The Covering of Goats' Hair
We have now reached the second covering of the Tabernacle, or "the tent over the tabernacle," as it is called. The first covering, already examined, was the tabernacle proper, to which all the other coverings were accessory.
This second covering was made of goats' hair — probably spun, as we read, "All the women whose heart stirred them up in wisdom spun goats' hair" (Ex. 35:26). This was woven into a coarse, dark-colored cloth, quite common to this day in the East for making tents. The dark color of these tents is suggested in the words of the bride in the Song of Solomon: "I am black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon" (Cant. 1:5) — black as the tents of Kedar, comely as the curtains of Solomon. The dark color of the goats' hair is also seen in the same book: "Thy hair is as a flock of goats" (Cant. 6:5). Thus the goats' hair was evidently dark or black.
This is doubtless the proper rendering, though the word for hair is omitted. This is the case, however, in passages where there could be no question that the hair is intended, as in chapter 35:26, "The women . . . spun goats' [hair]. The previous verse, 25, would show that this was used in connection with the curtains. Indeed no other use for goats' hair is given. Had the "skins" of goats been intended, that word would doubtless have been used, as in the description of the two outer coverings of rams' and badgers' skins (Ex. 26:14).
The reason why the word hair is omitted may be, first, that our attention is thus more closely called to the goats — the significance of the animal; secondly, the chief word for "hair" is from the same root as, and closely allied with, the word for goat; though there are two words for "goat," one meaning a hairy one and the other, used here, meaning a strong one. Where these are used together they mean a buck of the goats. (Gen. 37:31; Lev. 4:23, etc.). A third reason, closely allied with the first, may be that the living goat is thus prominently put before us, as though we might say the hair was upon it.
In addition to its use for tents, this cloth of goats' hair was also, probably, what is called sackcloth: "The sun became black as sackcloth of hair" (Rev. 6:12). This was used in mourning and afflicting the soul, as in repentance: "They would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes" (Matt. 11:21). The raiment of John the Baptist was of camels' hair, similar to this (Matt. 3:4), and Elijah was described as being a "hairy man" with a leathern girdle (2 Kings 1:8); the hairy garment giving him, perhaps, that appearance. The "two witnesses" gave their prophetic testimony "clothed in sackcloth" (Rev. 11:3). And in Zechariah, speaking of the prophets, it was said, "Neither shall they wear a rough garment [margin, garment of hair] to deceive" (Zech. 13:4).
From these passages, we see that sackcloth was the badge of mourning, used at times of bereavement, calamity, or individual and national repentance. It was worn by the prophets, doubtless as in keeping with their own mourning and the call to the people to repent.
Recurring now to the curtains, and remembering that they speak of our Lord's person, we gather that in these goats' hair coverings we have Him presented as the Prophet.
He was frequently spoken of as a prophet. When He disclosed to the woman of Samaria her sin, she said, "Sir, I perceive that Thou art a prophet" (John 4:19). He had spoken for and from God. When He had fed the five thousand the people said, "This is of a truth that Prophet that should come into the world" (John 6:14). Moses had predicted that God would send such a Prophet: "A Prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you like unto me; Him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever He shall say unto you.
And it shall come to pass, that every soul which will not hear that Prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people" (Acts 3:22, 23). The man in John 9, whose eyes had been opened by our Lord, when asked what he had to say of Him, answered, "He is a prophet" (John 9:17).
As we have noticed, these coverings were made, not of the skin, but of the hair of goats. We will get later the significance of the skin, in connection with the next covering, of rams' skins dyed red. May we, without being fanciful, suggest a few thoughts in connection with the animals' hair?
It is the outermost covering of all, over the skin, and is the point of contact between the animal and the outer world; it is also the point of separation. The hair shields the animal from the rain, and protects it from extremes of cold and heat. Thus it indicates separation. So the Nazarite let his hair grow long in token of his separation from everything that would defile (Num. 6:5). If defilement came in, he had to shave off his hair in token that he had lost his separation. One of the signs of leprosy was the hair turning its color, or sometimes its falling out was the precursor of this disease (Lev. 13:30, 42). The vigor of separation not being maintained, defilement and sin resulted.
And was it not this intense spirit of separation from surrounding evil which characterized the prophets of the Old Testament? Samuel, the first of the prophets, was thus marked out by the promise to his mother before his birth: "I will give him unto the Lord all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head" (1 Sam. 1:11). His long hair of Nazariteship was to mark his relationship to God, and be a witness to the nation of their alienation from Him. How nobly his life answered to this badge of office can be seen from the subsequent chapters of the book we have quoted.
Passing from the badge to that of which it speaks, we find this separation strongly marked in the writings of all the prophets, in none perhaps more strongly than in Jeremiah: "I sat not in the assembly of the mockers, nor rejoiced; I sat alone because of Thy hand: for Thou hast filled me with indignation" (Jer. 15:17). Nor was this a misanthropic aloofness from his fellows by one self-occupied or morbid. He had a spring of joy which kept his own soul fresh in the midst of the moral desert about him, as the previous verse shows: "Thy words were found, and I did eat them, and Thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of my heart" (ver. 16).
As is well known, the ministry of the prophets did not begin till the failure of the people and of the priesthood made it necessary. Thus Samuel began his work after the failure of Eli and his sons. We find that the primary work of the prophet was not to predict future events, but to speak for God, and to call back the people to a true judgment of their ways. We do indeed get most wonderful and glorious predictions: the destiny of the nations, the recovery of Israel and its future glory; above all, the kingdom of Christ our Lord — we shall find these themes dwelt upon on many a bright page of the Prophets. But the dark, sombre background upon which all these pictures of glory are projected is the abundant witness to the people of their sin, and solemn threats of coming judgment. These predominate: "Cry aloud, spare not . . . show My people their transgression" (Isa. 58:1).
So, as we have seen, our Lord was frequently spoken of as a prophet. He Himself spoke of John the Baptist as "a prophet, and more than a prophet" (Matt. 11:9). And after John's imprisonment He took up the same prophetic work, "Repent ye, and believe the gospel" (Mark 1:15). He was indeed more — how much more! than a prophet; but His ministry of mercy and grace was ever connected with the solemn witness of the sin of the people to whom He had come. Particularly did His constant witness to the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and leaders of the people show the garment of goats' hair. For Him, too, it was the garment of sorrow, for the stern rebukes of sin and warnings of judgment came from the tenderest and strongest heart that ever beat, if we may compare the Lord and Master with even His most faithful servants. Jerusalem, which had heard His warnings, was also the subject of tears and lamentations: "He beheld the city and wept over it"; "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not" (Luke 13:34). Thus both characteristics of the prophet are manifest in Him — the faithful and complete rebuke of sin and the spirit of mourning. In how many cases is this manifest: grace, purest grace, is seen in dealing with the woman of Samaria, but her sin was not condoned in the slightest degree.
There is no such thing, in dealing with God, as covering up sin. "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper" (Prov. 28:13), and God only deals with men on the basis of what they are. If a man comes to God claiming to be righteous, God must refuse him: "The proud He knoweth afar off" (Ps. 138:6). The Pharisee and publican teach us this. He will only meet in grace those whom His holiness has already convicted of sin. So our Lord, the bearer of God's message of love to the world, was ever the Prophet; the garment of goats' hair did not misbecome Him who in divine grace came to seek and to save the lost.
We need hardly add that in Him this prophetic service was accompanied by the true prophet's separation from all evil. While not in dress or manner holding aloof from men, he was absolutely in heart separate unto God; the true Nazarite, set apart to God alone, "separate from sinners" (Heb. 7:26). He came "eating and drinking" (Matt. 11:19). He sat at table with publicans and sinners (Luke 5:30) — with Pharisees too (Luke 7:36) but He was ever separate; none could for a moment confound Him with those among whom He walked. If He attended the marriage feast, He never forgot His "hour" and the message He had to give (John 2:4); and when He took little children in His arms to bless them, it was with words of invitation to come to Himself, the true way into the kingdom (Luke 18:16).
This is the true separation, the true garment of goats' hair, which He wore with perfect consistency as He moved in and out among men. Let lying lips call Him "a gluttonous man and a winebibber," in their souls they knew He was in very deed separate from it all.
We read also of goats' hair used in an opposite way from what we have been learning, yet connected with it. We have already quoted the passage in Zechariah, "Neither shall they wear a rough garment to deceive"; and we read, in Genesis, of Jacob seeking to defraud Esau out of the blessing by the same means. There is a strange commingling of faith and unbelief in Rebekah and Jacob. Both had faith enough to value the blessing, but not enough to trust. God for it. So they seek to secure it by deceit. Jacob thus makes good his name of "supplanter." Bitterly does he reap all his sowing, and is himself deceived in much the same way, and in connection with a favorite son, as he had deceived his father Isaac. Esau was "a hairy man," and Rebekah took a kid of the goats, and covered Jacob's hands with it that it might seem to be Esau (Gen. 27:16). So when Joseph's brethren sell him into Egypt, they take his coat of many colors, slay a kid of the goats and dip the garment into the blood, and show it to their father who thinks that his beloved son has been slain by an evil beast (Gen. 37:31-36). In both these cases a kid of the goats, not a lamb, was used for the purposes of deception. We find the goats' hair used for a similar purpose when Michal, Saul's daughter, sought to deceive her father, from whom David had fled.
In the parable of the judgment of the nations, our Lord speaks of those who have shown enmity to Him and His people, as the goats; and the sheep stand for His own, to whom He gives life eternal (Matt. 25:32). The dark color of the goat might also suggest this connection with sin, which we cannot call fanciful in the light of the scriptures at which we have been looking. This is also in accord with the garment of the prophet being of goats' hair. It was a confession of the people's sin and a witness against it.
The goat suggests sin, but its remedy also. In the sacrificial ordinances we find very frequent references made to the sin-offering, and in the majority of cases the goat, or "a kid of the goats," is the animal used for that sacrifice. Thus, if a ruler sinned, he was to bring a male kid of the goats. In the case of one of the common people, it was a female kid. With the trespass-offering it could be a lamb, or a kid of the goats (Lev. 5:6). So, too, in the consecration of the priests, the people were to offer a kid for a sin-offering (Lev. 9:3, 15). On the great day of atonement we know the prominent place occupied by the two goats; one for a sin-offering and the other for the scapegoat (Lev. 16:7-10): one being slain as a sin-offering, its blood taken into the holiest and sprinkled upon the mercy-seat; upon the head of the other, Aaron laid his hands confessing all the sins of the nation, "putting them upon the head of the goat," who would thus bear them away to "a land not inhabited" (literally, "a land cut off"). Here we have a two-fold type of Christ bearing the penalty of our sins, and thus giving us a title to enter the presence of the Holy God; and also taking them away so that they shall be remembered against us no more.
In like manner, at the dedication of the altar, the offerings of the princes of Israel included "one kid of the goats for a sin-offering" (Num. 7:16). We have the same mention in the prescription for the offerings at the feast of tabernacles (Num. 29:16, etc.)
We remember, too, that the words for "sin" and "sin-offering" are the same. So it is said of our blessed Lord, "He hath made Him to be sin (or sin-offering) for us, who knew no sin" (2 Cor. 5:21).
The scriptures we have mentioned show that the goat suggested the sin, the witness of it, and the offering to put it away. We have seen the hair of the goat used for purposes of deception; the goats themselves spoken of by our Lord as contrasted with the sheep. Secondly, we have the garment of hair as the prophets' garb, connected with the witness against sin; and thirdly, the goat as the ordinary animal for the sin-offering. Thus the goat reminds us of our Lord as sin-bearer, who came "in the likeness of sinful flesh (Himself ever sinless), and for sin" (Rom. 8:3). But the covering was of the hair of the goat, not of the skin, suggesting that the sacrifice had not yet been offered, but pointing on to it.
This covering, then, tells of that Prophet who uncovered all the sin of man, who showed him in his true character. He was the witness of man's sin, for "He knew what was in man," and who knew also what the perfect nature of God required. Amidst abounding evil, His own soul was in perfect peace. He could denounce hypocrisy, bear solemn witness against the rich of this world, weep over poor fallen man, while the inmost depths of His holy soul were ever set upon His Father and His will. Thus He never repined at His lot, never was overwhelmed by the tumult of self-will which surged about Him, and never for a moment was bitter or misanthropic. Jeremiah was so overwhelmed by the burden of being God's witness in a sinful and adulterous age that he cursed the day of his birth (Jer. 20:14). But there were no such hours of discouragement in our Lord's life: "Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight" (Matt. 11:26) was enough for Him. Thus He wore the prophet's garment of goats' hair as none other has. In this, as in all things else, He must have the preeminence.
But more than this, no prophet could do more than witness against the sin, and point forward to the coming One who would deliver from it. But with our Lord, the very rebuke of sin was a reminder that He was to be the sin-bearer. His call to repentance was also a call to faith in Himself — He was the giver of repentance. After having disclosed the evil in all its blackness, and having denounced it with unsparing faithfulness, He goes to Calvary and bears the punishment which is its due. Thus He is a prophet — but how much more than a prophet!
We come now to the dimensions of the curtains. There were eleven of these, as we have seen, divided into two sets of five and six respectively. The width of each curtain was four cubits, the same as those of the inner covering, but the length was thirty cubits instead of twenty-eight. Four, as we saw, is the number of the creature, of weakness, dependence and testing, and in relation to our Lord, refers to His human nature, in weakness and dependence, in which He was fully tested and His perfection fully brought out, as suggested by the twenty-eight cubits of the inner covering. But here we have a length of thirty cubits, which, no doubt, has a significance too. Have we not a suggestion in the number of these goats' hair curtains? — eleven curtains, separated into two sets of five and six, which are the factors of thirty.
Five is the number of responsibility, as we have already seen, and appropriately used in connection with our Lord's taking full responsibility in showing to man his sin. The prophet surely emphasized this in all his ministry; and how blessedly has the Sin-offering met our responsibility in salvation by taking the consequences of our sins and bearing them upon the cross. As we shall see later on, five is the number which speaks of God with man — of incarnation.
Six has its meaning suggested by its use in Scripture. The six days speak of toil and its limit: "Six days shalt thou labor"; they also suggest the dominion of the man, created on the sixth day, over the creature. The number is frequently associated with the effort of men to be independent of God. It entered into the height of Goliath, the defier of Israel, and the weight of his spear (1 Sam. 17:4-7). It was a factor in both the width and height of the idolatrous image set up by Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 3:1), a foreshadow of that "Beast" who gathers to himself all that is great in manhood to oppose God, and whose number, that of a man, is 666 (Rev. 13:18). But Goliath was overthrown, in the name of the living God, by David; the great image of Nebuchadnezzar was despised and insulted by the men of faith who went into the fiery furnace rather than bow to it; and the Beast is to be cast into the lake of fire. So God has put His limit upon man's day, and will triumph over him when he reaches his highest point.
The sixth division of Isaiah contains that wondrous 53rd chapter, which brings out both the evil of the natural heart and God's victory over it in the death of the Lord Jesus: not only a victory in grace over souls who bow and receive Him in faith — blessed and glorious triumph that is — but a pledge of the full and final triumph over all evil. "Thou hast put all things in subjection under His feet"; "That through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil '' (Heb. 2:8, 14); "That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow" (Phil. 2:10). This triumph comes at the millennial age, the sixth age or dispensation of God's ways with man. The heavens have been purged by this blessed Sacrifice, and ere long will be purged by the power of Him whose obedience to death has given Him the right to reign and to subdue all things unto Himself. Thus Satan will be cast out of heaven (Rev. 12:9), and he and all who choose their portion with him, will be eternally confined in the lake of fire. The Lamb will execute this judgment; the redemption by His death gives Him this place of victory over all evil. It is by virtue of His death that He takes and opens the seven-sealed book of judgment and of divine counsels: "Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood" (Rev. 5:9).
But let us not forget that judgment is His "strange work," and that His victory upon the cross is for salvation primarily, "to everyone that believeth" (Rom. 1:16). It was for this He came: "not to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved" (John 3:17). Thus the element of six in the curtains speaks of the victory of Him who came to be the sin-offering.
We apply this factor also to His life here as the Prophet of God. Evil met Him on every hand, but never overcame Him for a moment. We do not allude to His personal spotlessness, which could not be contaminated, but to the efforts of men to overthrow Him. In vain they laid snares to entangle Him, to involve Him in a denial of Caesar's claims to tribute, or the infinitely higher claims of God to the heart (Matt. 22:21). Neither divine holiness nor divine love could be compromised by Him. He was not to be cajoled by flattery, nor browbeaten by threats; nor could He for one moment be turned from His testimony and the object of His mission. And all this was in the spirit of simple dependence and obedience. The width of the curtain — four cubits, the number of weakness and of the creature — was ever manifest in Him. But this note of victory over evil was ever present too; there were no hours of discouragement or repining. He might and did upbraid the cities which neglected and despised His message, but His resource was to turn to His Father (Matt. 11:20-28), and from that Presence to again utter sweetest words of love and mercy in the invitation enshrined by grace in the hearts of countless saved ones.
Let us emphasize this perfect life and work of the prophet, by contrasting it with that of His people — none of whom can measure up to the full standard. What is signified by the number four is but too plainly seen in us; for, in the place of dependence and trial, in which we are, we too often are in contrast to the unfailing One. We have also the number five, which recalls our responsibility to render full obedience; but where is the other factor seen which speaks of victory in the place of responsibility? — only where, and in the measure in which, we are held and controlled by Him.
But our Lord, "slain in His victory" on the cross, has gained the victory for His beloved people. He has triumphed over sin and over Satan and his power. The "strong man" has been bound and deprived of his armor and spoiled of his goods. Sin has been robbed of its mastery, and, wonder of wonders, the hard rebellious hearts of believing sinners have been won, conquered by love divine. What precious themes are these! What cause for exultation and worship as we ponder them!
The sixth curtain of the goats' hair insured the complete covering of the inner curtains of varied colors; half hung over the back of the tabernacle, and the other half was doubled or turned back in front (Ex. 26:9, 12). It has been thought that thus it would be more prominent, and visible to all who approached the tabernacle, and this view certainly seems beautifully in accord with the significance of the curtain. It acted thus, as we might say, as a sign or badge for the whole house of God. It served to designate the blessed object for which God had established a dwelling-place with man. As every poor, weary, sin-laden Israelite would cast his eye toward the tabernacle he would see, not the gleam of the gold or the gorgeous hues within, but the goats' hair, reminding him that the One who knew his sins was ready to forgive them.
And as we read through the Gospels, whether it be the miracles, the teaching, or the ways of our holy Lord, do we not see this sixth curtain, telling of victory over sin for sin-sick souls? As we see Him cleansing lepers, healing the sick, raising the dead; or as we hear the words of grace and truth falling from lips which spake "as never man spake," we see stamped upon it all the blessed legend, "This Man receiveth sinners" (Luke 15:2); we hear Him saying, "Come unto Me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matt. 11:28); and lest any might think their sins too great or too many to hope for pardon or favor from God, this badge of the Sin-bearer waves like a banner of victory over evil, beckoning them all to come and hear these blessed words, "Him that cometh to Me, I will in no wise cast out" (John 6:37).
Is not this attractive grace? Can men shrink from One who, while reproving sin, provides the remedy? Can we shrink from the hand which was pierced for our sins? Can we perish with thirst, when He calls, saying, "If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink?"
One last feature must be noted: the two sets of goats' hair curtains were fastened together by fifty taches of brass, as the inner curtains were by golden ones. When we come to see the significance of the brass, we will find it a symbol of the unyielding truth of God and of judgment. It was the metal which covered the altar of burnt-offering, which speaks of atonement by sin-bearing. So here again, we have the two great thoughts of sin and sin-bearing reiterated in these brazen clasps, and giving consistency to the whole covering — victory over evil in the place of responsibility.
We may close our contemplation of this covering of goats' hair with the words of John the Baptist — himself a man with the hairy garment — saying, as in effect he did, "I am but a reprover of sin; I only partly illustrate the garment I wear; you must look away from me to see its full meaning in the One whose way I have come to prepare: 'Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world'" (John 1:29).