By Edward Dennett
THE last chapter closes with an injunction to obedience. Man's thought or design must have no place in God's house. There His authority must be upheld and acknowledged as supreme. This is a principle of the last importance; and is accordingly asserted again and again in the course of these communications. Having then reminded Moses that the pattern shown him in the mount must be ever kept in view, the Lord proceeds to instruct him concerning the composition, size, etc., of the curtains which were to form the tabernacle, the tent, and their coverings.
"Moreover, thou shalt make the tabernacle with ten curtains of fine twined linen, and blue, and purple, and scarlet: with cherubim of cunning work shalt thou make them. The length of one curtain shall be eight and twenty cubits, and the breadth of one curtain four cubits: and every one of the curtains shall have one measure. The five curtains shall be coupled together one to another; and other five curtains shall be coupled one to another. And thou shalt make loops of blue upon the edge of the one curtain, from the selvedge in the coupling; and likewise shalt thou make in the uttermost edge of another curtain, in the coupling of the second. Fifty loops shalt thou make in the one curtain, and fifty loops shalt thou make in the edge of the curtain that is in the coupling of the second; that the loops may take hold one of another. And thou shalt make fifty taches of gold, and couple the curtains together with the taches; and it shall be one tabernacle.
"And thou shalt make curtains of goats' hair, to be a covering upon the tabernacle: eleven curtains shalt thou make. The length of one curtain shall be thirty cubits, and the breadth of one curtain four cubits: and the eleven curtains shall be all of one measure. And thou shalt couple five curtains by themselves, and six curtains by themselves, and shalt double the sixth curtain in the forefront of the tabernacle. And thou shalt make fifty loops on the edge of the one curtain that is outmost in the coupling, and fifty loops in the edge of the curtain which coupleth the second. And thou shalt make fifty taches of brass, and put the taches into the loops, and couple the tent together, that it may be one. And the remnant that remaineth of the curtains of the tent, the half curtain that remaineth, shall hang over the backside of the tabernacle. And a cubit on the one side, and a cubit on the other side, of that which remaineth in the length of the curtains of the tent, it shall hang over the sides of the tabernacle on this side and on that side, to cover it. And thou shalt make a covering for the tent of rams' skins died red, and a covering above of badgers' skins." (vv. 1-14.)
There are, it will be seen, four sets of curtains. The first is termed the tabernacle (vv. 1-6); the second — those made of goats' hair — is named the tent (vv. 11, 12); and the remaining two are called simply "coverings." Three terms (and it is so also in the original) are applied to the four sets of curtains; viz., "the tabernacle" to the innermost of all, "the tent" to the second, and "coverings" to the outermost two — those made of rams' skins dyed red, and those made of badgers' skins.
Following the order of the scripture, the inner set — the tabernacle — may be first considered. These are made of four materials — fine twined linen, blue, purple, and scarlet. Besides this, there were cherubim embroidered (see margin) upon them. It is in these materials that their typical teaching lies. The fine twined linen is a symbol of spotless purity. The priests were on this account clothed with it (Exodus 28: 39-43); and on the great day of atonement Aaron was dressed in this material (Lev. 16: 4) that he might typify the absolute purity of the nature of the One of whom he was but the shadow. In the New Testament the fine linen is spoken of as the righteousnesses of saints. (Rev. 19: 8.) The blue is always a symbol of what is heavenly — the very colour pointing unmistakably to this significance. The purple is emblematic of Gentile royalty. The gospel of John, for example, records that when the soldiers, with coarse brutality, were mocking the claims of Jesus to be the King, they put on Him a purple robe. (John 19: 2.) The scarlet sets forth human glory, and it may be at the same time, Jewish royalty. David thus speaks of Saul having clothed the daughters of Israel in scarlet with other delights (2 Sam. 1: 24) — as expressive of the dignity he had put upon them; and in Matthew's gospel, where Christ is specially presented as the Messiah, He is said to have been clothed by the soldiers in scarlet, ere they bent their mocking knee before Him, and cried, "Hail, King of the Jews!" (Matt. 27: 28, 29.) Applying all this to Christ the significance is most striking. It gives Christ in the absolute purity of His nature, Christ in His heavenly character, Christ as King of Israel (and, as King of Israel, invested with all human glory), and, last of all, Christ as reigning also over the Gentiles. The last two features coalesce, because when Christ shall sit upon the throne of His father David, it will be the period of His world-sovereignty, when all kings shall fall down before Him, and all nations shall serve Him. (Psalm 72: 11.) It is therefore Christ as He was as Man in this world, and Christ as He will be in the future display of His glory in this world, as Son of David, and as Son of man. But there is another thing. Cherubim were embroidered on these curtains. Cherubim have been explained to signify judicial authority. This gives an additional representation of Christ — of Christ as having authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of man. (John 5: 27.) It is thus a full display of what Christ was essentially as Man, and of His glories and dignities connected with the earth. Blessed were those who, admitted in the exercise of their priestly office within the precincts of the holy place, had the privilege of gazing upon these varied displays of the excellencies and glories of the Christ of God!
The dimensions of the curtains are not without meaning. The length of one curtain shall be eight and twenty cubits, and the breadth of one curtain four cubits: and every one of the curtains shall have one measure." (v. 2.) Now 28 = 7 x 4; and consequently the length is seven times four; and the breadth, being also four cubits, divides the length into seven; i.e. 28 / 4 gives 7. Seven and four are thus characteristic. Seven is the perfect number, being absolutely indivisible excepting by itself, and the highest prime number; and four is that of completeness on earth — as seen, for example, in the four corners of the earth, four winds, four-square, four gospels, etc. The dimensions of the curtains will then betoken perfection displayed in completeness on earth; and such a meaning could only be applied to the life of our blessed Lord. The curtains of the tabernacle consequently speak of the complete unfolding of His perfections as Man when passing through this scene.
We have, next, their arrangement and number. Five curtains were "coupled together one to another," so that there were two sets of five — as there were ten in number. Ten is the number of responsibility towards God, as, for example, in the ten commandments (see also Exodus 30: 13, etc.), and five is responsibility towards man. (See Gen. 47: 24; Num. 5: 7, etc.) We are thus taught that Christ as Man met the whole of His responsibility both towards God and towards man, that He loved God with all His heart, and His neighbour as Himself — going as to this, we know, even infinitely beyond. And He was the only One by whom these responsibilities were fully and perfectly discharged.
Then the couplings have likewise a voice. There were fifty loops of blue and fifty taches of gold, by which the curtains were connected. Remembering that blue is the heavenly colour, and that the gold is divine, and that the two numbers of ten and five, which have just been explained, enter into the composition of the fifty, we learn that the heavenly and divine character of our blessed Lord secured the perfect adjustment of His twofold responsibility as Man towards God and man; or that they were perfectly united by His divine and heavenly energy. These meanings, the reader is cautioned, are suggestions, but suggestions which are worthy of devout consideration in the light of Scripture, and which, if examined in the presence of God, cannot fail both to be interesting and profitable.
(2) The curtains of goats' hair. These came next to, immediately above, those which are denominated the Tabernacle, and formed the tent. This covering points also to Christ — "to His positive purity, or rather to that severity of separation from the evil that was around Him, which gave Him the character of prophet — severity, not in His ways towards poor sinners, but in separation from sinners, the uncompromisingness, as to Himself, which kept Him apart and gave Him His moral authority, the moral cloth of hair which distinguished the prophet." In confirmation of this interpretation, Zechariah says, "And it shall come to pass in that day, that the prophets shall be ashamed every one of his vision, when he hath prophesied; neither shall they wear a rough garment (margin, a garment of hair) to deceive," etc. (13: 4; compare Matt. 3: 4.) The dimensions of these differ from the curtains of the tabernacle of the same width, they were two cubits longer — thirty cubits instead of twenty-eight — and there was one more curtain. While unable to suggest any typical value to the numbers, the reason of their larger size is yet evident. They were to extend beyond, on all sides, so as completely to protect the tabernacle curtains. "And the remnant that remaineth of the curtains of the tent e. the goats' hair curtains), the half curtain hat remaineth, shall hang over the backside of the tabernacle. And a cubit on the one side, and a cubit on the other side, of that which remaineth in the length of the curtains of the tent, it shall hang over the sides of the tabernacle on this side and on that side, to cover it. (vv. 12, 10.) The meaning will be, then, that Christ in all that He was, as symbolized by the inner curtains, was guarded by that perfect separation from evil which sprang from His positive and absolute purity. He could therefore challenge His adversaries with the words, "Which of you convinceth Me of sin?" (John 8: 46.) Yea, He could say to His own, "The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in Me." (John 14: 30.) So complete was His moral separation from all evil that He could even touch the leper and not be defiled.
The couplings of the curtains were of brass instead of gold. The colour of the loops is not mentioned. Brass in this connection would seem to signify divine righteousness, not, as seen in the gold, according to what God is in Himself, but as testing man in responsibility. This will be shown more fully when the brazen altar comes to be considered. The aptness of this significance in connection with goats' hair curtains will be at once apprehended. It brings before us Christ as morally separate from sinners, but tested by divine righteousness in His path all through His earthly sojourn — and tested, it need scarcely be added, only with the result of discovering that He answered perfectly its every claim.
(3) Above the "tent" — i.e. the goats' hair curtains — were two coverings; first, one of rams' skins dyed red, and next, another of badgers' skins. The ram was chosen as the consecration offering in connection with the setting apart of the priests to their office. It is called "the ram of the consecration." (Ex. 29: 27.) Dyed red will point very evidently to death. The meaning therefore is entire consecration, devotedness unto death; and where was that ever seen in its perfection except in the One who humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross? The badgers' skins are an emblem of that holy vigilance exhibited in His walk and ways, which preserved Him from all evil. Jerusalem is said to have been "shod with badgers' skins," the provision the Lord had made to protect her from evil in her walk. The vigilance so symbolized is often expressed in the Psalms: "By the word of Thy lips I have kept me from the paths of the destroyer;" and again, "Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against Thee." The coverings therefore likewise proclaim the perfectness of the One whom they typify. At the same time it must not be forgotten, that the features they portray ought to be seen in every believer. For in all that Christ was in His walk through the world He is our example. If therefore we admire the perfections and excellencies that were displayed in Him, we should remember that He is set before us as the standard of our responsibility.
"My Saviour, keep my spirit stayed
Hard following after Thee;
Till I, in robes of white arrayed,
Thy face in glory see."
If for a moment the Tabernacle is supposed to be complete, it will be seen that the badgers' skins only met the outward gaze. But the priest who enjoyed the privilege of entering the holy place, saw the full beauty of the fine twined linen, the blue, the purple, and the scarlet, and of the embroidered cherubim. It was Christ without and it was Christ within; but it was Christ without as seen by the natural eye — discovering no beauty that man should desire Him; and it was Christ within as seen by the eye opened by the Spirit of God; Christ therefore as the chiefest among ten thousand, and as the altogether lovely.