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26. The Tabernacle

Moreover thou shalt make the tabernacle with ten curtains of fine twined linen, and blue, and purple, and scarlet: with cherubims of cunning work shalt thou make them. 2The length of one curtain shall be eight and twenty cubits, and the breadth of one curtain four cubits: and every one of the curtains shall have one measure. 3The five curtains shall be coupled together one to another; and other five curtains shall be coupled one to another. 4And thou shalt make loops of blue upon the edge of the one curtain from the selvedge in the coupling; and likewise shalt thou make in the uttermost edge of another curtain, in the coupling of the second. 5Fifty loops shalt thou make in the one curtain, and fifty loops shalt thou make in the edge of the curtain that is in the coupling of the second; that the loops may take hold one of another. 6And thou shalt make fifty taches of gold, and couple the curtains together with the taches: and it shall be one tabernacle.

7And thou shalt make curtains of goats’ hair to be a covering upon the tabernacle: eleven curtains shalt thou make. 8The length of one curtain shall be thirty cubits, and the breadth of one curtain four cubits: and the eleven curtains shall be all of one measure. 9And thou shalt couple five curtains by themselves, and six curtains by themselves, and shalt double the sixth curtain in the forefront of the tabernacle. 10And thou shalt make fifty loops on the edge of the one curtain that is outmost in the coupling, and fifty loops in the edge of the curtain which coupleth the second. 11And thou shalt make fifty taches of brass, and put the taches into the loops, and couple the tent together, that it may be one. 12And the remnant that remaineth of the curtains of the tent, the half curtain that remaineth, shall hang over the backside of the tabernacle. 13And a cubit on the one side, and a cubit on the other side of that which remaineth in the length of the curtains of the tent, it shall hang over the sides of the tabernacle on this side and on that side, to cover it. 14And thou shalt make a covering for the tent of rams’ skins dyed red, and a covering above of badgers' skins.

15And thou shalt make boards for the tabernacle of shittim wood standing up. 16Ten cubits shall be the length of a board, and a cubit and a half shall be the breadth of one board. 17Two tenons shall there be in one board, set in order one against another: thus shalt thou make for all the boards of the tabernacle. 18And thou shalt make the boards for the tabernacle, twenty boards on the south side southward. 19And thou shalt make forty sockets of silver under the twenty boards; two sockets under one board for his two tenons, and two sockets under another board for his two tenons. 20And for the second side of the tabernacle on the north side there shall be twenty boards: 21And their forty sockets of silver; two sockets under one board, and two sockets under another board. 22And for the sides of the tabernacle westward thou shalt make six boards. 23And two boards shalt thou make for the corners of the tabernacle in the two sides. 24And they shall be coupled together beneath, and they shall be coupled together above the head of it unto one ring: thus shall it be for them both; they shall be for the two corners. 25And they shall be eight boards, and their sockets of silver, sixteen sockets; two sockets under one board, and two sockets under another board.

26And thou shalt make bars of shittim wood; five for the boards of the one side of the tabernacle, 27And five bars for the boards of the other side of the tabernacle, and five bars for the boards of the side of the tabernacle, for the two sides westward. 28And the middle bar in the midst of the boards shall reach from end to end. 29And thou shalt overlay the boards with gold, and make their rings of gold for places for the bars: and thou shalt overlay the bars with gold. 30And thou shalt rear up the tabernacle according to the fashion thereof which was shewed thee in the mount.

31And thou shalt make a vail of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen of cunning work: with cherubims shall it be made: 32And thou shalt hang it upon four pillars of shittim wood overlaid with gold: their hooks shall be of gold, upon the four sockets of silver.

33And thou shalt hang up the vail under the taches, that thou mayest bring in thither within the vail the ark of the testimony: and the vail shall divide unto you between the holy place and the most holy. 34And thou shalt put the mercy seat upon the ark of the testimony in the most holy place. 35And thou shalt set the table without the vail, and the candlestick over against the table on the side of the tabernacle toward the south: and thou shalt put the table on the north side. 36And thou shalt make an hanging for the door of the tent, of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen, wrought with needlework. 37And thou shalt make for the hanging five pillars of shittim wood, and overlay them with gold, and their hooks shall be of gold: and thou shalt cast five sockets of brass for them.

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.


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