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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 27

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-8


THE ALTAR OF BURNT OFFERING. From the description of the tabernacle, or sacred tent in which worship was to be offered by the priests, it followed in natural sequence, that directions should be given concerning the court, or precinct, within which the tabernacle was to stand Ancient temples were almost universally surrounded by precincts, which the Greeks called τεμένη, whereto a sacred character attached; and this was particularly the case in Egypt, where the temenos seems to have been a regular adjunct to the temple. Among the chief uses of such an open space, was the offering of victims on altars, as these could not be conveniently consumed elsewhere than in the open air, on account of the clouds of smoke and the fumes of the sacrifices. As in the description of the tabernacle, the furniture was first described, then the structure, so now the altar takes precedence of the court which was to contain it.

Exodus 27:1

Thou shalt make an altar. Rather, "the altar." God had already declared that he would have an altar made to him in the place where he should "record his name" (Exodus 20:24). And, even apart from this, an altar would be regarded as so essential an element in Divine worship, that no place of worship could be without one. Of shittim wood. God had required (1. s. c.) that his altar should be "of earth," or else of unhewn stones (Exodus 20:25). The command now given was to make, not so much an altar, as an altar-case (see Exodus 27:8). There can be no doubt that Jarchi is right in supposing that, whenever the tabernacle for a time became stationary, the hollow case of the altar was rifled up with earth, and that the victims were burnt upon this. Four-square. Altars were commonly either square or round. An Assyrian triangular one was found by Mr. Layard at Nineveh; but even this had a round top. The square shape is the most usual, and was preserved, probably in all the Temple altars, certainly in those of Solomon (2 Chronicles 4:1) and Herod (Joseph. Bell. Jude 1:5Jude 1:5.5, § 6).

Exodus 27:2

The horns of it. Literally, "its horns." Horns were not usual adjuncts of altars; indeed they seem to have been peculiar to those of the Israelites. They were projections at the four top comers, probably not unlike the horns of bulls, whence their name. Criminals clung to them when they took sanctuary (1 Kings 1:50; 1 Kings 2:28); and the blood of sin-offerings was smeared upon them (Exodus 29:12; Le Exodus 8:15; Exodus 9:9; Exodus 16:18, etc.). Victims also were sometimes, when about to be sacrificed, bound to them (Psalms 118:27). According to Kalisch, "The horns were symbolical of power, of protection and help; and at the same time of glory and salvation." His horns shall be of the same. Part and parcel of the altar, that is, not extraneous additions. Thou shalt overlay it with brass. A solid plating of bronze is no doubt intended, such as would protect the shittim wood and prevent it from being burnt.

Exodus 27:3

His pans to receive his ashes. Literally, "to cleanse it from fat'—i.e; to receive what remained after burning the victims, which would be ashes mixed with a good deal of fat. His shovels. Those would be used in removing the ashes from the altar, and depositing them in the pans. His basins. Vessels for receiving the blood of the victims and from which it was poured on the altar. Compare Exodus 24:6. His flesh hooks. So the Septuagint, and our translators again in 1 Samuel 2:13. They would seem by the latter passage to have been three-pronged forks, the proper use of which was, no doubt, to arrange the various pieces, into which the victim was cut, upon the altar. His fire-pans. The word used is generally translated "censers" (Leviticus 10:1.; Leviticus 16:12; Numbers 4:14 : Numbers 16:6, Numbers 16:17, etc.), but sometimes "snuff-dishes" (Exodus 25:38; Exodus 37:23). It here perhaps designates the vessels used for carrying burning embers from the altar of burnt-offering, to the altar of incense on certain occasions (Le 1 Samuel 16:12). Etymologically, it means simply "a receptacle.'' All the vessels thereof thou shalt make of brass. Rather, "of bronze." Bronze was the usual material of utensils and implements in Egypt. Copper was scarcely used without the alloy of tin which converts it into bronze; and brass was wholly unknown. A trace of iron is sometimes found in Egyptian bronze

Exodus 27:4

Thou shalt make for it a grate. Rather, "a grating." This was probably a protection for the lower part of the altar, and prevented it from being touched by the feet of the ministrant priests. It was outside the altar, and had the rings attached to it, by which the altar was carried when the Israelites journeyed.

Exodus 27:5

Thou shalt put it under the compass. The "compass" (karkob) is spoken of as if it were something well-known; yet it had not been previously mentioned. Etymologically the word should mean "a cincture" or "band" round the altar; and thus far critics are generally agreed. But its position, size, and object, are greatly disputed. Some hold that it was a broad bench, or step, on which the officiating priests stood at the time of a sacrifice, and that its position was about the middle of the altar. Others think that it was a mere border round the top, from which the net-work depended, and that the object of both was to catch anything that might fall from the altar. Others again, while placing it mid-way in the altar, regard it as a mere ornament, only projecting slightly, and forming a sort of finish to the net-work. This, which is the view of Knobel, seems to be, on the whole, the most probable one. That the net may be even to the midst of the altar. If the" compass" was at the top, the net must have extended thence to the middle. If it was mid-way in the altar, the net must have covered the lower half. To us this latter seems the more probable view. But the point is uncertain.

Exodus 27:6, Exodus 27:7

Staves, or polos, were needed for the carriage of the altar from place to place, as for the ark (Exodus 25:13) and the table of shew-bread (Exodus 25:28). They were to be inserted into the rings mentioned in Exodus 27:4. As the altar was of bronze, so the rings were to be of bronze, and the staves overlaid with bronze. There is a gradual descent in the preciousness of the materials from the holy of holies to the holy place, and from that to the court.

Exodus 27:8

Hollow with boards shalt thou make it. See the comment on Exodus 27:1. The term here used for" boards," (which is different from that in Exodus 26:15-29) implies strength and solidity. As it was showed thee in the mount, Compare Exodus 26:30, with the comment ad loc.


Exodus 27:1-8

The symbolism of the brazen altar.

The noticeable points of this altar are its position, material, ornaments, and purpose or use.


(1) It was without the sanctuary, in the open court beyond;

(2) under the canopy of heaven;

(3) directly in front of the sanctuary, and so of the ark and the mercy-seat.

(1) It was without the sanctuary, that none might venture inside the holy structure, and so draw nigh to God without passing it, and obtaining from it the purification which it could confer. Even if the priests on the way to the tabernacle did not always stop at the altar to offer a victim as a sacrifice, they would have the thought of the need of expiation brought home to them by the sight of it, and might as they passed propitiate the Most High by the offering of a prayer. The position of the altar taught that man's first need is to have his sins and impurities purged away; and that until this is done, he must not presume to worship God, or enter into his presence, or offer the sacrifice of praise, or mingle in the company of those who form "the general assembly and church of the first-born, which are written in heaven."

(2) It was under the open canopy of heaven, visible to all, accessible to all, for all Israel might enter the court; thereby teaching, that the necessary purification was intended by God to be open to all, and that his eye looked down from heaven with favour upon all who desired to be purged from their impurities, and were willing to accept the appointed mode of purging.

(3) It was directly in front of the sanctuary, and so of the ark and the mercy-seat. By this position it pointed to them, led the eye towards them, reminded men of them. With God, in the holy of holies, was at once justice, and also mercy—the law and the mercy-seat. Here, at the altar, was the place where the two could be reconciled, where "mercy and truth might meet together, righteousness and peace kiss each other." Here was to be begun that purging, both of the nation and of individuals, which was only complete when once in the year the high priest entered into the holiest, with the blood of the sin-offerings, and sprinkled it on the horns of the altar that was within the veil (Exodus 30:10), and "on the mercy-seat eastward" (Le Exodus 16:14), so atoning both for himself and for the sins of the people (Hebrews 9:7).

II. ITS MATERIAL. The material was

(1) shittim or acacia wood;

(2) bronze; and

(3) earth;

the earth alone constituting the true altar (Exodus 20:24), and the wood and metal a casing, by means of which the earth was kept together.

(1) Shittim, or acacia, the most incorruptible of woods, typified the purity required in all that is set apart for God.

(2) Bronze, the metal most common in the use of the time, indicated that the altar was for every-day employment by the mass of the people (Leviticus 1-7.).

(3) Earth, pure fragrant mould, that of which man was formed at the first (Genesis 2:7), and into which he is resolved at the last (Genesis 3:19), may well have represented Humanity; so that in the altar, which God had required to be made of earth (Exodus 20:24), he saw Humanity making its offerings to him,—peace-offerings in thankfulness for his mercies, sin-offerings in deprecation of his anger, burnt-offerings in complete dedication of the whole being to his service. Or the mould may primarily have represented this earth, on which we live, whereof it is the essence as being the life-sustaining portion, and only secondarily man, for whom the earth was brought into existence, and of which he is the master.


(1) perhaps, its cincture;

(2) certainly, its horns.

(1) The cincture, or "compass" (Exodus 27:5), if it was wholly for ornament, may simply have indicated the propriety of adorning and beautifying everything which is brought into the service of the sanctuary. Without some wreath, or moulding, where the grating began, the altar would have had a bare and unfinished look. It would have been wanting in elegance and beauty. The pattern shown to Moses in the mount did not allow of this. It left nothing bare, unsightly, inelegant, out of taste. God chose to be worshipped "in the beauty of holiness." It is easy to disparage beauty; and certainly beauty alone, not accompanied by purity and goodness, is worthless, vain, trivial. But, as men desire beauty in their own houses, furniture, utensils, vessels, implements, so natural piety leads them to desire even greater beauty for the houses, vessels, etc; used in the service of God. "The house," said David, "that is to be builded for the Lord, must be exceedingly magnifical" (1 Chronicles 22:5). And congruity requires that, if a house be magnifical, all its contents, down to the meanest vessel, should possess some beauty; otherwise, the law of harmony is broken—a discord manifests itself.

(2) The horns at the four corners, uprearing themselves to heaven, and showing conspicuously, as symbols of power and strength, spoke of the God to whom the altar was reared, and indicated his ability to help, protect, and succour his worshippers. But there was also a human side to their symbolism. They further indicated the victory which man gains over death and Satan by means of expiation, the height to which he is exalted when the atonement made for him cleanses him from all sin. "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord!"

IV. ITS PURPOSE. We have assumed throughout that the purpose of the altar—its main purpose—was expiation. Its proper title was "the altar of burnt-offering." All offerings, except those which the high priest offered at the altar of incense in the holy of holies, were to be made at this brazen altar before the door of the tabernacle. Hither were the Israelites to bring alike their peace or thank-offerings, their burnt-offerings, and their sin-offerings. Expiation was the sole idea of the last of these, and a main idea of the second; it was absent only from the first. Thus it was the predominant idea of sacrifice. The altar witnessed to the guilt of man in God's sight, and the need of an atonement being made for him before he could be reconciled to "the High and Holy One." It witnessed also to God's eternal purpose, that a way of reconciliation should be devised, and made known to man, and that thus it should be put into his power to make his peace with God. The true victim was not indeed as yet offered. Bulls and goats, lambs and rams, could never of themselves, or of their own proper force, sanctify the unclean or take away sin. It was only by virtue of the death which their sacrifice prefigured, that they had any atoning force, or could be accepted by God as expiatory. Each victim represented Christ—the one and only sacrifice for sin which could propitiate the Father. And the altar therefore represented and typified the cross on which Christ died, offering himself thereon to the Father as both priest and victim. Shape and material were different, and the mode of death was different; but each was the material substance on which the atoning victim died, each was stained with the atoning blood; and each was unspeakably precious to the trembling penitent who felt his need of pardon, and, if possible, even more precious to him who knew that atonement had thereon been made for him, and felt his pardon sealed. No true Israelite would sacrifice on any altar but that of the sanctuary. No true Christian will look for pardon and atonement anywhere but to the cross of Christ, and to him who on that altar gave his life for man.


Exodus 27:1-21

The tabernacle and its teachings.


1. The situation of the altar.

(1) It faced the worshipper as he entered. The cross of Christ must be held up before men, if they are to be brought nigh to God.

(2) It stood before the holy place, and had to be passed by all who entered there. The realisation of Christ's atonement for sin is the only path to God's presence.

2. The altar, on which the sacrifice for sin is laid, is the place of power. The horns, the symbol of Divine power. The gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation.

3. In Christ God gives us a place for accepted offerings. The altar was Israel's as well as God's: upon it were laid their offerings as well as those prescribed for the daily service and the great day of atonement. In Christ we are able to offer sacrifices that are well pleasing to God.


1. Its limits were appointed by God himself. The Church must be made no broader than his commandment makes it. In his own time he will make it conterminous with the world; but meanwhile we must obey his commandment and fulfil his purpose by making it conterminous with living faith.

2. It was for all Israel. Living faith in Christ should be a passport to all his churches.

3. How the court was formed—

(1) Its walls were made of fine linen. The distinction between the world and the Church is righteousness.

(2) The gate was formed of blue and purple and scarlet. Entrance is had not by man's righteousness, but by bowing beneath the manifested grace of God in Christ.


1. It was the free-will offering of the people. The light of the world springs from the consecration of believers.

2. It was to be pure. Believers must keep themselves unspotted from the world.

3. It was to be beaten, not pressed, and thus be the finest which the olive could yield. The highest outcome of humanity is the Christ-like life.

4. The lamps were to burn always. Our light, the flame of love, must burn constantly before God, and its radiance be shed always before men.

5. The lamps were to be tended by the ministers of God. The aim of those who labour in weird and doctrine should be the development of Christ-like life, love to God and man.—U.

Verses 9-18


THE COURT BEFORE THE TABERNACLE. The description of the altar is (as already observed) naturally followed by that of the court which was to contain it, and in which it was to be the most conspicuous object. This is given with great clearness in ten verses, and presents scarcely any problem for solution. The court was an oblong square, three hundred feet in length and seventy-five in breadth. It was enclosed by curtains, hung on sixty pillars, placed at intervals of seven feet and a half apart. The pillars were connected by rods, and each of them fitted into a socket. There was but one entrance, which was at the eastern side, midway in it. It was thirty feet wide, and had its own curtains and its own pillars. These curtains were of similar material with those at the entrance to the tabernacle, but the hangings round the rest of the court were merely of fine white linen.

Exodus 27:9

Thou shalt make the court. Rather, "a court." For the south side southward. Rather," For the south side, upon the right." Compare the comment on Exodus 26:18. Hangings. The word used is a rare one in this sense, quite different from those which have been employed for "curtains" or "hangings "previously (Exodus 26:1, Exodus 26:7, Exodus 26:36). The LXX. translate by ἱστία "sails;" and the Jewish commentators believe a loosely woven sail-cloth to be intended. Fine twined linen. See the comment on Exodus 26:1.

Exodus 27:10

And the twenty pillars thereof, etc. Literally, "And its pillars, twenty (in number), and their sockets, twenty (in number, shall be) of bronze." The hooks of the pillars are loops whereto the curtains were to be attached. See Exodus 26:32. Their fillets. It is now generally agreed that the word used designates "connecting rods," which joined the pillars at the top, and probably helped to support the "hangings." These, and the "hooks," were of solid silver.

Exodus 27:11

The north side of the court is to be exactly similar to the south in all respects.

Exodus 27:12

The west side is also to be similar, except that it is to be half the length, fifty cubits—and, therefore, requires only half the number of pillars and sockets.

Exodus 27:13

The breadth of the court on the east side eastward. Rather, "in front toward the east." The Rabbinical tradition was that Adam found himself on his creation fronting towards the east, and had consequently the south on his right, the north on his left, and the west behind him. Hence, they said, the four cardinal points received the names of kedem, "in front" (the east); yamin, "the right hand" (the south); 'akhor, "behind" (the west); and shemol, "the left hand" (the north). For this use of all four words, see Job 23:8, Job 23:9.

Exodus 27:14

The hangings of one side. Literally, "of one shoulder." The two extreme parts of the east side, between the entrance (Exodus 27:16) and the corners are thus named. They were to extend on either side a distance of fifteen cubits, and to have their curtains suspended to four pillars, one of them being the corner pillar, which is not counted. Hence the pillars are said to be three

Exodus 27:16

For the gate. The word used is the common one for "gate;" but here it rather signifies "entrance." Strictly speaking, there was no "gate;" the worshippers entered by drawing aside the curtain. This was a hanging of similar material, colours, and workmanship to that which hung in front of the tabernacle (Exodus 26:36). By its contrast with the white linen screen which surrounded the rest of the court, it would show very clearly where men were to enter.

Exodus 27:17

Filleted with silver. Rather, "joined by silver rods." See the comment on Exodus 27:10. They were also to have their capitals overlaid with silver (Exodus 38:17).

Exodus 27:18

The length and the breadth of the court had been already implied in what had been said of the external screen-work, or "hangings" (Exodus 27:9 and Exodus 27:12). What this verse adds is the height of the pillars, which was five cubits, or seven feet six inches.


Exodus 27:9-18

The Court of the Tabernacle.

I. THE USE OF THE COURT. The court was primarily a precinct inclosing the sacred structure, and preserving it from contact with the roughnesses of the rude world without. It formed a sort of vestibule to the tent-temple, which awoke solemn thoughts, and gave men time to put away secular considerations, and attune their minds to the Divine harmonies, before entering the house itself, which contained the manifestation of the Divine presence. God must be approached with preparation, humbly, reverently, tremblingly. The court at once preserved the sacred structure from accidental or intentional profanation, and helped to prepare the priests for the duties of their office. Secondly, the court was the place of sacrifice. It contained the brazen altar, whither all Israel was to bring their gifts. Here were offered, at once all the stated sacrifices, daily, or weekly, or monthly, or yearly, and all the irregular and voluntary offerings which the piety of the Israelites induced them to bring in. The smoke of victims continually ascended from it to heaven. Here was the place for expiation—for thankfulness—for self-dedication to the service of God.

II. THE PERSONS ENTITLED TO HAVE THE USE OF IT. These were all Israel—young and old, rich and poor, great and small, priests and laymen. Into the holy of holies none but the high priest, into the holy place none but the priests might enter. But the court was common to the priesthood with the laity. Hither came, to "the door of the tabernacle of the congregation," every pious Israelite who was minded to offer a sacrifice of any kind—whose heart swelled with gratitude for mercies received, and who therefore brought a "thank-offering"—whose soul was weighed down with the sense of sin, and who sought relief by the sacrifice of a "sin-offering"—whose awakened spirit told him that unless the soul wholly rests on God there is no peace for it, and who, as a sign of absolute self-dedication, came to offer a "burnt-offering." Hither came many a man, anti many a woman, like Hannah (1 Samuel 1:7-11), in sore trouble, and offered to the Lord Almighty their vows. Whatever may have been the practice with respect to the temple, while the tabernacle endured, the whole congregation had free access to it. Here they felt themselves to be that "kingdom of priests"—that "holy nation " Ñ which God had declared that they should be (Exodus 19:6). Here they realised, at any rate to some extent, that blessing which is among the greatest of the Christian's privileges-the right to "come boldly to the throne of grace" (Hebrews 4:16)—to "draw near to God," without an earthly mediator, "in full assurance of faith" (Hebrews 10:22)—to "cast all our care upon him"—to have direct communion with him—to speak with him, "as a man speaks with his friend."

III. THE POSITION OF THE COURT WITH RESPECT TO THE REST OF THE TABERNACLE. There was clearly a gradation in holiness. The inner shrine had a sanctity peculiar to itself, expressed by the very name, "holy of holies." Here was the greatest beauty and the greatest magnificence. Walls entirely of gold, curtains of cunning work, interwoven with the graceful forms of cherubim, furniture all covered with gold, golden cherubs of beaten work upon the mercy-seat—above all, the glory of God showing in the space between these figures. A lesser degree of sanctity belonged to the outer chamber—"the holy place;" and this was indicated by inferior richness and magnificence. Though gold was still the metal chiefly used, silver, and even bronze (Exodus 26:37), were introduced. The outer curtain was not wrought with cherubim (verse 36). The change was even greater between the "holy place" and the court. In the court was no gold, but only silver and bronze. The "hangings" were for the most part plain. Only at the entrance did the eye rest upon the mingled glory of blue and purple and scarlet, and upon the cunning work of embroidery. The furniture and utensils were of bronze only. Again, the gradation was marked by the law of admission: into the court, all the congregation; into the "holy place," the priests only; into the "holy of holies," none but the high priest. And thus it will be always, as we are nearer to God or further from him. If we dwell only in his courts, on the outer verge of his kingdom, we must be content with the bronze and plain linen of bare acceptance; we must not expect favour, glory, beauty. If, on the other hand, we press forward from his courts into his sanctuary; if we strive ever to advance in holiness, then he has better things in store for us. "For brass he will give gold" (Isaiah 60:17), for acceptance, approval—for mere pardon, communion and fellowship; and to such as press into the inner shrine, with the "boldness" that is now legitimate (Hebrews 10:19), he will reveal himself in the full splendour of his majesty, and in the perfect glow of his love.

Verse 19


THE VESSELS OF THE TABERNACLE. There were many "vessels of the tabernacle" which have not hitherto been mentioned, as the great laver in the court (Exodus 30:18; Exodus 40:30) with the basins for washing which must have belonged to it; the pins or pegs whereby the various curtains were extended and supported; and probably much sacrificial apparatus besides what is enumerated in Exodus 27:3. All these were to be of bronze, the commonest metal of the time, but one very suitable for the various purposes, being, as the Egyptians manufactured it, of great hardness, yet exceedingly ductile and ready to take all shapes. Its usefulness and convenience caused it to retain its place, even in the gorgeous and "magnificent" temple of Solomon (1 Chronicles 29:2, 1 Chronicles 29:7), where it was employed for the two great pillars, Jachin and Boaz, for the great laver or "brazen sea," for the mailer layers upon wheels, for the pots, the shovels, the basins, the snuffers, the spoons, and many other sacred vessels (1 Kings 7:15-45; 2 Kings 25:13, 2 Kings 25:14). Though "common," it was never reckoned "unclean," or less fitted for the service of the sanctuary than silver or gold. It had, however, its own proper place, an inferior place to that held by the more precious metals.

Exodus 27:19

All the pins thereof. The "pins" of the tabernacle are undoubtedly the pegs or tent-pins, whereby the tent-cloth wherewith it was covered was extended and kept taut. There were also probably similar pegs or pins for cords used to keep the "pillars" (Exodus 26:37) or tent-poles in place. The pins of the court supported in the same way the pillars of the court (Exodus 27:10-15).


Exodus 27:19

The value is God's sight of what is common and homely.

God does not despise anything that he has made. "His mercy is over all his works" (Psalms 145:9). Each of them has its fit and proper place. Each one of them is needed in his universe. Much less does he despise any of his human creatures. He has seen fit to gift them variously, to make some of gold, some of silver, and some of brass, some to honour, and some to comparative dishonour; but for all he has a use. No intellect is too homely, no nature too rude and unrefined to find a place somewhere in his Church where it can do him service, and even perhaps do it better than a more refined and more highly gifted nature. Difference, gradation, variety, is the law of his universe. "There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differeth from another star in glory" (1 Corinthians 15:41). In the angelic hierarchy there are angels and archangels, principalities, and powers; in the Church triumphant there are grades—princes who sit on thrones, judges of tribes, rulers over ten cities, rulers over five cities, and a "great multitude" who have no authority, but are simply "saints." And so it is, and must ever be, in the Church militant. "There are diversities of gifts," higher and lower natures, minds of extraordinary power, and dull, homely intellects. Bat all have their use; for all there is room; and God values each. God will have none despised. The brazen vessels of the outer court—ash-pans and basins, and flesh-hooks, and fire-pans, and tent-pins—were as much needed for the tabernacle and its service, as the silver sockets and rods, or the golden taches, and rings, and snuff-dishes. Bronze is more suitable for many purposes than gold; and ordinary human nature can do God's work better in many positions than great gifts or extraordinary intellect.

Verses 20-21


THE OIL FOR THE LAMP. It has been observed that this paragraph is somewhat out of place. It would more appro priately, according to human ideas, have terminated Exodus 25:1-40. But "God's ways are not as man's ways, nor his thoughts as man's thoughts." It is frequently difficult—some-times impossible—for the keenest human intellect to trace the connecting links between one portion of God's word and the next. In such cases it is best not to speculate on the nature of the connection, but to content ourselves with laying to heart the lesson which each portion teaches separately.

Exodus 27:20

Thou shalt command. Compare Exodus 25:6, where the general command had been given. Here certain additions are made as to the quality of the oil which was to be brought. The oil was to be pure olive oil beaten that is to say, it was to be olive oil purified from any admixture of that watery juice which the Romans called amurca; and it was to be of the kind which is obtained by mere beating or pounding in a mortar, and not by crushing in a mill. Oil of this kind, which is usually made from the unripe fruit, is reckoned much the best; it is clear and colourless, and gives a bright pure light with little smoke. To cause the lamp to burn always. It has been supposed from this expression that the lamp must have been kept constantly burning both day and night; and Josephus declares that this was actually so, at least with three out of the seven lights (Ant. Jude 1:3Jude 1:3.7, Jude 1:7). But there are several places m Scripture which state, or imply, the contrary. (See especially Exodus 30:8; and 1 Samuel 3:3.) It seems to have been the duty of the high-priest to light the lamps every evening, and to give them a sufficient supply of oil to last till daybreak, at which time "the lamp of God went out" (1 Samuel l.s.c.) The supposition that "one light at least was always burning" (Kalisch), because no daylight could penetrate into the structure through the fourfold covering, ignores the fact that light would enter through the single curtain at the entrance, as well as the probability that some portion of that curtain may generally have been looped up. If we regard the lamp as extinguished during the daytime, we must understand "always" here to mean "regularly every night."

Exodus 27:21

The tabernacle of the congregation. Rather, "the tent of meeting"—the tent where God would meet the earthly ruler of the people (Exodus 25:22), and give him commands and directions—not the place of meeting for the people themselves, who might in no case go beyond the entrance to the structure. The testimony—i,e; the ark which contained the "testimony," or two tables of stone written with the finger of God. Aaron and his sons. Compare Exodus 24:1. The intention to confer the priesthood on the descendants of Aaron, first openly revealed in the next chapter (Exo 24:1 -43), is tacitly assumed from time to time in the earlier narrative. Shall order it from evening to morning. See the comment on verse 20. It is difficult to assign these words any distinct meaning unless we accept the view, that the lamp burnt during the night only. It shall be a statute for ever. This expression is not at all common. In Exodus it occurs only here and in four other places. In Leviticus it is met with some six or seven times. The portions of the law thus characterised must be regarded as of special importance. (See the homiletics on this verse.)


Exodus 27:20, Exodus 27:21

Oil for the lamp.


(1) The people were to bring the oil regularly—to attend to what may have seemed to them a little matter, but what was in God's sight of such importance that he made it "a statute for ever"—and to attend to it with such regularity that oil should never be lacking.

(2) They were to bring of their best. The oil was to be from the olive—not from the sesame plant, or the castor-oil plant, or the Raphanus olifer, or from any vegetable which furnished oil of a coarse kind. It was to be "pure," not adulterated, as oils often were in Egypt (Plin. H.N 13.1), and not mixed with the amurca, or watery juice of the olive, which made it unfit for burning. Next, it was to be "beaten oil"—oil made with extra trouble by careful pounding with the hand, instead of rough mechanical crushing in mills.

II. THE PRIESTS' DUTY. The priests were perpetually to trim and tend the lamps. Daily, at even, they were to light them; daily, in the morning, they were to extinguish them, if any were still alight; to trim the wicks; to cleanse the bowls which held the oil; and to replenish them with a proper supply. They were to lake every care that a pure light was constantly maintained night after night, so that the house of God should never be dark, or even obscure, but be ever ready for worship, ever illumined, ever prepared for any visitation of its Lord, who might come at the third, or the sixth, or the ninth, or the twelfth hour. It does not appear that there were any night services in the tabernacle; but the lighted lamp was a testimony that the Church continued ever on the watch, strove ever to be "the light of the world" (Matthew 5:14)—like the wise virgins, "kept its lamp burning." And this is the duty of ministers at all times. The Christian ministry must take care that the light of the Church shines pure and bright continually—that nothing dims it—that it glows ever as a beacon light, a guide and a help amid the storms and tempests of the world. If the people do not bring a due supply of oil—i.e; of loving, faithful service—the Church must suffer, its light be dimmed. If the people do their duty, and the ministers fail, if they are careless, or slothful, or self-seeking, or worldly, or wanting in faith, the result is the same—the flame flickers; the light sinks and threatens to go out; gross darkness settles down upon the people. A Church in this condition must expect to have its candlestick removed, unless it repents, and bestirs itself, and turns to God, and "does the first works" (Revelation 2:5), and "strengthens the things that remain and are ready to die" (Revelation 3:2).

III. THE TRUE LIGHT. After all, let ministers and people be as faithful as they will, let them "keep their lamps burning," and cause "their light to shine before men" ever so brightly, still they are not, they will never be, "the true light." Christ is "the true light"—"the light that shineth in darkness and the darkness comprehendeth it not"—"the light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world" (John 1:4-9). In him are hid "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge"—nothing needful for man to know but he has taught it—nothing expedient for man to see but he has revealed it. "His word is a lantern unto our feet, and a light unto our paths." He is both an outward and an inward light. His gospel illumines the world without—penetrates its dark places, exposes its unholy doings, throws a flood of light upon the past, makes plain to us the ways of God with man. And his Spirit illumines the soul within, quickens and guides the conscience, makes our own way plain before our face, "enables with perpetual light the dulness of our blinded sight." He is the only true "light of the world"—the light which will endure throughout all time—the one Teacher who cannot deceive-the one Guide who cannot lead astray! And he is the light of the world to come. "In him is the well of life; and in his light shall we see light" (Psalms 26:9). The "holy city, New Jerusalem," has therefore "no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it," because "the glory of God cloth lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof."


Exodus 27:1-20

The brazen altar and court of the tabernacle.

From the sanctuary, we pass in this chapter to the outer court, the principal object in which was the brazen altar, or altar of burnt offering.

I. THE BRAZEN ALTAR (Exodus 27:1-9).

1. Form of the altar. The altar was a foursquare case of shittim wood, five cubits long and five broad, made with four horns, and overlaid with plates of bronze. Round it, at some distance from the ground, was apparently a ledge, on which the priests stood when engaged with the sacrifices. We must suppose that the central part was filled with earth, or with the unhewn stones commanded in Exodus 20:24, Exodus 20:25. The "grate of network" of Exodus 20:4, seems to us to have supported the ledge, or compass of Exodus 20:5. Some take a different view of it.

2. Its horns. These are rightly understood as the points in which the force or virtue of the altar concentrated itself.

3. Its uses. It was—

(1) the place to which the people brought their offerings to God;

(2) the place at which reconciliation was made for sin;

(3) the place on which the parts of the sacrifices which belonged to God were consumed by fire.

Here, at the altar, were the victims slain; around the altar the atoning blood was poured or sprinkled; in the case of the sin offering, the blood was smeared upon the horns: with live coals from the altar did the priest replenish his censer when he went in to burn incense before the Lord. On this altar was laid the daily burnt-offering, together with the "sacrifices of righteousness,'' "the burnt-offering, and whole burnt-offering" (Psalms 51:19), by which the people expressed their consecration to God. Here were consumed the fat and choice parts of the peace-offerings, etc.

4. Its typical significance.

(1) The altar, as the place of atonement, reminded the worshipper of sin, and of his need of cleansing from sin's guilt. In this way, it pointed forward to Christ, in whom the whole ritual of sacrifice reaches its consummation.

(2) As the altar of burnt-offering, it taught the duty of unconditional and entire surrender to the will of God. This offering up of the whole being to God in inward consecration underlies the special acts of consecration symbolised in the shew-bread, in the lighted candlestick, and in the ascent of incense from the golden altar.

(3) As God's altar, it was a witness to the Divine readiness to pardon; yet a testimony to the stern truth that without shedding of blood there is no remission (Hebrews 9:22).

II. THE COURT OF THE TABERNACLE (Exodus 20:9-20). On the general construction of the court, see the exposition. We have to view it as a spacious enclosure of a hundred cubits by fifty, its sides formed by linen hangings, five cubits in height, and supported by pillars of brass (bronze) five cubits apart, to which the hangings were attached by hooks and fillets of silver. The brazen altar stood in the forepart of the court; the tabernacle towards the rear. Between the brazen altar and the tabernacle was the laver. The design of this court was to furnish the people, who were precluded from entering the sanctuary, with a place in which they might still, though at some distance, personally appear before Jehovah. The court conferred a privilege, yet taught a lesson. The fact that he could approach no further than its precincts painfully reminded the Israelite that, as yet, the work of atonement was incomplete—that he still stood, because of his unholiness, at a great distance from God. In the gospel of Christ, these barriers are all done away with.—J.O.

Exodus 27:20, Exodus 27:21

The burning lamp.

God's care for his sanctuary descends even to so small a matter as the replenishing and trimming of its lamps, Note—

1. The end of the ordinance. God desires that the light obtained from the lamps in his sanctuary be—

(1) pure,

(2) bright,

(3) constant.

The best light possible. Such should be the light of the Christian life.

2. The means to this end.

(1) The lamps were to be fed with the best and purest oil. The Holy Spirit.

(2) The lamps were to be duly trimmed and ordered. Watchfulness, care. The light needs to be attended to.—J.O.


Exodus 27:20, Exodus 27:21

The oil for the lamp.

A special commandment was given that the oil should be pure and rich:—

I. THAT THERE MIGHT BE A DUE CORRESPONDENCE BETWEEN THE LIGHT AND THE GLORY OF THE CANDLESTICK. The candlestick was composed of the most precious of all metals, and it had been fashioned by the hands of an artist Divinely chosen and inspired. Great, therefore, would have been the incongruity, if any but the steadiest and most brilliant light had shone forth from this candlestick. Indeed the provision of the very best material might seem to have been self-suggested and to require no commandment at all, did we not know how forgetful, how inconsiderate human nature is. Man needs to be kept up to the mark by sharp and frequent admonitions; else he will keep the best for himself, and let anything be put forward for such a mere formality as too often he reckons the service of God to be. Still it surely would not require much thought to perceive how disgraceful a dim light would be in connection with such a glorious fabric as the candlestick presented. But there is a more glorious fabric far than this candlestick, if we only consider each human life that comes into this world; if we only consider the riches and strength that are in each one of us by natural constitution. There is something very glorious about the natural life of man, in spite of its depravity, its miseries and its mortality; and God has given us the opportunity of still further glorifying our natural life in this world by offering to make us supports such as may aid in sustaining and diffusing the light he would shed abroad amongst men. When God puts his gospel into the charge of human beings he calls attention to the peculiar glory and eminence of our nature. The more faithful his servants have been to the gospel charge put into their hands, the more they have revealed how vile a thing humanity is. God wishes us in all our connection with him to be worthy of our humanity, and to keep ever in our thoughts the gulf that divides us from even the highest of the brutes. Man is never more truly human, never more fully an exponent of the peculiarities of his nature than when he is doing his best to reveal the saving light of God to men. The Christian, no matter what he may lack in such endowments as the world values, is the best kind of man; and the better Christian he becomes, the higher he stands in that best kind wherein he is already numbered.

II. THAT THERE MIGHT BE A DUE CORRESPONDENCE BETWEEN THE LIGHT AND THE GLORY OF THE MOST HOLY PLACE. From between the cherubim within the veil God shone forth when it was so required with a glory and impressiveness which no light of human invention could rival. But outside the veil the seven-branched candlestick was ever to be lighted in the night-time to symbolise the glorious illumination which came from Jehovah himself. How important, therefore, that the light should be the very best which man could afford l Nowhere in all the tents of Israel was there to be a brighter light than that which shone in the holy place. A symbol was needed of such light, instruction and wisdom, as are not to be found in the most sagacious and experienced of men, advising simply upon the grounds of human sagacity and experience. When we look at a Christian we must be able to look at one whose light, while it does not fail in a certain sense to glorify himself, glorifies still more his Father who is in heaven. Every Christian is meant to live so as to arrest the attention of men, and make them ask whence comes the power to inspire him with such remarkable motives and make him the agent of such remarkable effects. Whereas the humiliating confession is to be made that most Christian lives are lived on such a low level that one is led to ask "Is this all?" We read of remarkable manifestations and approaches of the Divine in the way of an incarnate Son of God, a resurrection of the dead, a descent into the Church of a life-giving and transforming Spirit, so that all believers may become new creatures in Christ Jesus; and then, when we look at these professed new creatures, and see how much remains unchanged, inveterate as ever, we ask "Is this all the product of Christ's appearance on the earthly scene?" It is a dreadful reproach that we should let our inconsistency and infirmity be made an excuse for unbelievers to mock at God. We ought to be so under Divine influences, as to combine in one the bright candlestick and the pure, rich oil; and then from us there might shine forth in a pure inviting radiance, a light such as would guide, and cheer while it guided, many a wanderer to God.—Y.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Exodus 27". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/exodus-27.html. 1897.
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