And thou shalt make an altar of shittim wood, five cubits long, and five cubits broad; the altar shall be foursquare: and the height thereof shall be three cubits.
Verses 1-8. - THE ALTAR OF BURNT OFFERING. From the description of the tabernacle, or sacred tent in which worship was to be offered by the priests, it followed in natural sequence, that directions should be given concerning the court, or precinct, within which the tabernacle was to stand Ancient temples were almost universally surrounded by precincts, which the Greeks called τεμένη, whereto a sacred character attached; and this was particularly the case in Egypt, where the temenos seems to have been a regular adjunct to the temple (Wilkinson in Rawlinson's Heradotus, vol. 2. p. 202, 2nd edition). Among the chief uses of such an open space, was the offering of victims on altars, as these could not be conveniently consumed elsewhere than in the open air, on account of the clouds of smoke and the fumes of the sacrifices. As in the description of the tabernacle, the furniture was first described, then the structure, so now the altar takes precedence of the court which was to contain it. Verse 1. - Thou shalt make an altar. Rather, "the altar." God had already declared that he would have an altar made to him in the place where he should "record his name" (Exodus 20:24). And, even apart from this, an altar would be regarded as so essential an element in Divine worship, that no place of worship could be without one. Of shittim wood. God had required (1. s. c.) that his altar should be "of earth," or else of unhewn stones (Exodus 20:25). The command now given was to make, not so much an altar, as an altar-case (see ver. 8). There can be no doubt that Jarchi is right in supposing that, whenever the tabernacle for a time became stationary, the hollow case of the altar was rifled up with earth, and that the victims were burnt upon this. Four-square. Altars were commonly either square or round. An Assyrian triangular one was found by Mr. Layard at Nineveh; but even this had a round top. The square shape is the most usual, and was preserved, probably in all the Temple altars, certainly in those of Solomon (2 Chronicles 4:1) and Herod (Joseph. Bell. Jud. 5:05, § 6).
And thou shalt make the horns of it upon the four corners thereof: his horns shall be of the same: and thou shalt overlay it with brass.
Verse 2. - The horns of it. Literally, "its horns." Horns were not usual adjuncts of altars; indeed they seem to have been peculiar to those of the Israelites. They were projections at the four top comers, probably not unlike the horns of bulls, whence their name. Criminals clung to them when they took sanctuary (1 Kings 1:50; 1 Kings 2:28); and the blood of sin-offerings was smeared upon them (Exodus 29:12; Leviticus 8:15; Leviticus 9:9; Leviticus 16:18, etc.). Victims also were sometimes, when about to be sacrificed, bound to them (Psalm 118:27). According to Kalisch, "The horns were symbolical of power, of protection and help; and at the same time of glory and salvation." His horns shall be of the same. Part and parcel of the altar, that is, not extraneous additions. Thou shalt overlay it with brass. A solid plating of bronze is no doubt intended, such as would protect the shittim wood and prevent it from being burnt.
And thou shalt make his pans to receive his ashes, and his shovels, and his basons, and his fleshhooks, and his firepans: all the vessels thereof thou shalt make of brass.
Verse 3. - His pans to receive his ashes. Literally, "to cleanse it from fat' - i.e., to receive what remained after burning the victims, which would be ashes mixed with a good deal of fat. His shovels. Those would be used in removing the ashes from the altar, and depositing them in the pans. His basins. Vessels for receiving the blood of the victims and from which it was poured on the altar. Compare Exodus 24:6. His flesh hooks. So the Septuagint, and our translators again in 1 Samuel 2:13. They would seem by the latter passage to have been three-pronged forks, the proper use of which was, no doubt, to arrange the various pieces, into which the victim was cut, upon the altar. His fire-pans. The word used is generally translated "censers" (Leviticus 10:1; Leviticus 16:12; Numbers 4:14: 16:6, 17, etc.), but sometimes "snuff-dishes" (Exodus 25:38; Exodus 37:23). It here perhaps designates the vessels used for carrying burning embers from the altar of burnt-offering, to the altar of incense on certain occasions (Leviticus 16:12). Etymologically, it means simply "a receptacle." All the vessels thereof thou shalt make of brass. Rather, "of bronze." Bronze was the usual material of utensils and implements in Egypt (Birch, Guide to British Museum, pp. 13-21; 28, 29; 35-41; etc.). Copper was scarcely used without the alloy of tin which converts it into bronze; and brass was wholly unknown. A trace of iron is sometimes found in Egyptian bronze
And thou shalt make for it a grate of network of brass; and upon the net shalt thou make four brasen rings in the four corners thereof.
Verse 4. - Thou shalt make for it a grate. Rather, "a grating." This was probably a protection for the lower part of the altar, and prevented it from being touched by the feet of the ministrant priests. It was outside the altar, and had the rings attached to it, by which the altar was carried when the Israelites journeyed.
And thou shalt put it under the compass of the altar beneath, that the net may be even to the midst of the altar.
Verse 5. - Thou shalt put it under the compass. The "compass" (karkob) is spoken of as if it were something well-known; yet it had not been previously mentioned. Etymologically the word should mean "a cincture" or "band" round the altar; and thus far critics are generally agreed. But its position, size, and object, are greatly disputed. Some hold that it was a broad bench, or step, on which the officiating priests stood at the time of a sacrifice, and that its position was about the middle of the altar. Others think that it was a mere border round the top, from which the net-work depended, and that the object of both was to catch anything that might fall from the altar. Others again, while placing it mid-way in the altar, regard it as a mere ornament, only projecting slightly, and forming a sort of finish to the net-work. This, which is the view of Knobel, seems to be, on the whole, the most probable one. That the net may be even to the midst of the altar. If the" compass" was at the top, the net must have extended thence to the middle. If it was mid-way in the altar, the net must have covered the lower half. To us this latter seems the more probable view. But the point is uncertain.
And thou shalt make staves for the altar, staves of shittim wood, and overlay them with brass.
Verses 6, 7. - Staves, or polos, were needed for the carriage of the altar from place to place, as for the ark (Exodus 25:13) and the table of shew-bread (ib, ver. 28). They were to be inserted into the rings mentioned in ver. 4. As the altar was of bronze, so the rings were to be of bronze, and the staves overlaid with bronze. There is a gradual descent in the preciousness of the materials from the holy of holies to the holy place, and from that to the court.
And the staves shall be put into the rings, and the staves shall be upon the two sides of the altar, to bear it.
Hollow with boards shalt thou make it: as it was shewed thee in the mount, so shall they make it.
Verse 8. - Hollow with boards shalt thou make it. See the comment on ver. 1. The term here used for" boards," (which is different from that in ch. 26:15-29) implies strength and solidity. As it was showed thee in the mount, Compare Exodus 26:30, with the comment ad loc.
And thou shalt make the court of the tabernacle: for the south side southward there shall be hangings for the court of fine twined linen of an hundred cubits long for one side:
Verses 9-18. - THE COURT BEFORE THE TABERNACLE. The description of the altar is (as already observed) naturally followed by that of the court which was to contain it, and in which it was to be the most conspicuous object. This is given with great clearness in ten verses, and presents scarcely any problem for solution. The court was an oblong square, three hundred feet in length and seventy-five in breadth. It was enclosed by curtains, hung on sixty pillars, placed at intervals of seven feet and a half apart. The pillars were connected by rods, and each of them fitted into a socket. There was but one entrance, which was at the eastern side, midway in it. It was thirty feet wide, and had its own curtains and its own pillars. These curtains were of similar material with those at the entrance to the tabernacle, but the hangings round the rest of the court were merely of fine white linen. Verse 9. - Thou shalt make the court. Rather, "a court." For the south side southward. Rather," For the south side, upon the right." Compare the comment on Exodus 26:18. Hangings. The word used is a rare one in this sense, quite different from those which have been employed for "curtains" or "hangings "previously (Exodus 26:1, 7, 36). The LXX. translate by ἱστία "sails;" and the Jewish commentators believe a loosely woven sail-cloth to be intended. Fine twined linen. See the comment on Exodus 26:1.
And the twenty pillars thereof and their twenty sockets shall be of brass; the hooks of the pillars and their fillets shall be of silver.
Verse 10. - And the twenty pillars thereof, etc. Literally, "And its pillars, twenty (in number), and their sockets, twenty (in number, shall be) of bronze." The hooks of the pillars are loops whereto the curtains were to be attached. See Exodus 26:32. Their fillets. It is now generally agreed that the word used designates "connecting rods," which joined the pillars at the top, and probably helped to support the "hangings." These, and the "hooks," were of solid silver.
And likewise for the north side in length there shall be hangings of an hundred cubits long, and his twenty pillars and their twenty sockets of brass; the hooks of the pillars and their fillets of silver.
Verse 11. - The north side of the court is to be exactly similar to the south in all respects.
And for the breadth of the court on the west side shall be hangings of fifty cubits: their pillars ten, and their sockets ten.
Verse 12. - The west side is also to be similar, except that it is to be half the length, fifty cubits - and, therefore, requires only half the number of pillars and sockets.
And the breadth of the court on the east side eastward shall be fifty cubits.
Verse 13. - The breadth of the court on the east side eastward. Rather, "in front toward the east." The Rabbinical tradition was that Adam found himself on his creation fronting towards the east, and had consequently the south on his right, the north on his left, and the west behind him. Hence, they said, the four cardinal points received the names of kedem, "in front" (the east); yamin, "the right hand" (the south); akhor, "behind" (the west); and shemol, "the left hand" (the north). For this use of all four words, see Job 23:8, 9.
The hangings of one side of the gate shall be fifteen cubits: their pillars three, and their sockets three.
Verse 14.- The hangings of one side. Literally, "of one shoulder." The two extreme parts of the east side, between the entrance (ver. 16) and the corners are thus named. They were to extend on either side
And on the other side shall be hangings fifteen cubits: their pillars three, and their sockets three.
And for the gate of the court shall be an hanging of twenty cubits, of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen, wrought with needlework: and their pillars shall be four, and their sockets four.
Verse 16. - For the gate. The word used is the common one for "gate;" but here it rather signifies "entrance." Strictly speaking, there was no "gate;" the worshippers entered by drawing aside the curtain. This was a hanging of similar material, colours, and workmanship to that which hung in front of the tabernacle (Exodus 26:36). By its contrast with the white linen screen which surrounded the rest of the court, it would show very clearly where men were to enter.
All the pillars round about the court shall be filleted with silver; their hooks shall be of silver, and their sockets of brass.
Verse 17. - Filleted with silver. Rather, "joined by silver rods." See the comment on ver. 10. They were also to have their capitals overlaid with silver (Exodus 38:17).
The length of the court shall be an hundred cubits, and the breadth fifty every where, and the height five cubits of fine twined linen, and their sockets of brass.
Verse 18. - The length and the breadth of the court had been already implied in what had been said of the external screen-work, or "hangings" (vers. 9 and 12). What this verse adds is the height of the pillars, which was five cubits, or seven feet six inches.
All the vessels of the tabernacle in all the service thereof, and all the pins thereof, and all the pins of the court, shall be of brass.
Verse 19. - THE VESSELS OF THE TABERNACLE. There were many "vessels of the tabernacle" which have not hitherto been mentioned, as the great laver in the court (Exodus 30:18; Exodus 40:30) with the basins for washing which must have belonged to it; the pins or pegs whereby the various curtains were extended and supported; and probably much sacrificial apparatus besides what is enumerated in ver. 3. All these were to be of bronze, the commonest metal of the time, but one very suitable for the various purposes, being, as the Egyptians manufactured it, of great hardness, yet exceedingly ductile and ready to take all shapes. Its usefulness and convenience caused it to retain its place, even in the gorgeous and "magnificent" temple of Solomon (1 Chronicles 29:2, 7), where it was employed for the two great pillars, Jachin and Boaz, for the great laver or "brazen sea," for the mailer layers upon wheels, for the pots, the shovels, the basins, the snuffers, the spoons, and many other sacred vessels (1 Kings 7:15-45; 2 Kings 25:13, 14). Though "common," it was never reckoned "unclean," or less fitted for the service of the sanctuary than silver or gold. It had, however, its own proper place, an inferior place to that held by the more precious metals. Verse 19. - All the pins thereof. The "pins" of the tabernacle are undoubtedly the pegs or tent-pins, whereby the tent-cloth wherewith it was covered was extended and kept taut. There were also probably similar pegs or pins for cords used to keep the "pillars" (Exodus 26:37) or tent-poles in place. The pins of the court supported in the same way the pillars of the court (vers. 10-15).
And thou shalt command the children of Israel, that they bring thee pure oil olive beaten for the light, to cause the lamp to burn always.
Verses 20, 21. - THE OIL FOR THE LAMP. It has been observed that this paragraph is somewhat out of place. It would more appro priately, according to human ideas, have terminated ch. 25. But "God's ways are not as man's ways, nor his thoughts as man's thoughts." It is frequently difficult - some-times impossible - for the keenest human intellect to trace the connecting links between one portion of God's word and the next. In such cases it is best not to speculate on the nature of the connection, but to content ourselves with laying to heart the lesson which each portion teaches separately. Verse 20. - Thou shalt command. Compare Exodus 25:6, where the general command had been given. Here certain additions are made as to the quality of the oil which was to be brought. The oil was to be pure olive oil beaten that is to say, it was to be olive oil purified from any admixture of that watery juice which the Romans called amurca; and it was to be of the kind which is obtained by mere beating or pounding in a mortar, and not by crushing in a mill. Oil of this kind, which is usually made from the unripe fruit, is reckoned much the best; it is clear and colourless, and gives a bright pure light with little smoke. To cause the lamp to burn always. It has been supposed from this expression that the lamp must have been kept constantly burning both day and night; and Josephus declares that this was actually so, at least with three out of the seven lights (Ant. Jud. 3:7, 7). But there are several places m Scripture which state, or imply, the contrary. (See especially Exodus 30:8; and 1 Samuel 3:3.) It seems to have been the duty of the high-priest to light the lamps every evening, and to give them a sufficient supply of oil to last till daybreak, at which time "the lamp of God went out" (1 Samuel l.s.c.) The supposition that "one light at least was always burning" (Kalisch), because no daylight could penetrate into the structure through the fourfold covering, ignores the fact that light would enter through the single curtain at the entrance, as well as the probability that some portion of that curtain may generally have been looped up. If we regard the lamp as extinguished during the daytime, we must understand "always" here to mean "regularly every night."
In the tabernacle of the congregation without the vail, which is before the testimony, Aaron and his sons shall order it from evening to morning before the LORD: it shall be a statute for ever unto their generations on the behalf of the children of Israel.
Verse 21. The tabernacle of the congregation. Rather, "the tent of meeting" - the tent where God would meet the earthly ruler of the people (Exodus 25:22), and give him commands and directions - not the place of meeting for the people themselves, who might in no case go beyond the entrance to the structure. The testimony - i,e., the ark which contained the "testimony," or two tables of stone written with the finger of God. Aaron and his sons. Compare Exodus 24:1. The intention to confer the priesthood on the descendants of Aaron, first openly revealed in the next chapter (vers. 1-43), is tacitly assumed from time to time in the earlier narrative. Shall order it from evening to morning. See the comment on ver. 20. It is difficult to assign these words any distinct meaning unless we accept the view, that the lamp burnt during the night only. It shall be a statute for ever. This expression is not at all common. In Exodus it occurs only here and in four other places. In Leviticus it is met with some six or seven times. The portions of the law thus characterised must be regarded as of special importance. (See the homiletics on this verse.)