Navigation




Law of Moses

Printable .pdf version,

As A Rule of National and Individual Life
By Robert Roberts
Chapter 12 - Allegorical Transactions at Sinai

IN the establishment of the Mosaic economy, there are one or two other general features of the work deserving of notice before proceeding to the consideration of the tabernacle in detail. The first is the fact that besides being shown the pattern on the Mount, Moses received very full specifications, which are twice set forth, first in a "thou shalt make" series, and then in an "and he made" series. He was fully informed by word of mouth of what was to be done in the construction, erection, and dedication of the tabernacle. And these detailed specifications occupy seven long chapters (Exod. 25-31). They are so full and complete, in the first instance, that one would naturally have supposed that it would have been unnecessary afterwards to do more in the way of record than the addition of a brief statement to the effect that the work was performed according to all these directions. Instead of this, a very particular account is given in chapters 36-39 of every step in the execution of the work -- almost corresponding item by item with the specifications. The two accounts are in many particulars nearly identical. The difference is chiefly in the tense of the verb. The one reads, "thou shalt make" this, that, and the other; and the other, "and he made" this, that, and the other.

Pondering whether there can be anything in this apparently needless duplication of details, we may note the Divine interpretation of doubling a matter in the case of Pharaoh's dreams: "For that the dream was doubled unto Pharaoh twice, it is because the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass" (Gen. 41:32). We have already seen that the tabernacle was "a figure for the time then present", "a shadow of good things to come" -- therefore a prophecy in enigmatical form. It had reference to something that "God will shortly bring to pass", Therefore the thing, as a matter of record was "established" in being doubled. It is the principle observed in the enactment that matters of judgment should not be decided except at the mouth of two witnesses.

There is also an observable analogy in the two sets of specifications to the two phases in which all Divine procedure towards man appears: first plan, then fulfilment; first command, then obedience; first prophecy, then history; first the Divine purpose unfolded in the Gospel and illustrated in the prophetic Scriptures, and then its realization in the setting up of the kingdom in due time, when there will probably be as deliberate an execution of the programme and as complete a rehearsal of the facts achieved as there was in the building of the tabernacle in harmony with the fully-recorded preliminary specifications.

In agreement with this idea, we have to note the character of the incidents that occurred between the promulgation of the original specifications, and their full carrying out by Bezaleel, Aholiab, and their fellow workmen: these are quite striking, and seem to correspond in the main with the circumstances that have marked the development of the antitypical work.

"When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount", that is, during what we may call the "thou-shalt-make" stage, they assembled in a mutinous mood before Aaron, and called upon him to make gods whom they might see and serve in place of the invisible God pressed upon their attention by their vanished leader. Aaron, the high priest, intimidated by their clamour, complied with their request; and they gave themselves over to idolatry, and were found in the act at the return of Moses. The cause of the apostasy was the temporary absence of their divinely-appointed head, and the development of apostasy took place under the divinely-appointed priesthood. We may see in this the germinal foreshadowing of the course of events among both Jews and Gentiles. As regards Israel, it was after the death of Moses, and under the leadership of the priests, that Israel abandoned the law: as regards the Gentiles, it has been during the absence of the Christ, and under the leadership of the religious heads of the people, that the community has turned away from the truth and given themselves over to the worship of the beast and his image.

When Moses came down from the mount, at the end of the forty days, he found the people in the full tide of their apostate worship, and was so fired with anger at their folly that he flung out of his hands the divinely-written stone tables which he had received from the hand of God on the mount, and unsheathed the avenging sword by the hand of the Levites, to the destruction of a multitude of the apostates. Whether we apply this to the first or second manifestation of the prophet like unto Moses, we see a parallel. At his first coming, he found Israel in a state of complete departure from the law of the Lord, and fulminated in terrible wrath against them, both by word of mouth and deeds of judgment, expelling a sacrilegious crowd from the temple courts with a whip, and afterwards chastising the nation sorely by the sword of the Romans. Concurrently with this outburst of indignation, he flung the law of Moses out of his hands in nailing it to his cross, and taking it out of the way as a ground of acceptance with God. At his second manifestation, he finds the professing Gentiles in a similar state of apostasy and idolatry, and flames with a similar vengeance against "them that know not God and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ", At the same time, he flings the gospel invitation to the ground in withdrawing it from further operative force among mankind, and "shutting the door" against all further admission to the kingdom and glory of God.

After Moses had chastised the people, he said, "Ye have sinned a great sin: and now I will go up unto the Lord; peradventure I shall make an atonement for your sin", And Moses returned unto the Lord, and said, "Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin" -- (Exod. 32:30-31). Here appears to be the foreshadowing of the ascension of Christ to make intercession for the transgressors (Isa. 53:12). The parallel at his second coming would be found on his acting as a priest on his throne when the kingdom has been established after the world has been taught righteousness by judgment (Zech. 6:13; Ezek. 45:17; Isa. 26:9; Rev. 15:4).

Between the "thou-shalt-make" and the "and-he-made" records of the Mosaic work, Moses was permitted to have a special vision of the glory of the Lord. The Lord had said to him, "Thou hast found grace in my sight", Moses responded, "I beseech thee, show me thy glory" (Exod. 33:17-18). And the Lord granted him his request, saying, "There is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock: and it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by: and I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen .... Be ready in the morning, and come up in the morning unto mount Sinai, and present thyself there to me in the top of the mount. And no man shall come up with thee", After the impressive manifestation, in whose presence Moses made haste and bowed his head towards the earth and worshipped, Moses remained on the mount forty days and forty nights, at the end of which, on descending, Israel were afraid of the brightness of his face -- of which Moses was unaware -- and retired from him. Even Aaron and the elders stood at a distance. Moses beckoned them to come near that he might communicate to them what had passed on the top of the mount. They represented to him that they could not come near unless he put something on to dim the brightness of his face. So Moses put a veil on his face. Then Aaron and the chief men drew near, and afterwards the congregation returned, and he rehearsed to them all that the Lord had spoken to him, keeping the veil on his face all the time. When he had done speaking, the people dispersed, and "When he went in before the Lord to speak with him, he took the veil off; When he came out he put it on again, every time he had occasion to communicate with the people (Exod. 34:34).

In these interesting and singular circumstances, we probably have both history and prophecy from the modern point of view -- that is, history which was (concealed) prophecy at the time of the transactions, but has since become plain accomplished history; and prophecy which remains prophecy of events yet to come.

The historical counterpart may be seen in the day of Jesus -- (dropped in between the dispensation of promise in the hands of the prophets, and the dispensation of performance in the hands of the glorified saints). To Jesus, the Father bore testimony of His good pleasure, "Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased", Jesus prayed, "Glorify thou me with the glory which I had with thee before the world was". It had been, in anticipation, written long before: "Sit thou on my right hand." So after his resurrection, "he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God" (Mark 16:19), shortly after which, Stephen "saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God" (Acts 7:55). And there, ever since that time, Jesus has remained bathed and steeped and transfused with the glory of God. The prophetic part would be connected with the return of Moses with face aglow to the children of Israel. If the face of mortal Moses was so affected by contact with the divine glory on the top of Mount Sinai that it shone with a lustre too strong for the comfort of those to whom he had afterwards to speak, how must it be with the immortal Christ on his return from heaven? When Saul of Tarsus saw him on the way to Damascus, the light of his person was "above the brightness of the sun".

It is probable that as Moses was unaware of the glory on his face, but conscious only of calm, piercing power of eye, so Christ in the effulgent splendour of the new nature, may feel chiefly the glad, strong comfort of the garment of praise that comes with the mantling of the Eternal Spirit, and may not at first realize so fully the over-powering effect of his glory on the poor, dim-eyed mortals to whom he will address himself at his coming. It may be necessary, as in the case of the typical Moses, that he impose some restraint on the out-shining of the Spirit power during his intercourse with mortal men. This would be in harmony with the type and with Dr. Thomas's rendering of Zech. 14:6-7: "The splendid ones drawing in". If this suggestion should be correct, there would be no difficulty in seeing the anti-type of the fact that "when Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he took the veil off"; when he came out, he put it on. It would be found in the fact that the glory of Christ would be unrestrained in all direct dealings with the Father of the glorified household, but would be drawn in whenever intercourse with mortals was required. In this, he would only exercise the accommodation yielded by the angels, who, though shining out with resplendent brightness on official occasions (e.g., at the resurrection of Christ--Matt. 28:3), appeared as ordinary men in all their ordinary dealings.

This involves no forgetfulness of the interpretation Paul has given us of the putting on of the veil -- that Israel could not see through the meaning of the Divine procedure. It is a common thing in the Scriptures for there to be two or more cognate meanings blended in the same figure. The case before us is a case in point. There was the literal and the figurative with Moses himself; he had to veil his personal glory that Israel might hold converse with him; and he thereby signified that Israel could not discern the divine intent in his actions. So with the "prophet like unto Moses", he will necessarily have to restrain his bodily splendour in dealing with the mortal element of his kingdom; and there may be associated with this an intimation that even in the age to come, it will not be possible for the subjects of Christ to know the full mystery of the man "in whom dwelleth all the fulness of the godhead bodily."

Then there is the breaking and replacing of the tables of the law originally handed to Moses direct from angelic hands -- in which it is not impossible to see some miniature analogy to great dispensational events. The original stones were divinely provided, as well as divinely inscribed. They were broken in anger at the end of the "thou-shalt-make" stage. They were replaced, not by a newly-created set of stones, angelically provided like the first, but by stones that Moses was directed to "hew" for himself and bring up for the writing. The substituted stones were provided at the middle or ascension stage, when Moses went up to intercede for Israel; and they were brought down from the Mount in a finished state, on the occasion when the face of Moses shone, just before the "and-he-made" stage.

There is a parallel to these things discernible in the course events have taken in connection with the operations of the Lord's law among men, whether we take it racially or as regards His dealings with Israel. Racially, God "made man upright", as Solomon testifies (Eccles. 7:29); "very good", as Moses declares (Gen. 1:31). This involves the conclusion that He imparted to him the knowledge of His law: for, otherwise, he could not have been very good. Whether the knowledge was imparted by inspiration or by oral instruction, the result was to write the law "not on tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart" (2 Cor. 3:3). These tables of the heart were divinely provided in the creation of man, and divinely inscribed in the process of his enlightenment. When apostasy occurred, they were thrown down and broken in the judgment that passed upon all men. Then by the prophet like unto Moses new tables are hewn from the old material, to be presented to the Father for the writing of the new name: that is, men and women from the condemned race are hewn into shape by the work of Christ through the apostles, and presented by them for the embroidering work of the spirit, which will so write itself into their nature as to be both a principle of physical incorruption and a power of mental conformity to the divine archetype in all things, and, therefore, a "law written in their hearts". The Adamic tables thus re-written will be handed down for law from God to the human race at the coming of Christ, whose countenance will be "as the sun shining in his strength" (Rev. 1:16).

As regards God's dealing with Israel, we may see a parallel in the breaking or "taking away" of the first covenant (in the anger consequent on Israel's departure from God), and the establishing of a second covenant through the mediatorship of the second Moses who ascended the heavenly mount for the purpose, and will descend again in glory with the finished covenant in his hand, when the time has arrived to pitch the true tabernacle according to all the specifications that have gone before.

At first sight, it may seem strange that simple personal occurrences at the beginning of things should have been made to fit in with coming events on a large scale with which they had no direct connection. It may seem as if it would have been more befitting the dignity of sense and truth that the two sets of circumstances should have stood apart, each on its own foundation. Any feeling of this sort is probably due to our mental meagreness, which is satisfied and exhausted with the proximate bearing of things. With God, there is a depth and wealth of creative mind which is probably gratified by the adjustments and analogies of related parts in the evolution of His plans. We see some suggestion of this in the difference between the gifted mind of an artist and the poor mind of a day labourer. An artist, in drawing a pattern for some fabric or utensil, will supply a style of ornamentation that is harmonious throughout, whether simple or elaborate; and so an architect, working out a plan for a building, will observe the same style of architecture down to the minutest details, where an uncultured mind would either omit all correspondence or introduce incongruous features. It is certainly an added beauty to the work of God among men that its opening personal incidents should bear a general resemblance to its final developments on a larger scale -- and so be a sort of prophecy -- which enabled Paul to say "which things are an allegory", Whatever we may think of it, there the fact undoubtedly is; and it would be a pity to make the mistake of those who stoutly shut their eyes and maintain there are no types and shadows connected either with the history or the institutions of Israel under Moses.

From this point we may retrace our steps and consider the construction of the tabernacle itself; for which not only the pattern was fixed beforehand, but the exact quantity of the precious metals used in its fabrication recorded -- from which we may know that the exact number and character of the human beings to be used in the setting up of the antitypical tabernacle is settled beforehand, and that all the experiences, rough or smooth, through which such human beings are put, are essential for their preparation to that end.

The quantities are stated in Exod. 38: -- Gold, 29 talents, 730 shekels (or, in English weight, 1 ton, 9 cwt., 60 lbs.); silver, 100 talents, 1,775 shekels (or, in English weight, 5 tons, 1 cwt., 88 lbs.).

In considering the structure, we must remember that it was much more than a portable worshipping convenience. It was truly constructed so as to be easy of transfer from place to place; but it is chiefly to be understood in the light of God's own description of it at the time: "There I will meet with the children of Israel, and the tabernacle shall be sanctified by my glory . . . And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will be their God", It is also to be estimated in the light of the further revelation afterwards vouchsafed through the apostles, that it parabolically illustrated the relations subsisting between God and man. If we do not have this in view in studying the details, we shall find ourselves dealing with mechanical particulars of no interest.

Probably the best method of studying the details is to take them in the order in which they were described to Moses. In this order we may discover some natural sequence of truth. It is noticeable that this order is different from the order in which the making of the things is narrated. This circumstance may not be without significance in a system in which everything was so exact, and from which Jesus said, "Not one jot or tittle shall pass till all be fulfilled", There is a natural difference between the order in which divine purposes are revealed, and the order in which they are executed. The glorious upshot of the whole work was first revealed to Abraham: "In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed", But before this came a long history of curse and woe. The kernel of the matter first: afterwards, the outer fringe of related matters. This appears to be the order of the "thou-shalt-make" series of specifications, while the "and-he-made" series reverses this order, giving the related matters first, and the kernel last, as the order observed in the fulfilment of the purpose requires.

The "shalt-make" series begins with the ark, mercy seat and cherubim, while the "did-make" series begins with the curtains, boards and bars; in brief, one begins with the inside, and the other with the outside -- which is in harmony with the fact that in historic evolution, the inside of matters comes last in realization, though first in promise.

The ark, mercy seat, and cherubim constituted the very core of the Mosaic economy. Conjointly, they were the apparatus through which the glory of God was visibly revealed, and the meeting point between God and the nation established. They were secreted in the innermost recess of the tabernacle, concealed behind the veil, and imparting to that recess its character as the Holy of Holies. Whatever, therefore, they may conjointly or separately represent, is of the very first essence of Divine truth -- of which the tabernacle was the enigmatical form. What the significance was there can be no difficulty in identifying. But first let us have the literal objects distinctly before us.

The ark was a box of hard wood, about 3 ft. 9 ins. long; 2 ft. 3in. deep; and 2 ft. 3 in. wide (Exod. 25:10). The thickness of the wood is not stated; it would probably be about an inch. The wood was overlaid both outside and inside with pure gold. The box was finished on the top with an ornamental band or crown of gold all round. It was intended to contain the stone slabs on which were written the ten commandments that formed the basis of the covenant between God and Israel -- from which the ark was called the ark of the covenant. These slabs were also called the testimony, because they testified or declared the will of God. From this the ark was also called the ark of the testimony. Afterwards, there were also deposited in it the rod of Aaron that budded in proof of his divine election to the priesthood; and a golden pot containing a sample of the manna on which Israel subsisted for forty years. The lid was a plate of pure gold, called the mercy seat, from the function associated with its use. From each end of the lid rose a winged cherubic figure, facing inwards, with wings extended, so as to meet the wings of the other in the middle over the mercy seat. The two figures were formed out of one piece. Four rings were fixed on the sides of the ark to receive two long poles or staves of shittim wood, covered with gold, by which the ark might be easily carried.

Such was the simple structure which formed the throne of God in the midst of Israel when the tabernacle was finished. The divine glory rested on the mercy seat between the cherubim, and communicated with Moses on due occasion. When Moses, having any matter to submit for the Lord's decision, entered the tabernacle, "then he heard the voice of one speaking to him from off the mercy seat that was upon the ark of the testimony, from between the two cherubim" (Num. 7:89).

This was the literal operation of these ordinances for the time then present. Paul declares them to have been "the example and shadow of heavenly things" (Heb. 8:5). It is their significance in this character that is important for us to know: for their literal use has long since passed away. There are not many particulars given to us in the apostolic writings as to the antitypical meaning in detail. Several general clues are supplied which we are left to work out. The working out of these general clues is interesting and profitable, provided analogies are not carried too far, and meanings evolved that were probably never intended. We must not forget that the law, though "a shadow of good things to come", is "not the very image thereof" (Heb. 10:1). Some people work it out as if it were "the very image" of the things signified, which is a mistake tending in the direction of those "strivings about the law" which Paul in another place declares to be unprofitable and vain (Tit. 3:9).

The broad, general, and really important meanings are easy to gather. In the divine glory resting in the holiest we see God in manifestation, telling us that God is not to be found except in His own revelation of Himself. We cannot "by searching" discover Him or know Him. Philosophy is a bootless quest: science useful only in the ascertaining of natural things: natural religion a delusion. The truth concerning God is only to be known through "the word that God sent to Israel", What other nations think, is mere human folly. It is one of the vagaries of so-called learning that recognises truth in all "religions" and in all "sacred literature". The real fact is there is no religious truth apart from what God has spoken by the prophets to the Jews. "Salvation (itself) is of the Jews", as Jesus said.

Then the position occupied by the glory is eloquent in another way. It sat enthroned in the very heart of the tabernacle, which stood in the very middle of the holy court which was reared in the very midst of the chosen families of Levi, whose tents were pitched in the very centre of the whole congregation -- an immense encampment of over two millions of people. God, the centre of Israel's national life -- the pivot upon which all their operations, public and private, turned. What does this tell us but that God should be the centre and root of our lives? Without God, life is barbarous and ephemeral. We see it in nations and individuals around us. They are moved and controlled by their wants, their fancies, their desires -- "God is not in all their thoughts", They live without nobleness, and they die without hope. God proclaims to us by the Mosaic parable that He should be first in our knowledge, in our love, in our service, in prayer and hope and continual confidence.

Then the glory rested on a structure manufactured to divine pattern and sanctified by blood. God would only be approached with offered blood. Why? "I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me." In what way does the offering of shed blood honour God and humble man? The blood is the life. As sinners we are under the condemnation of death. The offering of blood is the acknowledgment of our position, and the vindication of God's righteousness in our humiliation. This demand for sacrifice is one of the most emphatic assertions of God's holiness and supremacy in connection with the Mosaic ritual, and one of the most graphic and telling humiliations of man that it would be possible to devise.

This is one of the secrets of the distaste which most people feel towards the whole system; and at the same time one of the most powerful sweetnesses it has for those who believe. Those who believe, see in it the beauty of mercy on the foundation of God's exaltation, in both of which they find pure pleasure. The other class see in it only fault-finding and gloominess. Christ is the fulfilment of the whole significance.

But there are more specific and detailed significances which must be reserved for the next chapter.

 

 

Ch 13

 

Contents