Book of Exodus Chapter Thirty-Eight Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
Bezalel's construction of the materials to be used for this Tabernacle in the wilderness continues in Verse 1: "Then he made the altar of burnt offering of acacia wood, five cubits long, and five cubits wide, square, and three cubits high," built from the design and measurements given by the Lord through Moses to this construction manager. Once again, the measurements of this altar outside the Holy Place were precisely the length of Bezalel's forearm and hand, the "cubit" of these verses. The design continues into Verse 2: "He made its horns on its four corners, its horns being of one piece with it, and he overlaid it with bronze." The "bronze" of this verse is understood to represent judgment on sin, and the oxen "horns" would teach the nation Israel about God's mercy. When we come to the Lord, our first encounter will include a confession of our sin because "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). It's not by accident that the first object encountered by someone coming to this tabernacle was this bronze "altar of burnt offering." The criminal suspect could run to this tabernacle and if he managed to grasp the "horns" attached to this altar, he came under the protection of God—his pursuers could not take vengeance in that place of sanctuary. God judges, but He also mercifully protects us—note that we are alive and sharing these words because His mercy fills our lives in ways we often do not perceive.
This altar was to be a supplicant's first encounter at this wilderness tabernacle, and the items seen in Verses 3-4, are not unlike the tools used by a patio barbecue cook: "He made all the utensils of the altar, the pails and the shovels and the basins, the flesh hooks and the firepans; he made all its utensils of bronze. 4 He made for the altar a grating of bronze network beneath, under its ledge, reaching halfway up." The equipment would be cleaned after use, and the residue, such as the ashes of burnt offerings, was to be taken outside the camp (Leviticus 6:10-11).
The altar was to be carried but not touched, like the other items of furniture attached to the tabernacle, and so in Verses 5-7 we find the rings and poles to be used by the priests in transporting it: "He cast four rings on the four ends of the bronze grating as holders for the poles. 6 He made the poles of acacia wood and overlaid them with bronze." The alloy called "bronze" was the metal utilized here, suggesting to those who approached the altar that they were sinners in need of redemption. Our sinful nature is so complete in the sight of God that only an innocent's substutionary death could atone for our sins. Innocent, perfect animals would die on this altar in the centuries that followed, picturing our utter depravity and God's ultimate solution: "the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God" (Hebrews 9:14). We come to Him open and repentant, recognizing that in God's sight, we need—everything. We are lost; He finds us and brings us home: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).
Verses 7-8 show the now-familiar method of carrying this altar: "He inserted the poles into the rings on the sides of the altar, with which to carry it. He made it hollow with planks. 8 Moreover, he made the laver of bronze with its base of bronze, from the mirrors of the serving women who served at the doorway of the tent of meeting." It can't be stressed too much that just as this altar of sin was carried, we are carried to God through the death and life of His Son, Jesus Christ.
Something deep and important is seen in the next verses, as we encounter the "hangings," the veils that were to cover the tabernacle. We are told about the "pillars," the supports that held up these curtains. Why was this holy place veiled? We should wonder as we continue to look at the work of Bezalel, the master craftsman in Verses 9-15: "Then he made the court: for the south side the hangings of the court were of fine twisted linen, one hundred cubits; 10 their twenty pillars, and their twenty sockets, made of bronze; the hooks of the pillars and their bands were of silver. 11 For the north side there were one hundred cubits; their twenty pillars and their twenty sockets were of bronze, the hooks of the pillars and their bands were of silver. 12 For the west side there were hangings of fifty cubits with their ten pillars and their ten sockets; the hooks of the pillars and their bands were of silver. 13 For the east side fifty cubits. 14 The hangings for the one side of the gate were fifteen cubits, with their three pillars and their three sockets, 15 and so for the other side. On both sides of the gate of the court were hangings of fifteen cubits, with their three pillars and their three sockets." The center of this traveling temple was made of gold. Traveling outward and upward, we find silver, and finally to the outside, especially where the earth was touched, we find the relatively base metal—bronze. The further we are from God, the more base our lives will be.
The various "hangings" or curtains and supporting devices for them were now being built, and as we will see in Verse 23, it was an area of expertise of Bezalel's partner, Oholiab. Verses 16-20 are like a construction log describing the process: "All the hangings of the court all around were of fine twisted linen. 17 The sockets for the pillars were of bronze, the hooks of the pillars and their bands, of silver; and the overlaying of their tops, of silver, and all the pillars of the court were furnished with silver bands. 18 The screen of the gate of the court was the work of the weaver, of blue and purple and scarlet material and fine twisted linen. And the length was twenty cubits and the height was five cubits, corresponding to the hangings of the court. 19 Their four pillars and their four sockets were of bronze; their hooks were of silver, and the overlaying of their tops and their bands were of silver. 20 All the pegs of the tabernacle and of the court all around were of bronze." Silver, bronze, blue, purple and red—"It's beautiful," would have been the sigh of all who encountered this masterpiece of God, as revealed through the men (and women) who physically built it. The "hangings" of this place would veil what was occurring in the Holiest place within the Tabernacle, but faith in the Lord changes everything. We have "boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus...through the veil, that is, His flesh...(drawing) near in full assurance of faith..." (Hebrews 10:19-22).
The Book of Exodus, at this and other points, lists some of those who participated in the constuction. There were many others involved and their names are written in the mind and heart of God, who loves us for even the tiniest act of faithful work done for His kingdom. Verses 21-23: "This is the number of the things for the tabernacle, the tabernacle of the testimony, as they were numbered according to the command of Moses, for the service of the Levites, by the hand of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest. 22 Now Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, made all that the Lord had commanded Moses. 23 With him was Oholiab the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, an engraver and a skillful workman and a weaver in blue and in purple and in scarlet material, and fine linen."
The materials used in the construction of this tabernacle, which later were to be contained within the Temple in Jerusalem, were extremely valuable, making the place a target for greedy men like King Nebuchadnezzar, who, in 586 BC, would take all of it to Babylon (2 Chronicles 36). But for now, all was well, as the materials used in constructing it are mentioned in Verses 24-29: "All the gold that was used for the work, in all the work of the sanctuary, even the gold of the wave offering, was 29 talents and 730 shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary. 25 The silver of those of the congregation who were numbered was 100 talents and 1,775 shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary; 26 a beka a head (that is, half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary), for each one who passed over to those who were numbered, from twenty years old and upward, for 603,550 men. 27 The hundred talents of silver were for casting the sockets of the sanctuary and the sockets of the veil; one hundred sockets for the hundred talents, a talent for a socket. 28 Of the 1,775 shekels, he made hooks for the pillars and overlaid their tops and made bands for them. 29 The bronze of the wave offering was 70 talents and 2,400 shekels." Gold and silver are just shiny rocks that we pretend have value; just like children who pretend their little toys are real. Toys are symbolic, making us want to grow up and deal with the real thing, just as this Tabernacle is symbolic, pointing us to the maturity of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Just remember, when things seem chaotic: We are under construction.
This tent was to be anchored by pegs to the ground; otherwise it would fall apart at the slightest wind, as seen in Verses 30-31: "With it he made the sockets to the doorway of the tent of meeting, and the bronze altar and its bronze grating, and all the utensils of the altar, 31 and the sockets of the court all around and the sockets of the gate of the court, and all the pegs of the tabernacle and all the pegs of the court all around." You and I must be anchored also, with our feet on the ground and our hearts connected through faith to the Lord who designed and carefully fashioned you and me (Psalm 139:13-16).
Father, this beautiful tent was real, but now it is gone. It always was a symbol of our need to have faith in the Lord, and through Him, we are Your living temple that will last forever. We trust in You, Lord. We are Yours. In Jesus Name. Amen.