Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
And he made the altar of burnt offering of shittim wood: five cubits was the length thereof, and five cubits the breadth thereof; it was foursquare; and three cubits the height thereof.XXXVIII.
(1) He made the altar.—From the furniture of the sanctuary, the transition is natural to the furniture of the court in which it stood. This is now is now described. It consisted of the brazen altar, or altar of burnt-offering, and the great brazen laver. The construction of the former is related in Exodus 38:1-7; that of the latter in Exodus 38:8.
(1-9) This passage corresponds to Exodus 38:1-8 of Exodus 27 in all main particulars, but is somewhat differently worded. The order of the clauses in Exodus 38:4-5 is changed, and a distinct statement is made, which was not contained in the instructims, that the rings were “for places for the staves.”
And he made all the vessels of the altar, the pots, and the shovels, and the basons, and the fleshhooks, and the firepans: all the vessels thereof made he of brass.(3) The pots.—Exodus 27 has “his pans”; but the word used in the original is the same. It designates probably the scuttles in which the ashes were placed for removal from the sanctuary. (See Note 1 on Exodus 27:3.)
And he made the laver of brass, and the foot of it of brass, of the lookingglasses of the women assembling, which assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.(8) He made the laver of brass.—Comp. Exodus 30:18-21, where the laver is commanded, and the uses whereto it was to be applied are laid down. By “brass” we must understand “bronze” in this place, as in others.
Of the lookingglasses.—Rather, mirrors. The mirrors used in ancient times were not of glass, but of burnished metal. Bronze was the metal ordinarily employed for the purpose, and was in common use in Egypt, where mirrors were bronze plates, round or oval, with a handle, like our fire-screens. The Etruscan women employed similar articles in their toilets, and had them often delicately chased with engravings.
Of the women assembling.—It would seem that these women—the women wont to frequent the “tent of meeting” which Moses had recently set up (Exodus 33:7), and to flock thither in troops—offered voluntarily for the service of God the mirrors, which were among the most highly prized of their possessions. Moses, to mark his approval of their devotion, formed their offerings into the most honourable of all the brazen vessels, and recorded the fact to the women’s credit.
And he made the court: on the south side southward the hangings of the court were of fine twined linen, an hundred cubits:(9-20) The construction of the court follows upon that of the furniture which it contained. The passage runs parallel with Exodus 27:9-19.
And the sockets for the pillars were of brass; the hooks of the pillars and their fillets of silver; and the overlaying of their chapiters of silver; and all the pillars of the court were filleted with silver.(17) The overlaying of their chapiters of silver.—Just as in Exodus 36:38, we are informed that Moses, travelling beyond the letter of his instructions, overlaid the capitals of the pillars at the door of the Tabernacle itself with gold, so now we find that, without any express orders, he overlaid those at the door of the court with silver. In each case he was probably following his remembrance of the pattern seen in the mount (Exodus 25:9; Exodus 25:40).
(21) This is the sum.—Kalisch translates, “These are the accounts”; Canon Cook, “This is the reckoning.” The expression recurs in Numbers 26:63.
The tabernacle of testimony—i.e., the dwelling which was to contain God’s “testimony” against sin—the Ten Commandments.
For the service of the Levites.—Rather, a service of the Levites: i.e., a service which they rendered “by the hand,” or through the instrumentality of Ithamar. Ithamar was the youngest of the sons of Aaron (Exodus 6:23).
And with him was Aholiab, son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, an engraver, and a cunning workman, and an embroiderer in blue, and in purple, and in scarlet, and fine linen.(23) Aholiab . . . an engraver.—This is a mistranslation. Khârâsh means a worker in any material whatsoever. It should be rendered artificer, as it is in 1Chronicles 29:5; 2Chronicles 34:11.
A cunning workman.—Literally, a deviser; but the root is used especially of the devising of textile fabrics. (See Exodus 26:1; Exodus 26:31; Exodus 28:6; Exodus 28:15; Exodus 36:8; Exodus 36:35; Exodus 39:3, &c.)
All the gold that was occupied for the work in all the work of the holy place, even the gold of the offering, was twenty and nine talents, and seven hundred and thirty shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary.(24) All the gold that was occupied for the Work.—Rather, that was made use of for the work.
The gold of the offering, was twenty and nine talents.—The gold talent is estimated by Poole as = 10,000 shekels, and the gold shekel as worth about £1 2s. of our money. In this case the gold employed in the Tabernacle would have been worth nearly £320,000. Some, however, reduce the estimate to £175,000 (Cook), and others to £132,000 (Thenius). In any case the amount was remarkable, and indicated at once the liberal spirit which animated the people and the general feeling that a lavish expenditure was required by the occasion. There is no difficulty in supposing that the Israelites possessed at the time gold to the (highest) value estimated, since they had carried with them out of Egypt, besides their ancestral wealth, a vast amount of gold and silver ornaments, freely given to them by the Egyptians (Exodus 3:22; Exodus 12:35-36).
And the silver of them that were numbered of the congregation was an hundred talents, and a thousand seven hundred and threescore and fifteen shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary:(25) The silver . . . was an hundred talents.—The silver talent contained 3,000 shekels, as all allow, and as appears from the present passage. If the “shekel of the sanctuary” weighed, as is generally supposed, about 220 grains troy, the value of the silver contributed would have been £40,000, or a little under. It was contributed by “them that were numbered of the congregation,” each of whom paid a bekah, or half a shekel. (See above, Exodus 30:12-16.)
A bekah for every man, that is, half a shekel, after the shekel of the sanctuary, for every one that went to be numbered, from twenty years old and upward, for six hundred thousand and three thousand and five hundred and fifty men.(26) A bekah for every man.—The word “bekah” means simply a half, but appears to have been restricted in its use to the half-shekel. (Comp. Genesis 24:22.) The exegetical clause, half a shekel,” is probably a later addition to the text, inserted to clear the sense.
For every one that went to be numbered.—It is remarkable that the principle of compulsory payment towards the fabric of the sanctuary should have received a sanction at the very time when the greatest stress was laid upon the greater acceptableness of voluntary offerings. (See Exodus 25:2; Exodus 35:5; Exodus 35:21-29.) Whatever may be thought of the expediency of levying church-rates, they are clearly defensible in principle, both from the standpoint of the Old Testament and of the New (Matthew 17:24-27).
From twenty years old and upward.—See Note on Exodus 30:14.
Six hundred thousand and three thousand and five hundred and fifty.—The identity of this number with that which is given in Numbers 1:46, as arrived at “in the second year, on the first day of the second month” (Numbers 1:1), is best explained by regarding both passages as having reference to the same transaction. The taking of the census occupied several months, during which the money was gradually collected, the sockets, &c., made, and the Tabernaclo set up. The registration was deferred, and took place on a single day, when Moses and Aaron went round the tribes, received the results from their hands, and entered them in a book. It appears from Numbers 1:47 that the Levites were not counted in the sum total, no atonement money being taken from them. (See Birks’ Exodus of Israel, pp. 118-120.)
And of the hundred talents of silver were cast the sockets of the sanctuary, and the sockets of the vail; an hundred sockets of the hundred talents, a talent for a socket.(27) The sockets of the sanctuary.—On these, see Exodus 26:19; Exodus 26:21; Exodus 26:25. They consisted of forty for each side, and sixteen for the western end—total, ninety-six.
The sockets of the vail.—On these, see Exodus 26:32. They were four in number, and supported the four pillars on which the vail was hung. Thus the total number of the silver sockets was, as the text expresses, one hundred.
And of the thousand seven hundred seventy and five shekels he made hooks for the pillars, and overlaid their chapiters, and filleted them.(28) Hooks for the pillars.—The pillars of the court had hooks of silver, to which the hangings were attached (Exodus 27:10; Exodus 27:17; Exodus 38:10-12).
And the brass of the offering was seventy talents, and two thousand and four hundred shekels.(29) The brass of the offering—i.e., the bronze which the people had offered in consequence of the invitation addressed to them by Moses (Exodus 30:5; Exodus 30:24).
Seventy talents.—No great quantity was needed, since bronze was only required for the laver, for the altar of burnt offering and its vessels, for the sockets of the Tabernacle gate, for those of the court, and for the “pins,” or pegs, both of the court and the Tabernacle.
And therewith he made the sockets to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and the brasen altar, and the brasen grate for it, and all the vessels of the altar,(30) The sockets to the door of the tabernacle.—See Exodus 26:37.
The brasen altar . . . the brasen grate.—Comp. Exodus 27:2-6.
And the sockets of the court round about, and the sockets of the court gate, and all the pins of the tabernacle, and all the pins of the court round about.(31) The sockets of the court.—See Exodus 27:10-12; Exodus 27:15-18.
The pins of the court.—See chan. 27:19.