The Pulpit Commentary

Exodus 40:1-33 (Exodus 40:1-33)

THE COMMAND TO SET UP THE TABERNACLE , AND ITS PERFORMANCE . All was now ready. Bezaleel and Aholiab had completed their task. The work for the tabernacle had been given in, and had been approved Moses did not however at once set it up. He waited for a command from God. After a short interval, the command came. He was ordered to select the first day of the ensuing year—the first day of the first year of freedom—for the operation. Directions were given him, which fixed the order in which the various parts were to be set up, and assigned to the various articles of furniture their proper places ( Exodus 40:1-8 ). When he had arranged the whole as directed, he was to anoint the various parts ( Exodus 40:9-11 ). He was then to wash and dress Aaron, and his sons; to invest them with their robes of office ( Exodus 40:12-14 ), and to anoint them to be priests ( Exodus 40:15 ). The orders given were executed, except (as it would seem) those concerning the investiture of the priests and the anointing, which were deferred. (See Le Exodus 8:6-30 .) In one day the sanctuary was completely set up ( Exodus 40:18-33 ).

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Exodus 40:9-16 (Exodus 40:9-16)

The directions to anoint , etc.

It does not appear that these directions were carried out at this time. Probably, there would not have been time to go through all the ceremonies enjoined ( Exodus 29:1-34 ) on the same day with the erection of the sanctuary. They were consequently deferred, either till the next day, or possibly to a later date. (See Leviticus 8:1-36 .) The anointing of the tabernacle is recorded in Exodus 40:10 ; of the vessels in Exodus 40:11 ; of the altar and laver in the same. The washing of Aaron and his sons in Exodus 40:6 ; their investiture in Exodus 40:7-9 ; the anointing of Aaron in Exodus 40:12 ; and a further anointing of Aaron together with his sons in Exodus 40:30 .

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Exodus 40:1-33 (Exodus 40:1-33)

The erection of the tabernacle.

At last the work of preparation was over. The work for which God had begun to give instructions more than nine months previously ( Exodus 25:1 ) was completed. All the parts of the structure, pillars, curtains, boards, sockets, bars, taches, hooks, pins; and all the furniture, ark, altars, table, candlestick, laver, vessels, censers, tongs, ash-pans—were finished and ready. All had been inspected by Moses, and approved ( Exodus 39:43 ); they answered to the pattern which had been shown him in the mount ( Exodus 25:40 ). Still, however, Moses waited until he received from God:—

1 . The order for erection.

2 . Instructions as to details.

I. THE ORDER FOR ERECTION . "On the first day of the first month shalt thou set up the tabernacle of the tent of the congregation" ( Exodus 40:2 ). The order included:—

1 . The act . "Set up the tabernacle."

2 . The agent . "Thou"— i.e; Moses.

3 . The time .

"The first day of the first month." Concerning the act there is nothing to be said. It was implied in the first order given, and lay at the root of every subsequent direction. The tabernacle could only have been devised in order to be set up. But concerning the agent and the time there was room for doubt. As to the agent : Bezaleel, the master craftsman, might have been chosen to erect what he had constructed; or Aaron might have been deputed to arrange the temple of which he was to be chief minister; or Moses and Aaron and Bezaleel might have been constituted a commission to carry out the work conjointly. But it pleased God to appoint Moses alone. For every enterprise it is best to have one directing mind, one ultimate authority. Otherwise there will be conflicting views, waste of time and energy, and commonly an inharmonious result. And Moses, who had alone seen "the pattern on the mount," was beyond all doubt the fittest director that could have been selected. As to the time : any day that was not a Sabbath would have been fairly suitable; but there seems an especial appropriateness in the selection of the first day of a new year. "To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven" ( Ecclesiastes 7:1 ). A new year should begin with a good work. What better work for such a day than the opening of a Bethel—a house of God—a "tent of meeting," where God himself was to be met 9 God, who is the first, should have the first. First fruits of all things should be given to him. Thus, New Year's-day is a natural holy day. It opens the year. It is thus the most appropriate for openings.

II. INSTRUCTIONS AS TO DETAILS . A certain order had to be observed. God determined the order. First, the tabernacle itself was to be erected ( Exodus 40:2 ); then the ark was to be brought in and placed in the holy of holies ( Exodus 40:3 ); then the veil was to be hung up ( ib, ). After this the furniture of the holy place was to be brought in—the table of shewbread ( Exodus 40:4 ), the candlestick ( ib, ), and the altar of incense ( Exodus 40:5 ). Next, the hanging at the entrance to the tabernacle was to be put up ( ib, ) Lastly, the outer court and its furniture were to be taken in hand. The laver and altar of burnt offering were to be set in their places ( Exodus 40:6 , Exodus 40:7 ); the pillars and hangings which enclosed the court were to be arranged, and the curtain hung at the entrance to it ( Exodus 40:8 ). The general law which pervades the whole is the precedence of the more important over the less important. We do not know what time intervened between the delivery of these instructions to Moses and "the first day of the second year"; but probably the interval was not long. Moses would employ it in selecting a site, and in preparing the artificers and others for the day's proceedings. When the appointed day arrived, he applied himself to the work ( Exodus 40:17 ). First, he stretched, by means of cords and tent-pins, probably on a light wooden framework, the tabernacle cloth of blue and purple and scarlet and fine twined linen ( Exodus 26:1-6 ). Then he laid down the "sockets" of silver in their places, fitted the boards into them by means of their "tenons," put in the bars which kept the boards together, and reared up the pillars for the veil ( Exodus 40:18 ). After this he stretched the goats'-hair covering, which constituted the tent, outside and above the tabernacle cloth, and placed over the goats'-hair covering the rams' skins and the seals' skins ( Exodus 40:19 ). So much constituted the erection of the tabernacle proper. Next he proceeded to the furniture; he brought in the ark and mercy seat, and, having placed them in the holy of holies ( Exodus 40:21 ), set up the vail; thus completing it, and isolating it from the holy place. After this, he brought in the furniture of the holy place—the table, the candlestick, and the golden altar—and arranged it ( Exodus 40:22-26 ). He then, and not till then, according to the direction given to him ( Exodus 40:5 ), put up the hanging which separated the tabernacle from the court ( Exodus 40:28 ). Finally, he proceeded to set in order the court. He put the altar of burnt offering and the laver into their places ( Exodus 40:29 , Exodus 40:30 ), carried the hangings alongside the court's four sides, and arranged the curtain at the entrance ( Exodus 40:33 ). So, with a minute observance of the directions given, "Moses finished the work." Note the exactitude with which Moses followed all the directions given him, together with the liberty which he claimed and exercised:—

1 . To determine the time of their execution.

2 . To fill up particulars with respect to which no directions had been given.

1 . Of the first, the deferring of the consecration by anointment of the tabernacle and its furniture, and of the consecration of Aaron and his sons ( Exodus 40:9-15 ), is the crucial instance. It has been said that these may have taken place on the same day as the erection of the tabernacle; but the mode in which the narrative of the consecration is introduced in Le Exodus 8:1-5 , no less than the separation of the narrative from that of the present chapter, implies an interval between the two events. Probably, by the time of the completion of the court, the day was far advanced, and it would have been impossible to perform all the ceremonies commanded ( Exodus 29:1-36 ) in the remaining space.

2 . Of the second, the emplacement of the table and the candlestick ( Exodus 8:22 , Exodus 8:24 ), the burning of incense ( Exodus 8:27 ), and the offering upon the altar of burnt offering ( Exodus 8:29 ) are specimens. Evidently Moses considered that "God's instructions were not always to be carried out with literal exactness, but sometimes with an enlightened spiritual freedom."

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Exodus 40:1-33 (Exodus 40:1-33)

The erection of the tabernacle.


1 . It reminded them of their deliverance from Egyptian bondage; "this month shall be unto you the beginning of months" ( Exodus 12:2 ). God's dwelling-place is ever erected amid the adoring remembrance of his redemption. "The love of Christ constraineth us."

2 . It was a consecration of the year upon which they were entering. It struck the key-note of the after time. The joy of the new year was to rise into the greater joy of the new life. The joy which hallows all time is that of reconciliation to, and union with, God.


1 . The tabernacle was first erected in which God was to be served. The duty to serve God is confessed before the power is attained or the way understood.

2 . The tabernacle is next furnished, and the altar and laver and outer court set up. The means are given of reconciliation and service. It is not enough to be convinced of duty. God must be waited upon for power. His way must be taken. "No other foundation can any man lay."

3 . All things are anointed with the holy oil. The spirit hallows and energizes all the means of grace which God has given.

4 . The priests also are anointed; we, too, must be so in order to serve, and we shall be if we come, as they did, into the midst of what God has provided and sanctified for man's redemption.

III. THE ERECTION OF THE TABERNACLE WAS FOLLOWED BY ITS IMMEDIATE USE . So soon as the shew-bread table was placed, the bread was set in order upon it. The lamps were immediately lighted. He burnt sweet incense upon the altar before the veil. On the altar of sacrifice he offered burnt offering and meat offering. At the laver "Moses and Aaron and his sons washed their feet." Belief should follow fast upon the heels of knowledge. God has sent forth his salvation, not to be the subject of intellectual interest and theological speculation, but to touch and change the heart. The bread of life has been given to feed the perishing, not merely to be examined, weighed, analysed.— U .

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Exodus 40:1-33 (Exodus 40:1-33)

The tabernacle set up.

The sanctuary did not take long in making. When hearts are wilting, gifts liberal, and hands active, work is soon accomplished. Everything was ready by the first day of the new year after leaving Egypt. The new year was inaugurated by the setting up of the finished dwelling. How suitable an employment for the new year, to consecrate our hearts anew as dwelling-places for Jehovah! The section conveys lessons as to—

I. ORDER IN THE SANCTUARY . Every thing was done with order and deliberation. "Set the bread in order" ( Exodus 40:4 , Exodus 40:23 ). "Let all things be done decently and in order" ( 1 Corinthians 15:40 ).

II. BEAUTY IN THE SANCTUARY . God's house, when completed, was a beautiful house. Cf. Isaiah 9:18 .

III. HOLINESS IN THE SANCTUARY . The place was holy. Moses consecrated it by anointing ( Isaiah 9:9-12 ). Those who served in it were to be holy. This is signified by the wearing of "holy garments" ( Isaiah 9:13 ), and by washing in the laver (verse 31). Holiness becomes God's house ( Psalms 93:5 ). His servants are to serve him in "beauties of holiness" ( Psalms 110:1-7 :8).

IV. WORSHIP IN THE SANCTUARY . Moses set the bread in order on the table, lighted the lamps, burnt incense, etc. He offered burnt offerings and meat offerings on the altar (verse 39). The tabernacle was a picture Gospel.— J . O .

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