Gleanings In Exodus
40. The Curtained Ceiling
Having described the contents of the inner chambers of the Tabernacle, excepting the Golden-altar which is mentioned later in another connection, the Holy Spirit now informs us of what comprised the roof of Jehovah’s dwelling-place. This consisted of a number of linen curtains, elaborately embroidered, and joined together; over these was a set of goats’ hair curtains; over these was a covering of rams’ skins dyed red, and on the outside of all was a covering of badgers’ skins. It is noteworthy that the curtained ceiling, which we are now to contemplate, is described before the boards, which formed the framework or sides of the holy structure. Man would naturally have begun with a description of the framework, then the roof, and then the furniture placed within the finished building. But here, as elsewhere, God’s thoughts and ways are the opposite of ours.
In this article we shall confine ourselves to the inner ceiling. This was composed of ten white curtains, richly ornamented, each twenty-eight cubits (forty-two feet) in length, and four cubits (six feet) in width. These were coupled together in fives, breadth to breadth, thus giving a total length of forty-two feet and a breadth of sixty feet, which would not only reach across the Tabernacle, which was fifteen feet in width, but would overlap its sides. The two sets of five white curtains were linked together by fifty loops of blue in each, which were fastened with fifty taches or clasps of gold, thus firmly uniting the whole together in one solid piece. There are seven things about these Curtains which we shall now consider:—
1. Their Material.
"Thou shalt make the Tabernacle of ten curtains of fine twined linen" (v. 1). It is striking to note that in 26:15 we read, "Thou shalt make boards for the Tabernacle": whereas the Curtains were themselves called "the Tabernacle." Thus what we have before us here is Christ incarnate providing a dwelling-place on earth for God. These spotless Curtains pointed to the person of the Lord Jesus Christ and exhibited the holiness of His nature. "The priests were on this account clothed with it (Ex. 28:39-43); and on the great day of atonement Aaron was dressed in this material (Lev. 16:4) that he might typify the absolute purity of the nature of the One of whom he was the shadow" (Mr. Ed. Dennett).
The Curtains were made of "fine linen"—not linen merely, but fine linen, linen of peculiar excellency. In Revelation 19:8 we have the Holy Spirit’s definition of the significance of this figure, for there the fine linen, "clean and white," is declared to be "the righteousness of the saints" (R.V.). Thus the leading thoughts are unsullied purity and manifested righteousness. This concept may be the more clearly grasped by noting the contrast presented in Isaiah 64:6, "But we are all as unclean, and all our righteousness are as filthy rags." This will be the confession of the Jews in a day to come, when they are convicted of their sins and made to mourn before their revealed Messiah. It is also the confession of God’s saints today. Viewed in ourselves, measured by the standard of Divine holiness, the best efforts of the Christian are comparable only to "filthy rags." The fine white linen, then, typified the manifested holiness and righteousness of Christ.
It is in the four Gospels which record the earthly life of our Lord, that the anti-typical Curtains are displayed. See Him as a Boy of twelve. He had been taken to Jerusalem. Joseph and Mary lost sight of Him for three days. Where did they find Him? In the Temple, and in reply to His mother’s question, He said, "Wist ye not that I must be about My Father’s business?" (Luke 2:49). His concern was to be occupied with the things of God. Pertinently has one asked, "Was there ever a child like that, to whom God was Father in such a way that He absorbed His soul?" Behold Him as He went down to Nazareth and was subject to His parents, owning the place of earthly responsibility and manifesting His perfection in this relationship. So, too, we read of Him, in those early days, "Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men." "There was the fabric of spotless linen being woven before the eye of God" (Mr. S. Ridout). Follow Him into the wilderness, where for forty days He was tempted of the devil: utterly vain were the efforts of Satan to foul His white robes. Thus may we trace Him all through the inspired record. He eats with publicans and sinners, yet is unsullied by the most polluting atmosphere. He lays His hand on the leper, but instead of contracting defilement, His fingers healed. He touches the bier, but instead of becoming ceremonially unclean, the dead is restored to life.
"Coming to His death, we see the spotless white shining in all its purity. The world puts Him between two thieves. "Ah," says Satan, "I will at least besmirch His whiteness; I will associate Him with malefactors and turn loose the rabble upon Him, railing and casting dust into the air. I will see what will become of His spotlessness! Yes, let us see what will become of His spotlessness. God only brings it out into clearer relief amidst the blackness of human and satanic wickedness. The very thief at His side is constrained to own His sinlessness (Luke 23:40, 41). The Centurion, too, who presided at the crucifixion, declared Him a righteous Man" (Mr. S. Ridout). The white Curtains, then, foreshadowed the sinless ways and righteous acts of the Holy One of God.
2. Their Colors.
"Of fine twined linen, and blue, and purple, and scarlet" (v. 1). These were used for embroidering the cherubim upon the white Curtains. Each of the colors brings out a separate perfection in the Person of our blessed Redeemer, and was manifested by Him as He passed through this world of sin. "Blue" is the celestial color—"as it were the body of heaven in its clearness" (Ex. 24:11). The "blue" upon the white background tells us that He who came down into fathomless depths of humiliation was "the Lord from heaven" (1 Cor. 15:47).
It is most blessed to go through the Gospels with the object of looking for the "blue" as it was revealed in connection with the second Man. First, we see it at His birth. How carefully God saw to it that testimony should be borne to the heavenly source of that One who then lay in the manger. The angels were sent to announce Him as "Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11). Later, the wise men from the east came and worshipped the young Child—how beautifully this manifested the "blue"! Those who heard Him asking and answering the questions of the doctors in the Temple, when twelve years of age, were "astonished at His understanding" (Luke 2:47)—here again we may perceive the heavenly color. In His words to Nicodemus He spoke of Himself as "The Son of man which is in heaven" (John 3:13)—as one has said "the One whose whole life here breathed the air of heaven." "Though He was ‘very man,’ yet He ever walked in the uninterrupted consciousness of His proper dignity, as a heavenly Stranger. He never once forgot whence He had come, where He was, or whither He was going. The spring of all His joys was on High. Earth could neither make Him richer nor poorer. He found this world to be ‘a dry and thirsty land, where no water is,’ and hence His spirit could only find its refreshment above" (C.H.M.).
"Purple" is emblematic of royalty. This is established by a reference to John 19. When the Roman soldiers expressed their scorn for Israel’s Ruler by going through the form of a mock coronation, they placed upon His brow a crown of thorns, and then "put on Him a purple robe" (v. 2). It is in Matthew’s Gospel that this second color comes out most conspicuously. First, the "purple" is seen in the record of the royal genealogy of the Son of David. Next we behold it in the question of the magi, "Where is He that is born King of the Jews?" (Matthew 2:2). Then we see it in the proclamation of His forerunner, "The kingdom of heaven is at hand" (3:2)—"at hand," because the King Himself was in their midst. The royal "purple" is plainly evident in the "Sermon’" recorded in chapters 5, 6, 7, prefaced by the statement, "He went up into a mountain, and when He was seated... He said" etc.—symbolically, it was the King taking His place upon His throne, enunciating the laws of His kingdom. Still more vividly did the "purple" shine when He made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem (21:1-11). Over His cross was placed the royal banner, "This is Jesus, the King of the Jews" (27:37).
"Scarlet" is a color which is used in Scripture with a variety of emblematic significations. From these we select two which seem to bear most closely upon our present type. First, "scarlet," the color of blood, vividly suggests the sufferings of Christ. This is borne out by the fact that the complete Hebrew word for "scarlet" is "tolaath shani," meaning scarlet-worm. Mr. Ridout has pointed out, "It is the ‘cocus cacti,’ the cochineal, from which the scarlet dye is obtained. In the 22nd Psalm our holy Lord, in the midst of His anguish as a sin-offering on the cross, says ‘I am a worm and no man’ (v. 6). This is the word which is used in connection with scarlet. Thus our Lord, ‘who knew no sin,’ was ‘made sin’ for us (2 Cor. 5:21), taking the place which we deserved. He took the place of being a worm, went down into death, crushed under the wrath and judgment of God, His precious blood shed to put away our scarlet sins."
Thus the "scarlet" speaks first of the sufferings of Christ. Side by side with His purity, His heavenly character, and His royal majesty, the Gospel records bring before us the afflictions of the Savior. We may discern the "scarlet" in the manger-cradle. This color was also evidenced when Satan assailed Him, for "He suffered, being tempted (Heb. 2:18). He "sighed deeply in His spirit" (Mark 8:12), "groaning in Himself" (John 11:38), "weeping over Jerusalem" (Luke 19:41) are further examples. How tragically the "scarlet" may be seen in Gethsemane, when "His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground" (Luke 22:44)!
But "scarlet" is also the emblem of glory. The woman seated upon the scarlet-colored beast in Revelation 17 symbolizes that satanic system which, under Antichrist, will yet ape the millennial glory of Christ. By His sufferings the Savior has won the place of highest honor and glory. In the coming Age, this world will be the scene of His splendor. The scarlet mantle will then be upon Him whose right it is. It is striking that in the 22nd Psalm—the first part of which describes the Savior’s sufferings—its closing verses depict His royal authority and coming glory: "All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before Thee," etc. (v. 27). A bright glimpse of the "scarlet" was afforded to the sight of the favored apostles upon the Mount of Transfiguration.
3. Its Ornamentation.
"With cherubim of cunning work shalt thou make them" (v. 1). The pure white linen was the material on which the various colors were displayed and with which were embroidered the cherubim. Thus, as the priests ministered in the Holy Place and gazed upward, there above their heads were the mystic forms of these highest of all God’s creatures—their outstretched wings forming a firmament of feathers upon the ceiling. We believe that reference is made to this sheltering canopy in the following scriptures: "I will abide in Thy Tabernacle forever; I will trust in the covert of Thy wings" (Ps. 61:4); "He shall cover thee with His feathers; and under His wings shalt thou trust" (Ps. 91:4); "Hide me under the shadow of Thy wings" (Ps. 17:8), etc.
As the "cherubim" will come before us again, a brief word thereon must here suffice. They speak of judicial authority, as the first mention of them in the Bible clearly shows: (Gen. 3:24). A glimpse of what these symbolic figures portrayed in connection with Christ was given by Him when He affirmed, "For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son... and hath given Him authority to execute judgment also because He is the Son of man" (John 5:22, 27).
4. Their Dimensions.
"The length of one curtain shall be eight and twenty cubits, and the breadth of one curtain four cubits; and every one of the curtains shall have one measure" (v. 2). "Seven is the perfect number, being absolutely indivisible except by itself, and the highest prime number; and four is that of completeness on earth—as seen for example, in the four corners of the earth, four square, four gospels, etc. The dimensions of the Curtains will then betoken perfection displayed in completeness on earth; and such a meaning could only be applied to the life of our blessed Lord. The Curtains of the Tabernacle, consequently, speak of the complete unfolding of His perfections as Man when passing through this scene" (Mr. E. Dennett).
5. Their Meaning.
This has been brought out, more or less, in what has been already before us. The spotless white Curtains, with the beautifully tinted cherubim worked upon them, typified, distinctively, neither the Deity nor the humanity of our Lord, but the person of the God-man and the varied glories manifested by Him while He tabernacled among men. It should be noted that in every other instance where we have the four colors mentioned, the blue is first and the white is last. But here the order is reversed. There, it is the Spirit emphasizing the heavenly origin of the One who came down to earth; here, it is drawing our attention to the sinlessness and righteousness of the Man who sits now at God’s right hand.
The fact that these Curtains formed the inside ceiling of the holy places and were seen, therefore, only by the priestly family, intimates that none but those that had access to God were able to appreciate the perfections of His Son as they were manifested by Him during His earthly sojourn. The rank and the of the Jews saw in Him no beauty that they should desire Him. His moral loveliness was lost upon them; yea, it only served to condemn their moral ugliness, and thus aroused their enmity. But the favored few, who were the objects of distinguishing grace, exclaimed, "We beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).
It is the same today. Christ is still despised and rejected of men. The unregenerate have no capacity to discern His excellencies. A good Man, the best of men, He is acknowledged to be; but as the Holy One of God (the "white"), the Lord from heaven (the "blue"), the King of kings (the "purple"), and the One who because of His sufferings will yet come back to this earth and reign over it in power and glory (the "scarlet"), He is unknown. But notwithstanding there is even now a company that is "an holy priesthood" (1 Pet. 2:5), and they, haying received "an unction," a divine anointing (1 John 2:20, 27), recognize Him as the altogether Lovely One.
The fact that the Curtains formed the inner ceiling of the Tabernacle suggests that they set before us the One who humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, but who is now exalted and glorified on High. Whenever the worshipper looked up he would see nought but that spotless linen with its rich ornamentations. Does not this announce to us, in accents too plain to be misunderstood, that as God’s worshippers enter, in spirit, the heavenly Sanctuary, they are to be occupied with the person and perfections of Him whom, by faith, we now see "crowned with glory and honor" (Heb. 2:9)! In worship we are occupied not with ourselves—either our failures or our attainments, our needs or our blessings—but with the Father and His blessed Son. It is only as our hearts are absorbed with that which the Curtains and their lovely colors prefigured, that we present to God that which is acceptable in His sight.
6. Their Loops.
Before we take up the distinctive significance of these, let us first consider their use. They were appointed for the Joining of the Curtains together. Thus the ten Curtains were arranged in two sets of five each: "The five curtains shall be coupled together one to another; and other five curtains shall be coupled one to another" (v. 3). Now, in Scripture, one of the meanings of "ten" is that of human responsibility. Hence after ten plagues upon Egypt had measured and demonstrated the failure of their responsibility, Pharaoh and his hosts were destroyed at the Red Sea. When Gentile dominion reaches its final form, it will consist of ten kingdoms, and then will be fully manifested the breakdown of its responsibility. When at Sinai God gave a summary of man’s duty it was in the form of ten commandments. But these were writ. ten upon two tables of stone, or in two sets of fives, similarly to the Curtains here. The first five commandments—Joined together by the words "The Lord thy God," which is not found in any of the last five—define our responsibility Godwards; the last five, our responsibility manwards. The ten Curtains, grouped together in two sets of fives, speak of Christ, as the Representative of His people, meeting the whole of their obligations both Godwards and man-wards. He loved God with all His heart, and His neighbor as Himself; He was the only one by whom these responsibilities were fully and perfectly discharged.
By this "coupling" of the Curtains together, both their length and breadth would be the better exhibited. "‘Length’ is the extension, and may well stand for the whole course of life. It is used this way in Scripture—‘length of days’ is a familiar expression. ‘Breadth’ is from a root meaning ‘spacious, roomy.’ It has a metaphorical use with which we are familiar. King Solomon had great largeness (breadth) of heart (1 Kings 4:29). ‘Breadth’ thus suggests the character of the life and its attendant circumstances. In speaking then of our Lord’s life, ‘length’ would suggest its whole course, and ‘breadth’ its character and the circumstances in which this was displayed" (Mr. Ridout). How blessed then to behold that each of these ten Curtains was 28 or 7 x 4 cubits long, and 4 broad, telling us that in the discharge of our responsibilities He manifested nought but perfection here on earth!
"Fifty loops shalt thou make in the one curtain, and fifty loops shalt thou make in the edge of the curtain that is in the coupling of the second; that the loops may take hold one of another" (v. 5). "The loops were blue—the color of Heaven. Thus the fact that He was from Heaven, lived in Heaven, and was to return to Heaven characterized His whole life of obedience. The mark of Heaven was upon it all. Upon that which spoke of His perfect love and obedience to God were loops of blue, to show that love and obedience were to be united to a life upon earth in which its responsibilities were to be made one with His obedience to God. So the blue loops upon the second set of Curtains show that all was of one with His devotedness to God.
"No life ever was so perfectly given up to God as was His: heart, soul, mind and strength were all and always for God. Yet this devotedness did not make of Him a recluse. There is not the slightest thought of that selfish monasticism with which human self-righteousness has linked the name of Christianity. He loved His Father perfectly, but that was the pledge of His perfect life to man. No hands or heart were ever so filled with love and labor for men; but there was nothing of the sentimental nor merely philanthropic in this. The loops of blue were on all, linking all with His Father’s will. He wrought many miracles but we cannot think of these works of love ending there. He was manifesting the works which the Father gave Him to do; ‘I must work the works of Him that sent Me’—John 9:4" (Mr. Ridout).
7. Their Couplings.
"And thou shalt make fifty taches of gold, and couple the curtains together with the taches: and it shall be one Tabernacle" (v. 6). The word "taches" means "couplings:" passed through the loops of blue they united the Curtains together. The "loops of blue" and these "hooks of gold" might seem very unimportant, but, without them, there would have been no unity. The beautiful Curtains would have hung apart one from another, and thus one main feature of their manifestation would have been lost.
Significantly were these "couplings" of gold. They tell us that it was the heavenly and Divine character of our Lord which secured the perfect adjustment of His twofold responsibility as Man towards God and His neighbor. These "couplings" fastened the whole of the ten Curtains together so that they were "one Tabernacle." Thus they pointed to that blessed unity and uniformity of the character and life of Christ. "We have here displayed to us in the ‘loops of blue’ and ‘taches of gold’ that heavenly grace and divine energy in Christ which enabled Him to combine and perfectly adjust the claims of God and man, so that in responding to both the one and the other He never, for a moment, marred the unity of His character. When crafty and hypocritical men tempted Him with the inquiry, ‘Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar or not?’ His wise reply was, ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ Nor was it merely Caesar’s, but man in every relation, that had all his claims perfectly met in Christ. As He united in His perfect person the nature of God and man, so He met in His perfect ways the claims of God and man" (C.H.M.).
In the life of the blessed Lord Jesus, and in all the scenes and circumstances of that life, we not only see each distinct phase and feature perfect in itself, but also a perfect combination of all those phases and features by the power of that which was heavenly and divine in Him. The perfect ways and works of our Lord wore not only beautiful in themselves, but they were beautifully combined, exquisitely linked together. But it is only those who have been, in some measure, instructed in the holy mysteries of the true Sanctuary who Can discern and appreciate these "loops of blue" and "taches of gold" Study the record of His life with this thought in mind. Mark His inflexible righteousness and then His exceeding tenderness; His uncompromising faithfulness in denouncing hypocrisy and then the wondrous compassion for poor sinners; His stern denunciation of error and human traditions, and then the tender patience toward the ignorant and those that were out of the way. Side by side we may see the dignity and majesty of His Godhead and the meekness and lowliness of His Manhood—blessedly united and consistently combined into one, like His robe "without seam"! May the Spirit of truth enable the reader to look for the "loops of blue" and the "taches of gold" as he studies the and-typical Curtains in the New Testament.