Book of Exodus Chapter Thirty-Seven Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
God's Holy Temple
Previously we have seen what might be called God's "blueprint" for His portable temple in the wilderness. At the moment it was actually being built and in Verses 1-2, the construction manager was completing the ark of the covenant: "Now Bezalel made the ark of acacia wood; its length was two and a half cubits, and its width one and a half cubits, and its height one and a half cubits; 2 and he overlaid it with pure gold inside and out, and made a gold molding for it all around." Can you imagine actually TOUCHING the ark of the covenant as he and the other workmen did? This was to be the centerpiece of the holy place, where the high priest would meet the Lord, once a year. Everyone else was denied access, but here was the artisan Bezalel, crafting with his hands and tools, the gold and acacia wood of this priceless object.
An emphatic reminder of the untouchable nature of this ark is seen in Verses 3-5: "He cast four rings of gold for it on its four feet; even two rings on one side of it, and two rings on the other side of it. 4 He made poles of acacia wood and overlaid them with gold. 5 He put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, to carry it." Even the priests who had the privilege of carrying this ark from place-to-place, could not touch it. The purest possible molten gold was poured into metal casts that hardened as they cooled into the shape of golden rings. Poles to pass through the rings on the sides of the ark were shaped out of acacia wood brought from Egypt and overlaid with gold before entry through the side-rings. The priests were to lift the ends of those poles, but NEVER touch God's holy ark. It should occur to us through the analogy of this ark of the covenant that God is so holy, so utterly set apart from sinful mankind, that if we saw Him or touched Him, we would "poof" into vapor in an instant. He remains distant from us for our protection, so we should continually be filled with joy that through faith, we have been brought near to the Father through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The ark of the covenant is all about justice and judgment, grace and mercy. God has justly judged humanity to be a race of sinners who have broken His law. His merciful grace is suggested in Verse 6: "He made a mercy seat of pure gold, two and a half cubits long and one and a half cubits wide." The Ten Commandments on tablets of stone were to be placed inside the ark; reminding us of commands we should keep, but don't. On top was the "mercy seat," which covered the ark in a golden promise that mercy, revealed centuries later in the sacrificial death of our Savior, triumphs over judgment. The "cubit" here would have been carefully measured by Bezalel's forearm, from his elbow to the tip of his longest finger.
"Cherubim," periodically glimpsed in Scripture, are described as "living creatures" in places like Ezekiel 1, where we find each had "four faces... four wings... straight legs (each with a) calf's foot... they sparkled like burnished bronze... (had) human hands," and each had a "human face... the face of a lion... the face of an ox... and the face of an eagle..." Bezalel, here in Exodus 37, was given an understanding of their appearance, and in Verses 7-9, "He made two cherubim of gold; he made them of hammered work at the two ends of the mercy seat; 8 one cherub at the one end and one cherub at the other end; he made the cherubim of one piece with the mercy seat at the two ends. 9 The cherubim had their wings spread upward, covering the mercy seat with their wings, with their faces toward each other; the faces of the cherubim were toward the mercy seat." These terrifying creatures are amazingly, mercifully, on our side, watching over us, hovering, protecting us from the Law's destructive force. These beings, who could have delivered Jesus from His captors at any moment, let Him endure the cross because of our need. Suffering is a tool in the hand of God, leading Jesus to redeem us, and through Him, saving us by faith.
The next verses are a witness to the construction of the Table of Showbread, described in Exodus 25, beginning in Verse 23. It was to be on the north side of the Holy Place and contain twelve loaves of bread, one for each tribe of Israel. Did Bezalel pray continually as he directed the completion of each phase of this work? He likely did, just as each of us should, no matter what our work may be. Verses 10-12: "Then he made the table of acacia wood, two cubits long and a cubit wide and one and a half cubits high. 11 He overlaid it with pure gold, and made a gold molding for it all around. 12 He made a rim for it of a handbreadth all around, and made a gold molding for its rim all around." The bread on this table could only be eaten by the priests and it reminds us of the words of the Lord in John 6:48—"I am the bread of life," and also Peter's words in 1 Peter 2:9, that ordinary people like us are a "royal priesthood" in the sight of God.
Scripture reveals what this tent, this temple is all about. It pictures a people of faith, as seen in places like 1 Corinthians 3:17—"The temple of God is holy, and that is what you are." Note again in Verses 13-15 that every portion of this wilderness tent was carried: "He cast four gold rings for it and put the rings on the four corners that were on its four feet. 14 Close by the rim were the rings, the holders for the poles to carry the table. 15 He made the poles of acacia wood and overlaid them with gold, to carry the table." And those of us who have faith are being carried also—by the Holy Spirit of God. This often tiring adventure we call "life" will be a successful journey because God Himself will carry us through.
I don't know what part of the temple you or I form, but we are precious in God's sight and we will be content—forever. Note again that every portion of the temple is carried, including the "utensils" of Verse 16: "He made the utensils which were on the table, its dishes and its pans and its bowls and its jars, with which to pour out drink offerings, of pure gold." Bezalel fashioned this earthly copy of the heavenly original, just as you and I are being fashioned by God.
In Verses 17 and forward, we find a "lampstand," also mentioned in Zechariah 4:2, which was powered by "olive trees," actually the oil from such trees, and as the context continues, we find in Verse 6, that the power, the oil that lit the lampstand was a representation of the Holy Spirit of God. As this chapter in Exodus continues, we discover a literal lampstand, but it also shows something more important. Verses 17-19 begin a look at its construction: "Then he made the lampstand of pure gold. He made the lampstand of hammered work, its base and its shaft; its cups, its bulbs and its flowers were of one piece with it. 18 There were six branches going out of its sides; three branches of the lampstand from the one side of it and three branches of the lampstand from the other side of it; 19 three cups shaped like almond blossoms, a bulb and a flower in one branch, and three cups shaped like almond blossoms, a bulb and a flower in the other branch—so for the six branches going out of the lampstand." In Revelation 1, we are offered another look at the "lampstand" from God's perspective, and are given the words of the Risen Savior about it: "the seven (or seven-fold) lampstands are the seven churches." Once again, we find that the ultimate revelation of this tabernacle is about God's intention for His people: We are, through faith in the Lord, to be filled with God's Holy Spirit. It's not buildings or denominations, but instead, it is God's love for His people.
This "lampstand" was intricate, beautiful, and Verses 20-24 take us in for a closer look: "In the lampstand there were four cups shaped like almond blossoms, its bulbs and its flowers;21and a bulb was under the first pair of branches coming out of it, and a bulb under the second pair of branches coming out of it, and a bulb under the third pair of branches coming out of it, for the six branches coming out of the lampstand. 22 Their bulbs and their branches were of one piece with it; the whole of it was a single hammered work of pure gold. 23 He made its seven lamps with its snuffers and its trays of pure gold. 24 He made it and all its utensils from a talent of pure gold." The golden cups shaped like almond blossoms are a reminder of Aaron's rod, which in Exodus 7, "swallowed up the magician's rods that had turned to serpents," and in Numbers 17, that dead stick of wood "produced blossoms and it bore ripe almonds." The rod, which would later be placed into the ark of the covenant, tells us that God brings victorious life into and out of the death that fills this world.
The Lord through Bezalel continued constructing the tabernacle, and in Verses 25-28, we find the altar of incense: "Then he made the altar of incense of acacia wood: a cubit long and a cubit wide, square, and two cubits high; its horns were of one piece with it. 26 He overlaid it with pure gold, its top and its sides all around, and its horns; and he made a gold molding for it all around. 27 He made two golden rings for it under its molding, on its two sides—on opposite sides—as holders for poles with which to carry it. 28 He made the poles of acacia wood and overlaid them with gold." We have previously seen Revelation 5:8, revealing "golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints." This inclusion of the altar of incense here in the tabernacle is a revelation to the one who feels unheard: God does hear and He receives your prayers! This altar, like the ark of the covenant, was carried but not touched. As Verse 29 of this chapter completes the thought, we continue to see the care in our construction and His attention to every detail about us: "And he made the holy anointing oil and the pure, fragrant incense of spices, the work of a perfumer." Your prayers delight God. The fact that He often does not answer in the way we expect, simply reveals that His thoughts and intentions for us are infinitely higher than what we think we need.
Father, I am surprised and encouraged that You receive even me as a priest, a part of Your holy Temple. You hear my prayers. You love me. I am delighted, I am Yours. Thank You. I love You. In Jesus Name. Amen.