by Jack Palmer, N. Ireland
To the eye of a non-Israelite the Tabernacle must have appeared as a most unusual, startling and strange sight. After all, nothing remotely like it had ever been seen before and there can be little doubt that its erection and emergence in the wilderness would have caused quite a stir, especially to an enquiring mind. The abiding cloud over it by day and the fire by night only added to the level of curiosity. Additionally, observation of how the respective tribes were positioned around it, in their designated places, would have emphasised that there was nothing haphazard or accidental about the encampment and its entirety. The most casual observer would acknowledge that there was an impressive underlying orderliness to it all; this to them must have been rather mysterious but to the better informed it would have been appreciated that it was made according to “the pattern of the tabernacle” Ex.25.9.
Moses was the recipient of the pattern. It was given to him by God and there was no place for human innovation, deviation or suggestion. God’s purpose was unequivocally “make Me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them” Ex.25.8. This instruction discloses in a beautiful way that God found pleasure dwelling among those who had experienced the delivering power and joy of redemption from Egyptian bondage, on the basis of the blood of the sacrificial lamb. By dwelling among them God established a principle that will endure eternally. When the Lord Jesus was in this world He “dwelt [‘tabernacled’] among us” Jn.1.14; in the present dispensation local assemblies like the church at Corinth “are the temple of God”, and “the Spirit of God dwelleth in [them]” 1Cor.3.16, and looking forward all the way to the eternal state it shall ever be that “the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God” Rev.21.3. It should not of course be overlooked that this precious principle was first established at the beginning when God and Adam enjoyed communion, prior to its interruption through man’s sinful disobedience. It is reassuring that satanic subtlety and human failure cannot and will never be allowed to thwart the fulfilment of Divine purpose.
The Tabernacle or ‘tent of meeting’ consisted of two main compartments, namely the holy place and the Holiest of all. Both compartments were covered and protected in a fourfold way: the first two are described in Exodus chapter 26 as curtains, while the remaining two are accurately described in the same chapter as coverings. Speaking generally, the curtains were mainly for decoration whereas the coverings offered protection. It is worth observing that the outer covering consisted of badgers’ skins. Both compartments were separated by the vail, and the way into the holy place was facilitated by the door; details of both are provided in Exodus chapter 26. The area outside the Tabernacle has often been described as the outer court, within which stood the laver and the brazen altar. Chapters will be devoted to all of these later in this book so it is not appropriate to go into any detail at this juncture, neither is it the subject of this particular chapter, save to point out that the Tabernacle itself and the outer court were surrounded by what is called the court, Ex.27.9-19; 35.17,18; 38.16-20. The instructions for the court also include details of the gate of the court. It is worth bearing in mind that while the title of this particular chapter is ‘The Court’ it will also deal with the gate, referred to in the “hanging for the door of the court” Ex.35.17, and “the hanging for the gate of the court” Ex.38.18.
The Tabernacle structure itself, the outer court and all the vessels positioned in it were surrounded by a wall of white, apart from the multi-coloured gate. Without addressing the significance of the materials specified for the court presently (this will come later in this chapter), the court filled a number of vital functions. Firstly, it offered protection to all that lay within and was the first line of defence in guarding the way of approach to God, similarly to how the way back into the garden of Eden was protected after sin had entered. Secondly, it was the means of separation between the within and the without; after all, the principle of separation had been firmly established at the beginning by the distinction so definitely made between day and night, Gen.1.15. Thirdly, the court was unique in its presentation to the outside world: it radiated purity and righteousness in a dark place. Fourthly, its declaration was unmistakably clear: that there was a way of approach to the dwelling place of God.
The entire Tabernacle was an actual material construction consisting of wood and gold, silver and brass and various fabrics such as fine twined linen, goats’ hair, rams’ skins dyed red and badgers’ skins. It was in reality a “worldly sanctuary” Heb.9.1. This does not infer that there was anything evil about it but it rather emphasises that the Tabernacle belonged to this world and as such it was material, tangible and visible, and therefore, by virtue of these things, it was temporary. While it was erected historically, it was nonetheless “a figure for the time then present” Heb.9.9. The Greek word parabole translated “figure” is the one from which we get the word parable. In the context of Hebrews chapter 9 it is used of one thing which also at the same time represents another. We are not left to speculate about what that other matter might be: Scripture makes it ever so clear that “Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands [the historical Tabernacle], which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us” Heb.9.24. In this light let us observe that Scripture provides an irrefutable basis for viewing every aspect of the Tabernacle in its parabolic context; this lays an important foundation for what follows in this chapter.
Just as the Tabernacle was raised up in the wilderness, so too “the Word was made [‘became’ Newberry margin] flesh, and dwelt [‘tabernacled’ Newberry margin] among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” Jn.1.14. Several other Scriptures draw similar parallels, so there is a solid basis for searching and finding the Person of Christ in the Tabernacle. Indeed, none other than the Lord Jesus confirmed such a glorious possibility when He drew near to the two on their journey to the village called Emmaus and “beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself” Lk.24.27. How privileged we are to have the light of the New Testament Scriptures on “the things … written aforetime” Rom.15.4; this is something the people and indeed the priests never had when the Tabernacle was first erected and subsequently moved from one location to another. While Christ is traceable and discernible in every detail of the pattern, it is worth observing that He can be viewed in a broad twofold way: firstly, as to how He is seen and appreciated by God, His Father, and secondly, as to how He was presented to and seen by the outside world. It is this second aspect that will be prominent in our consideration of the court.
While many fail to countenance non-Christological reflections, it would be inappropriate and unedifying to be overly restrictive. To do so would cause us to lose sight of some of the most helpful, suggestive and constructive contemplations relating to God dwelling in the midst of His people, and their ensuing responsibilities, whether in relation to God or men. Such aspects are particularly pertinent to any consideration of the court, given its rather special function as the interface, reflecting holiness and righteousness, between the inward and outward aspects of Tabernacle teaching.
Much has been made of the extensive coverage given to the Tabernacle in the Holy Scriptures and of the fact that a high degree of repetition highlights the God-given significance of all the inherent instruction and teaching. Again, the amount of detail given repeatedly about each and every item is remarkable. This is equally true of the court, and it ought to remove any danger of the court not being given the attention it fully deserves. On the one hand, it comes last in the order in which God gave the instructions, that is, He started with the furnishings for the Holiest of all and moved step by step from within to without. On the other hand, when drawing near to God, man must move from the outside in an inward direction. Without entering through the gate there can be no avenue of approach; in this connection the Lord Jesus said, “No man cometh unto the Father but by Me” Jn.14.6. In summary, everything typically began and finished with Christ, and in a very real and precious sense there were no dispensable or less important parts. With this firmly established let us consider with care and attention what the Scriptures present about the court:
The court is introduced as “the court of the tabernacle” Ex.27.9. Several other subsequent descriptions develop the concept; these include “the hangings of the court” Ex.35.17; 38.16; 39.40, and “the hanging at the court gate” Ex.40.8. Details of the “gate of the court” are found in Ex.27.16; it is referred to as “the court gate” Ex.38.15,31, and we also read of “the hangings of the court, and the hanging for the door of the gate of the court” Num.4.26. According to Strong1 (H2690) “court” is derived from the Hebrew word khat-tsar, whose root meaning is ‘to surround with a stockade, and thus separate from the open country’. A kindred word carries the idea of a yard as enclosed by a fence, or of a hamlet surrounded by a wall. These are very accurate and becoming pictures of all conveyed by the concept of the court; in summary, it offered separation and protection from the outside world but at the same time it provided a solitary access to the precious provisions located within its clearly specified confines.
- 1. Strong, James. “The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible”. “H2690” refers to entry number 2690 in the Hebrew section of the Concordance.
It would be imprudent not to mention where the Tabernacle, including the court, was erected. It is described as “the tabernacle of the Lord, which Moses made in the wilderness” 1Chr.21.29, and as “the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness” Acts 7.44. It was a temporary erection, which was moved under Divine guidance from one location to another, and was a testimony in a bleak and testing environment to the fact that God had a dwelling place upon earth. While this was in the first place a foreshadowing of the Lord Jesus, Who “was in the world … and the world knew Him not” Jn.1.10, it is also a fitting illustration of locally established gathering centres, where the Lord’s presence can be enjoyed, even though they are in the midst of a hostile, difficult and defiled world. The assembly at Corinth, a spiritual wilderness, is suitably described as “God’s husbandry [‘cultivated field’ Newberry margin]” 1Cor.3.9, that is, a place of pleasure and fruitfulness in a barren and unproductive world. In a similar vein, each and every believer should ever appreciate that, although His people are living in this world, the Lord Jesus said that “they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” Jn.17.16.
- This world is a wilderness wide;
- I have nothing to seek or to choose;
- I’ve no thought in the waste to abide;
- I’ve nought to regret or to lose.
- (John N. Darby)
It was not within the gift of man to decide the exact spot for erection of the Tabernacle. This was Divinely communicated, Num.9.19-21. Having arrived at the place determined, the entire structure had to be positioned in a specified manner: it must face in an east/west direction, that is, the gate of the court must face toward the east and the Tabernacle (the actual tent of meeting) was located toward the west. The significance of the east will be expanded later in this chapter; it is sufficient to observe at this juncture that the concept of progressing from east to west is highly significant. In the natural realm the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Each day is a mini snapshot of the whole cycle of life, beginning at birth and moving on to the day of death. This emphasises the vital matter of progression, and it is encouraging to note that everything has been put in place to make approach to God so graciously and gloriously possible.
Instructions for the movements of the Tabernacle from one location to another are given in Numbers chapter 4. All the allocated responsibilities fell to priestly hands, and as far as the court was concerned, these were committed to “the families of the sons of Merari” Num.4.33. While their charge included both the largest and the weightiest items, they were also called upon to take care of some of the tiniest articles. Space precludes any detailed comment on this, save to point out that holiness and faithfulness were indispensable requirements in the undertaking of their responsibilities.
Before considering the detail of the specification it is important to note the authoritative manner in which the instructions were given. There was no room for deviation; God clearly declared to Moses, “And thou shalt make the court of the tabernacle …” Ex.27.9. It is always good to have a Scriptural basis for all that we do! It is equally good to remember that the command was constant, regardless of any change of location.
Dimensions of the Court – Its Scale
The exact measurements are given in Ex.27.9-13. It was one hundred cubits2 long on the south and north sides, and fifty cubits wide on the west and east sides, giving a total area of five thousand square cubits. It was large enough to accommodate the brazen altar, the laver and the Tabernacle itself. The brazen altar, the place of sacrifice, speaks so eloquently of salvation; the laver, the place of cleansing, presents the truth of sanctification, while the Tabernacle, with its twin compartments of the holy place and the Holiest of all, was the sphere of priestly service. To find such an expansive, accommodative place in the hostile environment of the wilderness was truly remarkable; it was a tribute to the ability and abundance of our God. With gratitude we can say, “He brought me forth also into a large place” Ps.18.19. In New Testament language it was “a large upper room furnished” Lk.22.12.
- 2. A cubit was an ancient measurement of length, approximately equal to the length of a forearm. It was typically about 18 inches (about 46 centimetres), though there was also a long cubit of about 21 inches (about 53 centimetres).
A cursory contemplation of the dimensions highlights the significance of the number ten. Apart from the height of the hanging of the court (five cubits, which is a factor of ten), the other measurements are multiples of ten, including the twenty-cubit-wide gate. This number also featured in the instructions for other aspects of the overall structure, such as the boards and the curtains. Its repetition stresses the vital matter of responsibility. After all, the ten commandments of the Law carried a responsibility in the matter of obedience and the fact that we have ten toes and ten fingers continually draws attention to the reality that we are responsible for where we go and what we do. Failure in the exercise of responsibility brings calamitous consequences.
While shouldering responsibility is never easy, it is something to be admired and encouraged. This was appropriately illustrated in the experience of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah when, in Babylon, “the king appointed them a daily provision of the king’s meat, and of the wine which he drank” Dan.1.5. Rather than acquiesce, they felt their responsibility toward God, Whom they trusted and fearlessly put to the test. In response Daniel requested that they be given “pulse to eat, and water to drink” for ten days: “then let our countenances be looked upon before thee, and the countenance of the children that eat of the portion of the king’s meat: and as thou seest, deal with thy servants” Dan.1.12,13. What an outcome! “And at the end of ten days their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king’s meat” Dan.1.15. They proved “it is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man. It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes [the best of men]” Ps.118.8,9. May we be enabled to shoulder our responsibilities with similar God-placed confidence. In contrast, the account of the ten virgins in Matthew chapter 25, while largely prophetic, reveals that, although they possessed their own vessels, each had a responsibility to secure a supply of oil for herself. In this all-important matter five failed, with disastrous consequences, and were deemed to be foolish. It would be much better to fulfil our responsibilities, and be numbered among the wise!
Display of the Hangings – Their Significance
Length and Breadth
The measurements of the entire external hangings are detailed in Ex.27.9-16. Excluding the gate, which was twenty cubits wide, the entire length of this exquisite wall of white totalled two hundred and eighty cubits. It should be observed that the two hundred and eighty cubits specified for the hangings of the court equalled those specified for the inner curtains of the Tabernacle (there were ten curtains, each twenty-eight cubits long, Ex.26.1,2). This confirms that there is a very close correlation between the inward and outward aspects of testimony bearing. Our Lord Jesus was no different, whether before God or men. Unlike us, He was free from inconsistencies. Writing to magnify the perfection and beauty of the Saviour’s humanity, Luke records that He “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man” Lk.2.52. Again, it is written of Him that He “loved righteousness and hated iniquity; therefore God, even Thy God, hath anointed Thee with the oil of gladness above Thy fellows” Heb.1.9. It is also important to observe that 280 days is the time frame used in the medical world to calculate the period of human gestation. This is a timely reminder of the true humanity of the Lord Jesus. Truly He was “found in fashion as a man” Phil.2.8, and well might we remember that “never man spake like this man” Jn.7.46. There was only ever one perfectly qualified to reconcile men to God; how instructive to realise that “there is one God, one mediator also between God and men, Himself man, Christ Jesus” 1Tim.2.5, R.V.
- Verily God, yet become truly human –
- Lower than angels – to die in our stead;
- How hast Thou, long promised Seed of the woman,
- Trod on the serpent and bruisèd his head!
- (H. d’A. Champney)
Both the hangings of the court and of the gate were five cubits high. As such it stood much taller than a person of average or normal stature; this of course meant that if any, including those encamped nearby, were to observe what took place within its precincts it could only be possible by entering through the solitary gate. What an assurance to know that there is a way of approach: if the wall of linen five cubits high kept people at bay, God in His goodness prescribed five principal offerings to open an avenue of approach. This principle was endorsed when the Lord Jesus instructed Nicodemus centuries later, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” Jn.3.3. If the imposing outer wall guarded against prying eyes from without, it equally preserved those engaged inside from occupation with external affairs. John Grant has helpfully suggested that “the hangings ensured that they could not see the activity outside, so that they could not be distracted from the work in hand. How easy it would be to have one’s attention occupied with what was taking place outside.”3 We do need to guard against turning our eyes in an unspiritual direction. A casual reflection on the experiences such as those of Lot, Genesis chapter 13; David, 2Samuel chapter 11; and Peter, Matthew chapter 14, would magnify the very real dangers of such unwelcome and unhealthy distractions.
- 3. Grant, J. “What the Bible Teaches – Exodus”. John Ritchie Ltd., Kilmarnock, 2004.
Of all the men mentioned in the Bible Goliath was the only one who would have been tall enough to see over the hangings of the court. At a height of six cubits and a span, 1Sam.17.4, he was a product of the flesh, and while he may have been able to look over, it would have meant absolutely nothing to him. It is, and will ever be the case, that “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” 1Cor.2.14.
The specified material for all three hundred cubits of the wall of the court, including the gate, was “fine twined linen”. There were different brands of linen. For example, the breeches worn by the priest were made of a coarser texture and of a duller finish. In contrast, the “fine twined linen” was of a smoother texture; it was silken to touch, white, glistening and reflective in appearance. It is entirely appropriate that of the occasion of “the marriage supper of the Lamb” we read, “‘His wife hath made herself ready.’ And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints” Rev.19.7-9. There can, therefore, be no doubt that fine linen represents a clean, pure and perfectly balanced life. Such a life is only seen in our Lord Jesus Christ. This is exactly how He was in this world. Just as the hangings were free from stain or spot, so He was without blemish, fault or failure: “He is altogether lovely” S of S.5.16. How blessed to appreciate that He is beyond the reach of sin. His witness is true: “the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in Me” Jn.14.30.
- O spotless Lamb of God, in Thee
- The Father’s holiness we see;
- And with delight Thy children trace,
- In Thee, His wondrous love and grace.
- (Mary J. Walker)
The wilderness environment surrounding the Tabernacle and the more immediate encampments provided a contrasting backdrop to the one long, unbroken, pure, unblemished wall of radiant white. It was altogether outstanding in its unsulliedness, its uprightness and its uniformity. There was neither a blotch, nor blemish nor breach to be seen, features only found, in all their fulness, in the One Who “was in the world” Jn.1.10, and Whose “delights were with the sons of men” Prov.8.31. The Saviour carried a stateliness and dignity unique to Himself and communicated a full revelation of God to the men of this world. How delightful to reflect on His precious declaration: “he that hath seen Me hath seen the Father” Jn.14.9, and to ever remember that while “no man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him” Jn.1.18.
How is our Lord Jesus seen in our world presently? It is true that He is made known in the preaching of the message of the gospel but it is equally true that He is and should be seen in the lives of those who belong to Him. Such are called upon to “be blameless and harmless [pure], the sons of God, without rebuke [blame] in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; holding forth the word of life” Phil.2.15,16. The standard is unrelenting and rational: “as He which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, ‘Be ye holy; for I am holy’” 1Pet.1.15,16. Again, it shall ever be remembered that when the Saviour “bare our sins in His own body on the tree” His purpose was “that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness” 1Pet.2.24. We should never forget that we “were sometimes darkness, but now are [we] light in the Lord” and as such we are expected to “walk as children of light: (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;) proving what is acceptable unto the Lord” Eph.5.8-10. Shouldering these responsibilities is in the first instance before God; it also communicates a clear, consistent testimony man-ward, and in a personal way brings important assurances self-ward, insomuch as “ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of Him” 1Jn.2.29.
The primary purpose of the typology is to present Christ in all His glory as He was in the world. As seen in the outer wall of the court, everything bears the hallmark of purity and holiness without a solitary trace of imperfection.
- What grace, O Lord, and beauty shone
- Around Thy steps below!
- What patient love was seen in all
- Thy life and death of woe!
- (Edward Denny)
When the typology is applied to man the story is very different. Scripture abounds in examples of human failure. While it is prudent to be aware of and warn against such shortcomings, it is not the purpose of this chapter to highlight them; rather its goal is to magnify the beauties of the Lord Jesus Himself so that we may be occupied more and more with Him. As we ponder Him may our affections be entwined around Him Who is “far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come” Eph.1.21.
Durability of the Pillars – Their Stability
Having observed something of the glory of Christ presented to an onlooking world, it is important to give attention to how such a consistently splendid presentation was upheld. It is beyond dispute that what was seen outwardly in Him was intimately connected to His unchanging glory, work and worth. Any attempt to distinguish how He appeared in the eyes of men from His essentiality would be entirely unscriptural and promote fundamental error. Without losing sight of Christ and the various aspects of His glory, it is neither difficult nor inappropriate to discern instructive and motivational pictures of believers and their responsibilities to Himself and the world around. Commenting on the court William McClure added, “It brings the Lord Jesus Christ before us in a most wonderful way, in the various offices that He sustains toward His people. It gives us many blessed views of that work upon which our hopes for eternity rest. It sets forth also, the great Worker Himself, and there are few truths connected with the believer’s standing and walk, which are not seen in type in some part of the Tabernacle.”4 With that in mind let us examine the pillars and their:
- 4. McClure, W.J. “Lectures on the Tabernacle”. John Ritchie Ltd., Kilmarnock.
There is a degree of ambiguity about the precise number of the pillars. This relates to the number of pillars at each of the four corners. While it is impossible to be dogmatic, it is most likely that there were sixty pillars in total, that is, twenty on the south side, twenty on the north side, ten on the west side and ten on the east side, with three on either side of the gate, which hung on the four central pillars; this is succinctly described in Ex.27.9-16. The premise that there were sixty pillars accommodates important suggestions. It has been noted already that ten is the number of responsibility. A division of sixty by ten equals six, which has consistently been man’s number: man was created on the sixth day, man’s labour consisted of six days and, looking forward, the number six, six, six will be highly significant but clearly indicative of the furthest that man can reach in his arrogant self-exaltation. In summary, the sixty pillars convey in an unmistakable way something of the weighty responsibility of believers to present and uphold our Lord Jesus Christ to the outside world. Some have helpfully drawn attention to the guarding of Solomon’s bed by those “threescore [that is, sixty] valiant men … the valiant of Israel. They all hold swords, being expert in war: every man hath his sword upon his thigh because of fear in the night” S of S.3.7,8. These were able, active men who stood poised in the face of danger to guard and protect the one they loved and represented. A need not only remains, but is becoming more and more pressing, for those who, out of devotion, will rise to the challenge of representing and defending the Person and glories of our Lord Jesus at a time of increasing darkness and deception.
Each of the boards of the Tabernacle rested on two sockets of silver, whereas each one of the sixty pillars of the court was placed upon a socket of brass, or copper. With this in mind it is important to observe that the boards and the pillars both represent the Lord’s people in different realms and relationships. Explaining this distinction William McClure elaborates that “in the boards, firm in their silver sockets, we see God’s people in their standing before God; while in the pillars around the court, we see them in their responsibility in the world.”5 In a similar vein, their standing before God was on the basis of redemption, as seen in the silver, whereas in the eye of men it was on the grounds of Divine righteousness, as seen in the brass.
- 5. McClure, W.J., ibid.
According to Strong6 (H0134) the concept of a socket found its origin in a Hebrew word suggesting a sense of strength such as a basis for a building or a column. The constitution of the socket is of equal significance: each socket for the pillars of the court was made of brass, or, more accurately, of copper. This metal was chosen for its ability to endure and withstand extreme heat. It was also for this reason that the large altar which stood just within the gate of the court should be made of “shittim [acacia] wood” and overlaid “with brass [copper]” Ex.27.1,2. This was the place where the fire was applied to the sacrifices and the claims of Divine righteousness fully met. Applying this glorious truth to the foundation of each of the pillars, it is neither difficult nor unscriptural to see a heart- warming picture of the child of God finding a perfect standing before God on the grounds of the finished work of Christ, the One Who once and for all endured the flame of Divine vengeance and fully satisfied every righteous and holy demand. With wonder and unshod feet we reflect upon the fire sent from above into His bones, Lam.1.13. It is worth remembering that in the days of Elijah “the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench” 1Kgs.18.38, but at Calvary it was altogether different, in that the sacrifice consumed the fire in all of its ferocity and intensity.
- 6. Strong, James, ibid.
With much joy and gratitude we rest in the unshakable security afforded by virtue of our righteous standing before God. This is an undeserved but unchanging position beyond challenge or reversal. But at what a cost! “For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made [or ‘become’] the righteousness of God in Him” 2Cor.5.21.
- Rise, my soul! behold ’tis Jesus,
- Jesus fills Thy wond’ring eyes;
- See Him now in glory seated,
- Where thy sins no more can rise.
- There, in righteousness transcendent,
- Lo! He doth in heaven appear,
- Shows the blood of His atonement
- As thy title to be there.
- (J. Denham Smith)
Having noted that each pillar stood on a socket of brass, let us observe that the top of each was adorned with an ornamental crown, described as “chapiters of silver” Ex.38.17. The Hebrew word translated “chapiters”, according to Strong6 (H7218), carries the concept of captain, head or chiefest; this sets forth the very high station of both the Redeemer and the redemption. While these crowns were pleasant to the eye and signified beauty and dignity of stature, they also pointed to the upward and onward aspects of redemption. Presently, as far as the soul is concerned, “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” Eph.1.7, but with joyful anticipation we are “waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body” Rom.8.23. Amid all the limitation and frailty of our present bodies we can live in the assurance and expectation of that moment when “we shall all be changed” 1Cor.15.51. Increasingly we “look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body [‘the body of His glory’ Newberry margin], according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself” Phil.3.20,21.
- And is it so! we shall be like Thy Son,
- Is this the grace which He for us has won?
- Father of glory! (thought beyond all thought)
- In glory to His own blest likeness brought.
- (John N. Darby)
Much would be lost without proper consideration of the arrangements prescribed for securing the firm standing of the pillars. These involved “the pins of the court, and their cords” Ex.35.18. In this connection it is important to note that “all the pins of the tabernacle, and of the court round about, were of brass” Ex.38.20. It is evident that the cords stretched from their attachment at the top of the pillars to the pins driven in tent-peg-like fashion into the ground. Henry Soltau explains that “by means of these pins of brass, the tabernacle and the court were securely fastened to the desert ground; so that no storm, or flood of water could sweep away this structure, although many of the materials were such as to be easily affected by the wind or rain. May we be reminded by this type of the steadfast purpose of Christ, to pursue the path marked out for Him by the counsels of God, even though that path ended in the storm of judgment, and in the billows of wrath.”8 It is helpful to observe that the word “pin” is also translated “nail”, for example to describe the tent pin or iron nail Jael drove into the temples of Sisera, Judges chapter 4. In a Christological application it is with much adoration we consider Him as “a nail in a sure place” Isa.22.23. Everything about the Saviour, whether it be His Person or His work, is so steadfast, secure and unwaveringly solid.
- 8. Soltau, H.W. “The Tabernacle, the Priesthood and the Offerings”. Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1972.
Additionally, the pins speak so appropriately of the power available to the children of God, not only to keep them secure, firm and unmovable in their relationship to Him, but also from every aspect of encroaching danger. How precious to be assured that we ‘‘are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” 1Pet.1.5! Our hearts rise in gratitude to Him “that is able to keep [us] from falling, and to present [us] faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy” Jude v.24.
Just as the pins were indispensable in securing the standing of the pillars, so too were the cords. Neither the material from which they were made nor their thickness was specified. They nonetheless provided a vital connecting function, and in this regard they represent a most becoming picture of faith. Mention is never given to the amount of faith required. The key lies in the One in Whom faith is exercised. While there is no merit in faith as such, it is good to be numbered among those that “have obtained like precious faith … through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” 2Pet.1.1. At times our faith can be put to the test, especially in the struggles and storms of life. We have much to learn from the rebuke of the Lord Jesus to His disciples on the occasion of the storm on the lake when “He said unto them, ‘Why are ye so fearful? how is it ye have no faith?’” Mk.4.40. May we have the strength to be able in every trying circumstance of life to say in reality, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him” Job 13.15.
The need for the unshakable consolidation of the pillars must be contemplated in light of their weighty responsibilities. Their function, speaking of Christ primarily and of His people secondarily, was to consistently and continually uphold the wall of fine twined linen. The close relationship of Christ to His own cannot be overemphasised; let it ever be remembered that “both He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren” Heb.2.11. As He stood and held fast, the burden of responsibility to be like Him is totally inescapable. May we ever be mindful of His command to the church at Philadelphia: “hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown” Rev.3.11, and of the apostle Paul’s repeated exhortations to “stand fast” 1Cor.16.13; Gal.5.1; Phil.1.27; 4.1; 1Thess.3.8; 2Thess.2.15.
The similarity of each of the pillars is most impressive. They shared a common standing and crown of decoration, and were supported by the same cords and pins. In addition, we read: “all the pillars round about the court shall be filleted with silver” Ex.27.17. It is generally accepted that the word employed for fillets signified connecting rods. If there is some ambiguity about where these rods were positioned in relation to the pillars, there can be no doubt whatsoever about their preciousness and purpose. While it is most likely that they provided support for the hangings of the court, their main function was to create a unifying link between each of the pillars. The significance of the fact that these rods were made of silver cannot be overstated. Silver is described as “the atonement money of the children of Israel” and it was used “for the service of the tabernacle of the congregation” Ex.30.16. William McClure helpfully comments: “The atonement money was a half shekel, that each Israelite above 20 years gave for his ransom.”9 It is specifically recorded that “of the thousand seven hundred seventy and five shekels he made hooks for the pillars, and overlaid their chapiters, and filleted them” Ex.38.28. How precious to note that the link between each pillar found its basis in the atonement or redemptive money!
- 9. McClure, W.J., ibid.
No stretch of imagination is required to perceive a beautiful picture of the people of God in the unity of their relationship and responsibilities one toward another, all established “by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” Rom.3.24. This unity bridges all barriers. In a world where diversity is so common let us appreciate that “by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free, and have been all made to drink into one Spirit” 1Cor.12.13. Let us also appreciate that in Him “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace; wherein He hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence” Eph.1.7,8, and that we are “no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God” Eph.2.19.
Such a standing does not relieve us of our practical and spiritual responsibilities: we are exhorted to “bear … one another’s burdens” Gal.6.2, to “comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men” 1Thess.5.14, and the Lord Jesus commanded, “… love one another; as I have loved you” Jn.13.34. In regard to the fact that each pillar was joined with a connecting rod of silver C.A. Coates observes that “it indicates again that there is no place in the divine system for independency, or for the voluntary association of believers in accord with their own thoughts. It is most important to recognise the divine bonds which link saints together … children in the one family of God”.10 May we be marked “with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” Eph.4.2,3; in summary, let us “love the brotherhood” 1Pet.2.17.
- 10. Coates, C.A. “Outline of the Book of Exodus”. Stow Hill Bible and Tract Depot, Kingston-on-Thames.
Having observed the indispensable, unifying function of the connecting rods, it is equally important to emphasise that the fine twined linen of the exterior wall was held firmly in place by hooks of silver, Ex.27.10. A further iteration of the significance of the silver is neither necessary nor appropriate at this juncture, save to highlight that the glorious theme of redemption permeated the court in its entire presentation to the outside world. Every facet of public testimony is firmly established on the bedrock of redemption, and if this is the case now, it will be eternally; the anthem of heaven shall unceasingly proclaim, “Thou art worthy … for Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood” Rev.5.9.
Of all the instructions given repeatedly for the Tabernacle nothing is specified in regard to either the height or the material of which the pillars were made. Admittedly, it is possible to reach an approximate conclusion of the height of the pillars given that the fine twined linen which hung on them was five cubits high, Ex.27.18. There can be no doubt that these details were communicated to Moses when he was given the pattern and was commanded to make all things according to that pattern. These particular details were in turn communicated to those with the responsibility for their composition and erection but Scripture remains silent on this particular point.
A superficial reading of Ex.27.10 suggests that the pillars were made of brass but it is important to observe that the words “shall be of” are italicised in the Authorised Version and should therefore be omitted. This changes the meaning of the verse and provides no basis whatsoever for saying the pillars were constituted of brass. For example, Darby’s rendering is, ‘‘… and the twenty pillars thereof, and their twenty bases of copper”. The pillars were certainly not made of gold because gold was only visible within the Tabernacle itself, and the fact that the bases and the chapiters or crowns were made of brass and silver respectively would rule out these metals. Without being dogmatic it is most likely they were made of shittim wood. Such wood primarily spoke of the true and perfect humanity of the Lord Jesus, Who radiated all the beauty and purity of His unique and spotless character, presented in the white wall of fine twined linen, to a watching hostile world. As previously noted, the pillars also highlight the weighty responsibility of believers to uphold the beauty and glory of the Saviour, and in this important sense are viewed as standing in association with Himself. Let us heed the exhortation, given by an imprisoned Paul to Timothy, not to be “ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God” 2Tim.1.8.
The non-disclosure of the material of the pillars is highly significant. Looking from the outside the pillars were excluded from view. In public testimony nothing of man should be seen. Just as the apostle Paul was clear that it was the Divine purpose “to reveal His Son in me” Gal.1.16, so we too should ever be careful to ensure that no man be seen “save Jesus only” Matt.17.8, bearing in mind that “no flesh should glory in His presence” 1Cor.1.29.
Display of the Gate – Its Scope
Thus far our meditation has focused on the court wall as an instrument of segregation and protection. In coming to the gate, its primary function was rather to provide a God-planned way of priestly approach unto Himself. With this in view, let us observe the gate and its:
In giving instructions, God began with the ark and mercy seat and ended with the gate. In between there was the holy place, the laver and the brazen altar. As we have already observed, all of these lay along a perfect east-west axis and each depicted important indispensable stages in drawing near to God, for example, in the gate the primary consideration is man’s distance, whereas in the brazen altar man’s guilt is emphasised. All of this stresses that there are no ‘shortcuts’ in the pathway of approach to God and that His standards will ever remain totally unchangeable.
The east side of the court (like the west) measured fifty cubits and the gate was located in the centre. On either side of it were hangings of fifteen cubits, making the width of the gate twenty cubits. It hung on four pillars, Ex.27.16. It is of interest that the vail also hung on four pillars, Ex.26.32. In contrast, the “the door of the tent” hung on five pillars, Ex.26.37. Four, the universal number, instantly draws attention to the four Gospels, whereas five would be suggestive of the five New Testament Epistle writers, John, Jude, James, Peter and Paul. In this connection it is helpful (broadly speaking) to regard Matthew as writing his Gospel for the Jews, Mark for the Romans, Luke for the Greeks and John for the world.
The gate, twenty cubits wide and five cubits high, gave a total area of one hundred cubits square. It was, therefore, sufficiently wide for all to enter. The door of the tent was ten cubits wide and ten cubits high; again this was an overall area of one hundred square cubits; this places significance on the height. Thus, the dimensions of both gate and door speak so eloquently of the unlimited provision and power of the grace of God. With much gratitude we will ever be mindful that He “gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time” 1Tim.2.6.
- Oh, the height and depth of mercy!
- Oh, the length and breadth of love!
- Oh, the fulness of redemption,
- Pledge of endless life above!
- (Fanny J. Crosby)
The gate of the court was of “blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen, wrought with needlework” Ex.27.16. The multicoloured hangings stood in vivid contrast to the surrounding white linen wall. As has already been noted, the linen typified the incorruptible purity of the Lord Jesus and the “needlework [‘the work of the embroiderer’ R.V.]” magnified His incomparable beauty. John Grant helpfully points out that “these colours are the same as those on the door and the vail except that, in the latter, cherubims were embroidered”.11 The absence of the cherubim is most reassuring; there is nothing to bar the way in as they did at the beginning when they “and a flaming sword” were put in place “to keep the way of the tree of life” Gen.3.24.
- 11. Grant, J., ibid.
The colours portrayed on such exquisite material highlighted the appeal and attractiveness of the gate. Everything was upheld on the fine twined linen; this directs our attention to the moral perfections of the Saviour as seen throughout the Gospel by Luke. At its commencement He is described to the virgin as “that holy thing which shall be born of thee”, and at its conclusion His precious body was “wrapped … in linen, and laid … in a sepulchre” Lk.1.35; 23.53. Observe also that the linen was wrought with needlework; the Lord Jesus was beautifully, totally and perfectly human.
Blue, the heavenly colour, takes us in thought to the Gospel by John, to the One Who “came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven” Jn.3.13. He himself declared three times in John chapter 6 that He came down from heaven, vv.33,38,51. Truly “the Word was made [‘became’] flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” Jn.1.14. Beyond all doubt the blue proclaims His essential glory.
We will make a brief comment on the purple, which traditionally has been the colour worn by kings, particularly those of a Gentile background. The Gospel of Mark was written primarily with a Gentile reader in mind; it is no coincidence that it is Mark who records of the Roman soldiers that “they clothed Him with purple, and platted a crown of thorns, and put it about His head, and began to salute Him, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’” Mk.15.17,18. The One Who “is despised and rejected of men” Isa.53.3, will one day pick up the reins of government and rule in uninterrupted power and glory in the realm where He was crowned in mockery and derision. Let us note Mark’s presentation of His universal royal glory.
The scarlet [‘worm scarlet’ Newberry margin] was the product of suffering and death. William McClure explains: “the colour was gotten from a worm dried and pulverized. And herein we see the marvellous grace of One who, from eternity, was in the bosom of the Father, the One who was the Maker of the worlds, who would stoop down, down, until He could say, ‘I am a worm and no man!’”12 Let us never forget that “they stripped Him, and put on Him a scarlet robe” Matt.27.28; let us never lose sight of His unique sacrificial glory.
- 12. Grant, J., ibid.
It is important to note that the gate was situated on the east side and therefore looked toward the direction of the rising sun. Those approaching were subject to the scrutiny of the light; they must face the reality of their true condition and position before drawing near to God. Scripture is consistent in its teaching that the “east” is indicative of distance from God. It has already been noted that Adam was driven out of the garden and the way back was barred at the east, Gen.3.24. Observe also that “Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden” Gen.4.16, and that “Lot journeyed east” Gen.13.11. In this context it is with much delight that we reflect upon those wise men who came from the east bearing their gifts of appreciation and adoration. We shall be thankful eternally that there is a way back from such distance, and ponder with freshness the Saviour’s announcement, “I am the door: by Me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture” Jn.10.9.
No meditation on the gate would be complete without stressing that there was only one avenue of approach. All who entered into the Tabernacle precincts must come by the way of the gate. The Lord Jesus, in fulfilment of this ancient illustration affirmed, “I am the way, the truth, and life: no man cometh unto the Father but by Me” Jn.14.6.
The court, not always given the prominence it deserves, is in its entirety full of rich foreshadowings of the glorious Person of Christ. These draw out our affections in fresh appreciation to Himself. In parallel, there are unmistakable reminders of the weighty responsibilities resting upon those who belong to Him, to uphold His honour and represent Him in a hostile world where He was rejected and shamefully crucified. It is also our burden and prayerful desire that some not yet saved may, through the reading of this chapter, come to an understanding of their need and an appreciation of the Lord Jesus as their Saviour and Lord.