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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Exodus 25

 

 

Introduction

III. Israel at Sinai (XIX.-XL.).

The division Num 19-40 presents difficulties due to its very importance, see introduction to Ex. (last paragraph). But Num 25-31, 35-40 readily fall apart from the rest, as containing P's account of the Tabernacle (see on Exodus 25:1), the introduction to which is found in Exodus 19:1-2 a and Exodus 24:15 b - Exodus 24:18 a, Exodus 34:29-35 being a link section. All critics confess that in the remainder many details must remain doubtful. The Oxf. Hex. is for the most part followed here. It does not differ very widely from Baentsch, who has made a special study of this part. Gressmann's drastic reconstruction is highly suggestive in particulars, but as a whole is over-bold. The noteworthy fact is that both J and E preserve important traditions. In each there is an older stratum preserving these elements of the national memory of the religious and political confederation of the tribes: an awful appearance of God upon Sinai-Horeb (Exodus 19 JE, Exodus 20:18-21 E), and the giving of a sacred code, the (Ten) Covenant Words, inscribed upon stone tablets (Exodus 31:18 b E, Exodus 34:28 J) and sealed by a solemn sacrificial feast (Exodus 24:5 E, Exodus 24:11 J). Now these passages concur in presenting a favourable view of Israel at this period: he is the son gratefully responding to the compassionate love of his Father (cf. Exodus 4:22*), or the lowly bride returning the affection of her Husband. And this agrees with the view of the period taken by all the pre-exilic prophets who refer to it (see Hosea 2:15; Hosea 11:1; Hosea 11:3 f., Hosea 12:9; Hosea 12:13, Amos 2:9-11; Amos 3:1 f., Jeremiah 2:1-3; Jeremiah 2:34). Even Ezekiel's severe view rather points to the ancestral heathenism of the tribes (Egyptian, Exodus 23:3, but Canaanite or Amorite-Hittite, Exodus 16:3) than to any apostasy just at this epoch. Only Hosea 9:11, if it refers to the incident Numbers 25:1-5 JE, implies such a lapse. On these grounds it is probable that Numbers 32 JE (the Golden Calf and its destruction E, and the vengeance of the Levites J), together with not a little expansion elsewhere, belongs to a later stage in the moulding of the tradition. The order of incidents is hard to follow, because the editor who united J and E, in his care to preserve as much as possible of both, took the story of the tablets in J as a re-giving and rewriting of them with a renewal of the broken covenant. Much of Numbers 33 containing the colloquies with the Divine Leader belongs to this stage. All this, of course, involves a considerable disturbance of the Bible order and representation in Ex., which, but for one section, is substantially followed by D. But the essence of the great religious facts is irrefragably secure: Israel did, by whatever stages short or long, emerge from a condition little removed from contemporary heathenism, and learned to worship one gracious and holy God (p. 84). Differences concern only the manner and form of events, and their times. Later historians have so accustomed us to having at least the main events fitted neatly into their centuries B.C. or A.D. that we find it hard to think that serious writers could be centuries out in their reckoning. But just as prophets saw future events near and distant in a foreshortened perspective, so it may be that the Bible historians—called "the former prophets" (pp. 38, 244) by the Jews—saw their instances of the nation's glory and shame as more closely crowded together than they actually were. The main thing is that they actually saw them, and that, too, in the mirror of eternity." Throughout the whole we see the material, as it were, in a plastic state. As older conceptions were outgrown new touches could modify the details, though, fortunately for our chances of recognising the earlier levels of inspiration, traces of the old were not always obliterated. Sometimes we must suppose that these modifications had already been made during the period of oral tradition.


Verses 1-9

Exodus 25-31. P The Tent of Meeting or Dwelling of Yahweh.—To pass from the action and movement, and the jostling of old and new, in Exodus 25:19-24 into the group of chapters 25-31 is like passing from the crosscurrents and broken waters of an open, storm-tossed bay into the calm and order of an enclosed harbour. It is explained by the theory, now generally accepted, that—strange as it seems to our ideas—we have here no ancient, much less contemporary, account of the planning of the Tabernacle in minutest detail, but the leisurely elaboration, by that school of scribes of which Ezra was the type and leader, of their view of what must have been in the mind of Moses, on the general assumption that the Temple at Jerusalem before its destruction, Ezekiel's sketch (Ezekiel 40-48), and Zerubbabel's reconstructed building could be taken as imperfect copies of the ideal once realised in the golden age of Moses. That, therefore, which to these scribes seemed to point most clearly to what they believed best for the Temple worship of their own times, they set down without hesitation as what actually was long ago.

The grounds for this view can only be barely indicated here. The practical conditions, quietly assumed, as to leisure, materials, labour, and skill, are all contradicted by the artless narratives of JE, and are incredible in themselves; e.g. the weight of metals required was eight and a half tons, and its value at present rates about £200,000. There was, indeed, a sacred Tent of Meeting, but it was utterly different in all respects from the splendid portable temple of P (see pp. 123f., Exodus 33:7-11*). And the existence of this last is virtually excluded by those passages of Judges and Samuel where it must have been referred to. Further, the account, for all its minuteness, is quite incomplete as a specification of work to be done (cf. M‘Neue, p. lxxx). The religious value, however, remains the same, while an insoluble historical difficulty is removed. Indeed, just because it is late, this account presents profounder religious ideas. These will be noted in their place. Only here and there is the inner meaning of the whole or the parts specified, but each main element will have had its symbolic idea, and will often also bear a typical application to that system which replaced shadow by substance (see Hebrews 8-10*, and commentaries by Westcott and Nairne). The best working out of the details as a whole is in A. R. S. Kennedy's article on the Tabernacle (HDB). M‘Neile is also clear and full on all aspects. See further on Exodus 35-40.

Exodus 25:1-9 P (6 R). Appeal for Materials.—Man's liberality must provide God's Dwelling, the materials of which must come by way of "contribution" (Exodus 25:1-3 a, not "offering," but "what is ‘taken off' from some larger mass," Driver). The metals needed (Exodus 25:3 b) were gold, silver, and bronze (i.e. copper hardened by tin. the precursor of iron, not brass, i.e. copper and zinc) The spun and woven materials required costly dyes, violet and purple-red from Mediterranean shell-fish, and scarlet from an insect reared on the Syrian holmoak; and they included fine linen (not cotton, as mg. or silk) and goat's-hair (Exodus 25:4). Skins of rams and porpoises were needed for outer coverings of the tent (Exodus 26:14), and acacia wood for the framework (Exodus 25:5), as well as oil and spices (Exodus 25:6), and gems (Exodus 25:7). All were needed to make for Yahweh "a sanctuary" where He may "dwell in their midst" (Exodus 25:8).

The Godward-tending spirit of man, climbing upwards, has clung to the belief in some Real Presence of God in the world, and has found in sacred places points of attachment for this faith. In Exodus 20:24 f. we have an early stage of this belief. But the rude altars of earth or unhewn stone, set on ground fragrant with some gracious memory of a very present God, lost their simplicity. Countless "high places" were scenes of the degradation of worship into riotous pleasure-seeking, through the rivalry of local priesthoods. The reform under Josiah centralised worship at Jerusalem, and cleared the ground for the unchallenged and unique sanctity assumed in these chapters to belong to the One Dwelling of Yahweh in the midst of His people.

The general truth that God is the author of all wisdom and skill is here expressed in the statement that Moses was to make both the sanctuary and its "furniture" (i.e. fittings and utensils) according to a model shown him in the mount (Exodus 25:9). Driver recalls how "Gudea, king of Lagash (c. 3000 B.C.), was shown in a dream, by the goddess Nina, the complete model of a temple which he was to erect in her honour: gold, precious stones, cedar, and other materials for the purpose were collected by him from the most distant countries." Any "thing of beauty" must be first seen upon the mount of vision before the artist can give it external form.—The AV confused the two Hebrew names ‘ôhel and mishkan by the indiscriminate use of "tabernacle." It is best to render the former always "tent" with RV (see Exodus 27:21*), and the latter "dwelling" with RV mg., thus preserving the idea of Exodus 25:8 throughout the many repetitions of the title.


Verses 10-22

Exodus 25:10-22 P. The Ark (cf. Exodus 37:1-9).—Three stages of tradition may be distinguished with regard to the Ark (pp. 105f., 123f.):—(a) In JE, and in the earlier historical books, it is the visible seat of Yahweh's presence, guiding and protecting His people. Various explanations are offered. Other ancient peoples carried images in similar chests; the ark may have held some such symbol; Kennett (ERE, vol. i. 791-793) suggests the brazen serpent. Or it may have contained a stone from the sacred mount to serve as a throne for Yahweh as He went forth with His people to find a new home amongst men (cf. Naaman's "mules' burden of earth"). But it is not thought likely that it originally held the tablets, which would be publicly exhibited not hidden from sight. Dibelius and Gressmann expound the attractive view that the Ark, with its cover and cherubim, was the throne of the invisible Yahweh, the rider upon the storm-cloud, and the occupant of the sacred height of Sinai. They support this by referring to the box-seats which on the monuments serve as thrones, and claim with justice that all early references to the Ark are made more intelligible on this view, which also permits the belief that the official public worship of Israel was imageless from Mosaic times. (b) In D (see Deuteronomy 10:1-5*) the Ark, perhaps in order to rescue it from superstitious veneration, such as gave occasion to the disparaging words of Jeremiah 3:16, was regarded as the receptacle of the tablets, and was called "the ark of the covenant," since, for D, the covenant at Horeb was on the basis of the Decalogue. So it became rather a memorial of the once-for-all-concluded alliance between Yahweh and Israel, than the instrument of the Divine presence. (c) In P we find it here set in the forefront of Israel's sacred things, as that for the sake of which the whole sanctuary was made. It is minutely described as about 3 feet 9 inches long, 2 feet 3 inches wide, and 2 feet 3 inches high, heavily gilded inside and out, with a rim or moulding of solid gold (Exodus 25:11), and with gold rings and gilded poles (Exodus 25:12-15). It is to hold "the testimony," i.e. the Decalogue, which Yahweh would give to Moses, no allusion being made to the awful sights and sounds publicly manifested according to Exodus 25:19 f. (Exodus 16:21 b). Upon it vv. (Exodus 25:17-21 a) was to rest a slab of gold, "the mercy-seat" (Tyndale's word, and still the best, as the Hebrew verb never means "to cover" in the literal sense). For its use and meaning see Leviticus 16:2; Leviticus 16:14 f., and Deissmann in EBi. Two golden cherubs, i.e. winged figures (cf. the bearers of Yahweh's throne in Ezekiel 1:5 ff.), were fixed to the mercy-seat at its ends, and overshadowed it, facing one another (Exodus 25:18-20). Contrast the great gilded cherubs that guarded the Ark on either side in Solomon's Temple (1 Kings 6:23-28). Here (Exodus 25:21), "above the mercy-seat" and "between the two cherubim," was to be the scene of Yahweh's gracious approach as the invisible King and Lawgiver, the meeting-point between earth and heaven, the place of those solemn meetings between God and man's representative, from which the commonest name for the sanctuary, "the tent of meeting," was derived. "The blood-stained mercy-seat" has thus become the pledge of that loving search of the Father for spiritual worshippers which is described in John 4:21-24, while the hedging of it round with courts and chambers of graduated sanctity symbolised the progressive stages of "holy fear" by which alone man can draw nearer and nearer to God.


Verses 23-30

Exodus 25:23-30 P. The Table of Shewbread (cf. Exodus 37:10-16).—It was an ancient custom to spread tables with food and drink as oblations to the gods, who were supposed to need food and drink (Leviticus 24:5-9*). And the custom persisted long after men's ideas had changed, coming to be an acknowledgment of God's gift of daily bread. It may well typify the sympathetic share that "the Creator and Preserver of all mankind" takes in the creaturely needs and interests of His children. The table was of gilded wood, 3 × 1½ × 2¼ feet, with a gold rim or bead (Exodus 25:23 f.), strengthened by a 3-inch beaded frame round the legs (Exodus 25:25), and with rings and poles for carrying (Exodus 25:26-28). There were to be broad gold dishes for the flat cakes, and cups for the frankincense (Leviticus 24:7); flagons and chalices also were needed for the libations of wine which completed the provision (Exodus 25:29). The term "shewbread," through Tyndale and Luther from Jerome, fits better the wording of 1 Chronicles 9:32 ("bread set out," i.e. exhibited or arranged) than Exodus 25:30 here, where render as mg. "Presence-bread."


Verses 31-40

Exodus 25:31-40 P. The Golden Candlestick (or Lampstand, cf. Exodus 37:17 and Exodus 25:24).—This was of massive gold, weighing 96 lbs., with its vessels (Exodus 25:40), having a base, a central stem, and six branches, all ornamented with bosses shaped like almond flowers, each "cup" or entire blossom being made up of the outer "knop" or calyx and the inner "flower" or corolla, three bosses on each branch and four on the central stem, as well as "knops" at the three points where the pairs of branches met the stem (Exodus 25:31-36). The seven lamps were probably shaped like sauce-boats, the wick protruding at the narrow end, and were to be "fixed on" (not "lighted") so as "to give light over against it," i.e. in front of it, with the wicks pointing north (Exodus 25:37). "Tongs" or tweezers for drawing up the wicks, and "snuff-dishes" were ordered also (Exodus 25:38). This design corresponds to that used in the post-exilic Temple (1 Maccabees 1:21) as shown on the Arch of Titus (contrast the ten in Solomon's Temple, 1 Kings 7:49).

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Exodus 25:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/exodus-25.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, September 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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