Curtains

Welcome to the height of tedium in Exodus 26.  Well, that’s probably what you think as you reach this point in the book.  It’s what prompted my tongue in cheek title for this morning’s sermon.  Unless you are wired a particular way that you can visualize things with just their description I can almost guarantee that you’ll get lost reaching chapter 26.  I can’t picture everything properly even though I’ve seen plenty of artist’s renditions of the tabernacle before.

So, because of this, we’re going to approach this passage a bit differently.  I’m going to read the whole chapter up front.  You won’t follow all of the details and don’t worry about that.  Then I’ll have some pictures to help you get a better feel for what is actually described in this chapter.

After that, we’ll revisit some of the details of this chapter and see the significance of them.

1 “Make the tabernacle with ten curtains of finely twisted linen and blue, purple and scarlet yarn, with cherubim worked into them by a skilled craftsman. 2 All the curtains are to be the same size—twenty-eight cubits long and four cubits wide.[a] 3 Join five of the curtains together, and do the same with the other five. 4 Make loops of blue material along the edge of the end curtain in one set, and do the same with the end curtain in the other set. 5 Make fifty loops on one curtain and fifty loops on the end curtain of the other set, with the loops opposite each other. 6 Then make fifty gold clasps and use them to fasten the curtains together so that the tabernacle is a unit.

7 “Make curtains of goat hair for the tent over the tabernacle—eleven altogether. 8 All eleven curtains are to be the same size—thirty cubits long and four cubits wide.[b] 9 Join five of the curtains together into one set and the other six into another set. Fold the sixth curtain double at the front of the tent. 10 Make fifty loops along the edge of the end curtain in one set and also along the edge of the end curtain in the other set. 11 Then make fifty bronze clasps and put them in the loops to fasten the tent together as a unit. 12 As for the additional length of the tent curtains, the half curtain that is left over is to hang down at the rear of the tabernacle. 13 The tent curtains will be a cubit[c] longer on both sides; what is left will hang over the sides of the tabernacle so as to cover it. 14 Make for the tent a covering of ram skins dyed red, and over that a covering of hides of sea cows.[d]

15 “Make upright frames of acacia wood for the tabernacle. 16 Each frame is to be ten cubits long and a cubit and a half wide,[e]17 with two projections set parallel to each other. Make all the frames of the tabernacle in this way. 18 Make twenty frames for the south side of the tabernacle 19 and make forty silver bases to go under them—two bases for each frame, one under each projection. 20 For the other side, the north side of the tabernacle, make twenty frames 21 and forty silver bases—two under each frame. 22 Make six frames for the far end, that is, the west end of the tabernacle, 23 and make two frames for the corners at the far end. 24 At these two corners they must be double from the bottom all the way to the top, and fitted into a single ring; both shall be like that. 25 So there will be eight frames and sixteen silver bases—two under each frame.

26 “Also make crossbars of acacia wood: five for the frames on one side of the tabernacle, 27 five for those on the other side, and five for the frames on the west, at the far end of the tabernacle. 28 The center crossbar is to extend from end to end at the middle of the frames. 29 Overlay the frames with gold and make gold rings to hold the crossbars. Also overlay the crossbars with gold.

There are two sets of curtains that make up the tabernacle.  Actually there’s a third set in this chapter that I didn’t read about yet.  There are the walls of the tabernacle and then there is a tent like covering over the tabernacle.  The walls are made up of panels.  These panels are rather large and would be quite heavy.  Each panel was 42 feet long and 6 feet wide.

Once everything was put together, the tabernacle was 45 feet long, 15 feet wide, and 15 feet high.  The curtains that created the tent over the tabernacle were somewhat larger than this.

Of course each detail of these curtains has been carefully selected and is not random.  As with last week, we won’t look at every minute detail but we’ll look at a few.  Also like last week, there are beautiful pictures of Jesus in the tabernacle curtains.

The tabernacle walls are made of fine linen.  This is probably partly a necessity because the tabernacle needs to be made to move and that obviously limits the building materials.  Even though weight would probably be a consideration, there would be tens of thousands of Levites alone who could help carry the pieces of the tabernacle if need be.  When looked at this way, even large pieces don’t sound so bad.

But there is great significance in fine linen.  We’re told in Revelation 19:8 that fine linen is symbolic.

 

Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear. (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)

 

Instead of righteous acts, this is better translated as righteousness.  In either case, there’s two versions of righteousness.  Hold on a moment, that will make sense in just a second.  Isaiah 64:6

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteousness is like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.

 

Isaiah says that our righteousness is like filthy rags but Revelation says it is fine linen.  What is the difference?  The difference is Jesus Christ.  Self righteousness is worthless as we can’t earn our salvation.  But righteousness with Jesus is beautiful.  The fine linen of the tabernacle is a picture of righteousness with Jesus.

In the curtains we have four colors.  First we have the natural white.  Woven into it is blue, purple, and scarlet yarn.

White is a picture of Jesus purity, sinlessness, and righteousness.

Blue is a heavenly color.  It points to the fact that Jesus came from heaven and He is God.

Purple has long been the color of royalty.  Jesus has been recognized as king from His birth through his death as the Magi came looking for the king of the Jews.  John the Baptist preached repentence because the kingdom of heaven was near.  And Pilate had a signed placed above Jesus’ head that said “This is Jesus, the king of the Jews.  Not only is Jesus King of the Jews, but He is also recognized as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Scarlet you can probably figure out what the color represents.  It represents the blood of Jesus and His sacrifice for all of humanity.

These four pictures of Christ are repeated in the gospels.  Each gospel depicts a different aspect of who Jesus is.  Matthew is the gospel in purple.  It presents Jesus as royalty.  Mark is the gospel in scarlet, it depicts Jesus’ suffering.  Luke is the gospel in white, it depicts Jesus’ sinlessness.  And John is the gospel in blue, it depicts Jesus as divine.  Obviously there are a lot of common stories in the gospels but if you read through them looking for those themes, you’ll find them.

The second set of curtains over the tabernacle consists of goat hair and sheep wool that is dyed red.  The goat is used in sacrifices by Israel but also had a sort of infamous reputation.  Jesus taught about the separation of the sheep and the goats at the end of the age.  This provides a separation here as the goat hair is on the outside.  This is ultimately covered up with the very drab looking hide of sea cows which would have been excellent protection from the weather.

In fact, the second curtains covered the beautiful curtains that made up the tabernacle.  Only the priests, those who had access to God, experienced this beauty and only they would have seen these depictions of Jesus.  On the outside it would have been fairly drab.  It was a reflection of Isaiah 53:2-3 that says of Jesus:

He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

In the construction of the tabernacle we see acacia wood once again.  I mentioned acacia wood last week as it was used in some of the articles for the tabernacle.  It’s roughness depicts Jesus’ humanity and its thorns draw us to His suffering with a crown of thorns upon His head.

But there’s even more to acacia wood in its symbolism.  Acacia wood was a very hard wood, even harder than oak if you’re into woodworking at all.  Because it was such a hard wood, insects would not eat it.  This is a picture of Jesus in the grave as Psalm 16:9-10 also depicts:

9 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure,
10 because you will not abandon me to the grave,[c]
nor will you let your Holy One[d] see decay.

Acacia wood would not decay like other wood just as Jesus did not see decay while He was in the grave.

Let’s jump to the end of the chapter.  Verses 30-37

30 “Set up the tabernacle according to the plan shown you on the mountain.

31 “Make a curtain of blue, purple and scarlet yarn and finely twisted linen, with cherubim worked into it by a skilled craftsman.32 Hang it with gold hooks on four posts of acacia wood overlaid with gold and standing on four silver bases. 33 Hang the curtain from the clasps and place the ark of the Testimony behind the curtain. The curtain will separate the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place. 34 Put the atonement cover on the ark of the Testimony in the Most Holy Place. 35 Place the table outside the curtain on the north side of the tabernacle and put the lampstand opposite it on the south side.

36 “For the entrance to the tent make a curtain of blue, purple and scarlet yarn and finely twisted linen—the work of an embroiderer. 37 Make gold hooks for this curtain and five posts of acacia wood overlaid with gold. And cast five bronze bases for them.

This curtain is much like the walls of the tabernacle in appearance but its function was much different.  It is known as the dividing curtain or the shielding curtain as it shielded the priests from God’s presence.  This curtain divided the holy place of the tabernacle from the most holy place.  Only one day a year, on the day of atonement, could the high priest part these curtains and enter into the presence of God.

But all of that changed when Jesus died.  Mark 15:36-37 tells us:

With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.

 

This is more than just strange coincidence.  Writers from the same time as the Bible have recorded that the temple curtain was so strong that two teams of oxen pulling in opposite directions could not tear the curtain.  No physical force could remove the barrier between God and man is one way that we can look at it.

But once the curtain was torn in two from top to bottom, it could never be repaired.  The priests tried to mend the curtain but it would never stay together.  Once the barrier between God and man was removed, no human force could put it back up.

Let’s close with one final thought on curtains and a bit of application for today.

Hebrews 10:19-25

19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Today, the curtain is gone and there is no barrier because us and God.  The writer of Hebrews tells us what we need to do because of this.  We need to draw near to God.  We can enter into fellowship with God that no Israelite was capable of doing.  We don’t just see the ugly outside of the tabernacle.  We don’t just get to see the beautiful curtains on the inside that depict Christ.  Instead, we get to fellowship with God almighty because the dividing curtain has been removed.  This is a privilege that the Israelites didn’t enjoy and we need to take advantage of it.

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