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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 27

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 1-8

Exodus 27:1-8

An altar of shittim wood.

The altar of burnt-offering

. The altar of burnt-offering was made partly of wood, and partly of brass. The wood was incorruptible; and was therefore a lively type of the incorruptible humanity of Jesus.

The altar of burnt-offering, was not a golden altar; but a brazen altar. Brass is a durable metal, and an emblem of strength. Christ was equal to His mighty work. “I have laid help upon one that is mighty.” He is “mighty to save,” and strong to plead the cause of His people.

The altar was foursquare. There were firmness, stability and strength. The purposes of Divine love cannot be overturned. The atonement Christ has made is perfect and complete. Our altar presents a bold front to the enemy. It is a solid mass of strength.

It was a horned altar. In Christ we have sovereignty, protection, dignity and glory. Horns in Scripture are almost invariably emblems of power--regal power. Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords.

It was an anointed altar. The holy anointing oil was poured upon it, and thus it was sanctified, and became most holy. Christ was anointed with the oil of gladness above His fellows. The fulness of the Spirit was upon Him.

The sanctified altar sanctified all that was laid upon it. “Whatsoever toucheth the altar shall be holy.” The altar was therefore greater than the sacrifice. It is the altar that sanctifieth the gift. The Divine nature of Christ sustained His human nature, and gave efficacy to His sacrifice. Christ’s glorious Person is the only Altar on which we can offer acceptable sacrifices to God.

Christ is a spiritual altar, and on it we may offer spiritual sacrifices. To this Altar we must bring our prayers. If we pray in the name of Jesus, we give wings to our feeble breathings. To this Altar we must bring our praise. “By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name.” No service of song can be acceptable to God apart from Jesus Christ.

It was a sacrificial altar. On this altar was offered the daily sacrifice--a lamb every morning, and a lamb every evening. “Behold the Lamb of God! “ Christ is the Lamb of God’s providing.

It was a burning altar. On the altar sacrifices were continually burning. The fire was never to go out. Perfection was not to be found under the old dispensation. Christ’s sacrifice was one; and it was offered but once. “Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many.” “By one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” At the Jewish altar the fire consumed the sacrifices; but the sacrifice Christ offered consumed the fire. “It is finished.”

The altar of burnt-offering was God’s altar (Psalms 43:3-4). Jesus is the Christ of God. He is God’s beloved Son. In coming to Christ we come to the altar of God’s providing; we come to the altar of God’s appointment.

It is the sinner’s altar. The altar was erected on purpose for the guilty; and Christ came into the world to save sinners.

It is a blood-stained altar. Where the blood is, it is safe for the sinner to go. Being sprinkled with blood, it is a protecting altar.

The altar of brass was a nourishing altar. The priests had a portion of the sacrifices for their food (1 Corinthians 9:13). “We have an altar”--the glorious Person of Christ--“whereof they have no right to eat which serve the Tabernacle.” The old dispensation has passed away. The present dispensation is spiritual. Having “the heavenly things themselves,” we have no need of “the patterns.” In Christ we have all the “good things,” of which the Tabernacle and its services were “shadows.” All believers are priests. All wait at the altar. All live on Christ.

It was a conspicuous altar. No one could enter the court of the Tabernacle without seeing the brazen altar. Christ must be the preacher’s theme. Christ is the only object of saving faith, and Jesus only must be the subject of our ministry. (B. E. Sears.)

The size of the altar

It is observable in Scripture that Moses’ altar was but five cubits in length, and five in breadth, and three in height (Exodus 27:1); but Solomon’s altar was much larger (2 Chronicles 4:1). Now the reason hereof seems to be this, because Moses was in a warfare, in an unsettled condition, in the wilderness, in continual travel, full of troubles, and could not conveniently carry about an altar of that bigness; but Solomon was on his throne in a tranquil state, settled in quiet possession of his kingdom, and as his name was, so was he a true Solomon, that is, peaceable. Thus it ought to be with all good men, that when they have more peace and prosperity than others, their service of God should be proportionable. Solomon’s Temple must outstrip Moses’ Tabernacle in beauty and glory, and Solomon’s altar must exceed the bigness of Moses’ altar. In their peace and plenty, their holiness should outshine others that are in want and misery, when God lays not so much sorrow upon them as upon others, they should lay the more duty upon themselves. If God send them fewer crosses and more comforts, they are to return more service and commit less evils. (J. Spencer.)

The altar of brass

The altar was four-square, and it had four horns. The animals offered in sacrifice were horned animals, and were doubtless bound by their horns to the horns of the altar, and then slain (Psalms 118:27), so that the ground round about the altar would be always red and wet with blood. Life is in the blood; to shed the blood is to sacrifice the life; and the first thing that meets our eye as we enter the gate of the court, and look at the earth on which we are walking, is blood--sacrificed life. To this altar the sinner came leading his sin-offering. Here he stood before God, and his sins were confessed, and transferred or imputed to the unblemished and innocent animal, which had then to suffer and to die for sin, but not for its own sin. The innocent one died for the guilty one. These sacrifices were typical of Christ’s sacrifice. He suffered, the Just for the unjust: on Him our sins were laid; He bore them in His body on the tree. He was made sin, or a sin-offering, for us, and by His stripes we are healed. His blood was shed for the remission of sins, and now it cleanseth us from all sin (1 Peter 3:18; Isaiah 53:5-6; 1Pe 2:24; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Matthew 26:28; 1 John 1:7). Christ is our Altar, our Sacrifice, and our Priest. He offered Himself for us. And having met most fully all God’s claims, He now meets and supplies all the penitent believing sinner’s need. Every saved sinner has come to this spot--has seen Jesus as the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world (John 1:29). We have seen Christ as the Redeemer, and as the Gate or Way to God, and now we see Him as the Altar, Priest, and Sacrifice. Here we stand with our hand of faith on His head, and we feel that as our Sin-offering He has suffered for our sin, and has put it away. Our life was forfeited, but Christ who loved us, and gave Himself for us, has sacrificed His own life to save us from eternal death (Ephesians 5:25; John 10:11; John 10:15). (G. Rodgers.)

Significance of the altar of burnt-offering

In other cases an altar was said to be built, or elevated; but the portable structure used as such in the Tabernacle is spoken of as made, or constructed, because it had a frame of wood overlaid with copper. This frame was probably filled with earth to answer the requirements of the general statute. There is no intimation of this, indeed, in the writings of Moses; but neither does he mention any other expedient for holding the fire in place. Copper as dug out of the ground, similar to it in colour, and inferior to that metal which among metals represented celestial glory, was appropriately associated with earth in an altar belonging to a permanent and yet portable institution. By the affinity of the copper with the earth, this frame of an altar, which could be carried from place to place, fulfilled the same end in the expression of thought, as an altar of earth. The wood being, in the first place, designed for a frame on which the copper might be fastened so as to give sufficient size and strength without too great weight, was of acacia for the same reason which required this particular species of timber in the planks of the house, and the pillars of the court. The Tabernacle being a place of life, acacia wood, on account of its superiority to decay, was sought for every purpose which was to be answered with wood, whether in the edifice or its furniture. Not only the frame, or wall of the altar, was of acacia covered with copper, but also the horns; and this fact may help to determine the significance of these projections. The horn is, in cornute animals, the instrument of power, and thence becomes an emblem of strength, and as such is congruous with all the other elements combined in the altar as a symbol. It has, accordingly, been commonly understood that the horns of the altar represented the power of its ministrations. But recently it has been suggested that among the metaphorical significations of the horn, height was no less appropriate than strength as an attribute of an altar. The horn is the highest part of the animal, carried aloft as a badge of power and the honour consequent on power, and therefore used as a sign of elevation. To lift up the horn is to exalt, either in the physical or in a figurative sense. The horns of an altar may be intended, therefore, to symbolize still more emphatically the elevation of the earth on which the sacrifice is offered toward heaven, the residence of the Being to whom it is presented. The copper with which the horns were overlaid seems to countenance this interpretation. May not both shades of meaning be comprehended in one and the same emblem? The horns elevating the place of sacrifice nearer to heaven, the efficacy of the altar was especially conspicuous in these symbols of elevation. (E. E. Atwater.)

The brazen altar

This altar of burnt-sacrifice, with the offerings presented upon it, stands before us as a type of Christ and His cross. And the materials of which the altar was composed point strikingly to His twofold nature. His humanity, if found alone, would have been consumed by the fire of Divine justice, which blazed forth against Him when He stood as our substitute and bore our sins in His own body on the tree. And then, on the other hand, His Divinity, if found alone, like the altar, if all of brass, would have been too oppressive for us. It would have made us afraid by its excellency, and would have overwhelmed us by its majesty. But blended with the humanity, and tempered and softened by its transmission through the vail of flesh, it meets our necessities in every respect, and furnishes us with just the help and comfort that we need. (R. Newton, D. D.)


. Look now at the position which God assigned to the altar of sacrifice in the Jewish Tabernacle, that heaven-sketched symbol of the Church. Behold one of the marks of a true Church. It will give great prominence to the altar, the cross of Christ, or the doctrine of His atoning sacrifice.

The relation which it bore to every other part of the Tabernacle. It was the most important part of the whole Tabernacle. Like the root to the tree, like the foundation to the building, like the fountain to the stream, like the mainspring to the watch, like the heart to the body, it was that, on which every other part of the sacred structure depended, and from which it derived all its value. This altar represents the cross of Christ. As we look at it from this point of view, we seem to see written on it as with a sunbeam, the great practical truth, that the way to heaven--the only way by which any of our ruined race can enter there--lies over Calvary. There is no pardon, no renewal, no acceptance, no righteousness, no peace, no grace, no blessing, no salvation to any of Adam’s children, but through the sacrifice once offered upon the cross. And this is true not of our persons only, but of our services also. “Accepted in the beloved,” is the great underlying doctrine of the gospel. Our prayers, our praises, our sighs, our tears, our repentance, our faith, our words, our actions, our labours, our sufferings, our vows, our alms-givings, our sermons, our sacraments--all things that may be crowded into the entire circle of our services--have worth, or merit, not in themselves, but only as they stand connected with the sacrifice which Jesus offered on the cross, and are sprinkled with His atoning blood, in all its prevailing efficacy.

Our third lesson from this altar is suggested by the continuity of the offerings presented upon it. There was to be no cessation, no suspension, or interruption of the service here rendered. The sacrifice on the Jewish altar was an imperfect sacrifice, and hence the necessity for its repetition. They were “sacrifices,” as St. Paul says, “offered year by year continually, which could never make the comers thereunto perfect.” Our sacrifice, offered upon the cross, is a perfect sacrifice, and therefore it needs no repetition. It was offered “once for all”; and by this one offering, Jesus, our great High Priest, “perfects for ever them that are sanctified “; i.e., all His believing people. The offering was once made, but the merits, the influence, the efficacy of the offering, abide continually. And because it thus abides, there needs no repetition of it.

Our fourth lesson is taught us, when we consider the efficacy of the offerings presented on the brazen altar. You may say, indeed, that we have just spoken of their imperfection, and that is true. They were not intended to do for the Jews what the sacrifice of Christ does for us. They were only types, or shadows of that sacrifice. Of course they could only have a typical, or shadowy efficacy. This, however, they had in perfection. And here the brazen altar points significantly to the cross of Christ. It speaks to us, in eloquent tones, of the thorough efficacy, the absolute perfection of the sacrifice He offered.

The fifth and last lesson taught us by this altar is seen, when we observe the extent of its benefits. It was open to all. (R. Newton, D. D.)

The brazen altar of burnt-offering

In this we have a significant type of our Lord, regarded more particularly in His Divine nature. This view “is supported by our Lord Himself, when He says that the altar is greater than the sacrifice (Matthew 23:19). Both sacrifice and altar were but shadows, and derived their importance wholly from the reality to which they referred. But as a shadow of Christ’s sacrifice, the importance of the legal victims was immeasurable; and yet our Lord says the greatness to which the altar pointed transcends it. Then lies not the thought very near, that the altar pointed to His Divinity? And still further is this conclusion justifiable by the additional saying of our Lord, that the altar sanctifies the sacrifice; for was it not the union of His Divine with His human nature which imparted to the latter its majesty inconceivable, and to His sacrifice its miraculous and eternal efficacy?” A remarkable confirmation of this view is found in the fact that the altar, during removal, was covered with a purple cloth, which colour symbolized the hypostatic union. The construction of the altar pointed another lesson. The outer covering of brass concealed and protected an interior of wood. In fact, the altar was said to be made of wood. Now in Hebrew, wood and tree are synonymous, and trees are frequently spoken of in the Bible as emblematic of God’s saints. By the wood of the altar was signified the members of Christ: “It was a visible parable of the mystical union between Christ and His people. As the wood was hidden within the altar, so in God’s eye were they hid in Him.” And the lesson thus taught by the altar was this: Romans 8:1. “The altar was surmounted by four horns, the well-known emblems of power; and these horns were deeply marked with sacrificial blood; and it fell from them as it fell from Him whom the altar typified in the garden and on the cross. These horns were, therefore, at once symbols of might and reconciliation, and were outstretched to the four corners of the earth, to call men to flee unto Christ to be saved.” (E. F. Willis, M. A. , with quotations from H. Douglas, M. A.)

The altar of burnt-offering

This altar was the foundation of all the Tabernacle worship. The priests could not enter into the holy place except on the ground of sacrifice presented on the brazen altar. Nor could the high priest on the great atonement day enter the holy of holies without having first offered not only the ordinary sacrifice, but an additional sin-offering on the altar in the court. Not only was the Shekinah glory within the vail impossible of access, but the bread of the presence, the light of the lamps, the privileges of the altar of incense, were all closed until a sacrifice had been offered upon the altar. Thus were the children of Israel taught, and thus,too are we taught, that the first thing for the sinner to do, before he can taste the heavenly bread, before he can see the heavenly light, before he can even pray with acceptance, is to avail himself of the atonement which God has provided. The altar was the people’s place of meeting with God. It was free to all. The call was addressed to every child of Israel: “Come into His courts and bring an offering with you.” The atonement which God provides is free to all without exception, and without distinction. (J. M. Gibson, D. D.)

Verses 9-19

Exodus 27:9-19

The court of the Tabernacle.

The court of the Tabernacle

. This court may be an emblem of that sacred enclosure which always surrounds the Church. “A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse.” God Himself, with all His infinite perfections and attributes, is round about His people. Every attribute of God is a pillar in our protecting wall, power, sovereignty, justice, righteousness, truth and faithfulness, appear in perfect harmony with love, benevolence, mercy, tenderness, compassion and goodness. All unite to uphold the separating wall between the Church and the world.

We may look upon this court as emblematical of the life and ministry of Christ. Only the true Christian can enter into Christ, but a sinner may read His life. As the court led to the Tabernacle, so the reading of the life of Christ has often been the means of the soul believing in Jesus. In the life of Christ we have a perfect model for the Christian’s imitation. Christ has left us an example that we should follow His steps.

We may view the court of the Tabernacle as an emblem of the Holy Scriptures. We cannot come to God without entering the court of revelation. He that loves the Bible has entered the outer court of the Tabernacle. Reverence for the Word of God is a good sign.

The court of the Tabernacle was a place of worship. Here the Israelites came with their various sacrifices; and here God accepted them. If we would be accepted by God, we must observe God’s order, and come to the place He has appointed. We must also come in a right spirit.

In the court of the Tabernacle we have a figure of the professing Church.

1. Not all who entered the court entered the Tabernacle. Not all who make a profession of religion possess it. The heart, as well as the lip, must be right. The court was the way to the Tabernacle. There is no evidence that a man possesses grace while he neglects the means of grace. If a man has no love to God’s house, he can have no love to God. If we have no desire to be numbered with God’s people, there cannot be much desire after God Himself. (R. E. Sears.)

Hangings of the court

It is likely that those hangings would be of open work, and that the people would be able to look through this linen fence, and see what was being done inside. This would set forth the guilelessness of Christ’s character. He was no deceiver; there was no guile in His lips. He lived in a very hollow age, when deceit was the order of the day; but He was a transparent Man, an unselfish Man, a perfect Man. At the east end was a hanging called the gate. The basis of this gate would be the same as the fine linen in other parts of the court, and the meshes would be nearly filled up with blue, purple, and scarlet wools. This gate is Christ, the one gate, the one only door to God and to happiness in this life, or in the life which is to come. Those white hangings were suspended from upright pillars, standing in blocks of brass. The pillars were strong enough to sustain the weight of the hangings, and they were high enough to keep the fine linen from touching the ground, or contracting defilement in any part. So our Lord Jesus was sustained in His holy conduct in every part of His life by those upright principles which He had in His holy nature. (G. Rodgers.)

Fine linen

The fine linen was a thing of the earth. It had grown from seed which had been cast into the ground, and had died there, after which life came up out of death; there was death and resurrection. After this it went through many processes before it was seen about the dwelling-place of God. So the Christian has to learn death and resurrection. We have to die, and to be quickened to life, and we have to pass through some painful processes. Satan himself is sometimes permitted to sift us and to twist us, and he handles the soul roughly; but it is all needed to make us the fine-twined linen such as God would have us be. All things do indeed work together for our good, if they help to conform us to the image of Christ (Romans 8:28-29). (G. Rodgers.)

The gate of the court

The word “hanging” is in the Hebrew exclusively used for the vail the door of the Tabernacle, and the gate of the court; and serves, therefore, to connect together these three in type. Each of these hangings covered or hid the interior from the eyes of one approaching from the outside. Each had the character of a door. All three were made of the same materials arranged in precisely the same order; and all three were of the same dimensions as regards their area. The same truth seems, therefore, to be embodied in each of these typical curtains. The same Jesus, God manifest in the flesh, is pourtrayed in each. There could be no access to God of any kind, whether of comparatively distant worship or of closest intimacy, but through the one door, the Lord Jesus (John 10:7). Cain was the first who tried another path; and instead of being able to draw near, his very attempt ended in his going out from the presence of God into the land of banishment. Thousands follow in his footsteps, and think to worship and to offer without passing through the door. (H. W. Soltau.)

The hanging of fine linen

The court itself, with the exception of the gate, was closed by a hanging of fine-twined linen, five cubits high. Fine linen seems to be used in Scripture as a type of righteousness--a righteousness equal to all the demands of God--enabling him who possesses it to stand in God’s glory; in contrast with sin, by reason of which, all come short of the glory of God. The Israelite, who entered through the gate of the court, would be encompassed, shut in, and protected by this hanging of fine-twined linen. Though in a wilderness, he stood on holy ground; and the fine linen by which he was surrounded shut out from his eye the dreary barren prospect, through which he was wending his way. The lovely Tabernacle of God stood partially revealed to his gaze. The courts of the Lord’s house, overshadowed by the cloud of glory, were before him. The altar, with its lamb for the burnt-offering, sent up an odour of a sweet savour on his behalf. The laver, filled with water, told him of a fountain filled with life and purity, which would cleanse away even the ordinary defilement contracted whilst passing through a wilderness of death. He had entered through the gate of the court, the appointed doorway; within, every object proclaimed life, peace, righteousness, acceptance, and nearness to God. Moreover, no deadly foe could enter these precincts. Thus the court presented a place of security, of holiness, and of intercourse with God. Jerusalem on earth will hereafter afford some such place of refuge for the nations of the earth. (H. W. Soltau.)

The pins

By means of these pins of brass, the Tabernacle and the court were securely fastened to the desert ground, so that no storm or flood of waters could sweep away this structure, although many of the materials were such as to be easily affected by the wind or rain. May we not be reminded by this type, of the stedfast purpose of Christ, to pursue the path marked out for Him by the counsels of God, even though that path ended in the storm of judgment and in the billows of wrath. What a wondrous object of contemplation is the blessed Lord, as revealed to us in the Scriptures of truth. Weak, yet immovably firm. Himself the mighty God, yet dependent for everything on God His Father. Oh! the wondrous power of that weakness. Oh! the marvellous victory of that death. Oh! the eternal stability of Him laid low in the depths of the grave. (H. W. Soltau.)

Verses 20-21

Exodus 27:20-21

Pure oil olive beaten for the light.

Symbolic references

. The purity of the light (Psalms 26:9).

The perfection of the light.

The perpetuity of the light. Christ can never be superseded. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

Oil for the light

1. The source whence the oil was obtained--the “olive.” Thus is grace, free and full, obtained from Christ, the “Plant of renown.”

2. The qualification it was to possess--it was to be “pure.” All the grace which comes from Christ is pure and unalloyed.

3. The instruments of its dispensation--“the children of Israel.” The children of God are now the recipients and dispensers of Christ’s grace.

4. The uses to which it was put--it caused “the lamp to burn always.” Grace causes the life of each Christian to shine with a brighter glow. (S. Thomas.)

Lamps burning always

It is difficult to understand from the various passages bearing on the subject, whether the lamps burned both day and night, or only during the night--some passages apparently favouring the one view, and some the other; thus, “To cause the lamp to burn always” (Exodus 27:20); and, “Command the children of Israel, that they bring unto thee pure olive oil, beaten for the light, to cause the lamps to burn continually” (Leviticus 24:2). These passages seem to teach that the lamps burned both day and night. If they do not teach that, the meaning must be that “continual” and “always “ signify at regular intervals, as in the case of some ordinances and offerings which are called perpetual, though occurring only at intervals. The other view, that they burned only during the night, seems to be supported by, “Aaron and his sons shall order it from evening to morning” (Exodus 27:21); “And Aaron shall burn thereon (the golden altar) sweet incense every morning, when he dresseth the lamps” (Exodus 30:7-8). From these texts it would appear that the lamps burned only during the night. If they were not intended to teach that, the meaning must be that the lamps were dressed in the morning, probably one after another, not necessitating more than one being extinguished at a time, and after being dressed and lighted, burned during the day, the lamps receiving such further attention in the evening as admitted of their burning till the morning. As there were no windows in the Tabernacle, and the priests had duties to perform during the day in the holy place, it is almost certain that the lamps burned always. (W. Brown.)

Light symbolism

As the first apartment in the Tabernacle was illuminated by the sevenfold light of the candlestick, and as the Church, composed of all genuine believers on earth in every age, is enlightened by the Holy Spirit, so will the Church triumphant in heaven, that great temple not made with hands, be a place of glorious light; and the light shall never go out, it will burn always; so that there shall be no night there, nor sun, nor moon, nor stars shall shine in that happy place, for the glory of God and the Lamb is the light thereof. (W. Brown.)

Burning with pure oil

It is related in the biography of one who lived to become a devoted Christian man, that while he was yet a little boy, the passage read from the Bible in the family on a certain occasion was Exodus 27:20, describing the oil used in the vessels of the Tabernacle. The meaning and application of the verse was explained by other passages from the New Testament. This boy was then but five years old, and it was not supposed that he could understand or feel the slightest interest in a subject considered far beyond his age. The older children left the room after family worship, but the little boy was detained, as usual, to be taught some simple verses of the Bible by his mother, and to pray with her. He kneeled down at length to pray, and in the midst of his prayer he paused, and exclaimed, earnestly, “O my God, make me to burn this day with pure oil!” The morning lesson had not been lost upon him; he had understood its import. “Most evidently,” says his biographer, “was this prayer heard and answered throughout the day of his life.” How appropriate is this petition for the morning offering of every Christian, “Make me to burn this day with pure oil”! If He who hath all hearts in His keeping vouchsafe a gracious answer to that prayer, the example of the disciple must be one that will glorify the name of Jesus. Such a man will walk with God. No unhallowed fires will be lighted in his bosom. Neither revenge nor hate can burn there. The peace and joy of the believer will fill his soul..

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Exodus 27". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/exodus-27.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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