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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 27

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 1-8

The altar of burnt offerings 27:1-8

The height of this altar was four and a half feet. This height has led some commentators to suggest that a step-like bench or ledge may have surrounded it on which the priests stood when they offered sacrifices. [Note: E.g., Keil and Delitzsch, 2:186-87.] In view of the command prohibiting steps up to Israel’s altars (Exodus 20:26), a ramp seems more probable (cf. Leviticus 9:22). However there may have been neither a ramp nor steps. The altar had four horns (Exodus 27:2), one on each corner, to which the priests applied blood ritually (Exodus 29:12). People occasionally clung to this altar as a place of refuge (cf. 1 Kings 1:50-51; 1 Kings 2:28). The priests also bound some animals to these horns when they sacrificed them (Psalms 118:27). There was a grate (Exodus 27:4) halfway to the ground inside the altar that allowed air to circulate under the sacrifices and ashes to fall to the ground below. The "ledge" appears to have projected out from the altar about half way up its sides. Perhaps the priests stood on this ledge while placing the offerings on the altar, or the ledge may have been on the inside of the altar to hold the grate.

This altar received the offerings of the Israelites. God met the Israelite where he was, in the courtyard, rather than where He was, within the veil. Nevertheless the Israelite had to make a special effort to approach God by entering the courtyard to present his offering (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:18-20).

"The position of the Altar just inside the entrance to the court made it as clear as symbology could that the beginning of fellowship between God and man must be in sacrifice." [Note: Meyer, p. 349.]

The Book of Hebrews viewed this altar as a prototype of the better altar, which is Jesus Christ (Hebrews 13:10).

Verses 1-19

5. The tabernacle courtyard 27:1-19

In this section Moses described the altar of burnt offerings, the courtyard itself, and the oil for the lamps on the lampstand that the priests evidently prepared in the courtyard.

Verses 9-19

The courtyard 27:9-19

The courtyard was 50 cubits wide by 100 cubits long (75 feet by 150 feet, half the length of an American football field). This area is about the size of a modest home site in the United States. The curtains that formed its perimeter were only half as high as those surrounding the tabernacle building (7 feet instead of 15 feet). So the Israelites outside the courtyard could see the top part of the tabernacle building.

"All its vessels were of copper-brass, which, being allied to the earth in both colour and material, was a symbolic representation of the earthy side of the kingdom of God; whereas the silver of the capitals of the pillars, and of the hooks and rods which sustained the hangings, as well as the white colour of the byssus-hangings, might point to the holiness of this site for the kingdom of God." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 2:190.]

"The whole arrangement of the outer court, and in particular the placement of the altar of sacrifice and the laver, speak pointedly of man’s approach to God." [Note: Davis, p. 263.]

". . . this structure provided the same kind of physical separation between the holy God and his people as did the mountain at Sinai (temporal separation is also provided in the annual feasts and celebrations, e.g., the yearly Day of Atonement, Leviticus 16)." [Note: Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., p. 298.]

"The court preserved the Tabernacle from accidental or intentional profanation, and it gave the priests a certain measure of privacy for the prosecution of their duties. Its presence was a perpetual reminder that man should pause and consider, before he rushes into the presence of the Most High [cf. Ecclesiastes 5:2]." [Note: Meyer, p. 348.]

"The courtyard is the place of worship where the people could gather-they entered his courts. If the courtyard does not interest us very much, it did the Israelites. Here the sacrifices were made, the choirs sang, the believers offered their praises, they had their sins forgiven, they came to pray, they appeared on the holy days, and they heard from God. It was sacred because God met them there; they left the ’world’ so to speak and came into his presence." [Note: The NET Bible note on 27:19.]

Verses 20-21

The oil 27:20-21

These instructions concern the clear olive oil that the priests were to prepare for and use in the tabernacle lamps. They form a transition from an emphasis on the tabernacle furnishings to the priests’ ministry that follows.

The priests had to trim and refill the lamps on the lampstand in the holy place every evening. There was light in the holy place all night (cf. Leviticus 24:3; 1 Samuel 3:3).

"Oil . . . is clearly a symbol of the Holy Spirit in Scripture." [Note: Davis, p. 264. See John F. Walvoord, The Holy Spirit, pp. 21-22; and Ryrie, p. 27.]

"It was a favourite saying of [Robert Murray] M’Cheyne when discussing the method of pulpit preparation, that only beaten oil might be used in the sanctuary, intimating that careful preparation was required for all material presented for the consideration of our hearers. It is not a light thing to speak to men for God, and none of us should essay the holy task apart from very careful preparation; but when we have done our utmost in this, we must depend on the kindling of the Divine fire. Ours is the beaten oil at the best, but what is that, unless the High Priest Himself shall cause the lamp to burn?" [Note: Meyer, pp. 323-24.]

The Spirit would, on the one hand, be a perpetual source of light for them. On the other hand, He would also empower God’s people to be a perpetual light to the nations (cf. Isaiah 42:6).

Verses 20-43

6. The investiture of the priests 27:20-28:43

Here begins the revelation of those things that related to the Israelites’ relationship with God (Exodus 27:20 to Exodus 30:38). The preceding section (Exodus 25:10 to Exodus 27:19) emphasized the revelation of the things that revealed God’s character. The priesthood is the primary revelation in this new section.

"The approach to the Holy One, both within the biblical tradition and outside it, has always included some kind of mediatorial ministry, for it is inherent in any kind of ’high religion’ that an otherwise unbridgeable chasm exist between ineffable deity and finite mankind.

"In earliest times, of course, Yahweh met directly with His creation, which in turn communicated with Him in word and act. With the passing of time and the rise of patriarchal familial and clan structures, the father of the household functioned also as its priest, the minister who stood between the family and its God. Finally-and even before the covenant at Sinai-there had developed some kind of order of priests, as Exodus 19:22 expressly declares." [Note: Merrill, "A Theology . . .," pp. 49-50.]

The responsibilities of the priests in Israel fell into four primary categories.

1. They were responsible to maintain the holy place of the tabernacle. This included burning incense each morning and evening, trimming and refilling the lamps each evening, and replacing the showbread each Sabbath.

2. They also maintained the tabernacle courtyard. This involved offering sacrifices each morning and evening and blessing the congregation after the daily sacrifice. It also meant keeping the fire on the brazen altar burning always, and periodically removing its ashes.

3. They were responsible to inspect and appraise people and sacrifices. These included lepers, wives accused of adultery, and things dedicated to the sanctuary.

4. Finally, they were to teach and counsel the people. They were to communicate the Mosaic Law to the congregation and decide difficult cases of law (cf. Leviticus 11-27).

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Exodus 27". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/exodus-27.html. 2012.
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