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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 40

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-38

Sixth Section

The Erection of the Tabernacle and its Dedication as the Place of the Revelation of the Glory of Jehovah. (Analogies: Abraham’s Grove at Mamre; Jacob’s Bethel; Solomon’s Temple; Zerubbabel’s Temple; Temple Dedication of Judas Maccabeus; Christ in the Temple.)

Exodus 40:1-38

A.—The command

Exodus 40:1-15

1, And Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying, 2On the first day of the first month shalt thou set up the tabernacle of the tent of the congregation [of meeting]. 3And thou shalt put therein the ark of the testimony, and cover the ark with the veil. 4And thou shalt bring in the table, and set in order the things that are to be set in order upon it [set it in order]; and thou shalt bring in the candlestick, and light 5[set up] the lamps thereof. And thou shalt set the altar of gold for the incense [golden altar of incense] before the ark of the testimony, and put [set up] the hanging [screen] of the door to [of] the tabernacle. 6And thou shalt set the altar of the [of] burnt-offering before the door of the tabernacle of the tent of the congregation 7[of meeting]. And thou shalt set the laver between the tent of the congregation 8[of meeting] and the altar, and shalt put water therein. And thou shalt set up the court round about, and hang up the hanging at the court-gate [put upthe screen of the gate of the court]. 9And thou shalt take the anointing oil, and anoint the tabernacle, and all that is therein, and shalt hallow it, and all the vessels furniture] thereof: and it shall be holy. 10And thou shalt anoint the altar of the [of] burnt-offering, and all his vessels [its utensils], and sanctify the altar: and it shall be an altar most holy [and the altar shall be most holy]. 11And thou shalt anoint the laver and his foot [its base], and sanctify it. 12And thou shalt bring Aaron and his sons unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation [tent of meeting], and wash them with water. 13And thou shalt put upon Aaron the holy garments, and [garments; and thou shalt] anoint him, and sanctify him: that [him, that] he may minister unto me in the priest’s office [be priest unto me]. 14And thou shalt bring his sons, and clothe them with coats: 15And thou shalt anoint them, as thou didst anoint their father, that they may minister unto me in the priest’s office [be priests unto me]: for [and] their anointing shall surely be [shall be to them for] an everlasting priesthood throughout their generations.

B.—The Erection of the building (not the consecration of it)

Exodus 40:16-33

16Thus did Moses: according to all that Jehovah commanded him, so did Hebrews 1:0; Hebrews 1:07And it came to pass in the first month in the second year, on the first day of the month, that the tabernacle was reared [set] up. 18And Moses reared [set] up the tabernacle, and fastened his [its] sockets, and set up the boards thereof, and put in the bars thereof, and reared [set] up his [its] pillars. 19And he spread abroad [spread] the tent over the tabernacle, and put the covering of the tent above upon it; as Jehovah commanded Moses. 20And he took and put the testimony into the ark, and set the staves on the ark, and put the mercy-seat above upon the ark: 21And he brought the ark into the tabernacle, and set up the veil of the covering, and covered [screened] the ark of the testimony; as Jehovah commanded Moses. 22And he put the table in the tent of the congregation [of meeting], upon the side of the tabernacle northward, without the veil. 23And he set the bread in order upon it before Jehovah; as Jehovah had commanded Moses. 24And he put the candlestick in the tent of the congregation [of meeting], over against the table, on the side of the tabernacle southward. 25And he lighted [set up] the lamps before Jehovah; as Jehovah commanded Moses. 26And he put the golden altar in the tent of the congregation 27[of meeting] before the veil: And he burnt sweet incense thereon; as Jehovah commanded Moses. 28And he set up the hanging at [put up the screen of] the door of the tabernacle. 29And he put the altar of burnt-offering by the door of the tabernacle of the tent of the congregation [of meeting], and offered upon it the burnt-offering, and the meat-offering [meal-offering]; as Jehovah commanded Moses. 30And he set the laver between the tent of the congregation [of meeting] and the altar, and put water there, to wash withal. 31And Moses and Aaron and his sons washed their hands and their feet thereat [therefrom]: 32When they went into the tent of the congregation [of meeting], and when they came near unto the altar, they washed; as Jehovah commanded Moses. 33And he reared [set] up the court round about the tabernacle and the altar, and set up the hanging [screen] of the court-gate. So Moses finished the work.

C.—The divine dedication of the tabernacle anterior to the human dedication

Exodus 40:34-38

34Then a [the] cloud covered the tent of the congregation [of meeting], and the glory of Jehovah filled the tabernacle. 35And Moses was not able to enter into the tent of the congregation [of meeting], because the cloud abode thereon, and the glory of Jehovah filled the tabernacle. 36And when the cloud was taken up from 37over the tabernacle, the children of Israel went onward in all their journeys: But if [whenever] the cloud were [was] not taken up then they journeyed not till the day that it was taken up. 38For the cloud of Jehovah was upon the tabernacle by day, and fire was on [in] it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys.


a. The Command to Erect the Building

Exodus 40:1-15

Exodus 40:1. Though Moses knows that the tabernacle is to be erected, yet he must receive Jehovah’s command in reference to the time and order of the arrangement of the parts. As to the time, the first day of the first month, Nisan (of the second year of the exodus) is selected, as if in order that it might be ready for the first Passover festival in the middle of Nisan.

Exodus 40:3. The ark of the testimony is the real soul of the sanctuary. It represents the presence of Jehovah. Next to it the veil is the most important, since it expresses the unapproachableness of Jehovah, and protects the ark from profanation, but still more protects from the sentence of destruction those who approach without authority.

Exodus 40:4. Next comes the table. With the table Jehovah comes, in a limited degree, out of the Holy of holies into the holy place. By this symbolic communion with the priests He discloses to the people the hope of fellowship with Him, the fellowship of His Spirit, of His blessings. Then the lamps are lighted as if for a feast; for enlightenment is dependent on the communion of the heart with God.

Exodus 40:5. As Jehovah comes, with the table, in a sense into the holy place, so the priesthood of Israel on its part comes in a sense into the Holy of holies with the altar of incense which symbolizes prayer. These holy things, too, which denote and illustrate communion with Jehovah, must be screened by the curtain of the holy place.

Exodus 40:6. As the altar of incense bears a relation to the door of the Holy of holies, so the altar of burnt-offering to the door of the holy place. The laver stands nearer the holy place than the altar does, because it is for the priests, and contains, in the water, the means of purification for the sacrificial service—in which circumstance is disclosed an adumbration of the N. T. baptism, which separates animal offerings from the temple.

Exodus 40:8. The court also has its screen, for the court, too, is an enclosed vestibule of the holy place, as contrasted with the profane heathen world and defiled Israelites, or even such as approach with empty hands.

Exodus 40:9. The anointing of the dwelling and all of its individual parts expresses the truth, that all the worship in this house depends on the life of the spirit—is from the spirit and for the spirit. But in what sense is the altar of burnt-offering, standing as it does in the court, most holy, [literally, “holy of holies”]? Because the offering of sacrifice, and the self-surrender which consists in trustful obedience, and which underlies the offering, are the fundamental condition of the genuineness of the whole ritual worship. According to Keil, the phrase designates the fact that the altar is not to be approached by the people who offer sacrifices.1

Exodus 40:15. Aaron’s sons also are anointed together with him, because they represent the hereditary perpetuity of the priesthood. Keil holds that the consecration of the priests was not contemporaneous with the erection of the tabernacle, but took place later. But here too only the command is first given, and then the erection of the tabernacle precedes its execution. Knobel says: The statement [of Exodus 40:16] anticipates Leviticus 8:0 If we distinguish between command and execution, the anticipation is only seeming, or at least only grows out of the summariness of the narrative.

b. The Erection of the Building. Exodus 40:16-33

Exodus 40:17. And it came to pass.—“Inasmuch as from the arrival of the Israelites at Sinai in the third month after the exodus (Exodus 19:1) until the first day of the second year, when the work was delivered to Moses complete, not quite nine months elapsed, all the work of the building was done in less than half a year” (Keil).2

Exodus 40:19. He spread the tent over the tabernacle.—By the “tent” here Keil correctly understands the two principal coverings; by the “covering,” the two outer coverings.

Exodus 40:20. The testimony.—The tables of the law, as records which were to bear perpetual witness to the divine will orally revealed to the people. Knobel refers it to the whole revelation so far as then existent—which Keil rightly disputes.

Exodus 40:23. On the arrangement of the twelve loaves in two rows, vid. Leviticus 24:6.

Exodus 40:30. Between the tent of meeting and the altar.—“Probably more to one side, so that the priests did not need to go around the altar” (Keil.).

The offering of sacrifice, Exodus 40:20, and the burning of incense, Exodus 40:27, are to be regarded as extraordinary acts of Moses, the founder of the system of worship, and not belonging to the ordinary worship of the people, which presupposed the anointing of the sanctuary, and which began with a sin-offering, whereas here only burnt-offerings and meal-offerings are spoken of.

Exodus 40:33. The court was not only a court; it enclosed the tabernacle. According to Josephus (Antiq. III. 6, 3) the tabernacle stood in the middle of the court.

c. The Divine Dedication of the Building Anterior to the Human Dedication. Exodus 40:34-38

Exodus 40:34. If anything is fitted to exhibit the Levitical ritual as a transitory one, as an educational institution designed for the training of the people up to the time of their maturity, it is the fact that the completed tabernacle forms the conclusion of Exodus, not the beginning of Leviticus; that Moses offered sacrifices and burned incense in it before Aaron the priest did; but especially that Jehovah Himself consecrated the sanctuary by His manifestation of Himself in the sacred cloud before it was consecrated by the priesthood. In the Middle Ages it was a saying that a church was consecrated by angels in the night before it was going to be consecrated by priests. Perhaps the saying was a reminiscence of the mystery here recorded. For Jehovah’s manifestation of Himself is something very mysterious, a holy token, viewed only by the eyes of faith. Above the tabernacle the cloud appears, and covers it, in order to remove the glory of Jehovah, which fills the dwelling, from the view of all, even of Moses. It is not said that this condition became a permanent one; on the contrary, the tabernacle soon afterwards became accessible, except as regards the regulations concerning the Holy of holies. But up to that time it was unapproachable, locked up, as it were, and had to be unlocked by sacerdotal expiations according to the Levitical rites.

At the close is given a general statement concerning the future of the tabernacle, which, however, also discloses the design of it. “The Future verbs designate the action as a repeated and perpetual one” (Knobel). It was designed as a divine token for the people on their march. When the cloud rose up from the tabernacle, this was the signal for starting—an expressive signal; for the divine token then visibly separated itself from the sacerdotal dwelling; Jehovah seemed to abandon it, as He in truth in the strictest sense did leave the temple in the Jewish war. It was the signal for the people to break camp and move onward. But the cloud only showed the way, in order, at a new stopping-place, to rest down again on the tabernacle, and thus to order a halt. Thus the book closes with the profoundest thought concerning the history of the kingdom of God, expressed in a symbolic form and so graphically as to be apprehensible by a child. The pillar of cloud above the tabernacle by day; the fiery brightness in it by night—before the eyes of all Israel;—thus was made sensible to the people that presence of their covenant-God which accompanied them in all their journeyings. Comp. the consecration of the temple, 1 Kings 8:0. and Ezekiel 43:4; Numbers 9:15.


[1][I. e., as being, on account of its position, more exposed to the contact of laymen than the other sac ed objects, which were where no layman was allowed to come at all.—Tr].

[2][This is made out by deducting from the nine months the eighty days (Exodus 24:18; Exodus 34:28) spent by Moses on the mountain, the time spent in preparation for the giving of the law, and in the ratification of the covenant (Exodus 19:1 to Exodus 24:11), and the interval between Moses’ first and his second stay on the mountain (Exodus 32:33).—Tr].

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Exodus 40". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/exodus-40.html. 1857-84.
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