For there was a tabernacle made; the first, wherein - The sense is here very obscure, and the construction involved: leaving out all punctuation, which is the case with all the very ancient MSS., the verse stands thus: Σκηνη γαρ κατεσκευασθη ἡ πρωτη εν ᾑ ἡ τε λυχνια, κ. τ. λ. which I suppose an indifferent person, who understood the language, would without hesitation render, For, there was the first tabernacle constructed, in which were the candlestick, etc. And this tabernacle or dwelling may be called the first dwelling place which God had among men, to distinguish it from the second dwelling place, the temple built by Solomon; for tabernacle here is to be considered in its general sense, as implying a dwelling.
To have a proper understanding of what the apostle relates here, we should endeavor to take a concise view of the tabernacle erected by Moses in the wilderness. This tabernacle was the epitome of the Jewish temple; or rather, according to this as a model was the Jewish temple built. It comprised,
In the temple built by Solomon there was a court for the Levites, different from that of the people; and, at the entrance of the holy place, a vestibule. But in the tabernacle built by Moses these parts were not found, nor does the apostle mention them here.
In the holy place, as the apostle observes, there were,
This is called holy. This clause may apply to any of the nouns in this verse, in the nominative case, which are all of the feminine gender; and the adjective ἁγια, holy, may be considered here as the nominative singular feminine, agreeing with ἡτις . Several editions accent the words in reference to this construction. The word σκηνη, tabernacle, may be the proper antecedent; and then we may read ἁγία, instead of ἅγια : but these niceties belong chiefly to grammarians.
For there was a tabernacle made - The word “tabernacle” properly means a tent, a booth, or a hut, and was then given by way of eminence to the tent for public worship made by Moses in the wilderness. For a description of this, see Hebrews 9:3 to denote the “inner” sanctuary, or holy of holies. The tabernacle, like the temple afterward, was divided into two parts by the veil Exodus 26:31, Exodus 26:33, one of which was called “the holy place,” and the other “the holy of holies.” The exact size of the two rooms in the tabernacle is not specified in the Scriptures, but it is commonly supposed that the tabernacle was divided in the same manner as the temple was afterward; that is, two-thirds of the interior constituted the holy place, and one-third the holy of holies. According to this, the holy place, or “first tabernacle” was twenty cubits long by ten broad, and the most holy place was ten cubits square. The whole length of the tabernacle was about fifty-five feet, the breadth eighteen, and the height eighteen. In the temple, the two rooms, though of the same relative proportions, were of course much larger. See a description of the temple in the notes on Matthew 21:12. In both cases, the holy place was at the east, and the Holy of Holies at the west end of the sacred edifice.
The first - The first room on entering the sacred edifice, here called the “first tabernacle.” The apostle proceeds now to enumerate the various articles of furniture which were in the two rooms of the tabernacle and temple. His object seems to be, not for information, for it could not be supposed that they to whom he was writing were ignorant on this point, but partly to show that it could not be said that he spoke of that of which he had no information, or that he undervalued it; and partly to show the real nature of the institution, and to prove that it was of an imperfect and typical character, and had a designed reference to something that was to come. It is remarkable that though he maintains that the whole institution was a “figure” of what was to come, and though he specifies by name all the furniture of the tabernacle, he does not attempt to explain their particular typical character, nor does he affirm that they had such a character.
He does not say that the candlestick, and the table of show-bread, and the ark, and the cherubim were designed to adumbrate some particular truth or fact of the future dispensation, or had a designed spiritual meaning. It would have been happy if all expositors had followed the example of Paul, and had been content, as he was, to state the facts about the tabernacle, and the general truth that the dispensation was intended to introduce a more perfect economy, without endeavoring to explain the typical import of every pin and pillar of the ancient place of worship. If those things had such a designed typical reference, it is remarkable that Paul did not go into an explanation of that fact in the Epistle before us. Never could a better opportunity for doing it occur than was furnished here. Yet it was not done. Paul is silent where many expositors have found occasion for admiration. Where they have seen the profoundest wisdom, he saw none; where they have found spiritual instruction in the various implements of divine service in the sanctuary, he found none.
Why should we be more wise than he was? Why attempt to hunt for types and shadows where he found none? And why should we not be limited to the views which he actually expressed in regard to the design and import of the ancient dispensation? Following an inspired example we are on solid ground, and are not in danger. But the moment we leave that, and attempt to spiritualize everything in the ancient economy, we are in an open sea without compass or chart, and no one knows to what fairy lands he may be drifted. As there are frequent allusions in the New Testament to the different parts of the tabernacle furniture here specified, it may be a matter of interest and profit to furnish an illustration of the most material of them.
(Without attempting to explain the typical import of every pin and pillar of the tabernacle, one may be excused for thinking, that such prominent parts of its furniture, as the ark, the candlestick, and the cherubim, were designed as types. Nor can it be wrong to inquire into the spiritual significancy of them, under such guidance as the light of Scripture, here or affords elsewhere. This has been done by a host of most sober and learned commentators. It is of no use to allege, that the apostle himself has given no particular explanation of these matters, since this would have kept him back too long from his main object; and is, therefore, expressly declined by him. “Yet,” says McLean, his manner of declining it implies, that each of these sacred utensils had a mystical signification. They were all constructed according to particular divine directions, Hebrews 8:5; “the patterns of things in the heavens, Hebrews 9:23; and these typical patterns included not only the tabernacle and its services, but every article of its furniture, as is plain from the words of Moses, Exodus 25:8-9. There are also other passages which seem to allude to, and even to explain, some of these articles, such as the golden candlestick, with its seven lamps, Revelation 1:12-13, Revelation 1:20; the golden censer, Revelation 8:3-4; the vail, Hebrews 10:20; the mercy-seat, Romans 3:25; Hebrews 4:16; and, perhaps, the angelic cherubim, 1 Peter 1:12.” It must, however, be acknowledged that too great care and caution cannot be used in investigating such subjects.)
The candlestick - For an account of the candlestick, see Exodus 25:31-37. It was made of pure gold, and had seven branches, that is, three on each side and one in the center. These branches had on the extremities seven golden lamps, which were fed with pure olive oil, and which were lighted “to give light over against it;” that is, they shed light on the altar of incense, the table of show-bread, and generally on the furniture of the holy place. These branches were made with three “bowls,” “knops,” and “flowers” occurring alternately on each one of the six branches; while on the center or upright shaft there were four “bowls,” “knops” and “flowers” of this kind. These ornaments were probably taken from the almond, and represented the flower of that tree in various stages. The “bowls” on the branches of the candlestick probably meant the calyx or cup of that plant from which the flower springs.
The “knops” probably referred to some ornament on the candlestick mingled with the “bowls” and the “flowers,” perhaps designed as an imitation of the nut or fruit of the almond. The “flowers” were evidently ornaments resembling the flowers on the almond-tree, wrought, as all the rest were, in pure gold. See Bush‘s notes on Leviticus 24:5-9. The number twelve was selected with reference to the twelve tribes of Israel. They were made without leaven; were renewed each Sabbath, when the old loaves were then taken away to be eaten by the priests only. The Hebrew phrase rendered “show-bread” means properly “bread of faces,” or “bread of presence.” The Septuagint render it ἄρτους ἐνώπιους artous enōpious- foreplaced loaves. In the New Testament it is, ἡ πρόθεσις τῶν ἄρτων hē prothesis tōn artōn- “the placing of bread;” and in Symmachus, “bread of proposition,” or placing. Why it was called “bread of presence” has been a subject on which expositors have been much divided.
Some have held that it was because it was “before,” or in the presence of the symbol of the divine presence in the tabernacle, though in another department; some that it was because it was set there to be seen by people, rather than to be seen by God. Others that it had an emblematic design, looking forward to the Messiah as the food or nourishment of the soul, and was substantially the same as the table spread with the symbols of the Saviour‘s body and blood. See Bush, in loc. But of this last-mentioned opinion, it may be asked where is the proof? It is not found in the account of it in the Old Testament, and there is not the slightest intimation in the New Testament that it had any such design. The object for which it was placed there can be only a matter of conjecture, as it is not explained in the Bible, and it is more difficult to ascertain the use and design of the show-bread than of almost any other emblem of the Jewish economy.”
Calmet. Perhaps the true idea, after all that has been written and conjectured is, that the table and the bread were for the sake of carrying out the idea that the tabernacle was the dwelling-place of God, and that there was a propriety that it should be prepared with the usual appurtenances of a dwelling. Hence, there was a candlestick and a table, because these were the common and ordinary furniture of a room; and the idea was to be kept up constantly that that was the dwelling-place of the Most High by lighting and trimming the lamps every day, and by renewing the bread on the table periodically. The most simple explanation of the phrase “bread of faces,” or “bread of presence” is, that it was so called because it was set before the “face” or in the “presence” of God in the tabernacle. The various forms which it has been supposed would represent the table of showbread may be seen in Calmet‘s Large Dictionary. The Jews say that they were separated by plates of gold.
Which is called the sanctuary - Margin, “Or, holy.” That is, “the holy place.” The name sanctuary was commonly given to the whole edifice, but with strict propriety appertained only to this first room.
In their investigation they learned that there is no Scripture evidence sustaining the popular view that the earth is the sanctuary; but they found in the Bible a full explanation of the subject of the sanctuary, its nature, location, and services; the testimony of the sacred writers being so clear and ample as to place the matter beyond all question. The apostle Paul, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, says: “Then verily the first covenant had also ordinances of divine service, and a worldly sanctuary. For there was a tabernacle made; the first, wherein was the candlestick, and the table, and the shewbread; which is called the sanctuary. And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the holiest of all; which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron's rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant; and over it the cherubims of glory shadowing the mercy seat.” Hebrews 9:1-5. GC 411.1
The sanctuary to which Paul here refers was the tabernacle built by Moses at the command of God as the earthly dwelling place of the Most High. “Let them make Me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8), was the direction given to Moses while in the mount with God. The Israelites were journeying through the wilderness, and the tabernacle was so constructed that it could be removed from place to place; yet it was a structure of great magnificence. Its walls consisted of upright boards heavily plated with gold and set in sockets of silver, while the roof was formed of a series of curtains, or coverings, the outer of skins, the innermost of fine linen beautifully wrought with figures of cherubim. Besides the outer court, which contained the altar of burnt offering, the tabernacle itself consisted of two apartments called the holy and the most holy place, separated by a rich and beautiful curtain, or veil; a similar veil closed the entrance to the first apartment. GC 411.2Read in context »
In the first apartment, or holy place, were the table of showbread, the candlestick, or lampstand, and the altar of incense. The table of showbread stood on the north. With its ornamental crown, it was overlaid with pure gold. On this table the priests were each Sabbath to place twelve cakes, arranged in two piles, and sprinkled with frankincense. The loaves that were removed, being accounted holy, were to be eaten by the priests. On the south was the seven-branched candlestick, with its seven lamps. Its branches were ornamented with exquisitely wrought flowers, resembling lilies, and the whole was made from one solid piece of gold. There being no windows in the tabernacle, the lamps were never all extinguished at one time, but shed their light by day and by night. Just before the veil separating the holy place from the most holy and the immediate presence of God, stood the golden altar of incense. Upon this altar the priest was to burn incense every morning and evening; its horns were touched with the blood of the sin offering, and it was sprinkled with blood upon the great Day of Atonement. The fire upon this altar was kindled by God Himself and was sacredly cherished. Day and night the holy incense diffused its fragrance throughout the sacred apartments, and without, far around the tabernacle. PP 348.1
Beyond the inner veil was the holy of holies, where centered the symbolic service of atonement and intercession, and which formed the connecting link between heaven and earth. In this apartment was the ark, a chest of acacia wood, overlaid within and without with gold, and having a crown of gold about the top. It was made as a depository for the tables of stone, upon which God Himself had inscribed the Ten Commandments. Hence it was called the ark of God's testament, or the ark of the covenant, since the Ten Commandments were the basis of the covenant made between God and Israel. PP 348.2
The cover of the sacred chest was called the mercy seat. This was wrought of one solid piece of gold, and was surmounted by golden cherubim, one standing on each end. One wing of each angel was stretched forth on high, while the other was folded over the body (see Ezekiel 1:11) in token of reverence and humility. The position of the cherubim, with their faces turned toward each other, and looking reverently downward toward the ark, represented the reverence with which the heavenly host regard the law of God and their interest in the plan of redemption. PP 348.3Read in context »
In the offering of incense the priest was brought more directly into the presence of God than in any other act of the daily ministration. As the inner veil of the sanctuary did not extend to the top of the building, the glory of God, which was manifested above the mercy seat, was partially visible from the first apartment. When the priest offered incense before the Lord, he looked toward the ark; and as the cloud of incense arose, the divine glory descended upon the mercy seat and filled the most holy place, and often so filled both apartments that the priest was obliged to retire to the door of the tabernacle. As in that typical service the priest looked by faith to the mercy seat which he could not see, so the people of God are now to direct their prayers to Christ, their great High Priest, who, unseen by human vision, is pleading in their behalf in the sanctuary above. PP 353.1
The incense, ascending with the prayers of Israel, represents the merits and intercession of Christ, His perfect righteousness, which through faith is imputed to His people, and which can alone make the worship of sinful beings acceptable to God. Before the veil of the most holy place was an altar of perpetual intercession, before the holy, an altar of continual atonement. By blood and by incense God was to be approached—symbols pointing to the great Mediator, through whom sinners may approach Jehovah, and through whom alone mercy and salvation can be granted to the repentant, believing soul. PP 353.2
As the priests morning and evening entered the holy place at the time of incense, the daily sacrifice was ready to be offered upon the altar in the court without. This was a time of intense interest to the worshipers who assembled at the tabernacle. Before entering into the presence of God through the ministration of the priest, they were to engage in earnest searching of heart and confession of sin. They united in silent prayer, with their faces toward the holy place. Thus their petitions ascended with the cloud of incense, while faith laid hold upon the merits of the promised Saviour prefigured by the atoning sacrifice. The hours appointed for the morning and the evening sacrifice were regarded as sacred, and they came to be observed as the set time for worship throughout the Jewish nation. And when in later times the Jews were scattered as captives in distant lands, they still at the appointed hour turned their faces toward Jerusalem and offered up their petitions to the God of Israel. In this custom Christians have an example for morning and evening prayer. While God condemns a mere round of ceremonies, without the spirit of worship, He looks with great pleasure upon those who love Him, bowing morning and evening to seek pardon for sins committed and to present their requests for needed blessings. PP 353.3Read in context »