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Make Me a sanctuary:
God dwelling with men
The dwelling of God among us in Christ Jesus, when it is a reality, and not merely an idea or a phrase, imports and of necessity secures the passing away from us of the things we have most reason to fear. When God comes to dwell among us, which can only be by dwelling in us individually, sin goes from us, in its guilt and its predominating power.
II. God comes thus to dwell with men, for the development of character, and for the nourishment of all goodness. The putting away of sin is but the negative part of salvation. The presence in its place of truth and duty and love and obedience--this is what makes a saved man.
III. For how long does God dwell with men? Deep philosophy as well as high faith sanctions the conclusion that the God of grace, who makes covenant with man and dwells with him, is “our God for ever and ever,” and that He “will never leave us or forsake us.” (A. Raleigh, D. D.)
The holy tent
I. We should mark that God makes himself dependent on the will of man. “Let them make Me.” This is true, not only of material wealth, but of man’s nature.
1. God wants human nature, He seems to covet to have the affection of our life, and yearns to be looked to by the creature He has made. Let us not cheat Him, for we shall rob ourselves most of all.
2. God may be thwarted by man.
II. In this Divine conception of the Church, there is a place for the rich. It is not impossible for rich men to be good men. It is not easy, but still it can be done. God has given them a place. “This is the offering which ye shall take of them: gold.” God would not have accepted planks from those who had gold, and so God will not accept industry in His service in the place of wealth.
III. Labour has its place. There was a great deal of timber required; the wood of the acacia tree was used for the framework. Here was work which the poorest could do. Is it not so to-day? In building the Church, what room for a holy industry!
IV. Woman has her rights here. We read in Exodus 35:24-25, of women that were wise-hearted, who did spin with their hands, etc. Influence of Christian mothers. Sunday-schoolworkers. Mothers’ meetings. Let woman do her work well. We must have her work, or we cannot finish ours.
V. There is room for genius. “Precious stones” are required. The onyx stones, and other jewels, took up but small room, but they added beauty and splendour to the rest. God does not create genius every day. Many rhymers, but few poets.
VI. Still, we must not forget that the meanest is acceptable, if it is the best we can bring. There are times when cleverness is baffled, and wealth is powerless. But see to it God has your best. Acacia wood will not be accepted in the place of anything else. But if the axe and saw are your talents, by all means use them.
VII. Our best and our all is of no avail without the atonement. Alms and deeds are only safe as they rest upon Christ’s merits. (T. Champness.)
The Tabernacle and priesthood
I. The Tabernacle.
1. Its general character.
2. Its contents.
II. The priesthood for the Tabernacle.
III. The symbolic meaning of both Tabernacle and priesthood.
1. Scriptural evidence of the symbolic character of these.
(1) The Mosaic ritual, as a whole, is declared to be this (Hebrews 10:1).
(2) Parts of it declared symbolic (Hebrews 9:6-9).
2. Some of its symbols explained.
(1) The propitiatory in the “Holy of Holies” (1 John 2:2).
(2) The veil dividing the “holy place” from the “most holy” (Hebrews 10:19-20).
(3) The sacrifices of the Mosaic ritual (Hebrews 9:13-14).
3. The priesthood a symbol.
(1) In its appointment (Hebrews 5:1-5; Hebrews 8:1-5; Hebrews 9:11-12).
(2) In its contrast (Hebrews 7:11-28; Hebrews 9:23-28; Hebrews 10:1-13).
1. The importance and duty of studying the Old Testament in order to understand the New Testament.
2. The marked superiority of the Christian over the Mosaic dispensation.
3. Our weightier responsibilities over those of old.
4. The all-sufficiency of Christ as Redeemer, Priest, and Friend.
5. Our paramount duties--to accept, trust, and obey Him. (D. C. Hughes, M. A.)
I. The grand purpose of the Tabernacle was that the Israelites might realize God’s presence with them.
1. The unity of God had been lost in the gradual transference of separate and independent sovereignty to every attempted representation or localization of the Deity. This evil, God now corrects by the strict confinement of His localization to one spot.
2. The conception of the Deity had been demoralized through the forms in which men sought to represent God. And so the God of Israel refuses to allow any image or outward representation of Himself.
II. The manifestation of God’s presence was secured by the construction and furniture of the Tabernacle.
1. The ark was constructed out of the freewill offerings of the people.
2. The Tabernacle in its costliness was, in all the circumstances of the case, wonderfully appreciative of the Divine Majesty.
3. The Tabernacle was constructed in all respects according to Divine pattern. (W. Roberts, M. A.)
Nature and design of the Tabernacle
I. Its nature.
1. It was a simple structure. The materials of which it was composed were costly indeed. There was also much of artistic grace and beauty wrought up into its composition, and yet, compared with the splendid cathedrals etc. which men have erected, how simple and unpretending!
2. It was a structure of Divine origin. Indebted for nothing to the force of man’s creative faculty. God planned it.
II. Its design.
1. In reference to the Jews.
(1) The source of present blessing. The bright spot in the midst of a dark and desert world; for God was there, and walked in the midst of His people, to bless and deliver them from their enemies.
(2) A pledge or promise to them of future good. A heaven-devised symbol, prefiguring God’s salvation.
2. In reference to ourselves.
(1) An illustration of the blessings of the gospel. The relation which God sustained to Israel as a nation, He now sustains to His people as individuals. He shades them by day, and, enlightens them by night; strengthens and comforts; guides and blesses them as their own personal God.
(2) The Tabernacle furnishes us with a figurative view of our relation to the heavenly world (see Hebrews 9:23). We are often tempted to think and feel as if that world must be at an immense distance, a vast remove from us. A proper consideration of the Tabernacle would seem to correct this impression. Here you see the Holy Place, or the Church on Earth, and the Most Holy Place, or the Church in Heaven, in the closest possible contiguity to each other. There is only that thin material veil to separate them. In conclusion the subject we have now considered suggests to us--How thankful we should be for the day in which we live! It is “the day of salvation”; the dispensation of the substance which succeeded to that of the shadow; the time of direct and full revelation as opposed to the time of type and figure. It is to the dispensation of the Tabernacle what the hour of noon, with its radiant splendour, is to the hour of early dawn, with its dim twilight and its gloom. In regard to light, and grace, and privilege, our position under the gospel is exalted indeed. And if it be true that “to whom much is given, of them much will be required,” then it becomes us to see well to it, that we improve diligently our privileges. (R. Newton, D. D.)
The Tabernacle a symbol of holier things
1. The Tabernacle was the dwelling place of God. It tells us God is great. It was a costly Tabernacle. The value of the structure was probably not much less than £300,000. There was mystery. The Israelites were not to enter the Tabernacle, but only the priests. Only the high priest could enter into the Holy of Holies, and that but once a year. Thus God surrounded Himself with an impenetrable veil of mystery. It has been said, “God is the greatest mystery in the universe.” But, if there is mystery, there is mercy. There was also justice, holiness, and majesty.
2. The Israelites no doubt looked upon the Tabernacle as the palace of their King. The furniture was palace furniture, and the priests were ministers of state.
3. The Tabernacle was set up in the wilderness. In all our wanderings God is with us.
4. The Tabernacle was the first religious structure, in which Jehovah condescended to dwell. Symbol of Divine grace. Erected in midst of sinners.
5. God’s presence is the cause of holiness and it alone removes the curse. God came down to dwell with His people, not because they were holy, but to make them so. No place is holy without God. That place--wherever it may be--is holy if God is there.
6. The Tabernacle was a place of worship. It was called “the tent of the congregation” (Exodus 40:22). They had a property in it. It was the palace of their King. It was the house of their God. There they came to confess their sin. There was no other place of the kind. It was the one Tabernacle for all the tribes, and for all the individual members of those tribes.
7. The Tabernacle was not a model for our imitation, but “a shadow of heavenly things” (Hebrews 8:5). The substance having come, we need, not go back to the shadow. In the Tabernacle we have “the figures of the true” (Hebrews 9:24). In the gospel we have reality. Its blessings are everlasting. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. He is the truth of every figure, the way to a holy God, and the life of all who believe. (R. E. Sears.)
The Divine purpose in the erection of a Tabernacle
This introductory sentence of the symbolical dispensation involved much. It reiterated the great promise given at the fall, that man, although lapsed, should not be left unaided; that there should be, in the fulness of time, an interference on his behalf of the most remarkable character; and that, to prepare men’s minds for its reception, it should, first of all, be presented in a figure.
I. God dwelt in a Tabernacle. In this a glorious reality was foreshadowed (John 1:14; Timothy 3:16; Galatians 4:4; Hebrews 2:14).
II. In that Tabernacle He dwelt amongst His people Israel. Christ is the great centre round which all His people are grouped--those nearest to Him, the family within the veil; the glorified ones, who, having finished their service here below, are at rest--while the outer circle is the Church militant, that portion of the family which is still in the midst of tribulation and conflict. But He is the great centre. To Him all eyes, all hearts are turned; from Him all supplies are derived. The one see Him in actual fruition and enjoyment; the other realize Him by faith. (J. Ridgeway, M. A.)
The Tabernacle of the testimony
So many things of a covenant form and character required to be placed under the security and covering of a covenant habitation, a habitation having relation to both God and His people. The Lord Himself had said, “I will dwell among them.” Here was His habitation. Look at the model after which it was formed (verse 40). God was His own architect, nor were there any deviations in after thought from His original plan: the design was perfect. But why such exactness in relation to this temporary residence, this wilderness habitation of the Lord of the whole earth? A prefiguration of the body of Christ was intended, His assumption of our form and flesh, and which was an act of condescension, a veiling of the glories of His Godhead, a coming down to dwell in concealment. The personal assumption of our nature, therefore, made it of moment that what was to contain the inhabitation of Deity, like the body of Christ, curiously wrought, as it is said, in the lowest parts of the earth, should be of a form, and be put together exactly as God Himself had given the model to Moses in the mount. It was especially of God. In the spiritual worship of the gospel of Christ, and in the doctrines of grace, nothing is suffered to be misplaced, nothing left to be introduced. There is a show of wisdom in will-worship, an appearance of reverence and humility, but none in reality. If we worship God, we must worship Him, after His own instructions, and, under whatever dispensation, in spirit and in truth. The design was God’s, but the execution of the work was man’s.
1. Many hearts were in the work. As soon as required to be constructed, the people had a heart to it and well they might since it was bringing God nearer to them, and more visibly with them than He had been. How interesting the union of hearts in such a work, men and women, and, we might think, even children too, wise and willing in the work of the Lord! Delightful was it to have their hearts in what had, from eternity, employed the heart of God, His whole will and understanding, His counsels, grace, and love. How are our hearts affected towards the spiritual temple that is rising in this world of sin? Sweet the frame of mind David was in when he said (1 Chronicles 29:14, etc.). Their hearts were their offerings: there were no niggardly restraints of covetousness. At what expense are many to support the pride of life, and to maintain the superfluities of naughtiness! The day is coming when they will bitterly lament the misapplication of wealth, and the want of a heart, in their fulness, for a ready yieldance to God.
2. Many hands, as well as many hearts, were in the work (Exodus 35:26). And how delightful is it to see the spiritual temple rising, and each employed as skill given him! Where there are hearts, hands will not be wanting. We see many employed about the great building God has in progress, and what has set them to work but love? It is this that is the great moving power in the machinery of those many institutions which are in truth the bulwark and glory of the land. (W. Seaton.)
The Tabernacle entire
We think the Tabernacle in its entireness was emblematical of--
1. The incarnation. The glory of Jehovah filled it.
2. The Church. Unity in diversity, and diversity in unity.
3. The believer. As respects both his
(1) present, and
(2) future being. Weak and imperfect now; to be glorified hereafter
4. The millennial kingdom (Revelation 21:3-4). (W. Mudge.)
Design and use of the ceremonial law
1. It served to cherish the religious sentiment. The Israelite was reminded by it in all his relations, even the most significant and external, of God; the thought of God was introduced into the very midst of the popular life.
2. It required the recognition of sin, and thus called forth the first thing essential for the reception of redemption, a sense of the need of redemption. The law was, and was intended to be, a heavy yoke, and therefore would awaken a longing after the Redeemer.
3. It served to separate Israel from the heathen; it erected between the two a wall of separation, by which communication was prevented.
4. Many things in the Ceremonial Law served, by impressions on the senses, to awaken reverence for holy things among a sensual people.
5. One principal object of the Ceremonial Law lay in its symbolic meaning. The people, enthralled in visible objects, were not yet capable of vitally appropriating supersensual truth in words, the form most suited to their nature. It was needful for the truth to condescend, to come down to their power of apprehension, to prepare itself a body from visible things, in order to free the people from the bondage of the visible. Would we rather not speak at all to the dumb than make use of signs? The Ceremonial Law was not the opposite to the worship of God in spirit and in truth, but only an imperfect form of the same, a necessary preparation for it. The accommodation was only formal, one which did not alter the essence, but only presented it in large capital letters to children who could not yet read a small running-hand. (E. W. Hengstenberg, D. D.)
The basis of symbolism
The altar was the basis of the sacred places, the priesthood was the basis of the sacred persons, the burnt-offerings were the basis of the sacred rites, and the Sabbath was the basis of the sacred times. Here we discover the links that connect the Ceremonial Laws given by Moses with the primeval ordinances of religion. In the altar set up in the family of Adam we have the genesis of the Tabernacle and Temple. At the beginning the minister of sacrifice was the patriarch of the existing family, and his sacred office passed over to the Mosaic priesthood. In the offering of the blood by Abel and the offering by fire of Noah, we discover the germs of the Jewish ritual. The Sabbath ordained in Paradise became the central institute in the sacred times appointed by Moses. (E. P. Humphrey, D. D.)
The Tabernacle a tent
The Tabernacle was a tent; it was a costly building, but still it was a tent; it was God’s tent in which He lived and walked with His people in the wilderness (Exodus 25:8; Num 9:15; 2 Samuel 7:6; Acts 7:38-50). As His people were dwelling in tents, God would have a tent, and would live with them as their Guide and their Guard, their Father and their King; but afterward, when they were settled in the land of Canaan and dwelt in celled houses, He permitted them to build Him a house at Jerusalem, which He then filled with His presence as He had before filled the Tabernacle. As God dwelt in the Tabernacle and afterwards in the Temple, and as men must then come to the Tabernacle or to the Temple to get to God, so God dwells in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:19), and all who would come to God must come to Christ: in no other way can any one get to God (John 14:6; John 6:37). Moreover, as there was but one Tabernacle, so there is but one Christ, and none can be saved from the wrath to come but those who come to Him; and as a man must come out of the camp to get to the Tabernacle, so a man must come out from the world, must be separated from it in spirit, before he can be really in Christ. (G. Rodgers.)
The edifice of the Tabernacle
Moses received on Sinai not only a command to make the Tabernacle, but plans and specifications according to which the work was to be executed. Its ground-plan was a parallelogram forty-five feet in length, and fifteen feet in width. The material was of shittim, a species of acacia, the timber of which has a rich black colour like ebony, and is eminently light, solid, strong, and smooth. The frame of the Tabernacle consisted of forty-eight pieces of this acacia wood standing on end. Eight of them were at the rear, and twenty on each side; the front being left open to be covered with a curtain. They were each fifteen feet long, and, unless the two outside pieces on the rear end were exceptions, twenty-seven inches wide. The description of the corner planks is obscure, but favours the opinion that each consisted of two pieces fastened together at a right angle; so that it was a corner-plank not merely because it stood at the corner, but because it formed an angle. On the lower end of each of the planks, two tenons were wrought, to correspond with mortises in the sills on which it was to stand. Possibly there were also tenons and mortises on the edges where the planks came together; but of this we have no certain knowledge. Such a connection of one plank with another, by tenon and mortise, would give greater strength to the frame, but might not be necessary in addition to the horizontal bars which bound the planks together. There were five such bars on each side, and five on the rear, made of acacia wood, and overlaid with gold. These gilded planks when erected, stood on a base, or sill, of silver, which extended perhaps a little way both outward and inward, from the wall termed by the planks, and was divided into twice as many pieces as there were planks; so that each of the latter stood on two separate pieces of the base, one of its two tenons being inserted into a corresponding cavity in each division of the base. Besides the planks which formed the wall of the Tabernacle, there were four pillars, to support a curtain across the interior of the building, dividing it into two apartments, and five pillars to support another curtain over the entrance at the east end of the edifice. The four pillars for the partition-curtain stood on sills, or socket-pieces of silver, and the five for the entrance-curtain on sills of copper. The wooden frame of the Tabernacle having been prepared, it was necessary to cover it with suitable hangings, or curtains. Of these there were four layers; the innermost so far excelling the others in importance, that it was sometimes denominated “The Tabernacle,” as if all else appertaining to the edifice were subsidiary to this. The frame, indeed, seems to have been chiefly designed to give support to the beautiful drapery with which it was covered. In the conception of a Hebrew travelling through the wilderness from Sinai to Canaan, the Tabernacle where Jehovah dwelt was of cloth, as was his own habitation. It was, indeed, of a more beautiful fabric than the other tents of the encampment, which were doubtless of goats’ hair, like those of the nomadic inhabitants of the same region at the present day, while the Tabernacle of God was of fine linen variegated with brilliant colours. The several parts of the sanctuary having been constructed, it still remained to make an enclosure for the court in which it was to stand. The prescribed dimensions of this area were one hundred and fifty feet for the length, and seventy-five feet for the width. It was to be enclosed with hangings of cloth made of fine white linen, not interwoven, like the curtains of the Tabernacle, with figures and colours, but, so far as appears, woven plain. That portion of it, however, which covered the entrance-way at the east end of the court, was variegated with colours of blue, purple, and crimson. The height of these hangings was seven feet and a half; and they were suspended on pillars by means of silver hooks, the pillars standing on sills of copper. The distance between these pillars was equal to the height of the hangings, i.e., seven and a half feet. They were connected by a silver rod, or fillet, extending from one capital to another. The Tabernacle was to stand near the western end of this enclosure, and midway, doubtless, between its northern and southern curtains. A large area was therefore left in front of the edifice for the performance of those rites of worship which were appropriate to the place. (E. E. Atwater.)
The oneness of the Tabernacle
(see Exodus 26:6). It is to be one Tabernacle--not in the sense of singleness and uniqueness, as if God had forbidden more than one Tabernacle to be constructed for His service--but in the sense of a real and profound unity. By the golden taches or clasps binding together the curtains which covered it, the whole structure was made one tent or tabernacle, and all its parts and objects were united. Unity is the hall-mark which God stamps upon all His works. It is His autograph written in the stars of heaven and in the flowers of the field, attesting that they all proceed from the same Mind. The universe is a great kaleidoscope which He is perpetually turning round, in which a few simple elements are exhibited in endless diversity; in which the variety is not more wonderful than the unity.
1. In unfolding this sublime lesson, let us look, in the first place, at the illustration of it which the Tabernacle itself afforded. This remarkable structure was one in regard to its parts. Each vessel has its own distinct use, and each can be viewed apart from the others; and yet in every act of priestly service, all are joined together, and are in active operation at the same time. It needs the combination of the whole to make a complete and perfect act of worship, just as it needs the harmomous action of all the members of the body to constitute the act of living. And just as the golden taches link the curtains of the Tabernacle together, and make of them one covering for one structure, so the smaller golden vessels attached to the golden candlestick, the altar of incense, and the shewbread table--the tongs, snuff-dishes, spoons, and censer--linked together the different vessels of the sanctuary into one ministration, forming in this way one golden chain of service simultaneously carried on in the presence of God in behalf of Israel.
2. The words of the Lord to Moses have a wider reference than to the immediate object which called them forth. They may be applied to nature. It may be said that the Tabernacle pointed back to the creation. It was a symbol of the great world of nature, as at once manifesting and concealing God. It was, indeed, as a Rosetta stone, to explain to man the spiritual hieroglyphics in the typology of nature, which had become dark and insignificant to him when he sinned and fell, that God devised the clearer typology of the Tabernacle, and set the cherubim, which were the symbols of creation in connection with the redemption of man, above the mercy-seat in its holiest place, and embroidered them on the veil that divided the outer from the inner sanctuary. There was no typical object or service in the Tabernacle which might not have been seen in nature if man had not lost the key of interpretation. If the creation be thus a greater Tabernacle, in which all the objects are meant to show forth the praise of God, and to symbolize His work of grace, we should expect to find in it the same unity, the same oneness of design and harmony of all parts, that we see in the Jewish Tabernacle; and this is what we actually find. This is the great lesson which modern science has taught us so effectually.
3. But not only did the Tabernacle repeat in miniature the whole creation as God’s dwelling-place, it also more especially typified the new creation--the Church of God. Under all the varying dispensations of His grace, God’s Church has been one The Jews were in the outer court because the way into the holiest was not yet made manifest. Gentiles, by the new and living way opened up through the rent veil of Christ’s flesh, have entered into the inner shrine. But Jews and Gentiles alike are now united in one communion and fellowship in Christ. The Saviour the Jews looked forward to in rites and sacrifices, we look back to in the ordinances of the gospel. The religion that was veiled to them has been unveiled to us. They saw the types and shadows; we behold the living and glorious realities. Over all is the tabernacling of the same God; and the Church of Jews and Gentiles is “built upon the foundation,” etc.
4. The Tabernacle was the Bible of the Israelites. God taught them by its object-lessons in their childhood and pupilage in the wilderness. But that age of shadows and symbols has disappeared; man has passed from the childhood’s stage of education into the higher school. We have been trained for a clearer perception and a fuller possession of the truth. God has given to us His own written Word, in which His thoughts are woven with man’s thoughts, making of the whole Book the speech to the world of Emmanuel, God with us.
5. Man’s body is a tabernacle--the greatest of all temples. It is fearfully and wonderfully made, the very highest possible form of organization, the masterpiece of creation. (H. Macmillan, D. D.)
Means of interpretation
There are means of interpretation by the aid of which one may decipher the symbols of the Hebrews as correctly as Champollion deciphered the hieroglyphics of Egypt.
I. First in the table may be placed the parallelism between the mosaic system, as otherwise ascertained, and its symbolic representation. The writings of Moses, like the Greek translation of the Rosetta stone give a clue to the meaning of what otherwise might be illegible.
II. Another key of interpretation is found in the scriptural explanation of symbols. For instance, in the Apocalypse incense is explained as symbolizing the prayers of the holy; and fine linen is explained as meaning, when used for garments, that those thus arrayed were holy.
III. The design of the Tabernacle as declared in the directions for its construction, equipment, and services, is a key to its significance. If the edifice was a symbol it signified that Jehovah dwelt among the Israelites. It represented His true habitation, wherever and of whatever nature it may be, and the spiritual intercourse between Him and those who worship. Moreover, it was equipped in such a manner as to provide for ministrations expressive of atonement, restoration to favour, assurance of reconciliation, and acceptable service; and was thus both a sign and a seal of the covenant relation and of the presence of Jehovah.
IV. The scriptural appellations of the Tabernacle are a means of interpretation.
V. The symbolism Of nature is an important means of interpretation.
VI. Another means of interpretation is the artificial symbolism of the ancients. Kings wear crowns, and sit on thrones; and so crowns and thrones indicate royalty. Among the ancients purple was worn by those in authority, and so became the badge of power and distinction. The temples of the Hindoos, the Chinese, the Chaldeans, and the Egyptians, were built with an adherence to certain forms, proportions, and repetitions, which leaves no room for doubt that their sacred architecture was significant, and that with some difference in the ideas expressed, and some variety in the mode of expressing the same ideas, they employed the relations of geometry and arithmetic to represent the objects of their religious thought. Colour was employed for the same purpose. The three kingdoms of nature--animal, vegetable, mineral--were also made to subserve this artificial symbolism. (E. E. Atwater.)
Gold, and silver, and brass.
Symbolism of minerals
Gold, silver, and jewels have in all ages and countries been regarded as significant of wealth, rank, power. The use of the precious metals for money has, however, rendered it impossible that they should exert in modern times as much influence on the imagination as when used only as insignia.
1. It is quite certain that in the time of Moses gold had not been coined, and was not often used, even by weight, as a medium of exchange. There is a warrant in nature as well as in the universal custom of antiquity, for this employment of the most splendid of the metals to illustrate the highest possible dignity and glory; for it never fails to excite in the mind of the beholder feelings of admiration and awe. Hence, as an emblem, it was among metals what purple was among colours, and found its most appropriate place on the persons and in the habitations of kings and gods. The dedication of a large amount of gold to the service of religion was, therefore, not peculiar to the Hebrews. It was the universal custom of the age thus to do homage to the objects of worship. But, as Mosaism allowed no images of Jehovah, the symbolism of gold must be confined to His habitation and its furniture. It is worthy of observation, then, that the God of the Hebrews dwelt in a golden house.
2. If the Tabernacle of Jehovah was splendid by contrast between it and the ordinary tents of the surrounding encampment, it seems to have been designedly rendered still more splendid by the ordained distinction between the Tabernacle and its court. For while the walls of the dwelling and all its utensils were of gold, so that (with the exception of the sill) no other metal was visible within, the furniture of the court must, according to the specifications furnished to Moses, be of copper. The significance of copper seems to depend chiefly on its rank among the metals, being more esteemed than iron, and less so than silver and gold. As a metal of honour and beauty, it was an appropriate material for the utensils of Divine service, and by its inferiority to gold furnished a background on which the latter seemed more splendid by contrast. Its resemblance to gold deepened the symbolic significance conveyed by the exclusive use of one of the metals in the court, and of the other within the habitation.
3. Between the copper outside and the gold inside, silver was the mediating metal, being found both on the sill of the sanctuary and on the caps of the pillars around the sacred enclosure, to indicate by another sign that the house was higher in honour than the area in front, so much higher that its sill was of the same material as the crowning ornament of the court. Silver was at that time in common use as money; if not in the shape of coin, certainly of bullion, which, when weighed, was current with the merchant (Genesis 23:16). Now, this silver which had been wrought partly into the sill of the Tabernacle and partly into the caps of the pillars around the court, had been used as money. Indeed, it came into the possession of Moses in half-shekels, which the people had paid as “atonement money,” “every man a ransom for his soul” (Exodus 30:12; Exodus 30:16). The services of the court culminated in redemption, and not till they were redeemed could the people, even representatively, enter the sanctuary. The shining silver on the top of the pillars of the enclosure was “a memorial to the children of Israel before Jehovah to make an atonement for their souls” (Exodus 30:16), i.e., a permanent reminder that their sins were expiated; and the sill of the sanctuary, into which the greater part of the ransom-money had been molten, was a token that in consequence of their redemption God dwelt among them, and received them to His fellowship. The silver, “as an expiation for souls, pointed to the unholiness of Israel’s nature, and reminded the people continually that by nature it was alienated from God, and could only remain in covenant with the Lord, and live in His kingdom, on the ground of His grace which covered its sin.” May not the apostle have had this ransom-money in mind when he said to the people of the new covenant, “Ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ”? (E. E. Atwater.)
Gifts of materials for the construction of the Tabernacle
Many chapels are burdened with a load of debt occasioned by the bad habit of congregations building, either wholly or in part, with borrowed money. But the Hebrews acted more nobly than such builders, for they collected by voluntary contributions the entire materials with which the sanctuary was constructed ere they began to build (Exodus 25:1-9; Exodus 35:4-9; Exodus 35:20-30). Their free-will offering for the work of the Tabernacle is, in many respects, the most splendid one that was ever given for the purpose of raising a place of worship. (W. Brown.)
Foremost in the procession of willing-hearted offerers came men and women bringing “bracelets, and ear-rings, and seal-rings, and tablets,” all of gold (Exodus 35:22), till the heap comprised many thousands of articles, and weighed no less than 29 talents and 730 shekels (Exodus 38:24), equal to 43,865 ounces, the value of which at the present day is f180,000 sterling. (W. Brown.)
Gold was contributed by men and women, but silver by men only. This, however, was not on account of the women, who cheerfully gave their gold ornaments, refusing to part with their silver ones, but because silver was to be taken from none but adult males, who were required to give half a shekel each as a ransom for the soul (person) (Exodus 30:11-16). The sum of the silver brought was 100 talents and 1775 shekels, or 301,775 shekels (Exodus 38:25-27), which proves that every one of the 603,550 men comprising the Hebrew encampment paid the price of his redemption. This was done, however, not by compulsion, but freely; the silver as well as the gold was to be a free-will offering (Exodus 25:2-3). The whole was equal to 150,887 ½ ounces, and would now realize £40,000 sterling, Silver appears to have been the only metal used as money by the Hebrews, at least up to the period of the Exodus, and this circumstance no doubt accounts for the ransom price being paid in silver (Genesis 23:15; Genesis 37:28). (W. Brown.)
Gold and silver were the most precious metals, but brass (copper) was also needed for the work of the Tabernacle, and those who possessed it--and amongst them might be some who had no gold to bestow--brought 70 talents and 2,400 shekels (Exodus 38:29), equal to 106,200 ounces. The original word rendered brass in the text is from a Hebrew root signifying to shine. (W. Brown.)
Typical import of materials
1. Gold. Type of the Divine glory of the Lord Jesus as Son of God.
2. Silver. The preciousness of the Lord Jesus as the Ransom for the sinner.
3. Brass. The power of the Lord Jesus to endure the cross, because He is God.
4. Blue. The manifestation of God as love, in the ways and death of Christ.
5. Purple. The manifestation of the God-Man, God manifest in the flesh.
6. Scarlet. The manifestation of the true dignity and glory of man as seen in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of Man.
7. Fine linen. The righteous man exhibiting to the eye of faith “the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”
8. Goats’hair. The memorial of the death of the Lord Jesus as the offering for sin.
9. Rams’skins dyed red. The outward aspect of Christ as the Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Born in this world to die.
10. Badgers’skins. The outward aspect of Christ, as having no form nor comeliness to the heart of the natural man.
11. Shittim wood. The Lord Jesus, the incorruptible Man. “That holy thing,” the Son of God.
12. Oil for the light. The Lord Jesus as the light; filled with the Spirit.
13. Spices for anointing oil. The graces of the Spirit in all their fulness manifested by the Christ.
14. Spices for sweet incense. The fragrant graces of Christ made manifest on the cross, and perpetuated in His intercession.
15. Onyx stones, and stones to be set in the ephod and the breastplate. The glory and brilliancy of the Heavenly One reflected also in His saints. (H. W. Soltau.)
Offerings accompanied with devotion
Almost every hill in Mongolia is adorned with a cairn of stones on the very top. This cairn is a thing of the Mongolian religion. When it is determined to erect one, men, women, and children turn out and gather stones, repeating prayers over each stone; and thus the raised heap represents much devotion on the part of the gatherers. Oh, that all contributions in Christian lands for Christian objects were raised in the same way. Gifts are good, but gifts accompanied by heart-felt devotion are better. (S. S. Chronicle.)
The pocket converted
John Wesley used to say that he never believed in a man’s conversion until his pocket was converted.
A Divine plan for building
There is a beautiful story told of the plan by which Strasburg Cathedral was made. The architect, Erwin von Steinbach, who was given the commission to build it, was greatly troubled lest he should not get his plan sufficiently noble. He had a daughter named Sabine, who was skilful in drawing, and one night, after they had wept together over the plans, she said to her father, “Don’t despair; God will help us.” After she fell asleep she dreamed that a beautiful angel came, and when she had told her story, said; “You shall make the plan for the minster.” The angel and Sabine then set to work, and soon the plan was done. When she awoke she uttered a loud scream, for there was a paper before her covered with wonderful drawing. Her father exclaimed, “Child, it was no dream. The angel really visited you, bringing the inspiration from heaven to help us.” He built the cathedral after the plan, and it was so beautiful that the people really believed the story. (Great Thoughts.)
Blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine linen.--
Symbolism of colour
The symbolism of colour in the Tabernacle was confined to the curtains of the edifice and the garments of its priesthood, both of which were of fine-twined linen, blue, purple, and crimson. The four colours indicated all inhered in the same material subjected to different processes of manufacture; the fine thread of the byssus being in one process bleached to the greatest possible whiteness, and in the other three dyed with blue, purple, and crimson.
1. That white linen was employed as a symbol, appears from many passages of the New Testament, where its significance is declared and explained. It was a representative of light, resembling it somewhat in colour (Matthew 17:2), but more in brightness (Luke 9:29; Luke 24:4; Mark 9:3), and purity (Revelation 19:8; Revelation 19:14; Revelation 15:6).
2. The Hebrew word rendered “blue” is primarily the name of a shell-fish, and derivatively of the dye yielded by it. If Moses would represent that Jehovah, whose dwelling is in heaven, had come down to earth to dwell with His covenant people, how could he do it better than by employing in the habitation made with hands the azure hue of the visible heaven? If he wished to teach that the priests, and the sacrifices they offered were an “example and shadow of heavenly things,” how pertinent would it be to weave into their official attire threads of that cerulean tint, which in his day communicated such thoughts to the eye as are now conveyed to the ear by the audible pronunciation of the word “heaven”!
3. Cloth of purple was much prized by the Greeks and Romans, who included under this appellation a wide range of colour, extending from red slightly tinged with blue to shades in which the blue was predominant; the dye being in all cases derived from shell-fish. In the earlier days of Rome, purple had been worn only by magistrates as a badge of office; but the progress of wealth and luxury was afterward so great, that the first of the emperors thought it necessary to put restriction on the use of it in order to preserve the significance of the ancient symbol; and eventually certain fabrics of this colour, including those held in highest estimation, were entirely interdicted to the Roman citizens, and reserved for the exclusive use of the imperial household. In the employment of purple as a mark of official distinction, the Romans followed the custom of some, if not all older nations (see Judges 8:26; Daniel 5:7, margin). Not only kings, emperors, and their subordinates in civil authority, wore this colour, but sometimes priests, as a mark of honour to their office and the deities they served. Even the images of the gods were adorned with raiment of purple. The appearance of this colour, then, in the curtains of the Hebrew Tabernacle marked that central edifice as the habitation of the Ruler of the encampment. The purple in the garments of the priests indicated that they belonged to the royal household, and were officers of the King.
4. The two Hebrew words which taken together are rendered “scarlet,” denote a colour derived from an insect called by naturalists coccus ilicis, found in large quantities on certain species of the oak. The Arabic name of the insect is kermes, the root of our word “crimson.” The only natural object to which the tint is applied in the Old Testament is the lips (Song of Solomon 4:3). It seems probable (see Genesis 38:28; Leviticus 14:4-7; Numbers 19:6; Joshua 2:18) that this colour was used as a symbol of life; deriving this significance from blood, which was itself the vehicle and representative of the vital force. (E. E. Atwater.)
1. Blue, being the colour of the heaven, as it appears to man looking up into it, may be regarded not unnaturally as speaking of God. The Israelites were bidden to have fringes on the borders of their garments, and upon the fringe of the borders a ribband of blue (Numbers 15:38), doubtless to be a perpetual reminder to them in their daily life that, they were the people of God.
2. Scarlet, or red, is the colour which, after blue, occurs most frequently in connection with the Tabernacle. As blue speaks of God the Creator, so red, or scarlet, speaks of the world, or of man the creature.
3. Purple is formed from the intermingling of scarlet and blue, and thus corresponds to twelve among numbers, which is the result of three multiplied into four, and is, therefore, the colour of the Incarnation. In the Tabernacle, purple appears side by side with blue and scarlet in the interior hangings, in the veils, and in the vestments of the high-priest. When we remember that the Tabernacle, as a whole, was a type of the Word who “tabernacles in us” (John 1:14), we shall not, I think, find it difficult to acquiesce in the suggestion of a devout and learned writer, that “the purple appears to have foreshadowed the hypostatical union, i.e., the union of the Divine and human natures in the person of our Lord.” It would seem to have been selected to reveal the intimacy and perfection of this union; and the constituent colours of purple, red, and blue, to have been set in juxtaposition with it, to teach that, although the two natures are thus combined in Him, yet are they not absorbed in each other, as if the Divine had been lost in the human, or the human in the Divine, but ever remain to co-exist, notwithstanding their most perfect union.
4. The three colours already spoken of were conjoined with the whiteness of fine linen. White is symbolic of cleansing from sin (Isaiah 1:18; cf. Revelation 7:14; Psalms 51:7). White is also symbolical of perfect dazzling holiness (Daniel 7:9; cf. Revelation 6:2; Revelation 14:14; Revelation 19:11; Revelation 20:11). In the Tabernacle the fine white linen would tell of the purity and holiness which results from that union of the Divine with the human which was already indicated by the three colours with which it was conjoined. The great lesson, therefore, which everywhere met the eye of the worshipper in the fine linen hangings of the outer court, and in the blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine-twined linen of the veils, and sacerdotal vestments, was none other than this, “Ye shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” (E. F. Willis, M. A.)
Goats’hair formed part of the free-will offerings of the Israelites (Exodus 35:23). Many of the goats of the East have black hair, of which cloth is made for tent coverings, but there are some species of goats which have fine white silky hair, among which is the Angora goat, and not a few writers are of opinion that it was hair of this sort with which the tent of the Tabernacle was made. (W. Brown.)
The Israelites, being rich in flocks and herds, would have no difficulty in supplying rams’skins. Those brought by the Israelites (Exodus 35:23) were dyed, and probably tanned. “Leather of this very description (says Dr. Thomson) is still sold in Syrian towns. From time out of mind the southern part of Syria and Palestine has been supplied with mutton from the great plains and deserts in the north, east, and south; and the shepherds do not ordinarily bring the females to market. The vast flocks which annually come from Armenia and northern Syria are nearly all males. The leather, therefore, is literally ‘rams’ skins dyed red.’” (W. Brown.)
The Hebrews brought badgers’ (tachash) as well as rams’skins. It is generally admitted that “badger” is a wrong interpretation of the Hebrew word “tachash,” but the learned are not agreed as to what animal is intended. Some are of opinion that it was a fish, and others that it was a quadruped; but whether it swam the ocean or ranged the forest, it was likely a large and powerful creature, since its skin was used for the sacred tent’s outer covering, which doubtless required to be of a tough and strong nature. This would not, however, prevent the skins from being made suitable for ornamental purposes. Sandals formed of these skins appear to have been worn by ladies when dressed in the most costly and splendid attire, and decked with the most precious ornaments; “I have shod thee with badgers’ skins” (Ezekiel 16:10); so there can be little doubt that the outer covering or roof of the Tabernacle was not only strong, but also beautiful and ornamental. It is not improbable that the shoes or sandals of the Israelites were also made of this material; and if they were, it was as effectual in defending their feet as it was in preserving the Tabernacle from those influences that might have been hurtful to it. “Thy foot did not swell these forty years?’ (W. Brown.)
Make an ark.
I. The veil, by which the ark was hidden from view. This veil of the Tabernacle was the same as that which subsequently hung in the Temple, and was rent in twain when our Lord expired on the Cross. We may look at it from two points of view, considering what it symbolized when it was an unrent veil, and what the rending of it signifies. The unrent veil was a symbol of darkness and difficulty. To the Jew, it shut out his view of heavenly things, and obstructed his way of approach to them. That veil was a concealing thing. All that stood behind it was effectually hidden from sight. But that Most Holy Place represented heaven. And thus, by the unrent veil, as St. Paul says: “The Holy Ghost thus signified, that the way into the Holiest of all was not yet made manifest” (Hebrews 9:8). That unrent veil was a darkening thing. It was at the same time an obstructing thing. It barred the entrance to the heavenly place. The holiest and best of God’s people could not pass within that veil. The high-priest alone might enter, and he but once a year. But what does the rent veil signify? of course the opposite of that which the unrent veil represented. Jesus, we know, came as “the light of the world.” He is the revealer of secrets; the unraveller of mysteries.
II. The place in which the ark stood. The dimensions of this part of the Tabernacle were those of a cube. The measure of its sides, its ceiling, and its floor was all the same. The cube is the most perfect of all forms, the natural emblem of perfection. And as the form of this place denoted its perfection, so did the material of which it was composed. Gold, pure gold was the material. This met the eye on every side. Gold is the purest and most precious of the metals. In its way, too, gold stands as the symbol of perfection. When we say of a thing that it reaches the golden stage, we say that which expresses the highest idea of its development. And then the furniture of this hallowed place spoke the same language. This told of perfection too. And what was this? One object alone met the eye here. This was that great central object of interest in this whole sacred structure--that keystone of this arch--that sun in the midst of this grand system--that gem in the heaven-formed ring of these hallowed services--the ark of the covenant.
III. The structure of the ark. This ark was a symbol of Christ. The constituent parts of it seemed to represent the two natures of our Saviour. The wood of the ark aptly emblemized the human nature of Christ. The tree from which this wood was obtained had its growth in the wilderness. And so in the development of His humanity, it was declared of Christ that “He should grow up like a root out of a dry ground.” The acacia wood was incorruptible. It was not subject to decay. And it is just so with the humanity of Christ. That humanity experienced no decay in life; it was the subject of none in death. He saw no corruption in the grave. He will see none for ever. And in like manner the gold of the ark represented Christ’s Divinity.
IV. The contents of the ark. The two tables of the law were preserved in the ark. This was a very significant fact. It illustrates two important truths. It proclaims the perfect righteousness and the absolute security of the children of the covenant. In conclusion: How striking are some of the points of contrast between the Jewish and the Christian ark. The one was composed of created materials. The time had been when the wood and the gold, wrought up into the form of the ark, had no existence. The other, as to the most important part of His being, at least, was constituted “from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the world was.” (R. Newton, D. D.)
The ark of the testimony: the transient symbol of an eternal truth
I. The ark may be taken as symbolical of the Divine presence, or the Divine plan in human life. It was a visible form of an invisible power.
1. In the ark, for example, you find law. See, too, the peculiar place occupied by law: the ark is in the Tabernacle; not only in the Tabernacle, but in the most sacred part of that sacred place; not only in the holiest part of the holy house, but actually in the midst of the ark is found the immutable law of God. Thus we have law at the very centre and heart of things! That which is at the heart of things is right: not something fickle, eccentric, tantalizing; but law, righteousness, God!
2. But, happily, the ark represents something more than law; and every reflective man will acknowledge that in the system within which we live, there is a mystery for which some gentler name than law must be found. The lid of the ark was the seat of mercy. It signified propitiation, favour, mediation, ground and medium of communion with God. Study that tender symbol a moment, if you please. Law, in coming up from the centre, comes through the lid or covering of mercy; it is, so to speak, attempered, or it would come like a sword, or a fire, or a judgment terrible in righteousness. On the other hand, starting the movement from the outside, in our appeal to law we go through the medium of mercy. We do not, dare not, challenge the law in its own name or on its own merits. “By the deeds of the law shall no flesh living be justified.” Our approach is through mercy, and our daily prayer is, “God be merciful unto me a sinner.”
II. We now pass onward to notice a few remarkable points in the history of the ark. In doing this, we shall be more careful about the spiritual teaching than about the mere chronology of that history, and thus we shall secure closer continuity of doctrine and illustration.
1. As our song is to be of mercy and judgment, it will be grateful to us first to see how the mercy of the Lord was revealed amongst His people (see Numbers 10:1-36). Unquestionably there is a law of movement. We must go forward. How? Into darkness? Into danger? Into thickening mysteries that bring with them sevenfold darkness, and trouble that makes the soul afraid? No; we are offered guidance, defence, and rest!
2. As we have thus seen the goodness of the Lord, we may now behold also His severity, as shown here and there in the history of the ark. Fall of Jericho, Dagon, Bethshemesh, Uzza. Will man attempt to eke out the failing strength of Omnipotence? Doth it become us to watch the stars lest they fall, or to open the clouds at dawn lest the sun should miss his way? Shall we appoint ourselves the special guardians of the truth, and surround it with our defences, lest God should have no foothold on His own earth?
III. We now come still more closely to practical applications. Here and there in the course of the study we have indicated one or two modern bearings of the subject, which admit of obvious amplification. Let us look at one or two others. The Israelites had a visible symbol of the Divine presence so long as they retained the ark in their midst. It was something to look at--something for the heart to stay itself upon in the time of fear and trouble. But look at our own case. Are we not left without a centre that can be seen, and without a locality sanctified above all other places? Have we not fallen on mean times--all poetry dead and gone, all music hushed for ever? To such questionings the Scriptures give a distinct reply. They tell us that ours are the brightest and noblest of all the days of time (see 2 Corinthians 3:7-8; Jeremiah 3:16). The local has become the universal, and all things are inscribed--“Holy unto the Lord.” That law and mercy are still at the heart of things is a truth which is acknowledged in some form even by others than Christian believers; but by Christian believers it ought to be ardently and gratefully maintained as at once the glory and the security of life. And yet we are not left without a visible sign of God’s presence. So long as we have the Bible we have the ark of the covenant. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Of all the appurtenances of the Tabernacle, the highest in the estimation of the Hebrews was a chest of acacia wood three feet and nine inches in length, two feet and three inches both in width and in height, plated within and without with gold, which they called the ark. Around it was a band of gold called a crown. This name would seem to indicate that the band was wrought in imitation of leaves and flowers, a crown having originally consisted of such materials, and having retained the semblance of them when the perishable chaplet gave place to the unfading gold. The specifications do not state how far from the base of the ark this crown was attached; and some have assumed that, as a crown, it must necessarily have been placed at the top. It may however have been merely an ornamental band of gold, wrought in imitation of leaves and flowers, and attached just above the rings and staves, by means of which the ark was borne from place to place. The rings just mentioned were of solid metal, like the ornamental cincture, and four in number, one at each corner. They held in place two staves of acacia wood overlaid with gold, by means of which the Levites might bear the ark on their shoulders. The lid of the ark was of pure, solid gold; and two cherubs of the same material stood upon it, one at each end, face to face, and stretching forth their wings over the ark. The position and attitude of these figures make it, necessary to infer that they were of small size; but their exact measure is not known. This golden cover was called the mercy-seat, or throne of grace; and is sometimes mentioned by this name, as if it were something independent of the ark. More frequently, however, it is in some way connected with the sacred coffer beneath. It was in particular what the whole Tabernacle was, the dwelling-place of Jehovah, the place where He would meet His people; it was the point in which the significance of the whole institution centred. Within the ark were deposited, according to the direction given to Moses, the two tablets of stone on which Jehovah had written with His own finger the words of the Ten Commandments. There has been a difference of opinion on the question whether the ark contained anything more than the two tablets of stone. From statements in Exodus 16:33-34 and Numbers 17:6-10, it appears that Aaron’s rod and the pot of manna were deposited near, but not within, the ark. But this does not forbid the supposition that afterward (see Hebrews 9:4-5) they were kept within the ark, till, in some way unknown to us, they were lost. On such an hypothesis, the passage in 1 Kings 8:9, which testifies of what was the case on the day when the ark was deposited in the Temple, has a deeper significance than if the ark had never contained anything but the tablets of stone. The appointed place for the ark of the covenant was in the holy of holies; where it probably stood in the middle of the chamber, with the longer sides toward the east and the west respectively, and the cherubs looking northward and southward toward each other. (E. E. Atwater.)
Was the ark a treasure chest? In Christ dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead. Was it a small chest? Christ made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant. Was it made after a heavenly pattern? Christ came down from heaven. Was it made of wood? Behold the Man! Was it made of incorruptible wood? Behold the purity of His character! Was it overlaid within and without with gold? Behold your God! God was in Christ. The Spirit of the Lord was upon Him. Had it a crown of gold round about? Behold your King! Had it rings and staves that it might be moved from place to place? “I will give to Jerusalem one that bringeth good tidings.” Were the staves always to be in the rings? Christ is always ready to bless and to save. “The Lord was ready to save me.” The staves in the rings give a warning to the careless. Privileges despised may soon be removed. (R E. Sears.)
And shalt make upon it a crown of gold round about.
The crowns of gold around the holy vessels of the tabernacle
There is nothing insignificant in God’s universe. Everything that He has made has a meaning and a purpose. There is not a curl in a cloud, or a curve in a leaf, or a tint on a blossom, but has a reason for it, and speaks of its origin. We may be sure that the Jews at the time read in these objects moral and spiritual truths that had a direct practical bearing upon their daily religious life. I wish to deal in this manner with one of the details in the construction of the Tabernacle, to which attention is not usually directed, because it seems a very insignificant and unimportant feature. You place under the microscope a single hair of cotton-wool, which to the naked eye is so fine as to be little more than visible. In this magnified fibre you see a peculiar twist, produced by its mode of growth in the cotton-pod. You would think that twist of no consequence or meaning, and yet it is by means of this peculiarity that the fibre can unite with other fibres, and form together a thread strong enough to be woven. Without this apparently accidental irregularity on the surface of a hair, it would be impossible to spin cotton thread or to weave cotton cloth; and thus one of the staple manufactures of one of the greatest nations in the world would not have come into existence, and mankind would have lacked the principal material of their clothing. You see about the end of June, hanging out of the ears of the green corn when it is in flower, slender white filaments tipped with a powdery substance. These are the vital organs by which the grains of corn are formed and filled; and without their agency, the whole produce of the fields would fail, and there would be no bread for man. As it is with these details of nature that seem so insignificant, and yet in reality are so important, so it is with the crown of gold that was round about the ark, and the table of shewbread and the altar of incense, which seems at first an insignificant detail. It was purposely designed by God, and is full of meaning to us. Now what did this feature mean? The word translated “crown” in the text occurs only in connection with the holy vessels of the tabernacle. It means literally a border or rim of wreathed work; and it comes from a root which signifies to bind together. This border or rim was put upon the top of the ark, and of the table of shewbread, and of the altar of incense, projecting a little beyond the sides of these vessels, in order that the objects placed upon them might not slip off. Usually there was no danger of this when the vessels remained in their appointed places in the stationary Tabernacle. But from time to time the Tabernacle had to be taken down when the Israelites required to remove their camp and journey to another place in the wilderness. These vessels had therefore to be transported along with them. But there was this significant distinction between them and the rest of the furniture and frame work of the Tabernacle--that while the other articles were removed in waggons by means of oxen, the holy vessels had to be carried by the hands of man. For this purpose they were furnished with rings at their sides, through which staves were passed, by the help of which the Levites bore them in front of the cavalcade, without daring to touch them. It may be asked why was it of so much consequence that the objects belonging to the sacred vessels should be kept unmoved in their proper places? Look first at the mercy-seat or lid of the ark--why must it not be displaced in the slightest degree? The ark, we know, contained the two tables of stone, on which was inscribed the law which promised life on condition of obedience, but threatened death without mercy against transgression. At Sinai the Israelites entered into a solemn covenant with God which bound them to obedience, and bound God to punish disobedience. But, as we all know, the covenant was speedily broken. The Israelites who, in their ignorant self-confidence, had resolved that “all that the Lord hath said will we do,” almost immediately sinned grievously against the Lord, so that Moses broke the first tables of the law, and the law, as the Apostle Paul said, “was found unto death.” It ended in the ministration of condemnation. But while the Israelites thus bound judgment upon themselves, God devised an expedient by which the failure and ruin might be remedied. In the midst of wrath He remembered mercy: He commanded the ark to be formed in order that the tables of the law might be put into it, and it might thus shut out of sight the ministration of death. The law was to be carefully preserved, but it was to be no less carefully concealed, so that its ministration of death should not break out in vengeance. The cover of the mercy-seat was put over the ark, so as exactly to fit it. By this expressive symbol it was indicated that mercy triumphed over judgment--that mercy is the deepest element in every judgment, and the end for which it is graciously designed; the first sentence against our fallen first parents being the key to all other judgments. God, while inflexibly just, could still pardon the sinner. But if by accident or intention the lid of the mercy-seat were to be displaced, the law would have no cover or concealment; it would break forth and carry out without hindrance the threatened punishment of sin, and all Israel would be destroyed, for they had all sinned, and broken God’s commandments. We are told that on one occasion the inhabitants of Bethshemesh looked into the ark while it rested on a great stone in their fields, and many of them were smitten to death in consequence of their unhallowed curiosity. They had removed the mercy-seat and so let loose the law to carry out its threatened vengeance against sin without restraint. Equally important was the use of the crown of gold round about the table of shewbread. That table symbolized the provision which God made for the spiritual wants of His people. The twelve loaves upon it indicated that each tribe had its own portion prepared for it before the Lord, of the same weight and of the same size. The bread was changed from week to week; for, after remaining during that period in the presence of the Lord, it was afterwards partaken of by the priests, who were thus specially strengthened and refreshed for their service in the Tabernacle. But it was ever the same bread. It was called the “continual” shewbread, because it was always before the Lord. And the object of the golden crown or raised rim round about it, was to keep the shewbread securely in its position on the table, so that it might not fall to the ground, or have its place--which was carefully arranged--altered in the least degree, through the stumbling of the Levites who bore it on their shoulders in their journeys through the wilderness. Unchanged by the wanderings of His people, unhindered by their frequent murmurings and backslidings--the crown of gold around the table of the shewbread kept the bread securely in its place. The mercy-seat kept on the ark by its golden crown indicated God’s unchanging mercy; and the shewbread, kept in its place by the golden crown of its table, indicated God’s unvarying care for His people. The crown of gold around the altar of incense was also most significant. The altar of incense was not for sacrifice, for no victim was offered upon it; it was ordained in order that the fragrance of sweet spices might constantly ascend from it to God. It indicated not atonement for sin, but the cleansing of the sinner from sin, and his acceptance before God. It was ministered to by the priests only. But it was most closely connected with the brazen altar of burnt-offering outside, to which all Israel had access; for it was through the death of the victim that the sinner was accepted, and through the blood of atonement that he had communion with God. The coals of fire that were put on the incense altar to burn the fragrant spices, were previously taken from the altar of burnt-offering on which the victim had been reduced to ashes. The golden vessel was, therefore, of especial importance, because it indicated the highest priestly ministration. The crown of gold which encircled it at the top was meant to keep the coals of fire and the holy spices on it from being scattered or displaced. Morning and evening and all the night long the priests had to burn incense before the Lord. During the journeys of the Israelites the coals were to remain burning, and the spices were not to be removed. The incense offering was to be continuous and uninterrupted even while the altar was being carried by the Levites from one place to another. There was to be no cessation of the service during the transit. From its top a cloud of fragrance was to rise up constantly to heaven, typifying an ever active unceasing ministry in God’s presence. The office of the golden crown was, therefore, to enable the altar to fulfil this important function, to keep the materials of the offering in their proper position while the altar was stationary, or while it was being carried on the shoulders of the Kohathites. Were the live coals to be extinguished, or to fall off the altar, were the cloud of incense to cease travelling onwards with the host of Israel, then there would be no Divine intercession on their behalf. Their murmurings because of the difficulties and privations of the way would have nothing to screen them from the judgment of heaven. The crown of gold around the holy vessels might seem of no use when the Tabernacle was stationary and all its furniture fixed. And yet its very existence testified silently of the faithfulness of God. Looking upon this interesting and significant feature of all the holy vessels, the priests realized that God was not a capricious Being, moved by impulse in regard to the provision which He made for the wants of His people, but was the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever; that the qualities of grace in Him were eternal qualities, and not merely assumed for the occasion. His provision of grace was not one called forth by the necessity of the time, but was pre-ordained and prearranged from all eternity. But it was on the march that the active use of the golden crown was called forth. When the vessels were in transit, the crown was indispensable to keep their contents in their places. It was when they were journeying from place to place that the Israelites required most to realize the uninterrupted grace of God, for it was then that they were most inclined to stumble and fail, because of the difficulties and privations of the wilderness. Now, what is the use to us who live under the Christian dispensation of this interesting feature of the Old Testament ritual? It means to us now that God remains true to His original purpose of grace; and that His idea in the creation and redemption of man will yet be realized. God never forsakes the work of His own hands. The Christian Church corrupted its ways and went to awful lengths of worldliness and ungodliness, but still His long-suffering faithfulness opened a vision of hope in the darkest days. Around all the symbols and tokens of His grace is the golden crown of His faithfulness to the primeval promise that the seed of the woman shall bruise the head of the serpent; and He looks forward steadfastly to a time, far over the gulf of ages, when a great salvation shall compensate for all the misery of the world, and Christ shall see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied. And to the individual believer is it not an inspiring thought that the golden crown is still around the mercy-seat; that it is kept ever unshaken amid all his stumblings and backslidings by God’s unchanging purpose of love? Mercy that endureth for ever has been established on the ground of everlasting righteousness. You who believe in Christ are not under the law, but under grace; and God is not merely pitiful and merciful, but faithful and just to forgive all your iniquities. How comforting, too, is the thought that the golden crown is ever around the table of shewbread, securing and maintaining unshaken all your blessings in Christ! Having given you His own Son, God with Him will freely give you all things. And lastly, how comforting is the thought that around the altar of incense is ever the golden crown; assuring you that the sweet savour of Christ’s name, and the very person of the once crucified but now glorified Redeemer, are ever a fragrant memorial on your behalf in the presence of God! Jesus Christ ever liveth to make intercession for you. (H. Macmillan, D. D.)
Put the mercy-seat above upon the ark.
The ark and the mercy seat
It was a leading and distinctive feature of Jewish worship that no image was to represent Jehovah, and yet the Jews were taught that the omnipotent God resided, specially in the Tabernacle, or Temple, of their nation, and special rites and prohibitions guarded it, as if the great King were indeed there.
1. The Jewish holy of holies was empty of any image of Deity, and was entered by the high-priest alone, and by him only once a year. The centre of interest in the room was the ark of God, a chest of acacia wood, about four feet long and two feet six inches broad and deep. It contained the tables of testimony, the written agreement or covenant between God and the people of Israel.
2. That was not all. The lesson taught at Sinai was not all that the Jewish ark taught, for the ark had a lid or covering known as the “mercy-seat.” Inside the ark and below was the law; above and upon the ark was that vacant space associated, through the sprinkling of blood, with the covering or forgiving of the people’s transgressions; and with this seat of mercy and pardon above, rather than with the seat of law below, the presence of God was associated. The material arrangements taught the Jews great spiritual lessons:
(1) That the law had been broken.
(2) That mercy prevails over law.
(3) That the mercy-seat needed to be sprinkled with blood. (T. M. Herbert.)
The mercy-seat; its symbolic substance
Although there is but one piece of beaten--or very pure and malleable gold--yet the plate, or lid of the chest, is obviously distinguished from the cherubim; and therefore let us treat them severally.
I. It is obvious that the deposit of the tables in the body of the ark is no guaranty of their protection and safety, so long as there is no cover to it. The precious contents are still exposed, though nearly surrounded with golden walls. But place on it this plate of solid gold, of adequate thickness, and of length and breadth fully commensurate with the chest itself, and of course with the tables within, and you complete the idea of protection and safety. What then does this shield of protection physical represent in the typical or symbolical substance? The answer cannot be mistaken; Jesus Christ is the Protector and Fulfiller of law. He only does all things well. Thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. He is the Lord our Righteousness.
1. The law prohibits certain things from being done; and it must be specially noted, that the Decalogue presents law to us in the negative form chiefly; eight of the Ten Commandments are formal negations, yet involving substantial affirmatives. A ninth also, viz., the Fourth Commandment, is largely a negation. The Fifth alone is purely affirmative. In this form our Redeemer fulfilled all law; He did no evil, nor was guile found in His mouth.
2. But the Divine law is not a mere negation. Law is positive. It requires active exercise of all the talents bestowed, and it exhibits positive benefits as the rewards of active obedience. Thus did our Redeemer fulfil law. The only positive word of the ten, He observed rigidly--He was obedient to His parents until He began to be about thirty years of age. Equally full and complete was His compliance with all positive requirements of law. As is the mercy-seat to the material substance of the tables, so is Christ to the moral and spiritual substance of the inscribed law.
II. We proceed with the cherubim. “The generic meaning of the Hebrew word cherub, the plural of which is cherubim, is not settled with.certainty. Some critics refer it to an Arabic source, and infer the meaning to be nearness, contiguity--hence, a minister or servant; and thus cherubim are the servants of God. Others deduce it from two Arabic words which signify ‘as‘ or ‘like to a boy’ “They are most probably correct who form the word from a Hebrew term that means to ride (raukab) by an interchange” of two of the letters. We have the original and the derived word brought into immediate connection in Psalms 18:10. “The Jehovah rode upon a cherub, and did fly.” With a very slight modification, the word here translated, rode, is used to signify the car or vehicle of the cherub, in 1 Chronicles 28:18. What then are the Mosaic or Sinaitic cherubim designed and adapted to set forth?
1. They spring from the mercy-seat, are a unit with it, and are upheld by it. Here are symbolized--
(1) The issuance of the messengers of salvation from the Saviour Himself.
(2) They are of the same piece of gold; this teaches the official unity of Christ and His ministry.
(3) Permanent and constant dependence; as the cherubim rest their weight on the mercy-seat, so ministers of the gospel depend upon Christ.
2. They have the human form and face. These proclaim the intelligence and kindly sympathies of the men who minister in holy things.
3. They have the lion-face--the courage necessary to meet and defy danger and death.
4. They have the ox-face--patient endurance of labour and toil.
5. They have the eagle-face--symbol of intelligence and lofty aims.
6. They have the wings, which spread out over the mercy-seat, and betoken their readiness and ability to waft to all the world the glad tidings, that the law has been fulfilled and justification secured to all who believe in their jewel-crowned King.
7. They have their faces turned downward to the mercy-seat and the law it covers. This indicates their chief study of these things, into which the angels desire to look.
8. Their faces are turned inward, which teaches the restrictions and limitations of that dispensation; whereas those of Ezekiel and John turn outward and in all directions; because the times referred to by their ministry are aggressive; the Sinai restrictions of the Abrahamic covenant--that middle wall of partition is broken down and the Abrahamic covenant goes forth to make Abraham the father of many nations, the heir of the world. (George Junkin, D. D.)
The gospel under the law
I. We have here the very core of the symbolical ordinances of the Jewish Church. At this point all the interest of the dispensation is concentrated. The days of that people’s life as a spiritual community all array themselves around that day, when their high-priest, their daysman--who represented their nation in shadow, as Christ, in substance, represents the world--entered that inner sanctuary with the incense of his people’s prayers and the blood of his people’s sacrifice, and received commission from the Lord God who dwelt between the cherubim, to lay the sins of the nation on a victim, who should bear them into the wilderness away. Here, then, is the focus of the spiritual power of the dispensation, I mean its power to order man’s spiritual relations with all things and with God. And hither, to this mercy-seat above the ark, we are to look--if my principle, that this is a typical people, typical of you and me, be a right one--for those elements of the good word of God to the men of that dispensation, which relate it to the universal gospel of God to man and to all worlds--God’s method of “reconciling all things to Himself.”
II. Let us pass within the shrine, and behold what it has to reveal.
1. What is the supreme symbol here? The last, the highest, the crown of the whole, is the mercy-seat. And this appears to me to mean more, infinitely more, than a promise of forgiveness, upon certain terms. The fact that with the mercy-seat God completed and crowned the symbolism of the Jewish dispensation; that He only felt it fit to be His habitation and organ of expression when that mercy-seat was set there over the ark; that till then it was a mere shell of a dispensation--as Adam’s body was a mere shell of a man until God had breathed into his nostrils the breath of life--but that when the mercy-seat was set, it became capable of entertaining the Divine glory, and became, in fact, inspired; this fact, I say, is the broad, grand declaration to Judaism of the essential nature of God. It was the utterance to that age, of the word which by ten thousand half-articulate voices has been uttering itself to man since the first days of the creation, and has now become fully articulate in Christ--God is love. The truth is the same for them and for us; the substance of the proclamation is the same; the difference lies here, they heard the word, and saw the glory, but “Hereby know we the love of God, because He laid down His life for us.”
2. Beneath the mercy-seat, within its bosom, as it were, was the ark of the testimony, and in it the word of the law. The image here reveals a harmony--the tables of stone in the ark, the mercy-seat above it, crowning it, and the glory of the Lord enveloping the whole. The two ideas are inseparable--mercy and righteousness--when we connect them with the Divine name. “Mercy and truth have met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each other,” in every manifestation of the love of God to man.
3. The third lesson of the symbol, perhaps the highest, is to be gathered from the contemplation of its unity. We have considered it in its parts, but it is essentially one. An ark, with a mercy-seat above it, the cherubim shadowing both, and the Divine glory, the light which was the sign of God’s personal presence, bathing the whole. It tells us that mercy only crowns us fully with its benediction, when the Divine testimonies are hidden within the heart. Man is the true Shekinah. The glory shines from him when the Word is enshrined within him. “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.” In Him it is no law of words addressed sternly to the understanding, but a law of life shrined lovingly within the soul. (J. B. Brown, B. A.)
There was no seat in the Tabernacle for the priests, because their work was never done. They stood to minister in the holy place. “And every priest standeth daily ministering, and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man (Christ), after He had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:11-12). The: only seat there was belonging to the Tabernacle was the mercy-seat, the throne of God really, where mercy reigned. Mercy signifies goodness bestowed on the unworthy and undeserving. The mercy-seat represented Jesus Christ, “whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation” or mercy-seat, “through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins” (Romans 3:25). Jesus is the true mercy-seat or throne of grace, where “grace reigns through righteousness unto eternal life” (Romans 5:21). This is the throne we are urged to approach boldly, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16). God has two thrones, a throne of mercy and a throne of judgment. He now sits on the throne of mercy, dispensing mercy and grace to every one that comes to Him. That seat will soon be removed, and the judgment seat will be put in its place, and God will sit upon it to judge all men according to their works. (G. Rodgers.)
Our mercy-seat, our reconciliation-residence is Jesus, the Divine Saviour, the God-man mediator. And all the typical teachings of this branch of our subject may be drawn out in the attempt to answer one question, viz.: What sort of a mercy-seat have we in Christ?
I. In replying to this inquiry, I desire to show that we have in Christ, in the first place, an authorized mercy-seat. He who occupies this mercy-seat is “a just God and a Saviour.” No violence is done to any principle of honour, or of justice in the government of the universe by the dispensing of grace from this mercy-seat. The Divine law is magnified and made honourable. Every attribute of the Divine character is vindicated.
II. But I observe secondly of the mercy-seat which we are bidden to approach in Christ that it is an encouraging mercy-seat. Christ, in the glory of His finished righteousness, is the medium through which God looks at all His believing children. He sees them only “in the face of His anointed.” Hence it is said of believers in Christ that “they are righteous” in God’s sight, “even as He,” etc. Christ “is righteous.”
III. But thirdly I observe respecting this mercy-seat that it is full of privilege foe the present. Suppose you were travelling in a foreign land. You are cut off from intercourse with all whom you most love on earth. There is only one channel through which you can hear from home, and obtain the supply of all that is necessary to meet your daily wants. How precious that channel of communication would be to you! How you would prize it! How anxious and careful you would be to keep it open! The thought of having it interrupted, or cut off, would be insupportable to you. Yet this is but a faint image of the Christian’s position here in the world, and of the relation of the mercy-seat to Him.
IV. There is only one other point of view from which we may glance at the mercy-seat, and thus contemplated it shines before us as bright with hope for the future. Hitherto it has always been true of Jehovah that, “verily He is a God that hideth Himself.” But the time cometh, when of all that pertains to the character and work of God, it may be said, “There hath been nothing hid that will not be made manifest.” “What we know not now we shall know hereafter.” The true Shekinah upon the mercy-seat will have no single dark point connected with it. Over all its outspread surface the cloud will be lighted up with the splendours of Divinity. You have often seen a mass of clouds in the western sky, unillumined by the sun’s rays, as the day was drawing to a close. You know how dark and unattractive that mass appeared. But presently you see the sun pass behind it, and what a wondrous transformation is wrought in its appearance! How radiant the whole mass becomes! How every point in it glows and sparkles with the splendours of the sun that shines through it! So will it be with the cloud upon our mercy-seat. When Jesus was on earth the coarse garments of humanity were upon Him. Then the shekinah cloud was dark. But the redeemed shall look upon that cloud again amidst the glory of the heavenly kingdom. Then all darkness will have passed away. The sun of uncreated Deity will be pouring all its brightness through it. (R. Newton, D. D.)
I. The design of the appointment. “And there I will meet with thee.” Meeting with God--communion with God; and instruction from God--these are in the text the declared purposes of the solemnities observed before the ark, and they are also the great objects to be always associated with the public assemblies of the Christian Church.
II. Some of the peculiarities of this institution.
1. It was altogether of Divine appointment.
2. Another significant fact is that the name “mercy-seat” is manifold in its meaning. By St. Paul, in Romans 3:25, the mercy-seat is called a propitiation. The mercy-seat is the place of propitiation, whither the sacrificial blood was carried, and the red showers were cast around by God’s high priest. “There I will meet with thee,” saith the Divine word. Only through a sacrifice can God be approached. The mercy-seat is also called a “covering,” because, as it concealed in the thick darkness the contents of the ark, it so became an emblem of the completeness of the process of Divine forgiveness (Psalms 32:1). The Hebrew word for the mercy-seat is Capporeth, derived from Caphar, a covering, the word which, in Genesis 6:14, represents God as directing Noah to pitch the ark within and without. About eighty times the word is used in the Old Testament, and is rendered in our version atone, or atonement. Thus early, even, as the ministry of Noah, the doctrine of shelter through substitution was preached to the world. The position occupied by the mercy-seat is equally significant; it was “upon the ark,” within which was contained the handwriting of God--the covenant; the promises of God, and His requirements.
III. The spiritual blessings which were typified by the mercy-seat.
1. To the mercy-seat we must resort to obtain the assurance of the forgiveness of sin.
2. To the mercy-seat we repair in all times of trial and distress. So long as communion with God is unimpaired we have a specific for all human woe.
3. Thither also we repair for renewed supplies of grace and strength. We can only rightly perform our work for the Lord, as we obtain from Him fresh impartations of heavenly power.
4. It is thither that we must by faith bear the wants of the Church and the world. (W. G. Lewis.)
I. Consider the typical properties of the mercy-seat.
1. It was intended as a covering to the ark, the latter being overlaid, and the former made of pure gold. In the ark, covered with the mercy-seat, were deposited the two tables of the law, given to Moses at Mount Sinai. This rich and splendid symbol afforded a striking representation of the incomparable worth and excellence of the Saviour, who in due time should become the true propitiatory. The way of salvation by the cross of Christ, agrees with the strictest principles of justice; and to justice and equity it is frequently ascribed, as well as to the richest grace (Psalms 1:5-6; Isaiah 1:27; Romans 3:25).
2. As the mercy-seat covered the ark, so the cherubims of glory covered, or as the apostle expresses it, overshadowed the mercy-seat. To this the apostle Peter seems to allude, when he speaks of the angels as looking with eager expectation into the wonders of human redemption (1 Peter 1:12). The holy angels love the Redeemer, worship Him, and rejoice in the reconciliation of sinners to God through Him.
3. The mercy-seat, and cherubims overshadowing it, formed a glorious throne, in which the Shekinah or visible presence of the Deity resided; and hence the Lord is said to dwell between the cherubims (Psalms 80:1; Isaiah 37:16). Thus all the gracious manifestations of the Divine nature are through the Redeemer.
4. The most solemn acts of worship, under the Levitical dispensation, had a more immediate reference to the mercy-seat. All of which prefigured the substitution of Christ in the sinner’s stead, the necessity of His atonement, and the bearing away of the sins of His people which were laid upon Him.
5. The mercy-seat was the fountain of all good to Israel; from hence proceeded their choicest blessings. There it was that God gave an audience to His people, and a favourable answer to their prayers, through the medium of an intercessor; and though they were not permitted personally to approach, yet all their supplications were directed towards it. Nor can a word of mercy or of peace be heard, or any prayers be answered, but through Christ, who is our mercy-seat.
II. The privileges connected with the mercy-seat, as the medium of approach to God: “There will I meet with thee, and I will commune with thee.”
1. “I will meet with thee,” saith the Lord. Not as He once met Moses at the inn, and sought to slay him; nor as the angel met Balaam, with a drawn sword in his hand; nor as the Lord once threatened to meet with Ephraim, as a bear bereaved of her whelps. But as an affectionate parent or tender friend, which implies a drawing nigh on one part, and sensible manifestation on the other.
2. “I will commune with thee.” Communion generally denotes that tender intercourse which one person has with another; and here it is expressive of that sacred fellowship which subsists between God and His people. This puts the greatest honour upon the creature, and discovers the most amazing condescension on the part of God. (B. Beddome, M. A.)
1. Is there a mercy-seat? and may we bring our sins, our wants, and sorrows to it ? Oh, let us avail ourselves of the inestimable privilege. A seat of mercy in a fallen world! how does this bespeak the character and benignity of God! Why will ye die?
2. Is it possible to realize communion with the Holy One in our present lapsed and miserable condition? There will I commune with thee, is the promise of His grace. Let then the children of God seek the closest intimacy with, the Father of their spirits. The glorious brightness of the eternal Godhead is attempered to our enfeebled powers in the human sympathies of the man Christ Jesus. His bosom is the bosom of a friend.
3. Will the Lord open unto us His word, and reveal unto us the purposes of His love? Yes; He will do so, if ye will wait in meditative and prayerful expectation upon Him (Psalms 62:5).
4. Amidst the painful bereavements and separations we are often called to experience here, may we entertain a well-grounded confidence of a blessed re-union in eternity? Assuredly we may. All Israel had but one seat of mercy: God in Christ is also the sinner’s friend and the mourner’s comforter. In meeting Him, we meet each other in Him. All the sun’s bright rays of light centre in a common focus: all believers are but the several radiations of a single Saviour, and all will converge to that central Lord again. (W. Mudge.)
The etymology of the word cherub being lost, the name renders us no assistance in the interpretation of the symbol. It is noteworthy, however, that Ezekiel applies to similar composite figures the appellation “living creatures”; and St. John a similar designation, unfortunately translated “beasts.” Following this clue, we inquire if there is anything in the composite form itself to carry us onward in this line of interpretation. The cherubs of the Tabernacle are not described in the specifications, but mentioned as if the form were already so well known as to need no delineation for the sake of the general reader. Doubtless the artists were furnished with minute directions. The living creatures seen by Ezekiel are described by him with considerable amplification (Ezekiel 1:5-25). They were compounded of four animals--ox, lion, eagle, man,--each excelling in some one life-power. The combination suggests a being, real or ideal, uniting in himself the qualities in which these four different manifestations of life are severally eminent. The human form is the ground-work of the composition; and the additions to it are suggestive of an improvement on man by adding to his faculties those in which other animals are his superiors; as, e.g., the power of vision and motion peculiar to the eagle, the strength of the lion, and the submission of the ox. The cherubs seen by St. John in the Apocalypse were different in appearance from those described by Ezekiel, each having for its ground-form one of the four animals already mentioned; but the recurrence of these four, notwithstanding this diversity, confirms the deductions already stated. The idealization of earthly creatural life by the combination of its highest manifestations was projected into shape as a composite animal figure, not constant in form, but varying as one element or another prevailed in the ideal conception. The presence of all these four animal forms in the visions both of Ezekiel and of John, renders it probable that the four were wholly, or in part, contained in the cherubic figures of the Tabernacle. Was, then, this idealization of life designed to represent beings actually existing in the high grade of life, or did it point backward to what man was before the fall, and forward to what he is to be in the restored paradise? There is no passage of Scripture which indisputably teaches the actual existence of beings represented by these composite animal figures. In most cases, cherubs appear in scenes which are plainly symbolic or poetic. The passage in Genesis 3:24, properly understood, affirms of the cherubs only that they were placed in the east of the garden, or near its entrance, for doubt- less Eden, like the Tabernacle in the wilderness, fronted the rising sun. The inference is that they were placed there to have the same significance as they had in the Tabernacle, in the Temple and in the Apocalyptic vision of heaven. If, under the Mosaic and Christian dispensations, these composite figures symbolized humanity redeemed, sanctified, and glorified, probably they had a parallel meaning when employed in the symbolism of earlier times. What they signified in the Tabernacle and in the Temple being the very point to be illuminated, we pass at once from the first scene in the history of redemption where they appear, to the vision of heaven in which a Christian Hebrew beheld these symbolic beings before and around the throne of God (see Revelation 5:9-10). What clearer evidence than this do we need that the composite animal figures of Hebrew symbolism represented humanity raised from its death in Adam to fulness of life in Christ? They were “living ones” because Christ having died for them, and risen again, had made them partakers of His life. (E. E. Atwater.)
That it cannot be the angels, who are intended by these mysterious representations, is rendered perfectly clear when you consider that they were part and parcel of the ark itself. They were not something placed upon it, or added to it, but they were something made of it, or for it. They were beaten out of the very materials of the ark itself. The same gold which covered the mercy-seat was wrought out into the form of the cherubim. This could have no significancy as applied to the angels. They are indeed “ministering spirits unto the heirs of salvation,” but they stand in no such intimate relation to the covenant of redemption as is indicated by the position which the cherubim occupied. There can be no question on this point. It is not the angels who are represented by the cherubim. To whom then, or to what do they refer? They are doubtless to be regarded, not perhaps as actual existences at all, but as symbols of the glorious qualities or attributes of Christ our Saviour, in carrying on the great work of our redemption, and of attributes or qualities which His ransomed people shall share with Him in the glory of His heavenly kingdom. Let us look then at the qualities indicated by the four-fold faces of the cherubim.
1. The first is the face of a man. This stands before us as the natural, and admitted index of knowledge, or intelligence. And this we know is a quality or attribute which Christ, in His position as our Redeemer, the crowning glory of our ark of the covenant, possesses in the fullest measure. “In Him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
2. But the cherubim are representative of our humanity in its glorified state. And looking at it from this point of view we may gaze upon the “face of a man” in this mysterious symbol till it seems to have a voice and utterance, and to speak to us in eloquent terms of the grand disclosures, the marvellous unfoldings, of what are now hidden things, awaiting us in that bright world to which we are hastening.
3. The second face which the cherubim bore was “the face of a lion.” Two qualities are here indicated, viz., courage and majesty. Now the great Captain of our salvation, in the campaign which He undertook, when He resolved to put down the rebellion which had broken out in this province of His Father’s dominions, afforded the grandest exhibition of this noble quality which the world or the universe has ever witnessed. And this quality is a characteristic of redeemed humanity as well as of Him who redeemed it. It applies to true Christians even now. “The righteous are bold as a lion,” says the wise man. But it will apply to them much more truly hereafter. It is said of them that--“they shall have boldness in the day of judgment.” But “the face of the lion” was indicative of majesty as well as courage. This is the halo round Christ’s character--the radiance formed by this shining forth of His own glory. He is “the brightness of the Father’s glory, and the express image of His person.” But this is a quality, too, which will mark the condition of the redeemed, in the glory of their future state. True, with them it will not be an inherited, but an imparted quality. In themselves, of their own, they have nothing attractive, or majestic. But they do have that imparted to them, by their glorious Lord, which makes them so.
4. The third face which the cherubim bore was “the face of an ox.” The quality which this represents is, manifestly, that of strength for service. This, we know, is a glorious attribute of our Divine Redeemer. It is one which He possesses, too, in absolute perfection. But it symbolized the same quality as marking the condition of His people in that glorious kingdom to which it is His gracious purpose eventually to bring them. It is the covenant privilege of the redeemed, even now, in the imperfection of this fallen state, to be “strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might.” They “take hold of His strength,” and this enables them to mount up with wings as eagles, to “run and not be weary, to walk and not faint.” But the ark, and the cherubim upon it, point us onward to the heavenly world. It is a quality, or property, of redeemed humanity in the glory of the resurrection state to which the symbol now before us refers. There will then be bliss in every service, and rest in every motion.
5. The last face associated with this mysterious symbol was “the face of an eagle.” Now, one of the things for which an eagle is remarkable, is its keenness of vision. And all the power, or quickness of vision, which the eagle possesses is but a symbol of a corresponding attribute of character pertaining to Christ. His eyes are in every place. “He seeth the end from the beginning.” He knoweth our necessities before we ask.
6. But how does this apply to the redeemed in the glory of their future state (see Hebrews 6:5)? which certainly refers to faculties, attributes, or qualities, mental, moral, or physical, to be possessed by the redeemed of Christ amidst the glory and blessedness of the world to come. Again, when I read Isaiah 33:17, I feel that, if I am a believer in Jesus, I have here a promise, in symbol, of such an enlargement of perceptive faculty and power of vision as quite passes my capacity at present to comprehend.
7. But quickness of motion, or speed of flight is another characteristic quality of the eagle. And this we know is a quality which strikingly marks the character of Christ in carrying on the work of our redemption. It was so when He was on earth. What He did for those who sought His gracious intervention, He did quickly. This quality marks His character still. It is only by the practical development of it that He can make good His word when He engages in one place to be to all His people “a very present help in trouble”; and in another to be always “a God at hand, and not afar off”; or when, in still another place, His promise runs--“Before they call I will answer, and while they are yet speaking I will hear.” It is clearly manifest how “the face of the eagle” upon the cherubim points to this feature of our Lord’s character.
8. But what bearing has this on the position of the redeemed in glory? I answer, a very natural and necessary bearing. It teaches us that quickness of motion, or speed of flight, will be a characteristic of that state. (R. Newton, D. D.)
It is very instructive to observe that the first time we read about the cherubim is in Genesis 3:24, where they are seen with flaming swords guarding the way to the tree of life, and ready to destroy any man who might be bold enough to try and force his way through to that tree; and the next time we read of them is in (Exodus 25:1-40), where they are guarding the throne of mercy; and here, blessed be God, they hold no flaming swords in their hands, but they are bending over the mercy-seat, and looking at the blood sprinkled there. They are not looking under the mercy-seat; there was the law, the ministration of death. They do not turn their faces eastward and look out at the people; had they done so, they would have beheld a multitude of sinners: but they look at that which conceals and covers up the ministration of death. Their eyes are fixed on the propitiation for sin--on that which is an atonement for sin. They are looking at Jesus; there they find their joy and rest. And I would look where they look: my mind would be occupied with that which gives joy to the highest rank of angels, the ministers who stand nearer to the throne of God than any other beings in the universe. (G. Rodgers.)
There I will meet with thee.--
Meeting with God
I. To the Jews, God set apart one special place for sacrifice, one special place for closest communion, and he who wanted some direct oracle from God must go to that spot to get his answer. The oneness continues, but now it is not oneness of spot, but it is oneness of path. And there the spot lies, at the end of the path--it is one path. All the oneness of the types of the Mosaic law go to make the oneness of the Lord Jesus Christ. And as on that one grand spot, “between those cherubims,” God declared He would meet and commune with Israel, so now, at that one spot, Christ, God covenants that He will meet with you, and commune with you. Christ is God’s mercy-seat. Christ is the gold of His Deity, and the wood of His humanity, and all to enshrine, to keep the law, the law for man. In after times, two other things were placed in the ark, of which we will not speak now--the rod of Aaron, emblem of the eternal priesthood of Christ, and the pot of manna, showing that Christ is the bread and the nourishment, the sustenance of His people in the journey of life.
II. It was upon such a mercy-seat, God said, “I will meet with thee, and commune with thee.” You see, then, that your interviews with God, your holy communings, depend upon the Lord Jesus Christ. According to your views of Christ, according to your nearness to Christ, so will be your experience here in private of communion with God. Accustom yourself to lay out in order the ark, and all that went to make that mercy-seat, and that glory, and those communings. And the more you lay out in order before your mind the attributes, and the glory, and the work of Jesus, the more you will hear still small voices, the more you will enjoy those “times of refreshing,” the more God will reveal Himself to you as He does not to the world, the more you will “acquaint yourself with Him, and be at peace.” If you have not real communion with God, the reason lies simply there--Christ is not in His place--the ark is not set up--you are not honouring Christ--you have low views of Christ--you have been looking at wrong things--you are expecting communion apart from your Saviour.
III. There could be no true throne of God in the world, if mercy were separated from justice. But now it is just in God to be merciful, because of the deep things that that ark tells us. Therefore if any of you are worshipping God in fear, if there are any downcast and depressed, any who think they hear condemning sounds, any to whom God presents Himself in the light of a Master, One whom they fear, remember, God sits upon a mercy-seat. It is in mercy He communes with you. He has no word but mercy. Judgment is a strange word. He loveth mercy--mercy dwells with God--it is all mercy. Go to Him for mercy, let it be a poor sinner communing with his God upon a mercy-seat. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
Community between God and man
I. That in Christ we meet with God as a Being of immutable rectitude. In Christ the moral law was--
1. Perfectly embodied;
2. Powerfully enforced.
II. That in Christ we meet with God as a Being disposed to exercise clemency.
1. Christ is the highest expression of God’s mercy.
2. Christ is the greatest demonstration of God’s mercy.
3. Christ is the mightiest agent of God’s mercy. The messenger of infinite love.
III. That in Christ we meet with God as the Lord of angelic intelligences. (Homilist.)
I. In the mercy-seat, or in Christ, we meet the law of god.
1. Christ gives a new view of law.
2. Christ introduces a new relation in reference to law.
3. Christ creates in His people an affection for the law.
II. In the mercyseat, or in Christ, we meet the mercy of god.
1. The atonement of Christ is the medium for the exercise of mercy.
2. The atonement of Christ is the evidence of the value of mercy.
III. In the mercy-seat, or in Christ, we meet the glory of god.
1. This may be applied to the very essence of God.
2. Christ in the Scriptures is represented as reflecting the moral attributes of God.
IV. In the mercy-seat, or in Christ, we meet the angels of god. (Caleb Morris.)
Condition of communion with God
Birds cannot converse with men unless they had a rational nature put into them, nor can men converse with God unless, being made new creatures, they partake of the Divine nature. Communion with God is a mystery to most; every one that bangs about the court doth not speak with the king; all that meddle with holy duties and, as it were, hang about the court of heaven, hath not communion with God; it is only the new creature enjoys God’s presence in ordinances, and sweetly converses with Him, as a child with a father. (T. Watson.)
Set upon the table shewbread.
The table of shewbread
I. The first lesson we learn here is taught us by the nature of the bread upon the table. This we know, on the very best authority, was a symbol of Christ. Jesus taught us this distinctly and clearly when He said, “I am the Bread of Life.” That bread upon the table points to Jesus. How apt a type, or emblem of Him, it was! The bread was a prepared substance. A compound substance. A necessary substance. As suitable as necessary.
II. Our second lesson is furnished by observing the way in which this bread was manifested. Two things were required to this end, viz., the light which shone from the golden candlestick, and the table to lift up, or elevate the bread so that it could be distinctly seen. If the candlestick were not lighted, and casting forth its illuminating beams, the bread might be upon the table, but darkness would envelope it. The officiating priest could never see it. And so it is only the light of revelation, the illuminating influence of the Holy Ghost, which can make manifest Christ, the true bread from heaven, to the souls of famishing sinners.
III. The third lesson it teaches us is suggested by the abundance of the supply placed upon it. The table bore twelve loaves. There was one for each of the tribes. No part of God’s family was overlooked, or neglected, in the symbolical provision thus made for their necessities. And what was true, in this respect, of the symbol, is equally true of the thing symbolized. Jesus, whom the bread upon the golden table represented, is an infinite Saviour. The resources of His sufficiency are exhaustless.
IV. We are taught a lesson by the time for the renewing of the bread upon it. By an ordinance of God this was always to be done upon the Sabbath. Thus God would put honour upon the Sabbath, and associate it, in the minds of His people, with the thought of obtaining the supply of their spiritual necessities.
V. We learn a lesson from the continual freshness of the bread set out upon it. Christ never grows old. His people are often weary of other things; they grow weary of themselves--weary of their sins and sorrows, and weary of the world and its vanities--but they never, never grow weary of Jesus. Having once eaten of the bread which He gives, which He constitutes, it is literally true that they “never hunger” for the husks the world can offer.
VI. We gather our sixth and last lesson from the covering of frankincense which we see spread out over the top of the bread. When we remember that these loaves were a figure of Christ, and that frankincense is a token of that which is pleasing, or grateful, we seem to have exhibited, in beautiful symbol before us, the acceptableness of Christ and His work to the Father. (R. Newton, D.D.)
The table in God’s house
“Table,” gives us the idea of fellowship, social intercourse, friendship, satisfaction; all which we find in the house of God. “Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.” What a sacred privilege it is to eat bread in the presence of God. And not only to eat in His presence, but to eat the “Presence Bread.” “He shall eat the bread of his God, both of the most holy and of the holy.” At God’s table there is social intercourse. The saints commune one with another and all commune with God. “We are all partakers of that one bread.” Sweet is the intercourse of God with His people at the table of His grace. It is a proof of friendship. “I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey; I have drunk my wine with my milk: eat O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved.” Here we find sacred satisfaction. “I will abundantly bless her provision. I will satisfy her poor with bread.” “They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of Thy house.” “The meek shall eat and be satisfied.” “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: Thou anointest my head with oil, my cup runneth over.” There is no stint where God is the host. In His house there is bread enough and to spare. He fills our cup to overflowing with consolation, and with joy. Those who dwell in God’s house will never come to an empty table, nor find God absent from His throne of mercy. “Surely goodness”--to supply my wants--“and mercy,”--to pardon my sins--“shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” (R. E. Sears.)
The tables of grace and glory
The incorruptible wood may be an emblem of grace, the gold an emblem of glory. God’s table on earth is the table of His grace. His table in the heavenly world is the table of His glory. If we are guests at the table of grace, we shall be entertained at the table of glory. Grace is glory began. Glory is grace perfected. Grace is the earnest of our inheritance. Glory is the possession of the estate. By grace we are prepared for glory. When the work of grace is completed, we shall hear the welcome, “Come up higher.” By faith we sit at the table of grace. At the table of glory faith will be changed to sight. Both tables are furnished with the same provision. Christ the true Bread of Life is the spiritual food of the believer on earth: and in heaven we shall eat the same Divine celestial Bread. “The Bread of God” is the nourishment of the spiritual life; and it is the joy of the eternal life. (R. E. Sears.)
The table of shewbread
Made of acacia wood, and plated with gold, it was three feet long, one foot and six inches wide, two feet and three inches high. Around its verge was an ornamental cincture of solid gold, similar to that which adorned the ark. Beneath this was a border of wood four inches and a half wide, plated, of course, with gold, and adorned with another crown of gold. The table was furnished with golden rings at the corners, and with staves which were put through these rings when the table was to be carried on the shoulders of the Levites, but removed when the tabernacle had been erected in a new encampment, and the bearers had deposited their burden in its appointed position. The rings were attached at the same height as the wooden border; but the specifications do not intimate how far above the ground this was affixed. (E. E. Atwater.)
The shewbread, etc
.:--The table was furnished with two dishes for bread, two for frankincense, and probably two for wine. Twelve flat loaves of bread in two piles, constantly stood on it, fresh loaves being brought every Sabbath, and the loaves which were removed being eaten by the priests only. The number of the loaves doubtless indicates that the whole covenant people, the twelve tribes of Israel, were to participate in this offering to their covenant God. On the top of each pile was a dish of frankincense, and near by were cups of wine, as seems probable from the description of the dishes as suitable to pour with (Exodus 25:29 margin). The Septuagint calls them bowls and cups; and the Jewish tradition is, that they contained wine for a libation or drink-offering, such as accompanied every food-offering at the altar in the court. The table of shewbread was in some sense an altar, being the appointed place where certain offerings to Jehovah were to be placed before Him. The materials of these sacrifices were the same as those of the food-offerings and drink-offerings in the court. Corn and wine, or bread and wine, being the product of the life-work of the Hebrews, represented, in the symbolism of the Tabernacle, the fruit of work in the higher sphere where one labours not for perishable food, but for that which endureth unto everlasting life. This is the true bread from heaven of which wheat, manna, and other kinds of food, are figures; it is not only the life-product of those who have been born again, but their chief enjoyment, the sufficient reward of all their labour. Knowing, however, that God has even more desire for the sanctification of His people than they themselves have, they wish Him to enjoy with them the fruits of this spiritual husbandry. It is this fellowship of God with His people in the enjoyment of their sanctification which the shewbread represents. (E. E. Atwater.)
Significance of the golden table
May not the golden table point to the abundant supply of good things prepared in the heavenly temple, for all those whom Christ will make kings and priests unto God for ever? There a table is spread before His face, that is continually furnished with new wine and heavenly manna, with which the ransomed of the Lord will be refreshed, and made glad: “In Thy presence is fulness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.” (W. Brown.)
The bread was made of fine flour (Leviticus 24:5-9), and was unleavened. Twelve cakes, in piles of six each, always stood on the table; hence it was called the perpetual bread. It was also named the bread arranged in order, the meaning of which is obvious. Its more significant name we will notice presently. On the top of each pile was placed frankincense, probably in the cups we have spoken of. It is thought by some that this frankincense was burned once a week, when the bread was being renewed; and by others that it was ever burning, which does not appear very likely, as the quantity consumed would be very great; but there may have been some means by which it was very slowly consumed, and kept always burning; in that case the holy place would be ever fragrant. The bread was called the “shewbread” (Hebrew, “bread of faces,” or “presence bread”) because it was before the symbol of God’s presence--the veil only intervening. The bread was renewed every Sabbath by fresh loaves; those which were removed belonged to the priests, and could be eaten only by them, and in the holy place and nowhere else. All thank-offerings were holy--this one was peculiarly so: “It is most holy unto Him of the offerings made by fire”. (Leviticus 24:9). Only the shewbread and the incense offerings were presented in the holy place; all the other offerings were brought to the brazen altar in the court. The ceremonies connected with all the sacrifices were soon over, except in the case of the shewbread, which was a ceaseless offering. The bread was ever on the table before the Lord. (W. Brown.)
This bread was made of fine flour. Fine flour is bread-corn which has been bruised until it is smooth and even. Christ is the bread-corn bruised, and in Him there is no roughhess or unevenness. In us there is much unevenness; we are soft and smooth one day, and changed and rough the next. But it was not so with Christ. The circumstances in which He was placed were ever changing, yet He remained always the same--unchanged and unchangeable. Leaven is the emblem of evil: it is a corrupt and a corrupting thing (Matthew 16:6-12; Mark 8:15; Luke 12:1; 1 Corinthians 5:6-8; Galatians 5:9). Christ was before God during the whole of His life, as the bread was before God in the Tabernacle seven days. The number seven is the symbol of perfection; it is a complete period. And as God discovered no leaven in the bread during the time it was before Him on the table, so He found no evil in Jesus during His life on earth; and as the bread was taken from the table and given to the priests, so Christ is given to the saints, the spiritual priests, that they may live on Him. He is our food, our daily bread. And as we must have bread every day on our tables, whatever else of sweet or savoury food we may have beside, so we must have Christ to feed upon every day. We may have many other things and many other friends, but we cannot do without Christ. No one can be healthy and strong who does not get good food; and no soul can be truly healthy that does not feed on Jesus Christ. To eat a book is to consider it well, and to eat the flesh and to drink the blood of Christ is to consider Him with faith and love; it is to receive Him into the heart. This is the soul-refreshing, soul-satisfying, and imperishable food of the Father’s house. Feeding on this blessed food will keep us from longing after the husks that swine feed on. In Christ God has provided a feast for fainting and famishing souls; and hungry souls thankfully receive Him, but others turn away. None but priests could feed on this bread (Matthew 12:4; Mark 2:26). And a man must now be a priest before he can enter into the true Tabernacle and eat the food of the Father’s house. Not even the priests could eat the shewbread outside of the Tabernacle: they must eat it in the holy place (Leviticus 24:9). So a man must be holy to find full enjoyment in Christ. Happiness and holiness are twin sisters, and they travel side by side: they are never separated, so you cannot have one without the other. The more we feast on this heavenly bread, the holier and happier we must become. Eating and drinking are acts which one cannot perform for another. The food may be very good, but it does not minister strength and nourishment to my body till I eat it; by this act I make it my own. So we must receive Christ by faith, receive Him for ourselves. (G. Rodgers.)
A candlestick of pure gold.
The golden candlestick
I. This light shines because it is light, without effort, spontaneously. If the lamp is kindled it will shine; and so this emblem has its beautiful felicity in that it points, as the highest definition of all Christian men, to the effortless, spontaneous irradiation and streaming out from themselves of the fire that lies within them. Like a light in an alabaster vase, that shines through its transparency and reveals the lovely veining of the stone, so the grace of God in a man’s heart will shine through him, turning even the opacity of his earthly nature into a medium for veiling perhaps, but also in another aspect for making visible the light that is in him.
II. The light was derived light; and it was fed. We have a priest who walks in His temple and trims the lamps. The condition of the light is keeping close to Christ, and it is because there is such a gap between you and Him that there is so little brightness in you. The candlestick was really a lamp fed by oil; that symbol, as Zechariah tells us, stands for the Divine influence of God’s quickening Spirit.
III. The light was clustered light. The seven-branched candlestick represented the rigid, formal unity of the Jewish Church. In the New Testament we have the seven candlesticks diverse, but made one because Jesus Christ is in the midst of them. In this slight diversity of emblem we get the whole difference between the hard external unity of the ancient Jewish polity and the free variety in unity and diversity of the Christian Church, with its individual development as well as with its binding association. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Look at the text as typical of Christ and His Church.
I. Perfection of light. He was “the true Light,” etc. (John 1:9). He came to shed light on every important subject; to let us know--
1. What God is, “in the face of Jesus Christ.” To let us know--
2. What man is--in his sin, his spiritual relations, his wants, his destiny, etc. To let us know--
3. The future--to bring to light life and immortality.
II. Perfection of union. Branches united to one stem, and both of same material. (The Study.)
It was composed of a main shaft, with its connecting branches.
1. If these branches represent the Church of Christ, the central shaft may well be regarded as representing Christ Himself. From Christ the Church springs, and by Him it is supported, as the outspreading arms of the candlestick are by its central shaft. The Church is united to Him, and sustained by Him.
2. Notice next the branches of the candlestick. These sprang from the central shaft, and were of the same material with each other, and with it. So it is with Christ and His people. “He who sanctifieth, and they who are sanctified are all of one.”
3. Notice next the ornaments upon the candlestick.
(1) There were “bowls like almonds” wrought upon it. In these the branches terminated, forming appropriate receptacles for the lamps of the candlestick. The almond, being the first tree to bud in the spring, was a fit type of Him who is “the First-born from the dead.”
(2) The next ornament was the knops. These may have been swelling buds, from which the branches of the candlestick sprang, expressing the idea that these spreading arms owed both their existence and fruitfulness to the parent stem.
(3) The other ornaments were the flowers. Natural emblems of beauty, representing spiritual loveliness of Christ’s people.
1. The necessity of a Divine revelation. Without the light of the candlestick, darkness, the most profound, must have filled the Tabernacle. And just such would have been our condition, spiritually considered, without the light of Divine revelation. Reason, the natural sun in the mental world, can shed no light upon the soul’s concerns. There is no window in the soul through which the light of this natural luminary can shine. The priest in the sanctuary could only see his way and discharge his duties by the help of light from the candlestick, and this was light from heaven, a Divine revelation. And it is only by the aid of such a revelation that we can see our way in reference to spiritual things.
2. The benefits of such a revelation. We perceive this the moment we look around us, in the holy place, and observe what the light of the candlestick discloses to our view. See, over against it stands the golden table with its shewbread. The candlestick, with its heavenly light, enabled the priest, as he entered the holy place, to see where to find this bread. He could not have seen it without this light. And so it is only the light of Divine revelation which reveals Christ, the heavenly bread, to souls that are hungering and perishing for the want of it.
3. The perfection of this revelation. Seven lamps. (R. Newton, D. D.)
The golden candlestick
The candlestick of the Tabernacle was to burn continually in the holy place (Leviticus 24:2); continually let us question ourselves with respect to our attainments, state, and prospects. In individuality of character let each one ask--
1. Have I seriously and deliberately sought the illumination of my understanding in the things of God from above? I read, “If thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; if thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God” (Proverbs 2:3-5). Do I thus cry and lift up my voice in supplication for heavenly wisdom? And is God’s Law really better to me than thousands of gold or silver? The blessing is annexed to the precept; can I expect the one without a compliance with the other?
2. Am I walking in the light and comfort of the Holy Ghost? As both a Teacher and a Comforter is the Spirit given. Does He lead me in the way everlasting (Psalms 139:24), and cheer me with tokens of good (Psalms 86:17)?
3. Do I realize the constant inspection of the Son of Man amidst the congregations of His people? He walks among the golden candlesticks. Is the preacher free from all unbecoming fear of his fellow-mortals on the one hand, and is there no lurking latent aiming after worldly popularity on the other? Does the hearer listen as for life, cultivating a child-like spirit before the Lord, and cherishing no needless or refined fastidiousness about voice or manner in the teacher? (W. Mudge.)
Of the golden candlestick
The pure gold signified how excellent the Word of God is: More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold (Psalms 19:10). We are not curiously here to seek the difference of the knops, branches, and flowers, but only to rest in the general--that the candlestick signified the Word. The candlestick had seven branches; it signified the divers gifts bestowed upon His Church by the Word, and John alludeth to the seven branches of this candlestick: “And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like the Son of Man clothed with a garment” (Revelation 1:13). This was but typus arbitrarius, or an allusion; for the golden candlestick was not made to be a type of the seven Churches of Asia, but it is only an allusion to it. So “the fruit of the righteous is a tree of life” (Proverbs 11:30), here is an allusion only, that it is like to the tree of life. The oil which was in this candlestick was pure oil. “Command the children of Israel that they bring unto thee pure oil olive, beaten for the light, to cause the lamps to burn continually” (Leviticus 24:2). This pure oil is called golden oil, or gold for the purity of it, because the oil was bright, clear, and glistering, like gold (Zechariah 4:12). So “Gold cometh out of the north” (Job 37:22);that is, fair and clear weather. It was beaten oil, to signify with what pain and travail the Word is prepared, and with patience preached and made to shine in His Church. The Lord commanded to make snuffers of pure gold for the snuffing of the lamps, and snuff-dishes to receive the snuff. He would have the snuff taken from the light, to signify that He would have the Word kept in sincerity and purity; and He would have the snuffers of gold, to teach them to be blameless and holy who are censurers and correctors of others; and He would have the snuff-dishes of gold, to teach them that the covering of the offences of their brethren was a most excellent thing. Lastly, in what manner the priests dressed the lamps. When the lamp was out he lighted it, and when it was not out he dressed it. When the middlemost lamp was out he lighted it from the altar; but the rest of the lamps every one he lighted from the lamp that was next; and he lighted one after another, to signify that one Scripture giveth light to another; and they say in the Talmud that the cleansing of the innermost altar was before the trimming of the five lamps; and the trimming of the five lamps before the blood of the daily sacrifice; and the blood of the daily sacrifice before the trimming of the two lamps; and the trimming of the two lamps before the burning of incense. That the priests should order and trim the lamps signifieth how Christ and His ministers should continually look unto the purity of doctrine and preaching of the light of the gospel from evening to morning in the dark place of this world, “until the day dawn, and the day star arise in our hearts” (Revelation 1:13; 2 Peter 1:19). (John Weemes.)
The candlestick a type of Christ
I. It was the only thing that held the light which enlightened the sanctuary! From Christ all the light of grace comes for the benefit of His Church.
II. It had seven lamps (verse 37), to signify that perfection of light that is in Christ.
III. It was placed in the sanctuary. So is Christ as a glorious light placed in His Church.
IV. It had an upright stem, which bore the many branches issuing from it.
V. The branches were adorned with bowls, knobs, flowers, etc. So are Christ’s ministers adorned with many graces.
VI. Aaron dressed those lamps and renewed their oil daily. So our High Priest is the only enlightener of His faithful ministers.
VII. The candlestick had snuffers and snuff-dishes of pure gold; which might figure forth the good and godly discipline of the Church whereby evil persons who hinder its glory are taken away. (B. Keach.)
The golden chandelier
This consisted of a main shaft with three branches diverging from it on each side. It was made wholly of gold. If hollow, it could hardly have been beaten into shape with the hammer, but must have been cast, perhaps in separate pieces, and afterwards soldered together. The weight of it, including the lamps and a few small utensils used in trimming them, was a Hebrew talent, or about one hundred and thirteen pounds troy; which in gold coin would be equivalent to £5,500. There was a threefold ornamentation in the chandelier, repeated four times in the main shaft, and thrice in each of the branches, described as a bowl, a knob, and a flower, and by some supposed to represent the cup-shaped calyx, the round fruit, and the open blossom of an almond tree. The word translated “flower” signifies, however, a stem; and the order in which the triad is arranged indicates that the first was the flower, the second the fruit, and the third the stem. The three pairs of branches came out of the main stem at the three places of junction between its four sections of calyx, fruit, and stem. On the upper extremities of the chandelier were seven eye-shaped, or almond-shaped lamps; the wick of the middle lamp projecting from its west end, and the wicks of the others from the end of the lamp nearest to the main shaft. These lamps were not fastened to the chandelier, but so placed upon it that the priest could remove them when he came in the morning to extinguish and trim them, and in the evening to light them for the night. But, though not fastened to the stand as a part of it, they had each its appointed place in the row, and never exchanged places. It seems so natural that the row of lamps should have been parallel with the south wall of the Tabernacle, near which it stood, that almost all writers have passed over the testimony of Josephus to the contrary; who is careful to state that “the lamps looked to the east and to the south, the candlestick being placed obliquely.” (E. E. Atwater.)
Significance of the lamp-stand
The light emitted by the lamps may have been sometimes useful to the priests in their ministrations; but their aggregation on one stand, and the significant seven by which the number of them is determined, indicate that they were placed here to assist in the representation of religious thought. Their position with reference to the table suggests the possibility that the light was, in its symbolism, the complement of the shewbread. With this hint in mind, we ask, What is it of which light is the natural emblem? Sometimes it is used for knowledge, and especially for the knowledge of God and His relations to man. Knowledge is light; and to impart knowledge is to enlighten. But the import of light in Scripture extends beyond the sphere of the intellect into that of the conscience, covering the domain of duty as well as of verity. The children of light are those who obey, as well as perceive, the reality of the invisible and eternal. Hence those who are the light of the world not only impart knowledge to the ignorant, but reproof to the erring. In short, light in Hebrew symbolism, includes holiness, as well as knowledge. The offering of light which the covenant people brought as an accompaniment to the fruit of their life-work was the symbol of sanctified character. The two symbols are mutually complementary. The prayers and the alms of a good man come up as a memorial before God; and his example, by holding forth the word of life, diffuses an assimilating influence. But this light of holiness man is as unable to produce of himself as is a lamp to shine without oil, and oil is the symbol of the Holy Spirit; so that the oblation of light which the covenant people presented to Jehovah in the Tabernacle contained in itself a declaration that they were sanctified by the indwelling Spirit of God. The same idea was again brought to view in the number of the lamps; seven representing a transaction between God and man, and therefore in Mosaism standing for the covenant itself. The illumination was effected by the co-operation of the infinite and the finite; and the lamps were seven because that is the sum of the numerical signatures of the two parties united in producing the light. The lamp-stand served not merely to bear the lamps, but to assist in the symbolism. It represents the covenant people, the organized community, who by the example of their obedience shine for the illumination of the world. The seven branches indicate that it is not a merely human institution, but that God is in the midst of it. (E. E. Atwater.)
The light of Christ
“A friend told me that the electric light was so much under control that a gentleman had it in his scarf-pin at a meeting to discuss the utility of the new light. When he stepped on to the platform, the gas was lowered; he then touched two little springs placed on each side of his body, and the brilliant light shone out under his chin, giving light to all around. In a similarly brilliant manner the light of Christ should radiate from every part of living Christians; their eyes should shine with it, their tongues sparkle with it, their hands should be gentle, and their feet should be swift to let others know about Jesus, the Light of the world.”
Increasing luminousness the duty of Christ’s Church
It should grow as rapidly in this grace as it does in any other. The world has advanced in nothing, perhaps, more marvellously than in the betterment of its light-producing contrivances. The improvement made during the last century is very marked. Mankind’s lamp one hundred years ago smoked almost as much as it shone. Its wick, being round and bulky, brought up more oil than could be consumed. The first change was to a flat thin wick. This gave a wider surface for the air to act upon. Those particles of carbon which had previously passed off as soot were changed from smoke to flame. The lamp became still more brilliant when the Argand burner was invented. This is cylindrical and hollow. Through its centre rushes a current of air. The flame is thus both enlarged and intensified. The chimney, afterwards added, caused a stronger draught and a fiercer combustion. Mr. Gurney went a step further when he arranged to substitute a current of pure oxygen for common air. The light produced resembled sunshine, and when introduced to the House of Commons, superseding the two hundred and forty wax candles previously used, rendered it unprecedently bright. Then came coal-gas, and now, last of all, has blazed upon us the electric light, which is veritable lightning. (J. Brekenridge.)
A blended radiance
The seven-branched candlestick of the ancient Tabernacle and Temple represented the rigid, formal unity of the Jewish Church. We go to the New Testament, and instead of one hard, external unity, represented by that upright stem, and its three arms on each side, we have the seven candlesticks, diverse, but made one because Jesus Christ is in the midst of them. And in that slight diversity of emblem we get the whole difference between the hard, external unity of the ancient Jewish polity and the free variety in unity and diversity of the Christian Church, with its individual development as well as with its binding association. But for all that, the Church is one light. The rings of light in our gas-stands are pierced with a great number of little holes round each circle, but when you light each tiny jet they all run into one. So the highest form of Christian witness is not when a man starts off from his brethren and sets himself alone in a corner, but when he is content to blend his radiance with his brethren’s radiance, and not to mind about his own prominence so long as he contributes to the general light of all. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The golden candlestick
Christ and the Church are both seen here. The base and stock, or main pillar, represent Christ. The branches represent the Church of Christ. Jesus was bruised, and His people are bruised. Christ was made “perfect through suffering” (Hebrews 2:10). And the people of God have to be bruised (Philippians 3:10). It was the duty of the high priest to trim the lamps twice every day, when he came with his golden snuffers and removed any dead material which hindered the light from shining. So Christ, our High Priest, walks among His golden candlesticks, and He has often to apply the snuffers, and to cut off something which hinders the lamp from sending forth its light as it did in times past. When the high priest came with his snuffers he brought the oil-vessel at the same time; so when Christ removes a something which we love, but which hinders us from giving forth that light which ought to shine out from us, He gives us more of the oil of the Holy Spirit’s power and grace, so that our afflictions may really make us brighter and better Christians. We read about snuffers and snuff-dishes in connection with the candlestick, but not a word is said about an extinguisher. No extinguisher was needed, because the light was never to go out. Our High Priest never comes to us to put out our light; He would have it burn on all the time we remain in the wilderness. Let the Christian remember this, and never mistake the snuffers for the extinguisher. As the candlestick faced the table of shewbread, and so enabled the priests to find their food, it may represent the light of the Holy Ghost which shines on Christ, the true bread. The table is prepared, the food is there, but without the light of the Spirit we shall never find it. We should thank God as much for the Spirit as for the Son, for one will be of no use to us without the other. (G. Rodgers.)
Their pattern, which was shewed thee in the mount.
Heaven’s teaching on earth’s duties
I. That nothing is too trivial for God to notice.
II. That we should speak to God about ordinary work, even in our seasons of highest spiritual communion.
III. That even slight deviations from God’s directions are forbidden.
IV. That what we are called upon to do has far more depending upon it than we suppose. (A. Rowland, LL. B.)
Purpose in life; a lesson to the young
I. The necessity of a deliberate purpose in life. When an architect, or builder, or engineer, undertakes the construction of a house, the first thing he does is to get perfect his plans, and to be sure they are correct, so that he knows well what the future house, or bridge, or railway, will be like. If he went at his work in a haphazard manner, it would end in failure and disappointment. So with life.
II. This purpose of life should be formed on the model shown us by God.
1. The highest life is the holiest life, for it is nearest to the model set us by God.
2. The plan by which we are to mould our temporal concerns is already given us. Look at Mount Sinai for laws to obey; at the Mount of Olives for loving directions: at the Mount of Transfiguration for anticipation, hope of glory; at Mount Calvary for forgiven sin. (Homilist.)
The pattern in the mount
I. Moses did his work from a plan, and did not get his plan from his work. Reality is prior to the show of itself. There are no planless seeds. A far-reaching plan is the best one. Calculation is better than caprice. We are wiser in the long reach of thought than in the short reach. We are lost in the woods because we have no room for a long look. You say life is short. Better live on the short arc of a long circle than describe a little circle with the same line. Immediate results are meagre results. Plan solidifies. Power is measurable by purpose. Shiftlessness is a name for aimlessness. To-morrow depends on to-day, but to-day depends on to-morrow also. Past and present sustain each other. Plan gives moral safeguard. Adam fell because he had nothing to do, and the first act in the redemptive scheme was to set him to work. Satan recruits his ranks from the vagrants. The apostles were working men. The drifting boat drifts down stream. Young aimlessness is the beginning of old iniquity. Employment is a subsidiary means of conversion. Character, purpose and apprenticeship are not far apart.
II. Moses brought down his pattern from the mount. There is a celestial way of doing earthly things. Earthly success is a quotation from overhead. Our ideals are from patterns in the mount. There is something in them we never put into them. Whence are our ideals? We have never seen a perfect thing. What do we mean by using the word? We must go with Moses to the mount for the answer. In nothing do men have so much faith as in their ideals, and there is nothing which it is so hard to explain. We do not make laws, but find them. We cannot enact truth any more than gravity. There may be a myth about Sinai, but it is one we were bound to invent if it never was reality. The problem of life is to make the ideal real. Once it was done in Galilee. The two meet in Jesus. (C. H. Parkhurst, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Exodus 25". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany