The Tabernacle-Service. (Ex. xxv - xxx.)
THE book of Exodus is divided manifestly into two parts,
and that whether it be interpreted as Type or Letter. The first eighteen
chapters treat thus of the deliverance of Israel from their old tyrant; the
rest of the book, of their taking fully up the service of their Deliverer. In
the typical view, to which the whole sacrificial system (with which we have now
to do) essentially belongs, the first part gives us redemption from the slavery
of sin; the second, redemption to God. The one is the complement of the other:
the "service" of God is the only "perfect freedom."
We shall have yet to inquire as to the relation of the law to atonement; in what I propose just now, we have nothing to do with law as such. Typically, it becomes the symbol of that divine government to which as redeemed we are at once freely and necessarily subject. This is too much forgotten in interpretations of the book, and nothing seen except strict law - the ministration of death and of condemnation, as then it must be.
Typically, if the first part answer to the epistle to the Romans, the second answers (although much less completely) to the first epistle to the Corinthians. In it the main feature is that habitation of God which Israel themselves are not but Christians are. This tabernacle and its services we have now to consider, so far as it develops new features of atonement, the central figure in all these types.
The new features that the tabernacle service presents to us are the mercy seat, upon which the blood is presented to God; the priest who offers the sacrifice; with the full completion of the altar of burnt offering. The mercy seat, with the ark upon which it rests, is the throne of Him who has taken His place in the midst of His people. He is the God who dwelleth between the cherubim, and appears in the cloud upon the mercy seat.
Christ is this mercy seat, as the apostle in Romans iii. 25 declares; for the word "propitiation" there is the word so translated in Hebrews ix. 5, and that by which the Septuagint constantly renders the capporeth of the Old Testament. This Hebrew word is a noun derived from that intensive form of caphar, which is used commonly in the sense of atonement. Atonement is plainly stated to be made in the holiest on the day of atonement when alone the blood was actually brought in there and presented to God. And while shed actually for the sins of priest and people - the whole congregation of Israel - it was declared to be made for the holy place itself, and for the whole "tabernacle of the congregation" (or "tent of meeting" rather, because there the people met with God). Afterward, atonement was made for the altar of burnt-offering by putting the same blood upon it. Thus the divine intercourse with men was sustained and justified. The sins of the people could not defile that upon which rested the precious blood of sacrifice. The capporeth, the seat of atonement, became indeed the mercy seat, - the throne of righteousness a throne of grace. Toward the mercy seat the faces of the cherubim, ever the symbols of judicial power, and thus connected with the throne, bent to behold the blood which proclaimed and satisfied the righteousness of God. All this in Israel was indeed but type and shadow: there was thus as yet no actual way of access into His presence. For us, the substance is come, and we have "boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which He hath consecrated for us, through the vail - that is to say, His flesh."
The apostle adds here the second thing which the tabernacle-service sets before us - "A High-Priest over the house of God." (Heb. X. 21.)
The priest was the special minister of the tabernacle; the word in Hebrew signifying "minister." The apostle applies this in Hebrews viii. I: "We have such a High Priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens; a Minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man." The word used for "minister" here is leitourgos, one performing duties for the public good; and this completes the idea of the priest, as one serving in behalf of men in the sanctuary of God. Christ is thus "entered . . . into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us." (Ch. ix. 24.)
From Levi, third son of Israel, sprang both the Levite and the priest. This "third" speaks of resurrection, always connected with the third day* (Comp. Hos. vi. 2.). And so the sign of the true priest (Num. xvii. 8.) was the dead rod blossoming and fruitful in the sanctuary. Levis own name also, "joined," is full of meaning: it is the Mediator, in whose person and work God and man are really joined, who becomes the Priest.
*In beautiful connection with the spiritual significance of numerals, far too little thought of; for 3 is the number which speaks of divine fullness - of the Trinity, and thus of divine manifestation; as it is only when this is reached that, in Father, Son, and Spirit, God is fully revealed. But resurrection is that also which reveals God, - a work proper to Himself alone. (See Romans 1. 4.)
If then in the tabernacle Gods dwelling with man is foreshadowed, priest and mercy-seat are the necessary witnesses of how alone this can be.
His work of sacrifice accomplished, He Himself carries in the token of it into heaven, the place henceforth of His priestly ministration. By Him we draw nigh to God: His acceptance, as our representative there, the measure of our acceptance. The high-priest thus represented the people. "In the presence of God for us" He who once died for us ever lives.
Access to God, no more afar off, but abiding with us - access in the sanctuary of the heavens itself, and by One who represents us there: this is the new feature of the tabernacle-types as they speak to us to-day of the power and value of the blood of atonement.
But the altar also gets its full place and character. Indeed, while we find frequent mention of it in the book of Genesis, we have no description at all until we come to the second part of Exodus. The word in the Hebrew simply means "a place of sacrifice." The first command as to its construction we find in chapter xx. 24-26. This was to be the general construction which might have been adhered to, as some say, in the brazen altar, the framework of brass and wood being superimposed upon a substructure of earth.
"The altar sanctifieth the gift." If, then, the sacrifice represent the work of the Lord Jesus, it could not be sanctified by any thing outside. The person of the Offerer alone could give value to His offering. The character of the altar brings out and develops this.
The material, in chapter xx, is first of all, (and, as one might say, preferentially,) earth: "An altar of earth shalt thou make unto Me." We have evidently the thought of that which is fruitful. All fruit both Scripture and mans speech naturally call "fruits of the earth." But what is it that, in contrast with stone or sand, constitutes the fertility of earth? It is the readiness with which it suffers itself to be broken up into ever-finer particles; and to this its name in different languages seems to refer.* The spiritual application is readily made; and the yielding of the creature without resistance to the hand of God is that in which all real fruitfulness is found. In Him who gave Himself in manhood to know (in what other circumstances!) that path from which His creature had departed, Gethsemane and Calvary proved the perfection of His self surrender. It was here the altar of earth symbolized Him: only one of many ways in which what was so precious to the Father is told out. "Therefore doth My Father love Me, because I lay down My life. . . . This commandment have I received of My Father."
*Parkhuret gives eretz, "earth," from ratz, "breaking in pieces, crumbling;" chthon, from Heb. kath. "to pound, beat in pieces;" the Latin, terra, from tero, "to wear away;" and the Eng. ground, from grind.
The altar of stone is of course a different, and in some respects a contrasted thought. Stone is of the material of rock, the type of unyielding strength, a thought that we shall find repeated in the brazen altar, and linked there as here with that in which the secret of it is discovered. The Son of Man is the Ancient of Days. The rejected "Stone" is the "Rock of Ages." It is this that again gives value to the cross, and makes Christ the power of God unto salvation. Everlasting arms are they that are thrown around men. The human Sufferer is a divine Saviour.
It may seem to militate against this that Elijah builds his altar of 12 stones, expressly according to the number of the tribes of Israel; but this is no more against the interpretation I have given than it is against Matthews application of Hoseas prophecy to Christ, that, according to the prophet himself, it is Israel, whom as a child God loved, and called His son out of Egypt. Whoever looks at Isaiah xlix. 3-6 will find how of necessity the place of the failed servant must be taken by One who cannot fail. Substitution may be as rightly stamped upon the altar as on the sacrifice; and this is surely the explanation.
So the stone of the altar must not be hewn stone, nor must there be steps up to it. It is the intervention of God, not work or device of man. His attempt at this would only expose his shame: by any effort or contrivance he cannot rise above his own level. God could come down, and He alone exalt.
We come now to the brazen altar, where the brass covered a frame of shittim-wood, as in the ark, the table, and the altar of incense the gold covered it. In these, the two materials have been rightly held to speak of the two natures of our Lord: the shittim wood, from a wilderness tree, life (conquering death, a growth not governed by its circumstances. Such was He who, growing up within the narrow circle of Judaism, ever spoke of Himself as "Son of man;" who, obedient to the Law, breathed of divine grace; who was light shining out of darkness, life indeed, in the midst of death.
The gold I cannot conceive simply as "divine righteousness;" for who can conceive all the display of it in the tabernacle furniture speaking of nothing else but that? It is obvious, and often remarked, that it was characteristic of the sanctuary itself; and the sanctuary was the place where God manifested Himself; we having to consider it as with the vail rent, and the "first" tabernacle merged thus in the holiest of all. Moreover, in the things themselves there was this common character.* If the shittim wood also represent the humanity of the Lord, the gold must needs represent, one would say, His divine: that by virtue of which alone He could manifest God in full reality. This it would be too narrow to limit to "righteousness," while of course this is contained in it. It is rather "glory," as the apostle calls the golden cherubim of the mercy seat "the cherubim of glory." (Heb. ix. 5.)
*"First, then, there are the things which are found in the Holy of Holies and the Holy Place. The ark of the covenant, the table of the show bread, and the candlestick with seven branches. This is what God had established for the manifestation of Himself within the house where His glory dwelt, where those who enter into His presence could have communion with Him." - (Synopsis of the Books of the Bible. Vol. I, p. 72.)
In the altar of burnt offering brass (or copper) replaces the gold, and for the same reason must surely represent the divine nature in our Lord, yet with an evident difference. It is not the type of divine manifestation, but of unchangeableness - endurance. It is constantly thus associated with iron, but which is a lower type, without the brightness and sheen of the copper. In the successive degradation of the Gentile empires, the gold fades into silver, and the copper into iron. "Thy heaven that is over thy head shall be brass," Moses warns the people, "and the earth that is under thee shall be iron:" words that sufficiently illustrate both the similarity and the difference between these two things. Again, in the blessing of Asher, he says, "Thy shoes shall be iron and brass; and as thy days, so shall thy strength be." And the Lord even asks, in Jeremiah, "Shall iron break the northern iron and the steel [copper]?"
In connection with the altar of burnt offering, this significance of the brass is of easy application. It was no mere creature strength that was in Him upon whom rested the accomplishment Of all the divine counsels of grace through the cross. "I have laid help upon One that is mighty" may indeed be said of Him. But how wondrous this character of endurance in Him who learns obedience through the things that He suffers: to whom it can be said, (His strength weakened in the way, and His days shortened,) "Of old hast Thou laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Thy hands" (Ps. cii. 25.)! Nay, the very power to stoop to such a place was the attribute of a nature necessarily divine.
And what does the brazen grate "beneath", "in the midst of the altar," speak but the deep capacity for suffering here implied? True, as, to be His type, the bird of heaven must die in the vessel of earth (Lev. xiv. 5.), so He must in the verity of manhood acquire capacity. The capacity is not thus to be measured by a mere human standard: He was one blessed Person in whom Godhead and manhood met; and in the depths of His being, as the grate within the altar, the fire of the cross could and did burn in abysses of nameless suffering to which no other sorrow could be like. To attempt to fathom or define would be presumption.
These, then, are features which the tabernacle-service adds to the idea of sacrifice. With this, we shall be prepared, now better to come to that sanctuary book, Leviticus, in which, in some sense finally, the whole heart of atonement is opened up to us. Bible
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