the court of the tabernacle
Our thoughts will be upon the Mosaic Tabernacle, the pattern of things in the heavenlies, the pictorial representation of the great mystery of Godliness, God manifest in the flesh, first in Christ and then in a multitude.
The Tabernacle is a wonderful allegory of type and lesson: God enthroned in Israel—first in Israel naturally, and then spiritual Israel. This is the deepest and most beautiful subject in Scripture; this is the heart of the divine purpose. Yahweh Elohim: “He who shall be Mighty Ones,” Emmanuel, God with us—the eternal purpose of God to tabernacle with men.
The whole Tabernacle was a picture of the way of salvation. It is called the Tabernacle of Meeting, for there God met with man. It is called the Tabernacle of Witness or Testimony, for it is God’s witness, testimony or revelation of Himself—His characteristics, His desires and His purposes concerning man.
A tabernacle or tent is a temporary dwelling place, nothing fixed or final; it speaks of pilgrimage, or a wilderness journey, of no continuing city. The present is the tabernacle wilderness state. We look to the future for the permanent Temple state. We must be ready at all times to move with the Truth wherever it leads. Present considerations are secondary and unimportant.
Turning our attention directly to the Court and its contents, we note to begin with that the Tabernacle of God’s presence in Israel did not stand exposed in the camp. It could not. It was surrounded by a walled court, a wall of 60 pillars and linen curtains, about 100 feet by 200 feet.
The word for court means enclosed or surrounded: “A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse”—the same symbolism under a different form.
This Court was many things. First, it was a barrier. Secondly, a protection. Thirdly, a separation, a line of demarcation. And finally, a way of approach, for it led around to the gate.
The Court hanging was of fine linen, which stands for righteousness. A separating wall of righteousness is the only way that God could be present in the camp. It was a barrier of righteousness, and yet it led around to a merciful gate of entrance. God is a wall of protection and righteousness. Christ is the gate of mercy and entrance, and we note that there is only one gate to the Court, only one way in.
All the Priesthood had to wear linen. They could wear no wool which represented the carnal and animal aspect. We read it was fine twined linen—actually it was fine linen, twined or twisted together; that is, in multiple threads, each tightly twisted together for strength—“a threefold cord is not easily broken”—many individual threads forming one piece, so finely woven together as to be indistinguishable as separate threads.
The ancient fine linen which they have found in tombs had up to 150 threads to the inch. No thread by itself; each twisted together tightly with its close companions for strength—a pure white, shining, righteous unity, made up of myriads of fine and firmly twisted and interwoven threads.
The wall being a hanging or curtain further conveys the idea of concealment, a veiling of something. This was a characteristic of the Mosaic dispensation. It was a portrayal in veiled shadows of what was to be made clear, and open, and manifest in Christ Jesus.
A gate is a way of entrance—a welcome, an invitation, a point of decision, of commitment, of transition from one state to another, from outside to inside.
The Court was 50 by 100 cubits; that is, it was 300 cubits all around. The gate was 20, and so the wall itself was 280, that is 7 times 40—the fullness or perfection of probation. It hung—it was held up or manifested on 60 pillars of brass, and these pillars stood on brass sockets and had silver capitals. Brass stands for the flesh; silver for redemption in Christ Jesus. This combination then would be redeemed flesh, of which Christ, the silver, is the capital or head, manifesting—holding up the white linen righteousness of God.
The pillars were not like pillars usually are, rooted in the ground, but like the boards of the Tabernacle they rested upon sockets, which in turn rested upon the surface of the ground. The Tabernacle was on the earth, but not in it. Here two principles are clearly manifested—separation from and a lifting above the world by the Christ foundation; and secondly, the thought of pilgrimage, impermanence, no fixed part in the earth.
THE NUMBER 5
We notice that the number 5 is a factor of nearly every measurement of the Tabernacle. It appears to stand for the Law, not just the Law of Moses, but for the Law of God generally. The 10 Commandments were on 2 tables of 5. There were 5 books of Moses, as there are 4 gospels of Christ, and so we find fittingly, 5 and 4 marking the pillars of the entrances—4 pillars to the gate, 5 pillars to the entrance of the Holy Place, and again 4 pillars to the entrance of the Most Holy.
If 5 stands for the Mosaic dispensation or the legal aspect, and 4 for redemption in Christ, the Covenant in Christ, we may wonder why the first outer one is 4 as well as the closest inner one. This appears to illustrate the fact that the Covenant to Abraham—the everlasting covenant, completely encloses the Mosaic dispensation. It is both the old and the new covenant, and therefore we find the first entrance has 4 and so does the last, with the one with the 5 pillars in between. It was as John said, a new commandment, but still it was not a new commandment, it was the same that they had from the beginning (1 John 2:7, 8).
The Mosaic was merely a brief period in between, until the Messiah should come. Each set of entrance pillars held up a hanging or curtain, or vail that represented Christ. Each was of white linen interwoven with blue, purple and scarlet. The last hanging, the third or inner one—the vail of the Most Holy, also had Cherubim woven into it of fine needlework—workmanship to beautify and to glorify—“a vail of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen—with cherubims” (Ex. 26:31,32).
Blue appears to stand for heavenly things, the things of the Spirit, and red for fleshly things, earthly things. Adam was so called because he was taken of the red earth. Purple, blue, and red combined is royalty and kingship.
We saw that there were 60 pillars in the Court, that is, 5 times 12—the Mosaic figure times the basic Israelitish figure. There are 48 boards in the Tabernacle, the more inner dispensation; here is 4 times 12. 4 seems to apply to the gospel dispensation, as 5 to the Mosaic. 4 is the number of the Cherubim—the glorified multitude in whom God is to dwell and be manifested. This in turn is the foundation back in the fourfold camp of Israel, for “Salvation is of the Jews.”
The 60 pillars of the Court clearly represent the faithful stalwarts of the Mosaic dispensation, who held up the wall of righteousness during their period of probation. The term pillar for upstanding men in the Truth is too familiar to be proven.
In the Song of Solomon we read: “Who is this that cometh out of the wilderness like pillars of smoke … Behold his bed which is Solomon’s; three score (or 60) valiant men are about it, of the valiant of Israel. They all hold swords, being expert in war” (Song 3:6-8), which of course is the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God.
The symbolism is quite clear. The bed or litter of Solomon turns our mind to the Chariot of the Cherubim—that in which God is pleased to dwell and be manifested.
The pillars were bound one to another with bars of silver called fillets in the A.V. This word means to join or to cling, and is often translated figuratively delight, love, desire. Here again the picture is unmistakable, for it is redemption in Christ that binds all in one and makes the enclosing wall—all the separate pillars—into one solid unity of righteousness.
The pillars had silver hooks. A hook or peg is to hang things by. Solomon says, “The words of the wise are as nails fastened by masters of assembly.” These hooks or nails are the well established teachings of the Spirit’s valiant pillar men, upon which we may safely hang our faith, and there is no other safe place upon which to hang it.
Let us be sure that our views—our convictions—are not fleshly opinions, especially when they concern things we desire to do. Let us be sure we know what the Word of God says on any matter and that we honestly accept it, and that we take the safe side in any matter of doubt. If there is any doubt about anything pleasing God, why should we jeopardize our salvation to please the flesh? How cheaply do we value eternal life? Isaiah says that Jesus, the Word made Flesh, is a nail or a hook fastened in a sure place on which all the glorious vessels of his Father’s house shall be hung.
We come through the gate into the Court, and it is the Altar of sacrifice that is the first, largest and most prominent object that confronts us. We must make it so in our own lives—first, largest and most prominent. It is the great central object of the Court. It was of wood overlaid with brass about ten foot square and five foot high. It was right before the worshipper as he entered the Court.
Concerning altars generally, the Scriptural instruction is that no tool of man should be raised upon them, for anything man did would pollute it. It must be bare earth or undressed stones, for man can do nothing to provide the means of reconciliation and salvation. It must be wholly God’s workmanship.
This Altar conveys the same lesson in a different form, for the pattern was of God. God selected the workmen and especially endowed them with wisdom and ability, strengthened them, made them strong for Himself, but the material of the Altar was wood and brass. It was material supplied by the freewill of eager men. This is a divine mystery—everything is of God, and yet we must do our part, but even that part is of God too—
“Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”
But Paul immediately adds:
“For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.”
Even our willing and doing is of God, for of ourselves we can do nothing. But we must on our part seek for it, prepare ourselves for it, with fear and trembling.
The word for Altar means a place of slaughter, or sacrifice. The first thing in the Tabernacle service is sacrifice—the shedding of blood, the giving of life. There can be no putting away of sin, no reconciliation with God without first the fullest repudiation of sin, and this can only be done by sacrifice—perfect unblemished sacrifice. Complete self-sacrifice is the ultimate of love and obedience—obedient unto death, even unto the death of the cross—“greater love hath no man than this.” Herein is its power and its beauty; this alone has the power to take away sin.
The purpose and meaning of sacrifice is not human punishment, but divine vindication, as a basis of divine mercy, repudiation and condemnation—putting away sin—the establishment of a foundation of holiness.
The Altar had 4 Horns. 4 speaks of universal extent—4 winds, 4 universal empires, 4 corners of the earth. Horns denote power, protection, exaltation, security. Four Horns portray universal power and dominion. The Horns were of one piece with the Altar, like the Cherubim with the Mercy Seat, for the power or glory represented by these Horns was not something separate, just conferred arbitrarily upon Christ, but it was an essential inseparable aspect of his perfect sacrifice. The grave could not hold him. “I have power to lay down my life and I have power to take it up again”—the power of perfect righteousness. The Horns were of one piece with the Altar.
The Horns were the holiest part of the Altar. Upon them was sprinkled the blood of the most solemn sacrifices. We notice in the chapter read, Exodus 27:8 – “Hollow with boards shalt thou make it.” Hollow—the word means empty. This is a significant instruction—it must be an open framework.
Paul, speaking of Christ to the Philippians, says that Christ emptied himself. In our translation it is “made himself of no reputation,” but the original, “he emptied himself.” So to be a suitable Altar we must empty ourselves. Of what? Of everything, for all that we have or contain is of the flesh—all our desires, pleasures, advantages, attainments. “If any man think himself wise, let him become a fool. Love seeketh not her own. Let no man seek his own but every man another’s welfare.” “Hollow with boards shalt thou make it.”
We sing, “Chase this self-will through all my heart,” but how many of us really mean it? How many really desire to give up their self-will? What a mockery to sing such words without whole heartedly meaning them, without an agonizing effort to fulfill them. “Is there a thing beneath the sun that strives with Thee my heart to share; ah, tear it thence, and reign alone, the Lord of every motion there.” How easily we can sing it, but do we know what we are talking about? Do we understand it? And live in harmony with it, or are they just pleasant sounding words and a pleasing tune? Let us be very careful that we mean what we say to God, for God hath no pleasure in fools.
In Exodus 27:4 it says, “And thou shalt make for it a grate of network of brass.” The lower half of the vertical sides of the Altar was an open network or grating. The network serves two purposes—it lets in and it keeps out. This would keep out all that did not belong in, but it would let in the one essential thing for the combustion and consumption of the sacrifices—the air or wind.
To be useful to God, besides being empty, we must be open—not open to everything, but open to the mighty rushing wind of the Spirit’s influence, that the purifying fires of tribulation may fully consume the flesh, otherwise there would just be dark and smoky smoldering, incomplete combustion. We are all far too closed up within ourselves—too filled up and too closed up. We must empty ourselves and open up and let the Spirit of Christ flow in—make room for it. That is our part of the task, and God will do the rest.
Paul said to the Corinthians, “O ye Corinthians, our mouth is open unto you, our heart is enlarged. Ye are not contracted in us, but ye are contracted in your own affections … be ye also enlarged.”
The Altar fire was first kindled by God, and it was never to be allowed to go out. God has in His infinite condescension and love kindled a fire in us. How strong is that fire? A weak little fire will never consume the flesh, only char it and smoke it, and leave it blackened and raw.
It was only with fire from this Altar that incense could be offered. Herein was the great sin and folly of Nadab and Abihu. It is only through a oneness with Christ’s sacrifice that acceptable prayer and worship to God can be offered. We are not now speaking of rituals, but of realities Paul said, “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” If we suffer with him, we shall reign with him; if we die with him, we shall live with him. A technical relationship is not sufficient; it must be a living reality for the prayer to be acceptable. Careless offering brought instant death to Nadab and Abihu. They were in the act of serving God, but not as He commanded; they were doing it their way, man’s way.
Again, presumptuous offering brought instant death to Korah, Dathan and Abiram, and again it was in the very act of worship to God that they were destroyed. And the censers of Korah, Dathan and Abiram were made into broad plates to cover this brazen Court Altar. It should be ‘beaten plates,’ as in the R.V.
It may appear strange that the instruments whereby sinners transgressed should be made permanent parts of such a holy thing as the Altar of sacrifice. What does it teach us? That God makes even the wrath of men to praise Him. We see foreshadowed the enmity of Israel as an essential element of Christ’s sacrifice. In type, Moses was perfected in obedience by the opposition of sinners, and their instruments were struck down and beaten flat, and made to serve the glory of God as a sign to Israel.
This divine principle is clearly enunciated in Scripture. In Psalm 76 it says “Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee, the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain.” God will use the sinners as suits His purpose to His own glory and destroy the rest. We need have no fear or regrets when the unjust appear to trample upon the just, for they are simply instruments of God adding glory to the sacrifice.
There is another lesson in this matter of the censers of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram—a serious lesson, a principle that appears throughout the whole Law. Anything once offered to God could never be withdrawn, never again be used for a common purpose. It was dedicated, devoted, consecrated. If it could not be used, if it was not suitable for use, it must be destroyed.
We have offered ourselves to God, and according to His immutable law, we can never again be used for any other purpose except His service. If we have worldly interests, engage in worldly things, we are violating this first principle of holiness. And if we persist, we must be destroyed.
For this Altar, God specified pots, shovels, basins, flesh-hooks and fire pans. Does God take care for pots and shovels? These things, though humble and commonplace, were necessary for the work, and who are we to say that these vessels were any less important to God than the most prominent and glorious ones. No servant is too obscure, no task is too mean to be unimportant in God’s sight. We are told that in the Kingdom every pot in Judah and Jerusalem shall be holiness to the Lord (this is recorded by Zechariah). Why must every last insignificant pot be holy? Because, for holiness to mean anything, it must reach down into every aspect and facet of our lives. If it is not all, it is nothing. There is no such thing as 99% pure. The ashes were carried out to a clean place without the camp. Christ was laid in a new tomb without the gate. Ashes signify sorrow and mourning, but they also signify hope, for they are the fruit and the proof of the sacrifice—that which has passed through the fire. They must be gathered up and carried to a clean place, for from these ashes God will build again in glory and in beauty.
THE LAVER OF SANCTIFICATION
We pass beyond the Altar to the Laver of sanctification. This was in many ways the strangest and most mysterious aspect of the whole Tabernacle service. So little is revealed concerning the laver. Unlike all the other elements of the Tabernacle, no instructions are given for making it. No description is given concerning its size; no provision for its carrying; no mention of any covering when it is carried. All that we know is that it was made of the looking glasses of faithful women, and that the priests must wash in it continually, “lest they die.”
It was in the Laver arrangement that we find the greatest change and the greatest increase in capacity occurring between the Tabernacle and the Temple of Solomon. Here there is one Laver for all washings. In Solomon’s Temple, there is a huge sea holding 20,000 gallons for the priests to wash in, and ten great Lavers, each holding 350 gallons, and each standing on a seven foot square wheeled base. The Tabernacle represented the present pilgrimage; Solomon’s Temple represents the Millennial rest. There the original single Laver becomes a separate sea for the sanctification of the Priesthood, and ten Lavers for the cleansing of the nation’s sacrifices—a tremendous opening up of the way of sanctification.
The Priests must wash continually in the Laver, “lest they die.” There must be a constant, repeated cleansing. How much more vital is the reality than the shadow!
There are many passages that tell us what this cleansing is—
“Sanctify them through thy truth; thy word is truth”
“Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way, by taking heed thereunto according to thy word.”
“That he may sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word.”
“Ye are clean through the word, which I have spoken unto you.”
The Word is the cleansing agent, but it will not cleanse unless it is honestly applied. Merely sitting in a bathtub playing with the water will never get us clean. There must be effort and application. We must apply it to ourselves, and we must constantly study it—wanting to learn, wanting to discover and eliminate all that is out of harmony with God. We are lost if we search it merely to justify the flesh, merely to confirm our own desires, if we seek to weaken and evade the searching Spirit-word, to get around the commandment that crosses our own pleasures, rather than fearlessly expose every twisted and deceptive motion of the flesh with its piercing light.
The churches of the world, when they do not like any particular command, say that it does not apply today, that was merely for the time when written. And we can find the same outlook among many who should know better.
The Laver was made of the looking glasses of faithful women—women who recognized the true value of spiritual adornment, spiritual cleansing, and the empty foolishness of fleshly painting and adornment. Here again Scriptural reference points out the clear meaning. James says—
“If any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass, for he beholdeth himself, goeth his way and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.”
How clearly this expresses our Sunday morning penitence and brief, brave, once a week resolve. Most of us are very careful about our natural washing lest we offend man and suffer embarrassment ourselves, but how infinitely more urgent that we constantly examine ourselves in the mirror of the Truth and cleanse our hearts and lives in the Laver of the Word, lest we offend God and find embarrassment at the end.
The Laver teaches that the sacrifice of Christ is not the end but the beginning of the race for life, the good fight of faith. The lesson of the Laver is holiness over and over and over again. “Without holiness no man shall see God.”
The mercy and goodness of God provide the way of cleansing, but only by taking advantage of the cleansing can we gain its benefits. God will not bless us and forgive us in our natural human filthiness. His mercy consists of making provision whereby we may become clean, and we must lay earnest and fearful hold upon that provision—the heart searching Spirit-word.
It is the Laver that introduces the water element into the Tabernacle service. Water is very prominent in Scripture from the first chapter of Genesis to the last of Revelation. Water is health, refreshment, fruitfulness, cleansing and life—particularly cleansing and life, two closely related thoughts, for only the pure in heart shall see God.
Ezekiel’s Temple—the heart and center of the Millennial age—is the source of the water that gives life to the nations. And in the last chapter of Revelation, a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeds from the throne of God and the Lamb, and flows eternally with life sustaining power through the wood of life—the glorious forest of the trees of righteousness, the paradise of God, His immortal saints. Here is the Laver in its fullest development.
The Holy Place is the present position of God’s people. The Laver was outside the Holy Place in the Court. If it portrays the continual purification and cleansing of God’s people by the Word at the present time, should it not be in the Holy Place? If we consider it, we can see why it should not. There is no washing in the Holy Place. Holy means clean; nothing unclean can enter. When we defile ourselves in thought, word, or deed, we put ourselves outside. We must quickly wash in the Laver and reenter to be safe, for the Holy Place is not just a position of holiness, it is a condition of holiness. Again we are dealing with realities and not ritual—real and living facts.
If we are not holy, we are not in the Holy Place, whatever our technical position may be in our own sight or in the sight of others. The Laver teaches us that life in Christ is a probation—a life of constant washing, purifying, perfecting. And it is not just a matter of repenting for our particular sins and cleansing from our mistakes. We must go deeper than that. It is a lifelong cleansing by the Word from our natural fleshliness of mind to spiritual mindedness—a complete transformation, a changing by degrees to the glory of the Lord. Our brief lifetime is none too long for this tremendous process. We have no time for anything else.