Before considering the details of the holy vessels contained in this chapter I would revert for a moment to the offerings which the children of Israel were to bring. They were to offer willingly such materials as were to be used in the construction of the tabernacle and its vessels. These materials were used in showing forth the varied moral glories and characters which by faith we can now see in our Lord Jesus Christ. They are here looked at in detail, but were about to be formed into a completed whole. Gold represents the righteousness which takes its character from the very nature and glory of God - that which could be in His presence in the holiest - hence, as often said, divine righteousness. Silver perhaps is more difficult to understand, but I believe it will be found to represent the grace of God according to His own truth and faithfulness. It is thus connected with His righteous ways (there was no silver in the construction of the temple), as also with a present standing in His favour. The word of God is compared to silver refined (Psalm 12:6), and the trumpets which announced the testimony and mind of God were of silver also. In Christ, the Yea and Amen, grace secures every promise of God according to His own truth and faithfulness. Brass is righteousness according to the claims of God upon men, maintained in the first instance by the discriminating judgment of good and evil. Evil judged and condemned, and good accepted in Him who loved righteousness and hated iniquity; this was by fire on the brazen altar, and secondly, by the searching power of the Word in the laver.
Of the other materials I will say little until we come to the way they are used. Blue, it is generally admitted, denotes what is heavenly in character; purple, kingdom glory; scarlet, earthly glory. I think it will be found that as silver is placed in moral order between the gold and brass, so is purple placed between the blue and the scarlet - the kingdom will have a heavenly and an earthly glory. Fine linen denotes the perfect purity of human nature in Christ - that which was pure and perfect inwardly, while the goat's hair represents that which is more outward - a holy, separate life, such as could be seen by men. Rams' skins - consecration to God; this again. is inward. Badgers' skins - outward; the watchful, guarded walk of one so consecrated. Oil - the power of the Holy Spirit; and precious stones - the perfections of Christ, in which His people are set.
Here, then, we have the materials to be embodied in that which is to be the sanctuary of the Lord, where all speaks of His manifesting Himself in man and to man, but not yet fully in glory, for the tabernacle is set up in the wilderness, and hence the silver comes in.
We now come to the description of the vessels. God begins with the ark. We do not learn the precious truths which are here figured in the order in which they are presented. We necessarily begin at the door of the tabernacle, where was the brazen altar. God begins in the very holiest, where His own glory dwells. This shows us the place which the ark has - it being the fullest type of Christ - in the details of the tabernacle. There Jehovah dwelt between the cherubim upon the mercy-seat. Though made of shittim-wood it was covered with gold within and without. It represented that which was human, but seen only in the perfection of divine righteousness. It would seem, from Deut. 10:1-5, that Moses made a preliminary ark of wood only (no gold is mentioned), in which to put the second tables of the law after the first were broken - a gracious provision, but not the full embodiment of the mind of God here presented. The ark was not only the depositary of the testimony of God, such as could only be in Him who said "Thy law is within my heart." This was the perfection of man's righteousness for God; but the shittim-wood covered with gold speaks of One in whom God's holy nature and character were perfectly glorified, as He said, "I have glorified Thee on the earth." All was suited to the holiest, to the very glory of God who dwelt there, and whose presence must judge everything according to what He is Himself. Above the testimony was a mercy-seat or propitiatory of pure gold. There Jehovah dwelt. There the blood of the bullock for Aaron and his sons, and the blood of the goat - the Lord's lot - was sprinkled on the day of atonement. In the holiest it was more than the question of meeting the responsibility of man; there the character of God Himself, in respect of sin, was vindicated by the blood on the mercy-seat. Hence, not only does God justify the sinner who believes in Jesus, but Christ (in whom all the glory of God centres and is declared, and who is in that glory in the excellency of His own person) having glorified God about sin, the believer looked at as in Christ becomes the righteousness of God in Him. We must remember that the type could not set this forth fully, it was only shadowed at best; but we have in Christ and His work that which has been fully estimated in the holiest of all, according to the glory of Him who dwells there.
Then of one piece with the mercy-seat two cherubim were made, at either end. They are symbolical of judicial action by God in righteousness. In Gen. 3:24 they are thus seen in connection with the responsibility of man. In Ezekiel they form part of the chariot-throne on which the glory of Jehovah sat when He came to judge the city of Jerusalem; so, in Psalm 18:10, "He rode upon a cherub, and did fly" when He executed judgments on behalf of His anointed. Here too we see the responsibility of man in the tables of stone that were in the ark. It is maintained according to the judicial estimate of God's righteousness in the holiest. We can say it has been perfectly met in Christ - the mercy-seat on which the glory of God now rests. The cherubim looked down on this mercy-seat of pure gold. They were of it. Every question of good and evil has been eternally solved in Him, and God has been glorified. In the cherubim we have the judicial estimate of this according to the attributes of the divine glory. Their faces are toward the mercy-seat, the throne of God in divine righteousness, but the place of the sprinkled blood.
Further we see (v. 22) that it was the place where Jehovah met with Moses to commune with him, and there he received the divine communications for the children of Israel. Aaron, after the breakdown and death of his two sons, was debarred access into the holiest, save on the day of atonement once in the year. There was no such prohibition given to Moses. He is thus the Apostle of Israel permitted to have direct communication with the mind of Him who dwelt within the veil. (Compare Numbers 7:89; 12:8.) We have thus a foreshadowing of those blessed communications which are not merely connected with the people's need, but also with the glory of God in His own sanctuary. In Christ we have more than could be shadowed here. He was the sent One of the Father speaking the words of God. This He ever did, not, as Moses, going in to receive the communications. He was ever, so to speak, in the holiest, and yet Himself the holiest, the dwelling-place of God. Yet more, He was always the Son in the bosom of the Father, ever speaking as from thence. "The words that I speak unto you I speak not of Myself."
We must not think that this direction as to Moses' place at the mercy-seat comes in here accidentally. Its very place shows us its importance. The Epistle to the Hebrews opens with God speaking in the Son, and then we have the unfolding of the whole system of things connected with the heavenly calling of which Christ is the Apostle, and which is brought in consequently on His taking His place within, at the right hand of God. Again, in the Epistle to the Ephesians, where the counsels of God in Christ are made known, we see the important place of apostleship. The apostles and prophets are the foundations, as communicating these counsels according to the hidden wisdom of God, on which the saints are being built up, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone, in whom all the building is being fitly framed together; and in chapter 3 the apostle speaks of the administration of the mystery in grace committed to him, to the intent that the manifold wisdom of God might be known by the principalities and powers in the heavenly places. The unsearchable riches of the Christ were, so to speak, the treasure-house of this manifold wisdom.
We see then what an important place apostolic communication holds, and how fitly the peculiar privilege accorded to Moses, of Jehovah communing with him from the mercy-seat, introduces the details of the other parts of the tabernacle. But while considering the full and blessed revelation of God in Christ, we must remember that no figures can portray the fulness. By the death of Christ, the veil has been rent, behind which the ark stood. God has come out in grace, where before He sat in judicial character upon a golden seat, and a new and living way has been opened for man to go in. The holy place is now filled with the glory of redemption, and Christ Himself appears in the presence of God for us. We can be before God - blessed place! - in virtue of the blood of Christ and according to His perfections. It is true humility to accept our place within the holiest, because we enter through the veil where nothing of self can have a place, for all is filled with Christ. Besides our place, it will be possible for Israel to have a place according to the new covenant to be made with them God has been glorified in respect of sin for them as for us. The law which they had violated, and which was then deposited in the ark, will be written in their hearts. They will learn how it was magnified and made honourable in their Messiah, the true Ark of the Covenant, by whose Spirit they will be instructed in it.
We come now to the table of showbread and the golden candlestick - sustenance and light - the one characterised by the number 12, the latter by 7. If we take the various ways in which twelve is used in Scripture, it will be found to be connected with the order of God's administration by or in man. This is seen in there being 12 tribes of Israel, and in the use of this number in the heavenly Jerusalem. The Lord also appointed 12 apostles to be with Him and to preach. On the table of showbread 12 loaves, representing the 12 tribes, were set in order before the Lord. The candlestick had 7 branches. It is the well known number of spiritual perfection and completeness. This is seen to be the case even in a bad sense in Matthew 12:45, as well as in a good one. (Revelation 1:4.) In these two vessels, then, we have the witness of divine order and sustainment, and that which makes manifest - light in the completeness of its diverse beauty. T. H. Reynolds.