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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 40

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary

Verses 1-38


The formality of this command to erect the sanctuary involves an incidental repetition of what has already been described. After the due consecration of all its parts, the tabernacle and all its vessels were to be regarded as “most holy.” Comp. Exodus 30:29. In Exodus 40:10 of this chapter it is said that after its anointing the altar of burnt offerings should be a holy of holies, as if some special sanctity attached to that . Its central position and importance in the order of holy services made it a sort of counterpart, among the vessels of the sanctuary, of what the holy of holies was among the relatively sacred places of the same .

15. An everlasting priesthood To be perpetuated throughout their generations, until superseded by the office and work of the Priest “after the order of Melchizedek . ” See notes on Hebrews 7:0. Moses proceeded to perform all the commandments here given, (Exodus 40:16,) but the consecration of the priests and special legislation touching the various kinds of sacrifices must have followed the erection of the tabernacle, and is recorded in the Book of Leviticus.

Verses 17-33


17. It came to pass After all the work of the tabernacle and its furniture was finished, as related in chaps . 36-39 .

The first month Abib, (Exodus 13:4,) or Nisan, (Nehemiah 2:1,) corresponding nearly with our April . See note on Exodus 12:2.

The second year The second year after the exodus . The deliverance from Egypt was an appropriate and memorable epoch in Hebrew chronology the beginning of years, as Abib was the beginning of months . Compare 1 Kings 6:1.

The first day of the month Israel’s first free new year’s day, for the first day of the previous year had found them yet in the house of bondage, and fourteen days of that year passed before they departed from Egypt . About half the year had gone before they commenced the work of the tabernacle, for it was the third month when they reached the wilderness of Sinai, (Exodus 19:1,) and Moses spent two periods of forty days each in the mount, (Exodus 34:18; Exo 24:28,) which was nearly three months more. But six months was ample time for the work; for the tabernacle was no such elaborate structure as the temple of Solomon; and as the zeal of the people showed itself in their offering more than enough material for the structure, so that Moses had even to restrain them from bringing more, (Exodus 36:5-7,) so also the work itself was doubtless carried forward with equal zeal till all was finished .

The tabernacle was reared up According to the directions which the Lord had given Moses . Exodus 40:1-6.

18. Moses reared up the tabernacle We must not suppose that Moses personally and alone did all that is attributed to him in this chapter . He was probably assisted by Aaron and the “wise-hearted men . ” Exodus 36:1. But Moses had the oversight and command of all these, and Aaron and his sons were not yet set apart to the priesthood . The word rendered tabernacle here is mishcan, and is used both of the enclosure of boards, and of the ornamented cloth which is described in Exodus 26:1-6. No mention is made of stakes, tent-pins, ropes, ridge-poles, etc . , but all these are presupposed or implied in every erection of a tent. The description here given is very brief, and presupposes in the reader’s mind the fuller descriptions which have been given in the preceding chapters.

Sockets The silver bases for the boards, (Exodus 26:19-21,) and the brazen ones for the pillars, (Exodus 26:37,) to rest in . These served to hold the boards and pillars in their places, and to keep them from decay. The sockets in which the boards rested probably formed in appearance a sort of plinth around the bottom of their walls.

The boards Of shittim or acacia wood. which formed the inner enclosure. Exodus 26:15-25; Exodus 36:20-23.

The bars These were also of shittim wood, and made to pass through gold rings, (or staples,) probably on the outside of the boards. Exodus 26:26-29. They were five in number for each side and for the western end, the middle bar in each case reaching from end to end . Both the boards and the bars were overlaid with gold, presenting to the gaze of the beholder, either on the outside or within, a vast golden surface .

Pillars Five in number, at the entrance or east end of the tent. Exodus 26:37. There were also four pillars within the tabernacle to support the vail which separated the holy place from the holy of holies. Exodus 26:32; Exodus 36:36.

19. Spread abroad the tent over the tabernacle The tent here refers to the curtains of goats’ hair, which, in Exodus 26:7, are called “a covering upon the tabernacle . ” The Hebrew words are the same in each passage, and designate the tent cloth which was placed over or above the ornamented curtains described in Exodus 26:1-6. It served as a covering and protection for the “curtains of fine linen, and blue, and purple, and scarlet: with cherubim of cunning work . ” Exodus 26:1. These latter, according to Fergusson, (see p . 520,) formed the ornamented roof of the tabernacle as seen from the inside . They may, however, have been thrown over the board structure, and drawn down tightly on the outer sides. The objections to a flat roof would not apply to this set of curtains if thus adjusted, inasmuch as the tent of goat’s hair above it would have protected it from rain.

The covering of the tent above upon it This was an additional covering made of rams’ skins, dyed red, and sealskins, and spread on the top of the goat’s hair canvas for a further protection from the weather. See Exodus 26:14. These several coverings made the roofing utterly impervious to the rain.

As the Lord commanded Moses This expression is here used seven times within the space of fourteen verses, (19-32,) and shows how very careful Moses was to make all things according to the pattern shown him by Jehovah. Compare Exodus 25:9; Exodus 25:40; Hebrews 8:5.

20. The testimony The two tables of stone on which the ten commandments were written by the finger of God . Exodus 31:18; Exodus 32:15-16. Those first written were broken by Moses, (Exodus 32:19,) but another set was afterward prepared . Exodus 34:4. The decalogue graven on the two stone tablets was called the testimony, because it was Jehovah’s most emphatic testimony or witness against sin a monumental expression of his will; and it was placed in the ark that it might be a witness against rebellion and sin in Israel . Compare Deuteronomy 31:26-27. When, after the lapse of several hundred years, the ark was deposited in the most holy place of the temple of Solomon, there was nothing in it but these two tables of stone . 1 Kings 8:9. According to Hebrews 9:4, it originally contained also the golden pot of manna and Aaron’s rod that budded, though these latter, according to Exodus 16:34, and Numbers 17:10, were placed “before the testimony . ” Most writers have understood “before the testimony” as equivalent to before the ark; but according to the inspired writer of Hebrews it would mean before the testimony itself, that is, the tables inside the ark . For a description of the ark, the staves, and the mercy seat, see Exodus 25:10-22.

21. Brought the ark into the tabernacle Its place was in the holy of holies, within the inner vail .

The vail of the covering The vail described in Exodus 26:31-32, which hung upon four pillars, and served to cover or screen the most holy place from human eyes.

And covered the ark That is, he covered it by the vail just mentioned, and so concealed it from the gaze of men.

22. The table The table on which the “showbread” was always kept . This table is particularly described in Exodus 25:23-30, where see notes .

Northward, without the vail As the tent faced the east, the north side would be to the right hand of one entering . The position of the table would thus be near the north-west corner of the holy place, and just in front, or outside of, the vail which hid the holy of holies from view .

23. Set the bread in order The manner of making this bread, and of arranging it upon the table, is described in Leviticus 24:5-9, where see notes . Whether Moses immediately arranged the bread, lighted the lamps, (Exodus 40:25,) burnt incense, (27,) and offered sacrifices, (29,) as soon as the table, candlestick, and altars were set each in its place, according to the order of this narrative, is not quite clear . But as Aaron and his sons were not consecrated to the priesthood until after the tabernacle was set up, (Exodus 40:12-15,) and so did not wash in the laver until after their consecration, (Exodus 40:31-32,) it is probable that the table, lamps, and altars, like the laver, were not put to their uses until Aaron and his sons were consecrated priests. This, however, was done as soon as the tabernacle was reared up; perhaps on the same day.

24. The candlestick See Exodus 25:31-37.

Side… southward To the left of one entering, opposite to the showbread table . So the table and the candlestick were on opposite sides of the golden altar . See on Exodus 40:26.

25. Lighted the lamps The lamps were to be kept burning, just as the showbread was to be kept standing, “before the Lord continually . ” Leviticus 24:1-4.

26. The golden altar Not to be confounded with the brazen altar, or altar of burnt offerings, which was placed not in the tent, but outside of it, in the court, Exodus 40:29. The golden altar, or altar of incense, was placed in the holy place before the vail, so that it must have stood between the table of showbread and the golden candlestick. Compare Exodus 40:22; Exodus 40:24, notes. For description of this altar see notes and cut, page 535.

27. Sweet incense Hebrew, incense of spices, or aromatics . Its ingredients, and the manner of their preparation, are mentioned in Exodus 30:34-36. The incense was, strictly speaking, the perfume exhaled by fire from the compounded aromatics . Incense was used in connexion with the religious ceremonies of most ancient nations . In the tabernacle service it was to be offered morning and evening, (Exodus 30:7-8,) and was a beautiful and expressive symbol of the prayer of saints. Psalms 141:2; Revelation 5:8; Revelation 8:3-4.

28. The hanging Described in Exodus 26:36-37, where see notes .

29. The altar of burnt offering This was made of shittim wood, and overlaid with brass, as described in Exodus 27:1-8, and so is to be distinguished from “the golden altar” mentioned in Exodus 40:26, where see note . It was five times larger in breadth and width than the golden altar, and one cubit higher .

By the door Before, or in front of the door, Exodus 40:6. It was placed in the open court that surrounded the tabernacle, (Exodus 40:33,) and some distance in front of the tent, so as to leave room between it and the tent for the laver, Exodus 40:33. On the burnt offering and the meat offering, see Leviticus 7:37-38, notes .

30. The laver A large circular basin, to hold water, in which the priests were to wash their hands and feet . Solomon made for the temple ten lavers, and set them on “ten bases of brass,” (1 Kings 7:27-38,) but this laver of the tabernacle was probably of more simple construction . See Exodus 30:18-21, notes .

33. The court round about A large enclosure of linen curtains, one hundred cubits by fifty, with a gate or entrance twenty cubits wide . See full description in Exodus 27:9-18.

Verses 34-38


It only remains that Jehovah manifest his approval of the tabernacle by some visible proof of his presence and abode there. Accordingly, when Moses had approved the work done, and completed what it was intended for human hands to do, the cloud which had accompanied them in their journey from Egypt (see note on Exodus 13:21) covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. The tent is here distinguished from the tabernacle, and is to be understood as the outer covering of curtains, while the tabernacle proper was the more immediate dwelling within, the mishcan, consisting of the board structure, and the ornamented curtains which were placed upon it. See note at the beginning of chap. 26. So gloriously did the cloud appear above the tent, and so wonderfully did the divine glory fill the interior of the sacred dwelling, that Moses was not able to enter. He had previously approached the thick darkness of Sinai, out of which Jehovah spoke, (Exodus 20:21;) he had witnessed an unparalleled display of the divine glory in the mount, (Exodus 33:19-23; Exodus 34:5-8;) but this theophany was too intense in its splendour to permit even Moses to enter within the holy places where, for the time, the Holy One abode in special presence .

36-38. When the cloud was taken up This description of the guidance of Israel by the cloud is more fully detailed in Numbers 9:15-23. It appropriately concludes the Book of Exodus, which records the bondage, the redemption, and the consecration of Israel . The great facts written in this book served to make the history of Israel typical of the redemption of mankind; and especially does the image of the cloud and fire, accompanying, by day and by night, all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys, portray in most impressive form the doctrine of the imminent providence of our Heavenly Father . He is with his people always; and they may read the lessons of the exodus and the tabernacle, and in every generation sing: “The Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly . O Lord of hosts, blessed is the man that trusteth in thee . ” Psalms 84:11-12.


The symbolism and typology of the Mosaic tabernacle are recognized in the ninth chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, and we may well suppose that a structure designed to serve so important a purpose in the religious training of the chosen nation must have been planned to suggest some grand and precious spiritual truths. (Comp. note on the Symbolism of the Temple at the close of notes on 1 Kings 7:0.) That it was a symbol of inner and spiritual relationship, made possible between God and man by the blood of atonement, we have already indicated in our introductory note at the beginning of chapter 25, and we take no space to detail the various conjectures by which it is made to represent things which are physical and visible. As shown in the passage above referred to, and especially by the teaching of Exodus 29:42-46, the great idea which centers in the complex symbol is that of JEHOVAH DWELLING WITH HIS PEOPLE . Man is by sin estranged from God, and there can be no reunion and fellowship without remission of sins and a purifying of the spiritual nature of man . This was graciously provided for in the expiatory sacrifices required of every Israelite . The life or soul was conceived as living and subsisting in the blood, (Leviticus 17:11,) and when the blood of a victim was poured out at the altar it symbolized the surrender of a life which had been forfeited by sin, and the worshipper who made the sacrifice thereby acknowledged before Jehovah his death-deserving guilt . There could, accordingly, be no approach to God on the part of sinful men no possible meeting and dwelling with him except by the offerings made at the great altar in front of the sacred tent. No priest might pass into the tabernacle until sprinkled with blood from that altar, (Exodus 29:21,) and the live coals, used for burning the incense before Jehovah, were taken from the same place. Leviticus 16:12. Nor might the priest, on penalty of death, minister at the altar or enter the tabernacle without first washing at the laver, (Exodus 30:20-21. ) So the great altar in the court continually proclaimed that without the shedding of blood there is no remission, and the priestly ablutions denoted that without the washing of regeneration no man might enter the kingdom of God. Compare Psalms 24:3-4; John 3:5; Hebrews 10:19-22. The blessed and holy dwelling with God, symbolized in the holy places of the tabernacle, were possible only because of the reconciliation effected at the altar of sacrifice without .

The two apartments of the tabernacle, known as the holy and the most holy places, were adapted to represent the relationship between the human and the divine, made possible by the gracious covenant of God with his people. Into the first the priests entered, as the representatives of the people, and their service there was not for themselves alone, but for all Israel, whose relation to God, so long as they kept his covenant, was that of a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Exodus 19:5-6; comp . 1 Peter 2:5; 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6; Revelation 5:10. As the officiating priest stood in the holy place, facing the holy of holies, he had at his right hand the table of showbread, on his left the candlestick, and immediately before him the altar of incense. Exodus 40:22-27. The twelve cakes of bread (bread of presence) kept continually on the table as before God, most obviously symbolized the twelve tribes of Israel continually offering themselves as an acceptable sacrifice in the presence of Jehovah . The golden candlestick with its seven lamps, opposite the table, was another symbol of Israel considered as the Church of the living God and the light of the world . Then, further, the constant devotion of Israel to God was represented at the golden altar of incense immediately before the vail, and in front of the mercy-seat, (Exodus 30:6. ) The offering of incense was an expressive symbol of the prayers of saints, (Psalms 141:2; Revelation 5:8; Revelation 8:3-4,) and the whole multitude of the people were wont to pray without at the hour of the incense offering . Luke 1:10. Jehovah was pleased to “inhabit the praises of Israel,” (Psalms 22:3,) for all that his people may be and do in their consecrated relation to him expresses itself in their prayers before his altar and mercy seat .

The holy place, therefore, with its table and candlestick and golden altar of incense, symbolized the relation of the true Israel to God, made available by the blood of atonement. The holy of holies, on the other hand, symbolized Jehovah’s relations to his people, and profoundly suggested the terms or considerations by which it was compatible for him to meet and dwell with man. It contained the ark, within which were deposited the two tables of testimony Jehovah’s declaration out of the thick darkness a monumental witness of his wrath against sin. Over this ark, and covering the tables of testimony, was placed the capporeth, or mercy seat, to be sprinkled with blood on the great day of atonement. Leviticus 16:11-17. Here was a most significant symbol of mercy covering wrath. Made of fine gold, and having its dimensions the same as the length and breadth of the ark, (Leviticus 25:17,) it fittingly represented that glorious provision of infinite wisdom and love by which, in virtue of the precious blood of Christ, and in complete harmony with the righteousness of God, atonement is made for the guilty but penitent transgressor.

The cherubim, spreading out their wings over the mercy seat, and gazing as in wondering adoration upon it, were appropriate symbols of the redeemed and glorified Israel, who shall ultimately behold the glory of God, and dwell in his heavenly light forever. This subject we have treated in the note on Genesis 3:24, page 100 of this Commentary .

The ministration of the high priest on the great day of atonement, as described in Leviticus 16:0, is declared in the Epistle to the Hebrews to have prefigured the redeeming work of Christ, who, “being come a high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands,… neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood, entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.… For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.” Hebrews 9:11-12; Hebrews 9:24. The believer is, accordingly, exhorted “to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus . ” The way has been opened in the fulness of time, and the glory of heaven itself consists mainly in this, that God and his people dwell together in unspeakable felicity. The many mansions ( μοναι , dwellings, abiding places, John 14:2,) of the Father’s house in the heavens are but the fuller realization and perfection of the believer’s fellowship with God on earth . He who by the grace of redemption dwells in God and God in him (1 John 4:16) has already entered by faith into these holy relationships . He lingers, as it were, a little while in the holy place, until all fleshly vails are rent, and the perfected spirit enters into the holy of holies, and beholds the Prince of Life upon his throne .

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Exodus 40". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/exodus-40.html. 1874-1909.
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