The Rams' Skins and Badgers' Skins Coverings
(Exodus 36:19 )
We have the last two coverings of the tabernacle very briefly described, in a single verse, whereas the details of the first covering, or tabernacle proper, occupied a considerable space; and the tent or covering of goats' hair was also dwelt upon at some length. Remembering that each of these coverings speaks of our Lord Jesus, it is suggestive that the more deeply we learn of Him, the more of beauty and divine fulness we behold. Truly it is "the unsearchable riches of Christ" that are set before us.
In these coverings we have quite an absence of detail — not that they do not exhibit perfection in Him, but the attention is directed to but a few features in each. The skins of the animals would suggest an impervious covering, not to be penetrated by sun or rain. No dimensions are given, nor divisions indicated.
We will look first at the rams' skins dyed red. These words give us the three features to be dwelt upon: the animals were rams; their skins were used; and these were dyed red. We turn to God's word for instruction upon these features.
There is a passage in Psalm 114 which gives us a suggestion of the significance of the ram. When God led Israel out of Egypt, the victorious march is described as bringing all nature in subjection and sympathy with that wondrous deliverance: "The sea saw it and fled: Jordan was driven back. The mountains skipped like rams, and the little hills like lambs" (vers. 3, 4). The word for "ram" means "the strong one," and the skipping and leaping of the mighty mountains shows the divine majesty of God, before whom the strongest and mightiest must quail.
When Abraham went to offer up Isaac as a burnt-offering and God stayed his hand, He provided not a lamb for a burnt-offering, but a ram, "caught in a thicket by his horns." This is all-significant as we look for the meaning. The thicket may well suggest the condition of Israel according to the flesh when our Lord "came unto His own." God had brought a vine out of Egypt, cast out the nations, and planted it in the mountain of His inheritance. He looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes (Ps. 80:8-11; Isa. 5). The vineyard had become a thicket, filled with thorns and brambles, the curse of barrenness, and the mark of the "sons of Belial" (2 Sam. 23:6, 7). The horns of the ram suggest the kingly authority of our Lord (Ps. 92:10), which furnished, we may say — though the enmity was deeper — the occasion for the Jews having delivered Him up to death. The superscription upon the cross was "The King of the Jews" (Matt. 27:37). The ram was caught by his horns in the thicket. But how perfectly is the will of God shown in all this — His counsel was to be fulfilled, and the wickedness of the Jews was but the occasion (while it showed their enmity against God) for Him to show the Sacrifice He had provided. Christ in the full energy and vigor of a perfect manhood offered Himself as the true Sacrifice, which Isaac could never be.
When we come to the Levitical ordinances, we find the ram occupying perhaps the most conspicuous place. It was very frequently used for a burnt-offering (Lev. 8:18; Lev. 9:2; Lev. 16:3, 5), also for a peace-offering (Lev. 9:18; Num. 6:14; Num. 7:88). It was almost the distinctive trespass-offering (Lev. 5:16; Lev. 6:6; Lev. 19:21). But perhaps its fullest significance is seen in the offering for the consecration of the priests (Ex. 29:15-26). Here a bullock and two rams were taken; the bullock was for a sin-offering, one of the rams for a burnt-offering, and the other was called "the ram of consecration." The priests laid their hand upon this ram, as showing their identification with it; then it was slain, and its blood sprinkled not only upon the altar, as showing God's acceptance of the sacrifice, but put upon the ear, thumb, and great toe of the priest, as showing that he now was specifically and completely set apart to God, who had an absolute claim upon the obedience, as shown by the ear; upon the service, as suggested by the hand; and upon the walk, of which the foot speaks. Thus the ram of consecration was the measure of full, complete devotedness unto God, measured not by the life merely, but unto death.
The right shoulder was then taken, with the fat and the inwards and unleavened bread, and again identified with the offerers by being placed in their hands, waved before the Lord, then burnt upon the altar as a sweet savor unto God. Moses, acting as the priest, had the breast; and upon the remainder of the sacrifice the priests fed, abiding in the tabernacle area seven days, the full period of their consecration.
How perfectly all this speaks of Christ in His devotedness to God is seen as we examine the details, both in contrast and resemblance. The contrast is seen in the fact that the priests needed something outside themselves to express their consecration, while Christ was absolutely devoted to God, with never a desire apart from or contrary to Him. Man's sin made it necessary that Christ should die for atonement, but it furnished fresh occasion to display the perfection of that obedience which was unto death. In this supreme test all the fulness of His consecration was displayed, and in divine grace is accepted for His people.
Coming to details for a moment, let us see the inward springs of devotedness laid bare. His obedience, His work, His walk were all unto death, as suggested in the blood-touched ear, hand and foot. Never an act that was not the expression of this throughout His entire life. The shadow of the cross was upon Him from the manger to Gethsemane, but it was a shadow in which His perfect and holy soul found the light of His Father's will. When He came into the world He said, "Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God" (Heb. 10:5-7). He could say as to His death, "This commandment have I received of My Father" (John 10:18); and in the anguish of Gethsemane it was still, "Not My will but Thine be done" (Luke 22:42).
Thus when the hour came for which He had come into the world (John 12:27) and He yielded Himself up to death, all the hidden springs of His life were laid bare, and all was seen to be for God. The shoulder, which speaks of strength; the fat within and without, which speaks of the energy of the will — in man, that which fills him with pride and rebellion; and the vitals, His thoughts, motives and desires: all that He was, went up in death in the sweet savor to God that perfect holiness could desire. And the wonder is that it was sin in man that made such a display necessary if infinite love was to express itself.
This then is the thought suggested by the ram — Christ in the full vigor of a perfect life, living only for God, and yielding Himself up to Him absolutely in a devotion that was only measured by His death on the cross.
We have really anticipated the significance of the skin, which we shall now consider. It is very striking that the first intimation of salvation by substitution is seen in the clothing of our first parents with garments of skin. The very first promise is that the woman's Seed would bruise the serpent's head. In that we see Christ's victory over Satan, through death destroying him that had the power of death. But in the clothing with skins we have the application of the benefits of that death to His people.
How striking it all is! The ignorance of innocence had gone forever. Man had awakened to the awful fact that he was naked. Disobedience to God had destroyed the beauty of the first creation; the shame of a fallen life replaced it — a corrupted life now, with death attaching to it. So he must hide, even from his most intimate companion; and how much more when the still small voice of infinite holiness is heard. For themselves the aprons of fig leaves — garments of their own making — may suffice, but such could not avail before the all-searching eye of divine Truth.
Leaves speak of profession without fruit, and temporary at the best. "All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags, and we all do fade as a leaf" (Isa. 64:6). Man may gather the best and brightest leaves of human worthiness and righteousness; he may stitch them together with cunning workmanship religious, social, moral, intellectual — but it all leaves him naked when the living God draws near. No covering that man has devised can give a moment's boldness in the presence of a holy God. His shame appears in that heart-searching Presence.
But thanks be to Him who is Love, He has provided a covering which suits Himself, and which effectually covers the believing sinner, bringing peace and rest to his conscience in view of the judgment of God. God makes coats of skin and clothes them. Life must be given up to provide these skins; so from Eden we may hear the gospel preached: "Bring forth the best robe and put it on him" (Luke 15:22). The best,, the most costly robe is through the Lord Jesus Christ giving up His life. So believers are "in Christ," covered by Christ, of whom they can say, "The Lord our righteousness" (Jer. 23:6; 1 Cor. 1:30).
We find in Leviticus that the skin of the sacrifice was to be the priest's. There was a special exception to this in the case of the sin-offering on the day of atonement (Lev. 16:27), where the skin along with the flesh of the entire animal was to be burned outside the camp. This was to emphasize the depth of the judgment which must be visited upon sin, but the effect of it was that the blood was carried into the holiest and sprinkled upon the mercy-seat, giving the believer "boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus" (Heb. 10:19). Thus the same truth is illustrated from a different side.
In the directions as to the burnt-offering, the animal was to be flayed (the skin removed); then it was divided into its parts (Lev. 1:6) and burnt upon the altar. The skin was to belong to the priest who presented the offering (Lev. 7:8). So Christ in offering up Himself upon the cross secured a covering for His beloved people. This is suggested — may we not say? — in the seamless robe of our Lord, for which the lot was cast by divine appointment. It is one perfect, consistent whole — not to be rent. The one to whom God allots it must have it whole or none (John 19:23, 24). In sovereign grace, this robe of a perfect righteousness is provided for every one that will receive it. This robe is Christ Himself. In the wisdom of God He is made unto us "righteousness" (1 Cor. 1:30) the righteousness which is of God by faith (Phil. 3:9).
Here we must guard against a thought which has obtained with many, that Christ's active obedience in His life is imputed to the believer. According to this teaching, man, who owed perfect obedience to the law, could not enter heaven without having fulfilled the word, "do and live." Having failed utterly to do this, the law-keeping of Christ is imputed to him, so that God accepts Christ's obedience in place of the sinner's. Now when we see that it is the skin of the animal which is given for a covering, the thought of mere obedience in life being imputed is set aside. The life had to be given up, death had to come in, and thus the perfect robe of righteousness was secured, even Christ Himself, which includes His perfect obedience in life, His death, and what He now is, as the measure of the believer's acceptance and standing before God.
We suggest one more thought connected with the skin. In the burnt-offering, all was divided into the appropriate parts — legs, shoulder, head, inwards. What had been covered from view was laid bare by the removal of the skin. Man could see but the outside of Christ's life, but in His death the hidden springs and motives were all laid bare, even to the eye of man in some measure, but how perfectly to God, to whom all was offered as a sweet savor.
Thus, as we have already seen in another connection, the shoulder of strength, the breast of love, the inward motives or thoughts of His heart, were seen to be absolutely devoted to God. He breathed out His entire being, in death, to God — all was offered upon the altar. Every detail was perfect in itself: the skin could be removed.
There is scarcely need to dwell now upon the significance of the red color of the rams' skins, for already we have had it emphasized again and again that the Lord's devotedness unto death is the thought here, which is made conspicuous in the blood-red color. The ordinance of the red heifer in Numbers 19 suggests the same thing.
Our Lord's entire life was indeed a foreshadowing of His death. Around the manger were the shadows of the cross; for as the manger contained food for the beasts, a food of plants cut down, sacrificed to become life for others, so our Lord was "cut off out of the land of the living" (Isa. 53:8), that He might be the food for His people. Ever and anon did the shadows of the cross fall across His path; as doubtless it was ever in His mind.
In the 63d chapter of Isaiah our Lord comes from the judgment of His enemies "with dyed garments from Bozrah" (Isa. 63:1). The same thought is suggested in the red horse of the second seal, death and carnage (Rev. 6:4). Thus the red in the covering before us seems clearly to speak of our Lord's death.
We have thus in three convergent lines found the significance of this third covering of rams' skins dyed red. In it we see Christ in all the energy of a perfect life yielding it up in death, in absolute devotedness to God, and this marked His entire course down here.
Let us recall a few familiar scriptures which illustrate this truth. "When the time was come that He should be received up, He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem" (Luke 9:51). He was to be received up to glory; He was going to His Father; but how was He going? He seemed to be nearest heaven on the Mount of Transfiguration, so far as outward glory was concerned, yet upon that very Mount we know the conversation was not the glory to which He had drawn so near, but "the decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem" (Luke 9:31). He would go back to the glory by way of the cross. We may explain the familiar passage in John 14 in the light of that truth, "I go to prepare a place for you." Had He gone at that very instant, we may reverently say He would not have prepared the place for us. Oh, how much was involved in those two brief words, "I go." They meant Gethsemane and Calvary — the judgment of God first, and then the glory. Thus the place was prepared. He who was cut off from the presence of God for our sins has won the title to enter eternal glory and claim it for every sinner who trusts in Him.
But this place in glory was won in perfect obedience to His Father's will. At Gethsemane, when they came to take Him, instead of using His divine power to smite His enemies, He quietly yielded Himself into their hands, saying, "The cup which My Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?" (John 18:11). So the death on the cross which manifested the desert of our sin and disobedience in its fullest measure, was the crowning act of a life of perfect obedience. This is dwelt upon in the Epistles: "As by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of One shall many be made righteous" (Rom. 5:19). This was not our Lord's law keeping during life, as has been thought by many, but His obedience "unto death, even the death of the cross" (Phil. 2:8).
In Hebrews 10 we have the familiar quotation from the 40th psalm. The psalmist, speaking prophetically of and for our Lord Jesus, says: "Sacrifice and offering Thou wouldest not, but a body hast Thou prepared Me. In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin Thou hast had no pleasure. Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of Me) to do Thy will, O God . . . He taketh away the first (the offerings under the law) that He may establish the second" (His own work, in which He did the will of God) — "By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once" (Heb. 10:5-10). Here, then, is the devotedness of which we have been speaking — the antitype of all the sacrifices. In His death, who came to do His Father's will, we see what God had in mind in this covering of rams' skins dyed red.
But as we have been seeing, this devotedness characterized His entire life. He goes into the temple, which is for Him His Father's house, but He finds it polluted by men who, under the plea of caring for God's things, are really seeking their own. Our Lord with a scourge of small cords drives them out, and casts out all their traffic. "Make not My Father's house a house of merchandise," He says, and His disciples remember the words of the 69th psalm (Ps. 69:9) — one of the sacrificial psalms — "The zeal of Thy house hath eaten Me up." This very zeal and devotedness to His Father's glory was a pledge of His death. So when asked by the Pharisees by what authority He did these things, His reply shows that He knew full Well where such zeal was leading Him: "Destroy this temple" — take My life — "and in three days I will raise it up" (John 2:13-22).
How good it is to dwell upon such devotedness! — let us also put it alongside of that which we may well be ashamed to call by the same name. "I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished" (Luke 12:50) — His footsteps quickening as He drew nearer to that hour when His last breath was unto His Father. Must we not believe, can we doubt for a moment, that the Father's eye was upon the dye of the rams' skins throughout our Lord's entire life? — that His eye marked it in every act and word, in all His prayers and miracles, in His thoughts and inmost desires, in the energy of One whose only object was to do the Father's will, and whose whole perfect life went out in ardent desire to lay itself upon the altar — a complete gift in love to the Father who had sent Him upon such a service?
We go back again to that word, "By the which will we are sanctified." Blessed be God, all our poor obedience is covered up, swallowed up in this obedience, in the value of which we are set apart to God, and made as perfectly the objects of His delight as the One who did it for us and for God! And so, while ashamed of ourselves, we are not ashamed of Him. This covering is for us the "best robe," as it was for Him the mark of that which only the Father's heart can appreciate in all its fulness.
We come now to the covering of the badgers' skins, or seal skins, and here the details are still more meagre, though doubtless the significance is to be clearly found if we use the divinely-given key. There is some question whether the word is to be rendered "sealskin," but students agree that it is the skin of some animal that lived in the water. Seals, we are told, abounded on the shores of the Red Sea, so there is no geographical difficulty in the way.
Apart from this covering of the tabernacle, and the coverings upon the various tabernacle furniture when journeying (Num. 4), we have but one mention of sealskin, as we will call it. It is in Ezekiel 16, where God is recounting to Israel His grace and provision for her, His bride. He had found her lying in her blood and had given her life; and He had clothed her with a beauty-not her own — broidered work and jewels and a beautiful crown upon her head. In connection with all this adornment, He had shod her with badgers' skin (Ezek. 16:10). Alas, Israel abused all this love, and put to shameful uses the beauty which had been put upon her. But the significance seems plain: shoes of sealskin were an appropriate and effectual covering for the feet of a bride, typical of ample provision for Israel for all her journeyings here. We remember that the prodigal also was clothed not only with the best robe, but had a ring, pledge of eternal love, and "shoes on his feet," full provision for the walk.
Recurring now to the seal, it is an amphibious animal, properly belonging to the land, yet living in the water. Its skin is impervious to the element in which it lives; its covering thus maintains it in the midst of unnatural surroundings.
When we think of our Lord coming down into this world from the light and joy and blessedness of His heavenly home, what a foreign element it must have been for Him to live in! But, by virtue of His absolutely holy nature, our blessed Lord kept everything of Satan's world out of His heart. Nothing in it appealed to Him. The prince of this world could spread before Him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them, his seductions were absolutely echoless in that shrine of God, His holy heart.
This then is the first thought we gather from sealskin — perfect protection in a hostile element. And here too it is well to remember that the life must be given up to furnish the skins; so this separation was unto death. "Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin" (Heb. 12:4), but He did.
The next thought as to the sealskin is closely connected with what we have just been seeing, and grows out of the use of sealskin in the passage we have referred to in Ezekiel. Shoes are to protect the feet from injury and defilement. The feet are our point of contact with the earth, and how important it is that they should be protected alike from its thorns and its soil. The shoes were removed in the presence of God, for the ground was holy. Earth must not defile in that holy Presence, and it was in that Presence our Lord lived every moment: this was the preparation with which He was shod.
Look at Him as He walked. How were His feet shod? "Beautiful" indeed they were, as bringing good tidings and publishing peace (Isa. 52:7), for His was the ministry of reconciliation, not imputing men's trespasses unto them. His feet bore Him on many an errand of love and mercy to Sychar's well and to the coasts of Tyre and Sidon; to Caesarea - Philippi, and to Jerusalem everywhere He went, "about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom" (Matt. 4:23).
No sacrifice with the slightest blemish or bruise could be offered to God. A bullock might be incapacitated from being a sacrifice by striking its foot against a stone and being bruised. Suppose, if it had been possible, that our Lord had been tempted to murmur at the trials and privations of the way, for He had not where to lay His head, or that He had lost control of Himself as He walked in and out amongst the stony-hearted men by whom He was surrounded; such dashing of His foot against a stone would have produced a bruise, would have been an imperfection, would have been a blemished offering, unsuited for God. Rightly do we say, "if it were possible," for that could not be. The very occasions when the stones lay thickest about Him, when all would be calculated to stir the spirit to absolute fury by the hardness of heart, envy, unbelief of those who sought to "entangle Him in His talk," only served to exhibit the perfect equipoise of His soul. (See Luke 11:53, 54.)
"Unmoved by Satan's subtle wiles,
Or suffering, shame and loss,
Thy path uncheered by earthly smiles,
Led only to the cross."
Grief there was at the sin and hardness of heart, holy indignation too, and scathing rebuke, but never one single word that could defile; never a moment to marr His unclouded communion with the Father. Let us "consider Him who endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself," and compare this undefiled walk with that of the best of His own in this world: can we conceive of one going through it without gathering a particle of defilement? How we gather the dust of the world upon our feet as we go about our necessary business, in meeting the responsibilities and duties of life. We do not excuse ourselves for it; we know it is because of our feebleness of faith and lack of spiritual energy; but all was perfect with our holy Lord. Was there a particle of dust upon His holy feet at the end of the journey? He never deviated one hair's-breadth from the path of perfect obedience to God; and when those feet of His who "went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil, for God was with Him," were nailed to the cross, there was no stain upon them.
But we gather another thought. from the sealskin covering. It was probably of a brown or dark hue, not repulsive in appearance, but not particularly attractive. For faith, the characteristics which we have been dwelling upon in our Lord are blessedly attractive, but to the natural man, there was "no beauty that we should desire Him" (Isa. 53:2). As they looked upon Him walking in lowly separation from the world and its spirit, they said, "Out of Galilee ariseth no prophet" (John 7:52). Even His wondrous teachings and miracles failed to overcome the pride of unbelief in many: "Is not this the carpenter?" was the incredulous and scornful question asked. Nor did it stop there: that which put Him at a moral distance from all hypocrisy and religiousness of the natural man was no barrier to conscious need, which ever found a tender welcome in Him. The outcast, the wretched and the lost came freely to Him; but unbelief still stumbles and says, "A Friend of publicans and sinners" (Luke 7:34).
And yet who that needs the word of God can fail to see that it was a humbled Lord who was to be expected? He "made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, . . . and being found in fashion as a man He humbled Himself" (Phil. 2:7, 8). This faith sees in the covering of sealskin, the lowly garb of One who came to serve. Think of the Lord of glory, the Creator and the Upholder of all things, corning into the world in such lowly form as this! And think of all this condescension awakening in the heart of man only scorn and mockery!
Be it so if, alas, it must be. To behold no beauty in the Lord Jesus is to prove one truly blind to what is of true worth: not to have the heart stirred by a love which "passeth knowledge" is to prove it cold and dead. But faith beholds beauties where the world sees uncomeliness; and faith follows with adoring heart the footsteps of Him who was separate from sinners, and remembers with joy that beneath this apparently sombre exterior are hidden the glories we have dwelt upon in the other coverings. When the world turns away, faith cries aloud, "He is altogether lovely" (Cant. 5:9-16). "This is my Beloved and this is my Friend." If asked: "What is thy Beloved more than another beloved?" faith gladly, like the bride in the Song of Solomon, answers by describing Him from the head to the feet. Every feature has its own beauty and attractiveness; every step, word and act of our Lord has a beauty all its own. And after we have exhausted all our little knowledge of Him, we can truly say, "the half has not been told."
This gives significance to the fact that these last two coverings have no dimensions given. They covered, doubtless, all the tabernacle. So in the burnt-offering, there was no limit to the number offered. One kid of the goats would suffice for a sin-offering, but the burnt-offerings were multiplied by thousands in the time of the kings, until the whole temple court was turned into an altar (1 Kings 8:64) — worship has no limit.
In these coverings without measure we have the infinite fulness of Christ suggested. Let the thoughts go, under the guidance of Scripture, as far as the finite capacity permits, and still there is more beyond — the fulness of Christ, which is only measured by the fullness of God; and, blessed thought, each believer can say: "He is mine and I am His."