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The Blue Letter Bible

David Guzik :: Study Guide for Exodus 27

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Exodus 27 – The Court of the Tabernacle

A. The altar of burnt offering.

1. (Exo 27:1-2) The basic structure of the bronze altar.

“You shall make an altar of acacia wood, five cubits long and five cubits wide; the altar shall be square; and its height shall be three cubits. You shall make its horns on its four corners; its horns shall be of one piece with it. And you shall overlay it with bronze.”

a. You shall make an altar: The idea behind the Hebrew word for altar is essentially, “killing-place.” It was a place of death and sacrifice, where atonement for sin was made and consecration unto God was marked.

i. “This was the only altar of sacrifice in Israel’s sanctuary in early days: blood would be smeared on its ‘horns’ in ceremonial atonement, and on it ‘holocausts’ or ‘whole burnt offerings’ would be laid. Libations were poured at its side, and blood dashed over it.” (Cole)

ii. Under the new covenant, we also have an altar: We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat (Hebrews 13:10). Our altar – our “killing-place” – is the cross, where Jesus died for our sins and we follow by dying unto self and living for Jesus.

iii. We lay down our lives on that same altar: I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me….But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 2:20 and 6:14)

b. Make an altar of acacia wood…overlay it with bronze: The altar was a box-like structure and because of its overlay of bronze it could survive high temperatures. The altar was 7 feet 6 inches (2.5 meters) square, and 4 feet 6 inches (1.5 meters) high.

i. For years, the sides of this altar were smooth and shiny bronze. But Numbers 16 describes the rebellion of Korah, who challenged the leadership of Moses: You take too much upon yourselves, for all the congregation is holy... Why then do you exalt yourselves above the congregation of the Lord? (Numbers 16:3). In confirming the leadership of Moses, God judged Korah and his followers, and caused the ground to split and swallow up all the rebels of Korah. The Lord then commanded the priests to take the bronze incense-censers held by Korah and his followers, to hammer them flat, and to cover the altar of burnt offering with them, to be a memorial to the children of Israel (Numbers 16:40).

ii. From then on, every time someone came to the altar of burnt offering, they noticed the rough, hammered finish of the bronze – and were reminded of Korah’s rebellion and God’s judgment against him and those who followed him.

c. Make its horns on its four corners: There were to be horns on the altar, so the altar would “reach out” to all directions. Horns were also thought of a display of strength and power. In sacrifice, atoning blood was applied to each horn.

i. The horns were “To bind the beasts unto, that were to be slain in sacrifice (Psalm 118:27). And to signify the power of Christ’s priesthood (Habakkuk 3:4).” (Trapp)

2. (Exo 27:3-8) Accessories for the altar.

“Also you shall make its pans to receive its ashes, and its shovels and its basins and its forks and its firepans; you shall make all its utensils of bronze. You shall make a grate for it, a network of bronze; and on the network you shall make four bronze rings at its four corners. You shall put it under the rim of the altar beneath, that the network may be midway up the altar. And you shall make poles for the altar, poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with bronze. The poles shall be put in the rings, and the poles shall be on the two sides of the altar to bear it. You shall make it hollow with boards; as it was shown you on the mountain, so shall they make it.

a. Make its pans to receive its ashes, and its shovels and its basins and its forks and its firepans: These utensils were used in the preparation of the offerings and the maintenance of the altar. Each was specially made for the tabernacle out of bronze and each was set-aside for the work of the tabernacle.

i. Pans: “To hold the fat-soaked ashes when they were removed from the hearth by the shovels.” (Kaiser)

ii. Basins: “To catch the blood of the animals slain beside the altar to be sprinkled on the altar’s base.” (Kaiser)

iii. Forks: “Three-pronged forks for arranging the sacrifice or retracting the priest’s portion (1 Samuel 2:13).” (Kaiser)

iv. Firepans: “For carrying fire from the altar of incense inside the Holy Place (Leviticus 10:1; 16:12; 1 Kings 7:50).” (Kaiser)

b. Make a grate for it, a network of bronze: The grate provided a floor for the altar so the ashes and burnt remains fell down through the network of bronze. The grate also had the rings and the poles with which the altar was carried.

B. The courtyard and the gate.

1. (Exo 27:9-15) The hangings for the perimeter of the courtyard.

“You shall also make the court of the tabernacle. For the south side there shall be hangings for the court made of fine woven linen, one hundred cubits long for one side. And its twenty pillars and their twenty sockets shall be bronze. The hooks of the pillars and their bands shall be silver. Likewise along the length of the north side there shall be hangings one hundred cubits long, with its twenty pillars and their twenty sockets of bronze, and the hooks of the pillars and their bands of silver. And along the width of the court on the west side shall be hangings of fifty cubits, with their ten pillars and their ten sockets. The width of the court on the east side shall be fifty cubits. The hangings on one side of the gate shall be fifteen cubits, with their three pillars and their three sockets. And on the other side shall be hangings of fifteen cubits, with their three pillars and their three sockets.”

a. Also make the court of the tabernacle: A fine linen fence marked off the courtyard, white in color. It provided an area of 150 feet (50 meters) by 75 feet (25 meters).

i. “As the Tent itself took up only about one-fifteenth [about 7%] of the area of the courtyard, there was plenty of room.” (Cole)

ii. “Its purposes were fourfold: (1) it was a barrier in that it prevented unlawful approach; (2) it was a protection, keeping out all wild animals; (3) it was a positive line of demarcation between the world and the holy presence of God; and (4) with its single gate, it was a way of approach to God.” (Kaiser)

b. Its twenty pillars and their twenty sockets shall be bronze: The short linen fence surrounding the courtyard was held up by a system of bronze pillars, twenty on the long sides and ten pillars on the short side of the rectangular-shaped court, with three pillars on the side with the entrance to the tabernacle.

i. Exodus 27:18 tells us that the pillars were 7.5 feet (2.5 meters) high. Each had a bronze base and silver top piece, and a silver hook for hanging the linen upon.

2. (Exo 27:16) The gate to the courtyard.

“For the gate of the court there shall be a screen twenty cubits long, woven of blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen, made by a weaver. It shall have four pillars and four sockets.”

a. For the gate of the court: The gate was on the east side, the same side as the gate to the tent of the tabernacle. It was woven from the four colors used for the weavings of the tabernacle: blue and purple and scarlet yarn, and fine linen thread.

b. A screen twenty cubits long: Though there was only one gate to the courtyard, it was large – 30 feet (10 meters) wide. This was the only entrance to the court of the tent of meeting.

3. (Exo 27:17-19) Other details regarding the courtyard.

“All the pillars around the court shall have bands of silver; their hooks shall be of silver and their sockets of bronze. The length of the court shall be one hundred cubits, the width fifty throughout, and the height five cubits, made of fine woven linen, and its sockets of bronze. All the utensils of the tabernacle for all its service, all its pegs, and all the pegs of the court, shall be of bronze.”

a. All the pillars around the court shall have bands of silver: Each pillar had a top of silver, making it shiny and visible from afar in the bright desert. Each pillar also had a socket of bronze, or a base of bronze. Refining through the fire makes bronze.

i. Silver (a metal illustrating redemption) was the foundation for the tent of meeting. It was also the top – the most visible part – of the pillars surrounding the courtyard. But the courtyard fence hung on a foundation of refined bronze, a metal associated with judgment because it is forged in the fire. One could say that the tabernacle court was based on, founded upon the judgment Jesus took in our place.

b. The pegs of the court: These helped anchor down the flaps of the tabernacle and the gates, and were made of bronze.

c. All the pillars around the court: The court of the tabernacle or the temple is an important theme throughout the rest of the Old Testament. This is mainly because the temple itself was inaccessible except to a few priests. All others in Israel met God in the court. We can say by application that God also invites us to come into His courts to praise Him.

· Blessed is the man You choose, and cause to approach You, that he may dwell in Your courts. We shall be satisfied with the goodness of Your house, of Your holy temple. (Psalm 65:4)
· My soul longs, yes, even faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. (Psalm 84:2)
· For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. (Psalm 84:10)
· Those who are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. (Psalm 92:13)
· Give to the Lord the glory due His name; bring an offering, and come into His courts. (Psalm 96:8)
· Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. (Psalm 100:4)
· I will offer to You the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows to the Lord now in the presence of all His people, in the courts of the Lord’s house, in the midst of you, O Jerusalem. Praise the Lord! (Psalm 116:17-19)
· Praise the Lord! Praise the name of the Lord; praise Him, O you servants of the Lord! You who stand in the house of the Lord, in the courts of the house of our God. (Psalm 135:1-2)

i. Under the New Covenant we appreciate this longing for the court of God’s house, but we don’t need to stop there. Because of the perfect sacrifice of Jesus and His finished work on our behalf, we can come – not only to the courts, but also right on into the holy presence of God. We thank God for the right to come into his courts, but we don’t have to stop there.

d. All the pillars around the court: In overview, in coming to the tabernacle, one saw a white linen fence, with shiny spots of silver on the posts holding up the fence, surrounded by thousands of black tents, with the pillar of cloud over a unassuming tent in the midst of the courtyard covered with badger’s skin.

i. The entire tabernacle was a tent – a moveable structure. God wanted Israel to know He was with them wherever they went. It wasn’t a case of “You come to Me,” but the idea was “I have come to You”.

ii. “The Hebrews were meant to feel that the God of their fathers was a fellow-pilgrim, that where they pitched He pitched, that their enemies, difficulties, and long toilsome marches were His.” (Meyer)

4. (Exo 27:20-21) The oil for the lamps on the lampstand.

“And you shall command the children of Israel that they bring you pure oil of pressed olives for the light, to cause the lamp to burn continually. In the tabernacle of meeting, outside the veil which is before the Testimony, Aaron and his sons shall tend it from evening until morning before the Lord. It shall be a statute forever to their generations on behalf of the children of Israel.”

a. That they bring you pure oil of pressed olives for the light: The oil for the lamps on the lampstand – the only light in the tabernacle – came from pressed olives, not beaten olives.

i. “Beaten olive oil, so the Mishnah tells us, refers to the method of production of the very best oil.” (Cole)

ii. God uses a pressing work in the life of His people. We, like Paul, may be hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed (2 Corinthians 4:8) – and God uses our times of pressing for His glory.

iii. “The saintly McCheyne used to say, when urging his brother ministers to diligent preparation for the pulpit: ‘Beaten oil for the sanctuary.’ And he strove to never present to his people truth which had not been beaten out by careful devout meditation.” (Meyer)

iv. “Oil is uniformly the symbol of the Holy Spirit of God. Here, then, is the true value and meaning of this sacred oil. The elect light-bearers of the world are only able to fulfill their function by the Holy Spirit.” (Morgan)

b. Aaron and his sons shall tend it from evening until morning: The priests were to tend the lamps, making sure that the lamps had oil to burn and that their wicks were trimmed, so that the lamps would never go out – especially during the night.

i. God never wanted the lamps to lose their fire. Only by a continual supply of oil and trimming of the wicks could keep them burning. We can only continue to be on fire for God if we are continually supplied with the oil of the Holy Spirit, and are “trimmed” by God to bear more light.

ii. In dark days there is all the more reason to be filled with the Holy Spirit and to be “trimmed wicks” for the Lord. For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6) For once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (Ephesians 5:8).

©2013 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
[A previous revision of this page can be found here]

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