Chapter 12: The Service of the Tabernacle

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by William M. Banks, Scotland






The title of this chapter occurs a total of thirteen times in our Authorised Version: twice in Exodus (30.16; 39.40), ten times in Numbers (3.7,8; 7.5; 8.15,24; 16.9; 18.4,6,21,23) and once in 1Chronicles (6.48).  A cognate term, “the service of the sanctuary” occurs three times: Ex.36.1,3; Num.7.9.

Two main words are used for “tabernacle” in the above references. One is ohel (1681), which has in it the idea of a ‘tent, dwelling place, habitation or residence’.  In this context it refers essentially to the Tabernacle proper in the court itself.  The other word is mishkan (4908), which means ‘dwelling place or shrine’.  According to Vine2 “the word mishkan places the emphasis on the representative presence of God: ‘And I will set My tabernacle [mishkan] among you: and My soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be My people. I am the Lord your God, which brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, that ye should not be their bondmen; and I have broken the bands of your yoke, and made you go upright’ Lev.26.11-13.”  The word used for “sanctuary”, miqdash (4720), has in it the idea of a ‘sacred, holy, sanctified or consecrated place’.

1. This numerical reference is to the entry number allocated to the word in the Hebrew section of James Strong’s “Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible”, first published in 1890 (and so for the other references later in the paragraph).
2. Vine, W. E. “Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary”. Quoted in e-Sword.

The above references to “the service of the tabernacle” and “the service of the sanctuary” clearly indicate that the main emphasis is to the Levites in the Book of Numbers.  In particular chapters 3, 8 and 18 are going to demand our attention.  However, without the construction of the Tabernacle detailed in the Book of Exodus there would not have been a place in which to function!  And without the devotion of the people in sacrificially giving of their substance there would have been no construction.  Thus, the outline of the approach is almost given for us: the service of giving, the service of construction and the service of the Levites.


The call to give is found at the very inception of the details in relation to the Tabernacle in Ex.25.2: “Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring Me an offering: of every man that giveth it willingly with his heart ye shall take My offering.”  The scene is set immediately for sacrificial service.  It has to be “an offering”; it has to be given “willingly”; it has to be a “heart” exercise and it is “take[n]” thankfully.  Verses 3-7 enumerate what has to be brought.  The detailed use of each item is expanded as the instructions progress in the Book of Exodus.

The fundamental reason for giving is provided in v.8: “And let them make Me a sanctuary [miqdash]; that I may dwell among them.”  Even at this early stage, the controlling principles of the construction are made clear in v.9: “According to all that I shew thee, after the pattern of the tabernacle [mishkan], and the pattern of all the instruments thereof, even so shall ye make it.”  There is a “pattern” and it has been “show[n]” and it controls “all”!  What a lovely example for every detail of assembly activity and development we have illustrated for us here.  In addition, in these opening eight verses there is a lovely order: let them “bring Me” v.2, and “let them make Me” v.8.  It is the order to be developed throughout the Scriptures: worship before service and worship in service.

This is how Isaiah was propelled into his ministry; he saw the Lord in the sphere of worship (“I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple.  Above it stood the seraphims … And one cried unto another, and said, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory’” Isa.6.1-3; Jn.12.41) before he was commissioned to go in service to the nation (“Go, and tell this people …” Isa.6.9).  There is a similar order in Psalm 132: the priests are “clothed with righteousness” v.9, before they are clothed “with salvation” v.16.  In both cases the “saints shall shout aloud for joy”.  Divine order always results in joy.  The primacy of worship is confirmed and vitalised by the Lord Himself: in addressing the devil in Matt.4.10 He says, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve.”  We are not ‘saved to serve’; we are ‘saved to worship’; service will then follow automatically.

The Attitude Required in Sacrificial Giving – Ex.35.4-9

The fundamental requirement in giving is that of a willing heart: “whosoever is of a willing heart, let him bring it, an offering of the Lord” Ex.35.5.  God is not looking for conscripts; He wants willing hearts in His service.  Deborah was delighted with “the governors of Israel, that offered themselves willingly among the people” in the successful battle against Sisera, Judg.5.9.  The Priest-King is going to have a willing people during His Millennial reign in “the day of [His] power” Ps.110.3.  They will be dressed “in holy splendour” J.N.D., in keeping with the character of the King.  The poor widow “cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury” Mk.12.43.  What an example of sacrificial giving!  Paul laid down the principle for giving today: “This I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.  Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver” 2Cor.9.6,7.

The Variety of People Who Gave – Ex.35.20-29

The response to the call of Moses was delightful.  “And they came, every one whose heart stirred him up [‘moved him’ J.N.D.], and every one whom his spirit made willing, and they brought the Lord’s offering to the work of the tabernacle of the congregation, and for all His service, and for the holy garments” v.21.  There are several lovely principles in this verse.  It was a heart exercise.  This is where the initiative must originate.  It was the case with David: “The Lord said to David my father, ‘Forasmuch as it was in thine heart to build a house for My name, thou didst well in that it was in thine heart’” 2Chr.6.8.  Again, the giving was totally voluntary: “every one whom his spirit made willing”.  There was no coercion.  The offering was recognised as the Lord’s, though given to Moses.  He must be the object of our giving.  When this is recognised in our assembly giving, it adds dignity to the act.  The giving was going to have a comprehensive effect: it was “for all His service, and for the holy garments”.

The variety of those involved is also interesting: men and women in general, v.22, but there was a special group of women in vv.25,26: “And all the women that were wise hearted did spin with their hands, and brought that which they had spun, both of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, and of fine linen.  And all the women whose heart stirred them up in wisdom spun goats’ hair.”  This particular group not only had willing hearts but wise hearts, and hearts that were stirred up.  They were a particularly valuable group providing the curtains for the “tent”.  Sisters have a very important role to play in Divine service.  We only need to think of Phebe, Priscilla, Lois, Eunice and the special dedicated group of four around the cross.  In addition to the above there were others referred to here as the rulers in v.27 and the children of Israel in general in v.29.

The Variety of the Gifts – Ex.35.20-29

It is not surprising that each group brought differently and appropriately.  The men and women brought personal items: they “brought bracelets, and earrings, and rings, and tablets, all jewels of gold” v.22.  In addition, the men brought material for the curtains and coverings, v.23, which was used by the wise-hearted women to “spin with their hands” v.25.  The rulers likewise gave according to their ability, bringing “onyx stones, and stones to be set, for the ephod, and for the breastplate; and spice, and oil for the light, and for the anointing oil, and for the sweet incense” vv.27,28.  Altogether, “the children of Israel brought a willing offering unto the Lord” v.29.

All of this ties in beautifully with the blueprint given by the apostle Paul in 1Cor.16.2.  He indicates that giving has to be regular: “the first day of every week” E.S.V., the day tying in with the resurrection of the Lord Jesus (which Paul has just expounded in chapter 15) and the day when “the disciples came together to break bread” Acts 20.7.  It was also to be personal: “every one of you”, being comprehensive, with none excluded.  It was to be the result of exercise, being prepared in advance: “lay by him in store [rendered ‘treasuring up’ in Young’s Literal Translation]”.  See also Matt.6.19,20.  In addition, giving is to be proportionate: “as God hath prospered”.  Note, however, the outstanding example of the widow woman of Lk.21.1-4 who gave her “all”.  Finally, the apostle emphasises the need to be discreet: “no gatherings [the same word as ‘collection’ in v.1; these are the only two occurrences of the word in the New Testament] when I come”.

The Liberality in the Giving – Ex.36.5-7

When “Bazaleel and Aholiab, and every wise hearted man” 36.1, started on the construction work for the service of the sanctuary vv.1,3, and received from Moses the materials for the building, they realised that there was “more than enough” v.5.  This was a very pleasant and unusual situation in which to be.  The material was so overwhelming that “the people were restrained from bringing.  For the stuff they had was sufficient for all the work to make it, and too much” vv.6,7.

There was a similar abundance in Hezekiah’s day.  When Hezekiah invited the people to support the priests and Levites in their work, 2Chr.31.4, they responded so liberally that the gifts were piled in great “heaps” v.8, such that there was a surplus beyond what was required and “Azariah the chief priest of the house of Zadok answered him, and said, ‘Since the people began to bring the offerings into the house of the Lord, we have had enough to eat, and have left plenty: for the Lord hath blessed His people; and that which is left is this great store’” v.10.  In fact, there was so much that special storehouses had to be built!

The assembly at Philippi were liberal in their giving, sending “once and again” to Paul, Phil.4.16, which he recognised as “an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God” v.18.  There would be reciprocated reward for the Philippians: “my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus”; with the emphasis on “your” v.19!  Likewise with the churches of Macedonia: even “in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality” 2Cor.8.2.  Alas, the opposite was the case in Malachi’s day.  The refusal to bring the tithe into the storehouse led to barrenness and lack of blessing.  However, God is no man’s debtor, and He pleaded with them: “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in Mine house, and prove Me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” Mal.3.10.  The promise is the same today: blessing for sacrifice is always available and inevitable!

The Accumulated Worth of the Giving – Ex.38.21-31

This is rather an interesting and unique paragraph cataloguing the accumulated wealth of the materials given by the children of Israel for the Tabernacle construction.  It is difficult to assess accurately in today’s currency and probably not necessary anyway.  It would represent, however, many millions of pounds sterling.  The question which arises is how a pilgrim people in a wilderness environment could possibly have accrued such phenomenal wealth.  The answer goes back to Egypt.  They had been bondmen under severe rigour with cruel taskmasters, receiving virtually no wages, and certainly not a ‘living wage’!  But God would compensate appropriately.  When they were leaving Egypt the command from the Lord was, “‘Let every man borrow of his neighbour, and every woman of her neighbour, jewels of silver, and jewels of gold.’  And the Lord gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians” Ex.11.2,3.  The word “borrow” is actually “demand”.  As Leckie3 says, “This was not just because the fear of God was on the Egyptians but there were wages that were their due for long years of servitude and slavery.  Accordingly, the tabernacle was not built of borrowed materials but of wages that they demanded.”

3.  Leckie, A. “The Tabernacle and the Offerings”. Precious Seed Publications, 2012.

There are some interesting lessons that emerge from this paragraph.  Firstly, there could have been more gold!  The gold used for the golden calf in Exodus chapter 32 was lost for ever.  Idolatry robs God and leads to spiritual poverty.  A second lesson is that the giving of the silver was not voluntary: it was the ransom money, speaking of redemption, Ex.30.11-16.  All from twenty years old and upward had to give the same amount: “The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less than half a shekel, when they give an offering unto the Lord, to make an atonement for your souls” v.15.  “The best need Christ and He suffices for the worst.”4  The silver was used for the foundation of the Tabernacle proper.  Another important lesson is that the materials were weighed, Ex.38.24,25,29.  What we give is weighed in the Divine balance!  The Lord knew the value of Mary’s spikenard, Jn.12.1-8.  What an awful mistake Judas made: worship is not waste!  Perhaps a final lesson here is that the “sum” was assessed by priestly hands, Ex.38.21.  Even counting the assembly’s offering should be in the hands of spiritual men (see Ezra 8.24-30, where counting was entrusted to such men). 

4.  Ibid.


The Calling and Fitting of Bezaleel and Aholiab – Ex.31.1-11

From Exodus chapters 25 to 30 detailed instruction is given in relation to the vessels of the Tabernacle (seven in number, including the mercy seat), the Tabernacle proper, the court, and the clothing and consecration of the priests.  Details of the construction and implementation of all of the above are given in chapters 35 to 39. Sadly, the parenthetical chapters, 32-34, record the idolatry overseen by Aaron.  Interestingly, this leaves chapter 31 in the middle, between the instruction and the construction.  It records the calling of the artificers (those who will primarily be involved in the construction), vv.1-11, and an affirmation of the sign of the covenant in the sabbath, vv.12-18.

When there is a work to be done for God, He always has His men.  He not only calls but fits.  This is seen clearly in this paragraph.  It is evident that the Lord takes the initiative: “I have called” v.2.  The sovereignty of God is seen in His choice.  The Lord said to His disciples, “Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you” and “I have chosen you out of the world” Jn.15.16,19.  Those in God’s work today have similarly been Divinely chosen.  What a wonder: “according as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love” Eph.1.4.  Indeed, no fewer than seven times over in John chapter 17 believers are seen as a love gift from the Father to His Son, no doubt given to Him before the foundation of the world.  In five of these references, vv.6 (twice),9,11,12, the immediate disciples are in view; in the other two (vv.2,24) we together with the other believers of this dispensation are in the Lord’s thoughts (see v.20).

God not only chooses; He fits as well.  “I have filled him [Bezaleel] with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, to devise cunning works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, and in cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of timber, to work in all manner of workmanship” Ex.31.3-5.  We might have anticipated that these were natural abilities!  If someone has a particular aptitude we do not normally assume that it is God-given.  But this is amazing ability.  Think of the intricacy of making the lampstand, beaten out of one piece of pure gold: a “cunning” work indeed requiring all the wisdom, understanding and knowledge that man could muster but, in this case, given by God!  The link in these three attributes is most interesting.  Unsurprisingly, they are found together in the Book of Proverbs, for example 2.6; 9.10.  Paul prayed that the Colossians “might be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding”, his purpose being that they “might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God” Col.1.9,10.  Note the reference to walking and working.

Knowledge would give Bezaleel an appreciation of the material properties and malleability, wisdom the ability to apply and use these properties appropriately, and understanding an awareness of the final spiritual requirements and uses of the artefact being made.  There is nothing left to chance in the service of Christ.  All is under control!  It was not a natural or inherited skill: it was Divinely given.  Natural ability and skill must not have priority in assembly life.

Bezaleel was not to be alone.  Aholiab was “given with him” Ex.31.6.  God delights in the fellowship of His people and kindly ensures that co-workers are given so that they have human fellowship as well.  Paul is very seldom found alone; for example Gal.1.2; 2.3; Phil.4.3,21; 2Tim.4.11; Titus 3.15.  He was almost always accompanied in his missionary journeys.  When “the Lord appointed other seventy” He “sent them two and two” Lk.10.1.

The Meanings of Names and Associations – Ex.31.2,6

The meanings of names in the Old Testament have vital significance.  Bezaleel is “the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah” v.2.  All four names and associations are important.  Bezaleel’s name means ‘in or under the shadow [protection] of God’.  He knew much of God’s presence and protection.  Uri means ‘light of Jehovah’.  Light is inevitably imparted and experienced in the presence of God and of course it dispels darkness.  Hur means ‘noble’ and ‘white’.  These qualities are indicative of what God is looking for in His people today: nobility and righteousness.  The links in the three names are obvious.  “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty” Ps.91.1.  These are the saints to whom God will entrust His work.

“Aholiab, [is] the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan” v.6.  Aholiab means ‘tent of my father’.  He had clearly dwelt in the same tent as his father and learned his character and ways from him.  Ahisamach means ‘brotherly support’.  He evidently enjoyed the company and support of his brethren.  There are important lessons lying on the surface here.  Much of what our ‘fathers’ held is being abandoned today.  The influence of the increasing secularisation of society is finding its way into the assemblies of the Lord’s people.  Indeed, separation from the world seems to be a thing of the past.  Lightness in dress, language, attitude, hymnology and translations seems to be ubiquitous.  Jacob’s recognition of the “house of God” as being a “dreadful … place” has gone, Gen.28.17.  Jeremiah’s call seems to have fallen on deaf ears as it did in his day: “Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, ‘where is the good way,’ and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.  But they said, ‘We will not walk therein’” Jer.6.16.

The tribes with which Bezaleel and Aholiab were associated is interesting: the tribes of Judah and Dan respectively.  When the tribes were on the march Judah was first, Num.10.14, and Dan was last, Num.10.25.  There are important lessons in this as well.  “God can use the mighty men of Judah as well as the lowly men of Dan”.5  It is God Who determines the ministry of His servants.  Often, we seem to want to do the work which alone belongs to the Holy Spirit.  Paul was chosen from the feet of Gamaliel and Peter from the fishing boats of Galilee.  What a power for God each was in his respective sphere of service, to the uncircumcision and to the circumcision!

5. Ibid

The Details of the Service of Construction

If the willing-hearted brought, Ex.35.4-9, the wise-hearted wrought, Ex.35.10-19.  Nothing was left to human decision or ingenuity: they were to “make all that the Lord hath commanded” v.10, not only in relation to the Tabernacle structure but the garments for the priests as well: “the cloths of service, to do service in the holy place, the holy garments for Aaron the priest, and the garments of his sons, to minister in the priest’s office” v.19.

Bezaleel and Aholiab were the leaders in the construction.  Their Divine calling and fitness were communicated to Moses alone, in Exodus chapter 31.  Now Moses has to communicate that to the people, 35.30-35.  The people must be aware of the Divine call of these two leaders so that appropriate respect, honour and obedience will be ministered to them.  He tells them that “the Lord hath called by name Bezaleel … and Aholiab” 35.30,34.  He also indicates the Divine ability given to them to perform beyond natural ability in the necessary detail of the construction work.  How else could the intricate lampstand be beaten out of one piece of fine gold?  In addition, they were both to teach the others who would work with them, 35.34.

All of this again has incisive lessons for today.  The elders at Ephesus were evidently known, when Paul could call for them to meet him at Miletus, Acts 20.17-38.  In addition, in his letters he makes it clear that they are due the respect of God’s people: “And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake” 1Thess.5.12,13.  See also Heb.13.7,17,24.  The ability of elders to teach is also assumed: “apt to teach” 1Tim.3.2; “Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers” Titus 1.9. 

The Service of the Sanctuary – Ex.36.1-4

The phrase “the service of the sanctuary” is found in v.1 and v.3.

It would appear that the work in chapter 36 was shared: “Then wrought Bezaleel and Aholiab, and every wise hearted man, in whom the Lord put wisdom and understanding to know how to work all manner of work for the service of the sanctuary, according to all that the Lord had commanded” v.1.  However, in 37.1 to 38.20 it would appear that Bezaleel worked alone: “And Bezaleel made …” 37.1.  Note the recurring “and he made …” in chapter 37.  While this phrase also occurs in chapter 36, it is perhaps emphasised in chapter 37 in relation particularly to the vessels which required special wisdom and ability.  On the other hand, it might be indicating that Bezaleel had a particular supervisory and leadership role in the construction of the vessels because of his unique ability.

It is clear from 36.1 that the leaders were not alone in having “wisdom and understanding” and knowledge.  It is good when the spiritual qualifications found in the assembly of the Lord’s people are acknowledged and used.  The material for construction was given by Moses to the workers.  It was given out of the offering which “the children of Israel had brought for the work of the service of the sanctuary, to make it withal.  And they brought yet unto him free offerings every morning” v.3.  They could not build without the necessary wherewithal.  God has given us the necessary material – a full volume of sixty-six books – to build into the assembly.  This is the “gold”, “silver” and “precious stones” of 1Corinthians chapter 3!

The United Labour – Ex.36.8-38

This is a lovely passage showing devoted, wise and, in particular, united labour.  It included “Bezaleel and Aholiab, and every wise hearted man, in whom the Lord put wisdom and understanding to know how to work all manner of work for the service of the sanctuary, according to all that the Lord had commanded” 36.1.  It is now being implemented in a variety of spheres: the making of the curtains, vv.8-18; the coverings, v.19; the boards and the bars, vv.20-34; the vail with its four pillars separating the holy place and the Holiest of all, vv.35,36; and finally the door with its five pillars governing the entrance to the holy place, vv.37,38.

What a delight to read of such united activity!  Everything seems to be flowing from one artefact to another in smooth transition.  There are no complaints.  All is voluntary service of the sanctuary.  No need or even thought of conscripts.  Each was satisfied with the task given, and it was implemented with ardency and skill.  What a far cry from Corinth, with its focus on personalities, quibbles, disorders and doctrinal problems to boot.  Problems inside and outside.  Here in Exodus there is a lovely implementation of Paul’s appeal, “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” 1Cor.1.10.  Paul does not even want us ‘to agree to differ’: “the same thing … the same mind”!

Even in the lovely assembly at Philippi Paul has to appeal to them to “stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” Phil.1.27, and “that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind” 2.2.  Alas, how seldom do these sentiments prevail today.  Let us learn from the service of the sanctuary!

The Particular Labour – Ex.37.1 to 38.20; 39.1-31

It may be that Bezaleel had help in the construction indicated in these verses but the Spirit of God seems to particularise: “and Bezaleel made” 37.1.  There can be no doubt that some of the vessels would require the superior superhuman ability that was given to him.  No man with even outstanding natural acumen could possibly have fashioned the lampstand with all its intricacies out of one piece of pure gold.  This would also be true of the cherubim.  This was a man whom God had “filled … with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, to devise cunning works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass” 31.3,4.  No one else could possibly have completed the work which Bezaleel did.  The lesson is important in two ways: firstly, God calls His servants for particular tasks which no one else could undertake.  There were many facets to Paul’s missionary life and other activities.  He reminds us in Rom.15.19 “that from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ”.  We might be tempted to conclude that these two places were around the corner from each other, and not fifteen hundred miles apart!  And that was in days when travelling a total of only fifteen miles a day was not uncommon!  His travels are truly mind-boggling.

The second important lesson is that when God does give the ability He expects His servants to use it for His glory.  Certainly, here Bezaleel is going to make vessels all of which speak of Christ.  Should this not be the ardent desire of every servant?  I am amazed these days that almost every report, whether of gospel witness or ministry, focuses on numbers.  Why is this important?  Paul urges us, “Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof” Rom.13.14; see also Gal.3.27.

The possibility is that Bezaleel worked alone on vessels that required his particular skill and that others helped as opportunity for their expertise arose; for example Ex.38.22,23.  This is a good example to follow today.  Certainly, the work proceeded at a pace.  It began with the ark, 37.1-5, and then the mercy seat with the cherubim, 37.6-9, the table, 37.10-16, the lampstand of beaten work of pure gold, 37.17-24, the incense altar, 37.25-28, and the holy anointing oil and the pure incense, 37.29.  Chapter 38 continues with the altar of burnt offering, vv.1-7, and then the laver, to complete the seven vessels, v.8.  The brazen laver is the only vessel for which a little piece of additional information is given, from that communicated to Moses earlier.  The material for the laver came from “the lookingglasses [presumably polished brass hung at their breasts] of the women assembling, which assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation” v.8, as door keepers.  The links and lessons are interesting: the guardians of the door became guardians of the holy place.  In the former case it was to ensure security of access to the court; in the latter it was to ensure cleansing.  In addition, personal beauty was sacrificed to ensure spiritual beauty.  All was done in affection for the Tabernacle as the motivating factor, indicated from the place where the looking glasses hung.  These are three important lessons!

The remainder of the verses in chapter 38 deal with the court, vv.9-17, and the gate of the court with its four pillars, vv.18-20.  While we have dealt with vv.21-31 of chapter 38, there are two verses tucked in here that should not be missed in the context of the above construction: “Bezaleel … made all that the Lord commanded Moses.  And with him was Aholiab … a cunning workman, and an embroiderer in blue, and in purple, and in scarlet, and fine linen” vv.22,23.  All was done in total obedience to the Divine commandment and in delightful harmony with his co-worker.

Ex.39.1-31 deals with the making of “the holy garments for Aaron” v.1, as specified earlier, in chapter 28.  This is detailed in 39.1-26.  Afterwards “they made coats of fine linen of woven work for Aaron, and for his sons”, as set out in vv.27-29.  In vv.30,31 details are given of “the plate of the holy crown of pure gold” with “writing, like to the engravings of a signet, ‘Holiness to the Lord’” v.30.  Seven times over in this chapter up to v.31 we read “as the Lord commanded Moses”.  Again, there was no deviation from Divine requirements.

A Finished Work – Ex.39.32-43; 40.1-38

It is always good when a work is finished.  It is particularly so when it accords with the Divine command.  That was the case here: “Thus was all the work of the tabernacle of the tent of the congregation finished: and the children of Israel did according to all that the Lord commanded Moses, so did they” 39.32.  It was then brought to Moses for confirmation and assessment.  What a lovely conclusion: “Moses did look upon all the work, and, behold, they had done it as the Lord had commanded, even so had they done it: and Moses blessed them” 39.43.

The Saviour finished His work: “I have glorified Thee on the earth: I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do” Jn.17.4, and that to the glory and satisfaction of the Father.  There is nothing to be added to the finished work of the cross: “He said, ‘It is finished:’ and He bowed His head, and gave up the ghost [‘dismissed His Spirit’]” Jn.19.30.  The apostle Paul finished his work: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing” 2Tim.4.7,8.  It must have been delightful for the children of Israel to have the accolade of Moses; how much better to have a crown of righteousness from the Lord, the righteous Judge!

What a thrill it must have been for Moses to erect the Tabernacle, as described in chapter 40.  The detailed instructions as to the arrangement of the furniture and courtyard are given in vv.1-8, and those regarding the anointing of the Tabernacle and the vessels are given in vv.9-11, setting aside the Tabernacle for Divine service and holy use.  The process of washing, dressing, and anointing of Aaron and his sons is delineated in vv.12-16.  Everything was carried out in vv.17-33 “as the Lord commanded Moses” (six times).  The work was finished and the Lord was pleased.  In the concluding verses (vv.34-38) “a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” v.34.  Henceforth “the cloud of the Lord was upon the tabernacle by day, and fire was on it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys” v.38.


Once the Tabernacle was erected the Levites came to the fore.  There were really two strands to the Levites: the priests per se and the others.  The priests consisted of Aaron and his sons, Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar (though the first two sons perished shortly after their induction into the priesthood, Leviticus chapter 10).  Aaron was a great-grandson of Levi (through Kohath and Amram) along with Moses (Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron, was a great-granddaughter).  The remainder of the Levites were Gershonites, the other Kohathites and the Merarites (see 1Chr.6.1-3).  The service of Aaron and his sons was associated exclusively with the priesthood, Aaron being the high priest.  The other Levites were “given” to the priests to assist in a variety of ways.

The special garments for the priests are described in Exodus chapter 28, together with the details of their consecration to office in chapter 29.  This was not enacted until Leviticus chapters 8 and 9. The service of the (other) Levites is not detailed till the Book of Numbers.  In the balance of this current chapter the two strands will henceforth be referred to as the “priests” and “Levites” although, as indicated above, they are all Levites!  Thus, while all priests were Levites, not all Levites were priests.

The Presentation to Aaron – Num.3.5-10

The Levites were presented to Aaron: “Bring the tribe of Levi near, and present them before Aaron the priest, that they may minister unto him.  And they shall keep his charge, and the charge of the whole congregation before the tabernacle of the congregation, to do the service of the tabernacle” Num.3.6,7.  Their main function, clearly, was to satisfy the needs of the priesthood: “they are wholly given unto him [Aaron]” v.9.  The important principle enunciated earlier is thus again confirmed.  Priesthood is the priority; service flows from it.  The believer, while both a priest, Rev.1.6; 20.6; 1Pet.2.5-9, and servant, has to observe these priorities.

The balance of Numbers chapter 3 deals with the numbering of the Levites from “a month old and upward” v.15, their position relative to the Tabernacle and a summary of their responsibilities.

The numbering was to validate their ability numerically to be a replacement for the firstborn of Israel who essentially belonged to Jehovah.  “I have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel instead of all the firstborn that openeth the matrix among the children of Israel: therefore the Levites shall be Mine” v.12.  The numbering is detailed in vv.40-51.  The vital connection between priesthood (they were given to Aaron) and the firstborn is thus emphasised.  This is why the birthright was so important and why the spiritual Jacob yearned after it, Gen.25.27-34.

The positioning of the Levites in relation to the Tabernacle was indicated in each case.  The Gershonites were to pitch westward, v.23, the Kohathites southward, v.29, and the Merarites northward, v.35.  This interesting detail is indicative of their constant nearness to the Tabernacle.  The Tabernacle was at the centre of their lives; they could never be far from it.  Here is a challenging lesson for God’s people today.  Is the assembly at the centre of our lives?  Do we arrange employment, engagements and home location to ensure attendance and commitment is a priority?  Fellowship is demanding and should not be compromised!  During the march through the wilderness the Levites were again central, with six tribes ahead of them and six to the rear.

The east is not omitted!  It is special: “But those that encamp before the tabernacle toward the east, even before the tabernacle of the congregation eastward, shall be Moses, and Aaron and his sons, keeping the charge of the sanctuary for the charge of the children of Israel; and the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death” v.38.  The gate must be carefully guarded.  We must be wary of “the stranger” today (see Jude v.4; Matt.13.25; Acts 15.24; Gal.2.4; 2Tim.3.6; 2Pet.2.1,2).

The responsibilities of each family are briefly summarised.  Essentially Gershon was responsible for the “tabernacle … tent … coverings … hangings … curtain … and the cords” 3.25,26.  Kohath was responsible for “the vessels of the sanctuary” 3.31.  Interestingly, Eleazar the priest (the “chief over the chief”) is linked as an overseer in this connection of those “that keep the charge of the sanctuary” 3.32.  The sacredness of the sanctuary is being emphasised.  Merari is responsible for “the boards … the bars … the pillars … the sockets … pins, and … cords” 3.36,37.  These details are expanded in Numbers chapter 4.

The Responsibilities during Journeying

These are given in Num.4.1-49.  The numbering undertaken in vv.1-3 of Kohath, and subsequently of Gershon and Merari, was now of those from 30 to 50 years of age.  While chapter 3 could be described in general as worship (in association with the priests), we now move to work.  Strength and maturity were required for the heavy work involved.  Each of the Levitical families is dealt with in turn.

“The service of the sons of Kohath” Num.4.4-20

This is by far the longest paragraph of the three, comprising seventeen verses (vv.4-20), in contrast to the details for the Gershonites, covering five verses (vv.24-28), and that for the Merarites, covering three verses (vv.31-33).  The reason for such extensive coverage is undoubtedly to do with the sacredness of the vessels involved.  They are described as “the most holy things” v.4.  No eye could look on the sacred ark and live, vv.19,20.  The order to be observed was very specific.  Aaron and his sons were to take down the vail, the door and the curtains and coverings and ensure that all the holy vessels were covered, together with all their instruments, vv.4-14.  Only then were the Kohathites permitted to enter the holy place and the most holy to carry off the vessels.  They must only use the staves and ensure they did “not touch any holy thing, lest they die” v.15.

Eleazar was linked with the service of the Kohathites in that to him “pertain[ed] the oil for the light, and the sweet incense, and the daily meat offering, and the anointing oil, and the oversight of all the tabernacle, and of all that therein is, in the sanctuary, and in the vessels thereof” v.16. 

To affirm the sacredness of all that was involved in the above, a special paragraph is added in vv.17-20.  “Thus do unto them, that they may live, and not die, when they approach unto the most holy things: Aaron and his sons shall go in, and appoint them every one to his service and to his burden: but they shall not go in to see when the holy things are covered, lest they die” Num.4.19,20.

While everything in the Tabernacle spoke of Christ’s glory, Ps.29.9, there was perhaps a special revelation of that glory in the sacred vessels described here.  This is perhaps the reason for extreme care being exercised.  The lesson for us is surely to recognise the majesty, mystery and inscrutability associated with His Person and to ensure an appropriate attitude of reverence and awe.  The ark was always covered in one of four ways: either with the vail when stationary, or (in addition to the vail) with the covering of badgers’ skins and a cloth wholly of blue (4.6) when journeying, or with the cloud of the glory of God, or with the incense on the ‘day of great atonement’.  Everything associated with it speaks intimately of Christ.

“The service of the families of the Gershonites” Num.4.24-28

The service of the Gershonites was “at the appointment of Aaron and his sons” v.27, and “under the hand of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest” v.28.  No fewer than three times is the word “burdens” used of their service, vv.24,27 (twice).  Their responsibility consisted of bearing the curtains, the coverings, the hangings for the door and the court and the gate.  It is likely that they would be the second on hand when the Tabernacle was to be built at the next stopping place.

“The service of the families of the sons of Merari” Num.4.31-33

The sons of Merari were responsible, also under the hand of Ithamar, for “the boards of the tabernacle, and the bars thereof, and the pillars thereof, and sockets thereof … and their pins, and their cords, with all their instruments, and with all their service: and by name ye shall reckon the instruments of the charge of their burden” vv.31,32.  It seems likely that they would be involved immediately on the work of construction when the children of Israel halted on their journeys.  They would be followed by the Gershonites and then the Kohathites.

There are many interesting lessons to be gleaned from the above threefold service.  Every believer has a work to do.  The gifts are diverse and given by a sovereign, triune God.  It is our responsibility to know our gift(s) and to use it (them) for His glory.  Also, there must be cooperation in the work.  There is no room for an attitude of superiority, 1Cor.12.18.  The three areas of service have been compared with the three permanent gifts of Eph.4.11.  The Merarites can be linked to the work of the evangelist in establishing new ground; the Gershonites, “strengthening with the cords, shielding with the coverings and beautifying with the curtains”,6 to the pastor, Acts 11.23; and the Kohathites, establishing everything in its order and place, to the teacher.  In this last case, for example, the brazen altar can be seen as typifying the basis of salvation through the blood, and the laver as speaking of sanctification in the water (of the Word), before entering the holy place for worship in the provision and light of the sanctuary. 

6.  Ritchie, J. “The Tabernacle in the Wilderness”. John Ritchie Ltd., No date.

The Consecration of the Levites

The details of the consecration of the Levites is given in Num.8.5-26.  It is not definite when these instructions were given; it is likely, however, that their practical inauguration would have taken place before the service delineated above in chapters 3 and 4.  The details have to do with both the external and the internal purification of the Levites. 

The external cleansing is summarised in vv.5-7.  Three matters were involved: “Thus shalt thou do unto them, to cleanse them: Sprinkle water of purifying upon them, and let them shave all their flesh, and let them wash their clothes, and so make themselves clean” v.7.  The lessons are clear: the application of the Word (compare Num.19.1-22), the removal of what is produced by the flesh and consistency of spiritual character are all involved.

Inward purification is depicted by the presentation of the offerings of vv.8-13.  Both a burnt offering with its associated meal offering and a sin offering were to be presented.  The value of the death of Christ based on a life of utter devotion to God is thus depicted, providing the righteous basis upon which devoted service to God could be administered.  On the basis of purification, the representatives of the people could lay their hands on the Levites and present them as their offering to Aaron before the Lord, and Aaron in turn could then offer them as a living sacrifice.  Likewise, the justified and sanctified believers of Romans chapters 1 to 8 should present themselves as “a living sacrifice” to God, Rom.12.1,2.

The consecrated Levites (see Num.3.40-51) are then again confirmed as representing the firstborn of the children of Israel, vv.14-22, and capable of being involved in “the service of the tabernacle” v.15.  Interestingly, this is also referred to as “the service of the Lord” v.11, and “the service of the children of Israel” v.19.  This is most important: service to the assembly and the Lord’s people should be seen pre-eminently as a service to the Lord.  Love for Him must be the motivating factor, Jn.21.15-17.  The Levites are given by God as a gift to Aaron and to his sons “to do the service of the children of Israel in the tabernacle of the congregation, and to make an atonement for the children of Israel: that there be no plague among the children of Israel, when the children of Israel come nigh unto the sanctuary” v.19.

This latter verse is interesting.  The Levites are not in this case making propitiation for past sins.  Rather it is the averting of God’s anger by preventing sin from being committed.  The sin would be two-fold: the non-performance of the rightful worship, and the too near approach of the people to the holy things.  The Levites are both substitutes for the people, and at the same time a cordon to keep them at a distance.

The consecrated Levites could now serve the Tabernacle on this occasion from 25 years of age until 50.  The lesson is clear: only consecrated believers should serve in every aspect of assembly life, no matter how apparently menial.  The difference between the 25 years mentioned here and the 30 in chapter 3 can be explained in two ways.  It may be that an ‘apprenticeship’ of five years is in view.  If so, the lesson is that time should be given for development and assessment before inauguration (see 1Tim.5.22; 3.6, for a New Testament parallel).  An alternative view is that the service here is less arduous and God is taking account of the capabilities of His servants.  It appears that at age 50 a helping hand could be given to the younger Levites (“shall minister with their brethren” 8.26); this is a good lesson for older believers.

The Compensation of the Levites

The details of their compensation is given in Num.18.1-7,20-32.  The priesthood had been questioned in chapters 16 and 17.  God is now reemphasising the dignity and sacredness and yet the responsibility associated with it.  In 18.1-7 the Levites are again seen as a gift to the priesthood: “to you they are given as a gift for the Lord, to do the service of the tabernacle of the congregation” v.6.  The nature of the service is indicated in vv.2,3: “that they may be joined unto thee, and minister unto thee … And they shall keep thy charge”.  The Father has given us as a love gift to His Son, John chapter 17 (seven times; see earlier discussion) so that we too can be involved in Divine service.  Being united eternally to Him we can minister to Him in worship and keep the “charge” He has freely given to us. 

The second main paragraph in this chapter dealing with the Levites is from vv.20-32.  The paragraph in between (vv.8-19) deals with the compensation for the priests.  Verses 20 to 32 deal with the compensation for the Levites.  The Levites were given “the tenth in Israel for an inheritance, for their service which they serve, even the service of the tabernacle of the congregation” v.21.  It was their responsibility thereafter to “offer up an heave offering of it for the Lord, even a tenth part of the tithe” v.26, to Aaron the priest.  They were to give “of all the best” v.29.  But the compensation would be sweet: “the increase of the threshingfloor, and… the increase of the winepress… ye shall eat it in every place, ye and your households: for it is your reward for your service in the tabernacle of the congregation” vv.30,31.

God is no man’s debtor.  All devoted service rendered to Him will be fully compensated in the end.  He deserves our best but He compensates proportionately!