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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Exodus 27

 

 

Introduction

Moses in Mount Sinai Receives God’s Revelation.

Moses In The Mountain With Yahweh For Forty Days and Nights (25:1-31:18).

After receiving the covenant and putting it into writing Moses was called by Yahweh to go up to Him into the Mountain. The Great Overlord wished to establish the necessary protocol for His people’s approach to Him. There through revelation Moses was to be given instructions concerning the provision of a Dwellingplace for Yahweh, with all its furniture, so that they could know that He ‘dwelt among them’. This was in order to confirm to Israel His gracious intentions towards them (Exodus 25:1 to Exodus 29:46), and which will enable them to reveal their continued loyalty and concern for His holiness (Exodus 30-31).

An Earthly Dwellingplace Is To Be Prepared For Yahweh’s Convenience (Exodus 25:1 to Exodus 29:46)

The first act is to establish a Dwellingplace among them which will be a reminder that He is their Overlord. The preparation of the Dwellingplace falls into two sections:

1). That which expresses Yahweh’s sovereign activity towards His people and His provision of atonement (Exodus 25:1 to Exodus 29:46), and at the end of it He expresses His intention to dwell among them (Exodus 29:45).

2) This is followed by the provision of the means by which they can express their loyalty to Him, and can approach Him, through their representatives, in His throne room, and at the end of this He gives them the covenant as sealed by His hand (Exodus 30:1 to Exodus 31:18).

Yahweh as Suzerain Lord Sets Up His Throne and Palace Among His People (25:1-27:21).

Once the children of Israel had sealed the treaty with Yahweh He established His official presence among them. Previously He has been with them in the pillar of cloud and fire as Guide and Protector, and this would continue, but now He established Himself openly as their King. The ancient Tent of Meeting (Exodus 33:7-11 - how far back its history went we do not know) would now be replaced by a more splendid model, The Dwelling-Place (mishkan, from shakan ‘to dwell’) in which would be the throne of Yahweh. (EVV translate Tabernacle, but the word mainly indicated a ‘dwelling-place’). At this stage this would necessarily be a tent because of their circumstances, but it seems to be suggested that that was how God intended it to be permanently (2 Samuel 7:5-7). Its transient nature was meant to indicate that it was not His permanent home. His permanent home was above. The future Temple would, in fact, seem to be a concession to man’s weakness for such things, illustrating the way in which men think, although it was in itself symbolic for it indicated that no Temple was worthy of Yahweh (1 Kings 8:27).

So from now on Yahweh would dwell among His people in a new way, and He would have His own splendid Tent to which they could direct their worship and their obedience, situated at the heart of the camp. But it is made clear that while sometimes they would see His glory on it He Himself would never be seen, nor must He be depicted in any form. That would be to make Him earthly and to degrade and limit Him. This Tent would contain the throne of Yahweh (the ark of the covenant) and the Testimony (the ten words and the covenant which He had made with them), but He Himself would be invisible.

However, great kings had many dwellingplaces, so this one is not therefore to be seen as limiting Yahweh. It was the one that He used in communication with His people, but it was not His sole home, although it was His sole home on earth. For even the heaven of heavens could not contain Him, how much less this tent (compare 1 Kings 8:27). The people knew that Yahweh was the God and Judge of all the earth, and could do what He would wherever He would (Exodus 15:11-12; Exodus 19:5; Genesis 18:25; 1 Kings 8:27), so that even Egypt with all its gods had been unable to prevent Him doing His will. They would not therefore see Him as limited to a tent.

However, as a totally new thing, specifically stated to be of heavenly design, it would help to unite these people of many races (including the mixed multitude - Exodus 12:38) into one unified people. They had all received the covenant together. Now together they would receive the dwellingplace of Yahweh to be in their midst, a dwellingplace designed by Yahweh Himself. It was an ever present reminder to them that God had personally met with them and made His covenant with them, and would be with them.

Its constructional techniques are paralleled elsewhere. Portable pavilions using practically the same constructional techniques as the Dwellingplace are well witnessed to in Egypt in 2nd millennium BC and even dating back into 3rd millennium. And it is noteworthy that a bas-relief dating from the period of Rameses II about 1285 BC showed the tent of the divine king set in the middle of the Egyptian encampment just as the tent of Yahweh was now set among His people. Moses would thus be aware of such tents.

We have already seen that the name Oholibamah (Genesis 36) means ‘tent of the high place’ which suggests a tent shrine, and it is interesting that such a tent shrine has been discovered at Timnah in the Negeb, the region of ancient Edom. Furthermore in the Ugaritic story of King Krt he is spoken of as practising certain rituals within a tent despite the fact that his was an age of roofed houses, and other Ugarit sources suggest that El had such a portable shrine or shrines. Such portable tent shrines were later in use among the Arabs.

So the idea of the tent shrine of the Great King was in itself nothing new, although it did have its own unique construction. What was new was that God’s presence was real and marked by invisibility. No image of any kind, which could be seen as representing Yahweh, was allowed. And yet it was a reminder that God was invisibly among them and aware of all that happened.

It may be that the basic plan of the Dwelling-place (Tabernacle), with its division into the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place, was patterned on similar Canaanite temples, for there would be Canaanite temples in Egypt to suggest such a pattern (at Baal-zephon (Exodus 14:2) for example) and the twofold division is hardly unusual. Every palace would have its throne room and ante room.

Besides the division conforms with what we have already seen of different levels of approach to Yahweh with:

1). Only Moses being able to fully enter His presence and enter into the cloud when summoned.

2). The elders being called to approach a certain distance but not the whole way.

3). The people having to keep their bounds and not being allowed on the mount.

The dividing curtain into the Most Holy Place (‘the Veil’) was symbolic of the cloud and was the bound past which even the priests and Moses may not go, (except the High Priest when summoned once a year on the Day of Atonement), and the curtain guarding the way into the Holy Place was in order to prevent the entry of the people. Thus the Dwelling-place conveys the same ideas as we have seen at Sinai. Its structure therefore fits well into that environment. And its tent structure fits well into the wilderness situation.

The Dwelling-place was also Yahweh’s ‘tent palace’ as Suzerain Lord with, as it were, its personal quarters for Yahweh that none may enter and the outer room for those who would approach Him. While He is the God of all the earth (Exodus 19:5; 1 Kings 8:27) it signifies that He was dwelling among them in a unique way as a result of the covenant of Sinai.

These changes were psychologically important. They would convey to the people the idea that God was among them in a new way as their Great King and demonstrate that they were now to enter into the realities of the promises. It was a continuing reminder of God’s deliverance from Egypt and of Hi covenant at Sinai.

This next section of the book may be analysed as follows:

a The people called on to make their offerings so that they can make a Sanctuary for Yahweh to dwell among them (Exodus 25:1-9)

b The Making of the Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh (of the Testimony) (Exodus 25:10-22).

c The Making of the Table of Shewbread (Exodus 25:23-30).

d The Making of the Lampstand (Exodus 25:31-40).

e The Making of the Dwellingplace (Exodus 26:1-30).

e The Making of the Veil (Exodus 26:31-35).

d The Making of the Screen (Exodus 26:36-37).

c The Making of the Brazen Altar (Exodus 27:1-8).

b The Making of the Court of the Dwellingplace (Exodus 27:9-19).

a The people called on to bring the Olive Oil for the Continually Burning Lamp (Exodus 27:20-21).

It will be noted that it opens and closes with the people called on to bring their contribution to Yahweh. In ‘a’ they bring their offerings, and in the parallel they bring their olive oil as a part of their tribute to Him. The furniture is then described. This commences in ‘b’ with the Ark which was to contain the covenant and from which Yahweh would speak to Moses. It emphasised that the covenant was of central importance to Yahweh’s dwelling among them. It was where He sat to receive homage. In the parallel was where the people came to pay homage to Him and confirm their response to the covenant. In ‘c’ we have the shewbread which represents the twelve tribes as constantly being presented before God in the Holy Place, and in the parallel we have the brazen altar where the people presented themselves and their offerings to God. In ‘d’ we have the the lampstand through which the people shine out constantly towards God, while in the parallel we have the screen which presents the people from actually coming into God’s presence. Central are the Dwelling-Place where God dwells among His people, and the Veil which reminds them that they cannot directly approach Him.

The Sanctuary furniture is described moving from the Most Holy Place (the Holy of Holies) which contained the Ark, through to the Holy Place which contained the Table and the Lampstand. All these were contained within the Dwellingplace, with the Most Holy Place being separated from the Holy Place by the Veil. The whole inner sanctuary was shielded from the court into which the people could come by the screen, and we then move on to the Brazen Altar, which was in the Court of the Dwellingplace, and was the plae where atonement could be made for them. The whole finishes with a description of the olive oil which fed the continually burning lamp and was provided by the people. It should be noted that all these items are a reaching out by Yahweh to His people, as well as being a reminder that, although continually in remembrance before Him, they are not fit to enter into His direct presence.

The making of the Veil may seem to be out of place in the order of things, but that is because it was secondary. It was not part of the holy equipment. It was rather a part of the screening from God. The writer sees the curtains, veil and screen all as one item, dividing up the Sanctuary in which the furniture was to be situated.

It will be noted that all the items are for representing Yahweh to His people, even the brazen altar, which is God’s opening of an access point to man. It is noteworthy that in the heavenly Temple of Ezekiel which descends on the unknown mount away from Jerusalem only the brazen altar actually has to be built as the physical access point to the spiritual temple. The altar of incense and the laver which are part of man’s approach to God will come later.

The Dwelling-place Itself (26:1-27:19).

Having described the main contents of the Sanctuary which represented the permanent blessing which came from Him in His presence, we now move on to the Dwellingplace proper.

The Dwellingplace was to be splendid in beauty. Its glory represented the glory of its King and His supreme righteousness. But it had to be patterned according to how God revealed it (Exodus 26:30). Nothing mundane must enter into its construction, and no ideas of man. It had to be kept pure in what it represented. The fine detail of its construction was a reminder of God’s detailed activity on behalf of His own (compare Ephesians 2:21).

The Dwelling-place was to be about thirty cubits by ten cubits made of large curtains flung over a framework, the Most Holy Place being a perfect cube, ten cubits by ten cubits by ten cubits, symbolising the perfection of God, and the Holy Place twenty cubits by ten cubits. These were then covered by goats’ hair, and then by rams’ skins dyed red and finally by dolphin or dugong skins.

The Tabernacle/Temple would finally be dispensed with when God found a more splendid and more fitting Dwellingplace, the living temple of His people (2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:20-22) who would submit at His throne, and receive the bread and light of life. And it would finally find its fulfilment in Heaven (Hebrews 8:2; Hebrews 9:24).


Verses 1-8

The Altar of Burnt Offering (Exodus 27:1-8).

The altar was to be covered with ‘brazen copper’, probably copper alloyed with tin to make bronze. It was thus of inferior material compared with the gold and silver in the sanctuary, and served to demonstrate that through it earth met with heaven. It was the place where sin was dealt with. (There may also have been the practical purpose of it being more weatherproof and fireproof).

On that altar would be offered all the offerings and sacrifices of Israel which would result in forgiveness and mercy, pardon for sins, and the declaration of being made righteous (that is, as seen as without guilt) through the death of a substitute and representative offering, and would be the means by which they could offer themselves to God in dedication and thanksgiving, in praise and in worship, until the greater sacrifice came Who would offer Himself up once and for all (Hebrews 10:10).

We can analyse the passage as follows:

a The brazen alter was to be made of acacia wood overlaid with an alloy of bronze and copper. It was to have horns (upward projections) on its corners and be frousquare (Exodus 27:1-2).

b Its vessels to take away its ashes (literally ‘cleanse it from fat’), and its shovels and its basins and its fleshhooks and its firepans (or ‘receptacles’), all its accoutrements, were to be made with brazen copper (Exodus 27:3).

c They were to make a network grating of brass (copper), and on the net they were to make four brazen rings in its four corners.

c They were to put the network grating under the ledge (or ‘band’) round the altar beneath, that the network might reach halfway up the altar (Exodus 27:4-5).

b They were to make staves for the altar, staves of acacia wood, and overlay them with brazen copper, and its staves were to be put into the rings, and the staves would be on the two sides of the altar for carrying it.

a They were to make it hollow with boards as shown to Moses in the Mount.

Note that in ‘a’ how the brazen altar is to be constructed is described, and in the parallel it is to be made hollow with boards as Moses had been shown in the mount. In order for it to be used as an altar, earth or unhewn stone (Exodus 20:24-25) would have to be put within it on which to build the fire. In ‘b’ we are informed about the instruments to be available for use at the altar, and in the parallel how it was to be carried. In ‘c’ we have the description of the grating at the bottom of the altar and in the parallel the place where it was to be situated on the altar.

Exodus 27:1-2

“And you shall make the altar of acacia wood, five cubits long and five cubits broad. The altar shall be foursquare, and its height shall be three cubits. And you shall make its horns on its four corners. Its horns shall be one piece with it. And you shall overlay it with brazen copper.”

The altar, which would be placed in the courtyard facing the Holy Place, was five by five by three cubits (220 x 220 x133 centimetres or 7 feet by 7 feet by 4:5 feet). It was made of acacia wood covered with brazen copper, (copper alloyed with tin. The exact type of metal is not certain and copper would be better suited and equally valuable) signifying God’s strength and glory, but of a lesser value than the gold and silver within the sanctuary. But the brazen copper would be better placed to take the heat than gold. However, as much else is of brazen copper in this part of the Dwellingplace it is clear that it is intended to be an indication that the place was not as holy as the inner sanctuary. (And there would be a limit to the amount of gold available).

The setting of the altar outside the inner sanctuary would be necessary because of the continual smoke that would arise from the altar. But it was probably also in order to make it accessible to the people and to prevent any contact with sin from entering the inner sanctuary. It was an indication that in approaching God the very first step must be atonement.

Five was the number of covenant (compare the five words on each of the two tablets of the Law), and five by five, making a foursquare altar (emphasised as indicating its total compatability with its purpose), indicated the perfection of the covenant, and of this means of atoning for breaches in the covenant. The height of three cubits indicated completeness.

The four ‘horns’ were upward projections at each of the four corners of the altar as found on the altars of other peoples discovered elsewhere. They may have been for tying the sacrifices to the altar (they were used for this - Psalms 118:27), or they may have indicated a pointing or reaching up to God. They may also have been intended to simulate the horns of an animal and thus be indicative of strength and power. As the altar of incense on which no sacrifices were offered also had these projections upwards the latter two interpretations are more probable as the main significance. Tying on the sacrifices was an added extra. This would suggest that the altar indicated heavenward movement and strength and power.

The foursquareness emphasis its perfection, but also that it falls short of the Most Holy Place which was a perfect cube. Compare also ‘the new Jerusalem’ which represented the perfected people of God prepared as a bride for her Husband (Revelation 21:2; Revelation 21:16-17).

The blood of offerings and sacrifices was smeared on the horn with the finger (Exodus 29:12 - in the sanctifying of Aaron; Exodus 30:10 - in making atonement for the people once a year; Leviticus 4:18; Leviticus 4:25; Leviticus 4:30 - for the application of various sin offerings; Leviticus 8:15 - to purify it; Leviticus 9:9 - the sin offering for Aaron; Leviticus 16:18 - on the day of atonement for all the people; etc.), indicating that their significance was more than that of convenient projections for tying sacrifices on. This would serve to confirm the idea that they pointed upwards towards God.

The altar was seemingly a large hollow box, made hollow with planks (Exodus 27:8) and it is probable that unhewn stones and earth were used to fill the box preparatory to laying the wood for sacrifice (Exodus 20:24-25). These could be emptied out when it had to be carried, with new innards made whenever they became stationary at God’s command. It was ideal for wilderness travel. It was the place where atonement was made (Leviticus 17:11). On it were offered the various offerings and sacrifices required by the Law.

The use of the definite article with altar has been overemphasised by some. Quite apart from the fact that the Hebrew definite article can simply mean ‘the one I am talking about’ and nothing more, the making of a sanctuary would demand an altar of sacrifice and the article could thus mean simply ‘the altar necessary for the sanctuary’. It is not saying that there could not be an altar with a different significance as in Exodus 30:1.

Exodus 27:3

“And you shall make its vessels to take away its ashes (literally ‘cleanse it from fat’), and its shovels and its basins and its fleshhooks and its firepans (or ‘receptacles’), all its accoutrements you will make of brazen copper.”

The different accoutrements for the altar were also made of brazen copper. The vessels for carrying away the ashes and remains of the fat, the shovels for shovelling them, the basins for catching the blood (Exodus 24:6), the fleshhooks for manoeuvring the sacrifices, and the firepans possibly for such tasks as carrying the ashes from the altar to the altar of incense (Leviticus 16:12).

Exodus 27:4-5

“And you shall make for it a network grating of brass (copper), and on the net you will make four brazen rings in its four corners. And you will put it under the ledge (or ‘band’) round the altar beneath, that the network might reach halfway up the altar.”

The network grating was in order to provide sufficient draught for the fire, and/or it may have contained the ashes that fell through from above, or it may have been a protection to prevent the actual altar being touched by the priests. The four rings were to take the poles used for carrying the altar. There was clearly a ledge (or band) round the altar midway between top and bottom, probably for the priests to stand on as they ministered at the altar. It could be made accessible by a mound of earth surrounding the altar. This would be why the priests wore special breeches. The altar was not to be approached by steps (20:26). The priests would have been of smaller stature than most of us and the altar would therefore be at head level. Others have argued that the ledge or band was only for decoration and strengthening.

Although overlaid with copper or brazen copper it will be quite apparent that this altar could not by itself contain a continually burning fire. It is clear therefore that some materials would have to be put within it on which the fire could be lit, which would absorb the heat. These materials were probably the earth or unhewn stones of Exodus 20:24-25. Thus did this permanent altar act in place of the altars built temporarily in different places where Yahweh recorded His name.

Exodus 27:6-7

“And you will make staves for the altar, staves of acacia wood, and overlay them with brazen copper, and its staves will be put into the rings, and the staves will be on the two sides of the altar for carrying it.”

When on the move the altar would be borne by staves which went through the rings on each side of the altar.

Exodus 27:8

“Hollow with boards you will make it. As it has been shown you in the Mount, so shall you make it.”

This confirms that the altar was hollow inside. The making of it in the exact pattern was necessary (compare Exodus 25:40) in order to prevent false impressions being given by the addition of things added to conform with other altars they had known. Beauty and splendour were incorporated but idolatrous associations must be abjured. The way to God had to be taken in the way that God laid down.


Verse 20-21

The Burning of the Light of Israel Before Yahweh (Exodus 27:20-21).

The account of the making of the Dwellingplace finishes with a description of how the common people can have their part in the worship of the inner Sanctuary. Regularly they are to provide the oil for the feeding of the lamp which burns continually in the Holy Place. This compares with their free and liberal giving in the beginning (Exodus 25:1-9).

We can analyse this as follows:

a The children of Israel were to be commanded to bring to Moses pure olive oil, beaten, for the lamp, so as to cause a light to burn continually (Exodus 20:20).

o In the tent of meeting, outside the veil, but in front of the Testimony (hidden behind the veil) Aaron and his sons were to order the maintenance of the lamp from evening to morning before Yahweh (Exodus 20:21 a).

o This was to be a continual statute through their generations for ever on behalf of the children of Israel (Exodus 20:21 b).

o In ‘a’ ‘the children of Israel’ were to bring the oil for the lamp so that it would burn continually, and in the parallel ‘the children of Israel’ were to fulfil this ministry as a continual statute. Inside the Holy Place it would be Aaron and his sons who on behalf of the whole people maintained the light of the lamp. This central stress on Aaron and his sons now lead on to the next chapter.

Exodus 27:20-21

“And you shall command the children of Israel that they bring to you pure olive oil beaten for the light, to cause a lamp to burn continually. In the Tent of Meeting outside the veil which is before the Testimony, Aaron and his sons will order it from evening to morning before Yahweh. It shall be a statute for ever throughout their generations from the children of Israel.”

The type of olive oil described, beaten but not crushed, gave a clear, pure light. This was to be provided by the people and prepared with great care which confirms that this light shone on their behalf. They would feel that they had a real part in what went on in the Sanctuary. This was probably the light on one branch (or more) of the lampstand. Whether ‘continually’ meant that it never went out, or that it shone continually through the night only is open to question. The fact that it was ‘ordered’ from evening to morning seems to suggest the latter (compare Exodus 30:8; 1 Samuel 3:3). It would seem to be intended to be seen as a reminder to Yahweh of His people as dependent on Him for light and life.

Note that here the Dwellingplace is called the Tent of Meeting which was the name of the ancient tent that it had replaced. The meeting was at the tent rather than in it. The reference to Aaron and his sons presupposes what is to follow, and in its central position in the analysis prepares for the following two chapters.

It shall be a statute for ever throughout their generations from the children of Israel.” This statement is used when great stress is laid on something. Clearly this act of providing the oil was seen as very important. It was a direct link between the people and Yahweh. It explains why this command was placed at the end of the instructions for the Dwellingplace in order to emphasise it. The whole description of the Tabernacle and its main contents closes with the order for all Israel to continually burn a light there before Yahweh, and this final solemn injunction.

Notes for Christians.

In the brazen altar we have a type of Christ Who provided in Himself both altar and sacrifice for us (Hebrews 13:10). Always if we would approach God it must be through Christ, and while we come without fear we must come reverently. For He is of heaven and we are of the earth. Indeed the only reason that we can even dare approach Him is because Christ is our altar and our sacrifice. It is foursquare because He was perfect and full balanced. It is made of acacia wood, symbolic of His true and perfect manhood, and of brazen copper (which to them was a precious metal) symbolic of His heavenly nature which was yet hidden while He was among us (Mark 9:1-11), but will be revealed as pure gold. But we cannot experience the gold until we enter the Sanctuary, for it is through our knowledge of Him that the gold become apparent.

The court is a reminder that we are welcome to approach Him and to fellowship with Him. It too contains the purple which reminds us that we are a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9), the red which reminds us that we are constantly cleansed by the blood of Jesus (1 John 1:7), the pure linen cloth which is indicative of the righteousnesses of His people (Revelation 19:8). And the intricate details also are a reminder of God’s perfect work which indicate that all has been wrought that it might be for us a perfect place to meet with Him. The very detail of the description is a reminder of the care with which He has provided for us to come to Him. And while the screen may seem to prevent access to the Sanctuary it is only in order to remind us of the care with which we should approach. It is not now there in order to prevent access but in order to remind us that holy things must not be treated lightly.

And finally we are reminded that it is our responsibility to feed the lampstand so that its light continues to shine out brightly. In our daily worship of Him and our praising of Him before the world the light burns more brightly, but never more so than when our lives reveal the fruit of he Spirit. This is an important part of the ministry of God’s people, for the shining of that light to the world is our privilege and responsibility and it is only as we feed on God and His word that we will be able to enable it to do so.

End of note.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Exodus 27:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/exodus-27.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, July 4th, 2020
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13
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