By Edward Dennett
WE have now reached the concluding section of the book. Ex. 32 — 34 are parenthetical. The beginning of chapter 35 is consequently a continuation of Ex. 31; but if a continuation, it is only of God's grace. Had He dealt with Israel for their sin, according to the terms of the covenant into which they had voluntarily entered, their history as a nation, and the narrative of God's dealings with them, would have terminated after chapter 31. But we have seen how, notwithstanding their grievous fall, they were spared through the Lord's tender mercy at the mediation and intercession of Moses, and were brought back again into relationship with Himself as His people. Having therefore propounded the terms of His second covenant, He is free in grace to continue His presence with them, and hence we find, in these closing chapters, the actual execution of the commands Moses had received in the mount concerning the erection of the Tabernacle. But, as preparatory to this, the Sabbath is again enjoined.
"And Moses gathered all the congregation of the children of Israel together, and said unto them, These are the words which the Lord hath commanded, that ye should do them. Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you an holy day, a Sabbath of rest to the Lord: whosoever doeth work therein shall be put to death. Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the Sabbath day." (Ex. 35: 1-3.)
The Lord, as has been stated before, always reminds the people of the end and object of all His ways with them; viz., entering into His rest. This was the end proposed, however impossible it became for them to attain it because of their unbelief. Hence the Sabbath is found again in this place, as it always is whenever any new relationship is formed between God and the people. It becomes thus a kind of preface to the account of the construction of the sanctuary.
Moses thereon makes proclamation of the Lord's desire to receive an offering from His people — an offering of the several materials needed for the making of the Tabernacle. (vv. 5-19) God would have His people to enter into His own thoughts and desires for their blessing, and He permits them in His grace and mercy to bring these materials as an offering. He directs what they should bring, although everything they possessed was His own gift (see 1 Chr. 29: 14), and then He would reckon it as their offering. It is ever so. Believers cannot do a single good thing of themselves. Every good work is the product of the Spirit of God, and prepared before of God Eph. 2: 10), and yet when done, God in His grace calls it theirs, and clothes them with the fine linen which is the righteousnesses of saints.
The willingness of God to receive from His people is thus proclaimed. The grace of God in this particular touched and opened their hearts; "and they came, every one whose heart stirred him up, and every one whom his spirit made willing, and they brought the Lord's offering to the work of the tabernacle of the congregation, and for all his service, and for the holy garments." (v. 21.) And again we read, "The children of Israel brought a willing offering unto the Lord, every man and woman; whose heart made them willing to bring, for all manner of work which the Lord had commanded to be made by the hand of Moses." (v. 29.) There are principles involved in these statements which are applicable to all dispensations. The apostle Paul enforces the same when he says, "Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver." (2 Cor. 9: 7; read the whole chapter.) It is therefore of the first importance to remember that everything offered to God must proceed from hearts made willing by His Spirit, that it must be spontaneous, not the result of persuasion or of external pressure, but from the heart. The church of God would have been in a very different state today if this had been remembered. What has wrought more ruin than the many worldly schemes for raising money? and what more humbling than the fact that solicitations of all kinds are used to induce the Lord's people to offer their gifts? Moses was content with announcing that the Lord was willing to receive, and he left this gracious communication to produce its suited effect upon the hearts of the children of Israel. He needed not to do more; and if saints now were in the current of God's thoughts they would imitate the example of Moses, and would shun the very thought of obtaining even the smallest gift, except it were presented willingly, and from the heart, as the effect of the working of the Spirit of God. And let it be remarked, that there was no lack; for in the next chapter we find that the wise men who wrought came to Moses and said, "The people bring much more than enough for the service of the work, which the Lord commanded to make. And Moses gave commandment, and they caused it to be proclaimed throughout the camp, saying, Let neither man nor woman make any more work for the offering of the sanctuary. So the people were restrained from bringing. For the stuff they had was sufficient for all the work to make it, and too much." (Ex. 36: 5-7.) If the first Pentecostal days be excepted, there has probably never been seen anything answering, to this even in the history of the church. The chronic complaint now is concerning the insufficiency of means to carry on the Lord's work. But it cannot be too often recalled — first, that the church of God is never held responsible to obtain means; secondly, that if the Lord gives work to do, He Himself will lay it upon the hearts of His people to contribute what is necessary; thirdly, that we are travelling off the ground of dependence, and acting according, to our own thoughts, if we undertake anything for which the needful provision has not already been made; and lastly, that gifts procured by human means can seldom be used for blessing.
Moreover if liberality was the fruit of the action of the Spirit of God, so also was wisdom. Liberality provided the necessary materials, and wisdom used them according to the divine mind. The Lord filled Bezaleel with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship; and He also put in his heart that he may teach, both he and Aholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. (Ex. 35: 31-35.) The workmen were the gift of God, and the wisdom and understanding needed for their work proceeded also from Him through the action of His Spirit; and He also endowed them with the capacity to teach others; and there were thus associated with them "every wise-hearted man in whom the Lord put wisdom and understanding, to know how to work all manner of work for the service of the sanctuary, according to all that the Lord had commanded." (Ex. 36: 1.) We may surely behold in these workers the pattern of all true servants in every dispensation. They themselves called of God, as was pointed out in Exodus 31, all their activity was the fruit of the Spirit of God. They were not sufficient of themselves to think anything as of themselves, but their sufficiency was of God. (2 Cor. 3: 5.) Human skill, human wisdom or inventions, would but have marred the perfection of the divine design; and hence the workmen were to be but vessels — vessels for the display of divine wisdom and understanding and teaching. Well is it for the workman when he remembers that, like Bezaleel and Aholiab, he is but a vessel; for then it is that the Lord can use him to His own glory in the execution of His own mind and will.
Passing on to Exodus 39, we learn that all the work was done as the Lord had commanded Moses. The essence of all service is obedience, and the test of everything done is its conformity or otherwise with the revealed mind of God. The Lord had given certain directions to Moses, and had instructed His servants for the work; and, as a consequence, the only question concerning their work, when completed, was, Did it correspond in every particular with the pattern given? The Spirit of God has answered this question, affirming in this chapter no less than ten times, that the work was executed as the Lord commanded Moses. (vv. 1, 5, 7, 21, 26, 29, 31, 32, 42, 43.) They therefore met their responsibility towards God, and accordingly received His approval and commendation in this repeated and significant statement: that all their work was characterized by obedience. This affords the important principle that everything which claims to be of God must submit to be tested by God's word. The same principle is affirmed by our blessed Lord in His message to the seven churches. "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches." (Rev. 2: 11, etc.) And there was never more need than in this day for its application. It cannot be conceived that Moses would have accepted, much less the Lord, any single thing, however innocent, or even beautiful, in itself, that did not correspond with the pattern showed him in the mount. Why then should it be expected now, that believers should accept and endorse anything in connection with the church of God which does not answer to the Scriptures? No; everything must be unsparingly rejected, however enshrined in the affections, or commended by its hoar antiquity, which does not bear the stamp and the sanction of the word of God. For is it for one moment to be supposed that the Lord is less jealous concerning His church — the church which He loved, and for which He gave Himself — than concerning the Tabernacle? Or that He permits man's wisdom, and man's order, to be introduced in the one when He so entirely excluded it from the other? The supposition is monstrous. Let it never be forgotten therefore that the Lord measures everything, and hence that it is also our responsibility to measure everything, by His own word.
In the last chapter we have the actual erection of the Tabernacle, and the Lord taking possession of it as His dwelling-place in the midst of Israel. There are several points to be indicated. It will be observed, in the first place, that the Tabernacle was to be set up on the anniversary of their departure from Egypt (Ex. 12: 2) — on the first day of the first month. (Ex. 40: 2.) As their deliverance from the house of their bondage constituted the commencement of their spiritual history, so the dwelling of Jehovah in their midst formed morally a new period of time. The two things are brought together in Christianity. When the soul is brought out from under condemnation, and apprehends peace with God, the forgiveness of sins through the blood of Christ, God seals it by the gift of His indwelling Spirit. The commencement of spiritual life — spiritual life known and enjoyed — and becoming a temple of the Holy Ghost coincide.
The order enjoined in the arrangement of the sacred vessels differs both from that found in the directions given in the mount, and from that of their construction. The ark of the testimony, after the setting up of the Tabernacle, is first put into its place — that which specially distinguished the Tabernacle as God's sanctuary, seeing that the ark was His throne on the earth. Then the ark was covered with the veil; i.e. shut off from view. This formed the holy of holies. The table of showbread, was next brought into the holy place — the next compartment to the most holy — and the bread was set in order upon it; afterwards, the candlestick of pure gold was put into its place, and the lamps lighted before the Lord; then, the altar of gold, the altar of incense, was put "before the veil," before the ark of the testimony, and incense was burnt thereon; and finally, the hanging was set up at the door of the Tabernacle. This completed the arrangement of the holy place. The altar of burnt-offering came next before the door of the Tabernacle of the tent of the congregation — and the burnt-offering and the meat-offering were offered upon it; then the laver was brought and set between the tent of the congregation and the altar, and water put therein, and Moses and Aaron and his sons washed their hands and their feet thereat, etc. (vv. 30, 31.) Thereupon the court round about the Tabernacle and the altar were reared up, and the hanging of the court-gate put in its place — and this completed the Tabernacle with all its arrangements. Moreover the Tabernacle was to be anointed with the anointing oil, and all that was therein, and hallowed with all the vessels thereof. It was to be holy. So also with the altar of burnt-offering — with all its vessels — that the altar might be sanctified. It was to be an altar most holy. The laver and its foot were also to be anointed to be sanctified. Lastly, Aaron and his sons were to be consecrated and robed, that they might minister unto the Lord in the priest's office; "for their anointing shall surely be an everlasting priesthood throughout their generations." (vv. 9-15.)
As in the case of Bezaleel and Aholiab, together with their co-workers, so with Moses, the Spirit of God set His seal of commendation upon the manner in which he performed the work entrusted to him. And what is the meed of praise which He bestows? It is that everything was done in obedience — "as the Lord commanded Moses." Eight times it is repeated that everything was done according to the instructions he had received. (vv. 16, 19, 21, 23, 25, 27, 29, 32.) Again, therefore, we learn the value of obedience in the eyes of the Lord. As Samuel said to Saul, "To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams." As indeed our blessed Lord Himself said, "If ye love Me, keep My commandments." (John 14) If obedience be wanting, whatever there may be of real devotedness and zeal, no service offered can be acceptable to God. And it is precisely here that so many Christians fail. There never was a time of greater energy and activity, nor when larger crowds gather together professedly for worship; but when these things are measured by the test which is supplied in the words, "as the Lord commanded Moses," then it is discovered that man's will, and not the Lord's, is often the paramount spring of all. Observe, again, what has been enforced more than once, that this commendation is given to Moses by the Spirit concerning his action in respect of God's house. The church is now the house of God — the habitation of God through the Spirit. Eph. 2: 22.) If therefore it was above all necessary that Moses should strictly and carefully carry out the instructions he had received concerning the Tabernacle, it is equally important that the word of God should be our only guide in all matters affecting the church. We find accordingly that, in the message which the risen Lord sent to the church at Philadelphia, the fact that they had kept His word was a special ground of His approval. (Rev. 3: 8.) No higher praise could be bestowed. "So Moses finished the work" — finished all in obedience to the word of the Lord.
Finally, the Lord takes possession of the sanctuary which had been made that He might dwell among them. The connection is most significant. "So Moses finished the work. Then a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter into the tent of the congregation, because the cloud abode thereon, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle." (vv. 34, 35.) It was not only Jehovah's public endorsement of the work which had been executed, but it was also His taking possession of His house in the sight of all Israel; for the cloud, the symbol of His presence, covered the tent of the congregation without, and His glory filled the Tabernacle within. It was so — in a still more striking way — when the temple was built. "It came even to pass, as the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord; and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and praised the Lord, saying, For He is good; for His mercy endureth for ever: that then the house was filled with a cloud, even the house of the Lord; so that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud: for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of God." (2 Chr. 5: 13, 14.) Both alike are surely typical of that Pentecostal scene recorded in the Acts: "And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues, like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them: and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance." (Acts 2: 1-4.) Here the two things are combined. The house of God was formed and filled by the descent of the Holy Ghost. In both cases, however, it was God taking possession of the house already made for Him; for from this time all the believers, who together composed the habitation of God through the Spirit, became also severally His temple, because indwelt by the Holy Ghost. We have already spoken on the significance of God's dwelling-place on earth (chapter 25: 8); and we then pointed out that His house in every dispensation points onward to the eternal state when the tabernacle of God will be with men, and His glory will fill the whole scene. (Rev. 21)
Moreover, the cloud of Jehovah's presence became also the guide of His people through the wilderness. "The cloud of the Lord was upon the tabernacle by day, and fire was on it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys." (v. 38; see also Num. 9) They needed only therefore to keep their eyes upon the cloud; for "when the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the children of Israel went onward in all their journeys: but if the cloud were not taken up, then they journeyed not till the day that it was taken up." (vv. 36, 37.) The Lord thus undertook for His people. He had visited them in their affliction in Egypt; He had brought them out with a high hand and an outstretched arm; and had led them forth through the Red Sea into the wilderness. But He Himself would lead them "by the right way, that they might go to a city of habitation." "Happy," we might also exclaim, "is that people that is in such a case: yea, happy is that people, whose God is the Lord." For surely there was nothing now wanting to the blessing of Israel. Jehovah was in their midst. The cloud of His presence rested upon, and His glory filled, the Tabernacle. It was indeed a brief period of unmingled blessing — the accomplishment of God's own desires in surrounding Himself with His redeemed people. How soon this bright and beautiful scene was marred is related in other books; but the very fact that Exodus thus ends is prophetic of the time when "the tabernacle of God" shall be "with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them, their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away." (Rev. 21: 3, 4.)