THE BRAZEN (OR COPPER) ALTAR
On entering the courtyard, one would stand immediately before the brazen altar. Then the laver stood between the altar and the tabernacle entrance. This altar (of acacia wood), again speaks of Christ in His pure Humanity. But it was overlaid with brass, or most likely copper, the fiery colored metal, which speaks of Christ also as the perfect expression of the holiness of God. "Our God is a consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:29).
The altar was square, five cubits long and five wide. The number five emphasizes that Christ has willingly taken the responsibility of resolving the great problem of man's sin and of sins before God. The four fingers of one's hand are typical of human weakness, while the opposing thumb reminds us of God with man giving strength to carry out responsibility; therefore in this altar we are reminded that "God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself" (2 Corinthians 5:19). The height was three cubits, which adds the wonderful truth of Christ's resurrection. In fact, His resurrection is the proof of the great value of His sacrifice.
The four horns of the altar were to be "of one piece with it," also overlaid with copper. The four horns, pointing outward, tell us that the value of the sacrifice of Christ is for all the world. By these the sacrifice was bound with cords on the altar. We read too of Adonijah, who for fear of judgment, went and caught hold of the horns of the altar (1 Kings 2:50) and was spared at the time. Later Joab attempted the same thing, but having proved himself treacherous, was killed (1 Kings 2:13-28). For it was not faith that moved him, but fear.
Various utensils were used in connection with the altar, pans for ashes, shovels and basis, forks and firepans. These were all made of copper. Every detail connected with the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus stresses the holiness of God. Holiness differs from righteousness in this, that holiness implies feeling, that is, love of what is good and hatred of what is evil. A human judge is not required to be holy, but simply righteous. But God is both.
The grate (v.4) was evidently inside the altar, halfway between the top and bottom. This was for the fire that burned the offerings, and was also of copper. In each of the four corners was a ring. These are considered to have extended far enough to reach through holes in the corners, so that the rings would actually be on the outside in order for the poles (of acacia wood overload with copper) to be inserted in them for carrying (vs.6-7).
The altar was hollow, so as to receive the fire into itself. We have seen that the altar pictures the Lord Jesus. He Himself asked the Pharisees, "Which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift?" (Matthew 23:19). How clearly this tells us that the Lord Jesus personally is greater than the marvelous sacrifice He made. The gift (His sacrifice) is wonderful only because He Himself is so great. But at the cross He received into His own soul the burning fire of God's judgment on behalf of those for whose sins He died (Isaiah 53:10). The value of His person gives wonderful value to His sacrifice.
HANGINGS FOR THE COURT
The court surrounding the tabernacle was 50 cubits wide and 100 cubits long. The numbers are multiples of 5 and 10 (or 2x5), which again emphasizes the fact of responsibility (number 5) in bearing witness (number 2). But though the hangings were of fine woven linen, which speaks of pure moral character in humanity, they are not typical of Christ personally, for they were hung by hooks of silver, that is, dependent on redemption. This can only speak of believers as in dependence on the Lord Jesus and His work on Calvary. These were held up by 20 pillars of brass and brass sockets on the south side, the same on the north side, but on the west side 10 pillars. The pillars speak of the Lord Jesus in His character of absolute holiness, but whose strength the testimony of believers is upheld. For the hangings had no strength to hold themselves up.
The beauties of the gold, blue, purple and scarlet were not to be seen from the outside, but only the plain white of the fine linen. "The fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints" (Revelation 19:8). This character of moral purity is what ought to be evident to all on the outside. Indeed, only as we depend on the Lord Jesus as the hangings depended on the pillars, will this practical righteousness be seen by the world around.
The east side was the front, and the gate was twenty cubits wide, leaving fifteen cubits on either side of the gate for hangings similar to the rest of the court. Three pillars with their sockets upheld the hangings on each side of the gate. Three (the resurrection number) would surely add the truth here that believers bear witness to their having been raised with Christ, so that their moral righteousness is the result of His work.
The hangings for the gate differed from the rest of the hangings. Its size was 20 cubits wide and of course 5 cubits high. 20 is 2x2x5, so that again a responsible witness is emphasized. But into the fine linen was woven blue, purple and scarlet colored threads. This hanging was held up also by four pillars of copper with sockets of copper and hoods of silver (ch.38:18-19).
The gate hanging is therefore typical of believers as they are "in Christ," dependent on His redemption and reflecting in their measure the truth of His heavenly character (blue), His royalty (purple) and His perfect Servant character (scarlet) as well as His moral purity (fine linen). The court itself was simply white, not so attractive to the uninterested observer, but if one were interested enough to come to the gate, he would find it more attractive, just as truly concerned people will see more in believers that only a righteous life. They will realize that the believer has something more vital and valuable than appears at first sight. For he is bearing witness to the Lord Jesus.
Thus the gate teaches us that believers are to express a welcoming attitude toward the outside world, an attitude that welcomes others to come to Christ. Coming in by this gate is not typically salvation, for one must then meet the altar of burnt offering, picturing the sacrifice of Christ for him, finding there the knowledge of forgiveness of sins. For people are not told to enter by those who represent Christ in order to be saved, but to enter by Christ Himself (John 10:10). So that the gate here is only the testimony of believers to the grace and truth that is in Christ Jesus. This may attract people as the man of Samaria were attracted by the testimony of the woman who met the Lord Jesus at the well (John 4:28-30). But only in meeting the Lord Jesus Himself were they truly brought to God, as we see in their words to the Woman, "Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him, and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world" (v.42).
We have seen before that the utensils used inside the tabernacle were made of gold (ch.25:29,38), now in verse 19 of chapter 27 the utensils for the outside are designated as copper, including the pegs to which the coverings of the tabernacle were attached at the bottom, and the pegs for the court. Thus the holiness of God is more prominent on the outside, while inside the splendor of His glory is seen. The first surely is intended to impress us with a wholesome fear of God, while the latter should draw forth the adoring worship of every believer.
OIL FOR THE LIGHT
We have read of the lampstand in chapter 25:31-40. Now added is the instruction for the children of Israel to bring oil, pressed from olives, as fuel for the seven lamps to burn continually. Compare Zechariah 4:2-6, where lamps are fed from two olive trees, and the Lord makes clear that this speaks of His Spirit. Thus the Spirit of God is the oil by which the light of His testimony to Christ is sustained. This light was never to go out. Aaron and his sons were responsible to care for it, trimming the wicks, etc. So it is priestly work to see that the Spirit of God is allowed His full, unhindered freedom to make the light of testimony shine brightly. The trimming of the wicks speaks of judging the flesh (the negative side of the truth), so that the Spirit has liberty to do His positive work of shining testimony. The work of caring for the lamp, put into the hands of Aaron and his sons, was never to be neglected. We are never given a vacation from godly exercise.
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Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Exodus 27". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany