by Jack Hay, Scotland
THE CURTAINS OF FINE TWINED LINEN
THE COVERING OF RAMS’ SKINS DYED RED
THE COVERING OF BADGERS’ SKINS
The pattern for the curtains and coverings of the Tabernacle is outlined in verses 1-14 of Exodus chapter 26, with the details replicated when wise hearted men applied themselves to the task of implementing that pattern, Ex.36.8-19. Four layers of fabric enclosed the boards and created a ceiling and roof for the structure. As ever, the detail is given from the inside out and thus the order is: the linen curtains and the goats’ hair curtains, followed by the two that are designated “coverings” (the rams’ skins dyed red and the outer covering of badgers’ skins).
We will see the Lord Jesus portrayed in each of these. Because the linen curtains are labelled “the tabernacle” Ex.26.1, we feel that we have liberty to apply features of curtains and coverings to Him. John wrote that “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” Jn.1.14, and the word “dwelt” carries the idea of pitching a tent. Frequently then, we hear Jn.1.14 quoted as follows: “The Word became flesh, and tabernacled among us”. Right on the threshold of his Gospel, John is serving notice that we should expect Tabernacle portraits to feature throughout the book, and we only have to move into chapter 2 to see the Lord describing His body as a Holy of holies, an inner temple, v.19. Thus frequently John provides the link between the Tabernacle and Him of Whom its various components speak. The theme of the Tabernacle in John’s Gospel will be developed in a subsequent chapter of this publication, but I have mentioned Jn.1.14 here, just to establish the legitimacy of applying the features of the curtains and coverings to characteristics of the Lord Jesus.
The dimensions of the curtains are given, whereas there are no details of the size of the coverings. Presumably they adequately enveloped the whole structure, to provide complete protection for the curtains and vessels. In the inhospitable terrain and climate of the wilderness, it would be essential to ensure an effective shield against wind and weather.
THE CURTAINS OF FINE TWINED LINEN
“Ten curtains” were joined together to comprise “one tabernacle” Ex.26.1,6. The dimensions of each of these ten curtains were twenty-eight cubits by four cubits, making the entire linen unit twenty-eight cubits by forty cubits. A comparison with the length, breadth and height of the Tabernacle will show that the linen curtain would stretch to one cubit above the ground around the whole structure. Five of these lengths of curtains were joined together by fifty “loops of blue” as were the remaining five, and in turn, these two major sections were joined by fifty golden clasps, thus linking up the ten curtains to create the “one tabernacle”.
We shall see shortly that in the fine twined linen we have an illustration of the righteous character of our beloved Lord. If you care to see in the ten curtains a reflection of the recently given Ten Commandments, then His righteousness was expressed in His unswerving commitment to these laws. Just as the ten curtains were in two main sections, so He indicated that the whole Law was summarised in two demands: to love God with the whole heart, and to love our neighbour as ourselves: “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” Matt.22.35-40. The Lord Jesus spoke of His love for His Father on only one occasion. On leaving the Upper Room He indicated that the impending events would demonstrate to the world that He loved His Father, that love being displayed in unqualified obedience to His Father’s commands. Submitting to the death of the cross not only demonstrated His love towards us, but principally, it was the major expression of His unreserved affection for His Father: “But that the world may know that I love the Father; and as the Father gave Me commandment, even so I do. Arise, let us go hence” Jn.14.31. He loved God with all His heart.
His selfless love for His neighbour was obvious. It was seen in wearying journeys in the searing heat, in a willingness to touch the untouchables and in His courageous defiance of the religious elite as He imparted blessing on many a sabbath day. Looking on the things of others was the norm, Phil.2.4. When Judas was sent out into the night, the expectation was that he had been dispatched to “give something to the poor” Jn.13.29. Obviously that had been the habit of Him Who loved His neighbour as Himself. Peter summarised His ministry of care and selflessness when he first preached the gospel to a Gentile audience: “who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with Him” Acts 10.38. Thus Jehovah’s perfect Servant adhered meticulously to these two segments of God’s moral code: “Jehovah had delight [in Him] for His righteousness’ sake: He hath magnified the law, and made it honourable” Isa.42.21, J.N.D.
The blue loops that coupled the two groups of five linen curtains are a reminder that this perfectly righteous Man was “the Lord from heaven” 1Cor.15.47, while the golden taches, or “clasps” R.V., that coupled the two fives are an indication of His Deity. “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” 1Jn.1.5, and a holy Man ‘tabernacling’ on earth exhibited the unsullied white light of Divine purity because He not only came down from heaven, but was essentially Divine: “God was manifest in the flesh” 1Tim.3.16. The fact of His Deity not only assures us that He did not sin, but that He could not sin, “for God cannot be tempted with evil” Jms.1.13. The doctrine of the Deity of Christ and the doctrine of His impeccability are intertwined.
“Moreover thou shalt make the tabernacle with ten curtains of fine twined linen, and blue, and purple, and scarlet: with cherubims of cunning work shalt thou make them” Ex.26.1.
Fine Twined Linen
When dealing with types, we should avoid fanciful applications which may appear to be clever, but which entrench the sceptic in his notion that typical teaching is invalid and irrelevant. Thus it is important to get a clue in Scripture as to the significance of any particular item that is under scrutiny. As far as linen is concerned, we have to read our Bibles patiently, and it is only in the last book that we learn that linen symbolises righteousness, when the fine linen garment of the Lamb’s wife is said to be “the righteousness of saints” Rev.19.8. There is perhaps a hint of it in the Psalms, when Scripture declares, “Let Thy priests be clothed with righteousness” Ps.132.9; we know that their literal clothing was the fine linen. The fact that fine twined linen features extensively in the Tabernacle will mean that it will be referenced in other chapters of this volume, so there is no need for expansive coverage here. However, we must note that the white linen curtains portray not only the sinlessness of the Lord Jesus but His positive righteousness.
In the New Testament the words “righteous” and “just” are frequently translations of the same Greek word, so it is delightful to note that in every stage of His experience of life, our Saviour is seen to be righteous. Stephen spoke of “the coming of the Just One” Acts 7.52, an indication that at His advent He was righteous. Thirty-three years in the world did nothing to impact on His righteous character, for reflecting on the end of His life, Peter described Him as “the Holy One and the Just” Acts 3.14. He remained uncontaminated by the foul atmosphere of a depraved and decadent world; He was an island of unsullied purity in the midst of a putrid ocean of “mire and dirt”.
- Morning by morning Thou didst wake
- Amidst this poisoned air;
- Yet no contagion touched Thy soul,
- No sin disturbed Thy prayer.
- (Macleod Wylie)
Having passed through death and resurrection He is still “that Just One” Whom Paul was chosen to see in exaltation and glory, Acts 22.14, and in His ongoing ministry on behalf of His people He is “Jesus Christ the righteous” 1Jn.2.1. Thus whenever we view Him, or wherever we view Him, the fine twined linen of His righteousness radiates.
When referring to the loops of blue that joined the linen curtains, I suggested that the blue is linked with the heavens. Generally, the sky is blue, but apart from that scientific factor, Scripture indicates that God’s throne has “the appearance of a sapphire stone” Ezek.1.26, and, of course, the sapphire has a bluish hue. Thus the blue in the curtains indicates that the Righteous One is “the second man … the Lord from heaven” 1Cor.15.47.
Again, it is in the Gospel by John where we see that the place that He left, and the Father Who was still there, were never far from His thoughts. It is the Gospel of the burnt offering, and one of the creatures suitable for burnt sacrifice was the pigeon. A feature of many a pigeon is its homing instinct. Thus in John’s Gospel He spoke frequently of the place from whence He had come, and to which He would return; He knew “that He was come from God, and went to God” Jn.13.3. Did He not indicate that “the Son of man [would] ascend up where He was before” Jn.6.62? He explained to Nicodemus that one aspect of His uniqueness was the fact that although in one sense He, the Son of man, was “in heaven” as to His omnipresence, in another sense He “came down from heaven” Jn.3.13. Geographically, “He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not” Jn.1.10.
The ‘thread of blue’ that runs through John’s Gospel reveals that this Man from heaven was supreme: “He that cometh from above is above all” Jn.3.31; in the context He is superior even to John the Baptist, the greatest of all others ever born, Matt.11.11. This heavenly Man
satisfies, for He is “the true bread from heaven” Jn.6.32, and He “giveth life unto the world” v.33. Despite His supremacy, He was submissive, for He “came down from heaven, not to do [His] own will, but the will of Him that sent [Him]” v.38. He was solitary, the only One Who was “from above”, and “not of this world” Jn.8.23. His character was in keeping with the sacred sphere that He left, rather than the sordid setting in which He now dwelt, an environment that had polluted all others: “Ye are from beneath”.
In coming into the world He brought with Him the atmosphere and authority of heaven. As already observed, the holiness of heaven was a permanent feature of His life. No laundry on earth could have made His shining garments “exceeding white as snow”; the radiant clothing was indicative of a holiness and glory that was sourced in heaven, Mk.9.3. The prerogative to forgive sins was resident in heaven, but that prerogative was exercised “on earth” by the One Who had come from heaven, Mk.2.1-12. Heaven’s control of climate and creatures, Job chapters 38 and 39, was in the hands of a Man here on earth, for He calmed the wind and the sea, Mk.4.39, and He controlled the animals, Mk.1.13, the fish, Lk.5.1-11; Matt.17.24-27, and the birds, Matt.26.73-75. Truly, the blue of the linen curtains foreshadows the Lord out of heaven.
People still speak of the purple and ermine of royalty, but Scripture itself allows us the link between purple and kingship. The kings of Midian were attired in “purple raiment” Judg.8.26, and the upholstery of Solomon’s chariot was purple, S of S.3.10. Thus the purple of the Tabernacle is a reminder that the righteous heavenly Man is a King. It is true that when He was interrogated by Pilate He stated that His kingdom was “not of this world”, but when asked, “Art Thou a king then?” He responded, “Thou sayest that I am a king” Jn.18.33-39. Presently, His kingdom is a spiritual entity into which we were “translated” at conversion, Col.1.13, but in future days His kingdom will be a literal universal administration in this world, depicted in Dan.2.35 as “a great mountain” that will fill “the whole earth”. His rule will be free of exploitation, graft and injustice, the things that have blighted human governments perennially and universally. These ignoble features have characterised every conceivable regime, dictatorships and democracies alike. Of Him alone Scripture says, “Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness” Isa.32.1. The same prophet devotes space to assure us that His administration will be equitable, with the needs of the disadvantaged being fully addressed. Even the behaviour of animals and reptiles will be in keeping with the fact that the reins of government are in the hands of the benign Monarch of Whom it is said, “Righteousness shall be the girdle of His loins, and faithfulness the girdle of His reins” Isa.11.1-10.
At His first advent His kingly claims were rejected. When it became known that the King of the Jews had been born, there were those who “sought the young child’s life” Matt.2.20. Those who dared to air the possibility of Him being the Son of David were silenced by the hideous and slanderous allegation that the power that He wielded was Satan’s power, Matt.12.22-37. Some time later, two blind men at Jericho were bold enough to acknowledge that He was the rightful heir to David’s throne, and the crowd attempted to shout them down, Matt.20.29-34. Resistance to His authority persisted throughout His life, culminating in their declaration, “We have no king but Caesar” Jn.19.15.
While He never functioned as a king when He was here, He was always marked by regal dignity and authority. “Where the word of a king is, there is power: and who may say unto him, ‘What doest thou?’” Eccl.8.4. Thus in Matthew’s Gospel of the King, the power of His word is prominent. Having outlined the laws of the kingdom in the ‘Sermon on the Mount’, “the people were astonished at His doctrine: for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes” Matt.7.28,29. On the occasion when He stood at Peter’s doorstep at sunset, only Matthew records that “He cast out the spirits with His word” Matt.8.16. When He requisitioned the colt, Matthew has no record of anyone questioning the disciples; His was the authoritative word of a king, Matt.21.1-7.
Even when humiliated, He carried Himself with the dignity of a king. After the charade of His ‘coronation’, Scripture records, “Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate saith unto them, ‘Behold the man!’” Jn.19.5. With perfect poise and stately posture He stood before the baying mob. “Behold the man” will sound out again some day, a Man not then standing but sitting: “He shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon His throne” Zech.6.13. But the silent Sufferer exuded the glory of future kingship and regal authority even on that day when He stood erect before the vulgar crowd, the crown of thorns atop His marred visage, and the purple robe draped across His furrowed back. “Behold your King” Jn.19.14!
I am aware that many see in the purple of the Tabernacle a figure of the Lord’s authority over the Gentile peoples, and in the scarlet His authority over Israel. They see in the purple the emperor, the King of kings, and in the scarlet the King of Israel. I prefer to see the scarlet as a pointer to His sufferings, not only because the deep red is a reminder of the precious blood that He shed, but because of the link with Psalm 22. Apparently the scarlet dye was produced by crushing a desert worm, and this is the word that the Saviour employed when He said, “But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people” Ps.22.6. Jacob was a “worm” Isa.41.14, who became a prince, Gen.32.28; the Lord Jesus was a Prince, Dan.9.25, Who voluntarily became a ‘worm’. It is an indication of His feelings as He hung on the cross; men perceived Him to be insignificant, something to be trampled underfoot, and He felt it keenly. When the children of Belial despised Saul at his coronation, “he was as one deaf”, oblivious to the snub, 1Sam.10.27, J.N.D. Our Lord was much more sensitive; to Him to be despised was emotionally disturbing, and hence He expressed it as being made to feel like a worm who was despised by the people.
The crushing of the worm to produce the colourant points to the awful weight of judgment that fell upon Him when nailed to the cross. It is true that men bruised Him quite literally, as with fists and rods they struck Him. In a figurative sense, in the battle with the evil one, while bruising his head, His own heel was bruised, Gen.3.15. However, supremely, “it pleased the Lord to bruise Him” Isa.53.10. Among other things, the word “bruise” carries with it the thought of ‘crushing’, and in the same context the prophet explains to us the reason for the crushing: “He was bruised for our iniquities” v.5. Many of our spiritual songs focus on these tremendous truths and it will suffice to quote two:
- Crowned with thorns upon the tree,
- Silent in Thine agony;
- Dying, crushed beneath the load
- Of the wrath and curse of God.
- (H. Grattan Guinness)
- “Stricken, smitten, and afflicted,”
- See Him die upon the tree!
- ’Tis the Christ by man rejected,
- Yes my soul, ’tis He! ’tis He!
- Many hands were raised to wound Him,
- None would interpose to save;
- But the awful stroke that found Him
- Was the stroke that justice gave.
- (Thomas Kelly)
We worship as we ponder “the sufferings of Christ” 1Pet.1.11.
When first introduced in Scripture, the cherubim were located at the east of the garden of Eden, guardians of the tree of life; they ensured that for Adam there was no way back to that idyllic environment. They were the executors of the judgment of God, and their message was ‘Keep out!’ Their presence on the vail of the Tabernacle conveyed that same message. The august majesty of God which was enshrined in that Holy of holies precluded everyone with the exception of one man: “alone once every year, not without blood” Heb.9.7. Their presence on the mercy seat is instructive. Their wings were upraised, as if ready to fly swiftly to execute judgment, and yet they were anchored to their position, their faces gazing downwards to the blood-stained propitiatory, for the shedding of blood alone can stay the judgment of God. Thus, “being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him” Rom.5.9.
If the cherubim are the executors of God’s judgment, their presence on the curtains indicates that God has delegated the work of judgment to His Son. It is fundamental to God’s intention that His Son should enjoy honour that is equal to His own. “For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: that all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father” Jn.5.22,23. Peter perceived this truth to be an essential element of the message that the apostles had been commissioned to preach: “He commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is He which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead” Acts 10.42. So he incorporated the warning of
judgment in a gospel message that spoke of the blessing of the “remission of sins” v.43! What Peter preached to sinners that day was reiterated to saints when he wrote of “Him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead” 1Pet.4.5. Paul’s teaching was in agreement with Peter’s when he spoke of “the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead” 2Tim.4.1.
The Bible never teaches that there will be a general day of judgment, when everyone who has ever lived will be ranged before God to be categorised as saved or lost. Several instances of judgment scenes are mentioned in Scripture, involving different groups of people, and at each event the Lord Jesus will be the Judge. For believers, there will be the Judgment Seat of Christ, which will take place immediately subsequent to the Rapture, 1Cor.4.5. It is clear that He is the Judge for the verse tells us that it will be “the Lord … who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts”. Hence “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” 2Cor.5.10. It is clear from the context that believers alone will be there, people who have “the earnest of the Spirit” v.5, who “walk by faith, not by sight” v.7, who will be “present with the Lord” when they die, v.8, etc. They are the people whose service for God will be assessed and rewarded by the Lord at the Judgment Seat of Christ. He is “the righteous judge” Who will apportion crowns to His people “at that day” 2Tim.4.8.
A far different assize is described in Matt.25.31-46. There we are told of the survivors of the Great Tribulation being gathered before the Son of man. After appearing in power and great glory He will “sit upon the throne of His glory” in the valley of Jehoshaphat, Matt.25.31; Joel 3.12. It is “the valley of decision” v.14, for He is determining who will enter His Kingdom and who will go away into everlasting punishment. In every age men are accounted “righteous” on the principle of faith, and in this context the sheep, the “righteous”, who will enjoy eternal life, have given evidence of their faith by their attitude to Christ’s brethren, those who came to them preaching the gospel of the Kingdom. By contrast, the goats, the “cursed”, will experience “everlasting fire” because of their rejection of the message and their treatment of the Jewish messengers. Once more, though, it is the Lord Jesus Who will be the Judge.
In three successive chapters of Matthew’s Gospel, chapters 10-12, the Lord Jesus Christ spoke of “the day of judgment”. Peter and John both use the term, 2Pet.2.9; 3.7; 1Jn.4.17. It is evident that the reference is to the judgment of the wicked dead. The particulars are found in Rev.20.11-15, and it would take us far off track to explore these details, but suffice to say once more, the Lord Jesus will be the Judge. Paul speaks of that day as “the day when God shall judge the secrets of men, by Jesus Christ” Rom.2.16. Should any of you who are reading be unsaved, let the solemnity of this grip you. If you reject the Lord Jesus as your Saviour, one day you will face Him as your Judge. It really is high time to take the step of salvation, by repenting and believing on Him. The cherubim embroidered on the linen curtains point to the judicial activity of the righteous, heavenly, regal Man Who suffered for us on the cross.
THE CURTAINS OF GOATS’ HAIR
In Ex.26.7 the curtains of goats’ hair are said to be a “covering” A.V.; a “tent” R.V. The word signifies something ‘conspicuous’. When that concept is applied to the Lord Jesus, it is a truth that features throughout Scripture. Observe it in poetry, as when He is depicted as “the apple tree among the trees of the wood”, or “the chiefest among ten thousand” S of S.2.3; 5.10. See it in picture, as when Joseph was distinct from his brothers, arrayed in his “coat of many colours” Gen.37.3. View it in prophecy when He is said to be “fairer than the children of men” Ps.45.2. Note it in pronouncements, as when the Temple officers had to acknowledge, “Never man spake like this man” Jn.7.46, or when He spoke of Himself as One Who had “done among them the works which none other man did” Jn.15.24; He was uniquely conspicuous both in words and works.
In contrast to the fine linen curtains, there were eleven goats’ hair curtains, stretching the breadth of the Tabernacle. These were thirty cubits in length, allowing them to more than reach the ground on either side (north and south). Each curtain was four cubits in breadth, so eleven of them joined totalled forty-four cubits, which again meant that there was ample material to more than reach the ground at the west end, even allowing for the fact that the front curtain was doubled back. Thus there was an overlap which adequately protected everything that was beneath these curtains. Obviously, each item within the two compartments of the Tabernacle speaks of Christ, but flowing out of them all there is the thought that a variety of blessings accrues to believers because of their links with Him. We shall see that, among other things, the goats’ hair tent directs our thoughts to the cross, so that all our blessings in association with Christ have been secured eternally by His sacrifice; the more than adequate protection provided by these curtains points to the absolute sufficiency of His Calvary sacrifice in eternally preserving these blessings for us.
Five of the curtains were coupled together by fifty loops of an unspecified material and colour. The six remaining curtains were joined similarly. These two major sections were linked together by fifty clasps, not now golden clasps, as in the case of the linen curtains, but by clasps of brass. Brass is symbolic of judgment, as seen in the brazen altar and in the brazen laver, in the latter of which self-judgment is depicted, so it is a reminder that the One Who was unique and conspicuous in His Person and work would experience the awful heat of judgment when He went to the cross.
It is instructive to consider other references to goats’ hair in the Scriptures. Elijah the prophet was identified as a “hairy man”, a reference to his attire rather than his person, 2Kgs.1.8, and the persecuted and martyred of the Old Testament were said to have “wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins” Heb.11.37. Thus in this Tabernacle curtain there is a reminder of the prophetic ministry of the Lord Jesus. Some were willing to acknowledge it when they saw His works. After the feeding of the five thousand there were those who said, “This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world” Jn.6.14, the Prophet predicted by Moses, Deut.18.18. After the raising of the widow’s son they said, “A great prophet is risen up among us” Lk.7.16. Others recognised His prophetic ministry when they heard His words. Said the Samaritan woman, “Sir, I perceive that Thou art a prophet” Jn.4.19. Having heard His preaching on “the last day, that great day of the feast”, many acknowledged, “Of a truth this is the Prophet” Jn.7.37,40. Figuratively, He wore the goats’ hair of the prophet.
The he-goat is one of four creatures said to “go well”, to be “comely in going” Prov.30.29-31. It is another of the creatures suitable for burnt sacrifice, and so in the Gospel of the burnt offering John depicts the stately movements of our Saviour, with numerous references to His walk. As early as chapter 1 John Baptist was “looking upon Jesus as He walked” v.36. It was the same at the end, and reference has already been made to the dignified way that He carried Himself when, “then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe” Jn.19.5. In the one instance John said, “Behold the Lamb”; in the other, Pilate said, “Behold the man”. Whenever you view Him, He is comely in His going, “stately in [His] march” Prov.30.29, R.V.
Pre-eminently, goats are linked with the Day of Atonement, Lev.16.5-10,15,20-22. One was slain for a sin offering, and its blood sprinkled before and on the mercy seat. The ritual points to the day when the Lord Jesus would literally die; His blood would be shed, the whole activity rendering Him “the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” 1Jn.2.2. In the scapegoat we see that the work of the cross demanded not only His death and the shedding of His blood, but the dread forsaking: “Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree” 1Pet.2.24. The scapegoat bore “their iniquities unto a land not inhabited”; it was “let go … in the wilderness”.
- I saw a goat with heavy head drooped low,
- With sunken eye, and worn, far-travelled feet;
- In that sad land alone, a living woe.
- I heard its hoarse, forsaken piteous bleat.
- It pierced the moral universe on high,
- Upon eternal shores the echoes brake,
- That lone, that loud, that lamentable cry:
- “My God, My God, Why didst Thou Me forsake?”
- (I.Y. Ewan)
The goats’ hair curtains evoke such memories of our beloved Saviour as they combine with these other curtains and coverings to foreshadow Him Who tabernacled among us.
THE COVERING OF RAMS’ SKINS DYED RED
Having allowed considerable space for details of the curtains, a single sentence is all that is devoted to the two “coverings”: “And thou shalt make a covering for the tent [‘the tent’ being the goats’ hair curtains] of rams’ skins dyed red. And a covering above of badgers’ skins” Ex.26.14. A ram for sacrifice featured on the occasion that God promised Abraham that his descendants would possess the land of Canaan, Gen.15.9, but for the more part we remember that “a ram caught in a thicket by his horns” substituted for Isaac on the altar at Mount Moriah, Gen.22.13. Thus the thought of substitution is connected with the ram. Abraham knew that Isaac would have to survive if God’s promises were to be fulfilled, so he moved towards Moriah with the thought of resurrection in his mind, Heb.11.17-19. God had other thoughts; He had substitution in mind, the ram “in the stead” of Isaac.
Although the word ‘substitution’ is not a Bible word, the truth of it is clearly there. “Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” 1Pet.3.18. “Christ died for the ungodly”; “Christ died for us” Rom.5.6,8. These verses among others affirm that His sacrifice on the cross was in the stead of unrighteous, ungodly sinners like you and me.
- He took the guilty sinner’s place,
- And suffered in his stead;
- For man (O miracle of grace!)
- For man the Saviour bled.
He was not only a substitute for guilty sinners of this present era, but repentant Israel will appreciate His substitutionary sacrifice in a coming day when they acknowledge, “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed” Isa.53.5. However, in the here and now, we rejoice in the fact that He substituted for us personally, and Paul’s words are often on our lips as we express with gratitude: “The Son of God … loved me, and gave Himself for me” Gal.2.20. In the simplicity of our faith we gladly acknowledge that our passport to heaven is expressed in the words of an anonymous hymn writer: “I am a feeble [or ‘guilty’ in some hymnals] sinner, but Jesus died for me”.
While we have linked the thought of substitution with the ram, perhaps the main idea connected with it is that of consecration. At the consecration of Aaron the high priest, numerous sacrifices were offered including two rams, one of which was designated “the ram of consecration” Lev.8.22. It was the blood of that ram that was applied to Aaron’s right ear, the thumb of his right hand, and the great toe of his right foot, v.23. The consecrated man’s ear would be alert to the voice of God, his hand would be active in His service, and his foot would be attentive in walking in His ways; every part of his being would be committed to the God Who had separated him for his noble task.
These features are seen supremely in the One “whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world” Jn.10.36, E.S.V., the One Who said, “I consecrate Myself” Jn.17.19, E.S.V. His ears were opened, and He was submissive to every communication from heaven: “I delight to do Thy will, O My God” Ps.40.6-8. Every new morning, His ear was wakened “to hear as the learned” and He was “not rebellious” Isa.50.4,5. His compliance with instructions from above was expressed in His own words: “as My Father hath taught Me, I speak these things” Jn.8.28.
His hand was ever ready for service, whether it be to take the hand of Peter’s wife’s mother, or Jairus’ daughter, or to touch the leper, or to be laid in blessing on the heads of the children, or to handle loaves and fish. Ultimately, these hands that dispensed such blessing were opened to receive the nails, the culminating act of consecration on the part of this devoted One.
His feet were beautiful feet, for everywhere He went He proclaimed the “gospel of peace” Rom.10.15. He “went about doing good”, on foot, Acts 10.38! Occasionally He embarked on a little boat and for one brief journey He travelled on a borrowed colt, but for the most part He walked. When “He must needs go through Samaria” He was “wearied with His journey” Jn.4.4-6, and doubtless that was typical. The end of Mark chapter 6 sees Him located in Gennesaret, v.53, and then “from thence He arose, and went into the borders of Tyre and Sidon” 7.24. Then it was to Decapolis via Galilee, v.31. We are unaware of the time frame, and being unfamiliar with the geography we read it as if He was just travelling a few miles down the road, but, in reality, lengthy journeys were involved for these consecrated feet. So, from first to last, and in every part of His being, total commitment to His Father’s will was expressed by this consecrated Man of Whom the rams’ skins speak.
- The vow was on Thee – Thou didst come
- To yield Thyself to death;
- And consecration marked Thy path,
- And spoke in every breath.
- (Macleod Wylie)
The fact that the rams’ skins were dyed red takes us again in thought to Calvary. Consecration displayed in His tireless service persisted to the point of death. The commitment that He showed to His Father’s business as a boy of twelve extended through teenage years and into manhood, enduring right to the conclusion of what we call His public ministry, “obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” Phil.2.8. We are so familiar with the phrase “even the death of the cross” that we have lost sight of the enormity of what was entailed: not only the spitting, the scourging and the slaying, but the awful sin-bearing, when, as a solitary figure, the storm of Divine judgment broke upon Him. “The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all” Isa.53.6. We are grateful to God for the commitment that was displayed and the cost that was paid, as depicted in the rams’ skins dyed red.
THE COVERING OF BADGERS’ SKINS
The external covering was of badgers’ skins, or, as some suggest, seals’ skins. Be it the one or the other, the only other reference to that fabric is in connection with footwear, figuratively speaking, part of the provision that God made for Israel. He had rescued her from being like an abandoned baby, ultimately transforming her into a beautifully adorned bride, Ezek.16.10. The fact that badgers’ skin was suitable for her footwear indicates the durability of the material, and as far as the Tabernacle was concerned it was a fitting outer covering to protect everything within from the extremes of climate. These conditions were common in a wilderness environment, whether it be the drought by day or the frost by night that Jacob cited as he tried to impress Laban with his reliability, Gen.31.40. Durable it doubtless was, but possibly less pleasing to the eye than the other three layers of fabric.
The layout of the camp of Israel must have been an impressive sight as viewed from a vantage point. Had we stood with Balaam and surveyed the scene from Peor, we would have readily agreed with his assessment of the extensive encampment below: “How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel!” Num.24.5. He went on to enthuse in poetic language, likening the vista to “gardens by the river’s side”, and so on, v.6. The order and symmetry of that whole scene was so impressive, but we might have asked, “What is that very unimposing structure in the centre of the encampment?” Our informant would have explained, to our astonishment, “That is the house of God; that is where the glory of God resides.” The untrained, uninformed eye would have seen only a small unimpressive temporary construction, swathed in badgers’ skins; albeit it was enclosed by a linen wall that would have reflected the rays of the Middle Eastern sun with impressive brightness.
Let us apply these facts to the Lord Jesus. The internal beauty of the Tabernacle was viewed by the priests exclusively. As they functioned in the holy place, they alone would appreciate the glint of the golden walls as the beams of light from the lampstand played upon them. They alone could view the fine linen with its embroidery, on the door behind them, on the vail before them and on the ceiling above them. These were sights that brought pleasure to priestly eyes alone. As believers, we comprise “a holy priesthood” 1Pet.2.5, and there are beauties about our Saviour that we alone can enjoy. We often express our appreciation by quoting Old Testament poetry: “Thou art fairer than the children of men” Ps.45.2, or, “Yea, He is altogether lovely” S of S.5.16. The beauty of His moral excellence eclipses all others, and yet there are few who see any value in Him.
- The Saviour comes! No outward pomp
- Bespeaks His presence nigh;
- No earthly beauty shines in Him
- To draw the carnal eye.
- All beauty may we ever see
- In God’s belovèd Son,
- The chiefest of ten thousand He,
- The only lovely One!
- (William Robertson)
The ‘carnal eye’ saw only the ‘badgers’ skins’ when scrutinising the Lord Jesus, and thus the general opinion of His contemporaries was, “There is no beauty that we should desire Him” Isa.53.2. To their minds He had “no form nor comeliness”, and that is likely an indication that He did not match their expectations of how the Messiah should look. Scripture gives us no clues as to His height or physique but it is hardly likely that like Saul, their chosen king, it could be said of Him, “from his shoulders and upward he was higher than any of the people” 1Sam.9.2.
The first thirty years of His life, with all its perfection, had gone unnoticed by men at large, so that John the Baptist had to say, “There standeth one among you, whom ye know not” Jn.1.26. Even when He had a more public profile, most of the people saw only the ‘badgers’ skins’. It was unthinkable that the Messiah’s upbringing would be in Nazareth, Jn.1.46. A prophet emerging from Galilee? Never, Jn.7.52! He was only a carpenter, Mk.6.3. He had never been schooled properly, Jn.7.15. He kept bad company: “a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners” Matt.11.19. And so the negative comments continued, until eventually they slanderously dubbed Him a rabble-rouser and rebel and demanded His crucifixion, Lk.23.2. No beauty! A day is coming when that same nation “shall see the King in His beauty” Isa.33.17. In the meantime, we are delighted that the grace of God has anointed our eyes to see in Him ‘the only lovely One’. We have seen beyond the ‘badgers’ skins’, and contemplate inner grandeur which bows the heart to worship.
- We meditate on matchless worth
- That marked His outward ways,
- And told the inner glories forth –
- Too much for mortal gaze.
- We muse on more than heart can hold,
- On more than tongue can tell,
- And simply say, like those of old,
- “He hath done all things well”.
- We ponder o’er the path He trod,
- The way His work was done,
- And raise our hymn of praise, O God,
- For Thy belovèd Son.
- (I.Y. Ewan)