Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentEXODUS 25
INSTRUCTIONS REGARDING THE TABERNACLE
The great Covenant having been established, God next instructed Israel with reference to their public worship. Some elements of worship, of course, had been known for centuries by all peoples as well as the Jew. Cain and Abel had received definite instructions with reference to sacrifices, else it would have been impossible for Abel "through faith" to offer a more excellent sacrifice than Cain. All of the patriarchs offered sacrifices, but now God would require the building of "a tabernacle," or sanctuary, in which a regular and formal schedule of religious events would more thoroughly instruct and guide Israel in matters religious. There was another design. This tabernacle would serve as a type, or pattern, of that ultimate spiritual entity through which men would be able to know and please God, i.e., the Spiritual Body of Christ, the Church of the Living God. That a spiritual reality would be foreshadowed and typified by a literal entity like the tabernacle constituted a problem that no mortal could solve. Therefore, God gave Moses the "pattern" to be followed in this construction, requiring absolutely that he "make all things according to the pattern" (Exodus 25:9).
The significance of all this for persons living in our times is found in the inspired declaration that, "These are the copy and shadow of the heavenly things" (Hebrews 8:5). "They were a figure for the time then present" (Hebrews 9:9), and "copies of the things in heaven" (Hebrews 9:23). In this understanding is the only proper appreciation of these instructions.
Oddly enough, after the order to construct the tabernacle was issued in Exo. 25:8-9, God first gave detailed instructions regarding articles of what we may call furniture which would be contained in it: the Ark (Exodus 25:10-16), the Mercy-Seat (Exodus 25:17-21), the Table of Showbread (Exodus 25:22-30), and the Candlestick (Exodus 25:31-40), are all given in this chapter, and others later.
The chapter begins with an extensive contribution of the most costly items the children of Israel had: gold, silver, brass, oil, fine wool, choice linen, etc. A glimpse of the wealth of those people is impressive. All of the patriarchs of Israel had been extremely wealthy persons, and a thrifty and energetic people had retained extensive possessions even during the years of their forced labor in Egypt. And, in addition, God had put it into the hearts of the Egyptians to load them with costly gifts when they departed. In the meanwhile, there had been the defeat of the Amalekites' army, which also might have improved their economic status substantially.
Despite the fact of the tabernacle, where God would dwell (in a figure) with his people, being in essence a portable tent with an enclosure about it, its holiness was emphasized in the fact that only the choicest materials were to be used in its construction.
This and subsequent chapters constitute the citadel of Exodus. The constructions here were designed to serve eternal purposes, and they have fully achieved such a destiny. In this truth lies the incontrovertible proof that the hand of God was in every line of these chapters. That PeaJayEeeDee had anything whatever to do with such instructions is unalloyed nonsense. The marvelous spiritual meaning that shines throughout this blueprint for the tabernacle is totally beyond the ability of any mortal to have had any influence whatever in providing it. It was God who said, "See that thou make all things according to the pattern!" (Hebrews 8:5).
THE PRELIMINARY COLLECTION
And Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, that they take for me an offering: of every man whose heart maketh him willing ye shall take my offering. And this is the offering which ye shall take of them: gold, and silver, and brass, and blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine linen, and goats' [hair], and rams' skins dyed red, and sealskins, and acacia wood, oil for the light, spices for the anointing oil, and for the sweet incense, onyx stones, and stones to be set, for the ephod, and for the breastplate.
A thorough study of each of these items, where they were found, how they were made, their value, and other things pertaining to them is of interest; and a number of excellent commentaries supply a wealth of such details, but we shall focus upon the relationship of these things to the "things in heaven."
The purpose of this great offering was to provide the material wealth and the actual substances that would be utilized in making the tabernacle. Note that only those gifts from willing hearts were to be received. "God loveth a cheerful giver." It is to the great credit of Israel that they responded in that spirit of liberality which naturally belongs to a redeemed people.
Whose heart maketh him willing
The literal meaning of this is `every man whose heart drives him.'F1
THE ORDER TO CONSTRUCT THE TABERNACLE
Verses 8, 9
And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them. According to all that I show thee, the pattern of the tabernacle, and the pattern of all the furniture thereof, even so shall ye make it.
Even so shall ye make it
No deviation whatever was to be allowed. Even all of the furniture was to be constructed according to Divine law, the size of each item, the height of each article, the materials out of which it was to be constructed, the form of the decorations, the placement of it in the sacred structure, everything was to be made according to the pattern that God Himself gave to Moses.
That I may dwell among them
Even here, the idea is not that Almighty God would dwell in that elaborate tent, but among them, that is, among the children of Israel. The construction of this tabernacle was necessary for several reasons:
(1) It would be a rallying place where God's Word would be proclaimed.
(2) It would serve as a physical reminder of God's presence among the people.
(3) It was the place where God recorded his name, the place where he would meet with them and bless them (Exodus 20:24).
(4) It was a singularly impressive "figure" of the ultimate spiritual realities to be achieved in "the kingdom of God," the church of Jesus Christ, and therefore a witness at one and the same time to both Israels, the Old, and the New.
The surprise comes in the next verse (Exodus 25:10), where we should have expected. to receive the layout for the tabernacle, its dimensions, how long, how big, how high, what compartments, etc., but nothing like that was even mentioned in this context. Before a single word was given regarding the actual construction of the tabernacle, the detailed instructions for the furniture were supplied.
Why this priority for the furniture? The answer lies in the eternal realities represented by that furniture. The Ark was a symbol of God's law, the Mercy-Seat a symbol of his mercy, the Altar of Incense a symbol of prayer, the Table of Showbread a symbol of God's providence, and the Candlestick a symbol of light from the Word of God, etc. All of these things antedated all religious institutions, even Judaism, and therefore they come first in this sequence of God's instructions.
And they shall make an ark of acacia wood: two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof, and a cubit and a half the height thereof. And thou shalt overlay it with pure gold, within and without shalt thou overlay it, and shalt make upon it a crown of gold round about. And thou shalt cast four rings of gold for it, and put them in the four feet thereof; and two rings shall be on the one side of it, and two rings on the other side of it. And thou shalt make staves of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold. And thou shalt put the staves into the rings on the sides of the ark, wherewith to bear the ark. The staves shall be in the rings of the ark: they shall not be taken from it. And thou shalt put into the ark the testimony which I shall give thee.
Why? There are many questions we might ask, but the answers would likely fall into the area of speculation, rather than knowledge. The dimensions of 2 1/2 cubits, by 1 1/2 cubits, by 1 1/2 cubits, allowing 18 inches as a cubit, would equal 45 inches X 27 inches X 27 inches.
(1) One purpose, no doubt, was to provide an article capable of being carried.
(2) The exact dimensions had to be followed if the Mercy-Seat (made in exactly the same width and length) would fit on top of it. The overlaying of pure gold signified the extreme value and desirability of it.
The testimony which I shall give thee
This is a reference to the two stone tables engraved by the finger of God which Moses would receive from God. Later on, other articles were added, i.e., a pot of manna, and Aaron's rod that budded.
At this point in the Divine instructions, the principal glory of the Ark had not appeared, that glory being its location in the completed tabernacle. Nevertheless, we may well imagine the excitement felt by Moses in the contemplation of such a wonderful and extravagantly expensive article of furniture. He might have thought, "Nothing could be any holier,, or more important, than such an Ark of the Covenant containing the very two tables inscribed by the finger of God Himself."
And thou shalt make a mercy-seat of pure gold: two cubits and a half [shall be] the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof. And thou shalt make two cherubim of gold; of beaten work shalt thou make them, at the two ends of the mercy-seat. And make one cherub at the one end, and one cherub at the other end: of one piece with the mercy-seat shall ye make the cherubim on the two ends thereof. And the cherubim shall spread out their wings on high, covering the mercy-seat with their wings, with their faces one to another; toward the mercy-seat shall the faces of the cherubim be. And thou shalt put the mercy-seat above upon the ark; and in the ark thou shalt put the testimony that I shall give thee. And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy-seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, of all things which I will give thee in commandment unto the children of Israel.
In addition to the elaborate figures of the cherubim with outspread wings arching over the mercy-seat, and the costliness of it, the marvelous glory of it appeared in God's placement of it above and on top of the Ark of the Covenant. Note that another name is given the ark here, "the ark of the testimony." The symbolism of the mercy-seat without question is that of the mercy of God; and therefore the placement of it above and on top of the ark constituted a dramatic pronouncement within the very heart of the Divine Sanctuary itself that "God's mercy ranks higher than God's law," which must be hailed as the most marvelous revelation of the whole Law of Moses. Who was ever born whose heart cannot thrill with gratitude for the holy truth that God's mercy ranks higher than His law?
Here in the location of that mercy-seat is revealed the key to all of God's dealings with the sinful race of Adam. By God's grace and by His eternal will, His mercy stands enthroned higher than His law, a no more significant truth was ever revealed under the types and shadows of the First Covenant. For uncounted generations, men beheld this figure of the mercy-seat above the Law; but neither men nor angels understood it. The very attitude of the cherubim "facing downward toward the mercy-seat" suggests their curiosity and wonder at what could have been the meaning of such a thing. We believe Peter referred to this, speaking of the marvelous salvation in Christ, and adding, "Which things angels desire to look into!" (1 Peter 1:12).
Every mortal man, prone to sin, mired in the inevitable guilt associated with all human life, and pitifully conscious of his own helplessness to save himself -- every man should thank God for his mercy, forever elevated even above his own law, and for the salvation provided in that mercy through the blood of the Saviour.
THE TABLE OF SHOWBREAD
And thou shalt make a table of acacia wood: two cubits [shall be] the length thereof, and a cubit the breadth thereof, and a cubit and a half the height thereof. And thou shalt overlay it with pure gold, and make thereto a crown of gold round about. And thou shalt make unto it a border of a handbreadth round about; and thou shalt make a golden crown to the border thereof round about. And thou shalt make for it four rings of gold, and put the rings in the four corners that are on the four feet thereof. Close by the border shall the rings be, for places for the staves to bear the table. And thou shalt make the staves of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold, that the table may be borne with them. And thou shalt make the dishes thereof, and the spoons thereof, and the flagons thereof, and the bowls thereof, wherewith to pour out: of pure gold shalt thou make them. And thou shalt set upon the table showbread before me alway.
As would be revealed to Moses later, this Table of Showbread would occupy a place in the north end of the sanctuary, balancing the candlestick which would appear at the south end. The twelve loaves arranged in two rows symbolize the providence of God toward both Israels, the fleshy, and the spiritual. Of course, various writers are remarkably skillful in finding things said to be represented by these articles of furniture. Macknight suggested that the table represented the abundant provision from the earth of food for man and beast, and of the candlestick wrote, "It represents the seven planets!"F2 Of course, he wrote that before men discovered the eighth and ninth planets! It is our view that here we have "copies of heavenly things"; and therefore it seems appropriate to view this table as a type of "the Lord's table" (Luke 22:29,30). Its location "in the sanctuary" is like that of "the Lord's table" in his kingdom. Its burden of the "bread" is typical of Christ, "the bread which came down out of heaven," attested by the bread and the wine representing the flesh and blood of the Son of God.
In this table, no less than in the case of the candlestick, there appears to have been an overruling providence in certain changes and decorations made by the Jews, thereby providing even further startling symbolism of the genuine spiritual realities typified. For example, Josephus described the decorations of this table made by Ptolemy. It was elaborately covered with a grapevine, described thus:
"(It) had tendrils of the vine, sending forth clusters of grapes, that you would guess were no wise different from real tendrils; for they were so very thin, and so very far extended at their extremities, that they were moved by the wind, and made one believe that they were the product of nature, and not the representation of art.F3
How strange indeed it is that Christ the True Vine, and the fruit of the vine so sacred to his followers should thus have been so gloriously depicted upon that ancient table, and that (apparently) without any Divine commandment, but merely after the fancy of men. Surely God was in those things pertaining to his kingdom. How often God must have overruled the deeds of men to channel them in courses after His own will!
THE GOLDEN CANDLESTICK
And thou shalt make a candlestick of pure gold: of beaten work shall the candlestick be made, even its base, and its shaft; its cups, its knops, and its flowers, shall be of one piece with it. And there shall be six branches going out of the sides thereof; three branches of the candlestick out of the one side thereof, and three branches of the candlestick out of the other side thereof: three cups made like almond-blossoms in one branch, a knop and a flower; and three cups made like almond-blossoms in the other branch, a knop and a flower: so for the six branches going out of the candlestick: and in the candlestick four cups made like almond-blossoms, the knops thereof, and the flowers thereof; and a knop under two branches of one piece with it, and a knop under two branches of one piece with it, and a knop under two branches of one piece with it, for the six branches going out of the candlestick. Their knops and their branches shall be of one piece with it; the whole of it one beaten work of pure gold. And thou shalt make the lamps thereof, seven: and they shall light the lamps thereof, to give light over against it. And the snuffers thereof, and the snuffdishes thereof, shall be of pure gold. Of a talent of pure gold shall it be made, with all these vessels. And see that thou make them after their pattern, which hath been showed thee in the mount.
One picture is said to be worth a thousand words, and fortunately a likeness of the golden candlestick which was robbed from the Herodian Temple in Jerusalem by the soldiers of Vespasian and Titus, A.D. 70 has been preserved in the carved representation of it engraved upon the Arch of Titus (circa 90 A.D.) commemorating the Triumph of that Flavian Caesar. We may not be certain that it was exactly like the golden candlestick of the tabernacle, described here, but, since the Jews constructed their Temple, in many respects, along the pattern of the tabernacle, it is as authentic a likeness of the candlestick as could be found. This likeness of that ancient piece of tabernacle furniture is visible today on the Arch of Titus in Rome, or in the plaster casts made from it and exhibited in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.
Significantly, it was very heavy, being made entirely of beaten gold, and the carvings represent several men as being required to carry it.
It was the only source of light in the sanctuary, with the spiritual meaning that only the Word of God, which the candlestick typified, is the true light of God's church.
One of God's prophets asked the meaning of this golden candlestick, receiving this answer from an angel of God, "This is the word of the Lord" (Zechariah 4:1-6); and despite there being a limitation there in the words "unto Zerubbabel," there can be little doubt that it stands for the Word of God as revealed to mankind in the Holy Bible. It most certainly is a fantastically accurate and instructive type of the Bible.
Its seven branches stand for the seven divisions of the Bible, the central branch in the main shaft of the candlestick representing the holy Gospels which are the central division of the Bible, all of the O.T. pointing forward to them, and all of the N.T. (from Acts to Revelation) pointing backward to the Gospels. This, of course leaves only three divisions of the O.T., which correspond exactly to Christ's divisions, i.e., "The Law, and the Psalms, and the Prophets" (Luke 24:44). The Jews, to whom God gave the custody of the O.T. (Romans 3:2), accepted this understanding of the divisions of the O.T., giving them the names of Torah (the Law), Nebiim (the Prophets), and Kethubhim (the Psalms).F4
This identifies the other three branches (on the right side) as being the divisions of the N.T.; and, here again, the fit is perfect. The shortest arm is nearest the Gospels; that would be Acts of the Apostles with its short history of the first thirty years of the Christian religion. The only diverse book in the rest of the N.T. is the prophecy of Revelation, leaving the other twenty-one books to stand in a single division, the epistles, telling Christians how to live! Note also, that the first candlestick (on the left), the longest branch, is the one that covers the greatest time-span, going back to the creation, and that the last candlestick on the right, the longest branch on that side, also covers the greatest time-span, reaching all the way to the Eternal Judgment (the Book of Revelation).
Solomon, of course, varied the design of this candlestick, making "ten branches instead of seven" (1 Kings 7:48-50); but we believe that God over-ruled that disobedience (it certainly was not after the pattern that God showed Moses), compelling the changed candlestick to witness the same truth as the first candlestick. The explanation lies in the fact that the only way one can take this basic seven-branched candlestick and convert it to ten branches is by extending and dividing the central branch, thus making four branches out of it, with the other six branches appearing somewhat lower with three on one side and three on the other. Tradition supports the view that this is what Solomon did. If so, all of the typical significance of the branches would remain the same except that the four in the central shaft then stood for the Four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John! This is another instance in which the wrath of men (in this case, Solomon's disobedience) praised the Lord.
We shall discover many other startling testimonies to the realities of "the heavenly things" typified by these pieces of furniture and other accouterments of the Tabernacle, as revealed in subsequent chapters.
Footnotes for Exodus 25
1: George Rawlinson, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 1, Exodus II (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 239.
2: James Macknight, Apostolic Epistles (Nashville: Tennessee: Gospel Advocate Company, 1960), p. 546.
3: Josephus, Flavius, Life and Works of, translated by William Whiston (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston), p. 351.
4: J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. xii.