The Curtains of the Tabernacle

 •  14 min. read  •  grade level: 8
Ex. 26:1-3 -" Moreover thou shalt make the tabernacle ten curtains of fine twined linen, and blue, and purple, and scarlet; cherubims of cunning work shalt thou make them. "The length of one curtain shall be eight and twenty cubits, and the breadth of one curtain four cubits: and every one of the cur- tains shall have one measure. "The five curtains shall be coupled together one to another; and other five curtains shall be coupled one to another."
Ex. 36:8-10 "And every wise hearted man among them that wrought the work of the tabernacle made ten curtains of fine twined linen, and blue, and purple, and scarlet: cherubims of cunning work made he them. " The length of one curtain was twenty and eight cubits, and the breadth of one curtain four cubits: the curtains were all of one size. "And he coupled the five curtains one unto another: and the other five curtains he coupled one unto another."
The framework of the tabernacle was made of boards of shittim-wood, overlaid with gold, standing in sockets of silver. Over these boards which enclosed an area of 30 cubits by 10, were thrown two sets of curtains, and two coverings, forming what may be called the roof of the building, and hanging down over the back and two sides. The first and innermost set of curtains are emphatically called " The Tabernacle."
" Thou shalt make the tabernacle, ten curtains." Ex. 26 r. " The work of the tabernacle, ten curtains." Ex. 36:8. " And it shall be one tabernacle." Ex. 26:6. Also Ex. 36:13. " curtains of goats' hair, a covering upon the tabernacle." " The tabernacle and the tent." Num. 3:25.
Upon reference to these quotations, it will be found, that the word tabernacle is used to express the set of ten curtains, whilst the word tent has reference to the eleven curtains of goats' hair, which were thrown over this first set. The Hebrew word, translated tabernacle, means a dwelling-place, and is exclusively confined to the thought of this structure being God's dwelling-place. In our translation, we find the words " tabernacle of the congregation " constantly occurring; but, in almost every instance, the Hebrew has the words " tent of the congregation ": for, this building was their tent of assembly; and God's tabernacle or dwelling-place.
Ten curtains were first made, each 28 cubits in length, and four cubits in breadth. Five of these were subsequently joined together; thereby forming one curtain, 28 cubits in length, and 20 in breadth. The other five were similarly joined together, forming a second curtain of like dimensions. The materials used in the manufacture of this fabric were precisely the same as those which formed the vail; a different arrangement, however, is adopted as to the fine linen. In the vail, the blue first meets the eye; and the fine linen is last in the series. In these curtains, the fine linen stands first, succeeded by the blue and the other colors. The vail, we know from Heb. 10:20, was a type of the Lord Jesus in the days of His flesh, and was rent when He yielded up the ghost. The curtains, fastened together by golden taches, seem to foreshadow Christ in resurrection. The same glorious display of God and man, wondrously united, meets the eye of faith, whether the blessed Lord be contemplated when sojourning on this earth, or raised to the right hand of the Majesty on high. Indeed, He cannot be known upon the throne of God, unless He has been first revealed to the soul as the Crucified One on earth. He that ascended, first descended. He is the unchanged and unchanging One. " Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and to-day, and forever." Resurrection added to Him no new perfections; for He was, while on earth, the Resurrection and the Life. He was ever perfect. The blue, purple, and scarlet, were as bright and gorgeous in the vail, as in the 10 curtains of the heavenly roof. The fine linen was as spotless in the one, as in the other. The Cherubim of Glory were manifest in the cunning work of both. The same blessed name of Jesus, bestowed on the Lord at His incarnation, is again the "name above every name" given to Him on His exaltation. Even when His days, like the shadow declined, and when He was withered like grass, at the very moment of His death, the Father pronounced Him to be the same, the Jehovah who, of old, had laid the foundation of the earth. Compare Psa. 102:25, with Heb. 1:10. "And Thou, Lord,  ... ' &c.
Fine linen, which formed the groundwork, on which the beautiful tints of the vail were displayed, was also the material of the curtains. The Holy One, whose flesh saw no corruption, was unchanged by resurrection: for mortality was never attached to Him. He alone had, and has, incorruptibility and immortality, though crucified and slain. "I am the First and the Last, and the Living One who became dead, and behold, I am the Living One for evermore." Rev. 1:18. Wondrous mystery, to be received alone by faith: and as the priests walked barefoot in the tabernacle, so must we, with reverent and worshipping hearts, tread on this holy ground.
It has been already observed, that the fine linen is put first in the description of the curtains; whilst the blue is first in that of the vail.
Is not this the order, in which the Holy Spirit instructs as to Christ in humiliation and in glory? The eye of faith is first directed to that mystery, God manifest in the flesh; the Word made flesh. The heart is attracted by the blessed truth, that the Child born to as, and slain for us, is the Mighty God. The heavenly color stands pre-eminent in the vail. The other marvel is, that there should be a Man upon the throne of God. So, the fine linen, which especially sets forth Christ as the righteous Man, is pre-eminent in the curtains.
The five curtains, which were joined together in their breadth, defined the extent of the holy place, 20 cubits: for, the vail, which separated the interior of the tabernacle into two parts, the holy and the most holy, was to be hung up under the taches. These taches being golden clasps fastened into loops of blue, and thereby uniting the two curtains, each formed of five breadths, one curtain covering the holy place, To cubits of the other covering the most holy, and the remaining io cubits hanging over the boards of the west end of the tabernacle. It may be, that the explanation of the number five is found in Heb. 7:26, " Such a high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens." Under the shelter of this glorious Priest, we dwell, and have access, as priests to God, into the holy and most holy places; which, by reason of the vail being rent, now form but one undivided tabernacle. Of the two holy places, formerly separated one from the other by the vail, the holiest was especially the dwelling-place of God alone. None dared intrude thither; not even the priests themselves were allowed to pass within the vail. No worship was carried on there; no human voice was ever heard within its precincts. In fearful majesty the God of Israel dwelt between the Cherubim of glory. And though, once a year, the high priest was directed to enter, yet he could not draw nigh without blood. And the object, for which he was commanded to approach the mercy-seat, was in order to appease the wrath of God, offended by the sins of Israel. But the clasped curtains of the roof betokened that the tabernacle was one; and in due time, the rending of the vail proclaimed it. Christ crucified, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God, is like the golden tache in the loop of blue. He links heaven and earth together. He gives the worshipper entrance to the immediate presence of God. All distance and separation are gone. The sound of prayer and praise; the cry of distress, and the voice of melody, are presented and heard in the holiest of all.
The curtains, like the vail, were a mass of cherubim. In the latter, these emblematic figures of glory were marred and rent asunder; for, it pleased Jehovah to bruise His Son. “He made His glory to cease, and cast His throne down to the ground. He shortened the days of His youth, and covered Him with shame." Psa. 89:44,45. But in the former, that is the curtains, we behold again the same cherubim of glory, spreading their wings on high, and forming the lofty ceiling of the tabernacle; a firmament of expanded feathers, composed of the blended tints of blue, purple, and scarlet, on the pure white ground of tine linen. Various are the references in the Psalms to this sheltering canopy. For instance-" I will abide in Thy tabernacle forever: I will trust in the covert of Thy wings." Psa. 61:4. " He shall cover thee with His feathers: and under His wings shalt thou trust." Psa. 91:4. “Hide me under the shadow of Thy wings." Psa. 17:8. " How excellent is Thy loving-kindness, 0 God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Thy wings." Psa. 36:7. Because Thou hast been my help, therefore, in the shadow of Thy wings will I rejoice." Psa. 63:7. " In the shadow of Thy wings will I make my refuge." Psa. 57:1
The blessed Lord Himself, during all His life on earth, abode under the shadow of the Almighty. He dwelt in the secret place of the Most High, till that awful hour when refuge failed Him, and He had to exclaim, " I am cast out of Thy sight." Jonah 2:4. " Lord, why castest Thou off my soul? Why hidest Thou Thy face from me?" Psa. 88:14. " My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" Psa. 22:1. “But the God of peace has, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, brought again from the dead that great Shepherd of the sheep." Heb. 13:20. And now, in the holy places not made with hands, Christ is the covert, the hiding-place, the refuge, the defense, help, power, and joy, of all those who trust under the shadow of His wings. The secret place of the Most High, the Holy of Holies, this glorious pavilion, covered with the feathers of the Almighty, is a safe and quiet resting-place for the wearied saint. The strife of tongues enters not there; no terror by night; no arrow that flieth by day; no snare of the fowler, or noisome pestilence can reach one that is sheltered there. Death may be at the right hand, and yet shall not come nigh. The young lion and the dragon can there be trampled under foot. Love, wisdom, patient tenderness, and almighty power, combine to form a fitting shelter.
The comforting passage in Heb. 6:18-20. refers to the security found in the Holiest. There is no place of safety, short of that within the vail. The Eternal God alone is our refuge: thither we have fled, through the rent vail. There, hope, not deceitful or fluctuating, but sure and steadfast, is laid hold of, and becomes actual certainty to the soul: for Christ is there, the forerunner. Rapid has been His course, having broken the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron. He has taken the prey from the mighty, and ascended from the lower parts of the earth far above all heavens. And now, He has entered for us into the very presence of God; the sure pledge, that every one, whose hope is fixed on Him, shall likewise obtain this everlasting glory. We may, with confidence, brave the storms and tempests of this world, and the buffetings of Satan; seeing we have hope, as an anchor, fastened in the holiest. But let us not think that the word hope expresses uncertainty; in human language, it is often used to convey the thought of chance or doubt; so that we hear, all around us, such expressions as, hoping for salvation, hoping to go to heaven, &c., the utterance of unbelief: whereas, in the Scripture use of the word, hope always implies assurance; and he who hopes, patiently waits for that which he knows he shall obtain.
There were six cities in the land of Israel, appointed by God, to which the man-slayer might run for protection, when pursued by the avenger of blood. The three, which lay on the west of Jordan, were each set upon a hill; Kedesh, in Galilee, in Mount Naphtali; Shecem, in Mount Ephraim; and Kirjath- Arba, which is Hebron, in the Mountain of Judah: Josh. 20:7 These were priestly cities. A way was to be prepared, so that the guilty person might have no difficulty in reaching the nearest city of refuge. If an Israelite, or a stranger, by accident as it might be called, killed his neighbor, as for instance, " when a man goeth into the wood with his neighbor, to hew wood, and his hand fetcheth a stroke with the ax to cut down the tree, and the head slippeth from the helve, and lighteth upon his neighbor, that he die.' Deut. 19:5. he must at once raise his eyes from the scene of his calamity, and look for the nearest city of refuge. God had provided that it should be conspicuous on every side. He must then hasten, with all speed, along the prepared way to that city, and pause not till he found himself within the threshold of its gate. A cry for mercy to the avenger of blood, would be unheeded; a plea that his crime was unintentional, would be of no avail. The sword of vengeance would inevitably fall upon him, if he delayed to hasten to the refuge. To spend, in entreaties and prayers, the precious time which yet afforded him opportunity of reaching the only place of safety, would be madness. He must flee from the approaching wrath. God had established the place of mercy: safety was in that alone. Moreover, the slayer had, by inheritance, no title to a dwelling-place within that city. His crime and danger were his only plea; and marvelously enough, his very misery placed him, through the merciful provision of God, in association with the holiest of God's people. He was raised from the rank of an ordinary Israelite, or from the outcast condition of a stranger, to be a fellow-citizen with the priests of God.
These shadows of truth are more than fulfilled in the merciful and rich provision made by God for the salvation of the sinner. The dwelling-place of the Most High becomes the city of his refuge, his everlasting home. On the mercy-seat he beholds the blood; sure pledge that wrath has been appeased, that the avenger of blood has buried the sword of justice in the heart of another on his behalf. The ground on which he stands, within the holiest, is as a rock under his feet; for the blood of the atoning victim has also been sprinkled there. The great High Priest is likewise present, Himself the forerunner, the first that has tasted the joy, and entered into the rest, the blessed rest of that eternal salvation which He has obtained for others. From the ruin, degradation, and death, entailed on him by the Fall, the sinner is raised into a standing of perfection, glory, and life, to be a king and a priest, to go no more out, to be an heir of God, and joint-heir with Christ. The cry of terror and distress is exchanged for the song of victory and joy; holy worship and ceaseless praise take the place of vain regrets and unhappy murmurings. He, who looked back over the past with fearful forebodings, dreading the rapid advances of well-merited vengeance, now sees goodness and mercy pursuing him all the days of his life, Psa. 23:6 (in the Hebrew), and gazes with unspeakable delight upon Him who has opened the way into the holiest through His own death, and is seated there, crowned with glory and honor. These are some of the many blessed truths which seem to be crowded together in the types of the tabernacle. Ever and anon fresh aspects of the glories of salvation present themselves to the soul; even as to the eyes of the priest in the sanctuary, mingled gleams of light and beauty shed their radiance from the gorgeous curtains and golden boards, lighted up by the cloud of glory which covered the mercy-seat.