This week we continue the explanation from God to Moses on how to configure various elements of the tabernacle.
The altar is described as a sturdy structure made of wood, overlaid with bronze and with bronze implements to adjust the offerings. This is the place where animal sacrifices would be offered to God on behalf of the transgressions of the Israelites. It would have been roughly seven and a half feet square and four and a half feet tall. The bronze overlays would have protected the acacia wood from the fire and its shovels, basins, forks, firepan and grate are all the implements needed to lay the offerings on the burning altar and catch the ash and detritus as the it burned. The poles to carry the altar would also be overlaid with bronze.
This altar, the physical description of the first method to atone for sin, would be a symbol of sacrifice for the Israelites for the foreseeable future. But the altar had limited function and could not wholly erase the blight of sin from the spirit of man or from the mind of God. As men and women under the dispensation of Jesus Christ, we understand the meaning of the altar better than these early Israelites. This old law is at last tutor for us, readying us for the relationship of grace we enjoy with God through Jesus Christ. See this passage from Hebrews 9:13-15:
“For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.”
As much as Christ has done for us personally through the forgiveness of our awful sins, we see in this passage how expansive yet at the same time exacting his sacrifice was: it served to also forgive the transgressions of the Israelites under the first covenant. What a savior!
The court of the tabernacle can be defined as a common area. It would house the altar, the bronze laver and it would have a gate. The boundary of the tabernacle court is again determined by screens and hangings using silver hooks. The pillar sockets would be made of bronze. It would be approximately sixty yards long and thirty yards wide.
The sacrifices were to be made there and the Jewish people could come into the court. The distinction of the court and the holy place were evident. Only the priests and the high priest could enter the holy place. This physical boundary of the court and the holy place within represented the closeness of the priests and the common people to God, respectively.
An “Eternal” Flame
The oil in the lampstand, pressed from olives and used to keep the lamp lit, was to burn continuously. It also represents the gifts and knowledge of God. The oil provided by God gives light which man can see, Likewise, God’s Word and gifts lift man up and allow man to let his light shine before others as He practices lawfulness and righteousness in a sinful world.
Although these elements of the temple seem common and may even lack relevance to us in any practical sense, we can readily see how the symbols they embody are still very close to us today. Christ was the one true last sacrifice to atone for all. We also are to present our bodies as a living sacrifice before Him. On the altar of the cross, Christ offered himself and we likewise offer ourselves on the altar of our lives.
Letting our light shine before men is also a known New Testament directive. In these detailed plans for a house of God, we have the beginnings of a blueprint for the salvation of all mankind.