Exodus 26:31 - 29:28
Moses having been instructed as to the tabernacle and the tent, there follow details of the vail, that was to separate between the holy place and the most holy, and also of the hanging that was to screen the holy place from the outer court. These are described in that order in verses 31-37.
The vail was to be made of the same materials as the curtains which formed the tabernacle. It was to be hung upon four pillars of acacia wood overlaid with gold. Though very different from the ark, as to their form, they were made of the same materials. When the camp moved, the vail was to be taken down and used as a covering for the ark, as we read in Numbers 4: 5 By the vail therefore the ark was to be hidden from every eye, save from that of the high priest once a year.
The Epistle to the Hebrews shows us that the vail had a twofold significance—the immediate and the prophetic. All Israel could see its immediate effect. It hid the ark and the glory of God resting thereon, as we read, "The Holy Ghost thus signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest" (Heb. 9: 8). The cherubims, cunningly wrought in both vail and curtains, were not depicted as gazing on the mercy-seat, where blood was to be sprinkled as were the cherubims over the ark. Consequently they depicted the holy judgment of God, which kept sinful men at a distance, excluded from His presence.
But there was a prophetic meaning, which could not be revealed until Christ had come and redemption was accomplished. Now we have, "boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus .... through the vail, that is to say, His flesh" (Heb. 10: 19, 20) Earlier in the Epistle we are told that He took part of flesh and blood that "through death" (Heb. 2: 14, 15), He might annul the adversary and deliver us. Through His death and resurrection He has opened for us the new and living way into the holiest. That which spoke of separation and exclusion to the Israelite speaks of access and nearness to us.
The hanging which formed the entrance into the holy place was of the same materials as the vail and to be "wrought with needlework," but no mention is made of cherubims upon it. Its pillars stood in sockets of brass and not silver as did the boards and the pillars of the vail. The altar of burnt offering standing without was to be made of brass. When God's righteous demands were met by sacrifice at the altar, the priests could step over the brass sockets and enter the holy place.
Exodus 27 opens with a description of the altar made of acacia wood and overlaid with brass, which seems to be typical of God's righteous judgment against sin, which can only be met by the blood of sacrifice. This altar was big enough to consume a sacrifice of the largest size, such as a bullock. It was so placed in the outer court that he who entered at once came face to face with it, plainly declaring that there was no entrance until the claims of God's righteousness were met by sacrifice. Typically therefore it indicated the death of Christ by which every claim has been satisfied.
The description of the altar is followed by that of the court, which enclosed the whole tabernacle system. It was to be 100 cubits long by 50 broad, and composed of fine twined lined fabric suspended on pillars of brass, standing in sockets of the same metal. The entrance was to be on the eastward side. It was to extend to no less than twenty cubits, and there the plain linen was to give place to the blue, purple, scarlet, fine-twined linen, wrought with needlework, similar to the curtain at the entrance to the holy place. He who only entered the court had to realise the character and the glory of Him who dwelt in the tabernacle, as much as did he, who entered the holy place. Extending for twenty cubits it was a broad entrance, indicating that God is marked by largeness of heart, with no desire to exclude any. But all who would enter must approach by the altar of sacrifice, which stood straight in front of them.
The chapter closes with the direction that "pure oil olive beaten" be brought to cause the lamp in the holy place to burn continually. Only twice before have we read of oil, both times when Jacob poured it on a pillar (Gen. 28 and Gen. 35) but there the nature of the oil is not specified. Here its nature is specified. It was to be beaten out of the fruit of the olive and pure. This first mention of pure olive oil is clearly typical of the Holy Spirit, and fixes its significance right through the Scripture. The golden lampstand would have been of no service without the oil. In the New Testament the churches, as well as the individual believer, are likened to lamps. But apart from the oil of the Holy Spirit they have no ability to shine to the glory of God.
Exodus 28 is occupied with details of the priestly garments that were to be prepared for Aaron and his sons, that they might be inducted to the priest's office. We have to note that Aaron alone was a type of Christ in His priestly office, though even in him we have to observe that in many things there is more in the way of contrast than of resemblance, as the Epistle to the Hebrews so plainly shows. When we consider the sons of Aaron, even though Aaron himself be linked with them, we find rather a type of the priestly company, in which we as believers are included. The saints of today are priests by reason of their association with Christ, the great High Priest on high.
Aaron was to wear holy garments of a very special type. They are described in verse 2 as being "for glory and for beauty." Now if we read Leviticus 8, 9 and 10, and then Leviticus 16: 1-4 it appears that Aaron only actually wore these beautiful robes on the occasion of his consecration. Failure having supervened with his two elder sons, he had henceforward to appear before God clad in only the linen coat and breeches. The garments for glory and beauty had to be laid aside as a memorial of what might have been. In Hebrews 2: 7 we read of Jesus, who is our High Priest, being "crowned with glory and honour." His garments of glory and beauty are never laid aside, since He is a Priest for ever. What a contrast!
The special garments that were to be made for Aaron are specified in verse 4, and according to verse 3 supernatural wisdom was given to the workers, who had to make them under the difficult conditions imposed by the wilderness journey. Verse 5 mentions the various materials that were to be used, and we notice that they are the same as were employed in the tabernacle itself. The ephod with its girdle was distinctively the priestly garment, and just as the tabernacle and the vail set forth Christ as the One in whom the fulness of the Godhead dwelt, so these garments spoke of Him in His priestly office.
Then on the shoulders of Aaron were to rest two frames of gold enclosing onyx stones on which were engraved the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. A type this of how the Lord Jesus in His priestly grace bears His saints before God on the shoulders of His strength. Here, we know, is the secret of the perseverance of the saints. Hence the Apostle could say of a saint who might come under criticism, "Yea, he shall be holden up" (Rom. 14: 4).
Next comes the description of the breastplate. The same materials were used, in connection with a golden framework, secured by chains of gold and connected, it would seem, with the shoulder-pieces above. In the breastplate were to be placed twelve different precious stones, on each of which the name of a tribe was to appear. Thus Aaron was to bear the names of the children of Israel "upon his heart," as verse 28 says. They were as much on his heart as on his shoulders, and the typical import of this is apparent in Hebrews 4: 14-16. Our great High Priest, Jesus the Son of God, is passed into the heavens in His strength; but at the same time His heart is touched with the feeling of our infirmities. How boldly then may we draw near to the throne of grace.
Several times does the expression occur, "the breastplate of judgment." It is so called because in it was also placed "the Urim and the Thummim." These two words have the meaning of "Light" and "Perfection" respectively. Just what these were, and how they worked is not known, and after the captivity in Babylon they were lost, as Ezra 2: 63 indicates. What seems certain however is that by means of the Urim and the Thummim enquiry might be made of God and answer received, so that dark points in Israel's history might have Divine light shed upon them in a perfect way. It is a striking fact that in Hebrews 4, to which we have already alluded, the verses as to the priesthood of our Lord are coupled with two others (verses 12 and 13), which emphasize the light and perfection of the word of God, since, "all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do."
In verse 31 we find that "the robe of the ephod" was to be "all of blue," forecasting the heavenly priesthood of the Lord Jesus. Moreover, on its bottom hem were to be suspended pomegranates of blue, purple and scarlet, alternating with bells of gold. When Aaron went in and out before the Lord his sound was to be heard, but equally the fruit was to be seen. What this signified was perfectly realized in Christ. In Him both fruit and testimony were found in equal perfection, and His testimony was golden; that is, Divine. Saints today are brought into a priestly place, so in principle the same thing should mark us. If the fruit of the Spirit is not manifested in our lives the bells of our testimony will not give a certain or a convincing sound.
Aaron was also to have a coat and a mitre of fine linen, and connected by blue lace to the latter was to be a plate of gold on which was to be engraver the words, "Holiness to the Lord." This plate was to be in front, upon Aaron's forehead, where it would be visible to all. He was not to forget, and no one else was to forget, that he was wholly separated to the service of Jehovah. As thus separated he was to bear the iniquity of the holy things, which the people would set apart as gifts to the Lord. By this remarkable expression God would teach the people that there was no perfection in anything they might offer. The solemn fact is that man being a sinner he defiles all that he touches, if it be viewed in the light of the sanctuary.
This is not an easy lesson for any one of us to learn. It is clear that Israel forgot it. When a remnant returned from Babylon they had to be reminded of it by Haggai the prophet. Read Haggai 2: 10-14, and see how the word of the Lord came through him to the people. The nation, and their work, and that which they offered was marked by uncleanness. It is a lesson that we too need to learn. Let us not think that the finest offerings we ever made, whether of praise and worship or of service, were marked by perfection. They were not. The flesh is still in us, and in subtle ways it tarnishes the fairest things we offer. But we have a great High Priest who bears the iniquity of our holy things, and presents to God our defective worship or service in His own perfections, just as He will ultimately present us all "faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy" (Jude 24).
The closing verses of our chapter give much shorter details as to the much plainer linen garments that were to be worn by the sons of Aaron in their lesser service. Nevertheless they too were to be "for glory and for beauty." Whether in the case of Aaron or in the case of his sons the glory and the beauty was something that was put upon them and not something native to themselves. So indeed it is for us today.
The instructions as to the formal investiture of Aaron and his sons follow in Exodus 29. At the door of the tabernacle they were first of all to be washed with water. Then Aaron alone was to be robed in the garments of his office and the holy anointing oil was to be poured upon his head, without there being first an application of the blood of the sacrifice. This was suitable inasmuch as he was a type of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in His perfection needed no sacrifice. Viewed as a man Aaron did need a sacrifice, as we see in verses 20 and 21 of our chapter, and thus the contrast is drawn which we find in Hebrews 5: 1-3 and 7: 27. But here it is not Aaron as a man but as a type, and so the blood is omitted.
The washing all over with water is typical of the new birth, and to this the Lord Jesus alluded in John 13: 10, when He said, "He that is washed [bathed] needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit." The ceremonial bathing when the priests were consecrated was not repeated, but they had to wash hands and feet at the laver every time they entered the sanctuary, as we are told in Exodus 30.
Aaron having been invested and anointed alone, the second part of the ceremony followed in which he and his sons were joined together. The commencement of this was sacrifice. The bullock of the sin offering was to be slain, its blood placed on the altar and its flesh consumed without the camp. The ram of burnt offering was to follow on this; its blood sprinkled on the altar, and its whole body burnt as a sweet savour to the Lord. Then a second ram was to be slain and its blood not only sprinkled on the altar but also applied to Aaron and his sons, who had identified themselves with this sacrifice by laying their hands on the head of the ram. Only after this was the holy anointing oil to be applied to Aaron, his sons, and their garments. The order was: first, the water; second, the blood; and third, the oil.
Only when all this was accomplished were offerings to be placed in the hands of Aaron and his sons that they might wave them before the Lord. Verses 22 and 23 tell us what these offerings were to be. They were typical of Christ in the perfection of both His life and His sacrifice. Certain parts of the offering moreover were to be taken as food both by Moses who was to officiate, and by Aaron, and by his sons, as we are told in verses 27 and 28.
The typical value of all this is clear. When Aaron stands alone he represents Christ as High Priest, as we have seen. When linked with his sons, the priestly company is represented, and here the saints come in. To be priests we come under the new birth, and then the application of the blood of Christ by faith, and on this we receive the anointing of the Spirit of God. In Peter's first Epistle it is noticeable that before we reach our priesthood in 1 Peter 2, we have redemption by the blood of Christ and the new birth mentioned in 1 Peter 1. Then we find that as a holy priesthood we are to offer spiritual sacrifices, of which the material sacrifices that Aaron and his sons waved before the Lord, are a type. And we may know that the One whom we offer is to be the food of our souls.
To this we must add just one word: let us be much concerned that we not only understand the type, and appreciate the New Testament truth that it typifies, but also enter in our experience and in practice into the priestly activities that thus are indicated to us.
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