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Gleanings In Exodus

41. The Coverings


Exodus 26:7-14

As was pointed out at the beginning of our last article, the Tabernacle had four separate Coverings, one over another. The first and innermost was the ten white curtains. These curtains have already been before us. It should be carefully noted that they are themselves designated "the tabernacle," see vv. 1, 6. Over these were placed eleven "curtains of goats’ hair," and these are called "the tent," vv. 11, 12. Above these were spread "rams’ skins dyed red" and "badgers’ skins," v. 14, which are simply called "coverings." That a distinction is drawn between the "Tabernacle" and the "Tent" is clear from several scriptures For example, Numbers 3:25: "The Tabernacle and the Tent." This intimates they are to be contemplated separately.

The above distinction is clearly established in the Hebrew, where two distinct words are employed—"Mishkan" for Tabernacle, "ohel" for Tent. The former signifies "dwelling-place"; the latter, simply "tent." The one refers to the abode of Jehovah, the other to the meeting-place for His people. It is to be regretted that the translators of our English Bible have failed to preserve the difference which is noted in the original. In the A.V. we find the expression "Tabernacle of the congregation" constantly occurring, but in almost every instance the Hebrew has "Tent of the congregation." This holy building was their place of assembly, but it was Jehovah’s place of abode: they visited it, He remained there! Looking now, first, at the eleven goats’ hair curtains let us note:—

1. Their Materials.

"And thou shalt make curtains of goats’ hair to be a covering upon the Tabernacle" (v. 7). "The word for ‘curtains’ Is yerioth, from a root meaning to tremble or waive, as suspended curtains do. A similar root with a similar primary meaning is the word for ‘fear.’ How suggestively do these thoughts describe the Lord Jesus as He was here. He was the dependent One, not relying upon His own inherent strength, but cleaving ever to His Father. He was perfectly obedient, because perfectly dependent upon the will of God. Thus the true ‘fear’ of the Lord characterized Him. He was ever moved by the slightest breath of the Spirit. There was thus in the eyes of men entire weakness, for He had no will apart from perfect subjection unto God; therefore the whole character of God with reference to sin, the world and Satan, was manifested. So also He gave fullest expression to God’s thoughts and ways of mercy over Judgment with reference to man.

"The word ‘curtain’ is a feminine one, and in speaking of them being Joined together ‘one to another,’ it is ‘a woman to her sister.’ This, too, is in keeping with the holy place of dependence and subjection taken and kept by our Lord" (Mr. S. Ridout). As though emphasizing this same thought, the Holy Spirit has been careful to tell us that these goats’ hair curtains were spun by the women (Ex. 35:26). We may add that this same material was used for making their own tents, and was of a dark color, as a reference to Song of Solomon 1:5; 6:5 shows.

It is to be noted that the word "hair" in Exodus 26:7 is in italics, which denotes it has been supplied by the translators, and we believe in this case, rightly so. It is not found in the Hebrew of Exodus 35:26, yet the word "spun" clearly implies it. The reason why the word "hair" is omitted from Exodus 26:7 is to direct our attention more particularly to the goats themselves—i. e., to what they typically signified.

2. Their Number.

"Eleven curtains shalt thou make" (v. 7). As though God anticipated we should experience difficulty with this number, He has Himself here supplied the very help we need. He has told us that these Curtains were divided into two groups: "Thou shalt couple five curtains by themselves, and six curtains by themselves" (v. 9). Thus in order to discover the spiritual significance of this number eleven, we are thus shown that we are not to consider it by itself as a whole, but as made up of five and six. This simplifies things very much. Five, as we have before had occasion to remark, stands for grace, while six is the number of man. It was on the sixth day that man was created (Gen. 1:26, 31). Six days are the span of man’s weekly labor (Ex. 20:9). It is striking how prominent is this numeral in the measures which man uses in connection with his labors: each of the following is a multiple of six. There are twelve inches to the foot; eighteen to the cubit; thirty-six to the yard. It is thus with man’s divisions of time. The day has twenty-four hours, each of these is made up of sixty minutes, and these of sixty seconds. It is remarkable there are just six separate words in the Bible for "man"—four in the Hebrew and two in the Greek. How fitting that He who took the place of sinful man was crucified at the sixth hour (John 19:14)! In the indignities man heaped upon the suffering Savior this same number was stamped upon his vile handiwork: (1) scourging His back; (2) smiting His face with the palms of their hands; (3) spitting upon Him; (4) placing the thorns on His brow; (5) driving the nails into His hands and His feet; (6) plunging the spear into His side. In the light of these examples it is not difficult to trace the significance of the five and the six in the goats’ hair Curtains.

3. Their Dimensions.

"The length of one curtain shall be thirty cubits, and the breadth of one curtain four cubits: and the eleven curtains shall be all of one measure" (v. 8). The width of the Curtains was the same as those which formed the innermost Covering, namely, four cubits—the number which speaks of the earth. But the length of the goats’ hair Curtains exceeded those of the white ones: these were thirty cubits, they but twenty-eight. The significance of these larger numbers is always ascertained by the spiritual meaning of their factors. The factors of thirty are either three and ten, or five and six. Three is the number of full manifestation, ten of responsibility. But in view of the fact that the Curtains were divided into two groups of five and six, we probably have there the key to the interpretation of their length. This will come before us more fully when we take up their meaning.

4. Their Arrangement.

This is by no means obvious at first glance. In v. 9 we are told, "Thou shalt couple five curtains by themselves, and six curtains by themselves and shalt double the sixth curtain in the forefront of the Tabernacle." Then in vv. 12, 13 we read, "And the remnant that remaineth of the curtains of the Tent, the half curtain that remaineth, shall hang over the backside of the Tabernacle. And a cubit on the one side, and a cubit on the other side of that which remaineth in the length of the curtains of the Tent, it shall hang over the sides of the Tabernacle on this side and on that side, to cover it." Now the Tabernacle itself was thirty cubits long, ten cubits broad, and ten cubits high. Thus by taking these Curtains lengthwise and throwing them over the width of the Tabernacle, its two sides and top would be completely covered, for they were Just thirty cubits in length. In breadth, joined side by side, they would be forty-four cubits, and thus long enough to cover the rear, stretch right across the length of the top and then over-lap four feet in front. This balance of four cubits in the front was turned back or "doubled" so as to leave eight cubits clear for the entrance.

5. Their Meaning.

The material of which they were made, supplies the first key to this. The "goat" was pre-eminently the animal used in the sin offerings, in fact, in connection with Israel’s great feasts under the law, when the people were collectively represented before God, it was the only one used in their sacrifices for sins. Israel’s year began with a commemoration of the Passover. Inseparably connected with this was the ordinance of the feast of unleavened bread: in Luke 22:1 they are identified. During the seven days of this feast, besides other sacrifices, a "goat" was slain for a sin offering (Num. 28:17, 22). The next feast was that of "weeks" or "Pentecost": in this, too, a goat as a sin offering for an atonement was commanded (Lev. 23:15, 19). Then came the feast of Trumpets, and here also the goat for a sin-offering was used (Num. 29:1, 5). Following this was the most solemn of them all, namely, the annual Day of Atonement, when a special sin-offering was appointed. This consisted of two goats: the one being slain, the other having the sins and iniquities of all Israel confessed upon it, then being led away into a land not inhabited (Lev. 16). Finally came the feast of Tabernacles, the feast of ingathering, when Israel rested from their toil and rejoiced in the blessing of God upon their labors. This feast lasted for eight days, and on each one a "goat" was slain as a sin-offering (Num. 29).

In addition to the national convocations when the "goats" alone was used for making atonement, we may observe the prominence of this animal in other sin-offerings. When a ruler sinned, the appointed sacrifice was "a kid of the goats" (Lev. 4:23); so, if one of the common people sinned (Lev. 4:27, 28). At the consecration of the priesthood a "kid of the goats for a sin-offering" was required (Lev. 9:2, 3). At the dedication of the altar each of the "princes" offered "one kid of the goats for a sin-offering" (Num. 7:16). For the sin of ignorance a "kid of the goats" made atonement (Num. 15:24, 27). At the beginning of each month a special sin-offering was appointed, and this also consisted of "a kid of the goats" (Num. 28:11, 15). This completes the list where the "goat" was exclusively appointed as the sin-offering. Surely it is more than a coincidence that they are precisely eleven in number—corresponding exactly with the eleven Curtains in our type!

It is also very striking to find that where the "goat" is not used in sacrifice, yet is it generally found in an evil connection. Rebekah placed "skins of the kids of the goats" upon Jacob’s hands and neck for the purpose of deceiving Isaac (Gen. 27:16). So the brethren of Joseph "killed a kid of the goats" and dipped his coat in it to aid their deception upon their father (Gen. 37:31). In the trick which Michal imposed upon Saul, a pillow of "goats’ hair" was employed (1 Sam. 19:13). So in contrast from the "sheep" (His own people) the Lord likens the wicked unto "goats" (Matthew 25:33).

In the light of what has just been before us it is unmistakably plain that the "goats’ hair" Curtains pointed to Christ as the great sin-offering for the iniquities of his people. He who knew no sin, was "made sin for us" (2 Cor. 5:21). Of old it was announced "Thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin" (Isa. 53:10), and thus was the fulfillment recorded—"He hath poured out His soul unto death" (Isa. 53:12). In this connection it is remarkable to note the words of Leviticus 4:25: "The priests shall... pour out his blood at the bottom of the altar." This was only said of the blood of the "sin-offering": of the blood of the burnt-offering we read that it was "sprinkled" only (Lev. 1:5).

The numerals connected with these Curtains confirm our interpretation: they were six, five, and four. Thus we learn that it was the Manhood of our blessed Redeemer, in wondrous grace, suffering for the sin of His people here on earth. But it is the six which is doubly prominent, the eleventh Curtain being expressly termed "the sixth" (v. 9), and the thirty cubits in length, has for its factors five and six. Thus, by this emphasis, the Holy Spirit has most graciously pointed out the direction which our thoughts should take. The fact that the "women" spun these goats’ hair Curtains still further emphasizes the truth that in our present type it is distinctively Christ as the "woman’s" Seed (Gen. 3:15), who is before us. It is true that the God-man suffered and died, and it is true that His two natures are inseparably united; yet, it was His humanity which made possible the great sacrifice, for Deity cannot suffer.

Underneath these goats’ hair Curtains was the gorgeous tapestry of the cherubim—embroidered white Curtains. But these were seen only by those inside the Holy Place, telling us that it is not until we have personally appropriated Christ, by a God-given faith, as our Sin-offering, that we can delight ourselves by being occupied with His personal perfections. Thus, how deeply and how solemnly significant, was the doubled-over curtain, right over the entrance into the Tabernacle. Just above its beautiful gate hung that which would remind the worshipper of the great cost paid by Another to procure entrance for him.

6. Their Loops and Taches.

"And thou shalt make fifty loops on the edge of the one curtain that is outmost in the coupling, and fifty loops in the edge of the curtain which coupleth the second. And thou shalt make fifty taches of brass, and put the taches into the loops, and couple the Tent together, that it may be one" (vv. 10, 11).

Some excellent commentators have insisted that the goats’ hair Curtains speak primarily of Christ in His earthly life, and that they pointed to Him as the perfect Prophet. We think this is a mistake. It is true that "hairy" garments are found connected with false prophets (Hebrew of Zechariah 13:5), but no "goats’ hair." In the case of John the Baptist we are explicitly told that his raiment was of "camel’s hair" (Matthew 3, 4).

It will be noted that while the white Curtains were linked together with "gold" taches, the ones now before us were united by "brass" clasps. This important detail both reveals the mistake of others and confirms the interpretation which we have given above. "Brass" in scripture is the symbol of Divine judgment—as this will come before us again in connection with the "Brazen-altar" we shall not now adduce the proofs. Now in His prophetic office Christ’s ministry was the very reverse of the exercise of judgment—throughout it was marked by grace: John 1:17; 3:17. But regarding the goats’ hair Curtains as foreshadowing Christ "made sin" for His people, the taches of "brass" are most significant, for they tell us that, while on the Cross, the Savior suffered the outpoured Judgment of God (Isa. 53:10; Zechariah 13:7).

It should also be observed that two little words in connection with the "loops" are here most significantly omitted. The ten white Curtains were linked together through "loops of blue" (26:4); but of the eleven goats’ hair Curtains we read, three times over in 26:10, 11, simply of "loops." Had these second Curtains been designed of God to portray Christ in His prophetic office the "blue" had surely been mentioned, for His heavenly Character shone out ceaselessly during His earthly ministry. But when "made sin for us" His heavenly glory was hidden, as the three hours of darkness testified. The minute and wondrous perfection of our type is thus evidenced by the omission of "loops of blue"!

7. Their Purpose.

These goats’ hair Curtains were designed not only as a protection for the white Curtains beneath, but also to cover the golden boards of its sides and rear. These, the under Curtains failed to completely drape. It was a distance of thirty cubits from the ground on the one side, over the roof, to the ground on the other side. The white Curtains were only twenty-eight cubits in length, leaving one cubit of the golden boards exposed at the bottom on either side, And most fittingly so. As we have seen, the white Curtains, with their lovely colors embroidered upon them, foreshadowed the perfections of Christ’s person as He tabernacled among men. During His walk through this world, He did not conceal, but revealed, the glory of God, therefore was there one cubit (one is the number of unity, and thus of God in His essential nature) of the golden boards left uncovered by the white Curtains on either side of the Tabernacle!

But these goats’ hair Curtains were thirty cubits long, and thus of sufficient length not only to overlap the white Curtains, but also to completely cover the golden boards on the side of the Tabernacle. By this God intimated the great truth that He could have no tabernacle among men, and could not manifest His beauty and glory in their midst, except as His dwelling-place proclaimed, in every part of it, the fact that sin had been fully met and put away by the sacrifice of His Son!

It remains for us now to offer a brief remark on the outermost Coverings. "And thou shalt make a covering for the tent of rams’ skins dyed red, and a covering above of badgers’ skins" (v. 14). In a word, these external Coverings, on the outside of the goats’ hair Curtains, give us a twofold view of Christ enduring the judgment due the sins of His people: they show how He then appeared to the eye of God and to the eyes of men. The rams’ skins presented the Godward aspect first. The "ram" was the victim used at the consecration of the priests (Ex. 29:26), when they were separated unto the service of Jehovah. It spoke, therefore, of devotedness to God. In beautiful accord with this we find that it was a "ram" (Gen. 22:13) which took the place of Isaac when Abraham, in his devotion and obedience to God, had bound him to the altar! "The ram, being the head of the flock, tells of strength and dignity, hence the figurative significance of Psalm 114:3. The skipping and the leaping of the mighty mountains shows the Divine majesty of God, before whom the strongest and mightiest must quail" (Mr. Ridout).

The rams’ skins Covering was "dyed red," which plainly expressed devotion unto death. Thus, in the first of these Coverings we have foreshadowed Christ as the Head of His sheep, the Mighty One, living only for God, and manifesting His perfect devotion to the Father by being "obedient unto death, even the death of the cross."

The rams’ skins Covering, then, foreshadowed Christ as the Head of His people (the "sheep") perfectly consecrated to God. An a Child it was the Father’s business which occupied Him (Luke 2:49). The keynote to His ministry was "I must work the works of Him that sent Me" (John 9:4). Zeal for the Father’s honor consumed Him (John 2:17). But the rams’ skins were "dyed red," which pointed to bloodshedding. Not only did Christ live entirely for God, but He also laid down His life in obedience to the Father’s command (John 10:18). All the varied excellencies of Christ were covered by devotedness to God. At Calvary, men saw only the execution of a condemned criminal, but Heaven looked down upon the unreserved and unparalleled consecration of the Son to the Father.

Over the rams’ skins were placed badgers’ skins, and this was the outer Covering of all. This alone would be seen by the eyes of men as Israel were in the wilderness. It, therefore, brings before us Christ as He appeared to men. It specially portrays the fact that He "made Himself of no reputation" (Phil. 2:7). Born in a manger; brought up in despised Nazareth; working at the carpenter’s bench, were examples of what the rough and unsightly badgers’ skins foreshadowed. To such a degree did Christ humble Himself, the glories of His Divine person were hidden from the eyes of sinful creatures. "Is not this the carpenter?" (Mark 6:3), shows their estimation of Him. They could see none of the spiritual grace, the heavenly beauty, or even the moral perfections, which lay beneath the outward form of the despised Jesus of Nazareth. "As for this fellow, we know not from whence He is" (John 9:29) reveals the fact that they saw only the badger’s skins.

As it was with Him during His life, so also was it at His death. Just as the desert tribes through whose territory Israel passed while Journeying to Canaan, saw not the lovely Curtains underneath, so the morbid throngs which congregated at Calvary, discerned not the precious significance of what was there transpiring. Many were astonished at Christ because "His visage was more marred than any man’s, and His form than the sons of man" (Isa. 52:14). He was regarded as smitten by a curse from God because of blasphemy (Isa. 53:4). They deemed Him utterly helpless, unable to come down from the cross. Thus the rough and unsightly badgers’ skins over all, spoke of the shame and humiliation of our precious Savior before men.

It is most blessed and solemn to observe that, in sharp contrast from the ten white Curtains and the eleven goats’ hair Curtains, beneath, no dimensions are given of the two outer Coverings. Does not this intimate that that which these Coverings foreshadowed was beyond our power to measure! There was a depth and a height both in our Savior’s devotedness to God and in His humiliation before men which it is utterly impossible for us to gauge.


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