New European Commentary


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Deeper Commentary


Exo 38:1 He made the altar of burnt offering of acacia wood. It was square. Its length was five cubits, its breadth was five cubits, and its height was three cubits-
In 2 Chron. 4:1, David and Solomon replaced this with "An altar of brass, twenty cubits in length, and twenty cubits in breadth, and ten cubits in height". This was far larger than the altar of the tabernacle, which was 5 x 5 x 3. 5 cubits is 7.5 feet (225 cm.), 3 cubits is 1.5 feet (45 cm.) Clearly the idea was that far more animals were going to be offered. And yet David and Solomon were forgetting the lesson taught through the sin with Bathsheba, Solomon's mother; God doesn't want sacrifice, but rather broken, contrite hearts (Ps. 40:6-8). Just as God didn't want a physical house built to Him, but rather wanted to build a house of people with humble hearts open to the working of His Spirit. The altar was of brass, whereas that of the tabernacle was of common, weak acacia wood (Ex. 27:1,2). This taught that the basis of acceptable sacrifice and approach to God is the recognition of our common weak humanity, and sacrifice is offered to God upon that basis. But Solomon had no recognition of his own moral frailty and humanity, and was convinced that as David's son and the Messianic seed [as he imagined], he was therefore perfect. And it seems David too somehow rationalized his sin with Bathsheba by the end of his life, and lacked grace and humility.   

Exo 38:2 He made its horns on its four corners. Its horns were of one piece with it, and he overlaid it with brass-
Whilst there are similarities with the concept of religion which Israel had been used to in Egypt, there were significant differences. The altars of Egypt tended to have the horns of previously sacrificed animals attached to them. But the horns of Yahweh's altar were in order to bind the sacrifices (Ps. 118:27), they had practical function; and were a symbol of Yahweh's salvation (1 Kings 1:50)- not the triumph of secular man over an impressive animal.

Exo 38:3 He made all the vessels of the altar, the pots, the shovels, the basins, the forks, and the fire pans. He made all its vessels of brass-
Jewish tradition has it that the fire which came down from Heaven in Lev. 9:24 remained burning; and this fire was preserved burning all night and day. Hence the need for "fire pans" (Ex. 27:3) to keep the fire burning whilst the altar was being cleaned or the remains of sacrifices removed from it.

Exo 38:4 He made for the altar a grating of a network of brass, under the ledge around it beneath, reaching halfway up-
This implies that the altar was a brass plated box, with a grating on the top to feed air to the fire with air. Through this the ashes would have fallen into a pan below.

Exo 38:5 He cast four rings for the four ends of brass grating, to be places for the poles-
The continual mention of rings and poles is because all the tabernacle had to be portable, as Israel were constantly on the move. This is proof enough that much of the "law of Moses" was only relevant to the wilderness generation. God's desire to be continually on the move, dwelling in a tent, was still evident at the time when Israel settled in the land. For He told David that He didn't want a temple because He was dynamic, always moving on. But the way of religion is to have a permanent, stable closed system, rather than the dynamic way of the Spirit and true spirituality. "Rings" in Hebrew is literally 'that which sinks in', and refers to a signet ring. If a literal ring was solely in view, a different word would have been used. It was as if this mobile, ever moving onwards style of the tabernacle was the signature or hallmark of God. 

Exo 38:6 He made the poles of acacia wood, and overlaid them with brass-
"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.

Exo 38:7 He put the poles into the rings on the sides of the altar, with which to carry it. He made it hollow with planks-
"Pole" is s.w. "strength". There is again a juxtaposition of ideas- the weak acacia wood, which is no more than a thorn bush, was to be turned into God's strength through being overlaid with gold.

Exo 38:8 He made the basin of brass, and its base of brass, out of the mirrors of the ministering women who ministered at the door of the Tent of Meeting-
Perhaps this suggests that their devotion to God led them to no longer be so concerned with their own image and appearance.

Exo 38:9 He made the court: for the south side southward the hangings of the court were of fine twined linen, one hundred cubits-
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. It perhaps appropriately designated the boundary between the believer and the world, represented by the linen fence which marked the enclosure of the tabernacle. 100 cubits is 58 yards or 53 meters. 

Exo 38:10 their pillars were twenty, and their sockets twenty, of brass; the hooks of the pillars and their fillets were of silver-
"Fillets" is rendered "connecting rods" by some, and "sockets" as "bases".

Exo 38:11 For the north side one hundred cubits, their pillars twenty, and their sockets twenty, of brass; the hooks of the pillars, and their fillets, of silver-
Nearly all the features of the tabernacle suggest parts of the body. The girl in Solomon's song portrays her lover as having "legs as pillars [s.w. "pillars" here] set upon sockets [s.w. "sockets" here, meaning "bases"] of gold" (Song 5:15). The pillars therefore correspond to legs, and the bases / "sockets" to feet. It was as if the tabernacle was surrounded by men's legs and feet, holding hands with each other. 

Exo 38:12 For the west side were hangings of fifty cubits, their pillars ten, and their sockets ten; the hooks of the pillars, and their fillets, of silver-
GNB "with ten posts and ten bases".

Exo 38:13 For the east side, eastward fifty cubits-
LXX adds "their pillars ten, and their sockets ten".

Exo 38:14 The hangings for the one side were fifteen cubits; their pillars three, and their sockets three-
Summed up in GNB: "On each side of the entrance there are to be 71/2 yards of curtains, with three posts and three bases". Fifteen cubits is 6.8 meters, or 7.5 yards. But LXX gives "fifty cubits".

Exo 38:15 and so also for the other side: on this hand and that hand by the gate of the court were hangings of fifteen cubits; their pillars three, and their sockets three-
See on :14. But LXX gives "fifty cubits".

Exo 38:16 All the hangings around the court were of fine twined linen-
For "linen" see on :9. "Hangings" is literally 'covering', and covering is a major theme of the tabernacle (Ex. 25:20; 26:36,37; 35:12; 37:9; 39:34; 40:3,21). For the message was of the atonement or covering which is in the Lord Jesus.

Exo 38:17 The sockets for the pillars were of brass. The hooks of the pillars and their fillets were of silver; and the overlaying of their heads, of silver; and all the pillars of the court were filleted with silver-
GNB "All the posts around the enclosure are to be connected with silver rods, and their hooks are to be made of silver and their bases of bronze". Silver rods seems another feature of the tabernacle which might appear at first blush to not at all be how man would have designed things.

Exo 38:18 The screen for the gate of the court was the work of the embroiderer, of blue, purple, scarlet, and fine twined linen. Twenty cubits was the length, and the height in the breadth was five cubits, like to the hangings of the court-
This describes the curtain over the door of the tabernacle in similar language to how the veil hiding the Most Holy is described. Entrance to both the court and to the most holy place was through a veil made of the same design. The Lord Jesus alludes to this in teaching that "I am the door". The only way to get on the path to God is through Him. This rules out all non-Christian paths to God. Christ is the door of the tabernacle through which we enter at our conversion and baptism (Jn. 10:9). By doing so we also enter, in prospect, through the veil into the Most Holy of eternity and Divine nature. The height of the curtains was such that a man would have to bow his head in order to pass underneath it, teaching the humility required to approach God’s presence.

Exo 38:19 Their pillars were four, and their sockets four, of brass; their hooks of silver, and the overlaying of the heads, and their fillets, of silver-
"Sockets" is GNB "bases", and "fillets" is "rods".

Exo 38:20 All the pins of the tabernacle, and around the court, were of brass-
The "pins" are the tent pegs.

Exo 38:21 This is the amount of material used for the tabernacle, even the Tabernacle of the Testimony, as they were counted, according to the commandment of Moses, for the service of the Levites, by the hand of Ithamar, the son of Aaron the priest-
GNB is clearer: "Here is a list of the amounts of the metals used in the Tent of the LORD's presence, where the two stone tablets were kept on which the Ten Commandments were written. The list was ordered by Moses and made by the Levites who worked under the direction of Ithamar son of Aaron the priest". We note that the work of accounting was given to Ithamar rather than to Nadab or Abihu, who were later to show themselves apostate. Perhaps they already showed signs of lack of integrity at this stage. Time and again we note the internal corroboration within the inspired record.

Exo 38:22 Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, made all that Yahweh commanded Moses-
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 38:23 With him was Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, an engraver and a skilful workman, and an embroiderer in blue, in purple, in scarlet, and in fine linen-
This seems to imply that Aholiab was already a master craftsman; but he could only do the work because God blessed and developed the ‘natural’ talent which Aholiab was willing to present to God’s service. God sometimes gives us the opportunity to develop our ‘natural’ talents for use in His service- other times, He asks us to do that which is for us a taking up on the cross.

"The skilful workman" of Ex. 28:15 and elsewhere may specifically refer to Aholiab (Ex. 35:35; 38:23). Perhaps Paul saw in this man a representation of us all- for he urged us likewise to be careful workmen when it comes to the understanding and teaching of God's word (2 Tim. 2:15).

Exo 38:24 All the gold that was used for the work in all the work of the sanctuary, even the gold of the offering, was twenty-nine talents, and seven hundred thirty shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary-
The total weight of all the gold, silver and brass comes to 10.4 tones or 10,400 kg. In addition to this there was the gold used and destroyed in the destruction of the golden calf. This would however only make a very small amount per person, if indeed two million of them left Egypt. But see on Ex. 12:37. They did indeed spoil the Egyptians, but we can assume that they gave nearly all their wealth to the tabernacle project; perhaps that is the intention of the note in Ex. 33:6 that they stopped wearing jewellery from then onwards. And yet they continued worshipping idols all through the wilderness journey, despite their stellar generosity to Yahweh's tabernacle. We also can reflect that transporting this tabernacle on poles was a major exercise.

Exo 38:25 The silver of those who were numbered of the congregation was one hundred talents, and one thousand seven hundred seventy-five shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary-
The census of Ex. 30:16 required each man of military age to pay a half shekel of silver. It was used for the silver sockets in the boards of the tabernacle etc. There were 600,000 men of military age who left Egypt (Ex. 12:37); if they each paid a half shekel, this would have been 300,000 shekels of silver. 3000 shekels make one talent, so this would have made 1000 talents of silver. Which is exactly the amount of silver mentioned in Ex. 38:27. However, there were actually 603,550 men (Ex. 38:26). And we wonder whether each man actually paid what was asked. We see here the way in which the Biblical record often doesn't worry about literal exactitude, but presents an overall picture.

Exo 38:26 a beka a head, that is, half a shekel, after the shekel of the sanctuary, for each one who passed over to those who were numbered, from twenty years old and upward, for six hundred and three thousand five hundred and fifty men-
"Beka" is literally 'that which is divided', a divided shekel or half shekel. See the discussion of whether this number is literal on Ex. 12:37.

Exo 38:27 The one hundred talents of silver were for casting the sockets of the sanctuary, and the sockets of the veil; one hundred sockets for the one hundred talents, a talent for a socket-
If each socket weighed a talent (Ex. 38:27), the forty silver sockets connecting the boards 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 38:28 From the one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five shekels he made hooks for the pillars, overlaid their capitals, and made fillets for them-
The weak acacia wood was to be overlaid with silver. "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 silver. 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 silver. 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 38:29 The brass of the offering was seventy talents, and two thousand four hundred shekels-
God remembers to this day how much everyone gave of what material, and has preserved the record in His written word. This is encouragement to us that no sacrifice for God’s house is ever forgotten, but He eternally remembers it.

Exo 38:30 From this he made the sockets to the door of the Tent of Meeting, the bronze altar, the bronze grating for it, all the vessels of the altar-
Vessels" is the same Hebrew word translated "jewels" when we read that the Hebrews were to 'borrow' "jewels" from the Egyptians (Ex. 3:22; 11:2; 12:35). All they took from Egypt / the world was to be used in the Lord's work, and that is an abiding principle.

Exo 38:31 the sockets around the court, the sockets of the gate of the court, all the pins of the tabernacle, and all the pins around the court-
The amount of brass was enough for us to assume that the tent pegs and sockets or GNB "bases" were very solid. They would have had to be very strong to hold up the tabernacle against desert winds.