THE CURTAINS OF THE TABERNACLE
“Moreover thou shalt make the tabernacle with ten curtains of fine twined linen, and blue, and purple, and scarlet: with cherubim of cunning work shalt thou make them [v. 1]. And thou shalt make curtains of goats’ hair to be a covering upon the tabernacle, eleven curtains shalt thou make [v. 7]. And thou shalt make a covering for the tent of rams’ skins dyed red, and a covering above of badgers’ skins.”-Exodus XXVI. 1,7,14.
THE Tabernacle, as we have often seen, was a figure of the Divine Humanity of the Lord Jesus, of heaven, and also of the Church. We intend on the present occasion to confine our attention to the Church, as the Lord’s heaven upon earth. The curtains which surrounded, covered, and protected the Tabernacle, represented the truths which cover and protect the Church and all divine things. The complete manner in which the Tabernacle was covered with a threefold covering, represents the abundance and perfection of the truths which defend and illustrate religion. The representation of the Church by the Tabernacle is manifested very frequently in the Word. Thus, we read, “Look upon Zion, the city of our solemnities: thine eyes shall see Jerusalem a quiet habitation, a TABERNACLE that shall not be taken down not one of the stakes thereof shall ever be removed, neither shall any of the cords thereof be broken. “Isa. XXXIII. 20. Here it is manifest that the Church is meant by the TABERNACLE. In like manner the extension of the Church is expressed by the prophecy of the extension of the Tabernacle. “Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords and strengthen thy stakes: For thou shalt break forth on the right hand and on the left, and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles, and make the desolate cities to be inhabited.”- Isa. LIV. 2, 3. And in the Book of Revelation, the descent of the principles of heaven to form a church upon earth, is clearly expressed by the declaration, that the Tabernacle of God shall be with men. “And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold the TABERNACLE of God is with men, and he wil dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”–Rev. XXI. 3, 4. It is clear, then, that the Tabernacle is the symbol of the Church, and hence, it follows that the curtains of the Tabernacle represent the Truths of the Church, since these protect and cover the inner principles of the Church, as the curtains covered and protected the inner and sacred objects of the Tabernacle.
There is a remarkable prophecy concerning the restoration of the Church prefigured by the raising up of the Tabernacle which had fallen down. “In that day will I raise up the Tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old.” -Amos.ix.11. It will be well to remark, that in the pattern given for the TABERNACLE, the curtains were complete and covered it all round and on the top with parts abundant and overlapping. Thus we are taught that the truths of the Church are copious and apply to every subject. As there were curtains for the Holy of holies, and curtains for the holy place, curtains for the inside of the Tabernacle, and curtains for the outside, so there are truths for the highest things of the Church, the most holy relating to the Lord; truths for the middle things of the Church, relating to charity and faith; and truths of the outer court relating to deeds and words, and all these in abundance.
It is one of the sad results of a fallen state of religion, that truths are valued less and less as the Church declines, and at the end of the Church there are very few truths left, and those few not rightly understood, but perverted, because of the absence of others needful to present to the soul the whole counsel of God.
Our Lord said to the Jews, at the end of their dispensation, “Ye have made the commandments of God of none effect by your traditions.” “Men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil.” The Tabernacle of the Lord at such a time is rent and torn; the curtains are shreds, and breaches everywhere expose the holy things of the sanctuary to the wild winds and stormy delusions of perverted doctrine. There is no covert from the tempest, no shelter from the storm.
To such a state of things belongs the description of an often much misunderstood portion of the Divine Word. “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags: and we all do fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.”-Isa. LXIV. 6. This is a description not of a true church in vigour, but of a false church in decay: when as the prophet proceeds to say, “There is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee” (v, 7); when” the holy cities are a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation.”–v. 10.
At such a time there are but remnants of divine truths left; and those are few and far between. The church is like some old ruined abbey, with broken arches, mutilated windows, groins, corbels, capitals, and all its varied ornaments lying disfigured about,-grand in their ruins, but only ruins.
True religion breathes “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill towards men.” Look, however, at Judaism, especially in its decline, how repulsive it was to others, how mean and tricky in itself. It made long prayers, but it devoured widows’ houses. The commandments might be broken, if compensatory gifts were made to the priests. They were great about tithes, of mint, anise, and cummin, even; but justice, mercy, and faith were, readily set aside.
The prophet said of them, The bed is shorter than that a man can stretch himself on it; and the covering narrower than that he can wrap himself in it.”-Isa. XXVIII. 20. How could a man stretch himself out on such a bed as the Jewish system had become? A man, what is man? A being of grand conceptions, deep thoughts, glorious capabilities, of just and noble principles. A man is “one that executeth judgment and seeketh the truth, saith the Lord. ‘-Jer. v. 1. A man is one who recognises the hand of his God everywhere, in the sublime laws of order which pervade the universe, and nowhere more than in the universe of mind. A man is one who will stoop to nothing mean, selfish, or sectarian; who has only one standard for himself and for all, to do unto all men as he would they should do unto him; who loves all men and strives to do them good. A man, therefore, cannot conceive any doctrines true which make God a partial or unjust Being. A man would descend to nothing partial or unjust; would accept nothing but what would promote “Glory to God in the highest; and on earth, peace, goodwill towards men.”
The old Jewish bed of doctrine, that attributed to the Eternal a special partiality for them—a small tribe of the human race, a fraction scarcely a thousandth part at their best–while all the rest of mankind were supposed to be overlooked or condemned; this would never do for a man. He could not wrap himself up in that. He could see in the Jewish Dispensation one part, an important part, of the providential operations of the Almighty. While some nations were illustrating and obtaining the blessings waiting upon obedience to law and duty, as the Romans; others the development of art, grace, and loveliness, as the Greeks; others mystical wisdom, as the Egyptians; so was it given to the Jews to represent in outward observances the principles and states of a church: to be a shadow of good things to come. All these gifts were from the same Lord over all, who is, and who was, and who is to come. There was no monopoly of grace or mercy. The Jews were blessed under the outer law; the Gentiles under the law within themselves, or by a higher law once given, whose feeble gleams had been handed down dimly, through ever-darkening ages, and still shining through murky superstitions. The same Lord cared for each and for all. His tender mercies are over all his works.”
May we not say the same of religion as too commonly heard at the present day? A very few statements compose the whole of what many regard as saving faith. The fall of man, the anger of God, and the death of the Saviour, whose merits are said to be applied to those who believe He died for them. These compose the whole system of great numbers who say and who sing that their entire dependence is on “Faith alone.”
But may we not again say of this state of theology, The bed is shorter than that a man can stretch himself upon it, and the covering narrower than that he can wrap himself in it. Is not such a tabernacle full of breaches? What is there in such a description to open to us the infinite goodness and grandeur of our Heavenly Father: the grandeur and goodness of that Eternal Love which has originated, and which rules innumerable worlds. What is there worthy of God in the scheme (as it is called) of an irascible Deity proposing a trifling, unreasonable, and useless test to man, and remaining all vengeance until another part of Himself came to sustain the vials of His wrath, and receive all the punishment due to man?
Surely the ideas of God which make Him declare He will put man to death if he eat of a certain fruit, and then does not do it; which impute to Him that He declares His justice cannot be satisfied unless He slay the criminal, and then slays the innocent; which say He must have an infinite satisfaction for finite wrong, and then is satisfied with a finite death; these ideas cannot be the curtains worthily to cover the mercy-seat of the Holy of holies. They are mere tatters, containing breaches of every kind.
Surely, eternal love must be unchangeably good. He created all things through the spheres proceeding from His wisdom, His Word, in everlasting order. His truth abideth through all generations. He stretcheth out the heavens like a curtain, and, fills the earth with his riches. He forms an ever-increasing number of immortal beings, with the capacity of receiving life from Him, and being filled with His blessings. When they turn from Him they find coldness and death to all that is good. But He, the All-loving, follows them; the whispers of His mercy, and the remonstrances of His Word every moment still say, “Turn ye, turn ye, for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” To manifest His love most fully, He came upon earth and lived and died for man God manifest in the flesh. He glorified His Humanity, to make it a new and living way, for His Holy Spirit to flow into and regenerate His children. He is, therefore, the same Glorious God our Father, Redeemer, Saviour, and Regenerator. These great truths with all the particulars which enter into them are the curtains of the Holiest of all. They preserve the Church’s union in thought with her God. There is no disagreement of one attribute of God with another, as of mercy with justice. God thus seen is all mercy. He does all that infinite love can do to save, by regeneration in freedom, every child whom He has made. There is no respect of persons with Him. At the same time, He is all justice. None can enter heaven but those who have been made heavenly by Him, while they have been living in obedience to His commandments. In these views there are no breaches, no chinks, no discordances. The curtains all fit, and they are all closed up together.
Here let us remark that there were inner curtains and outer ones. The inner curtains were very full, being hung in festoons, and hooked upon golden hooks at about the height of a man,— four cubits, or six feet high. They were spun by the wise-hearted women (Ex. xxxv. 25), woven by the wise-hearted men; in blue, purple, and scarlet, and with the golden thread of the embroiderer everywhere enriching the work with cherubim(Ex. XXVI. 1).
The outer curtains were not full, but were laid plain along the sides and the top of the tabernacle, having an extra portion to hang over in front; they were attached to the tabernacle by hooks of brass. They were threefold: one of woven goats hair, another of rams’ skins, and a third of badgers’ skins. The inner curtains represented the inner truths of the soul, derived by meditation on the Word of the Lord; their number, beauty and richness being represented by the fullness of the curtains. The golden hooks, or pins, supporting the curtains, will represent the affections of holy love, supporting the truths everywhere diffused in the soul, while the loops of blue represent the purity of these inner meditations. “Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts; and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.”
The blue, purple and scarlet of these inner curtains were not for beauty only, but for wisdom. Blue represents the depth and purity of inner wisdom, the purple and the scarlet being expressive of the love to the Lord, and the mutual love which inner wisdom expresses ever. The golden threads, and cherubic forms inwoven and shining everywhere in the curtains, represent goodness diffused throughout, and appearing in every truth. The whole of these particulars amount to that beautiful description given by the Apostle James of the wisdom which is from above (III. 17). “The wisdom which is from above is first pure (blue), then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy (purple) and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy (scarlet) ” ! When the heart is right with the Lord, there are inward sentiments which come down from the Father of lights, which form a system of sentiments, clear, loving, and good, surrounding like these glorious curtains the inmost affections with hallowed principles; everywhere, and in every way illustrating and announcing the presence of deep and holy thought with love to God and man. In this sanctuary of the soul no polluted intrusion is ever permitted. It is the inward, or rather, inmost mind which delights in the law of God after the inward man (Rom. VII. 22). It is the little centre where the Saviour makes His abode with us, abides in us, and we abide in. Him. It is the one inward abode where the truly heavenly minded man yearns to dwell. “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; .that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple. For in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion: in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me.”
The curtains which surrounded and beautified the Holy of holies, and which, with the veil, made that into one apartment, did not stop there; they went forward and surrounded also the holy place. The truths of the inner man do not only rise to the Lord, they go forward and embrace all things relating to the spiritual and heavenly condition of the neighbour. They care for his faith, and desire to enrich that with an abundance of heavenly wealth. They desire to unveil to him the spirit of the Holy Word, to open, as it were, heaven to him, to unfold the nature of his own soul, to shew him his grand inheritance, and enable him to say: “The lines have fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage.” Faith is enriched, and love expanded by the number of truths which are continually being multiplied to the regenerating mind.
The length of the inner curtains was twenty-eight cubits, a number which being compounded of four and seven, denotes the complete and holy character in which goodness predominates.
The outer curtains were threefold, were thirty cubits long, and were, evidently, laid plain upon the Tabernacle, for their length is the same as that of the Tabernacle, only there was one curtain which was to hang over the front (v. 9), and there was also a portion to hang down behind (v. 12). The number thirty, compounded of three and ten, designates the quality of their representative character, as being in perfect accordance With literal truth.
The inner curtain of the outer covering was to be of goats hair, the next of rams’ skins, dyed red, and the outermost of all was to be of badgers’ skins.
The outer covering of divine things is the letter of the Holy Word. When the letter of the Word is truly understood it teaches precisely the same things, though in relation to actual life, as are taught by the spirit of the Word. The goat in the world, and in the Scripture, is the symbol of those who are especially earnest in faith. Where the goats are condemned, as in Matt. xxv. 33, they represent those who prize themselves upon” Faith alone.” When the soul, however, is genuine and true, and delights in the grand truths of revelation, which, like so many sublime rocks of the mountain-side, lift the spirit up into the very sunlight of heaven, the goats represent such earnest, vigorous, and delighted spirits, and the goats’ hair the thoughts, views and sentiments they make their own. The women spun the hair, the men wove it, and thus the tent, or top, of the Tabernacle was made.
The women denote the affections of the soul; the men, the intellectual powers. The affections select and draw out the truths of religion towards practical life, They seize hold of sacred truths, and elicit their results, idea after idea, in linked sweetness, long drawn out. Men delight more m making systems of them. The intellect, like a busy weaver, compares, combines, connects, arranges, and makes a mental cloth by which it can be covered, defended, and adorned.
The two outer coverings were of skin, one of rams’ skins dyed red; the other that of an animal called a badger, but which was probably a species of deer. The badger is not found out of Europe. The skin of the animal in question was especially commanded to be used in wrapping up the most sacred vessels for removing (Num. IV. 6, 14). The skin represents, in religion, the outward character, consisting of virtuous words, and works. The rams’ skin, dyed led, denote the words of genuine truth ” spoken in love”; the skin of the deer, denote the works of genuine goodness which ever distinguish the Christian.
The skin of the ram, as the male of the sheep, is the appropriate emblem of the intellectual things of charity, while the redness of the skin would represent words that burn with heavenly affection.
But as with the representative sanctuary, whether it was at rest or in motion, the other skin, that, probably, of the soft and gentle deer, was always used for covering, so will loving, just, and gentle deeds, be ever the surrounding of the Christian. Whatever may be passing within, his works will be pure and good. His light will shine in a gentle, courteous, orderly life.
The wicked weave the spider’s web, combined of subterfuges and lies. The good weave the fine linen “which is the righteousness of saints.” The wicked spirit, like a spider in his web lies in wait to ensnare, to entrap, and to devour. The good man robed in purity and truth walks with His Saviour in white and does not defile his garments. His pavilion also is protected by the covering of goats’ hair, in which he can dwell and hold sweet converse with Him who keeps him secretly and to whom he can say, “Oh, how great is thy goodness, which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee; which thou hast wrought for them that trust in thee before the sons of men.”–Ps. XXXI. 19.
Let us seek to be such tabernacles of the Most High. And which our supreme aim is to have the spirit of the Lord Jesus within us, yet let us also ask from Him those blessed gifts which will enable us to say, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful m my God; for He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.”–Isa. LXI. 10.
Author: JONATHAN BAYLEY –From From Egypt to Canaan (1867)