Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring me an offering: of every man that giveth it willingly with his heart ye shall take my offering.XXV.
THE GIFTS WHICH MIGHT BE GIVEN FOR THE TABERNACLE AND THE PRIESTS’ DRESSES.
(2) Speak unto the children of Israel that they bring me an offering.—God, being about to command the construction of a dwelling for Himself, such as the circumstances of the case allowed, prefaced His directions concerning its materials and form by instructing Moses to invite the people to contribute from their stores, as an offering to Himself, the various substances which were suitable for the dwelling and its appurtenances. The erection of sanctuaries is one of the fittest occasions for man to shew his gratitude to God by giving to Him of His own, largely and liberally.
Of every man that giveth it willingly with his heart.—Heb., of every man whose heart impels him. Unless gifts come from the heart, they are an offence to God. He “loveth a cheerful giver.” When the time came, a noble and liberal spirit was not wanting. (See Exodus 35:21-29; Exodus 36:3-7.)
My offering.—Literally, my heave-offering. But the word seems to be intended in a generic sense.
And this is the offering which ye shall take of them; gold, and silver, and brass,(3) Gold, and silver, and brass.—The Israelites had brought out of Egypt (1) their ancestral wealth—the possessions of Abraham and the accumulations of Joseph, and (2) the rich gifts received from the Egyptians at the moment of their departure. They had added to their wealth by the plunder of the Amalekites. Thus they possessed a considerable store of the precious metals; and there is no difficulty in supposing that they furnished the gold needed for the tabernacle without seriously impoverishing themselves. The silver, which was of small amount comparatively, appears ultimately to have been furnished in another way (Exodus 30:12-16; Exodus 38:25-28) The brass, or rather bronze, for brass seems to have been unknown at this time, was small in amount (Exodus 38:29), and of no great value. It would have constituted no serious drain on the resources of the people.
And blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine linen, and goats' hair,(4) And blue, and purple, and scarlet.—The colours intended are probably a dark blue produced from indigo, which was the only blue known to the Egyptians, a purplish crimson derived from the murex trunculus, the main source of the “Tyrian dye” of the ancients, and a scarlet furnished by the coccus ilicis, or cochineal insect of the holm oak, which was largely employed in antiquity, though now superseded by the brighter tint obtained from the coccus cacti of Mexico. Linen yarn of the three colours mentioned seems to have been what the people were asked to furnish (Exodus 35:25; Exodus 39:1).
Fine linen—i.e., white thread spun from flax, which is found to be the material of almost all the Egyptian dresses, mummy cloths, and other undyed fabrics. It is of a yellowish white, soft, and wonderfully fine and delicate. (See Wilkinson in Rawlinson’s Herodotus, vol. ii., p. 233).
Goats’ hair.—The covering of an Arab tent is to this day almost always of goats’-hair. An excellent fabric is woven from the soft inner hair of the Syrian goat, and a coarse one from the outer coat of the animal. Yarn of goats’-hair was to be offered, that from it might be produced the first of the three outer coverings of the Tabernacle (Exodus 26:7-14).
And rams' skins dyed red, and badgers' skins, and shittim wood,(5) Rams’ skins dyed red.—North Africa has always been celebrated for the production of the best possible leather. Herodotus describes the manufacture of his own times (Hist. iv. 189). Even at the present day, we bind our best books in morocco. Brilliant colours always were, and still are, affected by the North African races, and their “red skins” have been famous in all ages. It is probable that the Israelites had brought with them many skins of this kind out of Egypt.
Badgers’ skins.—The badger is not a native of North Africa, nor of the Arabian desert; and the translation of the Hebrew takhash by “badger” is a very improbable conjecture. In Arabic, tukhash or dukhash is the name of a marine animal resembling the seal; or, perhaps it should rather be said, is applied with some vagueness to a number of sea-animals, as seals, dugongs, dolphins, sharks, and dog-fish. The skins here spoken of are probably those of some one or more of these animals. They formed the outer covering of the Tabernacle (Exodus 26:14).
Shittim wood.—That the shittah (plural, shittim) was a species of Acacia is now generally admitted.
It was certainly not the palm; and there are no trees in the Sinaitic region from which boards could be cut (see Exodus 26:15) except the palm and the acacia. The Sinaitic acacia (A. Seyal) is a “gnarled and thorny tree, somewhat like a solitary hawthorn in its habit and manner of growth, but much larger” (Tristram). At present it does not, in the Sinaitic region, grow to such a size as would admit of planks, ten cubits long by one and a half wide, being cut from it; but, according to Canon Tristram (Nat. Hist. Of the Bible, p. 392), it attains such a size in Palestine, and therefore may formerly have done so in Arabia. The wood is “hard and close-grained, of an orange colour with a darker heart, well adapted for cabinetwork.”
Oil for the light, spices for anointing oil, and for sweet incense,(6) Oil for the light.—It is assumed that the “sanctuary,” which is to be built (Exodus 25:8), will need to be lighted. Oil therefore is to be provided for the lighting. Later on (Exodus 27:20) it is laid down that the oil must be “pure olive oil beaten.”
Spices for anointing oil.—Rather, for the anointing oil. Here, again, there is an assumption that anointing oil will be needed, and that spices will be a necessary ingredient in such oil. We find afterwards that the Tabernacle itself, all its vessels, and the priests appointed to serve in it, had to be consecrated by anointing (Exodus 29:7; Exodus 29:36; Exodus 30:26-30). The particular spices to be mixed with the “anointing oil” are enumerated in Exodus 30:23-24.
Onyx stones, and stones to be set in the ephod, and in the breastplate.(7) Onyx stones.—The Hebrew shoham is rendered here by “sard” (LXX.), “sardonyx” (Vulg. And Josephus), and “beryl” (Rosenmüller and others). In Job 28:16, the same word is rendered by the LXX. “onyx.” There is thus considerable doubt what stone is meant. Only three such stones seem to have been required as offerings, one for the high priest’s breast-plate (Exodus 28:20), and two for the shoulder- pieces of the ephod (Exodus 28:9-12).
Stones to be set in the ephod and in the breastplate.—Heb., stones of insertion for the ephod and for the breast-plate. The stones of the ephod were two only, both probably either onyx or sardonyx; those of the breast-plate were twelve in number, all different (Exodus 28:17-20).
(8) Let them make me a sanctuary.—The enumeration of the gifts (Exodus 25:3-7) has been subordinate to this. Hitherto Israel had had no place of worship, no structure dedicated to God. God now brings this state of things to an end, by requiring them to “make him a sanctuary.” In Egypt they had seen structures of vast size and extraordinary magnificence erected in every city for the worship of the Egyptian gods. They are now to have their own structure, their “holy place,” their “house of God.” As, however, they are still in a nomadic condition, without fixed abode, continually shifting their quarters, a building, in the ordinary sense of the word, would have been unsuitable. They must soon have quitted it or have foregone their hopes of Palestine. God therefore devised for them a structure in harmony with their condition—a “tent-temple”—modelled on the ordinary form of the better Oriental tents, but of the best materials and of an unusual size—yet still portable. It is this structure, with its contents and its adjuncts, which forms the main subject of the rest of the book of Exodus, and which is now minutely and elaborately described in six consecutive chapters (Exodus 25-30)
That I may dwell among them.—Compare Exodus 29:42-46; Exodus 40:34-38. Though God “dwelleth not in temples made with hands” (Acts 7:48), is not confined to them, cannot be comprehended within them, yet since it pleases Him to manifest Himself especially in such abodes, He may be well said to “dwell there” in a peculiar manner. His dwelling with Israel was not purely spiritual. From time to time He manifested Himself sensibly in the Holy of Holies, where He dwelt continually, and might be consulted by the temporal ruler of the nation.
According to all that I shew thee, after the pattern of the tabernacle, and the pattern of all the instruments thereof, even so shall ye make it.(9) The pattern.—It has been maintained that God shewed to Moses (1) a material structure, furnished with material objects, as the model which he was to follow in making the Tabernacle and its appurtenances; (2) a pictorial representation of the whole; (3) a series of visions in which the forms were represented to the eye of the mind. The entire analogy of the Divine dealings is in favour of the last-mentioned view.
(10) They shall make an ark.—Arôn, the word here rendered “ark,” is an entirely different word from that previously so translated in Genesis 6:14; Exodus 2:3, which is tebah. Arôn is properly a chest or coffer of small dimensions, used to contain money or other valuables (2Kings 12:9-10; 2Chronicles 25:8-11, &c.). In one place it is applied to a mummy-case (Genesis 1:26). Here it designates a wooden chest three feet nine inches long, two feet three inches broad, and two feet three inches deep. The primary object of the ark was to contain the two tables of stone, written with the finger of God, which Moses was to receive before he came down from the mount. (See Exodus 24:12, and comp. Exodus 20:16.) Sacred coffers were important parts of the furniture of temples in Egypt. They usually contained the image or emblem of some deity, and were constructed so as to be readily carried in processions.
And thou shalt overlay it with pure gold, within and without shalt thou overlay it, and shalt make upon it a crown of gold round about.(11) Thou shalt overlay it with pure gold.—It is possible, but scarcely probable, that gilding is intended. Gilding was well known in Egypt long before the time of Moses, and may have been within the artistic powers of some of the Hebrews. But it is a process requiring much apparatus, and less likely to have been practised in the desert than the far simpler one of overlaying with gold plates. Gold plate would also have been regarded as more suitable, because more valuable. It is the Jewish tradition that gold plates were employed.
crown of gold—i.e., a rim or border of gold, carried round the edge of the chest at the top. The object was probably to keep the kapporeth, or mercy-seat, in place.
And thou shalt cast four rings of gold for it, and put them in the four corners thereof; and two rings shall be in the one side of it, and two rings in the other side of it.(12) Four rings of gold.—Though the ark was not to be carried in procession, like Egyptian arks, yet it would have to be carried when the Israelites resumed their journeyings. The four rings were made to receive the two “staves” or poles by which the ark was to be borne at such times on the shoulders of the priests (Exodus 25:13-14).
In the four corners thereof.—Literally, at the four feet thereof. The rings were to be affixed, not at the four upper corners of the chest, but at the four bottom corners, in order that the ark, when carried on men’s shoulders, might be elevated above them, and so be in no danger of coming in contact with the bearers’ persons. The arrangement might seem to endanger the equilibrium of the ark when carried; but as Kalisch observes, “the smallness of the dimensions of the ark rendered its safe transportation, even with the rings at its feet, not impossible.”
The staves shall be in the rings of the ark: they shall not be taken from it.(15) The staves . . . Shall not be taken from it.—The staves were to remain always in the rings, whether the ark was in motion or at rest, that there might never at any time be a necessity for touching the ark itself, or even the rings. He who touched the ark imperilled his life. (See 2Samuel 6:6-7.)
And thou shalt put into the ark the testimony which I shall give thee.(16) The testimony which I shall give thee.—The two tables of stone were called “the Testimony” (comp. Exodus 16:34), as being God’s witness against sin (Deuteronomy 31:26). As containing them, the ark was called “the ark of the testimony” (Exodus 25:22; Exodus 26:34; Exodus 30:6; Exodus 30:26, &c.; Numbers 4:5; Numbers 7:89; Joshua 4:16).
(17) A mercy seat.—Those critics to whom the idea of expiation is unsatisfactory, as Knobel and Gesenius, render kapporeth, the word here used, by “lid” or “cover.” Kaphar, it may be Admitted, has the physical meaning of “to cover” (Genesis 6:14); but kipper, the Piel form of the same verb, has never any other meaning than that of “covering,” or “expiating sins.” And kapporeth is not formed from kaphar, but from kipper. Hence the ἱλαστήριον of the LXX., the propitiatorium of the Vulg., and the “mercy seat” of the Authorised Version are correct translations. (Comp. 1Chronicles 28:11, where the Holy of Holies is called beyth-hak-kapporeth, which is certainly not” the house of the cover,’ but “the house of expiation.”)
Of pure gold.—Not of shittim wood, overlaid with a plating of gold, but a solid mass of the pure metal. It has been calculated that the weight would be 750 lbs. Troy, and the value above £25,000 of our money. It was intended to show by this lavish outlay, that the “mercy seat” was that object in which the accessories of worship culminated, the crowning glory of the material tabernacle.
And thou shalt make two cherubims of gold, of beaten work shalt thou make them, in the two ends of the mercy seat.(18) Two cherubims.—“Cherubims,” or rather cherubim, had been known previously in one connection only—they had been the guardians of Eden when Adam and Eve were driven forth from it (Genesis 3:24). It is generally allowed that in that passage, as in most others where the word occurs, living beings, angels of God, are intended. But not all angels are cherubim. The cherubim constitute a select class, very near to God, very powerful, very resolute, highly fitted to act as guards. It is probably with this special reference that the cherubic figures were selected to be placed upon the mercy seat—they guarded the precious deposit of the two tables, towards which they looked (Exodus 25:20). The question as to the exact form of the figures is not very important; but it is one which has been discussed with great ingenuity and at great length. Some hold that the proper figure of a cherub is that of a bull or ox, and think that the cherubim of the tabernacle were winged bulls, not unlike the Assyrian. Others regard them as figures still more composite, like the Egyptian sphinxes or the chimæræ of the Greeks. But the predominant opinion seems to be that they were simply human figures with the addition of a pair of wings. (So Kaiisch, Keil, Bishop Harold Browne, Canon Cook, and others.) In this case they would bear a considerable resemblance to the figures of Ma, or Truth, so often seen inside Egyptian arks, sheltering with their wings the searabæus or some other emblem of deity.
Of beaten work—i.e., not cast, but brought into shape by the hammer. In the Egyptian language karabu was “to hammer,” whence, according to some, the word “cherub.”
In the. two ends.—Literally, from the two ends—rising, that is, from either end of the mercy seat.
And make one cherub on the one end, and the other cherub on the other end: even of the mercy seat shall ye make the cherubims on the two ends thereof.(19) Of the mercy seat shall ye make the cherubims.—The meaning seems to be that the cherubims were not to be detached images, made separately, and then fastened to the mercy seat, but to be formed out of the same mass of gold with the mercy seat, and so to be part and parcel of it.
And the cherubims shall stretch forth their wings on high, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and their faces shall look one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubims be.(20) The cherubims shall stretch forth their wings on high.—The two wings of both cherubs were to be elevated and advanced so as to overshadow the mercy seat, and, as it were, protect it. In the Egyptian figures of Ma, one wing only has this position, the other being depressed and falling behind the figure.
Towards the mercy seat.—Bent downwards, i.e., as though gazing on the mercy seat. (Compare Exodus 37:9).
And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubims which are upon the ark of the testimony, of all things which I will give thee in commandment unto the children of Israel.(22) There will I meet with thee.—The place of the Shechinah, or visible manifestation of God’s presence, was to be between the two cherubim over the mercy seat. There God would meet His people, “to speak there unto them” (Exodus 29:42), either literally, as when He answered inquiries of the high priest by Urim and Thummim, or spiritually, as when He accepted incense, and the blood of offerings, and prayers, offered to Him by the people through their appointed representatives, the priests. It was for the purpose of thus “meeting” His people that the entire tabernacle was designed, and hence its ordinary name was “the Tent of Meeting,” unhappily rendered in the Authorised Version by the “tabernacle of the congregation.” (See Note on Exodus 27:21.)
(23-30) Thou shalt also make a table.—The ark and mercy seat, which covered it, constituted the entire furniture of the inner sanctuary, or “Holy of Holies” (Exodus 40:20-21). When this had been shown to Moses the next thing to be done was to set before him the furniture of the outer sanctuary, or holy place. This consisted of three articles—(1) The table of shewbread, described in the present passage; (2) the golden candlestick, described in Exodus 25:31-40; and (3) the altar of incense, described in Exodus 30:1-10. The “table of shewbread” was a receptacle for the twelve loaves, which were to be “set continually before the Lord” (Leviticus 24:8) as a thank-offering on the part of His people—a perpetual acknowledgment of His perpetual protection and favour. It was to be just large enough to contain the twelve loaves, set in two rows, being a yard long, and a foot and a-half broad. The vessels belonging to the table (Exodus 25:29) were not placed on it.
(23) Of shittim wood.—See the last Note on Exodus 25:5. No other wood was to be employed, either for the sanctuary itself, or for its furniture.
And thou shalt overlay it with pure gold, and make thereto a crown of gold round about.(24) Thou shalt overlay it . . . —Like the ark (Exodus 25:11), and the altar of incense (Exodus 30:3), the table was to be overlaid with plates of gold. It was a species of altar, on which lay offerings to God, and, being close to the Divine Presence, required to be made of the best materials.
A crown of gold round about.—Rather, a border, or edging of gold, something to prevent what was placed on the table from readily falling off.
And thou shalt make unto it a border of an hand breadth round about, and thou shalt make a golden crown to the border thereof round about.(25) A border of a hand-breadth.—Rather, a band, or framing. The representation of the table of shewbread on the Arch of Titus at Rome gives the best idea of this “band” or framing. It was a flat bar about midway between the top of the table and its feet, connecting the four legs together, and so keeping them in place. Its “golden crown,” or “edging,” can have been only for ornament.
And thou shalt make for it four rings of gold, and put the rings in the four corners that are on the four feet thereof.(26) Four rings.—Compare Exodus 25:12. The table, like the ark, would have to be carried from place to place. Though it was less sacred than the ark, still provision was made for carrying it by means of staves and rings.
The four corners that are on the four feet.—Rather, that are at the four feet. Not the top corners of the table, i.e., but the bottom corners. The table, like the ark, was, when carried, to be elevated above the shoulders of the bearers. So we see it borne on the Arch of Titus.
Over against the border shall the rings be for places of the staves to bear the table.(27) Over against the border shall the rings be.—Rather, opposite the band, or framing. The meaning is not very clear. If the framing had been at the bottom of the legs, we might have understood that the rings were attached to the table opposite the places where the “framing” was inserted into the legs. But the “framing” appears to have been halfway up the legs (see Note on Exodus 25:25), while the rings were at the bottom. They could therefore have only been “opposite the framing” in a loose and vague sense.
For places of the staves.—Rather, for places for staves.
And thou shalt make the dishes thereof, and spoons thereof, and covers thereof, and bowls thereof, to cover withal: of pure gold shalt thou make them.(29) The dishes thereof . . . —The “dishes” of the shewbread table were probably large bowls in which the loaves or “cakes” were brought to the table. Such bowls are common in the Egyptian wall decorations. The so-called “spoons” were small pots in which the incense was put (Leviticus 24:7) and burnt. Two such appeared upon the table on the Arch of Titus. The “covers” and “bowls” are flagons and chalices to contain the drink offerings which were necessary accompaniments of every meat offering. To cover withal.—Rather (as in the margin), to pour out withal. Drink offerings were poured out in libation.
And thou shalt set upon the table shewbread before me alway.(30) Thou shalt set upon the table shewbread before me alway.—For a detailed account of the arrangement of the shewbread see Leviticus 24:5-9. The Hebrew expression translated “shewbread” is literally, “bread of face,” or “bread of presence”—bread, that is, which was set forth always before the presence of God.
(31-39) The golden candlestick, like the table of shewbread, was represented on the Arch of Titus, and the careful copy made under the direction of Reland in 1710, and published in his work, De Spoliis Templi, gives probably the best idea that can be formed of it. It was composed of a straight stem, rising perpendicularly from a base, and having on either side of it three curved arms or branches, all of them in the same plane, and all rising to the same level. The stem and arms were ornamented with representations of almond flowers, pomegranates, and lily blossoms, repeated as there was room for them, the top ornament being in every case a lily blossom, which held a hemispherical lamp. The form and ornamentation of the base are unknown, since the representation of the base upon the Arch of Titus is manifestly from some Roman work which had superseded the original pedestal. The special object of the candlestick seems to have been to give light by night. Its lamps were to be lighted at even (Exodus 30:8) by the High Priest, and were to burn from evening to morning (Exodus 27:21), when they were to be “dressed,” or trimmed (Exodus 30:7), and “extinguished” (Kalisch, Comment, on Exodus, p. 370). The Holy Place had sufficient light during the day from the entrance, where the curtain would let the light through, if indeed it were not also partially looped up.
(31) Of beaten work.—Like the cherubim. (See Note on Exodus 25:18.)
His bowls, his knops, and his flowers.—Rather, its cups, its pomegranates, and its blossoms. The “cups” are afterwards said to be “like almonds” (Exodus 25:33), i.e., almond blossoms.
Shall be of the same—i.e., “of one piece with the stem and branches;” not separate ornaments put together.
Three bowls made like unto almonds, with a knop and a flower in one branch; and three bowls made like almonds in the other branch, with a knop and a flower: so in the six branches that come out of the candlestick.(33) Three bowls made like unto almonds.—Or, three cups like almond blossoms. It is not quite clear if these were consecutive, or if each cup held a “knop” (pomegranate), on which followed a (lily) blossom. On the whole Reland’s representation accords best with the latter view.
In the other branch.—Rather, in another branch. The ornamentation was the same in the first, the second, and all the other branches; but in the longer branches the triple series was probably repeated of tener.
And in the candlestick shall be four bowls made like unto almonds, with their knops and their flowers.(34) In the candlestick.—By “the candlestick” in this place must be meant the central shaft or stem, which is viewed as that whereto all the rest is accessory. Here the triple series was to be repeated four times.
And thou shalt make the seven lamps thereof: and they shall light the lamps thereof, that they may give light over against it.(37) Thou shalt make the seven lamps thereof.—Literally, thou shalt make its lamps seven. Each branch, as well as the stem, was to have its own lamp. The Arch of Titus shows them to us as hemi-spherical bowls.
And the tongs thereof, and the snuffdishes thereof, shall be of pure gold.(38) Tongs . . . snuffdishes.—“Tongs,” or pincers, were required for trimming the wicks of the lamps, and removing loose portions; “snuffdishes” for receiving the fragments thus removed.
Of a talent of pure gold shall he make it, with all these vessels.(39) Of a talent of pure gold.—There are various estimates of the value and weight of the Hebrew gold talent, but none of them places it much below £4,000 of our money. Some carry the estimate as high as £10,000 or £11,000.
Shall he make it.—“He” refers to the artificer by whom the candlestick would be constructed.
And look that thou make them after their pattern, which was shewed thee in the mount.(40) After their pattern.—Comp, Exodus 25:9.