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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Exodus 38

Verse 1

And he made the altar of burnt offering of shittim wood: five cubits was the length thereof, and five cubits the breadth thereof; it was foursquare; and three cubits the height thereof. The altar of burnt offering. The repetitions are continued, in which may be traced the exact conformity of the execution to the order.

Verses 2-7

And he made the horns thereof on the four corners of it; the horns thereof were of the same: and he overlaid it with brass.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 8

And he made the laver of brass, and the foot of it of brass, of the lookingglasses of the women assembling, which assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.

The laver of brass ... of the looking-glasses of the women. The word mirrors should have been used-as those implements, usually round, inserted into a handle of wood, stone, or metal, were made of brass, silver, or bronze, highly polished (Wilkinson). It was customary for the Egyptian women to carry mirrors with them to the temples; and whether, by taking the looking-glasses of the Hebrew women, Moses designed to put it out of their power to follow a similar practice at the tabernacle, or whether the supply of brass from other sources in the camp was exhausted, it is interesting to learn how zealously, and to a vast extent, they surrendered those valued accompaniments of the female toilet.

Of the women assembling ... at the door [Septuagint, ek toon katoptroon toon neesteusasoon, hai eneesteusan, para tas thuras, the mirrors of the fasting women, who fasted or prayed at the door, etc.] - not priestesses, but females of pious character and influence, who frequented the courts of the sacred building (Luke 2:37), and whose parting with their mirrors, like the cutting the hair of the Nazarites, was their renouncing the world for a season, and devoting themselves to ascetic modes of life (cf. 1 Samuel 2:22; Luke 2:37; 1 Timothy 5:5; Hengstenberg, 'Egypt and Books of Moses,' p. 184; also 'Pentateuch,' vol. 2:, pp. 109-112). It was voluntary, like a similar institution of women in Egypt and Phoenicia; but though analogous in form, it was as different in spirit from these as the religion of Israel was from that of Egypt (see Rawlinson's 'Herodotus,' b. 2:, ch. 35:, note 4).

Verses 9-21

And he made the court: on the south side southward the hangings of the court were of fine twined linen, an hundred cubits:

The court. It occupied a space of 150 feet by 75, and it was enclosed by curtains of fine linen, about 8 feet high, suspended on brasen or copper pillars. Those curtains were secured by rods fastened to the top, and kept extended by being fastened to pins stuck in the ground.

Verse 10. Hooks. The hooks of the pillars in the court were for hanging up the carcasses of the sacrificial beasts-those on the pillars at the entry of the tabernacle were for hanging the sacerdotal robes and other things used in the service.

Verse 11. Sockets - mortices or holes, in which the end of the pillar stood.

Verse 17. Chapiters - or capitals of the pillars, were wooden posts, which ran along the top, to which were attached the hooks for the hangings.

Verse 18. The height in the breadth - or in the measure. The sense is, that the hangings of the court gate, which was twenty cubits wide, were of the same height as the hangings all round the court.

Verse 21. This is the sum. Having completed his description of the component parts of the tabernacle the inspired historian digresses into a statement respecting the gold and silver employed in it, the computation being made according to an order of Moses-by the Levites, under the direction of Ithamar, Aaron's youngest son.

Verse 22

And Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, made all that the LORD commanded Moses.

Bezaleel ... made all that the Lord commanded Moses.

Verse 23

And with him was Aholiab, son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, an engraver, and a cunning workman, and an embroiderer in blue, and in purple, and in scarlet, and fine linen.

And with him was Aholiab. Those master artisans combined various departments of mechanical work, which are now, by the division of labour, distributed among a number of workmen-an arrangement which, by concentrating the skill and energies of a mechanic on a single branch, has greatly contributed to advance and improve both the useful and the liberal arts.

Verse 24

All the gold that was occupied for the work in all the work of the holy place, even the gold of the offering, was twenty and nine talents, and seven hundred and thirty shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary.

Twenty and nine talents, and seven hundred and thirty shekels - equivalent to 150,000 pound sterling.

Verse 25

And the silver of them that were numbered of the congregation was an hundred talents, and a thousand seven hundred and threescore and fifteen shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary:

The silver of them that were numbered. 603,550 men, at half a shekel each, would contribute 301,775 shekels, which, at 2 shillings 4d. each, amount to 35,207 pound sterling. It may seem difficult to imagine how the Israelites should be possessed of so much wealth in the desert; but it should be remembered that they were enriched first by the spoils of the Egyptians, and afterward by those of the Amalekites. Besides, it is highly probable that during their sojourn they traded with the neighbouring nations who bordered on the wilderness.

Verses 26-31

A bekah for every man, that is, half a shekel, after the shekel of the sanctuary, for every one that went to be numbered, from twenty years old and upward, for six hundred thousand and three thousand and five hundred and fifty men.

A bekah for every man, [ beqa` (H1235) lagulgolet (H1538)] - a part, a piece (of money), the head; i:e., for each man (cf. Exodus 16:16; Numbers 1:2). This description clearly points to the capitation impost. On comparing the numerical result of the poll in this passage with that of the general census described, Numbers 1:1-4.1.46, the amount in both is found to be exactly the same; and on the ground of that identity Dr. Colenso has raised one of his principal arguments against the historical accuracy of the Pentateuch, as representing at two distinct numberings the amount of adult males to have been the same: thus involving the absurdity that, during this supposed period of six months, the population had remained stationary-at least, that none had within that space of time reached the age of twenty. The difficulty may be solved in several ways. There is nothing contrary to nature or experience in conceiving that as many Israelites might have reached twenty during that time as died above it. But the truth is, that the interval of six months, which Colenso alleges occurred between the two censuses, is a gratuitous assumption of his own-it might be, and probably was much less. The computation of the gold, silver, and copper used in the construction and decoration of the tabernacle and its appurtenances could not be made until the work was completed; and as the erection of the tabernacle took place "in the first month in the second year, on the first day of the month" (see the note at Exodus 40:17), whereas the general census was taken "on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they were come out of the land of Egypt" (Numbers 1:1), not more than the space of one month intervened between what the doctor considers the first and second enumeration. And as the report of the estimated amount of the metals, as noted by Ithamar (Exodus 38:21), as well as of the numbering taken by Moses and Aaron, might not be given in until the official period arrived, the two events might have been simultaneous, as they required to be (Exodus 30:12).

The probability, indeed, is, that there was only one formal census, which embraced two separate objects, recorded in two different places. In this passage the money is noticed, but there is no mention of the census; whereas in Numbers 1:1-4.1.46 the census is recorded without any reference to the money; and hence, the inference is natural, that while there was only a single enumeration, the money, with the number of contributors, was registered first in appropriate connection with the account of the tabernacle work, while the numbering was left to be detailed in the regular course of the history.

This explanation of there having been only one census, not two, within so brief a period, is generally received. The one was made to stand for the other; the first-namely, the poll-tax, according to Havernick, forming the basis of the second-namely, the census; or the second of the first, according to Kurtz, who further remarks, that the result is not to be considered as given with the precision of modern statistical tables. He supposes that many who had been absent with their flocks, etc., at the exaction of the poll-tax, might have been present, or have attained the rateable age at the time of the census, and that, vice versƒ, the old and unserviceable would be left out at the military enrolment (Numbers 1:2), while, as every man had to pay, these must have been reckoned under the poll-tax. Hence, although there might have been a difference in point of numbers, the difference would be very small, and the result is an approximation, a 'pretty close estimate, stated in round numbers.'

But this opinion of Kurtz is unsatisfactory; for, undoubtedly, the narrative purports to be a strictly accurate account of the matter. The view of Michaelis has a show of reason-`In Exodus 38:1-2.38.31 there is no account of an actual numbering, though everyone above twenty years old paid his tax and was registered accordingly. But on the occasion recorded, Numbers 1:1, Moses received instructions to arrange the lists and sum them up. The names had been given in before, though the actual counting only took place now. And therefore Moses did not hesitate, when recording the account of the tax, to insert what were afterward found to be the actual numbers.'

But of all the explanations that have been suggested of the difficulty, that of Dr. Benisch appears to be the best. After showing that all the materials contributed to the tabernacle were free-will offerings, which were poured in with such profuse liberality that, after using all that was required, there remained a large surplus, he says, 'When the census took place (whether a month or six months afterward), it was either found inexpedient to raise a fresh tax from the people for the sanctuary, when only shortly before such liberal offerings had been made that there was a surplus, for which there was then little or no use; or there was such a scarcity of coin, and perhaps of silver in general, in consequence of the large offerings made shortly before, that it was impossible to raise the prescribed tax. It was therefore resolved to consider the silver offered shortly before for the service of the tabernacle as the poll-tax prescribed, which had the same destination; and there were then made as many additional hooks, the number of which does not seem to have been prescribed, as brought up the amount of silver consumed to the exact weight which the prescribed poll-tax would have produced, had it been paid. If, therefore, the poll-tax here spoken of agrees with the result of the census described in Numbers 1:1-4.1.46, it is because they were made to agree, and not because two distinct censuses within six months of each other took place, and which in their results in a most unaccountable manner agreed' (Colenso's '"Objections," etc., Critically Examined,' p. 107).

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Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Exodus 38". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/exodus-38.html. 1871-8.