THE COURT OF THE TABERNACLE
The Tabernacle did not stand nakedly in the midst of the people. It was fenced off from familiar contact by a wall from seven to eight feet high which stood all around it at a considerable distance from the tabernacle itself, enclosing an area of 11,250 square feet, forming a court about 150 feet long and 75 feet across with the tabernacle in the centre. The wall was not a brick wall or a stone wall, but a curtain wall of linen suspended on wooden pillars—the pillars standing in brass sockets let into the ground; each pillar ornamented with a silver capital, and a fillet of silver with a hook inserted, to receive the suspending rings of the curtain.
The material of the curtains is the first thing that challenges discernment as regards spiritual significance. Fine linen is invariably employed to typify righteousness (Rev. 19:8; Psa. 45:14; Matt. 22:11–12). The whole economy of the Divine work upon earth of which the tabernacle was a veiled prophecy as well as a germinal commencement, is walled off by righteousness. The unrighteous world has nothing to do with it. “The unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9). “There shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie” (Rev. 21:27). The world in general lieth in wickedness: that which is prevalent in it is not of the Father (1 John 2:16).
The linen-walled enclosure of the tabernacle tells us that the world is outside the purpose of God concerning everlasting things, or as Paul literally expresses it, “has no hope, and is without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). It is a speaking testimony on this first and most unpopular of all first principles of the truth. People in our day are slow to recognize this simple lesson. They will listen to the doctrine of God’s existence: and admire the beauty of His commandments, and even applaud the gospel of the kingdom and life eternal. But when you tell them of an outer wall of righteousness which separates them as mere children of nature from the household of God and the future glory connected with it, they are incredulous, and worse—rebellious. They have been taught they have a right to the goodness of the world to come, “if there is one”—which is their doubtful way of expressing themselves. They have not realized that as sinners, they have no rights whatever except the right to occupy a grave, and that it is the Lord’s self-restraint—because of His purpose, that leads to their being tolerated at all.
The Mosaic parable will be useful to all such if it enable them to realize that “they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:8), and that a man to be acceptable to God, must come into harmony with His institutions, and the principles which they embody. Parabolically speaking, they must come inside the walls of righteousness with which He surrounded the tabernacle of His love. This they may do by entering the gate at the east side, which was “a hanging of blue and purple and scarlet and fine twined linen”, suspended on four pillars (Exod. 27:9–16). We have already seen that these materials in combination represent Christ. Through Christ, and through him alone, many sinners enter. He proclaimed himself “the way” and “the door”: which harmonizes with the type before us. When we enter through him, we are inside the encampment of righteousness which the Lord has pitched in the earth.
The four pillars may be taken to mean the Gospel narrators, on whose united testimony, Christ is held up before the gaze of all men, as “The Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world”, In addition to these four, there were 56 pillars planted round the tabernacle for the holding up of the linen curtains. Many notable servants of God were employed in the work of holding up the work of His righteousness in all the ages during which, “at sundry times and in divers manners, he spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets”, A divine enumeration of them might show us the 56, besides the four evangelists. The sockets of brass show us their standing in the flesh: the Setting of the sockets in the earth, their placing among the people to whom the testimony was delivered; the shittim wood of which the pillars were composed, the failing nature in which their service was rendered; their silver mountings, the spiritual garnishings which qualified them for divine employment: the hooks, the pins stuck in the earth, and the cords connecting the pillars with the pins for support—the private and faithful coadjutors who upheld them in their work.
Entrance through the gate was only for eligible people: and their eligibility consisted in their compliance with various prescribed requirements. The uncircumcised were not invited: and the presumptuous sinner was forbidden the altar (Num. 15:30).
Consider the application of this. People are sometimes moved to approach God from a desire for the good they hope to secure for themselves, without recognizing other elements involved. God certainly offers good—the highest good it is possible to conceive. He proposes to confer the perfection of well-being, and invites men to avail themselves of it: “whosoever will”: but men who come without respect to the conditions of the invitation, will find themselves repelled at last, like the crowd who followed Christ for the sake of the loaves and fishes, which he more than once provided in connection with his public ministrations.
Consider what those conditions are as involved in circumcision. Literally, circumcision was a cutting-off of the flesh of the foreskin, in token of the accepted covenant of God, to choose Abraham’s posterity as a people for himself (Gen. 17:9–14). In virtue or efficacy, it was “nothing” in itself, except as a kept commandment (1 Cor. 7:19). Its significance was everything; and this was double: first (as a token of the covenant) that rejected man had no relation to God except by Divine choice; and second, that this choice was based upon submission to the Divine will, even when involving the sacrifice of human pleasure. Circumcision deprived the subject of it of the means of the destructive self-indulgence common among the Gentiles, and therefore always carded with it this hint or meaning, that the acceptable rule of life with God is the “denial of ungodliness and worldly lusts”, in accordance with His commandments: that obedience and not gratification is the ground of acceptance with Him.
The common thought of the world ignores this feature of the Divine work. Human impression and human feeling are allowed to govern all conceptions of what is right in man. The will of God is forgotten. In fact, people do not generally realize that such a thing as the will of God exists. They reason as if the universe existed by them and for them. They leave out of account the fact that God has made all things for Himself, and that man himself is but a permitted form of His power, whose part as a sinner is to bow in deepest reverence before Him, and to enquire in bated breath what He would have him do.
A right apprehension of the lesson of the tabernacle—a right interpretation of this structural parable—goes far to enlighten the mind as to the true attitude of man before God. This speaking parable invites worship on the basis of Divine choice only, and the choice exercised only where there is the right and obedient mind’ “humble and contrite of heart, broken in spirit, trembling at his word” It, therefore, condemns all “natural religion”, so-called: and places the religions that tribes and nations have invented for themselves where Paul placed them when he said, “God in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways”; and winked at these times of ignorance (Acts 14:16; 17:30).
There can truly be no such thing as natural religion when religion is seen as the institution of reconciliation or re-binding (religion) which God has appointed for the restoration of condemned sinners to His favour. They are all “alienated from him by wicked works”, and how can people in that position dictate to God the terms of their reconciliation? God has been pleased to make advances: it is those advances that sinners must receive and adjust themselves to. The nature of them is indicated in this Mosaic parable. There stands the tabernacle in the midst of its court—formed by the white curtains of righteousness. Righteousness is that only which God considers right. People not in harmony with this—who neither know nor conform to His revealed will—are by the sheer necessity of things outside the encampment of reconciliation, which He has set up in the earth in Christ. Even when they see this and want to enter, circumcision is required. In the case of the Jew after the flesh, circumcision of the flesh was the sufficient part in the shadow of things. But in the substance of all this shadow, there must be circumcision of heart’ the cutting off of “the desires of the flesh and of the mind” as the rule of life—and the recognition of God’s choice, God’s appointment, God’s invitation, God himself—as the only basis of approach’ “circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ” (Col. 2:11).
As we look at the shadow again, we see circumcised men approach “the door of the congregation” with something in their hands: either a lamb or a kid of the goats, or it may be, leading a sheep or bullock or goat or heifer. Their circumcision is not enough’ they must offer sacrifice to be accepted. This is connected with the leading feature of the court, inside the gate—the great altar of sacrifice—“hollow with boards”—a temporary structure covered with brass, and measuring about eight feet long and broad, and nearly five feet high from the ground, with horns at the four corners on which to bind the heaped-up sacrifices with cords; and four rings for the insertion of staves to carry it when on travel; a brazen net-work underneath to give free action to the consuming fire: and accessory utensils—such as pots, shovels, basins, flesh hooks, fire-pans,—all made of brass (Exod. 38:1–7).
The language of this part of the type is unmistakable. It tells us that sinful man, even with the utmost docility of spiritual circumcision, and desiring to come within the walls of righteousness, cannot approach God acceptably except by sacrifice. What the significance of this is we have often had to consider. In the type, it was an animal, whose life-blood poured out was a confession that God is just in requiring death as the visitation of sin; that He who is so great in the underived and deathless nature and vastness of His being; Who is so unsearchable in the greatness of His Power and the perfection of His wisdom—is righteous in making disobedience and slight a capital offence not to be passed over even by mercy, except when His dreadful sovereign supremacy has been asserted, recognized, and vindicated.
But this terrible truth, which is the basis of all acceptable worship, was only asserted and acknowledged in the shadow when the worshippers under Moses approached with the appointed sacrifice. It had to be enforced in fact as well as in token, before the forbearance of God could grant the remission of sins unto life eternal. Granting life eternal is taking a man into His eternal fellowship without reserve: such abounding grace could only be vouchsafed in connection with the strictest enforcement of His unchallengeable supremacy — of which He declares Himself “jealous”, as is reasonable: for who should be supreme but the Eternal? He proposed this enforcement in the actual blood-shedding of an actual representative man, in whom the individuality of all other accepted men should be merged in the way appointed in the institutions of the Gospel. And even this man, to be acceptable, had to be faultless as regards the principle that had been set at naught—the principle of absolute submission: though a sufferer from the evil effects springing from its subversion in the first Adam, and its continuing subversion in all his sinful descendants. Such a man could not be found in the ordinary propagation of flesh and blood. Therefore He had to provide him, which he did in the way recorded in Luke 1:35. It was, therefore, all the work of His own favour (or grace) in subserviency to the indispensable assertion of His own supremacy and holiness.
It pleased Him to foreshadow this arrangement of His love and wisdom in the appointments of the Mosaic service for centuries before He decreed the moment suitable for carrying it out. “The blood of bulls and goats could not take away sin”, as Paul declared: that is, it was not compatible with the Divine wisdom that sin should be remitted unto life eternal in connection with a merely typical acknowledgement of the principle that had been violated. Had He considered the shedding of the blood of bulls and goats a sufficient expression of the principle, to warrant the forgiveness of sin and bestowal of life eternal, and appointed it so, then the blood of bulls and goats would have taken away sin. But His wisdom viewed the matter otherwise, and enlightened reason concurs in His appointment: (for though reason by itself is no guide in divine matters, it is a faculty intended to reflect the divine reason when the light of the knowledge thereof shines in the heart). God required that there should be an actual assertion of the violated principle of His supremacy in the death of the men under sin. Animals were not sinners: their death was no meeting of the case. It was a mere prophecy in figure of what was coming. God purposed the death of one representing all who should be one with that one; who should thus die for them, and by whose stripes they should be healed, and with whose blood by a figure they should be washed: not, however, on the principle of substitution, for God’s righteousness is not violated in the death of Christ, but “declared”, It would be violated in a man dying who ought not to die. The provided representative became related to death by derivation from a mother who was a descendant of the man by whom death entered into the world. He could, therefore, stand for all who come unto God by him. They are reckoned as dying in him which would be unnecessary if he died instead of them. And his death does not release them from death at once, as it would do if his death had been a substitutionary death; it merely opens the way for a gradual deliverance from death on a principle which maintains the supremacy of God, as expressed in the infliction of death while conferring life on sinners by a probation to be consummated at the judgment seat. All parts of the truth agree together.
But though the Mosaic arrangement was a mere shadow, it was a most emphatic declaration and enforcement of the truth it embodied—a truth that the world in general ignores and rejects with a hearty unanimity: ignores in its blindness: rejects in its folly—with results disastrous to itself alone, for man cannot hurt God. The truth is that man, as he now is, is separated from God, and cannot return except in the way of God’s appointment, and must perish apart from that way. No truth is more clearly visible than that, as we gaze upon the tabernacle, standing inside its curtained enclosure of linen. Men think God is bound to save them if they are “good”, as the popular phrase runs. They forget that they are sinners, and in a state of alienation from Him, ending in death, which He alone can terminate. They forget that God made man for His own objects, and that He will save them for no other. They altogether fail to realize the relative positions of God and man.
These relative positions are shown in the Mosaic parable before us; and they are proclaimed in the gospel which brings before us the substance of the shadow. The gospel tells us that “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself” (2 Cor. 5:19), on His own terms: and that apart from these, man is without God, and has no hope (Eph. 2:12). The Mosaic institution shows us God in the typical tabernacle for reconciliation, and the congregation outside destitute of His friendship, unless they conformed to the institutions and appointments related to that tabernacle. The lesson thus doubly enforced is unmistakable, and leaves no alternative but that of complete submission, which God requires and reason demands. The acceptable attitude is often enjoined in the Scriptures, and clearly expressed in God’s own words: “To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word” (Isa. 66:2).
Returning to the tabernacle, we perceive that, after the altar of burnt offering, there is a laver or large vessel, filled with water, at which the priests have to wash (or lave) before entering into the tabernacle to perform its services. As the Lord Jesus and the saints are the antitypical Aaron and his sons, the significance bears on them; and bearing on them, bears also on all who will finally be reconciled to God, through them, on the principle that, whatever is true of the firstfruits, is true also of the harvest coming after. After sacrifice, washing—purification, making clean. This is no accidental order of events. In the popular conception of things, sacrifice would be enough, for the whole burden of their preaching (where there is any earnest preaching at all) is that the blood of Christ is the only essential for a sinner’s salvation. As their hymn says: “The sinners plunged beneath that flood, lose all their guilty stains” As they exclaimed—“Only the blood; nothing but the blood.”
This is not an enlightened statement of the case. The blood is only an element in the process of reconciliation: in what way, we have seen. After reconciliation must come reformation, if the reconciliation is to continue in force. The sinner must “walk worthy of the vocation wherewith he is called” (Eph. 4:1), and, if he do not, he will be rejected: so Paul says (Heb. 6:8), and in preaching thus, he only re-echoes the plain teaching of Christ, who says, “Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away” (John 15:2). “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love” (John 15:10). The unprofitable servant is to be cast out (Matt. 25:30). We must walk as children of light (Eph. 5:8) otherwise “we shall die” (Rom. 8:13). The Lord is our judge at last as to whether we are what he describes as “fit for the Kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). We appear before him for this purpose, at his appearing—that he may render to us according to our deeds (2 Cor. 5:10; 2 Tim. 4:1).
Life after introduction to Christ is, therefore, a probation. This is the lesson of the laver. It is not enough to have God’s righteousness declared in sacrifice, and endorsed in our baptism into the death of Christ: we must wash in the laver. We must conform to the exhortation, “Wash you, make you clean: put away the evil of your doings” (Isa. 1:16). Literally this is done by subjecting the mind to the influence of the word of God. The word of God is always spoken of as the cleansing power (John 15:3; Psa. 119:9; Eph. 5:26), and, in actual experience, it is found to be so. Kept clean by the word, we shall be qualified for admission into the holiest, in the change to the incorruptible.
Thus the analogy of the Mosaic parable to the realities in Christ is complete. The process of drawing men from alienation to glorification is clearly discernable in all its appointments. Humility of mind—circumcision of heart—enters the Christ-gate-way, on receiving the gospel; offers the Christ-sacrifice, in being baptized into the death of Christ; washes in the Christ-laver in coming under the purifying power of his commandments: enters the preliminary “holy” place of the divine Tabernacle, in becoming a member of the body of Christ: to radiate the candlestick light of the truth, and offer the incense-sacrifice of praise continually, and eat of the bread of Israel’s hope, and wait for the manifestation of the glory of God in the great day of atonement, when all things reconciled will be gathered together in the” holiest” under one head—even Christ: and the true tabernacle of God will be with men, and there shall be no more curse and no more pain and no more death.
But just as there are many details in the course of human progress from the alienated state established at the beginning, to the perfectly reconciled state that will be reached at the end, so there are many other types in detail, connected with the attire of the priests, the ceremonies observed in connection with various sacrifices and the purging of various offences, and the forms of various approaches to God, both national and individual, both priestly and private.