Scriptures

Curtains Of The Outer Court

Introduction

Exodus 27:9-19

If you had suddenly come across the children of Israel in the desert wilderness, you would have seen a sprawling camp of over two million people, probably not unlike the refugee camps in Rwanda, though perhaps more orderly. The tents were probably black and brown, set in contrast with the sandy and rocky colours of the desert.

In the centre of their camp, you would see the white linen curtains of the Tabernacle’s Outer Court, approximately 46 metres long (c. 150 feet), 23 metres wide (c. 75 feet) and 2.3 metres tall (c. 7.5 feet). It was so noticeable against the surrounding rather drab colours of the camp and wilderness.

It was impossible to see inside the Tabernacle from the camp outside: the tall, white, fine twined linen curtains made a separation between the outside world and the beauty that was contained in the Tabernacle.

In the Bible, white linen signifies righteousness (Revelation 19:8). God in His nature is right and just. He therefore expects us, His created people, to act rightly and justly: this is what righteousness means. Psalm 92:15 tells us the Lord is upright and there is no unrighteousness in Him.

Psalm 45:7 predicts that the Anointed One (the Messiah, the Christ) will love righteousness and hate wickedness. Because God is righteous, we find that the Levites, who God called to be priests to serve Him in the Tabernacle, were instructed to wear fine white linen garments (Exodus 28:39-43).

Likewise, in the New Testament, Revelation 19:6-9 speaks of the

“wife of the Lamb” (the bride of Christ),

who is seen clothed in fine white linen. The

“wife of the Lamb”

is a corporate bride, composed of all those people who have accepted God’s saving invitation to be joined to Him at this marriage feast and have prepared themselves (as seen by their garments): they are all dressed in fine white linen, as were the priests of the Tabernacle; Revelation 19:8 informs us that the fine linen is their righteous acts.

By way of contrast, in Isaiah 64:6 we read that all our “righteousness’s” are like filthy rags and that our sins have blown us right off course from God’s righteousness. Therefore, our sins have separated us from God (Isaiah 59:2).

Just as Adam’s sin caused him to be separated from God and the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:23-24), so we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Therefore, the white linen curtains of the Outer Court remind us that we are separated from God, due to our sins, because He is righteous.

The fine white linen curtains of the Outer Court were supported by pillars, at least 56 of them. The pillars were set in base sockets of bronze and capped with silver capitals. The bronze base sockets symbolise God’s judgement on those who sin against Him, as seen in Numbers 16:29-39 and 21:4-9.

In Numbers 21, the children of Israel murmured against God. In judgement on their sin, God sent serpents into the camp to bite the children of Israel and many of them died. As Moses prayed for the people, God told him to make a bronze serpent and to put it on a pole. Anyone who looked on the bronze serpent would not perish.

In his Gospel, John shows us that the Lord Jesus Christ is the reality of the bronze serpent lifted up from the earth. As the crucified Son of Man, He bore God’s righteous judgement for us, so that

‘whoever believes in Him will not perish for ever but be saved from God’s judgement and receive eternal life’ (John 3:14-17)

The capitals on top of the pillars were made from silver, symbolising the ransom price God placed on each of the children of Israel (Exodus 30:11-16). God desires to redeem people, not to condemn them, but to satisfy His righteousness a price must be paid. When Jesus was betrayed by Judas Iscariot, the price paid was thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 26:15 / Zechariah 11:12-13).

Exodus 12:1 to 13:16 shows the other side of redemption: the way to redeem the life of the first-born son was by the sacrifice of a lamb at Passover. God sacrificed His only Son, Jesus the Lamb of God (John 1:29) at Calvary, as the final Passover Lamb (I Corinthians 5:7) during the Feast of Passover in 33 AD, in order to redeem mankind, that is to buy us back from sin and all its effects (Romans 5:6,18).

When we see the white curtains of the Outer Court, we are reminded that our sins have separated us from God (Isaiah 59:2 and Romans 3:23). When we read the gospel accounts of the life of Jesus, we see His compassion and love to people and we also see His condemnation of hypocrisy and sin (John 8:10-11).

We see in Jesus Christ a man who loves righteousness and hates lawlessness (Hebrews 1:9), the Son of God in whom God the Father delights (Matthew 17:5), the Son who is the bright shining of God’s glory and the express image of God’s righteous person (Hebrews 1:3).

Just like the curtains of the Outer Court, the righteousness of Christ is supported by His judgement of sin and capped by His desire to redeem us, to bring us (the unrighteous ones) back to God (I Peter 3:18). The good news is that although we start off outside the Tabernacle, separated from God, there is a way into the Outer Court, a Door, colourful and welcoming, beckoning us to come inside.

The Outer Court Exodus 27:9-19

The Outer Court itself was open to all Israelites to worship. Those who had been redeemed were allowed to enter.

Tabernacle Sanctuary

The structure of the Tabernacle Sanctuary building was made from wooden Boards overlaid with gold.

There were two rooms

1. The first room, on the East side (right), was called the Holy Place; the priests would enter the Sanctuary via the Entrance Door curtain on the East side (far right); the room contained:

A. The Showbread Table (inside at top),

B. The Lampstand (inside at bottom)

C. The Golden Incense Altar (middle);

The Veil (middle, left of centre) separated the Holy Place from the inner room.

2. The inner room, to the West (left), was called the Holy of Holies, where only one man (the High Priest) once per year was permitted entry; this was where God’s presence and glory resided over the Ark of the Covenant.

Almost nothing of the gold-covered Boards was ever visible from the Outer Court, because there were four large coverings over the Sanctuary: A thick outer covering, a red covering, a grey covering and an embroidered covering.

Outer Covering Exodus 26:14

The covering was made from either badger or seal/dolphin skin (there is some uncertainty as to the correct translation from Hebrew). But there is no uncertainty as to its function: this covering formed a thick, protective, weatherproof layer over the Tabernacle.

No amount of baking heat from the sun or wind-driven sand-storms or rain could disturb the treasure contained within the Tabernacle, thanks to this covering.

So with Christ: after 40 days in the wilderness, the tempter could not make any in-roads either at the Lord Jesus’ human frailty

(“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”, Matthew 4:4),

or at His perception of the divine order of things

(“You shall not tempt the Lord your God… You shall worship the Lord your God; Him only shall you serve” Matthew 4:7, 10).

However, from the outside this covering made the Tabernacle look ordinary and unattractive:

“Who has believed our report? …He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men” (Isaiah 53:1-3).

Today there is much temptation to be fashionable, with-it, and image-conscious and the rest. Not so with Jesus. What He possesses is real and eternal. The rough fishermen of Galilee who became His close disciples saw through, declaring:

“we were eye-witnesses of His majesty” (2 Peter 1:16)

and

“we beheld His glory” and that Jesus was “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14)

Such was their evaluation of the Word Who was made flesh and dwelt (tabernacled) among them.

The casual external viewer would not give the Tabernacle much of their time, just this dull outer covering and those boring white curtains. How often do we hear

“It’s dull and boring”?

Such people have mostly not even glimpsed the Door to the Tabernacle’s Outer Court.

But to those who do make their way to the Door of the Outer Court, observe its character and pass through, what they see is the Burnt Offering Altar, the Laver and then the Door to the Sanctuary that is covered with this unattractive outer covering. Such seekers are thus inspired to

“consider Him Who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself” so that they do not “become weary and discouraged in their souls” (Hebrews 12:3)

Such a Christ is the Defender and Protector of the Sanctuary Building, where the upright Boards (fitted and built together to be God’s dwelling place) signify the church (Ephesians 2:21-22) not the outward appearance of religiosity and dubious organisation, but the genuine Christ-indwelt people who

“have this treasure in their earthen vessels” (2 Corinthians 4:7)

and are being built together in genuine oneness with one another.

Christ seeks to keep and protect us from the world and its influences with this oneness as His goal, just as He prayed in John 17:11-12:

“Holy Father, keep them in Your name which You have given Me, that they may be ONE even as We are”.

Covering of Rams’ Skin Dyed Red Exodus 26:14

Since a ram’s skin is not red naturally, but had to be dyed to become red, this reminds us once more of the great significance of blood shown throughout the fabrics of the Doors and Coverings of the Tabernacle. Isaiah prophesied of the Messiah some 750 years before His crucifixion

“He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53:7)

The sheer size of this covering indicates how precious is the sacrifice of Messiah (Hebrew), or Christ (Greek): the covering measured at least 14 metres x 20 metres.

Jesus said

“My blood is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28)

The debt we each owe to God, because of our sins and offences against Him and against one another, are colossal. Jesus paid with His blood the price our sins exacted in God’s eyes, so He could purchase us back (redeem us).

Peter writes (to mainly Jewish believers):

“know that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like gold and silver, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Messiah, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19)

However, the emphasis here is not merely on individual redemption. The covering lies across the boards of the Sanctuary Building, which are fitted and built together. The upright boards standing together signify God’s people:

“Our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people that are His very own” (Titus 2:13-14)

Likewise, Paul speaks to the (mainly Gentile) Ephesian believers concerning the

“church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28)

writing to them later to confirm

“Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25)

This is the goal of redemption: that believers in Messiah/Christ, whether of Jewish or Gentile background, would become one joint Body in Messiah/Christ, joint heirs and partakers of the promise God made to Abraham: in you shall all the families/nations of the earth be blessed (Genesis 12:3 and Ephesians 3:6).

What God intends and longs for is one redeemed and purified people that are His, owned by Him, filled with Him and displaying all the virtues of the One who called them out of darkness into His marvellous light (1 Peter 2:9-10).

Very significantly, it was a ram caught in the thicket that God provided to be sacrificed in place of Isaac (Genesis 22:8, 13). Similarly, God ordained that rams were sacrificed when Aaron and his sons were consecrated as priests to serve in the Tabernacle (Exodus 29:15-35).

The ram therefore speaks of consecration and obedience to God:

“being found in appearance as a man, He (Christ Jesus) humbled Himself and became obedient to death, even the death of the cross. Therefore, God has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow… and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:8-11)

Woven Goats’ Hair Covering Exodus 26:7-13

This picture shows the Woven Goats’ Hair covering of the Tabernacle. Altogether there were 11 curtains of woven goats’ hair, measuring 20 metres x 14 metres approx., held together by 50 bronze clasps. This covering made a “Tent” over the Tabernacle (Exodus 26:7)

Goats were of particular importance on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), the time when the children of Israel came together to be reconciled to God (Leviticus chapter 16).

Two goats were selected by lottery, one for sacrifice and the other to be sent out into the wilderness. The blood of the sacrificed goat would be taken into the Holy of Holies by the High Priest, as required by God to forgive the sins of the children of Israel, for

“without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22)

Then the High Priest would lay his hands on the head of the other goat and confess all the sins of the children of Israel before it was sent out into the wilderness, signifying that God would forget all the sins thus confessed. Here is the origin of the

‘scapegoat’.

The twofold significance of the goats is therefore that God wants to forgive and to forget. He desires to remove from His people not only the guilt of sin, but also His memory of that sin, so that we may be reconciled to Him. For God’s righteousness to be satisfied, though, one goat without blemish must die and the other goat without blemish must have the sins of Israel lay upon it and be removed outside the camp.

All this speaks forward to the crucifixion of Jesus:

“He who knew no sin was made sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

“He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5)

Since Jesus is the reality of the two goats for our atonement and reconciliation to God,

“we implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20)

The goats signify that the Sinless One has been made sin for us so that God can legally forgive us and no longer remember our sins, as it says in the New Covenant:

“I will be forgiving of their unrighteousness and their sins I will remember no longer” (Hebrews 8:12)

The covering of Woven Goat’s Hair signifies that, if we have entered into the Tabernacle, we are clothed with Christ as our righteousness:

“God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us so that we in Him might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

DAILY BIBLE VERSE

"We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all."

Isaiah 53:6

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