New European Commentary


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Deeper Commentary


Exo 36:1 Bezalel and Oholiab shall work with every wise-hearted man, in whom Yahweh has put wisdom and understanding to know how to work all the work for the service of the sanctuary, according to all that Yahweh has commanded-
As in Ex. 28:3, the wise were given wisdom, in keeping with God’s principle of confirming people in the way in which they themselves choose to go. This is how God's Spirit also works today on human hearts. "That they may make..." (Ex. 28:3 AV) hints at the way in which God's Spirit is given, but people must still respond to it. Thus the Corinthians were given the Spirit (1 Cor. 1), but didn't use it; and so Paul couldn't speak to them as spiritual people (1 Cor. 3:1).

Exo 36:2 Moses called Bezalel and Oholiab, and every wise-hearted man, in whose heart Yahweh had put wisdom, even everyone whose heart stirred him up to come to the work to do it-
There is a careful parallel between Yahweh's action upon the human heart by His Spirit, and the freewill stirrings of the human heart. And yet the work of the Holy Spirit is not simply to confirm the state of the human spirit; it also places ideas within the human heart, according to a schema and equilibrium currently unknowable by us. But we can be assured that grace, and the Divine initiative, is uppermost in that final equation. 

Bezaleel means shelter of / for God, appropriate for a man who built His tent / tabernacle. This reinforces the idea that God prefers to dwell in a tent, and not in a physical brick building. David and Solomon willfully ignored this in their obsession with building a temple. It's possible (although see my commentary on 1 Chron. 2:18) that Bezaleel was little more than a child. For 1 Chron. 2:19,20 says that Caleb was the father of Hur. Caleb was only 40 when he first spied out the land (Josh. 14:7). "The son of..." is not a precise term in Hebrew and can simply mean a relative, but there is still the idea of a relative in a younger generation than the 'father'. Bezaleel was a generation or two older than Bezaleel; and when Caleb was 40, Bezaleel made the tabernacle that same year. This would be typical of how God works through the weak and those considered inappropriate by men. He gave His Spirit to the young Bezaleel, who may have been only 12 years old, and through him built His dwelling place. We can be sure there would have been many older and experienced builders, who had worked for the Egyptian building projects, who would have been far more qualified in secular terms.

Exo 36:3 and they received from Moses all the offering which the children of Israel had brought for the work of the service of the sanctuary, with which to make it. They brought yet to him freewill offerings every morning-
The Hebrew word here and in Ex. 35:29 for "freewill" carries the idea of spontaneity. This is the clear implication of its usage in places like Jud. 5:2,9; 1 Chron. 29:5,9; 2 Chron. 35:8; Ps. 54:6. There is a strong sense of immediate emotion attached to the word (Hos. 14:4). And there was a major emphasis in the law of Moses upon freewill offerings (Lev. 7:16; 22:18,21,23; 23:38; Num. 15:3; 29:39; Dt. 12:6,17; 16:10; 23:23). The other legal codes of the nations around Israel were all about rituals; whereas Yahweh's law encouraged spontaneous giving as part of the way of Yahweh. For He is not a God of rituals, but of relationship. The way of the Spirit is the same today; spontaneous, emotional, personal response to God's grace, responding to Him on our own initiative and in our own way, in addition to obeying His specific requirements.        

Exo 36:4 All the wise men, who performed all the work of the sanctuary, each came from his work which they did-
These "wise" were from all tribes of Israel. The phrase "performed all the work of the sanctuary" appears to consciously reflect the language of the Levites and priests. Repeatedly we find the hint that it was God's wish that all His people would do the work He had given to the Levites.

Exo 36:5 and they spoke to Moses, saying, The people bring much more than enough for the service of the work which Yahweh commanded to make-
The size of the tabernacle and the items within it was very small. There was no need for a huge volume of donations; what was required was wise hearted workers, filled with the Spirit. And as ever, these were in deficit; it's far easier to donate material things than to be a worker with a Spirit filled heart.

Exo 36:6 Moses gave commandment, and they caused it to be proclaimed throughout the camp, saying, Let neither man nor woman make anything else for the offering for the sanctuary. So the people were restrained from bringing-
Israel were extremely generous to God’s work, whilst at the same time carrying with them the idols of Egypt and in their hearts wanting to return there (Ez. 20:7,8; Acts 7:42,43). We too can be externally supportive of God’s work whilst in our hearts being far from Him; this is the nature of our human condition which we must battle against. God above all seeks our hearts and not our external works.

Exo 36:7 For the stuff they had was sufficient for all the work to make it, and too much.
"Stuff" translates the same Hebrew translated "work" later in the sentence. There may be the hint that the donors saw their generosity as an opportunity for justification by works; hence their great enthusiasm to 'do' it.

Exo 36:8 All the wise-hearted men among those who did the work made the tabernacle with ten curtains; of fine twined linen, blue, purple, and scarlet, with cherubim, the work of the skilful workman, they made them-
The ark was covered in the tabernacle by the various layers of the tent detailed in Ex. 26:1-6: sea cows' skins, red rams skins, goats hair, blue, purple, scarlet and linen. These would form a kind of rainbow over the ark, and above that there was the Angel in the pillar of cloud or fire. This "pattern of things in the Heavens" (Heb. 9:23,24) replicated the visions of a throne (the ark) over-arched by a rainbow and the glory of God.

When David says in 2 Sam. 7:2 that he doesn't want Yahweh to have to dwell in "curtains", this doesn't mean that David was concerned that God's ark was under a tent, whilst he lived in a house. Rather is the reference to the ten curtains which comprised the tabernacle. David was assuming that he could change the Mosaic commandments about the tabernacle, and move God's purpose forward to something more permanent. We see here how he didn't consider the laws of Moses [of which the commands about the tabernacle were part] to be static. He saw them as open to interpretation and development. This was not a position he came to lightly, seeing he had been terribly punished for thinking he could flout the legislation about how the ark was to be transported.

Many of the commands within the "law of Moses" were clearly only intended for the wilderness generation, indeed they could only have been obeyed by them then; and David wondered whether the entire commands about the tabernacle were in that category. Those today who claim that Mosaic legislation is eternally binding need to give this due weight. It's not just that the Mosaic law was abrogated by the Lord's death; but the whole nature of that law was that it was never intended to all be literally applied to every subsequent generation. And that meant that it was the spirit of it which was to be discerned and followed.

Exo 36:9 The length of each curtain was twenty-eight cubits, and the breadth of each curtain four cubits. All the curtains had one measure-
28 cubits is 42 feet (12.8 meters), and 4 cubits is 6 feet (1.8 meters). "Curtain" in Hebrew is literally a thing which hang and shakes, and the essential word is used for "fear". The impression is of man trembling before Yahweh's holiness.

Exo 36:10 He coupled five curtains to one another, and the other five curtains he coupled one to another-
"Coupled together" is s.w. "have fellowship with" (Ps. 94:20), and often of men 'joining together'. Clearly we are to sense that the curtains represented God's people. The theme of coupling and joining together occurs throughout the record of the tabernacle. Unity amongst believers is to be the outcome of the indwelling of God's glory. Disunity results from simply not having perceived His glory. For before that, all disunity disappears as we are awed by His grace and convicted of our own smallness and unworthiness.

Exo 36:11 He made loops of blue on the edge of the one curtain from the edge in the coupling. Likewise he made in the edge of the curtain that was outmost in the second coupling-
See on :9. "Blue" may refer to a mussel they had picked up on the shores of the Red Sea, which was used for dying things blue. If we wish to attach symbolic meaning to everything- and that isn't necessarily the right way to read the tabernacle account- then we could think of "blue" as representing the sky, heaven. It is of God that we are bound together, linked together by His Spirit in a unity which can only come from Him. For the human tendency is naturally to disagreement and disunity rather than to unity.

Exo 36:12 He made fifty loops in the one curtain, and he made fifty loops in the edge of the curtain that was in the second coupling. The loops were opposite one to another-
The record loves to stress the interlocking nature of the tabernacle. This points forward to our unity between each other, linked together by the blue loops of Heaven; God's unity. See on :11.

Exo 36:13 He made fifty clasps of gold, and coupled the curtains one to another with the clasps: so the tabernacle was a unit-
There is great emphasis that the tabernacle was "one", joined together in such a way that taught the lesson of unity. The spiritual tabernacle, the believers, was "pitched" by the Lord- translating a Greek word which suggests 'crucifixion' (Heb. 8:2). Through the cross, the one, united tabernacle was pitched. To tear down that structure by disuniting the body is to undo the work of the cross.

Exo 36:14 He made curtains of goats’ hair for a covering over the tabernacle. He made them eleven curtains-
"Covering" is literally 'a tent'. There was to be a tent over the tent, as if a vertical expression of the horizontal division of the tabernacle into the holy and most holy places. The external appearance of the tabernacle would therefore have been rough; and beauty was on the inside. This contrasts with the pagan way of attaching value to external beauty, whilst inside, the places of worship were not so attractive. God looks upon the internal, upon the heart; and leaves the external as unattractive to secular eyes.

Exo 36:15 The length of each curtain was thirty cubits, and four cubits the breadth of each curtain. The eleven curtains had one measure-
Comparing this with the size of the actual tabernacle, which is far smaller, it is clear that the tent which covered it must have been sloped, and also probably extended to each side of the tabernacle. Hence the mention of an overhang in Ex. 26:12. 

Exo 36:16 He coupled five curtains by themselves, and six curtains by themselves-
"By themselves" is s.w. "pole" or "stave", and this makes better sense. The idea is 'curtains on poles' or curtain rods.

Exo 36:17 He made fifty loops on the edge of the curtain that was outmost in the coupling, and he made fifty loops on the edge of the curtain which was outmost in the second coupling-
The tabernacle represents God’s dwelling place. He now no longer lives in any physical structure, but in the hearts of His people, who between them comprise His new dwelling place. We can however learn lessons from the principles behind the tabernacle construction. Great emphasis was placed on how the components were all interlocking- the curtains coupled together, the boards were joined by bars etc. It is by our unity and connection with each other that God will dwell amongst us. Christianity can’t be lived in isolation- we need each other.

Exo 36:18 He made fifty clasps of brass to couple the tent together, that it might be a unit-
The account of the tabernacle labours the point that the whole house of God, this huge but delicate structure, was held together by "clasps of brass to couple the tent together, that it might be one" (Ex. 36:18 and often). "That it might be one" is alluded to by the Lord when He prayed for His people, "that they might be one" (Jn. 17:11,21-23). The tabernacle system was based around a mass of boards, tenons, curtain couplings etc. God's dwelling place, His house, hangs together by millions of inter-personal connections. "Out of church Christians", in the sense of those who think they can go it alone in splendid isolation, are totally missing the point- just as much as those churches who refuse to meaningfully accept others as being in the body of Christ despite acknowledging that they have been baptized into the body.

Exo 36:19 He made a covering for the tent of rams’ skins dyed red, and a covering of sea cow hides above-
See on :15. The "part that remains" is the half-breadth by which the rough outer tent would overlap the linen covering. 

Exo 36:20 He made the boards for the tabernacle of acacia wood, standing up-
"Acacia" is literally "thorns". It is translated "thorns" in Josh. 23:13. It refers to the common thorn bushes found in the scrubland they were passing through in the desert. Thorns were part of the curse in Eden. But from this weak material which was very difficult to work with, brittle, fragile and very weak, God covered this weak, difficult wood with gold and constructed a system with it where His glory might dwell. It all speaks of how He uses us. And we connect this with how God speaks of His people are wood from a vine tree, which is not used by anyone else for making anything; but He uses it for His work (Ez. 15:1-6). We shouldn't be surprised at the brittle nature of the folk with whom God works, their difficulty in binding together and resistance to being worked with- this is as it were all God has to work with. It was a surprising choice of material to be used in God’s dwelling place. But His choice of us with all our weakness and dysfunction, the common, weak stuff of the wilderness, is no less surprising. The choice of acacia wood for constructing the tabernacle is one of several points in the whole enterprise where it seems a less than ideal material was chosen, from a construction point of view. This aspect emphasizes that God prefers to work with the soft, weak and easily broken in order to do His work.

"Standing up" seems to mean that the boards were not to merely sink into the dust of the earth, but to hold together in such a way that they would be stable, because the outer tent would keep the wind from blowing over the structure. This detail may be significant if we follow through the idea that the boards represent God's people. They are not to sink into the dust, but to take strength and stability from connection with each other, and to trust in God's protection from the wind.

Exo 36:21 Ten cubits was the length of a board, and a cubit and a half the breadth of each board-
Acacia bushes don't grow so long nor straight. These boards would have been very difficult to construct (see on :20), and would have involved much joining together of pieces of wood which were difficult to work with. It was an appropriate symbol for the kind of human material which goes to make up God's dwelling place. For God dwells in the community of His people, and not within wood and stone. The materials of the tabernacle therefore represent us His people. See on :22.

Exo 36:22 Each board had two tenons, joined one to another. He made all the boards of the tabernacle this way-
"Tenons" is the word for "hands", again encouraging us to see the boards as God's people, joined together by as it were holding hands. See on :21. 

Exo 36:23 He made the boards for the tabernacle: twenty boards for the south side southward-
Heb. "on the south side, to the right". Semitic thought is often expressed from the perspective of a person facing east. See on :25.

Exo 36:24 He made forty sockets of silver under the twenty boards; two sockets under one board for its two tenons, and two sockets under another board for its two tenons-
If each socket weighed a talent (Ex. 38:27), the forty silver sockets would have been really big and solid. The connection between the boards was critical, because according to Ex. 26:15 they were "standing up". This seems to mean that the boards were not to merely sink into the dust of the earth, but to hold together in such a way that they would be stable. So the large size and weight of the sockets is appropriate. The internal cohesion and corroboration within the account of the tabernacle is such that it is a profound reflection of the Divine inspiration of the record.

Exo 36:25 For the second side of the tabernacle, on the north side, he made twenty boards-
"The north side" is literally "the left side". As noted on Ex. 36:23, the south side was "to the right". Semitic thought is often expressed from the perspective of a person facing east. The left hand side was considered the side of lesser favour (Gen 48:13-20). This perhaps was why the candlestick was placed on the right or south side of the tent (Ex. 40:24). 

Exo 36:26 and their forty sockets of silver; two sockets under one board, and two sockets under another board-
Sockets, eden, is related to adon, "Lord", in that the word carries the same idea of strength. Again, language appropriate to persons is used of the tabernacle components; for the whole thing pointed forward to the body of believers, in whom God walks and dwells.

Exo 36:27 For the far part of the tabernacle westward he made six boards-
Westward" is LXX "the back". These six boards would have given a breadth of only nine cubits. We can therefore conclude that the corner post boards of :28 on each side were half a cubit broad, to account for the extra cubit. 

Exo 36:28 He made two boards for the corners of the tabernacle in the far part-
As explained on :27, these corner posts were half a cubit broad.

Exo 36:29 They were double beneath, and in the same way they were all the way to its top to one ring. He did this to both of them in the two corners-
The Hebrew of the commandment in Ex. 26:24 is unclear. GNB, which uses "frames" instead of NEV "boards", offers: "These corner frames are to be joined at the bottom and connected all the way to the top. The two frames that form the two corners are to be made in this way".

Exo 36:30 There were eight boards, and their sockets of silver, sixteen sockets; under every board two sockets-
The LXX gives "posts" instead of "boards", suggesting there may have been other material in between those posts. "Sockets" is rendered "bases" by some. The idea was that the boards did not sink down into the dust of the earth (see on :15), but the whole structure was kept upright by the tight connection between the boards / posts. These "eight boards" are the six and two of :27,28.

Exo 36:31 He made bars of acacia wood; five for the boards of the one side of the tabernacle-
As noted often, acacia wood is very weak. The bars themselves would likely have been made from various parts of this weak bush wood being joined together. The boards likewise were made of this very weak material which it was difficult to join together. But the overall design enabled the whole system to stand strongly, without sinking into the earth (Ex. 26:15), because of the strength of the interconnections. It is a profound picture of the strength of the overall body of believers thanks to the working of God's Spirit and His design; at least potentially. And the strength is only possible if the interconnections are made and not broken by petty arguments about "fellowship".

There is an exact symmetry between the commands to make the tabernacle items- e.g. “You shall make bars...” (Ex. 26:26) - and the record of the fulfilment of the work: “He made... bars”. This is to demonstrate how strictly obedient Moses was to all the commands, hence the comment that he was faithfully obedient in all the work of God’s house (Heb. 3:2,5). In all this, Moses was a type of the perfect obedience of Christ to God. However, we also note that earlier in his life, Moses tended to argue back with God and find every reason not to be obedient. As he grew spiritually, he became more naturally and enthusiastically obedient to God’s demands rather than trying to find ways around them, and as such he becomes a pattern for our spiritual growth too.

Exo 36:32 and five bars for the boards of the other side of the tabernacle, and five bars for the boards of the tabernacle for the hinder part westward-
We are left to assume that these bars would have passed through rings made on the boards for this purpose.

Exo 36:33 He made the middle bar to pass through in the midst of the boards from the one end to the other-
This middle bar would therefore have been 30 cubits /  45 feet long. It would have had to be constructed of bits of acacia, which is no more than a common thorn bush. This singular middle bar, which held the boards in shape and close to each other, looks forward to the Lord Jesus.

Exo 36:34 He overlaid the boards with gold, and made their rings of gold for places for the bars, and overlaid the bars with gold-
The weak acacia wood was to be overlaid with gold. "Overlay" in Hebrew carries the idea of to be seen, to be looked at. This was how God looked at that weak acacia wood, as if it was the finest gold. This was an Old Testament anticipation of what the New Testament calls imputed righteousness; we the weak acacia wood, the thorn bush, are looked at as pure gold. Beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder, and one outcome of love is to consider the beloved as far more glorious than they are.

Exo 36:35 He made the veil of blue, purple, scarlet, and fine twined linen, with cherubim. He made it the work of a skilful workman-
The veil symbolized the flesh of the Lord Jesus (Heb. 10:20); and yet into it was woven scarlet, a symbol of His blood and sacrifice which permeated His mortal life. The lesson is that the cross is a daily way of life. The Lord taught this when He asked us to take up the cross daily: to live each day in the exercise of the same principles which He lived and died by. Let's not see spiritual life as a survival of a few crises, as and when they present themselves. It's a way of life, and the principles which lead us to the little victories (when we scald ourselves with hot water, when we dirty a newly washed shirt...) will give us the greater ones also, when (e.g.) we stand before a tribunal, or face death in whatever form.

The veil represented the flesh of the Lord Jesus (Heb. 10:20), and also the fact that the way into the most holy place, representing God Himself in Heaven, was somehow barred. But when the Lord died, the veil was torn from top [by God] to bottom (Mt. 27:51), and thus the way into direct personal fellowship with God was permanently opened for all- not just the high priest once a year (Heb. 9:8,24; 10:19). This understanding was so radical for Jewish minds. For the high priest could only nervously enter the most holy place briefly, once every year on the day of atonement. But now the believer in Christ can enter into full and permanent fellowship with God Himself. This was all achieved through the Lord's flesh being torn. The fine linen speaks of His righteousness (Rev. 19:8), the blue of His association with God in Heaven, the crimson of His blood, and the purple of His Kingship (Jn. 19:2). All this was worked into the veil, and the overall product of it was glory to God, represented by the image of cherubim superimposed upon all this. 

Exo 36:36 He made four pillars of acacia for it, and overlaid them with gold. Their hooks were of gold. He cast four sockets of silver for them-
At this point we may note that the LXX usually gives "incorruptible wood" for "acacia". Yet as noted on :20, "acacia" is s.w. "thorn". It was the common thorn bush of the desert, a result of the curse in Eden; and yet there is this sense of incorruption and eternity associated with it by the LXX. The LXX has Ex 30:1-10 coming after Ex. 26:32, and this may well be correct.

Exo 36:37 He made a screen for the door of the tent, of blue, purple, scarlet, and fine twined linen, the work of an embroiderer-
The New Testament therefore speaks of "the second veil" (Heb. 9:3) which screened the most holy place. This was of the same material as the veil which covered the door into the holy place, but was more elaborate, including the cherubim motif whereas the first veil didn't. Perhaps the idea is that it is through the Lord Jesus, represented by the veil, that we enter into the community of believers; He is the door and by Him alone a sheep can enter the fold. But it is likewise also through Him, displaying an even greater glory and beauty, that we shall enter into the presence of God Himself. By entering into Him we in prospect enter into the salvation presence of God personally; we are saved in prospect, we live the eternal life, as John's Gospel stresses.

The "fine twined linen" was given to them on leaving Egypt, as it was characteristic of Egypt ("fine twined linen from Egypt" Ez. 27:7). It was apparently only in Egypt at that time that such fine linen was "made from yarn of which each thread was composed of many delicate strands". We see that the best wealth we take from Egypt / the world is to be devoted to the Lord's work.

Exo 36:38 and the five pillars of it with their hooks. He overlaid their capitals and their fillets with gold, and their five sockets were of brass-
We contrast this gold and brass with the gold and silver fittings for the veil which screened the most holy place. It is easy to over interpret, to see significance never intended, in our European obsession with a 'this = that' schema or hermeneutic. Probably the simple idea was that there was to be an increasing sense of glory as one approached closer to the most holy place. We may note that the expense, beauty and intricacy of the tabernacle grew greater the closer one got to the most holy. There was no natural light in the tabernacle; it had no windows. And only the high priest could enter the most holy once / year. The progressive beauty of God's tabernacle was revealed to fewer and fewer people, the further one progressed. This is in total contrast to the religious ways of the surrounding religions, which made the greatest display of glory and beauty on the outside, in the eyes of as many as possible; and progressively decreased in detail and beauty within them.