened bread, which were laid upon the table, in the presence of God, and changed every sabbath day. It was a kind of thank-offering, expressive of man’s constant indebtedness to God for his daily bread: see on Leviticus 24:5-9.
31-40. The Golden Candlestick.
This also stood in the Holy Place. Being made of pure gold, it is called the ’pure candlestick’ in Exodus 31:8, etc. It was really a lampstand. From a central shaft three curved arms sprang on each side, one above the other, rising to the same height as it. On each of these seven supports rested a lamp, in shape like a bowl or saucer. The shaft and the arms were ornamented with representations of almond buds and blossoms, introduced three times into each arm and four times into the shaft (Exodus 25:34).
31. Bowls] (RV ’cups’) are the open leaves surmounting the knops or ’calyx ’of the flower. The topmost bowl held the lamp. On the oil, see on Exodus 27:20-21,; and cp. Leviticus 24:1-4; Numbers 8:1-4.
Shall be of the same] RV ’of one piece with it’: so in Exodus 25:35, Exodus 25:36.
33. Candlestick] the central shaft, which may have had in all seven knops.
37. The lampstand stood on the south side of the Holy Place with its arms parallel to the wall. On these the lamps, in the form of ovalshaped saucers, were placed crosswise with their nozzles pointing northwards, so that they cast their light over against the lampstand, i.e. on the space in front of it.
38. The tongs are the snuffers; the snuffdishes are for receiving and removing the pieces of charred wick.
39. A talent of gold is estimated at about £6,000 of our money: see on Exodus 38:24.
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Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Exodus 25". "Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany