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THE TABERNACLE SERVICE COMMENCED
Exodus 40:1-2. The Lord spake unto Moses, saying, On the first day of the first month shalt thou set up the tabernacle of the tent of the congregation.
THE beginning of a new year is, not without reason, considered by Christians in general as a fit occasion for more than ordinary attention to religious duties. I say not, indeed, that the generality of Christians actually so employ that hallowed time; for, in fact, the whole season wherein we commemorate the incarnation of our blessed Lord is by the generality made rather a time for carnal mirth. But still, this is acknowledged by all to be rather an abuse of our religious privileges than a suitable improvement of them. There is in the minds of all a consciousness, that to review our past errors with penitence, and to prepare for a more diligent performance of our duty in future, is the proper employment of that period, when we are entering, as it were, upon a new scene of things. In my text, “the first day of the first month” was appointed by God himself as the time for commencing the services of the tabernacle, after the Israelites had abode in the wilderness nearly a whole year. Doubtless, both Moses and the various artificers had used great diligence to get every vessel ready for the service which it was destined to perform: and great exertion must have been made on the day here spoken of, wherein the tabernacle and all the vessels of it were not only got ready for their destined use, but were employed in the very service for which they had been formed. But the command of Jehovah animated the people on this occasion: and, I hope, their conduct will encourage us also to prosecute with becoming earnestness the labours which this season calls for at our hands.
For the advancement of this blessed object, I will set before you,
The work here assigned to Moses—
He was ordered now to set up the tabernacle with every thing belonging to it, and to commence the service of it. A pattern of every part of it had been shewn to him on Mount Sinai, and according to that pattern had every thing been formed. No less than eight times in this one chapter is it said, that he did every thing “as the Lord had commanded him” For all this care, both in relation to the pattern given him, and to the execution of it by himself and all under his command, there was, no doubt, a very important reason. The very injunction given him at the time of shewing to him the pattern, “See thou make all things according to the pattern shewn to thee in the mount [Note: Exodus 25:40.],” strongly marked, that, in the divine mind, there was some very important end to be accomplished by it. What that end was we are informed in the Epistle to the Hebrews: The tabernacle itself, and all its vessels, were intended to be “an example and shadow of heavenly things,” that is, of the things revealed to us under the Christian dispensation. In a word, the law and its ordinances were intended to give a just representation of the Gospel and its mysteries; and the two were to accord with each other in every the minutest part, even as an impression with the seal by which it was made [Note: Hebrews 8:5.]. Behold, then, here was the work assigned to Moses, namely, to give to the Jewish people such an exhibition of the Gospel and its mysteries as should suffice for them under that shadowy dispensation, and prepare them for that fuller manifestation which should be vouchsafed to the Church by the ministry of Christ and of his holy Apostles.
[The tabernacle itself was a representation of Christ, “in whom dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily [Note: Colossians 2:9.],” and who in his incarnate state “dwelt (tabernacled) amongst us [Note: John 1:14 ἐσκήνωσεν].” The priests, the altar, and the sacrifices, shadowed him forth as “the Great High-Priest,” through whom alone we can come to God [Note: Hebrews 10:19-22.] ; and who, being himself the altar that sanctified the gift [Note: Hebrews 13:10.], “offered himself a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world [Note: Hebrews 10:12.],” even “an offering and a sacrifice to God of a sweet smelling savour [Note: Ephesians 5:2.].” The altar of incense also designated that same divine Saviour as ever living to make intercession for us [Note: Hebrews 9:24.]. The candlestick also, and the table of shewbread, represented him as “the light of the world [Note: John 8:12.],” and as “the bread of life, of which whosoever eats shall live for ever [Note: John 6:48; John 6:58.].” The lavers too represented him as “the fountain opened for sin [Note: Zechariah 13:1.],” in which every one “who washeth is cleansed from all sin [Note: Revelation 1:5.].” The same may be said of every the minutest vessel in the sanctuary: they all shadowed forth the Lord Jesus in some part of his Mediatorial office. But I must by no means omit to mention the ark, in which the tables of the Law were placed, and which was covered by the mercy-seat of precisely the same dimensions, and which represented him as fulfilling the Law for us [Note: Romans 10:4.], and as obtaining mercy for all who should come to God by him [Note: Hebrews 7:25.]. Now all of these, whether the vessels, or the persons who officiated in the use of them, “were anointed with oil [Note:, 13–15.],” to shew, that even Christ himself, “being anointed with the oil of gladness above his fellows [Note: Psalms 45:7.],” had “the Spirit given to him without measure for the performance of his work [Note: John 3:34.] ;” and that no person or service can ever be “acceptable to God,” unless it be “sanctified by the Holy Ghost [Note: Romans 15:16.].”]
Let us next turn our attention to,
The corresponding work that is now called for at our hands—
We are now called, every one of us,
To realize in our minds the things here shadowed forth—
[The wonders of Redemption should occupy our attention every day: but on this day especially should we be coming to God in “that new and living way which Christ has opened for us through the veil.” We should go to the Lord Jesus Christ as our sacrifice, and as the altar that sanctifies that sacrifice, and as the priest that offers it. Under all the characters that have been before contemplated concerning him, we should apply to him — — — “receiving every thing out of his fulness [Note: John 1:16.].” From day to day, as long as the Jewish polity existed, were the various sacrifices and services of the Mosaic ritual renewed: and as long as the world shall stand, must we look to Jesus as here shadowed forth, feeding on him as our bread, washing in him as our laver, and living altogether by faith on him [Note: Galatians 2:20.]. Would to God that every one of you would this very day begin these services, if you have hitherto been strangers to them; or prosecute them with redoubled ardour, if you have already entered on this life of faith! — — —]
To get them spiritually wrought within our own souls—
[We have said that Christ was mystically shadowed forth in all the services of that day. And this is true. But it is also true that the life of God in our own souls was spiritually represented. Yes, Brethren, “we are temples of the Holy Ghost [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:19.] ;” and “God will come down and dwell in us [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:16.] ;” yea, “Christ will dwell in our hearts by faith [Note: Ephesians 3:17.].” And in us are “the sacrifices of prayer and praise to be offered to him continually [Note: Hebrews 13:15.].” In truth, we ourselves are to be living sacrifices to him [Note: Romans 12:1.] ; and, as an holy priesthood, we are to be offering ourselves to him [Note: 1 Peter 2:5.]. Every faculty of our souls is to be sanctified to his service by the Holy Spirit, lightened by his light, and nourished by his grace. We are, in fact, to be “lights in this dark world [Note: Philippians 2:15.],” and “witnesses for Jehovah, that he alone is God [Note: Isaiah 43:12.].” My dear Brethren, this conformity to Christ is at once our duty and our privilege: and to “grow up into him in all things as our living Head,” is the work of every day throughout our whole lives [Note: Ephesians 4:15.]. Now, then, I call you to commence this work, if it be not yet begun; or to proceed in it with augmented ardour, if, through the grace of God, it be already begun in your souls. And for your encouragement, I will venture to affirm, that the tokens of God’s approbation which were vouchsafed to Moses, shall as really, if not so sensibly, be renewed to you; for “the glory of the Lord shall fill” your souls, and the most signal manifestations of his love shall abide with you, both in this world, and in the world to come [Note: 4, 35.] — — —]
And now I appeal to you, whether this will not be a good employment for the season on which we have just entered?
[Who does not regret that he has lost so much time already? Moses, considering how many months had been consumed in the wilderness before he began his work, could not have well completed it before. But who amongst you might not have begun long before, and been now both serving and enjoying God in a tenfold greater degree, if he had duly improved his time, and prosecuted his work with unremitting care? Well; let it then be your endeavour now to “redeem the time;” that, if this be the destined period that is to put an end to your earthly existence, you may enter with joy into the presence of your Lord, and be for ever happy in the bosom of your God.]
ERECTING OF THE TABERNACLE
Exodus 40:33-34. So Moses finished the work. Then a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.
AN union of many hands and much zeal must of necessity expedite any work that is undertaken. So it proved in the constructing of the tabernacle; the whole of which, notwithstanding the exquisite skill and workmanship with which every part of it was formed, was in about the space of seven months completely finished, so as to be capable of being all erected, and brought into use in one single day. Such activity could not but be highly pleasing to God, in whose service it was employed. Accordingly we find that he immediately testified his approbation of it by a most astonishing act of condescension and grace.
That we may see the subject in its true light, let us inquire into,
The work here referred to—
This was the constructing of the tabernacle; a work of singular excellency and importance, whether it be considered in itself, or in its typical design. Let us view it,
[It will be proper to notice briefly its form. There was a court about sixty yards long, and thirty broad, enclosed by linen curtains, suspended about nine feet high on brasen pillars. Within that, at the west end of it, was a structure, about eighteen yards long, and six broad, made with boards of Shittim wood, covered with gold, and fastened together by bars of the same materials. The boards were forty-eight in number, fixed in ninety-six sockets of silver, each of them about an hundred pounds weight. The whole was covered first with curtains of fine embroidered linen, and then with three other coverings, one of goats’ hair, another of rams’ skins dyed red, and another of badgers’ skins. This structure was divided into two apartments, called the holy place, and the holy of holies; the former being about twelve yards by six; and the latter six yards square, and as many high. The entrance to each of these was from the east, (as was that of the outward court also,) each leading to the other through a veil of embroidered linen.
The furniture of the whole was quite appropriate. In the outer court, (to which all clean Hebrews and proselytes had access,) was the brasen altar, on which the sacrifices were offered, and the brasen laver, in which the priests and Levites were to purify themselves. In the holy place (into which the priests were admitted) was the candlestick, the table of shewbread, and the altar of incense. In the holy of holies (where the high-priest alone entered, and that only on one day in the year,) was the ark, covered by the mercy-seat; on which abode the Shechinah (the bright cloud, the symbol of the Deity), between cherubim. In the ark the tables of the law were deposited: and at a subsequent period, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the golden pot that had the manna, were laid up before it [Note: Compare Heb 9:4-5 with 1 Kings 8:9.].
We need not enter minutely into these things: it will be more instructive, after taking this summary view of the whole, to notice it,]
In its typical design—
[In interpreting the types, we must bear in mind that the greater part of them had reference to Christ in one view, and to his Church and people in another view. This was particularly the case with respect to the tabernacle.
it typified, in the first place, the Lord Jesus Christ. Our Lord himself, speaking of his own body, says, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again [Note: John 2:19; John 2:21.].” And in the Epistle to the Hebrews, his body is represented as that “more perfect tabernacle in which he ministered, and which was not made with hands, as the other was, but by the immediate agency of the Holy Ghost [Note: Hebrews 8:2; Hebrews 9:9-11.].” The correspondence between the two is obvious: for “in Him dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily:” and through his atoning sacrifice, and sanctifying grace, and prevailing intercession, we all are brought into a state of acceptance with God. On the other hand, as there was no way to the Mercy-seat but through the Holy Place, “so no man can now come unto the Father but by him.”
It further typified the Church, which, though mean without, “is all glorious within.” In that alone is any acceptable sacrifice offered unto God. In that alone are the sanctifying operations of the Spirit experienced. In that alone is the bread of life administered, or the light of truth exhibited. In that alone does God manifest his glory, or communicate his saving benefits. Hence the beloved disciple, speaking of the Church in the latter days, says, “The tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God [Note: Revelation 21:3.].”
Once more, it typified heaven also. Remarkable is the language of the Apostle, who says, “Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us [Note: Hebrews 9:24.].” There, not the symbol of the Deity, but all the glory of the Godhead, is unveiled. There the sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving ascend up with a sweet odour unto God continually. There the illumination, the nourishment, the purity of every soul is complete. No veil obstructs the view, or forbids the access, of any individual: the beatific vision is vouchsafed to all, and the full fruition of their God is the portion of all the saints.]
If we judged only from the minuteness of the orders which God gave respecting this work, we should conceive highly of its importance: but still more shall we see it, if we consider,
The testimony of his approbation with which God honoured it—
[We must bear in mind that Israel had sinned a grievous sin; that, at the intercession of Moses, God had turned away from his holy indignation, and promised to continue with them as their God. In token of his reconciliation, he ordered this tabernacle to be made for him: and the very day it was erected, he came down visibly to take possession of it as his peculiar residence, and so filled it with his glory, that Moses himself could no longer stand to minister there [Note: 5.]. Now whilst this testified his approbation of their work, and of those who had been engaged in it, it shewed to all future generations, that He will return to those in lore and mercy, who return to him in a way of penitence and active obedience.
In this view, we are led to consider this event, not as relating to the Israelites merely, but as speaking to us. Where is the nation, where the church, where the individual, who has not given just occasion to the Lord to shut up his loving-kindness in displeasure? — — — Yet where is there to be found, in the annals of the world, one single instance, wherein God has turned a deaf ear to the supplications of a real penitent? Instances to the contrary are without number — — — And God, as in the history before us, has seemed ambitious, as it were, to make “his grace abound, not only where sin had abounded,” but (I had almost said) in proportion as sin had abounded — — —We must be careful not to “limit the Holy One of Israel,” whose “ways and thoughts are as far above ours, as the heavens are above the earth.” We are apt to forget that he is the same God now, as he was in the days of old: but “he changeth not:” and if his manifestations be less visible than formerly, they are not a whit less real, or less gracious [Note: 2Co 6:16 and John 14:21.].]
[The day on which this work was finished was the first day of the year. What a blessed commencement was it of the new year! How sweet must have been the retrospect to all who had been engaged in the work, when they saw that they had not spent the preceding year in vain! Each could call to mind some sacrifices which he had made for God, or some exertions used in his service: and they would enter on the new year with a determined purpose to serve and honour God more than they had ever yet done. Beloved Brethren, is it so with you? Have you in your consciences an evidence that you have lived for God, and made it a principal object of your life to serve and honour him? — — — But, however the past year may have been spent, bethink yourselves now what work you have to do for him, and how you may perfect it with expedition and care. And O that we may speedily have such a day amongst us as the Israelites enjoyed; all of us presenting to him our souls and bodies for his habitation, and receiving from him undoubted tokens of his favourable regard!]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Exodus 40". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany