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The Tabernacle


Moreover you shall make the tabernacle with ten curtains of fine twisted linen, and blue, purple, and crimson yarns; you shall make them with cherubim skillfully worked into them. 2The length of each curtain shall be twenty-eight cubits, and the width of each curtain four cubits; all the curtains shall be of the same size. 3Five curtains shall be joined to one another; and the other five curtains shall be joined to one another. 4You shall make loops of blue on the edge of the outermost curtain in the first set; and likewise you shall make loops on the edge of the outermost curtain in the second set. 5You shall make fifty loops on the one curtain, and you shall make fifty loops on the edge of the curtain that is in the second set; the loops shall be opposite one another. 6You shall make fifty clasps of gold, and join the curtains to one another with the clasps, so that the tabernacle may be one whole.

7 You shall also make curtains of goats’ hair for a tent over the tabernacle; you shall make eleven curtains. 8The length of each curtain shall be thirty cubits, and the width of each curtain four cubits; the eleven curtains shall be of the same size. 9You shall join five curtains by themselves, and six curtains by themselves, and the sixth curtain you shall double over at the front of the tent. 10You shall make fifty loops on the edge of the curtain that is outermost in one set, and fifty loops on the edge of the curtain that is outermost in the second set.

11 You shall make fifty clasps of bronze, and put the clasps into the loops, and join the tent together, so that it may be one whole. 12The part that remains of the curtains of the tent, the half curtain that remains, shall hang over the back of the tabernacle. 13The cubit on the one side, and the cubit on the other side, of what remains in the length of the curtains of the tent, shall hang over the sides of the tabernacle, on this side and that side, to cover it. 14You shall make for the tent a covering of tanned rams’ skins and an outer covering of fine leather.

The Framework

15 You shall make upright frames of acacia wood for the tabernacle. 16Ten cubits shall be the length of a frame, and a cubit and a half the width of each frame. 17There shall be two pegs in each frame to fit the frames together; you shall make these for all the frames of the tabernacle. 18You shall make the frames for the tabernacle: twenty frames for the south side; 19and you shall make forty bases of silver under the twenty frames, two bases under the first frame for its two pegs, and two bases under the next frame for its two pegs; 20and for the second side of the tabernacle, on the north side twenty frames, 21and their forty bases of silver, two bases under the first frame, and two bases under the next frame; 22and for the rear of the tabernacle westward you shall make six frames. 23You shall make two frames for corners of the tabernacle in the rear; 24they shall be separate beneath, but joined at the top, at the first ring; it shall be the same with both of them; they shall form the two corners. 25And so there shall be eight frames, with their bases of silver, sixteen bases; two bases under the first frame, and two bases under the next frame.

26 You shall make bars of acacia wood, five for the frames of the one side of the tabernacle, 27and five bars for the frames of the other side of the tabernacle, and five bars for the frames of the side of the tabernacle at the rear westward. 28The middle bar, halfway up the frames, shall pass through from end to end. 29You shall overlay the frames with gold, and shall make their rings of gold to hold the bars; and you shall overlay the bars with gold. 30Then you shall erect the tabernacle according to the plan for it that you were shown on the mountain.

The Curtain

31 You shall make a curtain of blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and of fine twisted linen; it shall be made with cherubim skillfully worked into it. 32You shall hang it on four pillars of acacia overlaid with gold, which have hooks of gold and rest on four bases of silver. 33You shall hang the curtain under the clasps, and bring the ark of the covenant in there, within the curtain; and the curtain shall separate for you the holy place from the most holy. 34You shall put the mercy seat on the ark of the covenant in the most holy place. 35You shall set the table outside the curtain, and the lampstand on the south side of the tabernacle opposite the table; and you shall put the table on the north side.

36 You shall make a screen for the entrance of the tent, of blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and of fine twisted linen, embroidered with needlework. 37You shall make for the screen five pillars of acacia, and overlay them with gold; their hooks shall be of gold, and you shall cast five bases of bronze for them.

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1. Moreover, thou shalt make the tabernacle. In the whole construction of the tabernacle we must remember what we have already seen, that the Israelites were instructed by external figures how precious a thing is the worship of God, and therefore that they must diligently beware lest it should be polluted by any meanness. For all this richness and magnificence of ornament was the very contrast to meanness. They were also reminded that, if they would be accounted pure worshippers of God, they must avoid all uncleanness, for the tabernacle was the type of the Church. Thus it is certain that by its external ornaments the excellency of spiritual gifts was designated. On this ground Isaiah, discoursing of the perfect glory of the Church as it would be under the reign of Christ, says,

"I will lay thy stones with fair colors, and lay thy foundations with sapphires; and I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones,”
(Isaiah 54:11, 12;)

by which words he plainly signifies that the Church would be adorned with heavenly beauty, since all kinds of graces shone forth in her But the chief excellency of her adornment must be referred to the instruction which renews us into the image of God. Thus David, when he celebrates the beauty of God’s house, assigns this honor chiefly to the exercises of faith and piety:

"One thing have I desired of the Lord,” he says, “that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.” (Psalm 27:4.)

Was this that he might feed his eyes with empty pictures, with its costly materials, and with the exquisite workmanship of it? Assuredly he does not speak of gazing inquisitively at it, but thus alludes to its visible workmanship, that with the spiritual eyes of faith he may consider the glory more excellent than the whole world, which was there represented. Nor indeed did anything magnificent appear in the tabernacle to delight men’s eyes, but rather was all its richness and excellence covered up with goats’ hair and paltry leather, in order that believers beneath that hidden beauty might reflect on something higher than the carnal sense.

It will suffice to have given these general hints; I now descend to particulars, in which let not my readers expect of me any conceits which may gratify their ears, since nothing is better than to contain ourselves within the limits of edification; and it would be puerile to make a collection of the minutiae wherewith some philosophize; since it was by no means the intention of God to include mysteries in every hook and loop; and even although no part were without a mystical meaning, which no one in his senses will admit, it is better to confess our ignorance than to indulge ourselves in frivolous conjectures. Of this sobriety, too, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews is a fit master for us, who, although he professedly shews the analogy between the shadows of the Law and the truth manifested in Christ, yet sparingly touches upon some main points, and by this moderation restrains us from too curious disquisitions and deep speculations. In the first place, curtains are made of twilled linen, and blue, purple, and scarlet, which, when coupled together, made an inclosure of forty cubits; for they were ten in number, and the breadth of each was four cubits. By “cunning work,” commentators are agreed that embroidery is meant, especially when God commands that cherubim should be made in them. But some translate the word cherubim by the general name of pictures, 140140     S. M. is the translator who has here rendered cherubim, pictures. V. renders it, paraphrastically, “pulchra varietate contextum.” — W. which, although it is not grammatically incorrect, yet, since we have before seen that angels were designated by this word, it; is more probable that figures of angels were everywhere scattered over them; for, when the majesty of God is represented to the life by Daniel 7:10, “ten thousand times ten thousand” are said to stand around His judgment-seat, Ridiculous is it of the Papists 141141     See Institutes, vol. 1, p. 122, et seq.; see also Petr. Martyr, Loci. Com. Cl. Sec., cap. 5; and Becon, Catechism, Part 3; Parker Soc. Edit., pp. 61, 62. to infer from hence that churches would be empty and unsightly unless they are adorned with images; for in order that the similitude should hold good, they must needs hide their images under a triple covering, lest the people should be able to see them; and then, how would they be “the books of the unlearned” (idiotarum), as they call them? 142142     “Idcirco enim pictura in ecelesiis adhibetur, ut hi, qui literas nesciunt, saltem in parietibus videndo legant, quae legere in codicibus non valent.” — Greg. Magni, lib. 9, indict, 2, epist, 105, ad Serenum Massil. Episc.

Now, since the seraphim, of which Isaiah makes mention, (Isaiah 6:2,) signify the same as the cherubim, and are said “with twain of their wings to cover their faces, and with twain their feet,” their images must be veiled, in order to correspond with them. Besides, it is preposterous, as I have said, forcibly to transfer these rudiments, which God delivered only to His ancient; people, to the fullness of time, when the Church has grown up and has passed out of its childhood. But how far the Jews were from worshipping the cherubim, the heathen poets bear them witness; for Juvenal, speaking of them, said,

"Qui puras nubes, et coeli numen adorant;” 143143     The actual words of Juvenal, Sat. 14:97, are: —
   "Nil proeteter nubes, et coeli numen adorant;”
Nought but the clouds, and heaven’s God adore.

and God extorted these words from an impure and licentious man, that all might know that the Law of Moses lifted his disciples to things above. A threefold covering is then described, the inner one of goats’ hair, another of rams’ skins dyed red, and the outer one of badgers’ skins; a wooden frame is then added, to strengthen the tabernacle within by its firmness, since otherwise the curtains would have got out of place at the slightest motion. The boards were of shittim-wood, overlaid with gold, either only gilt or covered with gold plates; each of them was supported by two silver bases, 144144     A. V., “sockets." like feet, and they were joined together by bars, passed through rings of gold. In this space the whole tabernacle was contained, which then was distinguished into the outer sanctuary and the Holy of holies. Besides these there was the court in which the people were to stand, because it was not lawful for them to enter the sanctuary, to which the priests alone had access, and they only when clean. Thus David, after having exclaimed, “How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts,” immediately adds, “My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord;” and again, “for a day in thy courts is better than a thousand,” (Psalm 84:1, 2, 10;) and again, “Worship the Lord in his holy court.” 145145     C. quotes the translation of the V., “in atrio sancto ejus.” See note on Psalm 29:2, in C. Society’s Commentary, vol. 1, p. 476. (Psalm 29:2.) But on so plain a matter there is no need of the abundant proofs which he furnishes. The disposition of the tabernacle is said again, in ver. 30, to have been shewn in the mount, that the people should not rest their attention on the visible tabernacle, but with the understanding of faith should penetrate to heaven, and direct their minds to the spiritual pattern, the shadows and types of which they beheld. Neither here must we philosophize too curiously. The allegory will please the ears of many, that by the two bases are meant the Old and New Testament, or the two natures of Christ, because believers rest on these two supports. But with no less probability we might say, that two bases were placed beneath each of the boards; either because godliness hath the promise of this life and of that which is to come; or because we must resist on both sides the temptations which assail us from the right and from the left; or because faith must not limp nor turn to the right or left: thus there would be no bounds to trifling. They allegorically explain that the covering of the tabernacle was made of rams’ skins, 146146     Arietes rubricati, Christus sanguine passionis cruentatus; significantur etiam martyres, etc. — Gloss. Ord. because the Church is protected by the blood of Christ, who is the spotless lamb; but I ask, what do the badgers’ skins, which were above, mean? Why was the covering of goats’ hair put below? Wherefore, sobriety is our best course.

31. And thou shalt make a vail. The inner shrine or recess was covered by one vail; the sanctuary was divided from the court by another. By both the people were admonished how reverently God’s majesty must be regarded, and with what seriousness holy things are to be engaged in, so that they might not approach God’s presence without fear, nor boldly break in upon the mysteries of things sacred. But by the vail the obscurity of the shadows of the Law was principally denoted, that the Israelites might know that the time of full revelation had not yet come, but that the spiritual worship of God was as yet enshrouded in a vail; and thus might extend their faith to their promised Messiah, at whose coming the truth would be discovered and laid bare. Wherefore, when Christ rose again from the dead, “the vail of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom,” (Matthew 27:51;) and an end was put to the ceremonies of the Law, because God then presented Himself in His living and express image, and the perfect reality of all the ceremonies was manifested. Now, therefore, in the light of the gospel, we behold “face to face,” what was then shewn afar off to the ancient people under coverings. (2 Corinthians 3:14.) Yet, although there is now no vail to prevent us from openly and familiarly looking upon Christ, let us learn from this figure that the manifestation of God in the flesh is a hidden and incomprehensible mystery. (1 Timothy 3:16.) It is not without reason that Christ Himself compares His body to the temple, because the fullness of the Godhead dwells in it. (John 2:19.) Let us then know assuredly that the Father is in the Son, and the Son in the Father, (John 17:21;) but if it be asked in what manner, this is ineffable, except that the eternal Son of God, who, before the creation of the world, possessed the same glory with the Father, (John 17:5,) that even He is now man, that “He might be the firstborn among many brethren.” (Romans 8:29.)