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The Glory Of The Tabernacle

9:1-5 So, then, the first tabernacle, too, had its ordinances of worship and its holy place, which was an earthly symbol of the divine realities. For the first tabernacle was constructed and in it there was the lampstand and the table with the shewbread, and it was called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain there was that part of the tabernacle which was called the Holy of Holies. It was approached by means of the golden altar of incense, and it had in it the ark of the covenant, which was covered all over with gold. In the ark there was the golden pot with the manna and Aaron's rod which budded and the tables of the covenant. Above it there were the cherubim of glory, overshadowing the mercy seat; but this is not the place to speak about all these things in detail.

The writer to the Hebrews has just been thinking of Jesus as the one who leads us into reality. He has been using the idea that in this world we have only pale copies of what is truly real. The worship that men can offer is only a ghost-like shadow of the real worship which Jesus, the real High Priest, alone can offer. But even as he thinks of that his mind goes back to the Tabernacle (the Tabernacle, remember, not the Temple). Lovingly he remembers its beauty; lovingly he lingers on its priceless possessions. And the thought in his mind is this--if earthly worship was as beautiful as this, what must the true worship be like? If all the loveliness of the Tabernacle was only a shadow of reality, how surpassingly lovely the reality must be. He does not tell of the Tabernacle in detail; he only alludes to certain of its treasures. This was all he needed to do because his readers knew its glories and had them printed on their memories. But we do not know them; therefore, let us see what the beauty of the earthly Tabernacle was like, always remembering that it was only a pale copy of reality.

The main description of the Tabernacle in the wilderness is in Exodus 25:1-40 ; Exodus 26:1-37 ; Exodus 27:1-21 ; Exodus 28:1-43 ; Exodus 29:1-46 ; Exodus 30:1-38 ; Exodus 31:1-18 and Exodus 35:1-35 ; Exodus 36:1-38 ; Exodus 37:1-29 ; Exodus 38:1-31 ; Exodus 39:1-43 ; Exodus 40:1-38 . God said to Moses: "Make me a sanctuary that I may dwell in their midst" ( Exodus 25:8 ). It was constructed out of the freewill offerings of the people ( Exodus 25:1-7 ), who gave with such lavish generosity that a halt had to be called to their giving ( Exodus 36:5-7 ).

The Court of the Tabernacle was 150 feet long and 75 feet wide. It was surrounded by a curtain-like fence of fine, twined linen 7 1/2 feet high. The white linen stood for the wall of holiness that surrounds the presence of God. The curtain was supported by twenty pillars on the north and south sides, and by ten on the east and west sides; and the pillars were set in sockets of brass and had tops of silver. There was only one gate. It was on the east side and it was 30 feet wide and 7 1/2 feet high. It was made of fine, twined linen wrought with blue and purple and scarlet. In the court there were two things. There was the Brazen Altar, 7 1/2 feet square and 4 1/2 feet high and made of acacia wood sheathed in brass. Its top was a brazen grating on which the sacrifice was laid; and it had four horns to which the offering was bound. There was The Laver. The laver was made from the brass mirrors of the women (glass mirrors did not exist at that time) but its dimensions are not given. The priests bathed themselves in the water in it before they carried out their sacred duties.

The Tabernacle itself was constructed of forty-eight acacia beams, 15 feet high and 2 feet 3 inches wide. They were overlaid with pure gold and rested in sockets of silver. They were bound together by outside connecting rods and by a wooden tie-beam which ran through their centre. The Tabernacle was divided into two parts. The first--two-thirds of the whole--was The Holy Place; the inner part--one-third of the whole--a cube 15 feet on each side, was The Holy of Holies. The curtain which hung in front of The Holy Place was supported on five brass pillars and made of fine linen wrought in blue, purple and scarlet.

The Holy Place contained three things. (i) There was The Golden Lampstand. It stood on the south side; it was beaten out of a talent of solid gold; the lamps were fed with pure olive oil, and were always lit. (ii) On the north side stood The Table of the Shewbread. It was made of acacia wood covered with gold; it was 3 feet long, 1 1/2 feet wide and 2 feet 3 inches high. On it there were laid every Sabbath twelve loaves made of the finest flour, in two rows of six. Only the priests could eat these loaves when they were removed. They were changed every Sabbath. (iii) There was The Altar of Incense. It was of acacia wood sheathed in gold; it was 1 1/2 feet square and 3 feet high. On it incense, symbolising the prayers of the people rising to God, was burned every morning and evening.

In front of The Holy of Holies there was The Veil which was made of fine, twined linen, embroidered in scarlet and purple and blue, and with the cherubim upon it. Into The Holy of Holies no one but the High Priest might enter, and he only once a year, on the Day of Atonement, and only after the most elaborate preparations. Within The Holy of Holies stood The Ark of the Covenant. It contained three things--the golden pot of the manna, Aaron's rod that budded, and the tables of the law. It was made of acacia wood sheathed outside and lined inside with gold. It was 3 feet 9 inches long, 2 feet 3 inches wide, and 2 feet 3 inches high. Its lid was called The Mercy Seat. On The Mercy Seat there were two cherubim of solid gold with overarching wings. It was there that the very presence of God rested, for he had said: "There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are upon the ark of the testimony" ( Exodus 25:22 ).

It was of all this beauty that the writer to the Hebrews was thinking--and yet it was only a shadow of reality. In his mind there was another thing of which he was to speak again--the ordinary Israelite could come only to the gate of the Tabernacle court; the priests and the Levites might enter the court; the priests alone might enter the Holy Place; and none but the High Priest might enter the Holy of Holies. There was beauty but it was a beauty in which the common man was barred from the inner presence of God. Jesus Christ took the barrier away and opened wide the way to God's presence for every man.

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