God always desired to come near to his people as every loving heart craves intimate association with those it loves. He desired to commune with men, the exalted creatures made in his own image, who are able to serve him from choice and to reciprocate his love. When God created men he prepared a place deep in their hearts that he alone could fill. During the time of Adam’s holiness, God doubtless often came to beautiful Eden in the cool of the day to commune with him. And ever since man’s sin separated him from God, God has sought to draw as near to man as His holiness and man’s sin would allow. Though the holy God could not dwell in men’s sinful hearts, yet he decided to dwell among his people Israel when he led them out of Egypt. Therefore he ordered Moses to build him a suitable dwelling, becoming to his dignity, that he might tabernacle among them.
No house like this was ever built before. It was not extraordinary in the same respect as are some buildings. It could not compare for vastness with the temple of the sun at ancient Heliopolis; for this house of Jehovah was no larger than a small two-room cottage. Neither were its walls built of glistening marble or imperishable blocks of granite as was the temple of Diana at Ephesus or the Parthenon at Athens, for it was a light, portable building. It was principally peculiar because it was to become the abode of the invisible, infinite God of all the universe among his people Israel. He whom the heaven of heavens can not contain, the one who inhabits eternity and whose presence fills remotest space, was to specially dwell there, to set his name there and there to exhibit his glory.
Therefore he gave full specifications for it himself. It had a divine architect. This was important; for it was to be, not merely an abode, but an instrument for divine worship then and a type of the grandest realities men’s minds have ever known. Though so small a structure, yet it must be of quality in keeping with the infinite dignity of Him who was to dwell there. It has been estimated by William Brown that it cost one and one half million dollars. It was literally covered inside and outside with plates of gold. Also all of its furniture was either of solid gold or overlaid with gold.
How God made known to Moses what the nature of his dwelling should be we are not told further than in the description in Exodus 25–30. From Heb. 8:5 it seems God showed him a pattern of it in Mount Sinai; but whether this was a mental conception of it from the oral description such as an architect might have of a structure before he draws his plan on paper, or whether it was shown to Moses in a vision or otherwise, we do not know. The important point is that it was designed by God as a whole and in minute details. Also Moses was warned against any deviation from God’s specifications. This was essential to its usefulness as a type.
Inasmuch as the name of a type is given by God with direct reference to that which is symbolized or typified, the meaning of the names of the tabernacle should first receive attention. Of the various terms used to designate God’s ancient dwelling-place, the one employed in the first mention of it to Moses is given in Exod. 25:8 and is translated “sanctuary.” This word is full of meaning and is probably the most comprehensive term used to designate the tabernacle. It is said that the original Hebrew word is never used to describe the temples of heathen deities, but only to describe the sacred abode of Jehovah, the Holy One of Israel, whose name is holy. Holiness is the most prominent idea connected with the tabernacle and its service. To make people holy was the great purpose of God’s revealing true religion. Then they were made ceremonially holy, now actually holy. Holiness is peculiar to the religion of Jehovah. Therefore he designated his dwelling-place as a sanctuary. The term is used of the tabernacle as a whole, of the holy place, and also of the holiest place. Though the tabernacle represented these various degrees of holiness, yet it was all holy because of the awful holiness of Him whose glory was manifested in the thrice-holy place beneath the outstretched wings of the cherubim.
The next word used in Scripture to designate that first house of God is the one translated “tabernacle.” It is probably the most common name of it. Its sense is “to settle down” or “to dwell.” It expressed the grand truth that the infinite God had come to dwell among his people. “Let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them,” were the words in which he first commanded the making of the tabernacle. It was the first statement of the wonderful truth afterward included in the name given to Christ, “Immanuel.” which means “God with us.” The term “tabernacle” is used of the curtains, the boards, and of the entire structure.
The third important Scriptural name of the tabernacle is one translated “tent.” It is the one used of the common tents such as those in which the patriarch Abraham or Lot dwelt. It expresses much less of spiritual significance than does “sanctuary” or “tabernacle.” It has been supposed to have value to us as indicating somewhat as to the structure of the tabernacle. It seems to be used especially of the coverings of goats’ hair, rams’ skins, and badgers’ skins which were over the upright framework of boards. Therefore it is sometimes called the “tent of the tabernacle.” Some interpreters have understood this to teach that the tent was therefore separate from and over the tabernacle; but probably this does not positively prove more than that it was a cloth covering whether a flat roof over the framework or a separate tent with a ridged roof.
Another descriptive designation of the tabernacle very expressive is “tabernacle of the congregation.” The Revised Version renders this “tent of meeting,” which is much better. The idea is not the meeting of the people with each other, but their meeting with God. “At the door of the tent of meeting before Jehovah, where I will meet with you, to speak there unto thee” (Exod. 29:42). There at the brazen altar in the presence of the pouring-out of the blood of sin-offerings the holy God would meet sinful men and speak to them. It is also called “the tabernacle of testimony,” because there in the holiest place with the sacred ark for a receptacle were deposited the divinely inscribed tables of stone, which were representative of God’s righteous law.
General View of the Tabernacle
That we may better understand the several parts of the tabernacle by viewing them in their relation to the whole, let us in imagination take a walk through the sacred precincts of the house of God and make a survey of it.
Here we stand in the midst of the camp of Israel before Mount Sinai, with the rough, rocky peaks of Horeb looming in awful grandeur on every side. Of the twelve tribes of Israel the tents of three tribes may be seen to the east, three to the north, and as many to the west and to the south. Fringing the great interior square thus formed are pitched the tents of the tribe of Levi, that thirteenth tribe especially holy, of whom are the priests and whose work it is to care for and serve the tabernacle. Immediately to the east of us dwell the priestly families, because the tabernacle door is to the eastward, and these ministers of the sanctuary must be nearest of all. In the great square thus formed is located the sanctuary. Literally, “God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved” (Psa. 46:5).
From the eastern side of this square we face to the westward from the tents of the priests, and before us is the holy house, with its entrance on the east side, nearest us. First notice this high fence around the tabernacle enclosing a yard, called the “court.” This court you will notice is a hundred cubits long and fifty cubits wide. Or allowing eighteen inches for the cubit, which measure is supposed to have been originally derived from the length of a man’s forearm, from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger, it is 150 feet long by 75 feet wide. It is as big as a large-sized city building-lot. The surrounding fence or wall is very peculiar in that it consists of hangings of fine linen suspended between posts, which stand five cubits, or seven and one half feet, apart. The fence is also five cubits, or seven and one half feet, high, so we can not see over it. These sixty posts are set in sockets of brass and have hooks and fillets of silver. But the entrance, which is thirty feet wide, including four of the spaces between posts, has instead of the common white hanging a much more beautiful one in gorgeous colors—blue, purple, and scarlet—the colors of royalty.
Passing through the entrance to the court and looking straight ahead of us, in the further end of the court we see the tabernacle itself, and immediately before us stands the large brazen altar, where expiation is made for sin, and between this and the tabernacle is a large brazen vessel called the laver, filled with water, in which the priests must always wash both their hands and feet before entering the dwelling-place of God. We expect to come back to these to examine them more carefully later, so we shall pass on.
The tabernacle proper is not very different in size and shape from the common flat-top, black-goats’ hair tent of the average Arabian desert-dweller as it has been constructed for thousands of years. Raising the beautiful hanging of blue, purple, and scarlet and passing between gold-covered pillars we stand in the holy place, the first sanctuary, where we common people can never actually enter. It is as large as a large-sized living-room—a place of beauty and grandeur. The walls and ceiling are of the same fine linen and kingly colors as the hanging at the entrance, and are inworked with figures of cherubs in recognition of the presence of Deity.
Before us on the south side is the seven-branch golden candlestick or lamp-stand shedding its light round about. On our other hand is a table overlaid with pure gold. On it are twelve loaves of bread, upon which is frankincense. Moving on we come to a beautiful little altar covered with gold. On this sweet incense is burned daily, morning and evening, for a sweet odor before Jehovah. Also on its horns are marks of blood, the blood of atonement sprinkled on it from the sin-offering.
Now with trembling hand and bowed head we reverently lift the beautiful second veil and quietly enter the sacred inner room, the holiest place. Naturally all is dark, but we know we are in the presence of Him who dwells “in the thick darkness.” (1 Kings 8:12.) Here we stand in the awful presence of the Almighty God. We are before the “throne of grace.” This inner room is but half as large as the first, and its walls are covered with the same kind of beautiful hangings. The one piece of furniture is the chest-like gold-covered ark, containing the testimony, and over it serving as its lid the pure-gold mercy-seat with a golden cherub on either end stretching its wings out over the mercy-seat like a golden canopy. Here above the mercy seat and under the shadow of the outspread wings of the cherubim (according to Jewish tradition) the Shekinah light, the glory of the Lord, ever shines. From here Jehovah speaks to and blesses his people. Here also on the mercy-seat once each year, on the great day of atonement, the blood of atonement is sprinkled. Here intercession is made for transgressors, and here mercy is extended to sinners.
What the Tabernacle Typified
One can scarcely contemplate this peculiar structure with its various apartments, its strange furniture, its bloody sacrifices, and its mysterious rites without being impressed with the fact that it must be of symbolic significance, even if the Scriptures were silent as to the fact. We need have no doubt that the tabernacle was a type and therefore also symbolic to the Israelites. The writer to the Hebrews, after giving a description of the tabernacle, says, “Which was a figure for the time then present … But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands” (Heb. 9:9–11). Also Jesus is described as “a minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man” (Heb. 8:2). And again Christ is spoken of as the “Apostle and High Priest,” as a “son over his own house; whose house are we” (Heb. 3:1, 6). From these texts it is clear that as a house and as the dwelling-place of God the tabernacle typified the true, spiritual “house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” (1 Tim. 3:15).
But let it be noticed that only as the house of God does it find its antitype in the church. As a means of worship and ceremonial or symbolic purification from sin, it typified the way by which today the sinner comes to God or obtains salvation through the precious blood of the true Lamb of God from the guilt of sin and depravity of the nature. Of the large number of New Testament texts that teach this, probably the following is sufficient for our present purpose: “Having therefore, brethren, holiness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having an high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Heb. 10:19–22).
Surrounding the tabernacle was a considerable space called the “court” enclosed by a high fence three hundred cubits around, or it was one hundred and fifty feet long by seventy-five feet wide. This was a screen of linen cloth, and was not very different from what is commonly used in the East at the present time to enclose the private apartments of important persons. The linen curtains as already described were seven and one half feet high and were supported by posts, twenty on each side and ten on each end. These posts were probably of shittim wood, were five cubits apart, stood in sockets of brass, and had chapters of silver and silver fillets, which were probably connecting-rods between the posts from which the curtains were suspended. Whether the sockets beneath were for the purpose of keeping the posts upright is not certain; but we are told that there were pins and cords which probably were used for this purpose as a common tent is supported. In the court were located the brazen altar and the laver.
But what is the typical significance of the court? Into the court came the penitent Israelite to offer sacrifice for sin, to obtain the favor of God. Here he came for justification. Here at the altar of burnt offering he came to God. If, then, those who came into the ancient court of the tabernacle were seeking forgiveness through those symbolic sacrifices, they must be typical of those who are convicted of their sins and are coming to God for salvation through Christ. They have forsaken the outside world, but have not yet come into God’s church.
The Brazen Altar (Exod. 27:1–8; 38:1–7)
The altar is doubtless the oldest of all religious institutions, and dates from the earliest dawn of human history. Doubtless Cain and Abel offered their respective offerings upon altars. Noah built an altar when he left the ark. At the first place Abraham stopped in the land of Canaan he built an altar to the Lord. These altars were of earth or of unhewn stone. Altars were common to heathen peoples—in Egypt, at Athens, among the American Indians of Mexico; and some of the ruins of the ancient Druids are supposed to be a kind of altar. When God told Moses to make an altar of brass he was not introducing a new institution, but rather regulating the construction and use of an existing one. This altar of the tabernacle is called by various names, as the altar; the brazen altar (to distinguish it from the golden altar of the holy place); and the altar of burnt offering, probably because the burnt offering was that most commonly offered there. It was the most used and probably the most important instrument of service in the tabernacle.
Its Structure. —The brazen altar was constructed of shittim wood overlaid with brass. As these materials were used considerably, it is of interest to give attention to them. This shittim wood is the desert acacia, a hard, close-grained wood, very durable, and capable of taking a fine natural polish somewhat as our imported lignum-vitae wood. The “brass” used for the altar and other parts of the tabernacle is understood as meaning copper, for we are told brass was not known to them. The altar was made “hollow of boards,” without top or bottom. In size it was to be five cubits, or seven and one half feet, in length and width, and four and one half feet, or three cubits, high. It was large enough to receive the largest animal and not too high for the ministering priests. Horns were to be shaped on the four corners. The purpose of these is unknown—unless we suppose the sacrifice was to be tied to them, this may be understood from Psa. 118:27: “Bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar.”
The altar had a compass and a grate of network of brass in the middle, also a ring in each of its four corners through which was run on either side a stave or bar, also overlaid with brass, as a means of carrying it. Some difference of opinion exists concerning the compass and the grate of brass. At least four different views are held. The most probable view seems to be that the compass was a mere crown or band around the top for ornamentation as on the golden altar, and that the grate was a “hearth” or “fireplace,” as it is rendered by the Septuagint, and was hung inside the altar midway between the bottom and the top. This grate was held in position by the rings in the corners, which passed through the corners of the altar to the outside, where the bars passed through them. Thus the grate would serve a valuable purpose; and it being supported by the loose bars, the ashes might have been sifted through by shaking the bars. The grate was thus one and one half cubits from the ground, which was also the height of the altar of incense and the mercy-seat—probably signifying that atonement, mercy, and communion are coordinate, that one can not exist without the other.
Its Meaning. —Neither the use nor the symbolic meaning of the altar can be understood apart from the sacrifice offered upon it. On the brazen altar was sprinkled the blood and were burned the bodies of animals as sacrifices to God, for the sins of the offerers. The sprinkling of the warm blood of the dying victim round about on the altar was an important part of the sacrifice, because it was the blood that atoned for the soul. After this the animal was skinned, cut in pieces, and all or part, according to the kind of sacrifice being offered, laid on wood on the altar and burned.
This act of sacrifice was very full of meaning. It was symbolic of vicarious atonement. When the sin-burdened Israelite led the trembling lamb to the altar of Jehovah before the holy house, laid his hand upon it signifying that he was now identified with it—that the suffering for his sins was now laid upon it—cut its throat with his knife, while the priest hastily caught its blood in a basin and sprinkled it on God’s altar, after which its body was prepared and burned there, he must have been forcibly reminded of the awfulness of sin, the holiness of God, and of the great truth of propitiation by another if his sin was to be forgiven.
If the ancient Israelite saw no more than this in his offering of sacrifice it doubtless had a good effect. But the spiritual-minded offerer doubtless saw dimly in this faint shadow that most glorious future reality, the Lamb of God suffering for the sins of the world. The altar then with the sacrifice on it typified the glorious atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ. As the blood of that animal was poured out in symbolic atonement, so Jesus’ precious blood, or life, was freely and willingly poured out for us. “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.… The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.… He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.” (Isa. 53:5–7). “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29). That the brazen altar with its offering typified Christ, the true offering for sin, is clear from many texts in the New Testament, especially in the Hebrew epistle.
The importance of the truth typified by the altar can not be overestimated. For atonement is the only possible means of forgiveness and acceptance by God. That ancient altar stood directly before the entrance to the house of God. It was directly in the line between the gate of the court and the ark of God in the holy of holies, signifying the great truth that we can not come to God except by Christ. “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6). “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12).
Neither is this requirement of atonement for pardon of sin an arbitrary requirement on God’s part. It was necessary in the very nature of things. Man had sinned against the righteous commandment of a holy God and deserved to suffer its penalty. Moreover, if the penalty was remitted without atonement and the sinner received by God to himself, it could be only at the expense of God’s holiness and the dignity of his good law, which men would then be tempted to despise. This could not be. So God sent his Son to suffer in our stead and to make an atonement or propitiation to God by which we might be spared the penalty due our sins.
At Jehovah’s altar the stupendous problem of sin is settled. God forgives the sinner, but still remains a God of holiness—and yet the God of love. He is holy, and still merciful. “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” (Rom. 3:24–26). Behold the depths both of the goodness and of the holiness of God in the atoning work of Jesus!
Some professed Christians acknowledge no objective or Godward element in the atonement. They claim they see only a manifestation of God’s love in Jesus’ death, and a consequent moral influence exerted on men to lead them to salvation. We gladly allow all this, but also we see at God’s altar exhibited something more than the bloodless religion of Cain that these men teach. There a life is sacrificed that another life may be spared. The wages of sin is death, but the Lamb of God dies instead and the sinner lives. What a glorious thought! What matchless mercy! Eternity will be none too long in which to render to Him the praise and thanksgiving that is due.
Only by way of the altar can a sinful soul draw near to the holy God. Only when washed in the blood of Jesus can we have fellowship with God. Even our very worship is acceptable only after the sin-cleansing blood has been sprinkled.
(Exod. 30:17–21; 38:8)
The altar was typical of our justification through the atonement of Christ. God has given us less specific information concerning the laver than of the other articles of furniture in the tabernacle. We are told that it was made of brass (copper), of the brazen mirrors of the women. Here the priests must wash both hands and feet before entering the tabernacle, or ministering at the altar, lest they die. Its shape and size are not given; but probably it was round in shape as was customary of such vessels. It was large enough to contain sufficient water for the washing of the priests, and probably also for the washing of the sacrifices to be burned upon the altar. The laver was located in the court between the brazen altar and the entrance to the tabernacle. It is stated of it, “And he made the laver of brass, and the foot of it of brass.” This seems to imply that the foot was something separate from the laver. Some have supposed the foot was a saucerlike basin below the laver in which the feet and hands of the priests were washed and which supported the laver by a shaft rising from its center.
Typical Meaning. —That the laver had symbolic and typical significance is to be gathered from the importance attached to the washings there. Twice it is stated of the priests who washed there, “That they die not.” Moreover the New Testament is quite clear as to its typical meaning. “He saved us, by the washing of regeneration.” (Tit. 3:5). The marginal reading of the Revised gives “laver” of regeneration instead of “washing.” So it is translated in the Emphatic Diaglott. The same Greek word is used here as is used in the Greek Septuagint in Exod. 30:18 for laver.
This washing at the laver is not to be understood as typifying water baptism, as some have supposed. Sound principles of symbolic interpretation forbid making a literal thing symbolic of a similar literal thing. Besides, this was essential to entrance into the ancient house of God; but one may enter God’s church before water baptism, as was evidently true of the thief on the cross, of Paul, or of Cornelius.
But the “washing of regeneration” is a cleansing that is necessary to entrance into God’s church. Jesus said, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he can not enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). The kingdom and the church are practically identical. Regeneration and the new birth mean the same. As those justified at the altar and entering that ancient house needed this washing at the laver, so we today need, not only justification from committed sins, but also regeneration of our hearts.
The laver was typical of this regeneration as the altar was of justification. The water typifies the word of God, which, in conjunction with the Spirit of God, is an agent for effecting the new birth (John 3:5). “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.” (John 15:3). “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth.” (Jas. 1:18). “Being born again … by the word of God.” (I Peter 1:23).
Conversion is twofold in its nature. It brings the sinner into right relations with God, and effects right character in the sinner thus enabling him to keep in right relation with God. We need to be justified or pardoned of our committed sins, and we need also to have power over the power of the indwelling sinful nature so that we can keep justified by living a holy life.
Justification would be of little practical value to us without regeneration. This regeneration is variously described as a new birth, becoming a “new creature,” receiving a “new heart,” and as being “created” anew.
It may be well described as salvation from the reigning power of the sinful nature. We naturally have a depraved nature that impels to sin. This depraved nature is a derangement of the moral nature. It is a perversion of the affections, and a weakening of the conscience and of the will insomuch that the sinner says, “To will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.” (Rom. 7:18). Now, regeneration is not an entire removal of depravity; for it is the testimony both of the Bible and experience that depravity still remains in some sense in the regenerated. But we know that when one is born again a new power comes into his life that makes him triumphant over the depravity of his nature. Then he can say, “The law [power] of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law [power] of sin and death.” (Rom. 8:2).
The incoming of the Spirit of the Almighty gives power over every sinful desire. “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Cor. 5:17). “We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not.” (I John 5:18). “A new heart also will I give you.… And I will … cause you to walk in my statutes, and you shall keep my judgments, and do them.” (Ezek. 36:26, 27).
Thank God, we are not only pardoned at the altar, Christ, but we are enabled to live well-pleasing to God by the laver of regeneration. How beautifully the process of our salvation is foreshadowed in this ancient type! It is a clearer and more systematic presentation of the method of salvation than is given anywhere in the New Testament.
(Exod. 26:1–37; 36:8–38)
The exact dimensions of the tabernacle proper are not given, but it may be readily calculated from the size and number of the boards and the curtains. It was thirty cubits, or forty-five feet, long by ten cubits, or fifteen feet, wide and as high as it was wide. It was divided into two rooms by the veil. The first room, or holy place, was twenty cubits, or thirty feet long and the second room or holiest place, was ten cubits, or fifteen feet, long, making the latter room a perfect cube.
Boards and Bars. —The framework was of boards of shittim wood one and one half cubits, or twenty-seven inches, wide and ten cubits, or fifteen feet, long. These stood on end, edge to edge, twenty on each side and six at the rear, besides two corner boards. These boards were overlaid with gold inside and outside and set in sockets of silver with two sockets under each board and two tenons on the bottom of each board running down into these two sockets. To hold the boards in position, five bars of shittim wood overlaid with gold were provided for each of the two sides and as many for the rear. Rings were made on each of the boards, and through these four of the bars were passed. The fifth bar, “the middle bar in the midst of the boards, shall reach from end to end”; and “he made the middle bar to shoot through the boards from the one end to the other.” It seems to have been mortised through all the boards from edge to edge. Typical Significance of the Boards and Bars. —As we have already shown the sanctuary was typical of the church as God’s dwelling-place, so it is proper to interpret the typical meaning of the various parts in harmony with that of the whole. It is not unreasonable to believe that the individual parts that made up the Mosaic tabernacle were typical of the individual parts that compose the church of the New Testament. “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” (1 Cor. 12:27). “But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.” (v. 18). “The church, which is his body.” (Eph. 1:22, 23). From these texts as well as from the meaning of the original term for church it is certain that the church is composed of all the truly converted people. Therefore the individual board in the tabernacle typified the individual Christian, as collectively that house typified God’s present house, “whose house are we.” (Heb. 3:6).
That this interpretation is correct is evident from various texts that speak very definitely on the subject. “In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” (Eph. 2:21, 22). This represents Christians as being “fitly framed together” as were the boards composing God’s ancient house. “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house.” (1 Peter 2:5). Here the same idea is set forth although the figure of stones is used instead of boards, probably referring to Solomon’s temple.
That which the bars are said to typify must also be in harmony with the antitype of the tabernacle as a whole and the other parts with which they are related. The detailed description given of these bars and their important function in the tabernacle are both good reasons for our expecting to find something analogous to them in the antitypical sanctuary. What, then, unifies and relates to each other the members of God’s spiritual house as the bars held together and solidified in one the boards of that ancient house? Jesus prayed in that notable prayer recorded by John as follows: “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” (John 17:20, 21). That the unity of Christians is important enough to be typified in the tabernacle is evident from this fact stated by Jesus that it should be an evidence to the world of his divinity. Also on such an occasion with the gloom of Gethsemane already gathering about him and the horrors of Calvary immediately before him, we can not think of Jesus praying about unimportant things.
Let us look in Paul’s great unity chapter, the fourth of Ephesians, for the unifying agents of God’s church typified by the golden bars of the tabernacle. “Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (v. 3). “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” (vs. 11–13). Here we have two kinds of unity, a “unity of the Spirit” of God, and a “unity of the faith.” So likewise we have one interior and four exterior bars for the boards of the tabernacle. Probably the number of boards and bars have no typical meaning, but are such as its physical construction required.
As that golden bar passed through the midst of the boards uniting them together from within, so the Holy Spirit in the hearts of all his people makes them one in a very real sense. The saved in Christ not only have kindred spirits, they not only have common aspirations and desires, but they all have one Spirit, the Spirit of God in them.
This unity of the Spirit is beautifully set forth by Paul in the twelfth chapter of 1 Corinthians under the figure of the human body as representative of the body of Christ, the church. As the hands, the feet, and every part of the human body cooperate under the direction of the one indwelling and animating human spirit, so the members of the church of Christ, in each of whom his Spirit dwells and moves, all work together in unity and harmony.
This indwelling of the one Spirit in all the members is the ground of the holy fellowship that normally exists among God’s saints, and which is so blessed that even the hardened sinner looking on is convinced that they have something he does not possess. “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:35). They “were of one heart and of one soul.” (Acts 4:32). “There is one body.” (Eph. 4:4). It is also the basis of the true organization and government of God’s church. During the long ages of apostasy this unity of Christians by the rule of the indwelling Spirit was practically lost, but the time has come when devout hearts everywhere are seeking for that oneness which characterized the early church, and Christian unity, the oneness in the body of Christ, is again becoming a practical reality.
But let us again notice that unity of the faith symbolized by the four exterior golden bars. An invisible, interior unity is maintained by the inner bar, but the other bars are needed for outward unity. This is to result from the labors of the various classes of ministers mentioned in Eph. 4:11. By their faithful preaching of the Word of God, their hearers will attain to this unity. Probably we are not to understand an absolute unity of comprehension of the details of religious truth or the interpretation of every portion of Scripture, but rather a unity of comprehension of those fundamental and practical truths that are necessary to the perfecting in Christian experience and to the bringing to the “measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” What we know we know alike.
Typical Meaning of the Silver Sockets. —The Scriptures speak quite clearly concerning the meaning of the silver sockets. In Exodus 38:25–28 we are told that these were made from the silver half-shekels which the men twenty years old and upward gave when they were numbered, as a ransom for their souls that they be not stricken with plague. In chap. 30:11–16 it is called “atonement money.” Each man must give this exact amount, which was equal to about sixty-two cents. The rich must not give more nor the poor less, signifying that God, not men, must determine the necessary atonement for sin. God’s church, his redeemed people, rest on the atonement of Christ. His life’s blood is the ransom price of every member of God’s spiritual house, who were represented by the boards that rested upon the costly silver sockets of atonement money. Probably the apostle had this very atonement silver in mind when he wrote, “Ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, … but with the precious blood of Christ.” (1 Peter 1:18, 19).
The Curtains. —Four coverings were placed over the framework of boards. An inner covering of ten magnificent curtains four by twenty-eight cubits, of fine linen (with cherubim in the royal colors blue, purple, and scarlet inworked), and fastened together at the sides, covered the walls and ceiling inside. Over this and covering the frame work outside were eleven curtains of goats’ hair, four by thirty cubits, and fastened together at the sides. The length of one of these curtains was exactly enough to reach across the top and down each side of the tabernacle outside. The inside curtains seem to have been hung cross-wise of the tabernacle in the same manner. Over the curtains of goats’ hair was spread a covering of rams’ skins dyed red, and over this one of badger’s skins, or, as the Revised translates it, of seals’ skins.
Typical Meaning of the Curtains. —These beautiful curtains of fine white linen inwrought with heavenly figures in kingly colors of blue, purple, and scarlet doubtless contain a lesson for us in the “true tabernacle.” This fine white linen was a covering for the gold-covered boards, which gold symbolized the glory of the Lord. This clothing for the boards was probably in the Revelator’s mind when he said of the church, “To her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.” (Rev. 19:8). Divine righteousness, the righteousness of Christ, is the covering of every member in God’s church. The royal colors blue, purple, and scarlet seem to signify the exalted honor which is the portion of those in God’s church. These are a “royal priesthood” (1 Pet. 2:9), and, as they exclaim in Revelation 5:9, 10, “Thou … hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.” “And hath made us kings and priests unto God” (Rev. 1:6). “They … reign in life” (Rom. 5:17). The cherubs or angelic figures are characteristic of God’s presence throughout the Bible. They appear in Isaiah’s vision (Isa. 6:2), and the golden cherubim were on the mercy-seat nearest to God’s presence. On the curtains and the veil they doubtless signify the heavenliness of the condition of those in God’s house today. God’s people now “sit together in heavenly places” (Eph. 2:6). They have come “to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born.” (Heb. 12:22, 23).
The Two Veils and Two Rooms. —At the entrance of the tabernacle was a hanging of blue, purple, and scarlet of fine linen, suspended upon five pillars of shittim wood overlaid with gold and set in sockets of brass. Twenty cubits beyond this was the second veil of fine linen, with figures of cherubim in the same gorgeous colors as those on the curtains. The veil hung upon four gold-plated pillars of shittim wood set in sockets of silver.
Typical Meaning of the Two Rooms. —No feature of the tabernacle is more prominent than the two divisions of it—the holy and the most holy place. This twofold aspect is seen, not only in the two rooms, but also in the first and second veil admitting to them respectively; in the two altars, the brazen altar before the first veil and the golden altar before the second veil; and in the two applications of blood, the first on the brazen altar and the second on the golden altar. Something of very fundamental importance must be foreshadowed by this oft-repeated double aspect in type.
Some interpreters have understood this second room to represent heaven. They get this idea from the statement in Heb. 9:24, where Christ is said to have entered, not into the holy places in the literal tabernacle, “but into heaven itself now to appear in the presence of God for us.” It should be noted, however, in interpreting this verse, that the analogy is not being drawn here between places merely, but especially between the service of the high priest’s entering into God’s presence in that ancient house to intercede for the people and Jesus’ entering into God’s presence in heaven to make intercession for sinners. The presence of God is the essential thing, the place is merely incidental. For all others than the high priest, “the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing.” (Heb. 9:8). Even he could enter only on the day of atonement, once each year, in the capacity of intercessor for the people. Therefore his intercession there was typical of Christ’s intercession before God in heaven. But as a type of Christian experience, or in relation to the common priests, it represents a state of grace that may be obtained in this life, according to Heb. 10:19. A second reason why the holiest place is not a proper type of heaven is that a literal place can not be a type of a literal place even though that place be heaven. The laws of symbols forbid this. A place more appropriately typifies a spiritual state. A third reason is that in this twenty-fourth verse of Hebrews nine the holiest place is not mentioned, but the “holy places,” including the entire house, both the holy and the holiest place. But we have already fully proved that the tabernacle was typical of the church, the house of God, “whose house are we.” (Heb. 3:6). (See also Heb. 8:2; 9:11; 1 Cor. 12:27; 1 Tim. 3:15). A fourth and very positive reason is that in Heb. 10:19–22. “Brethren” are urged to enter the holiest, which would be meaningless if used of heaven, which is not entered voluntarily—we can only will to be ready, and we already are prepared when we are “brethren.”
But what is the antitypical inner room? Is there such a thing in the process of coming to God as two distinct degrees of holiness? Do some of those in God’s church possess a distinctly superior degree of holiness? Is there an experience in divine grace that is obtained by an application of the blood as at the golden altar subsequent to the experience obtained at the brazen altar and at the laver, which admits into the first room?
According to both the Bible and the experience of multitudes of the most spiritual Christians, these questions must be answered in the affirmative. The first room typified the regenerated state of believers, and the second room the state of entire sanctification which is received at the time of the Holy Ghost baptism subsequent to conversion.
Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.” (John 17:17). This prayer Jesus prayed for his disciples, who belonged to God and had “kept” his word (v. 6), who were “not of the world” (vs. 9, 14, 16), who had been sent to preach (Matt. 10:7), whose names were written in heaven (Luke 10:20), who had believed on him (Matt. 16:16) and were therefore born of God (John 1:12, 13). Now, to sanctify means to make holy. Therefore these who and been regenerated needed to be made more holy than they were already. So in John 15:1–6 a purging or cleansing of those who are already branches of the true vine, Christ, is promised, that they may be the more fruitful. Again, Paul prays for his newly converted Thessalonian brethren, “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thess. 5:23). “Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it [the church]; that he might sanctify and cleanse it [the church] with the washing of water by the word.” (Eph. 5:25, 26). Here the church, those already regenerated, are to be sanctified, having been already cleansed at the laver of water. The Greek word here for washing is the same as that used in Exod. 38:27 in the Septuagint which we translate laver. There is a cleansing of those already in the church. This is accomplished by the Holy Ghost at the time of his baptism (Acts 15:8, 9). That the baptism by the Spirit is after the time of conversion is exemplified in the apostles (John 14:17; Acts 2:4), the Samaritans (Acts 8:12–16), the Ephesians (Acts 19:2–6), and others.
This sanctification is a restoration from the depravity of the nature. That the derangement of the nature continues in the regenerated has been the experience and belief of Christians generally. But in entire sanctification by a second application of the blood of Jesus at the golden altar we are able to enter through the veil into the holiest place, the place of perfect holiness, where we are pure “as he is pure.” This and this only is perfect redemption from sin. Under the ancient tabernacle, entrance into the holiest place was not possible except for the high priest; but now it is open to whosoever wills to enter. Then let us “enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus … having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience [at the brazen altar], and our bodies washed with pure water [at the laver which admits into the holy place]” (Heb. 10:19, 22).
Typical Meaning of the Veil. —Both the hangings at the entrance, the first veil, and the second veil, typified Christ. That the second veil typified him is plainly stated in Heb. 10:20, where it is said we enter the holiest “by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh.” It is only by Christ’s atonement, which he made by coming in the flesh, that perfect holiness is possible. This also throws light on the rending, from top to bottom, of the veil in the temple by unseen hands, at the death of Jesus. It signified that the atonement was now completed and full redemption from sin is possible, so we can go into the very presence of God, into the place of perfect holiness.
Under the symbol of a sheepfold Jesus states that he is the door (John 10:9). Therefore the door or veil at the entrance to the ancient house of God typified Christ. “For through him we both have access by one spirit unto the Father.” (Eph. 2:18). Only through Christ can we be saved.
Typical Meaning of the Golden Pillars. —Four golden pillars supported the second veil and five the hanging at the entrance, or the first veil. In the Galatian letter Paul writes, “And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship” (Gal. 2:9). “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out.” (Rev. 3:12) As the pillars in that first temple of God were supports for it and held up the veils which typified Christ, so the faithful minister of the gospel upholds Christ and the interests of the church. The three leading apostles at Jerusalem were pillars in this way. Not only ministers, however, but all who are faithful and who overcome temptation may become pillars.
The Golden Candlestick
(Exod. 25:31–39; 37:17–24)
This great candelabrum, which stood at the south side of the first room, was one piece of pure beaten gold. It was made of a talent of gold, or about $27,375 worth of gold. Its size is not given in the Bible; but the amount of gold used, and the size of it in relation to the height of a man as shown by the bas-relief on the Arch of Titus, is ground for supposing it was probably two cubits, or three feet, high, as was the golden altar on which it was to shed light.
It was made with a central upright shaft from each side of which went out three branches; oil lamps were on the top of the branches and central shaft, all on one plane. It was more properly a lamp-stand than a candlestick. On each of the arms or branches were three bowls like almonds, with a “knop,” or knob, and a flower with each bowl. Four of these bowls, knops, and flowers were on the central shaft. Thus it had the appearance of a golden almond-tree with fruits in the three stages, as was Aaron’s almond-rod laid up in the tabernacle, which, in one night, budded, blossomed, and bore almonds. The purpose of the candlestick was to give light on the table of shewbread opposite and for the priestly ministration there and at the golden altar. It was to be kept always burning with beaten olive-oil, and to be trimmed and cared for by the priests evening and morning.
Typical Significance of the Candlestick. —As the altar and the laver were typical of Christ, so was also the candlestick and all the other articles of furniture in the sanctuary, as well as the two veils. It is necessarily so because he is the only Savior. The different articles of furniture were needed to set forth the various phases of his work in our salvation much as he used, in his parables, different things to illustrate the various phases of the kingdom of God. He it is who is the source of all spiritual light. Christians merely reflect his light. He said, “I am the light of the world.” (John 8:12). In a special sense this light is shed on those who are saved. The sinner is said to be in darkness; but Christians are called “children of light” (1 Thess. 5:5). “For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord.” (Eph. 5:8). “That ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Pet. 2:9). Even without these clear statements from the Bible, it would still be evident that the golden candlestick typified Christ, who is the giver of light to his church. Seven is the number of perfection. Christ’s light is perfect. Its being made of gold may be significant also, because gold is the sacred metal that characterizes the presence of God and probably symbolizes the glory of God. As the boards and pillars have already been shown to be covered with gold, so the Christian is clothed with God’s glory and presence. But the candlestick was solid gold—a fit representation of Christ. The blessedness of the light of Christ is better appreciated if we compare the condition of “saints in light” with those groping in the darkness of sin and heathenism.
“My darkness now is passed away,
In Jesus all is perfect day;
And peace and comfort ever stay
Since Christ is my perfect light.”
The Table of Shewbread
(Exod. 25:23–30; Lev. 24:5–9)
On the north side of the holy place, opposite the candlestick, stood the gold-covered table of shittim wood, called the “table of shewbread.” It was a table of ordinary size, two cubits (three feet) long, one cubit (eighteen inches) wide, and one and one half cubits (twenty-seven inches) high. It was encompassed by a crown and border of gold, and had a golden ring on each leg through which bars were passed, by which to carry it. On the table were placed, each Sabbath-day, twelve loaves of bread, as many loaves as there were gems in the high priest’s breastplate, one for each of the tribes of God’s people. Six loaves were placed at one end of the table and six at the other end. On each of these rows was laid frankincense. When fresh loaves were brought each Sabbath, the former loaves were eaten, in the holy place, by the priests, while the incense was burned upon the golden altar near at hand.
The Antitypical Shewbread. —But what phase of Christ’s redemptive work is foreshadowed by this golden table with its twelve loaves and frankincense? The loaves are not to be understood to be symbolic of the tribes, as some have supposed, but symbolic of something for those represented by the tribes, because they are eaten by the representatives of the tribes, the priests, But what is the bread of those in God’s church, the “kingdom of priests” who were represented by those who entered into the first room of that ancient tabernacle? Let Jesus answer. “I am that bread of life. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (John 6:48, 51).
The loaves of the shewbread typified the same spiritual food as is symbolized by the bread of the communion Supper in the New Testament church. The one pointed forward to it, the other points backward to it. Jesus is the bread on which the soul of the regenerated feasts. He satisfies every hunger of the heart. As natural bread sustains the life of the body, so he sustains the life of the soul. And this bread is for all God’s people. There was a loaf for little Benjamin as well as for royal Judah. As all God’s people were then represented, so all of them are included in spiritual Israel now. And there is plenty to satisfy their hunger, which was signified by those sumptuous loaves; each one containing twice as much flour as was needed for the food of a man for a whole day.
But God also received a portion from the table of shewbread. The incense that was burned upon the golden altar was a memorial of the loaves that belonged to God. Here at this golden table, then, we feast with Jehovah. We not only have communion with one another, but we have blessed communion with the Father. There, through the broken body of our Saviour, without which fellowship with our holy Creator were impossible, we have fellowship with Divinity. There he sups with us and we with him (Rev. 3:20). There we tell him our inmost thoughts. There also he reveals to us the indescribable glories of his own perfection. Thank God for Jesus, the true bread; for without him we could never know the blessedness of communing with our Maker.
The Golden Altar
The golden altar, though not so large as the brazen altar, was more precious, being made of shittim wood but overlaid with gold. It was one cubit, or eighteen inches, square and two cubits, or three feet, high. Like the brazen altar, it had horns fashioned on the four corners of it. Around the edge of the top was a crown, and two golden rings on the sides held gold-covered bars as a means of carrying it. This beautiful little altar was located in the holy place near the second veil, before the ark, which was just beyond the veil. It was midway between the north and south sides of the tabernacle. It is described as the “altar to burn incense upon,” because this was its chief use. Each morning when the priest trimmed the lamps, and again when he lighted them, specially prepared holy incense was burned there in worship to Jehovah. Similar aromatic substances were not uncommonly employed by Orientals in offerings of tributary homage as marks of honor to kings. The Magi brought such an offering of frankincense to the infant Jesus in worshiping him as King of the Jews.
There was a close connection between this altar and the brazen altar. Live coals of fire were brought from it to the golden altar, on which the incense was burned (Lev. 16:12). That fire had been divinely sent from God (Lev. 9:24). Nadab and Abihu profanely offered incense with other or strange fire and died as a result (Lev 10:1). Also the blood of the sin-offering was smeared upon the horns of the golden altar once each year, on the great day of atonement. And, too, in every sin-offering for the priests or for the whole congregation collectively some of the blood from the brazen altar was brought and applied to these gold-covered horns (Lev. 4:7, 18).
Typical Meaning of the Golden Altar. —As the golden altar had two uses, we need not be surprised to find an antitypical meaning of each of those uses. The significance of the offering of incense is clearly brought out both in the Old and in the New Testament. “Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense” (Psa. 141:2). “The four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials [bowls, or censers], full of odors [marg., incense], which are the prayers of saints” (Rev. 5:8). (See also Isa. 6:3, 4; and Luke 1:10) What a beautiful symbol is the fragrant odor of this sweet incense ascending there before the Lord! How pleasing to him must be the devotion of loving hearts, the devout feelings of faithful worshipers, the praises of his people, the reaching-out of the souls of the redeemed for blessed communion with him! All this is prayer in the broadest sense. We no longer offer incense, but “let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name” (Heb. 13:15).
This incense-altar was “before the Lord.” Though the veil intervened, yet it is constantly described as being connected with the ark and the mercy seat. In Heb. 9:4 it is stated that the holiest room “had the golden censer,” which was doubtless the incense-altar. Therefore when we pray today we come into God’s holy presence, before the throne of grace, the mercy-seat. There we give pleasure to the loving heart of a kind Creator by sincere hearts’ devotion. And as the incense was offered continually, “a perpetual incense,” that is, each morning and evening always, so we are admonished to “pray without ceasing,” to be “instant [constant] in prayer,” to be “praying always.” “I will bless the Lord at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth” (Psa. 34:1). The blood on the horns of the golden altar also shadowed forth some of the good things that God has now provided for us. Like the brazen altar and the laver, it was directly between the entrance to the court and the ark of God; signifying that it was one of the means by which the sinner came to God Those who have had their hearts “sprinkled from an evil conscience” (at the brazen altar), and have had their “bodies washed with pure water” (at the laver), the writer to the Hebrews exhorts, “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, … let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (Heb. 10:19–22). It is clear from this that the blood of Jesus gives entrance through the veil into the holiest, as we have already shown that the sacrificial blood at the brazen altar gives admittance through the first veil into the holy place. Also we have shown that this holiest place is typical of entire sanctification. A very definite proof of this is that the atoning blood was put on the horns of the golden altar only for those who had been admitted to the holy place—the priests, as individuals, or for the whole congregation, whose representatives, the priests, were admitted (see Lev. 4:7, 18). The blood of the sin-offering for “one of the common people” was smeared on the horns of the brazen altar out in the court (Lev. 4:30). How remarkably did God in these ancient symbols predict the minute details of the process of our salvation. But it may be objected that the priests did not gain entrance to the holiest by this blood on the horns of the golden altar. This was because “the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing” (Heb. 9:8). Likewise the common people were not admitted into the holy place by the blood of their sin-offering on the horns of the brazen altar. But as the sinner is now admitted into the holy place of the church by the atoning blood of Jesus, so also those who have already entered it are now admitted into the holiest by the same blood on the horns of the golden altar.
The Ark and the Mercy-Seat
Of all the furniture of the tabernacle, that of the holy of holies was the most peculiar, the most impressive, and the most significant. It consisted of two distinct articles, yet inasmuch as they belonged together they are commonly spoken of as one.
The ark of the covenant was so called because in it was placed, and it existed as a receptacle for, the two tables of stone on which Jehovah had supernaturally inscribed the ten commandments, the foundation of his law to Israel. It was an ordinary-sized, gold-plated, shittimwood chest one and one half cubits, or twenty-seven inches, wide and high, and two and one half cubits, or forty-five inches, long. Around the top was a crown of gold, which seems to have been purely for the purpose of ornamentation, as it was on the table and golden altar. Two golden rings, with a gold-covered bar, on each of the two sides furnished a means of conveying it from place to place.
The mercy-seat was a slab of pure gold as wide and as long as the ark, and was laid on top of the ark, fitting down inside the crown as a sort of lid. On the ends of it, and of one piece of gold with it, were fashioned two angelic winged figures, called cherubim. These faced each other, looking down upon the mercy-seat and stretching their wings out above and before them until the tips of the wings of the one touched the other’s, making a sort of covering or canopy over this symbolic throne of the invisible God. “There,” above the mercy-seat, overshadowed by the wings of the cherubim, said the Lord, “I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy-seat, from between the two cherubims which are upon the ark of the testimony, of all things which I will give thee in commandment unto the children of Israel.” (Exod. 25:22). There shone the Shekinah, the glory of the Lord, according to Jewish tradition. There is some ground for this tradition in the pillar of fire that led Israel through the wilderness journey and in the glory of the Lord that at different times filled or was seen on the tabernacle. There on the mercy-seat, on the great day of atonement, the atoning blood was sprinkled in the very presence of God. For only there in the presence of this blood could the holy God consistently commune with sinful men.
Typical Significance of the Ark and Mercy-Seat. —We must view the ark and mercy-seat together, as they were very closely related to each other, to get a clear idea of their typical meaning. The mercy-seat was God’s throne, with the ark for its base, the cherubim for sides and supports and their outstretched wings for a canopy above. It is doubtless here we get the beautiful expression, “throne of grace.” (Heb. 4:16). It was a place of mercy.
The symbolic and typical significance can be better understood by first getting the force of the meaning of the name of the mercy-seat. It is sometimes translated the propitiatory covering. But it was not this in the sense of a mere covering for the ark. According to Dr. Fairbairn, the Hebrew name, capporeth, which means covering, is never used for covering in the ordinary sense. It is never mentioned precisely as the lid of the ark. It was a place where sin was covered. The translators of the Septuagint have, with this in mind, expressed the idea very well as a propitiatory covering. It was an atonement covering. Now Jesus is the true mercy-seat or propitiatory. “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood.” (Rom. 3:24, 25). The blood sprinkled by the mediating high priest on atonement-day on that pure-gold mercy-seat was typical of the precious atoning blood of Jesus. The mercy-seat must be considered with the blood upon it, as the altar with the sacrifice upon it. So also the ark should be regarded, with the symbolic law of God in it, as a type.
The ark was typical of God’s righteous law which sinful man has violated. And the mercy-seat was typical of Jesus Christ as the atoning sacrifice for the sin of violating that law. The mercy-seat was the same length and width as the ark; so Jesus’ atonement is coextensive with man’s sin in breaking God’s holy law. It covers every sin. God’s mercy through Christ is equal to his justice. What a beautiful symbol of the ground on which God offers pardon to those deserving of penalty. It is only in the presence of the propitiatory blood covering his violated law that the Holy One can commune with those who are unholy. Thank God for Jesus the “propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2).
But what do the cherubim represent? More or less mystery surrounds both the nature and symbolic meaning of the two golden cherubim. That they were winged creatures of the angelic order seems fairly clear. These had wings certainly. Probably these are not essentially different from those seraphim of Isaiah’s vision which had six wings (Isa. 6:2). They are always represented as being closely connected with the throne or presence of God or as doing his work. Certainly the close relation of the golden cherubim to the mercy-seat, as well as the cherubic figures worked in the hangings of the walls and in the veil, signified the fact of the presence of the invisible God.
While we may be sure of this, yet there may be also fuller significance to them. They certainly can not symbolize agents, but must represent something different from yet analogous to themselves. When our fore parents were driven from Eden, cherubim were set at the gate to keep the way to the tree of life. They were closely connected with God’s judicial government, executors of justice. Is it not possible that these beings that seem to belong to God’s presence are hieroglyphs of his divine attributes such as justice and mercy? May not one of the golden cherubim of the mercy-seat represent justice and the other mercy as they meet in the presence of the atoning blood of Jesus? There with eyes fixed upon the blood, justice and mercy come face to face and are reconciled together, yea, they become one, and one with the true propitiatory, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Antitypical Holy of Holies
We have already shown that the tabernacle as a house was a type of the New Testament church, and as a means of service typical of the way by which the sinner comes to God or obtains salvation. The two rooms were shown to represent the two degrees of Christian experience, regeneration and entire sanctification. However, the great facts of the atonement typified by the ark and the mercy seat, and also the intercession of the high priest on the great day of atonement, which in antitype belongs to heaven where God dwells, necessarily were represented in the holy of holies merely because He then dwelt there. But the holiest into which we are exhorted to enter by the blood of Jesus is the experience of entire sanctification, the fullness of Christian experience. Entire sanctification is simultaneous with the baptism of the Holy Ghost (Acts 15:8, 9).
There in that sacred place the redeemed soul dwells in closet communion with God. No veil now is needed to bar him from the presence of the infinitely Holy One, because he is cleansed from the last remains of sin and is pure “as he is pure.” He “dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High,” he abides “under the shadow of the Almighty.” And under his golden “wings shalt thou trust.” There, as on the stone tables, the law of God is perfectly written in the hearts of the sanctified by the restoration of the moral nature to primitive holiness. There their souls are satisfied with the hidden manna. And there the Shekinah light of the glory of God is their constant portion. In this heavenly condition they abide in God and God in them. And this blessed experience is the rightful heritage of all God’s people.
“There is a blest pavilion,
A sacred inner court,
The place of God’s own dwelling,
With all the world shut out.
Oh, holy resting-place!
Oh, calm and pure retreat!
Where God unveils his face,
And life is only sweet.
“Within this greater temple,
Built by the Son of God,
We’ve found a full salvation,
And entered thro’ the blood.
Here on the mercy-seat,
Beneath the cherubim,
We dwell in love complete,
And heaven’s glory hymn.
“First at the cleansing laver
We felt the blood applied,
Then on the golden altar
We’re wholly sanctified.
Within the second veil,
Oh, holy, holy, place!
With joyful lips we tell
The fullness of his grace.
“Oh, glory be to Jesus!
I’ve boldly entered in
The secret of his presence,
and triumph over sin.
My soul is hid away
In God, with Jesus Christ;
And here I’ll ever stay,
In sweet eternal rest.”
—D. S. Warner
Forward to Chapters 4 & 5
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