Moses has received his instructions for both three pieces of furniture and a tent-like structure to put them in. But that’s not everything that will go into the place where God can dwell with his people (Ex 25:8). We still need to go outside.
Observation of Exodus 27:1-19
Most repeated words: cubits (12 times), bronze (10x), make (9), pillars (9), bases (8), court (8), side (7), altar (6), hangings (6), all (5), four (5), three (5), twenty (5).
- Even more than the prior two chapters, this chapter focuses on quantities and measurements.
- And a striking shift takes place: For the first time in the instructions, there is no mention of gold. Everything here seems to be made instead of bronze.
The first paragraph is about “the altar.”
- Looking from above, it will be a square, 5 cubits on a side. Looking from the side, it will be 3 cubits high, with horns on its top corners (Ex 27:1-2).
- It has all kinds of paraphernalia, all made of bronze: pots, shovels, basins, forks, fire pans (Ex 27:3).
- The inside is hollow, except for a bronze grating – possibly to hold the carcasses being burned and allow the ashes to drop through (Ex 27:4-5, 8).
- It’s to be carried with poles, just like the inside furniture, except these are overlaid with bronze (Ex 27:6-7).
- It shall be made just like the pattern shown on the mountain (Ex 27:8). This same statement was made about the lampstand in Ex 25:40.
The second paragraph is about “the court.”
- Clearly, this “court” functions like a fence defining the boundaries of the yard outside the tent structure.
- The fence is made of linen cloth, 100 cubits along north and south borders, and 50 cubits on the west border.
- The east border is also 50 cubits long, in three segments: Two 15-cubit segments of linen cloth, with a 20-cubit segment in between for the “gate.”
- The gate is another curtain made of colorful yarns and cloth, just like the cloths that form the tent-structure laid over the wood frames in Ex 26.
- All of these fencing curtains are hung on many bronze pillars, stuck into bronze bases, with decorative bronze bands, and functional bronze hooks.
- There will also be many bronze pegs (Ex 27:19), presumably attached to ropes, to hold the court’s fence in place.
Note: Bible dictionaries help by explaining that an Old Testament “cubit” was measured as about 18 inches (a foot and a half). It was roughly measured by the distance along a forearm from a person’s elbow to the tip of the fingers.
- This makes the altar 7.5 feet long by 7.5 feet wide by 4.5 feet high.
- This makes the courtyard fence 150 feet long by 75 feet wide (and 7.5 feet high – Ex 27:18).
Interpretation of Exodus 27:1-19
Some possible questions:
- Why did I stop at verse 19 and exclude verses 20-21?
- What is the purpose of this altar?
- What is the purpose of the courtyard?
- Why is everything outside the tent structure made of bronze?
My answers (numbers correspond to the questions):
- At first, I was planning to cover all 21 verses. But as I studied, I noticed a jarring shift in focus in verses 20-21. It no longer talks about things to construct, but about the ongoing duties of the Israelites and of Aaron and his sons. It seems to serve as an intro for the next section about the priestly garments (Ex 28) and ordination (Ex 29). So I’ll cover verses 20-21 with the next section.
- The only clue explicit in the text is in Ex 27:3: “You shall make pots for it to receive its ashes.” So clearly, something will be burned on this altar. This is why we can infer that the bronze grating (Ex 27:4-5) is the cooking surface, and the pots will go underneath. Also, these Israelites may already be familiar with the stories of their ancestors who regularly built altars (Gen 12:7, 12:8, 13:18, 26:25, etc.) and burned animals on them (Gen 8:20, 22:9-13). In addition, God has already told them altars are for burning animals (Ex 20:24-26). So though this passage doesn’t state it explicitly, we should already know that animals will be burned here as an act of worship to God to represent gifts, thanksgiving, and/or substitution.
- Again, no purpose is explicit in the text. But since the altar will contain open fire, we can suppose it will be placed outside in this yard, and not inside the tent structure. The other clear inference from the text is that the fence line hangings define a clear boundary. There should be no question about whether someone happens to be standing on God’s territory or his own or someone else’s. This sounds a lot like Mount Sinai in Ex 19:12-13, where there was a clear boundary between God’s side and the people’s side. And you can’t get here by accident. There’s only one way in or out (the east-side entrance, by pushing through the gate curtains). With the clear boundary and the three zones (outside yard, inside first room, inside back room—parallel to the three mountain zones in Ex 24:1-2, 9-14), we get the picture that not only is the tabernacle’s blueprint shown on the mountain (Ex 25:40, 27:8), but also the tabernacle’s blueprint is the mountain. The tabernacle complex is a portable Mount Sinai.
- Bronze demonstrates a decrease in value from the golden interior, yet with a similar shine and color. This is still God’s place, but this is the “lowest” region of it. This is parallel to the foot of the mountain where the people could make their covenant with God (Ex 24:2-8).
Train of thought:
- Construct a place for sacrifice.
- Establish a clear boundary and only one entrance to mark God’s property line, so we can take this mountain on the road with us.
Main point: The mountain where God meets his people—the place where heaven comes to earth—requires a place for sacrifice and has only one entrance.
Connection to Christ: Jesus is God become man. He is the heavenly one who came to earth. We honor the cross as the place where he offered himself once for all (Gal 6:14). And he remains the door, the gate (John 10:1, 7), the one through whom we must come if we are to meet God (John 14:6). God’s presence is no longer tied to a mountain, nor even to a tent or building. God’s presence goes in the hearts of God’s people (Luke 17:21), in the community of saints (1 Cor 3:16), until the end of the age (Matt 28:20).
My Application of Exodus 27:1-19
All praise be to Jesus. If I have him, I have everything, and my life is always before the presence of God. If I don’t have him, I lose everything (1 John 5:12).
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