The Brazen Altar and the Court of the Tabernacle.

Exodus 27.

The closing verses of ch. 26 show the arrangement of the holy and most holy places (vv. 33-35), with the hanging for the door of the tent. All the figures of the manifestation of God in Christ were thus enclosed. Aaron and his sons alone could serve in the holy place, but the way into the holiest was not yet made manifest. There was yet a further manifestation of God in the brazen altar, not exactly in this case in the person of Christ, yet not apart from the person, but rather in the work wrought by that blessed Person through sacrifice. The altar was the great place of sacrifice; for this it had its grate and firepans. It was also the place where man, as man, could approach, drawing near to God by virtue of a sacrifice accepted for him, and in virtue of which he was accepted. It had horns on which the blood that made atonement for the offerer was placed. This was for the eye of God, witnessing before Him that His righteous claims on the sinner had been met. Directly man became a sinner, and was driven out of Paradise by God, the only possible ground of approach to Him was by sacrifice. This was witnessed in Abel's offering. "The Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering." In Noah's sacrifice we have a further development. For the first time there is the record of an altar built to the Lord, and the sacrifices are called burnt-offerings giving forth a sweet savour to the Lord. Sin had brought in the judgment of God by the flood, and though judgment may prepare the way, yet there was no rest for God in judgment - it is His strange act - but from Noah's altar of burnt offering the Lord smelled a savour of rest. This laid the basis for God's renewed dealings with men and the earth. In virtue of the rest which God has found in the sacrifice of Christ, He can even now deal in providence with this earth, and eventually both man and the earth will enjoy His sabbath. Later on, when Noah's world had departed from God into idolatry, another principle is developed in Abraham - God's calling. He calls a man out from his surroundings to be with Him in a land which He would show him. Here, then, on the one side is the call of God; on the other, separation from the world. In the land the Lord appears to Abraham, and he builds there an altar to the Lord. He had no altar when he went down into Egypt to sojourn there; he could not draw near to the Lord there; but on his return to the land, he returns also to the place of his altar. (Gen. 13:4.)

This will prepare us for the consideration of the position of the altar. It was in an enclosure, formed by hangings of fine twined linen, called (v. 9) "the court of the tabernacle," and its position was "before the door of the tabernacle of the tent of the congregation." (ch. 40:6.) Another moral feature of its position is given in Lev. 16:18: it is "before the Lord." There could be no drawing near to God in the world outside, as Abraham could have no altar in Egypt. We are not now considering the blessed fact that Christians have boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Christ, nor of being made meet for the inheritance of the saints in light; but that the first approach to God must be on the ground of blood-shedding indeed, but also of the savour of rest which He has found in the sacrifice of Christ, and necessarily also in separation from the world of fallen man's lust and will. "I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me." The altar was not inside the tabernacle, nor was it outside in the camp, but in an enclosure which we have yet to consider.

We have spoken of brass as setting forth God's righteousness with respect to good and evil; judging evil, and maintaining and accepting good. "The righteous Lord loveth righteousness." In the cross evil in man was fully manifested, and goodness in God fully displayed, and there God made good His righteousness with regard to both. Hence in Rev. 16:7 the utterance of the altar* itself is, "Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are Thy judgments." Though the altar was the place of sacrifice, and we must necessarily so regard it, yet in this chapter we are not engaged with the offerings upon it, but with the altar itself. It has its own voice. In the sacrifice we can easily see the expression of God's judgment of sin, and His love of righteousness in accepting that which so perfectly answered to the demand of His righteousness; but the altar expressed the same, for of Messiah it was said, "Thou hast loved righteousness and hated iniquity." The answer to every figure is found in Christ. He is the Altar as well as the Priest and the Victim. It is well for us to consider that the sacrifice of Christ was not a mere act of compassionate grace to free us from God's judgment of sin, but that He hated the sin which He died to free us from. The altar and the victim were in accord. He loved the righteousness which He vindicated in His cross, maintaining it at all cost. Now from God He is made to us righteousness. The utterance of the altar, speaking of the love of righteousness and the judgment of hated evil, makes apparent that approach to God must be in a place of separation from that world, which, having the knowledge of good and evil, has accepted evil and refused good. It is in the cross that this has been fully manifested.

*The correct reading is, "I heard the altar saying."

This leads to the consideration of the enclosure called the "court of the tabernacle." It is evidently a place marked off from man's world, the place of first approach to God for those desiring to draw near to Him. They drew near at the brazen altar upon the ground of atonement made, and of the question of righteousness as between man and God having been settled thereon. It was thus a place of privilege distinct from the outside world, but it did not embrace the privilege of drawing near in the sanctuary. It is the latter which is peculiarly the Christian privilege, only that now there is access to the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way through the veil; while of old the priestly company could only enter the first part of the tabernacle, called the holy place. The special privilege of Christians is that they have been "called unto the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord." Their place is with Him according to the call of God. In the court of the tabernacle righteousness was established and maintained at the brazen altar as between man and God, but in the holiest it has been established between God and His own blessed Son our Lord Jesus Christ in virtue of His estimate of the work which has glorified Him - a work done in respect of sin, but which has brought infinite glory to God Himself. It was the righteous answer of the righteous Lord who loveth righteousness (Psalm 11:7) to the work in which He was glorified, to glorify the Son of man in His own glory. We have been called unto the fellowship of His Son, and consequently our place and portion are determined by the place in glory in which He is now as Man. Hence we have liberty by the Spirit to behold the Lord's glory, and thus to become transformed into the same image.

In Hebrews, Christians are looked at as companions of the Christ, for "He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one," and therefore have their place inside with the great Priest who is over the house of God. The Spirit gives us the present realization of it, while we are on the way to its actual enjoyment in heaven. We cannot insist too much on this great Christian privilege of being called to the fellowship of His Son, and that we have our place with Him according to the righteousness of God which has glorified Him, and according to the love which is the fountain and source of all that love has called us to in Him.

But though by the Spirit we realize our place in association with Christ inside, yet actually we are still upon the earth in the place of responsibility, where we have to discern between good and evil, but where we can discern with exercised senses if we have learned the word (or doctrine) of righteousness according to perfection - that is, according to the glory in which Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Thus in the place of responsibility can we approve the things that are excellent, and be filled with fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Phil. 1:10-11.) The earthly people (Israel), had they had eyes to see, could only have estimated righteousness according to the declaration of it at the brazen altar, but there are fruits of righteousness which flow from our knowledge of Him as gone within the Holy place.

It is as being still upon earth in the place of responsibility (while our proper Christian privilege is within), that we have a place which answers to the court of the tabernacle. The fine twined linen hangings which surrounded it formed the boundary between the people of God as privileged to approach to Him and the outside world. While on God's side the death of Christ has severed His people from the world in which they still are, yet subjectively the wall of separation is formed by the character of Christ in the saints. They have been redeemed from all lawlessness by Christ, that He might purify to Himself a peculiar people zealous of good works. The fine twined linen sets forth the purity of Christ as a man. And here we may notice that the whole length of the hangings of the court corresponds with the total length of the ten curtains which formed the tabernacle - in each case 280 cubits. It is as we are formed inside with Christ that His character can be maintained in the place of our responsibility here. "Whosoever abideth in Him sinneth not"; nor is there any righteousness save that which is of Christ, not only before God, but also practically. "If Christ be in you … the Spirit is life because of righteousness"; and again, "He that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as He is righteous." The character of Christ formed in His people is the true boundary of separation between the clean and the unclean. "Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind."

The hangings of the court were sustained by pillars of shittim wood fastened in sockets of brass. The wall of separation - the line of demarcation between conformity to the world, and proving what is the good and perfect and acceptable will of God - rests on the foundation of the holy judgment of good and evil as learned in the cross. This is maintained by the cleansing of the Word, but this we shall consider in its place when we come to the description of the laver. The fine twined linen hung upon hooks of silver, and the pillars were filleted with the same. If the holy judgment of good and evil is the foundation, yet all hangs upon grace. It is according to grace that God secures His people as separated from the world, for through grace there is a distinction between the feeblest saint and the outside world; but in order fully to manifest the character of Christ we need also to be adorned with His grace. Of Him it is said "the grace of God was upon Him," while His devoted servant could say "by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world."

This completes the description of all in the tabernacle which was specially connected with God manifesting Himself in the midst of His people. T. H. Reynolds.