INSIDE AND OUTSIDE THE TABERNACLE
There are one or two minor analogies connected with the shewbread which a brief word may suggest before passing on to the remaining aspects of the Tabernacle. The smoking frankincense on the twelve cakes may tell us that the class in Israel who are reckoned as the true and final commonwealth of Israel are those only who are as an odour of a sweet smell to the Creator in the genuine thanksgiving and praise that ascend continually from their circumcised and enlightened minds. It is not enough to have Abraham’s blood; there must also be Abraham’s faith and obedience.
The fact that the cakes were eaten by the priests touches the truth at three points. 1. Only the class of mankind who are called and constituted “priests unto God” are the qualified and destined partakers of the hope of Israel. 2. This hope can only be eaten in the holy place to which the truth calls men, by the gospel and baptism, outside of which men are “without Christ, and having no hope”, as Paul alleges in Eph. 2:12. 3. In the final evolution of things natural, Israel in their twelve tribes disappear by absorption in the priestly order, who, largely recruited in numbers at the close of the thousand years, become at last the sole and immortal survivors of earth’s population in the perfect state to which the whole purpose is tending.
Turning our eyes from the two piles of shewbread, smoking with the fragrant fumes of the prayer-incense, the only other feature challenging our attention before we retire through the curtained door of entrance (of which a word presently) are the walls of the holy place. These walls were formed by the inner surfaces of the gold-plated boards, which supplied the frame-work of the tabernacle. Presumably, the gold-plating of the boards would be polished. The interior would therefore be resplendent with the glory of a burnished surface reflecting the light of the seven-branched lit candlestick—itself gleaming with a similar radiance, as also the incense altar and table of shewbread. The splendour of such an interior would be softened a little by the veil at one end, and the entrance curtain at the other, and also by the roofing of similar material thrown across, and by the earth-floor of the apartment. Still, the general effect would be dazzling; and when we consider the spiritual significance of the material yielding this lustre, the glittering interior of the holy place becomes a speaking parable of the mental condition that renders men acceptable to God—without which, it is pointedly declared, “it is impossible to please God” (Heb. 11:6)—a faith true as gold, precious as gold, shining as gold. The nature of faith enables us to understand why it should have such a prominent and emphatic assertion in the symbolism of the holy place; and this symbolism is the most powerful condemnation imaginable of the present attitude of all ranks of society towards divine things.
Faith is confidence in the testimony of God concerning Himself and His purposes, and therefore is “the substance of things hoped for” (Heb. 11:1). It is unmistakably illustrated in the remark of Paul concerning Abraham’s belief in the promise that he should have a son by Sarah when she was past age. “He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strong in faith . . being fully persuaded that what he had promised, he was able also to perform” (Rom. 4:20). Considering this, we are justified in regarding the shining walls of the holy place as a proclamation of the fact that no man is acceptable to God who is not characterised by an unhesitating faith in all God’s declarations and appointments; or, to put it positively, that the anti-typical holy place is composed of men and women whose first and most powerful moral characteristic is implicit, cordial and childlike belief in the word of God, and resultant conformity to its requirements, and that faithless and disobedient doubters are no part of the gold of the sanctuary.
How is it possible it could be otherwise? If man resents unbelief or doubt in man as a personal affront—if man exacts confidence and credence as a condition of friendship with man—how could we expect the Eternal God, against whom we have sinned, to have any pleasure in us if we stand aloof in unsympathetic unfaith towards Himself, or doubt or indifference concerning His promises? Some are ignorant enough to expect it, if we are to judge by the views and doctrines that are so prevalent in our day: but the truth is not altered by popular misapprehension, however widespread. The essentiality, the indispensability of faith is proclaimed not only by the shining gold in every part of the Mosaic Tabernacle, but by the vision of the Holy City to John in Patmos, “which was pure gold, like unto clear glass”, and concerning which it was expressly proclaimed that “the fearful and unbelieving” had no place therein. God will condescend to man if man believe; but the world is unbelieving, and therefore “the enemy of God”, “How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another?” enquired Jesus. The position of wisdom is plain, though very uncomfortable, for the time being.
As we pass out of the holy place, it is through curtains or hangings suspended on five gold-sheathed pillars of shittim wood, standing in sockets of brass. The pillars and the hangings formed “the door of the tent”—not the door of the Tabernacle to which the assembly often gathered; such was the opening in the curtain wall enclosing the court in which the Tabernacle stood. The hangings of “the door of the tent” were of the same material as the veil of the holiest—“blue, purple, scarlet, fine-twined linen” (Exod. 26:36). The pillars were the same as those upholding the veil, except that they were five in number instead of four, and stood in sockets of brass instead of silver.
There is little difficulty in discerning the significance of these things when the main fact is held in view, that the holy place represents the holy or separated and reconciled state into which men are brought in this life by divine institutions appointed for the purpose, apart from which they are unjustified sinners, without hope, though recipients of the goodness of God, “who sendeth his rain upon the just and the unjust”, We know who has proclaimed himself “the door” of the reconciled state—even him of whom it is testified that “God was in Christ” reconciling the world unto Himself. Therefore we easily recognize Christ in the hangings of “blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine-twined linen”. In being baptized into Christ, we pass through these hangings and stand in the holy place, constituted members of” the royal priesthood, the holy nation”, which Peter alleges the saints to be (1 Pet. 2:9). Those who are not baptized into Christ stand outside the holy place.
But how is it that the same materials—which, as the veil separating the holiest, represented Christ in his mortal nature as the Lamb of God to take away sin by the rending of the flesh-veil in himself (the passing through which should lead into the immortal state)—should now stand for the means of entrance into a state which, though holy, is still mortal and imperfect? The answer is that it is the same Christ in another relation. Though it is true that it was the personal Jesus that was represented by the veil, in opening the way into the holiest of all in the sacrifice of himself, it is no less true that it is the personal Jesus that is brought to bear on outside sinners when his achievements are offered by apostolic report to their faith as the means of their introduction to a relation of favour and hope. Therefore materials representing him are in place, both at the door and in the veil. Christ is as much the door of entrance to the holy state as he is the opener of the way into the holiest. He is the door as well as the veil, and the doctrines symbolized by the blue and purple and scarlet and fine-twilled linen (considered in the last chapter) are as much in operative view at the initial stage of a sinner’s justification as they are when he stands in the immortal throng of glorified saints at the last to ascribe salvation, and glory and honour, “to him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood”
What may there be in the five pillars suspending the door hangings as distinguished from the four pillars holding up the veil? If pillars represent men, what men in this connection? If the four pillars of the veil stand for “the four evangelists”, as the witnesses to the world in all generations of the sufferings and resurrection of Jesus, what five men are distinguished in connection with the work of preaching this risen Jesus as the door of entrance into saintship, reconciliation, and hope? This phase of the testimony of Christ is represented peculiarly by the epistles which are the outgrowth of the apostolic work after Christ’s departure from the earth. Now, it is a fact that these epistles have five authors, and only five—Paul, James, Peter, Jude, and John. This may not have been what was meant; but here is the fact; here is, at least, a coincidence; and here may be the very meaning. It may be said there were twelve apostles engaged in the work of preaching Christ as the only name given under heaven for the salvation of men, and not only twelve apostles, but a multitude of helpers besides, and that, therefore, the idea of regarding the five pillars standing as a prediction of five workers is out of the question. But this would not necessarily exclude the suggestion; because the multitudinous agency of the first century was transitory, and passed away with the generation, whereas the literary form of the testimony of Christ, which has been both the most lasting and the most effectual form of it, has been limited to the five men whose names have been given. In all generations since the apostolic age, the doctrine of Christ as the way of salvation has rested on the testimony of these five men, when all others have been silent in the grave.
Supposing this is the right view, it would yield a suggestion as to the five pillars standing in brass sockets while the four veil pillar stood in silver sockets. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, as representing companionship with the Lord in the days of his flesh, would represent a work done upon a divine foundation in so far as it was accomplished within the precincts of the Mosaic Constitution. Jesus was a Jew, and subject to the law, and so were his twelve apostles. They were therefore operating upon a divinely established basis which would be appropriately shown by silver sockets to the four pillars. The epistolary phase of the works which came after was upon a different footing, illustrated by the exhortation: “Let us go forth unto him without (outside) the camp, bearing his reproach” (Heb. 13:13). While this attitude was a divine attitude, still it differed in having no organic foundation such as the first phase of the work had. The Jew had a city and a polity, visible upon earth, of which he could boast a divine origin. Whereas Paul had to say, “We have here no continuing city, but seek one to come”, It was an inferior position, and mostly Greek in its elements, and therefore not inappropriately represented by sockets of brass to the five pillars.
Passing out of the holy place with a farewell glance at the interior walls of gold covered boards, it may occur to us to enquire as to the number and size of the boards, and the method by which they are held together. I do not know that we shall find significances so personal as those just suggested, because of the lack of detailed information on some historical points; but some general meanings will be evident.
First of all, the mechanical compactness of the whole structure is remarkable. It would not be possible to fit together a portable chamber that would be more solid while standing or more easily taken down when the time came to resume the journey. There was no need for nails or hammers either in putting up or taking down; it was a mere process of fitting together adjusted parts. The basis consisted of 100 heavy sockets of silver, which were let into or laid on the level ground—each socket weighing about a hundredweight, and having a square hole on its upper side to receive one of the two tenons at the bottom end of each gold covered board. Two sockets went to one board to hold it in true position. There were in all forty-six boards, each board about 15 feet in length (or height as it would reckon when reared on its end) and 2 feet 3 inches in breadth—shittim wood covered with gold from end to end on all sides. The sockets being placed in the correct order on a ground plan measuring two sides of about 50 feet each and one end of 18 feet across, the boards would be reared upon their ends close together, forming a rectangle enclosed on three sides—the east side being left clear for the curtained door. There were four corner pieces, each formed of two boards coupled together above and below and let into four sockets underneath. But boards standing on end would not be very stable, so they were bound together by bars passing like hoops round a barrel along the entire length of the tabernacle on the three sides. The bars had hold by brackets or rings solidly fixed in the boards. The bars were four in number, and to receive them there were four rings on the outer surface of each board at regular intervals from top to bottom. In addition to these four bars on the outside of the boards, there was a middle stay shot through the centre sideways of each board, midway between top and bottom, having the two bars above and two below. There would remain a tendency in the side walls at the open end to fall in. To correct this a cord was fixed to the top of each board by a hook and carried to a pin stuck in the ground some distance outward from the base of the board. Thus keyed together, the walls of the tabernacle possessed great cohesion and stability.
These are mechanical features with mechanical aims; but it is not impossible to extract a spiritual significance collateral with the revealed meaning of the tabernacle and its furniture. It is probable that, thoroughly seen into, the whole economy of the divine intervention in human affairs, of which the tabernacle is the structural allegory, would be found to possess a coherency of mutually supporting parts little suspected by those who idly glance backward on the history of the matter, and see it in an apparent chaos of unconnected details. How adapted have been the measures of every successive phase of the work to accomplish the objects suitable to the circumstances of the time in their relation to whatever is coming after. How unsuitable the law of Moses would have been for the time of Adam or Noah: but how suitable for a community grown to two millions. How out of place would have been political prophecy when there were no “peoples, nations, and languages”, but only a sparse and scattered agricultural and patriarchal community; but how much a light in a dark place when the confused and evil state of mankind, grown to struggling millions, presents a distressing and insoluble problem. How suitable to Abraham the promise of personal possession of the land of his pilgrimage: how much more suited to a later age is the Gospel of the Kingdom, in a more general form. How effectually did a thousand years of the futile “righteousness of the law” prepare for the grace of God that brought salvation by faith in Christ Jesus. How powerfully did the prevalence during all that time of ceremonial observance open the way for that idea of holiness which is the kernel of the calling in Christ Jesus.
These are scattered hints, which merely touch on trains of thought that may be profitably followed in the direction suggested, namely, by way of discovering that the whole method of divine procedure has been not only consecutive from the beginning, but so framed as to bind all parts into a connected whole, as much contrived and adapted to reach the glorious result at the end as the mechanism of a plant in root, stem, tendrils and leaves is designed to reach and yield the beauty and fragrance of the flower.
Coming to the details of the tabernacle framework, there is probably more signified than we can possibly discover. The separate boards covered with gold doubtless tell of separate men of faith, who have been as a wall to the divine work in all ages. Who these are as a class, the scriptures plainly reveal—the prophets, “of whom the world was not worthy”, who through faith performed their several parts, from Enoch downwards. There were 52 boards, including the four pairs braced together for the corners. There may be as many prominent names as that among the servants of God from the beginning. The corners are turning points. At the turning points of Israel’s history, the prominent servants were pairs, Moses and Aaron, Caleb and Joshua, Samuel and David, Elijah and Elisha, Ezra and Nehemiah. The mainstay, shooting through the middle of all the boards and holding them together, might have its counterpart in Moses, to whom all deferred throughout their generations. The four bars girdling them outside would be amply paralleled in the four beacon-light dispensational prophets: Noah, Samuel, Daniel, and John the Baptist. The cords and the pins, keeping the boards upright, might find their analogy in the leading person in each prophet’s circle who upheld his hands and favoured his cause with the cord of a practical support. They all stood socketed in the silver of divine choice.
These are mere suggestions—not altogether at random. They are based on the general clues actually supplied, and proceed on the reasonable assumption that the tabernacle, being a structural parable of the truth in its historical and doctrinal development, would be likely to reflect the details of the literal history in the details of its mechanical construction.
The framework of the tabernacle being set up, it was next clothed in a remarkable manner. Four coverings were laid over it so as to form a roof and hangings on three sides, leaving the door end clear. The four coverings were not all of the same material, nor of quite the same dimensions or pattern. The first was of similar character to the door-hangings, and the veil—a composite fabric of blue and purple and scarlet, on a ground of fine linen. It was formed of ten parts or curtains, divided into two sections of five each. Each curtain was about 42 feet long, and 6 feet in breadth; and had 50 loops of blue down one side at regular distances, and 50 gold hooks or buttons down the other, allowing of their being fastened together. Five were fastened together into one curtain; and the one curtain so obtained was spread over the tabernacle lengthways, from side to side, so as to fall over and cover the west end and sides of the tabernacle. The other five were fastened together in the same way, and laid over the forepart of the tabernacle. From the dimensions given, this part would just reach to the door end, but not fall over the end. The second covering was of goat material, whether skin or hair does not appear, as “hair” is not in the original. It was probably goat’s hair woven into a kind of thin matting. It was formed in the same way as the first covering of separate curtains: tacked together, but the curtains were eleven in number, instead of ten, and the hooks were brass instead of gold. They were tacked together in two unequal sections, of five curtains and six; also, in length they exceeded the curtains of the first covering by three feet. They were laid across the tabernacle over the first covering in the same way as the first covering, from side to side; but being longer, they overlapped the first covering on each side by one cubit, or 18 inches; also being broader, through the front section having six instead of five curtains, it overlapped the first covering on the west end, and also fell a little way over the door front, forming a sort of head or frieze to the entrance 2 cubits, or 3 feet deep. The third covering was of rams’ skins dyed red, and the fourth of badger skin, or seal skin. These coverings do not appear to have been divided into curtains, but were probably stitched together in one piece, according to the shape of the skins used. They would be drawn over the goat’s hair curtains, and form the outer roofing or protection for the whole.
The literal purpose served by these coverings is obvious. Resting on the sloping cords all round the tabernacle, they would not only afford protection to the holy interior with its vessels, whether from the sand of the desert, or the ravage of rain storms, but they would impart to the whole structure a certain air of gracefulness and majesty, which was becoming the habitation of the Holy Presence in Israel’s midst. But where shall we look for the spiritual significances? Some of them we have found already. The first covering, formed of the same material as the Christ-veil and the Christ-door, doubtless brings Christ to view. But in what relation? If the boards of the tabernacle represent the prophets, we have Christ thus surrounding, enclosing, and overtopping them all, as the one investing name of protection and grace—the name above every name yet connected with and embracing all other subordinate names in the word and house of God. But why in ten parts? There is no clue unless it is supplied by the use of “ten times” as the finishing degree of anything—Daniel and his companions “ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers” (Dan. 1:20); “Changed my wages ten times” (Gen. 31:7); God doubled Pharaoh’s vision to express certainty (Gen. 41:32). Christ tenfold would be an application of the same rule. It may also be that his work has ten historic phases which he will be able to disentangle for us from the chaotic story of things. Why the golden hooks and loops of blue? Is it that each part of the true work of Christ on the earth is held together by the golden hooks of faith in his people holding on to the healing blue loops of kindness and truth both in God and in all the saints? Perhaps. Why two sections of five curtains each? Here we are at a loss unless there is a reference to the two-fold composition of the body of Christ, as consisting of Jew and Gentile, or to the division in the body of Christ, foreshown in the parable of the ten virgins, of whom “five were wise and five were foolish”
The second covering introduces the subject of the goats. They are related to the sheep in a certain way. They herd with them and browse with them in the agricultural customs of the East; and in the spiritual bearings of things, they form an element in the constitution of the house of Christ, in its ecclesiastical development in the earth. The history of the Christ name has been a history of the true and the false all the time: the spiritual and the carnal: the men who in the humility of children are subject to the law of Christ in all things, and men who are only partially subject, and who push with the horn and fight where the lambs submit or flee. The history of Europe shows us this history in its fulness: “fighting bishops” and “Christian politicians” They have answered a purpose in the development of things: they are a covering to the work of God, as against barbarians and Mahommedans: they have supplied a system for the transmission of the Bible, etc. But they are no part of the blue and purple and scarlet and fine-twined linen. They are a fabric of goat’s hair. They are ecclesiastically organized, and therefore the goat’s hair is divided like the first covering into separate curtains. But the connecting hooks are hooks of brass—not the golden hooks of faith, but a mere unreasoning assent to tradition. The loops were not loops of healing blue, but of the common hemp of sociality, which has no healing in it in the final issue of things. Their ten curtains would tell us, may be, of the ten horns that make war with the Lamb; and the eleventh curtain, of the eleventh or Papal horn that came up after the ten on the head of Daniel’s fourth beast. This eleventh curtain fell over the east end of the tabernacle, just far enough to show over the door, but forming no part of the door. The Papal Church has been to the front all the while, as the pretended way of entrance, but those entering the sanctuary pass under the Romish mat of goat’s hair suspended in front. They do not touch or pass through it; they touch the Christ-hangings of blue and purple, scarlet and linen, and pass through the apostolic pillars of gold. The covering of goat’s hair was longer and wider than the linen covering of blue and purple, so that when it was spread over the latter it concealed it from sight. The goat institution has always been the largest and most consequential in the world’s affairs. The true Christ-work cannot be seen for it. When men ask for the Christian Church, it is Rome or Canterbury that comes into view. The seed of the exiled woman, “who keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ”, are not visible on the face of public life.
Over the goat’s hair was spread a covering of rams’ skins dyed red, and not divided into curtains, and without specified measurements. This would tell us of something outside the ecclesiastical arrangement. The material and the colour both speak of brute force. The rams were aggresive animals, and the significance of redness may be taken as supplied in the answer to the question in Isaiah 63, “Wherefore art thou red in thine apparel? … . Blood shall be sprinkled upon my garments, and I will stain all my raiment … . I will tread down the people in mine anger.” Blood-shedding aggressive power would be the import of rams’ skins dyed red. Where shall we look for this? “The powers that be” undoubtedly, which as Paul says, “bear not the sword in vain”—a sword ready to be unsheathed and bathed in blood at any time either in the enforcement of justice or the repulsion of aggression. The redness being added to the skin by dye, would show that the function represented by the redness was not necessarily inherent in the thing represented by the skin. It would mean power to kill without obligation to kill. The skin government would possess the judicial and military powers at discretion as in the permitted government of man.
But how could such an element have place in a divine arrangement of things? The objection implied in this question might hold good in reference to the perfect state of things contemplated in the promises of God concerning the earth; it has no force as against the temporary and imperfect institutions represented by the tabernacle. “The powers that be are ordained of God” for the time being, as not only Paul declares, but as Daniel informed Nebuchadnezzar: “The Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will” (Dan. 4:25). Outside the false church is the State upholding the church, preserving the situation till it has answered its purpose: over the goat’s hair is the covering of rams’ skins dyed red.
Over the covering of rams’ skins dyed red was the covering of badger skins or sealskin, that translators are not agreed which, it matters not: badger skin and sealskin are equally skin in a state of nature. Here is a covering outside of all coverings—one that bears the brunt of the weather, one that looks towards the sky, having had no artificial treatment, no dyeing, no cutting up into curtains, no hooks, no loops—evidently representing something that is the ultimate protection of men having divine relations. What can this be? What else can it be than nature—the goodness of God in nature? “His tender mercy is over all His works.” “He sendeth His rain on the just and the unjust.” Even the natural sympathy of man with man, outside all artificial arrangements, is often a natural protection when all others have failed. “The earth helps the woman.” It cannot positively be said that this is the significance of the outmost covering of the tabernacle; but the trend of graduated significances from the holiest outwards would strongly point to such a conclusion. The tabernacle, with all its details, would then stand before us a complete parable of the way of God with man during the world’s troubled progress from darkness to light.