Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Exodus 38


The Work On Building The Dwellingplace Begins And Is Satisfactorily Completed In Accordance with Yahweh’s Command (Exodus 35:4 to Exodus 38:31).

The preparations for the Dwellingplace and its furniture include gathering all the necessary materials, sewing material together, skilful workmanship and planning in order to make use of the available personnel, with the most skilful work being done by the experts.

It may be asked, why was it necessary for the details of the Dwellingplace and its contents to be repeated twice, firstly in the giving of the instructions (Exodus 25 ff) and then in its actual construction? We may suggest the answer is as follows. Firstly there was a great emphasis on the need for all to be constructed exactly in accordance with the pattern shown to Moses in the Mount (Exodus 25:9; Exodus 25:40; Numbers 8:4; Hebrews 8:5; Hebrews 9:23). Thus it was necessary to demonstrate first, that the pattern was given by God, and then second that it was followed.

But why was the pattern so important? That brings us to the second reason. The double stress on the construction of the Dwellingplace was evidence of the importance of the lessons that could be drawn from it. It was a twofold witness. And there were two complementary reasons why the pattern was important, one was so as to ensure that no taint of false ideas entered into the Dwellingplace lest it fail to portray the truth about God as precisely as possible and thus lead Israel astray (how easily they were led astray at every opportunity), and second because it revealed heavenly truths that could be revealed in no other way (Hebrews 9:23).

To sum up but some of those truths; it revealed that they worshipped the invisible God; it revealed that He was their merciful King; it revealed that His light was constantly shed on them; it revealed that they were His people and that He would constantly feed them; it revealed that He could be approached and would offer mercy; it warned that He was holy and must not be approached lightly; it made clear that although He was there among them there was a huge difference between man and God, and between creation and its Creator; and it revealed that constantly sinful man needed constant atonement. These are equally lessons that we need to recognise today when many approach God too lightly and overlook His holiness. It is true that Christ has made for us a way into God’s presence more wonderful than the Dwellingplace, and that through Him we can approach Heaven itself, but let us not forget that that is because of the greatness of Who He is, the greatness of the sacrifice He offered, and the wonder of His intercession for us. It is not because we are less sinful, but because of Who He is and What He has done for us. And as we thus study the details of the Dwellingplace let us learn that we approach a holy God, which we can only do without fear because of the wonder of what Christ has done for us. Without Him we would shrivel up in God’s presence.

We may analyse this whole section as follows;

a The gathering of the materials (Exodus 35:4-29).

b Bezalel is filled with the Spirit of God, and he and Oholiab, the skilled overseers, are filled with wisdom and all manner of workmanship for the task (Exodus 35:30-35).

c The skilled overseers with the skilled men go about the work (Exodus 36:1-4).

d The generosity of the people is such that the collecting of materials has to cease (Exodus 36:5-7).

c The wisehearted make the curtains and frames, and the veil and screen (Exodus 36:8-38).

b Bezalel (no doubt with assistance from Oholiab and the skilled workmen) makes the furniture (Exodus 37:1 to Exodus 38:20).

a The sum of the gold, silver and brazen copper described (Exodus 38:21-31).

Thus we note that in ‘a’ the materials are gathered, and in the parallel the precious metals used are described. In ‘b’ Bezalel is filled with the Spirit of God for the task of making the furniture and in the parallel he ‘makes’ all the sacred furniture. In ‘c’ the ‘skilled overseers’ go about the work, and in the parallel the ‘wisehearted’ make the curtains and frames. And central to all in ‘d’ the people’s generosity overflows.

So the overall picture it that the materials are gathered, the overseers and skilled workmen are given wisdom by God and go about their work, the gifts overflow and become too many, the skilful workmen make the framework and curtains, and the skilful overseer the furniture, and the precious metals obtained and used are then assessed. But all this is given in detail because of the importance of the work and to enable all to see their part in it.

For us the message comes over how important are all aspects of the work of God. We must now look at the detail.

The Making of the Dwellingplace (Exodus 36:8 to Exodus 38:20).

From this point on the chiastic framework is replaced by a straightforward delineation of the different work done on the Dwellingplace following distinct patterns as is required by the subject matter. Thus we have in Exodus 36 working outwards the making of the inner curtains (Exodus 36:8-13), then of the outer curtains of goat’s hair (Exodus 36:14-18), then of the protective covering of skins (Exodus 36:19). Included is the working of the curtains, their dimensions, the coupling, the loops and the clasps (Exodus 36:8-19) in that order. This is then followed by the making of the frames, their dimensions and their sockets (Exodus 36:20-30); and then by the making of the bars, the Veil with its pillars and the outer screen with its pillars (Exodus 36:31-38).

In Exodus 37:1 to Exodus 38:8 we have, commencing in the Most Holy Place and moving outwards, the making of the Ark, the Mercy Seat (in the Most Holy Place); the Table for the showbread, the Lampstand, the Altar of incense; (all in the Holy Place); the anointing oil and incense (used in the Holy Place); the Altar of burnt offering and the Laver together with their method of transportation (in the courtyard). That is then followed by the making of the curtains and the gate of the courtyard (Exodus 38:9-20).

The Making of the Furniture - The Work Overseen By Bezalel (Exodus 37:1 to Exodus 38:20).

Bezalel had responsibility for all the sacred furniture. We may assume, however, that he obtained assistance in the more general work. We note that the order of furniture made commences from the Holy of Holies and moves through the Holy Place to the outer court.

There is here a continual general pattern commencing with the making and description of the item of furniture, followed by the making of the means of its transportation (rings and staves) (Exodus 37:1 to Exodus 38:8).

Verses 1-7

The Making of The Altar of Whole Burnt Offering (Exodus 38:1-7).

Exodus 38:1-7

‘And he made the altar of whole burnt offering of acacia wood: five cubits was its length, and five cubits was its breadth, it was foursquare; and three cubits was its height. And he made its horns on the four corners of it; its horns were of one piece with it: and he overlaid it with bronze. And he made all the utensils of the altar, the pots, and the shovels, and the basins, the flesh-hooks, and the firepans: all its utensils he made of bronze. And he made for the altar a grating of network of bronze, under the ledge round it beneath, reaching halfway up. And he cast four rings for the four ends of the grating of bronze, to be places for the staves. And he made the staves of acacia wood, and overlaid them with bronze. And he put the staves into the rings on the sides of the altar, with which to bear it; he made it hollow with boards.’

For details of the Altar of Burnt Offering see on Exodus 27:1-8.

Verse 8

The Making of The Laver (Exodus 38:8).

Exodus 38:8

‘And he made the laver of bronze, and its base of bronze, of the mirrors of the ministering women who gathered at the door of the Tent of Meeting.’

The laver was made of bronze and was made from the mirrors of the women who would gather at the entrance to the Tent Of Meeting. This would suggest that pious women used to gather at the entrance to the old Tent of Meeting in order to worship and pray. It was clearly their wish that their mirrors be used for something special. For the laver see Exodus 30:18-21. This touching note confirms the genuineness of the narrative. It is a note of authenticity. For the use of the mirrors in this way would not be known at the time of the instructions concerning the laver, but it was known once the work was completed.

Mirrors in the Old Testament period were usually round or oval and made of metal, cast and highly polished. Their use in Egypt, and the Egyptian expertise in polishing the metal from which they were made, is well known and examples can be found in the British Museum. Furthermore several bronze examples from the Middle Bronze Age onwards have been found in Palestine, of a form common throughout the Near East. The Hebrew word for ‘mirror’ (maroth) appears to be taken directly from the Egyptian ‘maa’.

Verses 9-17

The Making of the Court (Exodus 38:9-17).

Exodus 38:9-17

‘And he made the court: for the south side southward the hangings of the court were of fine twined linen, a hundred cubits; their pillars were twenty, and their sockets twenty, of bronze; the hooks of the pillars and their connecting-rods were of silver. And for the north side a hundred cubits, their pillars twenty, and their sockets twenty, of bronze; the hooks of the pillars, and their connecting-rods, of silver. And for the west side were hangings of fifty cubits, their pillars ten, and their sockets ten; the hooks of the pillars, and their connecting-rods, of silver. And for the east side eastward fifty cubits. The hangings for the one side of the entrance were fifteen cubits; their pillars three, and their sockets three; and so for the other side: on this hand and that hand by the gate of the court were hangings of fifteen cubits; their pillars three, and their sockets three. All the hangings of the court round about were of fine twined linen. And the sockets for the pillars were of bronze; the hooks of the pillars, and their connecting-rods, of silver; and the overlaying of their capitals, of silver; and all the pillars of the court were connected with silver.’

For the court see on Exodus 27:9-15. Here however is added that the capitals were overlaid with silver.

Verse 18-19

The Entrance Screen (Exodus 38:18-19).

Exodus 38:18-19

‘And the screen for the entrance of the court was the work of the embroiderer, of bluey-violet, and purpley-red, and scarlet, and fine twined linen: and twenty cubits was the length, and the height in the breadth was five cubits, answerable to the hangings of the court. And their pillars were four, and their sockets four, of bronze; their hooks of silver, and the overlaying of their capitals, and their connecting-rods, of silver.’

The height in the breadth.” That is, its height. For details of the entrance screen see on Exodus 27:16-18.

Verse 20

The Making of the Pegs (Exodus 38:20).

Exodus 38:20

‘And all the pegs of the Dwellingplace, and of the court round about, were of bronze.’

See also on Exodus 27:19.

Verses 21-31

The Sum Total Of What Was Used In Making The Dwellingplace (Exodus 38:21-31).

It will be noted that this is now dealt with commencing with the most valuable and going down to the least valuable. The gold was for the items in the inner Sanctuary, the silver for the sockets of the inner Sanctuary and the brazen copper for the court of the Dwellingplace and the things within it. The presumed intention is to outline the total amount of ‘precious metals’ use in the making of the Dwellingplace.

Exodus 38:21-23

‘This is the sum of the things for the Dwellingplace, even the Dwellingplace of the Testimony, as they were counted, according to the commandment of Moses, for the service of the Levites, by the hand of Ithamar, the son of Aaron the priest, and Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, made all that Yahweh commanded Moses. And with him was Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, an engraver, and a skilful workman, and an embroiderer in bluey-purple, and in purpley-red, and in scarlet, and in fine linen ’

The sum total of what was used is about to be detailed, ‘the sum of things for the Dwellingplace’. Note the emphasis at this stage when all was new on the fact that the Dwellingplace will house the Testimony. Note also that the materials were under the command of Moses, and that Ithamar dispensed them. Possibly he was the one among the sons of Aaron who had the necessary skills. He then passed the materials to the Levites, who no doubt watched over the work, and through them to the overseers, Bezalel and Oholiab and their helpers. The Levites had seemingly already gained a special position due to their ‘faithfulness’ at the time of the molten calf.

We are then informed that the skilled overseers had done all that Yahweh had commanded Moses. Bezalel had been in overall charge. Oholiab’s speciality had been in engraving, embroidering and weaving.

Exodus 38:24-26

‘All the gold that was used for the work in all the work of the sanctuary, even the gold of the offering, was twenty nine talents and seven hundred and thirty shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary. And the silver of those who were numbered of the congregation was a hundred talents and one thousand seven hundred and seventy five shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary. There was a beka a head, that is, half a shekel, after the shekel of the sanctuary, for every one who passed over to those who were numbered, from twenty years old and upward, for six hundred thousand and three thousand and five hundred and fifty men.’

We need to consider these verses carefully for if we do not we will misinterpret their input. Firstly we must recognise that what is being described is ‘the sum of the things for the Tabernacle --- as they were assessed --- by the hand of Ithamar’ (Exodus 38:21). Then we are given the assessments for gold (Exodus 38:24), silver (Exodus 38:25) and brazen copper ( Exodus 38:29) in that order. So the assessments are the totals of all that was collected. Thus while at a casual reading it appears as if the silver was that collected at a numbering of the people (in accordance with Exodus 30:11-16), Exodus 35:5; Exodus 35:24 make quite clear that silver was also collected as a freewill offering, which must also be seen as included in the amounts stated, which are the sum total available for use.

We are first given the full total of the gold. It was 29 talents and seven hundred and thirty shekels (Exodus 38:24), a huge amount considering their situation even though they had ‘spoiled the Egyptians’ (Exodus 12:36). On the other hand the Egyptians might well have stripped themselves of their gold in order to get rid of the Israelites whose God had caused such problems. This was presumably all given by freewill offerings. Then we are told what the amount of silver collected was.

“And the silver of those who were numbered of the congregation was a hundred talents and one thousand seven hundred and seventy five shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary. There was a beka a head, that is, half a shekel, after the shekel of the sanctuary, for every one who passed over to those who were numbered, from twenty years old and upward, for six hundred thousand and three thousand and five hundred and fifty men.”

Firstly we note the description, ‘the silver of those who were numbered of the congregation.’ So the silver being described was given by ‘those who were numbered of the congregation’. They were its source. But it is extremely unlikely, indeed in view of the descriptions, impossible, that the freewill offerings (Exodus 35:5; Exodus 35:24) would be ignored here, for the whole purpose of the narrative is to show how much gold, silver and bronze went into the Sanctuary, and going by the amount of gold collected the silver by freewill offerings would presumably be even greater. That being so the 100 talents and 1,775 shekels must be seen as the total of all that was collected, including both that collected in the numbering and that collected by the freewill offerings (all collected from the males of the families, ‘those who were numbered’, but not necessarily limited per head). But to suggest that the freewill offerings of silver would be ignored when the freewill offerings of the gold and brazen copper were assessed is quite frankly incredible.

The note that follows must therefore be seen in that light. We must ask, what exactly is it saying? And in answer we would suggest that it is basically declaring that the total amount of silver collected and in use was the equivalent of what would have been collected if the numbering of men had amounted to 603,550 at half a shekel per head. It is looking at a theoretical situation and saying that the silver collected was so huge an amount that had it been collected in a census that is the number of men who would have been required to contribute it.

It may indeed be that there was no numbering, and that the whole is theoretical, that it is saying ‘had they been numbered this would have been the number of men required to make up all this silver’. It may in fact all have been collected in freewill offerings, and that Moses was so impressed by the amount collected that, in the light of Exodus 30:11-16, he was simply trying to bring out its impressiveness. He may simply have been seeing in his mind’s eye such a numbering and be describing it in order to bring out the large amount of silver used. But it seems more probable that there was a numbering which contributed towards the total amount of silver received.

For every one who passed over to those who were numbered.” In the numbering the men were seen as having passed from the group waiting to be numbered to the group that had been numbered. This suggests a knowledge of the numbering of smaller groups. But there is nowhere else in Exodus where there is any suggestion that such a numbering ever actually took place. The first one is in Numbers 1. Thus their passing over may simply be in Moses’ mind as a theoretical exercise.

Alternately there may have been such a numbering at the time of the freewill offering, with the half shekels collected, with those then added to those gathered in the freewill offerings. But in the end it is the total amount of silver that is being emphasised, not the number of men, so that the one main point from it is that the Tabernacle contained so much silver that it was sufficient to ‘redeem’ 603,550 men. It is saying that that is the theoretical amount of men that the silver represented in the Dwellingplace indicated. The result is that that would therefore probably be seen as the number of the ‘ideal’ Israel. This probably explains why that is the number to which Numbers 1 works. It is a number obtained by using other symbolic numbers. See our commentary on that chapter. That being so, the phrase ‘and the silver of those who were numbered of the congregation was --’ may be seen as announcing the whole of the silver gathered from the men who were numbered, not just that gathered as a half shekel ransom.

Others take a different view and therefore have to suggest that the freewill offerings were ignored. But in our view that is to ignore the clear intention of the whole passage, which was not about numbering but about how much was collected.

With regard to gold it was plentiful in Egypt, being imported from the parts of North Africa to their south, a rich gold producing area. When the Israelites left Egypt they brought with them much of the silver and gold in Goshen (Exodus 12:35), and possibly from wider afield, having been given it by Egyptians and others keen to see them gone.

The Use of the Silver.

Exodus 38:27-28

‘And the hundred talents of silver were for casting the sockets of the sanctuary, and the sockets of the veil; a hundred sockets for the hundred talents, a talent for a socket. And of the thousand seven hundred seventy and five shekels he made hooks for the pillars, and overlaid their capitals, and made connecting rods (or fillets) for them.

Of the silver the talents were used for making the sockets for the Sanctuary itself. There were one hundred of them (40 + 40 + 16 + 4). The remaining silver items were made from the one thousand, seven hundred and seventy five shekels of silver.

The Use of the Brazen Copper.

Exodus 38:29-31

‘And the brazen copper of the offering was seventy talents, and two thousand and four hundred shekels. And with that he made the sockets to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, and the brazen copper altar, and the brazen copper grating for it, and all the vessels of the altar, and the sockets of the court round about, and the sockets of the gate of the court, and all the pegs of the Dwellingplace, and all the pegs of the court round about.’

The brazen copper of the offering is that brazen copper which was brought by the people in their free-will offering towards the Dwellingplace (35:24). The main use made of it is here described. With it was made the entrance sockets, the altar of burnt offering with its grating and vessels, the sockets for the pillars of the screen for the outer court and for the entrance, and all the tent pegs.

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Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Exodus 38". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". 2013.