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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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 Chapter 39
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This final chapter of Exodus records the erection and preliminary consecration of the Tabernacle, which henceforth would serve as the visible presence of God among His people. Amazingly, the construction and erection of this Tabernacle apparently occupied a period of only about six months; and its erection occurred on the first day of Nisan, or Abib, just exactly a year minus fifteen days from their coming out of Egypt. Think what a marvelous two years culminated for Moses upon this occasion. During that period, Moses had received the call from God to deliver Israel, confronted Pharaoh with God's commandment to "let my people go," executed according to God's commandments the Ten Plagues upon Egypt, led the nation across the Red Sea, came to Sinai and there received the Law, endured the rebellion of the people under Aaron in the matter of the Golden Calf, interceded again and again with God for the beloved nation, received the detailed instructions for the making of the Tabernacle, and had supervised its construction, and now established the Tabernacle itself as the center of the nation, leading the people in the worship of God and the keeping of the Covenant which, forever afterward, was to be the glory of Israel. When Moses had asked God for a sign, the Lord told him that he would "come and worship God" again in this mountain (Sinai); and in this chapter God fulfilled the promise, Moses himself being privileged to offer the first of the "daily sacrifices" in the sacred Tabernacle!

Exo. 40:1-38 --

And Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying, On the first day of the first month shalt thou rear up the tabernacle of the tent of meeting.F1 And thou shalt put therein the ark of the testimony, and thou shalt screen the ark with the veil.F2 And thou shalt bring in the table, and set in order the things that are upon it; and thou shalt bring in the candlestick, and light the lamps thereof. And thou shalt set the golden altar for incense before the ark of the testimony, and put the screen of the door to the tabernacle. And thou shalt set the altar of burnt-offering before the door of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting. And thou shalt set the laver between the tent of meeting and the altar, and shalt put water therein. And thou shalt set up the court round about, and hang up the screen of the gate of the court. And thou shalt take the anointing oil, and anoint the tabernacle, and all that is therein, and shalt hallow it, and all the furniture thereof: and it shall be holy. And thou shalt anoint the altar of burnt-offering, and all its vessels, and sanctify the altar: and the altar shall be most holy.F3 And thou shalt anoint the laver and its base, and sanctify it. And thou shalt bring Aaron and his sons unto the door of the tent of meeting, and shalt wash them with water. And thou shalt put upon Aaron the holy garments; and thou shalt anoint him, and sanctify him, that he may minister unto me in the priest's office. And thou shalt bring his sons, and put coats upon them; and thou shalt anoint them, as thou didst anoint their father, that they may minister unto me in the priest's office: and their anointing shall be to them for as everlasting priesthood throughout their generations.F4 Thus did Moses according to all that Jehovah commanded him, so did he.F5

"And it came to pass in the first month in the second year, on the first day of the month, that the tabernacle was reared up. And Moses reared up the tabernacle, and laid its sockets, and set up the boards thereof, and put in the bars thereof, and reared up its pillars.F6 And he spread the tent over the tabernacle, and put the covering of the tent above upon it; as Jehovah commanded Moses. And he took and put the testimony into the ark, and set the staves on the ark, and put the mercy-seat upon the ark:F7 and he brought the ark into the tabernacle, and set up the veil of the screen, and screened the ark of the testimony; as Jehovah commanded Moses.F8 And he put the table in the tent of meeting, upon the side of the tabernacle northward, without the veil. And he set the bread in order upon it before Jehovah; as Jehovah commanded Moses. And he put the candlestick in the tent of meeting, over against the table, on the side of the tabernacle southward. And he lighted the lamps before Jehovah; as Jehovah commanded Moses. And he put the golden altar in the tent of meeting before the veil: and he burnt thereon incense of sweet spices; as Jehovah commanded Moses.F9 And he put the screen of the door to the tabernacle. And he set the altar of burnt-offering at the door of the tabernacle, and offered upon it the burnt-offering and the meal-offering; as Jehovah commanded Moses. And he set the laver between the tent of meeting and the altar, and put water therein, wherewith to wash. And Moses and Aaron, and his sons washed their hands and their feet thereat; when they went into the tent of meeting, and when they came near unto the altar, they washed; as Jehovah commanded Moses.F10 And he reared up the court round about the tabernacle and the altar, and set up the screen of the gate of the court. So Moses finished the work.

"Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of Jehovah filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter into the tent of meeting, because the cloud abode therein, and the glory of Jehovah filled the tabernacle.F11 And when the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the children of Israel went onward, throughout all their journeys: but if the cloud was not taken up, then they journeyed not till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of Jehovah was upon the tabernacle by day, and there was the fire therein by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys."


One of the big things about the tabernacle was its mobility. It was never intended to be a stationary structure. As Neil noted, "It is clear from Stephen's address to the Sanhedrin (Acts 7), that he attached great significance to the fact that the Tabernacle was PORTABLE."F12 Moreover, it is evident that David finally decided to build God a Temple, and that his decision was contrary to God's will (2 Sam. 8). All of the great victories of Israel were won during the era of the tabernacle, and, in no sense whatever, except in the most limited application of it, was the Temple ever a type of the holy church. James made that abundantly clear in Acts 15:16, where inspiration spoke, not of rebuilding the Temple, but of "rebuilding the fallen tabernacle." Jesus spoke of the O.T. Scriptures as being, "These are they which testify of me!" (John 5:39), and the Book of Exodus is especially eloquent in that testimony. (See the Introduction for an elaboration of this.)

Except for his ill-advised use of the word "tradition," the following quotation from Napier is priceless:

"In the Book of Exodus, tradition has created an inspired masterpiece. We who come to it with faith find that it is also our history, our torah, our institution ... all gathered up and fulfilled in Him who even now brings us up out of Egypt into life with God. We can affirm with Exodus, and with greater conviction because of Exodus, that in all our journeys we are not alone, that when we look with faith, the Lord is himself, even now, in the sight of all the house of Israel."F13

We say the same, except, that it was not tradition at all that gave this marvelous inspiration. God spoke through that Prophet like unto Jesus Christ, even Moses!


We are indebted to Fields for this brief history of the Tabernacle:F14

1. It was set up first at Gilgal after Israel crossed Jordon (Joshua 18:1).

2. It was erected at Shiloh and remained there through period of the Judges. (Josh. 19:51; 1 Sam. 1:3; 4:3; 12).

3. It was captured by the Philistines (1 Samuel 4:10-11).

4. It was returned to Israel at Kiriath-Jearim west of Jerusalem (1 Samuel 7:1).

5. After the times of Eli, it was removed to Nob, north of Jerusalem (1 Samuel 21:1-9).

6. The ark remained at Kiriath-Jearim until the times of David (1 Sam. 7:1-2; 1 Chr. 13:5,6).

7. About the beginning of David's reign (1000 B.C.), it was located at Gibeon, 5 miles northwest of Jerusalem (1 Chr. 21:29; 16:39-40; 2 Chr. 1:3; 1 Kings 3:4; 9:2).

8. David brought it in a new cart to Jerusalem, where he had prepared a new tent for it (2 Sam. 6:17; 1 Chr. 16:1).

9. It was replaced by Solomon's Temple, all except the ark (1 Kings 8:4,6). God destroyed Solomon's Temple by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.

10. After that, no more was heard of the tabernacle, or the ark of the covenant, which was not in Zerubbabel's Temple (516 B.C.).

11. The Herodian Temple (in the times of Christ) was also destroyed by God by the overthrow of Jerusalem by the armies of Vespasian and Titus in 70 A.D.

Exodus alone is not the book, but only a chapter in the book. The narrative of the journey to Canaan will be resumed in Numbers. First, however, there will be given a compendium (Leviticus) of very necessary regulations, laws and instructions imposed upon Israel by the Sinaitic Covenant. "The end of the Book of Exodus therefore marks the close of a chapter rather than the close of a story."F15

Footnotes for Exodus 40
1: God was about to fulfill the promise regarding His dwelling among the people. See Exo. 25:8. This also gives the reason for the Tabernacle, i.e., that might, in a very special way, dwell among them.
2: The ark, being the first thing installed, indicated that, "The law of God was the foundation of the covenant between God and Israel," See George Rawlinson, The Pulpit Commentary, Exodus II (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p 396.
3: It seems strange to some that the altar of burnt-offering should thus have been designated as "most holy." Keil limited the meaning here as did also Rawlinson, and, while their views might well be true, it seems preferable to us that what the Holy Spirit indicated here was that the altar of burnt-offering, as a type of the blood of Christ, therefore partook of that same superlative holiness that pertained to the Holy of Holies itself. See Keil, Exodus II, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), p. 255; also Rawlinson, op. cit., p. 397.
4: "Everlasting priesthood," according to Biblical usage, meant only, "as long as the national polity should last, or until the Aaronic priesthood was superceded by the Advent of the Messiah." See Robert Jamieson, Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown's Commentary (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Reprint, 1983), p. 429. Also it is very likely that the anointing and consecration here mentioned were provisional and temporary, and that the full-dress ceremonies occurred a little later, as indicated by the early chapters of Numbers. See Keil, op. cit., p. 256.
5: "So did he ..." The importance of this is stressed by the seven-fold references to it in subsequent verses, where it is repeatedly written: "As Jehovah commanded Moses." (See Exo. 40:19,21,23,25,27,29,32). "This shows how utterly essential it is in matters of salvation and ministry to follow and obey the Word of God undeviatingly. Failure to do so has resulted in the Babel of cults and heresies that plague pure, Biblical, historical Christianity today." (From Merrill F. Unger, Unger's Commentary on the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1981), p. 145.
6: It need not be supposed that Moses did all of this unaided by other workmen. The erection of the Tabernacle was accredited to Moses as the man responsible" for the erection of it.
7: "The testimony," as used here, is a reference to the Ten Commandments engraved by the finger of God upon the two tables of stone.
8: The "screening" of the ark of the testimony was typical of the profound truth that many things in the Word of God, including that in the Decalogue, and also further portions of the Word of God to be revealed by the Prophets, would remain veiled in mystery throughout the history of Israel.
9: Moses' actually burning the sacred incense upon the golden altar, and also his offering of the burnt-offering and the meal-offering of the daily sacrifice supports the view that the full consecration of Aaron and his sons had not at this time occurred. This fulfilled the promise God made to Moses in Exo. 3:12, that he should "serve God upon this mountain" after Israel's deliverance.
10: This is not a narrative of what was done at this time, but a parenthetical statement to show the purpose for which the laver was subsequently used. See Rawlinson, op. cit., p. 397. The word here translated, "they washed" was rendered "would wash" by Orlinsky, who stated that the tenses here are "frequentative," meaning, "used to wash." (See Harry M. Orlinsky, Notes on the New Translation of the Torah (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1969), p. 201).
11: The purpose of the cloud (which was a pillar of fire by night) was that of guiding Israel into the promised land, a thought that has entered the songs of God's people:
12: William Neil, Harper's Bible Commentary (New York: Harper and Row, 1975), p. 111.
13: B. Davie Napier, The Laymen's Bible Commentary (Richmond: John Knox Press, 1963), p. 125.
14: Wilbur Fields, Exodus (Joplin: College Press, 1876), p. 808.
15: Ronald E. Clements, (Cambridge: University Press, 1972), p. 243.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Exodus 40". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  


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