Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, July 13th, 2024
the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14
Tired of seeing ads while studying? Now you can enjoy an "Ads Free" version of the site for as little as 10¢ a day and support a great cause!
Click here to learn more!

Bible Commentaries
Exodus 40

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verses 1-38


Exodus 40:34. The glory of the Lord.] This was a sensuous manifestation by which the presence of Jehovah in the tabernacle was made known to the people of Israel, but this manifestation was not of the character of the glory of Jehovah as Moses desired to have it shown to him. (See Crit. Note on Exodus 33:18.)

Exodus 40:35. Not able = lo-yachol], i.e., he attempted to enter but could not effect an entrance, at the time, into the tabernacle: this fact goes to show that it was the purpose of Jehovah to impress upon the Israelites that He was Lord over His own house. In the worship of the tabernacle they were to regard Him who was the Lord over it, and not Moses the servant in it.


A. The Order for Erection

“And Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying, On the first day of the first month shalt thou set up the tabernacle.…”—Exodus 40:1-16.

The manufacture of the different parts of the Tabernacle having been completed, and everything necessary for the tabernacle service having been provided, instructions were at length issued for the election of the building. Observe:—

I. The completeness of those instructions.

1. The time was specified for the performance of the work. “On the first day of the first month (of the second year) shalt thou set up the Tabernacle of the tent of meeting.” “To everything there is a season,” says the Royal Preacher, “and a time to every purpose under heaven: a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted; … a time to break down and a time to build up.” Whether there was anything specially significant in the selection of the first day of the first month of the second year, cannot be determined. If, as is probable, the date of their arrival at Sinai was the first day of the third month of the first year, counting from the day of the Exodus, a period of nine months must have elapsed since their entering into covenant with God, during six of which they had been actively engaged in the preparation of the dwelling-place of God. But whatever was the reason for the selection of this date, it was the right date, as we know that God’s time is always the best time, and in particular that the time of the setting up of the Tabernacle of Christ’s body, was “The Fulness of the Times.” Everything in the lower kingdom of Nature has its appropriate season, and so has everything in the higher kingdom of Grace. Also, for every separate movement in the history of the Church of God, and for every onward step in the religious life of the individual Christian, there is a “right” time, which it is the part of wisdom to wait for, and to discern when it comes. On the circumstance that the time selected was the first day of the year, M. Henry has the following remarks:—“It is good to begin the year with some good work. Let Him that is the first have the first; and let the things of His kingdom be first sought … When a new year begins, we should think of serving God more and better than we did before.”

2. The order was appointed in which the work should be done. First the Holy of Holies was to be constructed and its furniture arranged. Then the Holy Place and its furniture. After that the outer court and its furniture. Next the whole building, with its vessels, was to be consecrated by anointing with the holy oil. And, finally, Aaron and his sons were to be brought to the door of the Tabernacle, and there washed, sanctified with oil, and clothed. As there is a proper time for God’s work, so likewise is there a proper order, and that order mostly is from the more important to the less important.

3. Nothing was omitted that was needful for the successful execution of the work. There is not here the same minuteness that there was in ordering the manufacture of the different articles and items of which the tabernacle was composed, because that was now unnecessary; but there is as much minuteness as is sufficient. Every separate article is mentioned, its situation described, and what is to be done with it stated. So in the instructions which God has given in the Bible for the erecting of the Tabernacle of His Church, and for the building up of the religious character of the individual saint, nothing is omitted that is needful for the efficient discharge of both of these tasks. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine …” (2 Timothy 3:16). God hath set in the Church” some pastors and teachers for the perfecting of the saints, for the edifying of the body of Christ,” &c. (Ephesians 4:11-13).

II. The fulfilment of those instructions: “Thus did Moses: according to all that Jehovah commanded him, so did he.”

1. The exact time was kept. “it came to pass in the first month of the second year, on the first day of the month, that the Tabernacle was reared up.” As Moses would not take a step towards the erection of the Tabernacle till he was enjoined by God, so neither when he was enjoined would he deviate a single iota from his instructions. In the matter of time he felt it was not open to him either to anticipate or delay the hour which God had fixed. And so should we feel. “It is not for you to know the times and seasons which the Father hath put in His own power,” said Christ to His disciples before ascending: see Acts 1:7. His meaning was, that not only all the great eras of Church history, but likewise all the little moments of Christian experience, were to be prearranged by the Father; and that the duty of both Church and individual saint was to wait till God in His providence should show that the hour for movement had struck, and then to move.

2. The appointed order was observed: see next section. As God’s time, so God’s order, is ever the best. And as God allows no room for the Church’s or the individual’s originality in the matter of determining the times and seasons, so neither does He afford scope for the talent of either the one or the other in improving the arrangement which He fixes for the greater movements of Church history or the lesser movements of individual experience. The proper business of both Church and saint is to carry out what He originates, remembering that “God is a God of order and not of confusion,” and believing that what Supreme Wisdom has arranged is little likely to be improved by the suggestions of ignorance.

3. Nothing was omitted from the programme, unless it be what is stated in Exodus 40:9-15, about the anointing of the holy places and things, and of Aaron and his sons. Leviticus 8:1-13 contains a minute account of what took place at the consecration of Aaron and his sons. It is not absolutely certain, however, that the transaction recorded in Leviticus 8:0 did not actually take place on the day of the erection of the Tabernacle, although not recorded till after a statement has been given of the sacrificial laws. If it was delayed, it must have been because of the impossibility of carrying it out on that day with befitting solemnity; which reminds us that God’s instructions are not always to be interpreted with literal exactness, but sometimes with an enlightened spiritual freedom. Literal exactness was the sin of the Pharisees of a later day. Let us learn to imitate Moses, “who was faithful to God in all

His house;” or, better still, “Him who was faithful to Him that appointed Him, as also Moses was” (Hebrews 3:2).

B. The Erection of the Building

“And it came to pass in the first month in the second year, on the first day of the month, that the Tabernacle was reared up.”—Exodus 40:17-33.

I. A brief survey of the finished structure. When finished, the Tabernacle had the appearance of a wooden box or chest, 30 cubits long, 10 cubits broad, and 10 cubits high, protected by four rich coverings, of which the innermost was of fine linen or cotton, the second of goats’ hair or cashmere, the third of rams’ skins dyed red or morocco, and the outermost, or weather covering of badgers’, or rather of seals’ skins, and standing in the middle of an open court, 100 cubits long and 50 cubits broad, which was enclosed by curtains. The exact position of the wooden box or Tabernacle proper is not stated, although the suggestion of Kurtz is as probable as any that it stood at equal distances from the N. W. and S. sides, thus leaving an open space of 50 cubits square in front between the dwelling and the eastern curtain of the court. The disposition of the four curtains has likewise been omitted to be stated with such precision as to prevent discussion. For opinions as to their adjustment, Kitto’s “Cyclopaedia,” art. ‘Tabernacle,’ and Lange on Exodus 26:1-30, may be consulted. The dwelling was divided into two parts, the Holy of Holies, and the Holy Place. Each part, along with the surrounding court, had its appropriate furniture. Entering the court from the east, the first object that met the gaze was the Altar of Burnt-offering, standing near the door: behind that and before the dwelling, probably a little to the side, was the Laver. Passing in through the Vail to the Holy Place, on the right hand towards the north, stood the table of shew-bread, with its two rows of loaves; and on the left hand, towards the south, the candlestick, with its rich mellow light; while in front of the second or inner Vail (V2) was the Altar of Incense (I), with its fragrant smoke rising up before the Holy of Holies. In the Holy of Holies, concealed behind the second Vail, was set the Ark, containing the two tables of stone, with its golden mercy-seat and overshadowing cherubim. Into the outer court alone were the people allowed to come with their offerings: into the Holy Place only the priests of the nation were admitted; while the Holy of Holies could be entered by the high priest alone, and that only once a year on the great day of Atonement: all which was significant, as will appear.

II. The meaning of the names applied to the Tabernacle.

(1.) The Sanctuary (Exodus 25:8); The word מִקְדָּשׁ (Mikdash), denotes something consecrated to God, and was applied to the Tabernacle to signify that the entire structure was set apart and dedicated to the worship of Jehovah, and was accordingly to be regarded as a holy place.

(2.) The Dwelling place (מִשְׁבָּן) (Exodus 25:9; Exodus 40:21), So called to indicate that God’s presence was to dwell within that Holy Place, and, dwelling there, was to dwell amongst them as a people.

(3.) The Tent of Meeting (אֹהָל מוֹעֵד) (Exodus 40:22). The import of this name is given in Exodus 25:22, “And there will I meet with thee and commune with thee …” (Cf. Exodus 29:42-46). Of course, it was included in this idea that the Tabernacle was the meeting-place for the congregation of Israel in all their united acts of worship (see Leviticus 8:3). When Aaron and his sons were consecrated, “the assembly was gathered together” by Divine command “unto the door of the Tabernacle of the congregation.”

4. The Tent of Witness (אֹחֶל הָעֵדוּת) (Numbers 17:7-8). Used in connection with the blossoming of Aaron’s rod, when it and all the other rods were laid up in the Tabernacle before the Lord, by which God showed that He had chosen the house of Levi, with Aaron as its head, to be His priests to minister before Him, just as He had previously testified by the terrible judgment on Korah and his children that He had not chosen them. It was the tent where God bore witness to Himself, to the gracious character of His covenant, and the qualifications that were required of those who would serve Him. It is not difficult, to perceive that every one of these names and titles applies with even greater force to the True Tabernacle of the Human Nature of the Lord Jesus Christ, and likewise indirectly to the Christian Church.

III. The interpretation of its symbolical significance. Without entering too minutely into this department, the following statements, it is hoped, will give at once a concise and comprehensive exhibition of the teaching of the Tabernacle as a whole. Generally viewed, it was meant to embody in a materialistic form the spiritual transaction which had taken place between God and Israel at Sinai—to be, as it were, an illuminated text-book from which Israel might be able to read and understand the sublime spiritual ideas which were contained in the covenant of Sinai. Then, as that covenant was itself designed to be a pictorial exhibition of the grand scheme of grace, which now lies unfolded in the Gospel—was, in fact, intended to be a preaching of the Gospel to them in the only way perhaps in which they could understand it—the Tabernacle, with its Holy Places and sacred vessels, was a material and visible presentation of the Gospel. Observe, the main facts which took place at Sinai were these:—

(1.) God, in the sovereignty of His grace, elected Israel to be His people, and solemnly covenanted with them to be their God, bestowing upon them the right to come near to Him and serve Him, or, in other words, salvation, and promising, in token of His favour and reconciliation towards them, to dwell amongst them.
(2.) When God proposed to come down and talk with them on Sinai, they felt themselves unable, through a consciousness of sin, to avail themselves of the priestly privilege conferred upon them, and so entreated Moses to act as mediator. In due course, the duties of mediation were transferred to Aaron and his sons.
(3.) A system of sacrifice was appointed, through which the sinful nation could still realise their priestly character, if not immediately in their own proper persons, at least mediately in the persons of the priests. Hence the main ideas that required to be presented before the minds of the people were these:—
1. The fact that God was graciously pleased to dwell among them, and take them into covenant with Himself. This was done by the setting up amongst them of a Tabernacle in which His symbolic presence might continually reside.

2. The fact that they through sin were unfit to appear in God’s presence and enjoy His favour. This was done by concealing God’s presence within the second veil, and shutting off the entire congregation from any access to the dwelling except through the medium of the priesthood.

3. The fact that before any approach to God could be made, the guilt of sin must be expiated, and the pollution of sin removed. This was done by the presence of the altar of burnt offering and the laver in the outer court.

4. The fact that when sin has been expiated and cleansed, a sinful being passes into a state of acceptance with God, in which He enjoys certain privileges of enliglitenment and sustenance (both spiritual), and is enabled to perform certain duties. This was taught by the entrance of the priest as the representative of the pardoned and renewed worshipper into the Holy Place, where he walked in the light of the golden candlestick, and partook of the shew-bread, and offered up incense upon the altar.

5. The fact that a distance still intervened between the enjoyment of the Divine favour and serving in the immediate presence of God. This was signified by excluding even the common priesthood from the Holy of Holies.

6. The fact that God’s continued presence in the midst of them depended on the great atoning sacrifice of the everliving high priest. This was pointed at by the entrance once a year into the Holy of Holies of the high priest with his official robes and the blood of sprinkling wherewith to sprinkle the Mercy-Seat. Now these are the fundamental ideas of the Gospel scheme; so that practically the Hebrew worshipper had a Gospel sermon preached to him every time that he approached the Tabernacle.

(1.) Being shut out from the Tabernacle, he was practically told that he was a sinner, and that God is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, and that evil shall not dwell with Him.

(2.) Seeing the Tabernacle before him, he was visibly reminded that, sinful though he was, God was yet “waiting to be gracious.”

(3.) Approaching the Tabernacle, and finding that he could not advance a step without the service of a priest, he was as good as informed that no man can come to God without a mediator, a truth of which Christ reminds us when He says, “No man can come unto the Father but by Me.”

(4.) Beholding the altar of burnt-offering immediately he crossed the threshold of the court, the altar said to him, “Without shedding of blood there is no remission.”

(5.) Advancing towards the laver, he was directed to the truths that, “except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God,” and “without holiness no man shall see the Lord.”

(6.) Entering the holy place, in the person of his representative, he learnt that they whose sins are forgiven, and whose hearts are renewed, enjoy a twofold privilege, viz., of spiritual enlightenment and spiritual provision, and have one all embracing duty to perform, that of transforming their whole lives into “a savour of a sweet smell unto God.”

(7.) Gazing on the solemn ceremony of the great day of atonement, when the high priest passed into the Holy of Holies to sprinkle the warm blood of the slain victim on the Mercy-Seat, he was taught that the salvation of God’s people depended on the services of One who, with His own blood, should enter into God’s immediate presence, there to make intercession for them. Thus the main elements of gospel truth were exhibited before them, and were doubtless in some feeble measure apprehended at least by the spiritually-minded among the community. With the advantage possessed by us of studying the symbolism of the Tabernacle in the light of the gospel, many things are clear to us which were comparatively dark to them. We can see, for instance, that the outer court was a type of the Israelitish theocracy, in which the worshipper was not able personally to enter upon the functions of his priesthood, but could only perform them by deputy, that the holy place was a type of the Christian Church, in which every worshipper is a priest unto God, offering up the incense of prayer and praise, enjoying spiritual illumination, and nourishing his soul upon the Bread of Life; and that the Holy of Holies was a a type of heaven, in which all God’s people will ultimately attain to the immediate vision of God.—See Kurtz’s “Sacrificial Worship.”

C. The Consecration of the Building

“Then a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle.” … Exodus 40:34-38.

“To consecrate the sanctuary, which had been finished and erected as His dwelling, and to give to the people a visible proof that He had chosen it for His dwelling, Jehovah filled the dwelling in both its parts with the cloud which shadowed forth His presence, so that Moses was unable to enter it. This cloud afterwards drew back into the Most Holy Place, to dwell there, above the outspread wings of the Cherubim of the Ark of the Covenant; so that Moses and (at a later period) the priests were able to enter the Holy Place, and perform the required service there, without seeing the sign of the gracious presence of God, which was hidden by the curtain of the Most Holy Place. So long as the Israelites were on their journey to Canaan, the presence of Jehovah was manifested outwardly and visibly by the cloud, which settled upon the Ark when they came to a halt, and rose up from it when they were to travel onward.”—Keil. A distinction appears to be drawn between the glory of the Lord which filled the Tabernacle, and the cloud which rested on the tent of the congregation. Turning, however, to Leviticus 16:2, we find that above the Mercy-Seat, within the Holy of Holies, the glory of the Lord was revealed in a cloud; and looking to Exodus 40:38 in this section, we see that in the pillar of cloud there was a fire or glory which flashed forth by night above the tent of Israel. The probability is, therefore, that we have here a double sided emblem of the Divine presence, with a twofold manifestation, one within the Tabernacle, in which the bright side predominated, and the other without the Tabernacle, in which the dark or obscure side predominated.

I. The double-sided symbol of Jehovah’s presence. “No man hath seen God at any time.” His glorious presence, therefore, has always been manifested mediately—latterly through Jesus Christ; under the Old Testament economy through material symbols. Here there are two terms used—ענן a cloud, and כָּֽבוֹד glory, translated by the LXX. δόξα, which two things were almost invariably united in manifestations of the Divine presence. To Abraham the Divine presence appeared as “a smoking furnace and a burning lamp” (Genesis 15:17). Here were the fire and cloud. At the Red Sea the pillar which stood between Israel and the hosts of Pharaoh was double-sided, light towards Israel, dark towards their foes (Exodus 13:21; Exodus 14:19-20). On Sinai, when God came down to talk with Israel, there were again the gloom of cloud and the light of fire shining through it (Exodus 19:16-18). Similarly when Isaiah beholds Jehovah’s presence there are the glory and cloud (Isaiah 6:4 compared with John 12:41). Ezekiel’s vision had the like characteristics, “a great cloud and a fire infolding itself” (Exodus 1:4). Putting these and other Scripture notices together, we can gather that the material symbol of God’s presence was a cloud infolding a fire which, when the fire predominated, and as it were etherealised the cloud, shone forth as a brilliant light called the glory of the Lord, but which, when the cloud predominated, deepened down into a dark, dull, burning red fire, which symbolised the devouring wrath of God. There was thus taught the three well-known New Testament ideas, that God is invisible to mortal eye, that God is light, and that God is a consuming fire; that is to say, while this all-glorious essence is to us enveloped in a cloud of darkness, in Himself He is light, and in Him is no darkness at all—which light, however, may be either the light of love or the fire of wrath. So in Christ—the latest manifestation of the Divine presence—there was the cloud of His material body concealing the glory of His Godhead within; which at times shone out in a brilliant light of love and truth upon His believing people—“I am the light of the world;” but at other times, as upon the Pharisees, gleamed forth in terrible denunciations of wrath—“I am come to send fire upon the earth.”

II. The twofold manifestation of the Divine presence.

1. Within the dwelling as a glory. The dwelling having been designed as a symbol of heaven, where the glory of God shines forth undimmed and unobscured, the cloud was, so to speak, etherealised, licked up, and the pure light shone forth between the Cherubim, which were emblems of Perfected Humanity. It is probable, although this is only a conjecture, that the glory paled its lustre when the high priest entered, so that to him it always seemed encircled with a thin white cloud, for the reason that, though he was symbolically holy, he was not in reality so. But to all intents and purposes it was a cloudless light which burned between the Cherubim, which seemed to symbolise the two truths with which we are so familiar;

(1) that “God is light,” all spirituality, purity, intelligence, in His essence; and

(2) that heaven is a region in which the pardoned soul shall walk in the clear light of God’s love and truth (Revelation 21:23-24).

2. Without the dwelling as a cloud. Outside the dwelling was not God’s immediate presence. Hence outside His glory was vailed. So it was when Christ came to earth. So it is in the Church and the world. Still the two things were there—the cloud and the glory; and the vailed presence of the all-glorious Jehovah is still with His Church, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world,” and with them for the same purposes,

(1) to guide, which the pillar did to Israel, the cloud shutting in the fire by day, and the fire piercing through the cloud by night;

(2) to protect, which again the pillar did to Israel. Doubtless during night the light which shone upon the tents of Israel was soft and mellow, while that which gleamed forth through the darkness upon all the outlying world was fierce and dark. All which Christ is to His Church: a guide, going before her and ever saying “Follow Me” (Luke 9:59): a protector, saying, “I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth” (Revelation 3:10). As Israel followed the cloud, so ought the Church, both collectively and individually, to follow Christ: not advancing in any line of action till Christ, by His Word and Providence, clearly and emphatically points the way; but the moment such indication is given, advancing promptly, courageously, continuously, till Christ again indicates that the time has come to rest. So, following her Divine Guide, the Church of Christ, like Israel, will enjoy the help of her Divine Protector: and this protection will be like that vouchsafed to Israel:

(1) efficacious—“upon the tabernacle “sat the cloud and fire, conveying the idea of complete security:
(2) seasonable—“by day the cloud: by night the fire,” suggesting the idea that the succour will be always suited to the Church’s need:”
(3) visible—“in the sight of all the house of Israel.” When Christ interposes to protect the Church, the Church shall be conscious of it, and the world shall see it:
(4) perpetual—“throughout all their journeys.” So Christ says to His people, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.”



Bible-Firmament. Exodus 40:1 to Exodus 33:1. The grandeur and majestic beauty of the starry heavens appeal to the senses of a blind man in vain. But if his eyes are opened, the full glory of that dazzling sight would burst upon his astonished gaze, when his face was turned towards the sky. Brown well says, If that man presently looks through a telescope, his quickened sight would pierce still further into the depths of space, and myriads of bright stars, till then unsuspected and unknown, would become visible to him. And returning night after night to the contemplation of this entrancing night, the astronomer, penetrating still further into its heavenly depths, and pondering deeply over the pleasing discoveries, begins in a measure to apprehend the order and arrangement of its parts.

2. Even so with the Bible firmament. The natural man is blind—he cannot see the revolving worlds of truth-light. But when the Holy Spirit opens his eyes to behold the wondrous star-beauties in the love of God, then he is filled with awe and rapture. With the glass of faith, he daily surveys this firmament of truth. Its glories become visible to him. Its general beauties are discernible by him. Each survey adds to his store of knowledge, as well as his source of happiness. He begins to see exquisite arrangement, order, and system. Portions of a gigantic plan begin to unfold themselves before his entranced and admiring gaze. He catches glimpses of beauteous and harmonious systems, all exquisitely balanced, and all revolving in wondrous unity and sublimity of purpose—drawing forth the exultant symphony—

“When all Thy wonders, O my God,

My rising soul surveys,

Transported with the view,

I’m lost In wonder, love, and praise.”

Tabernacle versus Churches! Exodus 40:1. There was but one place of worship for the Jew; there are many for the Christian. Farrar says, it is one of the great blessings of our country that there is not a town or village which is left without its house of God. In most places, these places of worship are the chief centres of reverence and interest, and have stood unchanged amid a thousand changes for immemorial years. Generations have gone to rest under the shadow of their elms; and their spire, whose silent finger points to heaven, has been the last sight that the village boy has seen. A thousand memories make them dear to us. It is there that we have learned to regard ourselves as children of our Heavenly Father. It is there that the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, has fallen like the dew of Hermon. It is there that we have heard “the still small voice,” whose calmness is louder than the thunders of Sinai.

“And ’tis for this they stand,

The old gray churches of our native land!

To keep our spirits lowly,

To set within our hearts sweet thoughts and holy!”—London.

Church-Consercation! Exodus 40:2. The first memorial church at Ambatonakanga! Patience and hope had to be exercised. The workmen were dull, but, dull as they were, to save a little trouble, they would scamp the work, and put in rubbish-material with an ingenuity that only constant inspection could detect. Moses had no such difficulties to contend with. But, at the end of three years, it was “finished.” The day of opening (22d January 1867) was made an occasion of great rejoicing by the Christian part of the community, and numbers even of the heathen inhabitants pressed into the building at the dedicatory services. Doubtless many of the Egyptian and Amalekite camp followers stood around Israel’s host on the first day of the first month. Dr. Ellis remarks it is difficult to describe the varied emotions of those who joined in the services of that glad day. It was impossible not to feel—“what hath God wrought.” It was impossible not to exclaim, “This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes.”

“Oh then, with hymns of praise

These hallow’d courts shall ring;

Our voices we will raise

The Three in One to sing.”


Tabernacle-Unity! Exodus 40:8-33. The saintly Leighton says, Be not sudden. Take God’s work together, and do not judge of it by parcels. There are the ark and the table, the altar and the laver, the lamp and the curtains, &c.; and each of them is wisdom and righteousness. But we shall best discern the beauty of it when we look on it in the frame, when it shall be fully finished, and our eyes are enlightened to take a clearer view of it than we can have here. What endless wondering will it then command! All the parts of the “tabernacle of God,” of the mystery of redemption, will then present one harmonious whole. And as, when looking on a far-stretching landscape of surpassing unity of loveliness, the spectator exclaims, “It wants but the glory of the sun to lighten it,” so, when surveying the outspread, upreared structure of grace, your soul will be ready to exclaim, “It wants but the glory of the Sun of Righteousness.” And even as you cry, lo! the Sun will arise and shine, and a voice will sound, “Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.”

“O’er the gloomy hills of darkness,

Look my soul, be still and gaze;

All the promises do travail

With a glorious day of grace.

Blessed jubilee!

Let thy glorious morning dawn!”


Olive-Tree! Exodus 40:9. When the Jews entered the Holy Land, they would find abundant supplies of oil in the extensive and fertile oliveyards, which had been well tilled by the aboriginal inhabitants. Bernard says that almost every village in Palestine has its olive-grove at this day. There are health and vigour in the fresh look of a flourishing olive-tree, but especially when a grove of them is seen together, and the sun shining on their glossy leaves. The foliage is of a deep and peculiar green; and, under a passing breeze, the uppermost leaves twine round and show a fine silvery hue. M‘Cheyne asks, “Where could we find a better emblem of the Church in a flourishing condition than just such a grove of olives, with the peaceful notes of the turtle poured forth in the midst, and the sun’s living light over all, like the Sun of Righteousness shining over His peaceful Church!” As the sun

“Doth spread his radiance through the fields of air,
And kindle in revolving stars his blaze,
He pours upon His Church the brightness of His rays.”


Exodus-Emblems! Exodus 40:16-23. Judaism was, so to speak, a pictorial Bible. How often in families, on Sunday afternoons, has the pious father or mother opened the volume before the children. They have not been able to understand clearly the reading, but when the picture has been set clear before their eyes, what an insight is thus furnished to the little students! And the written law and visible types formed such a pictorial Bible. They had the written word in the parchment rolls which the scribes and scholars could read; and they had another blazing on Aaron’s breastplate, curling up in the smoke of the altar and hovering over the mercy-seat. This was a Bible which the runner could read, and which the unlettered peasant and untutored infant could spell. If he read about Jehovah’s majesty, or sin-excluding sanctity, that God was greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, “Who shall abide in Thy tabernacle?” most likely only a faint impression would be made. But when he saw the picture, i.e., when he went up to the house of God, descried afar off the mystic curtain, and remembered that within that was the Shekinah, his spirit would be subdued to reverence. This explains the anxiety of Moses to paint the pictures exactly as God commanded him.

“What hast thou here? A book; but what a book!
Another such, nor hath been, nor shall be;
Of universal love th’ epitome:

The oracles the Everlasting spoke.”

Ark-Testimony! Exodus 40:20. Atwater says the fact that the ark was designed for the safe keeping of the two tablets on which the decalogue was written, is one of many indications that these tablets were regarded as very precious. If one observes that the ten words were inscribed on stone for the sake of permanence, that this durable record was preserved in a chest specially constructed for the purpose—that this depository of the inscription was the sole furniture of that department in the tabernacle, which is not merely the holiest of all, but accessible only through the outer chamber and the court—that the tabernacle itself was the centre of the encampment, he must conclude that, as its kernel is the most valuable part of the nut, or as the soul is the most precious part of man, so the words inscribed on the tablets of testimony were more important than the successive shells and caskets by which they were protected and preserved.

“O Father! hath it such undying force
When unrevealed, and left without attest
Of miracle from Thee, and unconquered
By man; and shall not Thine own WOLD go forth,
In all its fulness, through these times unblest!


Christ and the Law! Exodus 40:20-21. There was, says Sibree, a certain officer, a rich man, in a distant part of the country of Madagascar, who, when dying, ordered his friends to observe the following ceremonies after his death. His coffin was to be filled with money, to be surrounded with soldiers and by his family, and to hold his body with outstretched open hand. All this was done, and while some wondered, others said, “See, the man wishes to show us that all his money cannot purchase life, that all his soldiers cannot protect him from death, and that all his weeping relatives cannot prolong his existence. See, he stretches out his hand, and asks for something more now.” Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God, and so shall the dead Jewish nation. There it lies, like the army of bones in Ezekiel’s Valley of Vision. All its wealth of privileges have not satisfied; all its sentinel host of laws and ceremonies have not preserved it from national decay; and all its weeping descendants around the “stones of the Place of Wailing” have no life-giving virtue. Israel, as a nation, rests to-day in its coffin with empty open hand; but soon another hand shall grasp it, as it did the hand of the maid, or of the widow’s son: “I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish. I am the Resurrection and the Life.”

“The veil of darkness rend in twain,

Which hides their Shiloh’s glorious light;

The sever’d olive branch again

To its own parent stock unite.”


Lamp-Light! Exodus 40:25. It has been said that the Church, like the moon, shines only with a borrowed light. She has no resources of her own. All depends upon the central Sun of Righteousness, not only for illumination, but for every other kind or degree of influence.

1. God uses human instruments, and rarely, if ever, works independently of them, but when they effect their aim, the power comes from above. A sailing vessel, perfectly appointed and manned, cannot move in a calm. The apostles were held fast in Jerusalem until the Spirit lit their lamp.

2. Whether in the conversion of the individual, or in mighty movements among races and nations, the effect is due to a supernatural cause. In the great Reformation of the sixteenth century, that brilliant lamp, Luther, had no light in himself; he was non-light-giring, until the Mediator lit the flame of grace in his soul.
3. The lamp of the Spirit lightens this Gospel dispensation,—this outer court, or vestibule of heaven, where are the table of shewbread and incense altar. But there was no light in the “HOLIEST,” until the pillar-cloud slowly swept in majesty Divine from the summit of Sinai; for “the Lord God and the Lamb are the LIGHT thereof.”

“From what pure well

Of milky light, whose soft, o’erflowing urn,
Are all these lamps so filled! these friendly lamps,
For ever streaming o’er life’s troubled deep,
To point our path, and light us to our home.”


Altar and Incense. Exodus 40:27. This was the daily offering of the incense by the ministering priest, morning and evening. Standing by the great brazen altar, and placing, by means of a silver shovel, some live coals in his censer, carrying at the same time a handful of frankincense, he advanced to the golden altar in front of the veil which separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. The whole of the congregation during these solemn moments preserved a profound silence. They remained outside engaged in devout prayer (Luke 1:10); while the priest, at an appointed signal, after laying the censer on the golden altar, cast the incense on the fire, and the fragrant cloud ascended. Here we have a figure of the continual intercession, day by day, of the Lord Jesus in heaven.

“With boldness, therefore, at the throne,
Let us make all our sorrows known;
And ask the aids of heavenly power
To help us in the evil hour.”


Incense-Fire! Exodus 40:27.

1. Law says that the Spirit has selected incense as a type of prayer in Psalms 141:2, and we have here a graphic image of the prayer of prayers,—the intercession of the King-priest Jesus. Mark whence the kindly fire was brought. It came not from a human hearth. The outer altar gave the supply. It was the very fire from heaven. It was the very fire which consumed each offering.

2. Thus the victim-altar feeds the incense-altar. The prayer of Christ receives its life, its power, its vigour from His blood-stained cross. The argument which prevails is drawn from justice satisfied—payment made, wrath appeased, law fulfilled, curse endured, covenant discharged. Christ’s intercession rests upon His DEATH.

“See, He lifts His hands above;
See, He shows the prints of love;
Hark! His gracious lips bestow
Blessings on His Church below;
Still for us His death He pleads;

Prevalent He intercedes.”


House of Prayer! Exodus 40:29.

1. It is true that the sincere worshipper may anywhere worship the Father in spirit and in truth,—may everywhere and in every place lift up holy hands, without wrath or doubting,—in the home or by the roadside, in the secret chamber as in the crowded street. Yet, undoubtedly, the associations of worship do tend to hallow and solemnise our souls. Doubtless this was one of the many objects which Jehovah had in view when He originated the one tabernacle and its services. These, Farrar well says, tend to exclude dreams of self-interest and images of sin. They inspire, by imperceptible influence, the vast conceptions of death, judgment, and eternity.

2. And so with the many Christian houses of prayer. It is a happy and beautiful thing in such structures for worship, as are the splendid legacy to ages of faithfulness from an age of faith, in the many-coloured light that streams from painted windows, and under the cool, fretted aisles, among silent and scattered worshippers, to kneel down—the happy to thank God and make melody in their hearts, the unhappy to implore Him, “Make haste, O Lord, to deliver me.”

“How beautiful they stand,

Those ancient altars of our native land!
Amid the pasture-fields and dark green woods,
Amid the mountain’s cloudy solitudes,”


Israel-Initiation! Exodus 40:34-38. Kalisch has admirably remarked that, at the beginning of Exodus, we found the descendants of Jacob a multitude of ill-treated and idolatrous slaves. At its end, we leave them a free nation, the guaidians of eternal truth, the witnesses of overwhelming miracles. Released from the vain and busy worldliness of Egypt, they encamp in the silent desert,—in isolated and solemn solitude,—holding converse only with their thoughts and with their God, Before them stood the visible habitation of Him whom they acknowledged and adored as their rescuer from Egyptian thraldom. The mysterious structure disclosed to them many profound ideas of their new religion. They respected the priests as their representatives and mediators. Between God and His people communion was opened; life had its aim, and virtue its guide.

“ ‘Is this the way, my Father!’ ‘’Tis, my child;
Thou must pass through this mazy, dreary wild,
If thou would’st reach the Canaan undefiled,—
The happy land above.’ ”

Divine-Dwelling! Exodus 40:34-35. The tabernacle was a peripatetic shrine, a cathedral that could be carried about, a temple of canvass and tapestry which accompanied Israel in their wanderings. It sufficed, says Hamilton, as a visible centre of worship, till such time as the waving tapestry solidified into carvings of cedar, and the badger skins were replaced by tall arcades of marble, and the tent had grown to a temple. And that New Year’s day, when Aaron and his sons came forth in the gorgeous garments which they now for the first time put on, and when over the dedicated shrine the cloud descended, and such a glory filled the tabernacle, that Moses and the attendant ministers were forced to withdraw, devotion must have felt somewhat like what, on a similar occasion, Solomon expressed, “Will God in very deed dwell with man upon earth!”

“But will, indeed, Jehovah deign

Here to abide, no transient guest?

Here will the world’s Redeemer reign?

And here the Holy Spirit rest?”


Tabernacle-Truth! Exodus 40:34. Thomson says that the tabernacle was intended mainly to furnish the machinery for the regular ongoing and visible outworking of the Mosaic institutions, and was, therefore, the natural centre of the Old Testament economy. It may have been designedly so arranged as to admit of more than one interpretation; but the main end and aim, was to localise the Divine Presence. Such is man’s nature, that what is far off and out of sight produces but a feeble impression. It was, therefore, necessary to give a local habitation to this awful presence. Going up to the tabernacle, the pious Hebrews came consciously before the heart-searching God, who could not be deceived. This felt presence gave tone, solemnity, and intensity to the verbal formulas of public worship. Indeed, the whole costume of the devotional and poetic portions of the Bible has been coloured by this vivid consciousness of God’s presence. In the least,

“As well as in the greatest of His words,
Is ever manifest a present God,
As in the systems of revolving suns,
Through time revolving in unbounded space.”


Mosaic-Revelation! Exodus 40:34. When Noah, the world’s second father, received the truth from God, it was all in heaven’s own currency, full weight and without a flaw. But as soon as it began to circulate, it began to deteriorate. Consigned to no written record, when entrusted to the memory of man, with all his prejudices and bad propensities, they were like shillings dropped into the tide. When next you see them, you can hardly recognise them, crusted over with such uncouth or monstrous additions, and changed into a substance so remote from the bright original No obviate this difficulty to some extent, a written revelation in the tables of stone, as well as a symbolic revelation in the tabernacle of witness, were furnished to Israel. And to complete the revelation—to let Israel understand that it was more than earthly in its origin, object, and ostensible culmination—& cloud covered the tent of the congregation. Yet not a cloud of nature’s forming, but the cloud of God.

“Whence but from HEAVEN could men, unskilled in arts,
In several ages born, in several parts,
Weave such agreeing truths!”


Glory Glimpses! Exodus 40:34; Exodus 35:1. The natural eye is too weak to contemplate unvaried, dazzling whiteness for any lengthened period without suffering. And in the snewy regions of Tartary and Thibet, travellers have to provide themselves with hair spectacles, to protect their eyes from the dazzling whiteness of the snow. Huc, a Roman missionary, in his “Travels,” says that in traversing the plateau of Wa-ho, throughout the day the sky was pure and serene, with not the faintest film of vapours flecking its brilliant azure-blue. But this excess of fine weather was a source of suffering. The glare of the sun was so intensely dazzling that his hair spectacles were of little use in averting inflammation.

2. So brilliant was the effulgent glory of God, that Moses, who beheld the cloud-glories of God on Sinai, could not endure the ineffable brightness of the Shekinah, and had to withdraw. Yet is there a time coming when the saints shall see the face of God and live; when the tabernacle of God shall be with men, and God shall dwell with them, and when from His glory the redeemed shall draw a ceaseless fount of light and gladness, for “light is sown for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart.”

“The Sun shall then he face to face behold
In all His robes, with all His glory on,
Seated sublime on His eternal throne.”


Tabernacle-Teaching! Exodus 40:33-35. We are all more or less familiar with “Object-Lessons.” Any one entering a school must have observed, and probably may have heard, teachers giving instruction to the children from objects before them. The tabernacle was designed to give such an object-lesson. It was the planetarium, which astronomers use in their class-rooms to explain to students heavenly things. In Hebrews 9:23, St. Paul, speaking by the Spirit, says that it was a pattern of things in the heavens. Its respective parts were symbols—“object-lessons to Jewish childhood”—of the deep things of God,—those heavenly mysteries eternal in the heavens.

“Friendly their Teacher stood, the bright

Angel of Light there among them,

And to His children explained He the holy,

the highest in type-words,—

Striking, yet simple and clear, for sublimity always is simple.”


Cloud-Pillar! Exodus 40:36 to Exodus 38:1. Supernatural! Because it was always

(1) upright; see Hebrews 9:12; and

(2) unique. Ordinary clouds are seen in all kinds of form, and change every moment. It was always distinctly recognisable from every other cloud.

2. Sacramental! This significance is brought out in 1 Corinthians 10:1.

(1.) Reviving: Paul’s language justifies the impression that it was surcharged with a grateful moisture, which it shed upon the people.

(2.) Refreshing: as a baptism of refreshment amid the desert sun glare.

3. Symbolical! The typical signification of the cloud appears in Isaiah 4:5—the presence of God with His Church.

(1.) Guidance: most (a) certain, and most (b) constant.

(2.) Governance: (a) shrouding from foes, and (b) sheltering from fierce heat. He who knows the voice of Christ will not follow any other voice; and he who depends on the Divine protection need fear no evil.

“Jesus, still lead on,
’Till our rest be won;

And, although the way be cheerless,
We will follow, calm and fearless.

Guide us by Thy hand
To our fatherland.”


Jew-Journeyings! Exodus 40:36. The cloud gave them a light, by which night-journeys became as safe and easy as those in the day-time could be.

1. Doubtless the night was often chosen by God as the season of His people’s travel, as it is still chosen by the caravans which have to cross the Arabian deserts. After the sun has set, a cool breeze is wont to blow,—the air becomes less stifling, and the sandy soil less hot, so that wayfarers are able to accomplish twice the distance by night that they would travel with great difficulty during the day.
2. In such night-journeys modern caravans are commonly preceded by a large fire signal borne aloft upon a pole,—an iron basketful of blazing pitch and resinous woods and rags steeped in oil. By keeping his eye fixed upon that beacon-light, a pilgrim can save himself from being lost even in the darkness. But how much better was the light by night for Israel 1 And how true an emblem of the light of truth, which the spirit of Jesus sheds upon our way!

“Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom;

I do not ask to see

The distant way; one step’s enough for me.”

Cloud-Covering! Exodus 40:37.

1. A company of Covenanters had been pursued by their persecutors until their strength was exhausted. Their leader stopped in his flight, and called upon them to join in prayer. As he lifted up his voice in supplication that “Jehovah would wrap His cloak around them,” a mist rose up about the hill, and shrouded them from the pursuers, who failed to discover their refuge. “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”
2. When the brave Arnaud and his little band of Vaudois peasants were in despair of escaping unseen from the ruined entrenchments of Balsille to the ridge of Guigenevert, a cloud of mist came rolling down the valley, so that, enveloped in its sable curtain, they were able to descend undiscovered by the foe, who, at dawn of day, when the fogs rolled off, were astonished to see their prey perched like the eagle beyond their reach.

3. When pursued by Pharaoh, the cloud-covering hid them from their enemies, and also prevented them from perceiving the terrors which menaced them. Who shall Bay how often the host of Israel was thus shielded from wild, marauding hordes, during the up and down wanderings in silence for forty years! Such an ample protection, too, has the believer in the presence of God, not only from the enemy who thirsts to regain him as his prey, but also from all enemies whatsoever.

“THOU whisperest some loving word,

I catch the much-loved tone;

I feel Thee near, my gracious Lord!

I know Thou keepest watch and ward,

So all my fears are gone.”

Cloud-Canopy! Exodus 40:38. As Rooke remarks, it was really a pillar of fire, i.e., a lofty column of fiery light surrounded by a fleecy cloud, which in the daytime prevented the cloud being seen, just as any artificial light of our own can easily be hidden when the sun is shining, if we cover it round with a screen of muslin or of gauze-like paper. So in the daytime Israel saw the symbol of Jehovah’s presence in the semblance of a white cloud, and nothing more. But at night, when darkness had succeeded to the glare of sunlight, the fiery core of the pillar shone out through the mist-like veil, and shed a moony radiance over all the wilderness,—a clear, yet soft and mellowed light, which did not, like the moon, wax and wane, but continued always the same. Image of Him in whom dwells all the fulness of the Godhead, softened and subdued by the veil of His stainless humanity.

“A thin, pure veil of filmy mist and vapour,
Scarcely less subtle than the luminous hair
Dishevell’d, streaming from a comet’s brow,
Through which the faintest star shines on-dim’d.”

Finis! Exodus 40:33-38. “Behold, I make all things new!” How that voice rolled melodiously over the sunset crimson waves of the Ægean Sea. And as the Patmos seer looked, he saw not the clouds piled up and around the western sun as confused cumuli; but the holy city, the heavenly temple, the Divine tabernacle. The city and bouse of God not made with hands, eternal in the heavens, was bathed in a flood of everlasting brightness. All the costliest materials gold and crystal, and every stone of priceless value, from the jasper to the amethyst, were employed to symbolise a glory which cannot otherwise be translated into human language. As the Evangelist gazes, his ears catch other strains, “It is finished.” He knows the voice, though it rolls sublimely far and wide. It is the voice of Him who on the cross cried, “It is finished;” who in the banquet hall said, “I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do.” “Behold” (Revelation 21:0) “the tabernacle of God is with men.” Twice over in one verse it is said, “He will dwell with them.” The last stone has been placed,—the last jewel has been clustered in the magnificent structure of ransomed humanity, by the Divine Mediator and Builder, and on that imperishable pile rests the glory of the Divine presence.

“His foundation is in the holy mountains!
The Lord loveth the gates of Zion
More than all the dwellings of Jacob.
Glowing things are spoken of thee, thou House of God!

When the Lord shall build up Zion
He shall appear in His glory!”

Psalms 87:1; Psalms 102:10.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Exodus 40". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/exodus-40.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
Ads FreeProfile