The Tabernacle, The Outer Court, The Gate,
The Brazen Altar, and The Brazen Laver
L. E. Squires
“And let them make ME a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them.” “And look that thou make them after their pattern, which was shewed thee in the mount” (Exodus 25:8,40).
“It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these” (Heb. 9:23).
IT is significant that only two chapters of Scripture are written on the Creation, while there are over 50 on the Tabernacle, its furniture and position. Yet today this subject is almost completely ignored. I believe that a prayerful study of this Tabernacle typology is a great help to a clearer understanding of the doctrines of grace, so essential to all believers. Here is unfolded the Way of Salvation and the Way of Service. This was its purpose, for most of the children of Israel could neither read nor write. They had left Egypt after having been surrounded by idol worship for over 400 years (Ezekiel 20:7-9) and on the slightest excuse they returned to that worship as recorded in the worship of the Golden Calf (Ex. 32). Yet in spite of all we see the Sovereign Grace of Jehovah when He says “let them make ME a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.”
In order to understand the significance of these words let us take a bird’s eye view of the camp of Israel. A holy God in the midst of an unholy people, how is this possible? Let us rise then to one of Sinai’s peaks and look down upon the camp of approximately 1½ million people in that arid desert. The details, worthy of special study, are carefully given in Numbers, chapters 1-3. The area covered would approximate to that covered by the City of London and the downtown suburbs with Trafalgar Square as the center, composed of dark brown tents having in the center a wide space occupied by Moses, Aaron and the Levites, while standing out against the sand of the desert was the wall of fine linen enclosing the great Tent of the Tabernacle of the Congregation. To the east were the tribes of Judah, Issachar and Zebulun, to the south Gad, Reuben and Simeon, to the west Benjamin, Ephraim and Manasseh, to the north Naphtali, Dan and Asher, and in the center a great open space, the word being “Every man of the children of Israel shall pitch by his own standard, with the ensign of their father’s house; FAR OFF about the tabernacle of the congregation shall they pitch” (Num. 2:2).
Let us look first at the Way of Salvation as taught in the type of the Outer Court (Ex. 27:9-16; 38:9-17). In this great space the families of Moses and Aaron pitched their tents east, opposite the door; to the south pitched Kohath, to the west Gershom and to the north Merari—these were the Levites who transported and erected the Tent, etc. Between them and the Tabernacle was a wall of fine twined linen, at least 7 feet 6 inches. high, supported by 60 pillars, forming a rectangle. The foundation for each pillar was a socket of brass (bronze), every pillar being headed with a cap overlaid with silver. A silver connecting bar held the pillars at equal distance, secured by silver hooks and brass tent pegs.
The wall of white linen, standing out so clearly against the yellow sand, tells that the One in the midst was “Jehovah Tsidkenu”—The Lord our Righteousness (Jer. 33:16). It was a wall of separation. Jehovah had said, “that I may dwell among them”; yet He was separate, approachable in one appointed way. Of Immanuel—God with us the writer to the Hebrews says, “For such a high priest became us who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners” (Heb. 7:26). The pillars of the wall were founded in brass (bronze) sockets, speaking of judgment of Israel’s unrighteousness; (the brazen altar was the place where sin was judged by sacrifice). The same thought of judgment is conveyed by John’s vision of our Lord in Revelation 1:15, “And his feet like unto fine brass . . .” He is in the midst of the seven churches, judging them, saying—“I know thy works . . .”
Yet the silvered caps and bars also teach of redemption. Again, the Israelites paid redemption money for the firstborn (Num. 3:50). Later, Peter wrote “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold . . .But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:18,19).
The wall of white was broken on the east side by a door or gate with hangings of blue, purple and scarlet, which was plainly seen, so the repentant Israelite drawing near with his sacrifice would find the entrance. Notwithstanding that seeming barrier of white, reminding of the righteousness of God, there was an entrance! Well may we think of the words,
“Oh how may I, whose native sphere
Is dark, whose mind is dim,
Before the Ineffable appear,
And on my naked spirit bear
The uncreated beam?”
“There is a way for man to rise
To that sublime abode:
An offering and a sacrifice.
We are reminded that the second step in the way of salvation is,
The Gate or Door (Ex. 27:16)
It was the only gate; it was wide; it was clearly marked.
The Israelite under conviction of sin went to his flock, took a lamb or goat. a male of the first year, and brought it to this only gate, which he entered. This points to our Lord Who said, “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 10:9; 14:6). Today, the sinner comes bringing no sacrifice, for the Lord has opened the way in by the sacrifice of Himself (Heb. 9:26).
Secondly, the Gate of the Outer Court was wide. It was 20 cubits (about 30 feet) wide, supported by four pillars. Four was the universal number suggesting the way was open to all kinds of men, both Jew and Gentile, but not every man. When the Lord was dealing with Nicodemus He stressed this aspect of salvation, saying “For God so loved the world . . .”, not only Jew, but Gentile. The call was worldwide, in accordance with the all-embracing power of God’s love to the elect outside of Israel.
Thirdly, the Gate was clearly marked. Against the white linen of the court wall, the blue, purple and scarlet shewed the way in. Have we not here an intimation of the glorious attributes and Person of our blessed Lord as presented in the Gospels?
Blue is the Heavenly color; we see Christ as the Son of God in John.
Purple is the Royal color; we see Him as King in Matthew.
Scarlet is the Sacrificial color; He is seen as Man and Saviour in Luke.
White Linen has the color of Service; Jesus is seen as Servant in Mark.
The Gospel Door will remain open as long as the Day of Grace remains and the gracious invitation “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” still goes forth. Moreover, it was by that clearly marked gate alone that there was entrance to the Inner Court; and upon entering the Israelite with his sacrifice came face to face with
The Brazen Altar of Judgment and Sacrifice
As we read of this in Exodus 27:1-8 and 38:1-7 we think of the third step in the Way of Salvation. Sin had to be dealt with by sacrifice, for the Law thundered “without the shedding of blood is no remission.” Here at the Brazen Altar the Israelites’ sin was dealt with in the offering of a lamb etc. This was nothing new, for when, after their sin, Adam and Eve were provided by the Lord God with coats of skins, these were from animal(s) sacrificed. Abel, by faith, offered an acceptable sacrifice, even a lamb slain (Gen. 4:4). So the writer to the Hebrews continues the theme in referring to the great Anti-type, “Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many . . .” (Heb. 9:28).
“Not all the blood of beasts
On Jewish altars slain,
Could give the guilty conscience peace,
Or wash away the stain.”
“But Christ, the heavenly Lamb,
Takes all our guilt away;
A Sacrifice of nobler name,
And richer blood than they.”
The Brazen Altar was the largest piece of furniture in the Tabernacle, 7ft. 6ins. long, 7ft. 6in. in width and 4ft. 6in. high, overlaid with brass on shittim or acacia wood. Smoke ascending from the sacrifice may have been a figure of the offerer rising to fellowship with God, while Peter wrote, “Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God. . .” (1 Pet. 3:18).
When our Lord cried at the end of His atoning work, after hanging on the Cross for six hours: “It is finished,” it was a cry of triumph; the irrevocable claims of a holy God had been met once for all. “Mercy there was great and grace was free, Pardon there was multiplied to me. There my burdened soul found liberty, At Calvary.” The tabernacle sacrifices were only types, often offered, pointing to the once and for all offering of the Lamb of God. Some, who in scorn and unbelief want to come to God in their carnal way, come even as Cain did. However, the Brazen Altar in its position was accessible, unavoidable and unmistakable; while regarding the Lord Jesus Christ it is written, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.”
I think the four horns of the altar, one at each corner, typify Christ’s atoning work being efficacious and powerful and that He is “able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by Him.” The beasts were bound to the horns of the altar when brought to be sacrificed; but when our Lamb was sacrificed He was bound to the Cross by cords of love; praise His name!
God commanded the Israelite who brought his sacrifice to the brazen altar, to “offer it without blemish before the LORD,” to “lay his hand upon the head of his offering, and kill it at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation” (Lev. 3:1,2). Here, the doctrine of Atonement is clearly shewn in type; “he shall offer it . . . and kill it.” The doctrine of Substitution is also taught, “he shall lay his hand upon the head of his offering,” by faith transferring his sins and their penalty of death to the sacrifice. Thus we sing,
“Upon a death I did not die,
Upon a life I did not live,
Another’s death, another’s life
IN Part 1 reference was made to the Outer Court of the Tabernacle as being the great wide space between the tents of the children of Israel and the white linen wall of the Inner Court. Here, Moses and Aaron pitched their tents along with the Levites. They and they alone were allowed beyond the brazen altar to serve in the holy things. They are typical of believers today, concerning whom the Lord said, “Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit” (John 15:16).
When I was new in the Christian pathway I often heard the phrase, “you are saved to serve:” how true and relevant; for is not this needed today—a sense of service in the local church? So, the typology of the Tabernacle, having clearly set forth the Way of Salvation for the sinner, and by the one Wall of Separation teaching of God’s holiness and our sinfulness, and through the One Gate pointing to the only way of admission to heaven and by One Altar shewing the one way of propitiation and atonement, now sets forth through
The Brazen Laver
the Way of Service for the saints. In Exodus 30:17-21 and 38:8 we have typified the first step of the believer-priest for service in holy things. The position of the Tabernacle in relation to the children of Israel made clear, that although it was in the center, the Israelites were to pitch their tents afar off (Num. 2:2). The only approach to Jehovah was via the Gate and the Altar. Paul applies the spiritual truth of this when writing to the Ephesian church, “But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ” (2:13). Nevertheless, before service there must be cleansing, as illustrated by the Laver.
This was a large vessel to which the serving priest would come. While no details regarding its shape are given, we find the material from which it was made was entirely different from that used for other vessels. They were made of acacia wood overlaid with gold or brass, or as in the case of the seven-branched candlestick, of pure gold. The Laver was made of the polished brass mirrors of women who willingly gave up these essential items, as they did many other things for the construction of the Tabernacle (Ex. 38:8; 36:6).
The Laver is thought to have consisted of a very large bowl, standing on a pedestal. Low down around the side were taps for the priests to wash their hands and feet at (not in), as water ran from the taps into the saucer-shaped pedestal (Ex. 30:18,19). Being in position between the Brazen Altar and the Tabernacle, it was as a sentinel, forbidding to touch holy things before cleansing. At the altar, the blood of the sacrifice was shed, typifying the once and for all washing of the whole person in the blood of Christ. At the brazen laver, the washing of hands and feet (not the body) is a type of cleansing by the Word of God through the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:26), of daily application of God’s Word cleansing heart and conscience for His service in witness and work.
The increasing problem today for us as believer-priests is how to live a positive Spirit-filled clean life before men in this world. We face impurity, defilement and contamination in “this present evil world,” including impurity from within our own hearts (the old man). Defilement from books, television, cinemas, advertising, newspapers, magazines, contamination in our contacts with home, neighbors, business, school, colleges, etc., has to be faced. Yet we are exhorted, “Let your conversation—daily walk—be as it becometh the gospel of Christ” (Phil. 1:27).
So how can we as believers maintain a holy calling, conversation, conduct, character? I believe the answer is in an understanding of the gracious and practical provision made for us in the application of the Word of God by the Holy Spirit, as typified in the cleansing of hands and feet at the Laver. When the Lord Jesus Christ, on the night of betrayal, said to His disciples, “He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit,” He was speaking to those who possibly had washed in preparation for the Passover, but in coming to the Upper Room had walked through dusty streets and therefore required that their feet be washed in water, which was usually provided by every Jewish household before the eating at the Passover table. So believers need both the washing typified by the brazen altar and the daily cleansing of which the brazen altar teaches (cf. 1 John 1:7,9), even through God’s Word.
A mere reading the Word of God, of course, cannot do this, but coming to our Bibles we prayerfully take up the promise, “Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth is come. He will guide you into all truth (John 16:13-15). We remember our Lord’s own prayer, “Sanctify them through Thy truth; Thy word is truth” (John 17:17). In conclusion let us come back to the gracious words, “Let them make Me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them,” a sinful rebellious people; yet in Sovereign Grace He deigns to dwell among them. For us the veil has been rent at Calvary, and by faith we go beyond the Brazen Laver, into the Holy Place, and through the veil into the very Holy of Holies, not to a blood-sprinkled ark, into His very Presence, by the blood of Jesus.
Meanwhile, let us always remember that our worship, service and witness can only be pleasing to our God as we are washed and cleansed daily by the application of the Word through the Holy Spirit. He says, “Be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the Lord” (Isa. 52:11).
“And every virtue we possess,
And every victory won,
And every thought of holiness
Are His alone.
“Spirit of purity and grace,
Our weakness pitying see;
O make our hearts Thy dwelling place
And meet for Thee.”
Finally, in answer to those who reject or neglect typological teaching, let us say, “take heed;” Jehovah had graciously said to Israel, “let them make Me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them,” and we go on to notice what He sovereignly says in Exodus 25:40, “And look that thou make them after their pattern, which was shewed thee in the mount.” To Moses there was revealed God’s Pattern or Plan; a visual pattern of heavenly things! The writer to the Hebrews records, “It was therefore necessary that the pattern of things in the heavens should be purified with these . . .” (Heb. 9:23). A man building a model or a woman knitting a pullover will work according to the pattern at first supplied; they must do in order to obtain the final result. As this is necessary, should we not then take heed to the pattern of the heavenly things shewn in Old Testament scriptures? Are not Paul’s words to Timothy, referring specifically to the Old Testament, as relevant today, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness”? Indeed!
In relation to this, the epistle to the Hebrews cannot be understood unless we have a good knowledge of the Tabernacle typology. The writer refers again and again to this and brings the application to a climax in chapter 10:19, “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which He hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, His flesh.” It was death for the high priest to enter within the veil except on the Day of Atonement, and then not without blood, and according to a special procedure. It was the curtain between a holy God and sinful man. Yet while the priest, serving in the holy place dare not go beyond it, our great High Priest, having completed His atoning work on the Cross, cried “It is finished.” And “behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom” (Matthew 27:51). What a precious privilege is ours today. Having “boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus” let us make sure that we continually avail ourselves of precious things. Let us take unto ourselves the wonderful pattern of heavenly things and, applying its lessons to our daily lives, be “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.”
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Revised: May 24, 2010