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In addition, the vertical dimension of three corresponds to the threefoldness in the total length of the two rooms of the tabernacle. In fact, here we have a little replica of the earth. The laver represents the waters of the earth, while the space around the laver represents the dry land. The altar itself replicates the whole tabernacle, since it is the special place rising up from the earth where sacrifices may be offered.

Thus the altar is suggestive of a little replica of Mount Zion, the later resting place of the temple, or Mount Sinai where God meets with Moses.

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The three cubit height of the altar might perhaps even suggest the three tiers or stories of the world, the highest invisible heavens, visible heaven, and earth. Another little pattern is suggested by the function of the washing basin and its relation to the priests. The washing basin supplies the priests with water for their ceremonial washings. It is a basin for cleansing. Water descending from heaven through the seasonal pattern of rains represented in the holy place comes to the earth, with its life-giving power, and renews it. It is the cleansing, life-giving water of life. Note also the sequence of actions that a priest would go through.

The altar stands closest to the entrance to the courtyard. After that comes the washing basin, then comes the tabernacle itself with its two rooms. First they are in bondage, in Egypt, then they are delivered through the sacrifice of the passover lamb, symbolized by the altar.

Then they pass through the Red Sea and still live, whereas their enemies are destroyed. Then they enjoy the manna in the wilderness, symbolized by the table of the bread of the Presence Exod. They come to Mount Sinai, the special holy mountain, symbolized by the whole tabernacle. Characteristically God delivers his people by stages. For example, we may see the bronze altar as corresponding to Mount Sinai, the washing basin as corresponding to the crossing of the Jordan, and the rooms of the tabernacle as corresponding to entrance into the promised land, a new Eden, flowing with milk and honey, a holy land.

Once the people are in the promised land, the same pattern can be seen again. The bronze altar stands for Mount Zion with the temple on top, the rooms of the tabernacle stand for heaven, and the washing basin symbolizes the clouds or heavenly water separating the people from the pure holiness of heaven.

In this situation things remain for a long time. Then John shows other connections with the Old Testament John Perhaps John intends us to understand, among other things, that the blood corresponds to the blood of the altar and the water to the water of the washing basin. Shortly after Zechariah has given the prophecy of the piercing quoted by John Zech.

Later Jesus identifies the water with the Holy Spirit:.

Whoever believers in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. Acts Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven.

And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have. Jesus discussion with Nicodemus about being born of water and the Spirit John builds on the picture of cleansing in Ezek. The interfaces between the various spaces of the tabernacle are carefully designed to separate the places, to isolate them so that the unholiness of Israel cannot come in contact with the holiness of God. As we have argued, it signifies the inaccessibility of God generally, but more particularly the fact that the highest heaven, the immediate throne room of God, is distinct from the visible sky and cannot be seen.

A second curtain separates the holy place from the courtyard. From an Israelite point of view it signifies the inaccessibility even of the visible heaven. Human beings cannot climb to heaven. But the curtains are both separations and doorways, inasmuch as the high priest can pass through even the first curtain once a year. The second curtain is an imperfect replica of the first.

Remember now that the courtyard represents the earth. The tabernacle, that is the two rooms taken together, is filled with the gold of heavenly royalty, while the courtyard has only bronze furnishings. But does not the tabernacle touch the courtyard by resting on the earth of the courtyard? It does not. Sockets or bases made of silver hold up the entire tabernacle so that no part of its sides touches the courtyard.

The Dynamic of Christ

The silver sockets or bases function like a solid form of curtain to separate heaven from earth, or to separate God from human beings. On the outside of the courtyard is a fence made of curtains. The curtains separate the common people of Israel from the courtyard.


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As such, they are a less exalted replica of the curtains of the tabernacle. Bases of bronze, corresponding to the bronze of the altar and the washing basin, separate them from direct contact with the earth. The posts have silver bands and hooks, corresponding to the silver bases of the tabernacle. The symbolism seems to picture a situation in which the bottom tip of the tabernacle, that is the silver bases, fit into the top tip of the courtyard, that is, the silver bands and hooks.

The tabernacle proper is a kind of upper story to the courtyard. Such is a fitting symbolism for a replica of heaven placed in the middle of the courtyard, which in turn is a replica of earth. The tent pegs are all of bronze because they go directly into the ground of the courtyard Exod. The dimensions of the courtyard also signify the perfection of architectural plan that we have already seen elsewhere. Each curtain is 5 cubits by 5 cubits, replicating the square shape of the 10 by 10 curtains that separate the tabernacle rooms. The courtyard as a whole is 50 cubits by cubits by 5 cubits high, replicating the horizontal shape of the holy place.

The starting dimension of five is the same as the horizontal dimensions of the bronze altar, thus indicating that the courtyard is a replica of the altar, which in turn replicates elements of the tabernacle proper. But five also suggests a half value, half of ten, a kind of incompleteness in relation to the complete spatial dimension of ten.

This incompleteness is remedied in the temple, when all the dimensions are doubled. These things symbolize the fact that Israel and its communion with God is incomplete until they rest in the promised land. The eastern side of the courtyard is composed of three parts cf. In the center is an entrance 20 cubits wide. To the two sides are two fences each 15 cubits long. Even these dimensions are distantly related to other dimensions used at other places.


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  • The 20 cubits is the same as the length of the holy place, while the 15 cubit dimension is half the amount of the cubit-long tabernacle, and 10 times the width of the ark. The entrance to the courtyard on the east has a curtain of material similar to the two main curtains of the tabernacle, thus replicating them. The remaining separation is the separation of the vertical sides of the tabernacle from the surrounding courtyard. Not merely a curtain but several layers are added, signifying that there is only one way into the presence of God, the way God himself has provided.

    The tabernacle is supported by frames overlaid with gold, each 10 cubits by one and one half cubits. The 10 cubit dimension matches the dimensions of the most holy place, while the one and one half cubit dimension matches the width of the ark. The frames taken together form a complete layer, suggesting to the person inside them not a tent but a house of gold. Thus the nature of the structure points forward to the permanency of the temple, the solid house that Solomon will build.

    Several passages in the Bible liken God to a workman who in creating the universe builds a house. Proverbs says concerning wisdom,. I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep, when he established the clouds above and fixed securely the fountains of the earth. Then I was the craftsman at his side[like Bezalel who crafted the tabernacle]. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.

    Outside the frames is the curtain of blue material. Actually the curtain is composed of ten distinct curtains, ten being the perfect spatial number of the most holy place Exod. Clasps of gold—gold corresponding to the royal majesty of the tabernacle—hold together two sets of five curtains each. The introduction of the number five begins to point outwards to the fundamental number five that occurs over and over again in the courtyard.

    Each curtain is twenty-eight cubits by four cubits, a little short in both dimensions, so that the curtains do not hang down low enough to touch the courtyard on either side of the tabernacle. Five curtains are sewn together, and the other five sewn together. Fifty loops and clasps of gold hold the two parts together, suggesting the dimension of 50 cubits in the courtyard. Thus certain minor elements in the curtains begin to suggest a transition to the outside courtyard. In addition, there is no denying that the total covering has two parts, carefully held together but with the potential of being separated.

    Of course, this technique would have made it much more convenient for the Levites to carry the covering from place to place, since they would not have had to carry the total weight of the covering in one operation. But it also creates the barest suggestion of a possibility of an entranceway being created.

    Conceptions of God

    This possibility is more fully realized in the two main curtains separating the courtyard from the holy place and the holy place from the most holy place. Symbolically, all this arrangement anticipates the rending of the veil at the death of Christ Matt. At the same time, the firm holding together of the two parts suggests the way in which God constructs the world and his way to salvation as one whole, all parts being held together in Christ Col.

    All these associations are of a vague, suggestive, allusive kind. Each detail of the tabernacle, in my opinion, is not simply a code-word signifying one thing exclusively. Rather, it is one part of a tantalizing visual poem suggesting a multitude of relationships, all tied together in a single structure. It is fitting that the symbolism of the tabernacle should be multifaceted. Let us continue to look at the details.

    A second covering of goat hair is placed over the blue curtain Exod.