We may suppose that when Moses went into the midst of the cloud, and abode there so long, where the holy angels attended the shechinah, or divine Majesty, he saw and heard very glorious things relating to the upper world, but they were things which it was not lawful nor possible to utter; and therefore, in the records he kept of the transactions there, he says nothing to satisfy the curiosity of those who would intrude into the things which they have not seen, but writes that only which he was to speak to the children of Israel. For the scripture is designed to direct us in our duty, not to fill our heads with speculations, nor to please our fancies.
In these verses God tells Moses his intention in general, that the children of Israel should build him a sanctuary, for he designed to dwell among them (Exod. 25:8); and some think that, though there were altars and groves used for religious worship before this, yet there never was any house, or temple, built for sacred uses in any nation before this tabernacle was erected by Moses, and that all the temples which were afterwards so much celebrated among the heathen took rise from this and pattern by it. God had chosen the people of Israel to be a peculiar people to himself (above all people), among whom divine revelation, and a religion according to it, should be lodged and established: he himself would be their King. As their King, he had already given them laws for the government of themselves, and their dealings one with another, with some general rules for religious worship, according to the light of reason and the law of nature, in the ten commandments and the following comments upon them. But this was not thought sufficient to distinguish them from other nations, or to answer to the extent of that covenant which God would make with them to be their God; and therefore,
I. He orders a royal palace to be set up among them for himself, here called a sanctuary, or holy place, or habitation, of which it is said (Jer. 17:12), A glorious high throne from the beginning is the place of our sanctuary. This sanctuary is to be considered,
1. As ceremonial, consonant to the to the other institutions of that dispensation, which consisted in carnal ordinances (Heb. 9:10); hence it is called a worldly sanctuary, Heb. 9:1. God in it kept his court, as Israel’s King. (1.) There he manifested his presence among them, and it was intended for a sign or token of his presence, that, while they had that in the midst of them, they might never again ask, Isa. the Lord among us or not? And, because in the wilderness they dwelt in tents, even this royal palace was ordered to be a tabernacle too, that it might move with them, and might be an instance of the condescension of the divine favour. (2.) There he ordered his subjects to attend him with their homage and tribute. Thither they must come to consult his oracles, thither they must bring their sacrifices, and there all Israel must meet, to pay their joint respects to the God of Israel.
2. As typical; the holy places made with hands were the figures of the true, Heb. 9:24. The gospel church is the true tabernacle, which the Lord hath pitched, and not man, Heb. 8:2. The body of Christ, in and by which he made atonement, was the greater and more perfect tabernacle, Heb. 9:11. The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, as in a tabernacle.
II. When Moses was to erect this palace, it was requisite that he should first be instructed where he must have the materials, and where he must have the model; for he could neither contrive it by his own ingenuity nor build it at his own charge; he is therefore directed here concerning both.
1. The people must furnish him with the materials, not by a tax imposed upon them, but by a voluntary contribution. This is the first thing concerning which orders are here given.
(1.) Speak unto the children of Israel that they bring me an offering; and there was all the reason in the world that they should, for (Exod. 25:1), [1.] It was God himself that had not only enlarged them, but enriched them with the spoils of the Egyptians. He had instructed them to borrow, and he had inclined the Egyptians to lend, so that from him they had their wealth, and therefore it was fit they should devote it to him and use it for him, and thus make a grateful acknowledgement of the favours they had received. Note, First, The best use we can make of our worldly wealth is to honour God with it in works of piety and charity. Secondly, When we have been blessed with some remarkable success in our affairs, and have had, as we say, a good turn, it may be justly expected that we should do something more than ordinary for the glory of God, consecrating our gain, in some reasonable proportion of it, to the Lord of the whole earth, Mic. 4:3. [2.] The sanctuary that was to be built was intended for their benefit and comfort, and therefore they must be at the expense of it. They had been unworthy of the privilege if they had grudged at the charge. They might well afford to offer liberally for the honour of God, while they lived at free quarters, having food for themselves and their families rained upon them daily from heaven. We also must own that we have our all from God’s bounty, and therefore ought to use all for his glory. Since we live upon him, we must live to him.
(2.) This offering must be given willingly, and with the heart, that is, [1.] It was not prescribed to them what or how much they must give, but it was left to their generosity, that they might show their good-will to the house of God and the offices thereof, and might do it with a holy emulation, the zeal of a few provoking many, 2 Cor. 9:2. We should ask, not only, “What must we do?” but, “What may we do for God?” [2.] Whatever they gave, they must give it cheerfully, not grudgingly and with reluctance, for God loves a cheerful giver, 2 Cor. 9:7. What is laid out in the service of God we must reckon well bestowed.
(3.) The particulars are here mentioned which they must offer (Exod. 25:3-7), all of them things that there would be occasion for in the tabernacle, or the service of it. Some observe that here was gold, silver, and brass, provided, but no iron; that is the military metal, and this was to be a house of peace. Every thing that was provided was very rich and fine, and the best of the sort; for God, who is the best, should have the best.
2. God himself would furnish him with the model: According to all that I show thee, Exod. 25:9. God showed him an exact plan of it, in miniature, which he must conform to in all points. Thus Ezekiel saw in vision the form of the house and the fashion thereof, Ezek. 43:11. Note, Whatsoever is done in God’s service must be done by his direction, and not otherwise. Yet God did not only show him the model, but gave him also particular directions how to frame the tabernacle according to that model, in all the parts of it, which he goes over distinctly in this and the following chapters. When Moses, in the beginning of Genesis, was to describe the creation of the world, though it is such a stately and curious fabric and made up of such a variety and vast number of particulars, yet he gave a very short and general account of it, and nothing compared with what the wisdom of this world would have desired and expected from one that wrote by divine revelation; but, when he comes to describe the tabernacle, he does it with the greatest niceness and accuracy imaginable. He that gave us no account of the lines and circles of the globe, the diameter of the earth, or the height and magnitude of the stars, has told us particularly the measure of every board and curtain of the tabernacle; for God’s church and instituted religion are more precious to him and more considerable than all the rest of the world. And the scriptures were written, not to describe to us the works of nature, a general view of which is sufficient to lead us to the knowledge and service of the Creator, but to acquaint us with the methods of grace, and those things which are purely matters of divine revelation. The blessedness of the future state is more fully represented under the notion of a new Jerusalem than under the notion of new heavens and a new earth.
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