THE ROUTINE SERVICE OF THE TABERNACLE
The Tabernacle was ready for congregational use after the dedicatory services considered in the last two chapters. It was “holy unto the Lord”, and no one could intrude without being guilty of sacrilege on pain of death. Not even the priests could approach the altar without washing at the laver, or the inner holy without sacrificial blood.
It is all meaningless mummery to a mere naturalist. To the enlightened state of mind that comes from taking all facts into view, and not those of nature merely, it must appear as a powerful means of creating and developing the sentiment of reverence and the conception of holiness. This is the highest grace of which human character is capable. To the merely natural mind, there is nothing to revere: no holiness to cultivate—but only things to know and sensations to feel—under the bias of which, human character sinks into coldness and grossness and barrenness. The ordinances of the law were designed to draw the mind up to a higher level, on which worship in holiness warms and expands and beautifies the character. Its typical nature was a secondary element reserved for the later elucidation by the Spirit of God in the apostles. Its immediate object was to bring Israel near to God in holiness. It succeeded in this as regards a class in all their generations; and even as regards the unsanctified bulk, it kept them in a certain outward shape and attitude of separateness, which was subservient to the Divine purpose in calling them out of Egypt and organizing them as a nation on the basis of the law.
The law was a schoolmaster (not “to, bring unto” Christ as the interpolated words of King Jamess version of Gal. 3:24 expresses it, but to prepare the way for Christ). Without the preliminary effects engendered by the long previous currency of the law of Moses, the situation would not have been suitable for his manifestation.
The mechanical sanctities of the tabernacle and its service have been misapplied in the ecclesiastical corruption of the gospel that set in, after the apostolic age, through the influence of the Judaizing class that arose in the very days of the apostles through the circumstance that the bulk of gospel believers in the first place was composed of Jews under the law, and included even “a great company of priests” (Acts 6:7; 21:20). It is a practice of “the church” to “consecrate” buildings and cemeteries and water and vestments and bells and many other things; and it is a tradition of the people that such things are “holy” and cannot be familiarly used without desecration. The mechanical and ceremonial holinesses of the law have been brought forward into the exercises and applications of the gospel, with a result that is truly disastrous as regards the saving work of the gospel. Men are enthralled in a ritual system as truly lifeless and superstitious as the worship of the heathen; and their minds are diverted from the true holiness inwardly appertaining to the true house of God—“the church Of the living God”—“whose house (and temple) we are, if we hold fast the confidence and rejoicing of the hope steadfast unto the end” (1 Cor. 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16; Heb. 3:6).
Nevertheless, the prevalence of a semi-Mosaic ecclesiasticism is not without its use. It has doubtless helped to modify the arid barbarism of the clay-nations of the north, which swarmed down and occupied the countries of decrepit Rome. It has imparted to them a certain kind of civilization which is an improvement on the savage manners of their forefathers; and it has given them rudimentary conceptions of higher things, which render them more suitable material for the operation of the Divine discipline that will presently come forth out of Zion, than if they were pure Zulus or Matabeles. God can turn evil to good account.
The congregational use to which the tabernacle was to be put after the hallowing ceremonies of dedication, is indicated in the enumeration: “Your vows, your freewill offerings, your burnt offerings, your meat offerings, your drink offerings, and your peace offerings” (Num. 29:39).
But before we consider these in detail, we must look at the routine service of the tabernacle which was established independently of individual use. These were daily, monthly, and yearly; and something is revealed to us in these respective allotments of time in their particular associations—not revealed in the sense of being made known for the first time, but revealed in the sense of showing us the emphasis divinely attached to matters otherwise made known, but which might escape casual attention.
- Daily.—The high priest was to replenish the oil-lamps of the seven-branch candlestick, and offer incense before the vail, every morning and evening: and on the great altar, he was to offer a lamb in sacrifice every morning and evening. These were perpetual services—things always in the life—things always before the mind. Remembering what they signify (as ascertained in previous chapters), what a lesson they convey: the combusted oil of the lamps, the radiation of the truth from the enlightened mind: the grateful odour of the fire-diffused incense, acceptable worship, thanksgiving and supplication: the offered lamb, the crucified Jesus recognized as the basis of approach.
These daily services speak of things which must enter into life every day. Some things may be occasional, as the remembrance of the Egyptian deliverance in the passover; but these are to be incessant, as the taking of daily food. They tell us it is God’s pleasure that it should be so; and reflection will certainly tell us that it is in accordance with the most elementary conceptions of wisdom that it should be so.
First, the light—should the mind ever be dark? Is it not the essential condition of even human friendship that enlightenment should be a thing of normal habit? But enlightenment is not native: darkness is. Enlightenment to be attained or retained must be kindled by external appliance, and there must be renewal. Light the lamp and leave it, and it will go out. Enlighten the mind and neglect it, and it will become dark again. It is so on all subjects, especially the knowledge of God, for which the mind has the least affinity. Dress the lamps every morning. Read the Bible every day. This will keep you supplied with the oil that will cause light. “Thy word is light”: it is the light. “Thy word is truth”: it is the truth. Any other truth is darkness for the highest purpose of life, as all men will feel when suddenly confronted with the glory of God at the coming of Christ. Knowledge of mines: knowledge of metals: knowledge of countries: knowledge of languages or of physical elements—is all very well in its place: it is the knowledge of God and His ways and His intentions and His will that constitutes the true light of life.
The exhortation of the Mosaic parable in this particular is distinct: dress the lamps daily. It is a matter of command: we must obey. It is a matter of expediency, and we ought to conform: for if the lamps are not snuffed and the oil replenished, our fight will burn dimly and be in danger of going out, as many men experience. Do not say—“We are not a priesthood yet”, Ye are such in him. Ye are now a holy priesthood, as Peter declares (1 Pet. 2:5), “to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ”
So with the incense, which is “the prayer of saints” (Rev. 5:8; 8:4): It is a daily obligation: a daily benefit—a pleasure to God and an advantage to His people. I have known men argue against its necessity. They say, “God knows, without being told” This is true, but is not a good reason for the neglect of prayer, in view of the great help it is to us in gendering the habit of expansion of mind towards God, in view of the pleasure it affords to God, and in view of its inculcation by this Mosaic lesson. It is altogether a benighted and beggarly view of the subject that would leave everything to God: He requires us to do our part with Him. And part of our duty is to express our appreciation of His greatness and goodness and our gratitude for His benefactions, and our desires for His guidance in all our ways. The man who says, “God does not require me to tell Him all that: He knows all about it: He will look after me without my troubling myself” —is like a hog, lying in its mire, grunting in its passive satisfaction, as the owner looks over the wall of its sty. Such a man is no pleasure to God, and will pass away with the natural permutation of things. “The Lord taketh not pleasure in fools.” “He taketh pleasure in the righteous.” “The prayer of the righteous is his delight.” All these things are testified; and it was shown in unmistakable parable when the high priest every morning put sweet-smelling incense in his censer on the fire taken from the altar, and waved his censer before the Lord in the holy place. An enlightened man will therefore be found obeying the apostolic precepts which enjoin prayer without ceasing, and in every thing, thanksgiving. After Christ’s own example, he will “give thanks” before partaking of meals; and like Daniel, bend his knee more than once a day, “coming boldly to the throne of grace, that he may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).
As for “the daily sacrifice”—the morning and evening lamb —we instinctively say as we look towards Christ “Behold the Lamb of God”, With him in head, in heart, and hand, the true worshippers now draw near. Not now with a bleating animal with literal blood poured out, but with the recollection of faith in “the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot’ who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest” in the last times of Judah’s history (1 Pet. 1:19–20), we come to God in prayer every day. We cannot come otherwise acceptably. We are sinners who can claim no attention on our own behalf. We have to say with Daniel: “We do not present our supplications before thee for our righteousness, but for thy great mercy”; and His great mercy has taken this form: Christ crucified and given us as the form of our approach—combining God’s great exaltation and our great humiliation. Every time we bend the knee, it is in the name of Jesus, crucified and raised, as the declaration of God’s righteousness; and this “every time” is very often. It is not limited to public assembly. It was morning and evening in the type, and it is not less frequent in the antitype. And every time we thus “offer unto God the voice of thanksgiving,” it is required that we do so with the mental discernment of the slain lamb of the antitype. That is, we are required to have Christ crucified before our minds as the basis of our permitted approach—not as an innocent substitute on whom our punishment has been inflicted, but as a representative perfect elder brother, in whom God’s righteous dealing with silt has been exhibited, for our humble endorsement that the way of mercy may be open for healing—in forgiveness and deliverance.
With the two lambs to be offered “day by day for a continual burnt offering”—one in the morning, the other at even, were to be offered also a meat offering, consisting of flour baked with beaten oil—a kind of “Yorkshire pudding”, And a drink offering of “strong wine to be poured unto the Lord” (Num. 28:3–7). Meat—that is, bread—(for it is a modern association that identifies “meat” with the article only that is supplied by the butcher; no vegetarianism intended)—meat is for strength; wine for gladness (Psa. 104:15). What can be the meaning of their addition to the lamb of the daily sacrifice, but this, that the service of God is not all humiliation and sorrow and solemnity? Israel were early taught the joyful side of their relation with God. On the further side of the Red Sea, on the morrow after their thrilling deliverance from Egyptian pursuit, they sang under the leadership of Moses, “The Lord is my strength and song’ and he is become my salvation”, The Psalms of David are divine exemplification of the class of sentiment that is appropriate to the divine relationship in the present evil state. True, there is much shadow in them, it is not possible in human language to express deeper sorrow than some of them reflect. But there is more light than darkness: more joy and jubilance than lamentation. Most of them are in this vein: “0 clap your hands, all ye people; shout unto God with the voice of triumph … Make a joyful noise unto God, all ye lands; sing forth the honour of his name: make his praise glorious … Sing aloud unto God our strength: make a joyful noise to the God of Jacob. Take a psalm, and bring hither the timbrel, the pleasant harp with the psaltery … . With trumpets and sound of cornet make a joyful noise before the Lord, the King. Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. Let the floods clap their hands: let the hills be joyful together.”
Joy belongs to faith in God and knowledge of His purposes and His way. There is no true joy apart from it. It means the full activity of the highest faculties of man—which cannot be realized in connection with any other exercise of the human mind. Science or sport brings only a part of the human brain into action; godliness—(of the enlightened sort—and there is no other true sort, for the godliness of darkened sectarianism is no more true godliness than sewer gas is fresh air)—godliness brings the whole brain into action, and therefore kindles noble joy. “Thou hast put gladness into my heart more than when their corn and wine are increased.” It was appropriate therefore that a meat offering and strong wine should always accompany the sacrificial lamb, morning and evening.
That these three things—the light of knowledge, the incense of prayer, and the sacrificial condemnation of sin—should be the subjects of the daily service of the tabernacle, is an illustration not to be mistaken as to the places which these things should have in the lives of His people. They condemn the loose thoughts of moralists, who would relegate all three to the region of uncertainty and neglect. They condemn no less the fraternal Laodiceanism that can only be roused by polemics, and who regard the daily worship of God as a weariness. They show us the sort of people whom God approves, and they throw the right light upon the various kinds of worldliness that are unfit for the service of the true sanctuary. “The Lord hath chosen the man that is godly for himself”: and these institutions of the Lord’s house admit us to the divine estimate of the man that is godly. Many men in the truth have a name to live and are dead: the chill of their spiritual corpses is liable to infect living saints with a sense of shiver, who have to keep close to the fire to drive the cold away.
- Weekly.—On the Sabbath day, the daily sacrifice was to be doubled. “Two lambs of the first year without spot”, with their accompanying meat and drink offering, were to be offered on the seventh day, “beside the continual burnt offering” (Num. 28:9–10). Why double work on the day of rest? The answer is to be found in the meaning. Joseph told Pharaoh: “For that the dream was doubled unto Pharaoh twice, it is because the thing is established by God” (Gen. 41:32). Two lambs in the morning and two lambs in the evening had both one meaning. They were doubled on the seventh day for emphasis, because of the foreshadowing of the day. The seventh day was of special service to God—“holy of the Lord, honourable”, on which Israelites were specially to honour Him, “not doing their own ways, nor finding their own pleasure, nor speaking their own words” (Isa. 58:13). So the seventh thousand years, though an age of rest or Sabbath-keeping, will be a day of special activity in the service of God through all the earth, in the ways appointed, with Jerusalem and the temple as the centre of the rushing currents of national life. Commerce will no longer be the be-all and end-all of national enterprise. “Many nations shall go and say, Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths”
- Monthly.—At the beginnings of your months”, there was to be a special service of a gladsome character. “In the day of your gladness, and in your solemn days, and in the beginnings of your months, ye shall blow with the trumpets over your burnt offerings” (Num. 10:10). “Blow up the trumpet in the new moon, in the time appointed, on our solemn feast day. For this was a statute for Israel, and a law of the God of Jacob” (Psa. 81:3–4). On that day, the first day of the month—marked and dated by the advent of the new moon—there was to be a large addition to the daily sacrifice. There were to be seven lambs, two young bullocks, and one ram, besides the daily lamb of the morning and evening; and these additional burnt offerings were to be accompanied by proportional meat offerings and wine offerings in the quantities specified—(Num. 28:11–14)—in addition to which, there was to be an offering of one kid of the goats for a sin offering.
This was a more casual, yet a larger, form of special service than the Sabbath or the daily: once in thirty days as compared with once in seven days or twice in one day. Its occasion was the completion of a larger cycle of the divine beneficence to man. It takes the moon about thirty days to perform her circuit round the earth. All the benefits she confers in that circuit, we cannot know. Some of them we know. She prevents stagnation in the waters of the earth by causing their rise and fall and so giving us the tides. She mitigates the darkness of night, and even imparts to it a silvery beauty, which is often more acceptable than the glory of the day. She exercises subtle magnetic influences on the condition of earth’s inhabitants which we cannot estimate. She gives us a standard of time measurement which is of greater value than familiarity allows us to appreciate.
That the periodicity of such an ordinance in nature should be chosen as the occasion of a special recognition of man’s relation to God, is significant. It shows that God finds pleasure in our appreciation of His works. It shows that He disapproves of the indifference that takes them all as a matter of course. There is a liability in men to do this. Accustomed to the automatic operations of the laws of nature, they are liable to become insensible to the eternal power and wisdom in which they have their root. In a sense, the motions of nature are a matter of course. They are established and cannot be interfered with: yet they are not reasonably regarded, if considered without reference to the contriving energy in which they had their origin. “He commanded, and they were created. He hath also established them for ever and ever. He hath made a decree which shall not pass.” To look at them and not admiringly recognize the wisdom that has made them is to be like a cow or any other beast—which dimly looks, sees, feels, but does not understand—well enough in its place, but only as fattening flesh to be eaten. “0 Lord, how great are thy works! Thy thoughts are very deep. A brutish man knoweth not; neither doth a fool understand this” (Psa. 92:5). “The works of the Lord are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein” (Psa. 111:2).
What man, who has made some great and clever thing, does not enjoy the appreciation of intelligent visitors? What man gets any satisfaction out of the unintelligent gaze of the uninitiated? If this be so with us, who are in the faint image of the Creator, we may understand why God should delight in the recognition of His works by the intelligent creatures He has made, and why He should have selected the completion of the moon’s monthly journey for a special exercise in this direction.
There is an evident counterpart to the Mosaic monthly institution in the blessed age that is coming with the advent of the saints to power. It is” from one new moon to another”, as well as from Sabbath to Sabbath, that all flesh appears in the temple courts to worship (Isa. 66:23). It is “every month” or once a month, that the Apocalyptic wood of life (the saints) yields its fruit for the healing of the nations (Rev. 22:2), and it is “according to his months” that the literal tree on both sides of the temple river yields its fruit “whose leaf shall not fade, neither shall the fruit thereof be consumed … the fruit thereof shall be for meat, and the leaf thereof for medicine” (Ezek. 47:12). There will be no monotony in a state of things in which the whole population is roused with the advent of every new moon in the heavens to a special service of worship and praise, and a special distribution of healing and blessing. The prospect of the Kingdom is a prospect of an endless succession of joyful activities.
But what nation, as at present constituted, would care for the activities of holiness? It is “when thy judgments are made manifest” that “all nations will come and worship before Thee” (Rev. 15:4; Psa. 86:9; 22:27–29; 102:16–22; Isa. 26:9). Till then, the only kind of activity that appeals to the general taste is the activity of the racecourse or the circus, or the theatre, and other polluted forms of public life. There are to be “new heavens and new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness” Among many detailed features of delightfulness will be the monthly recurrence of special feasts of praise, joy, and blessing.