By Titus Chu
The Court of the Tabernacle
The Bible does not record that the tabernacle needed a wall, but that it needed a court (Exo. 27:9). This court, marked off by pillars and hangings, was where God and man could come together, and was the place which defined God’s testimony to those outside. The pillars and hangings would have formed the first impression to any who approached the tabernacle from the outside. Together they created a perimeter that announced to all that God was here. They portray the church today and the healthy testimony of Christ it bears.
This perimeter measured one hundred cubits by fifty cubits. A cubit is about one and a half feet, so this perimeter was one hundred fifty feet by seventy-five feet using today’s unit of measurement. It consisted of fine twined linen hangings supported by sixty pillars. There were twenty pillars on the south side, twenty on the north side, ten on the west side, and ten on the east side, including those supporting the hangings that made the entrance (Exo. 27:9-16). It was five cubits, or seven and a half feet, high (v. 18). The tabernacle itself, enclosed within the outer court, was twice this height, covered by a tough but ugly skin, translated as either badger skin or porpoise skin (26: 16, 14).
Because the tabernacle was twice the height of the outer court perimeter, all the ugliness of the badger skin covering was visible. This represents the church life, which can be quite messy. If we are looking for something beautiful and fancy, we may miss it. People often select a church based on their own expectations. Who has the biggest cross, the best choir, or the fanciest building? But God desires something very simple.
While the badger skin within may have looked messy, the pillars with their hangings of fine linen that surrounded it looked inviting. It was not a wall to keep people out, but something that invited people to come and see.
The Pillars of the Outer Court
The Bible tells us much about the sixty pillars of the outer court. We know they have caps of silver and that they stand in sockets of bronze. We know they have silver hooks which hold silver bars, or bands, that connect them together (Exo. 38:17). We know that the fine twined linen stretched from pillar to pillar on these silver bars (v. 9). However, the Bible says strangely little about what the pillars themselves looked like.
Some scholars say these pillars were made entirely of bronze. When I was younger, I held this view myself. But not only is solid bronze too heavy to carry around the wilderness, in the Bible bronze represents God’s judgment. If the tabernacle was surrounded by God’s judgment, everyone would be scared away. It is God’s love, not His judgment, that attracts people to draw close to Him.
Other scholars say the pillars were made of acacia wood covered in bronze. This is more reasonable because they would be lighter and easier to carry, but the appearance is still all bronze. I would not want a church life so full of judgment. People would see us and say, “Wow! You people are too godly. You scare me to death!” We might answer, “If you want to join us, you will have to be either all in or all out!” There is surely something wrong with such a thing.
A third group say the pillars were just made of acacia wood. While they stand in a socket of bronze, bronze is not their presentation. Acacia wood stands straight and solid, and in the Bible it represents the best humanity. It is a humanity that has been worked on by God to stand for Him and that welcomes others into the church life.
The acacia tree can grow in the desert with very little water. I once saw some while traveling in Africa. They were impressive. They grow very large and have long, sharp thorns to keep away any animals that would try to damage them. This was the only kind of wood used in the tabernacle.
If we still hope in our career, our business, our studies, or what we can do for ourselves, we are not in the desert. If we are not in the desert, we are not acacia wood. The desert is a hopeless place. When we are in the desert, all we think about is finding water. We see everything else as vanity and not worth pursuing. It is then that the acacia tree starts to sprout. Even though we are in the hopeless desert, we find the strength to survive. We begin to shoot up and grow thorns to protect ourselves. This is acacia wood that is useful to God.
The church life needs acacia wood people. Many good Christians are more like jello—they can’t stand straight and take the form of whatever is around them. It is hard for God to use such people in the church life. He wants to gain a group of people as solid as acacia wood who will become pillars to stand for His interest.
Five Cubits High
Every pillar was exactly five cubits high (Exo. 27:18). This is hard to understand because we are not all the same spiritually. How can I be the same height as the apostle Paul? How could a brand new Christian be the same as me? Does God chop some of us off and stretch others out? No, but if we are pillars in the church life, according to this picture we are each five cubits high.
In the Bible, the number five represents responsibility. Therefore, the number five here does not speak of our spiritual maturity. Rather, it speaks of how God is taking full responsibility to make those who are willing into pieces of acacia wood able to bear His testimony. Without God assuming this responsibility, it would be just as impossible for the apostle Paul to transform himself into a piece of useful wood as it would be for us. We all depend on God to make us such. It is the same for the one talented as for the five talented. God has made Himself responsible for each of us.
The Silver Cap and Bronze Socket
Each pillar was crowned with a silver cap and stood in a socket of bronze. Silver represents the salvation of God, and bronze represents His judgment. It is so good that the pillars had both. We have a lot for God to judge, but if we only have God’s judgment without His salvation, we would surely be condemned. The silver cap declares that Christ has taken our judgment and resulting condemnation for us.
God doesn’t expect us to be so spiritual. He expects us to be very human. Because our humanity is fallen, we all need His salvation. Those who are young may not have sinned very much yet, but still God puts a silver cap on them. Those of us who are older have had more time to sin, but we also live under the silver cap of Christ’s salvation. Our temper needs salvation but our non-temper needs salvation also. Both our badness and our goodness need salvation. Everything about us needs the silver cap.
We dare not judge each other. The Lord said “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matt. 7:3). I am just as bad as you and you are just as bad as me. I am just as good as you and you are just as good as me. Only the details differ. Our mutual salvation is that we both stand in a bronze socket and wear a silver cap.
If everyone in the church life saw each other as acacia wood and not as bronze, the church life would be so beautiful. Of course we should respect the older ones and honor the leading ones, but we should not be afraid of them. No one is a judge, and so we should always like to be together. Such a church life is healthy.
From the time we are regenerated, we can never take this cap off. Our whole person is continually in the process of experiencing God’s salvation. Our life is a life of abiding in His salvation. Otherwise we will burn up because we are standing in the bronze socket of judgment. We stand on the merit of Jesus Christ. He has been cursed for us, and we are redeemed and saved in Him. Satan cannot bother us. Our sins are forgiven! We have the Lord! We are capped with His salvation!
The Silver Hooks and Bars
The pillars also have silver hooks through which are slipped the silver bars that connect them. On the silver bars hang the fine twisted linen for all to see. This linen represents the fine humanity of Christ. How good it is that what connects us is silver, not bronze. We are not here to judge and condemn one another, but to experience God’s salvation and display Christ’s humanity together.
The bars connecting the pillars are straight. This indicates that in the proper church life there can be no politics. We don’t just say we love one another. We actually and practically do love each other. We are very honest, with no crookedness or selfish maneuvering. We are not for our own interest, but for the benefit of our fellow pillars and for the testimony of God.
Each hook is made of silver, which means that our ability to join to the ones beside us comes from God’s salvation. None of us likes to be together. We all protect our privacy. We are naturally self-centered, individualistic, self-confident, self-supporting, and self-magnifying. Even when we do come together, we each have our peculiar natural man and we fight too easily. The only way we can stay together is through God’s salvation.
Some Christians today think they are pillars for the sake of having a great ministry or doing a great work. They have the bronze socket and the silver cap, but they seem to lack a silver hook to be connected with the pillars to their left and right. They stand alone, trying to be glorious all by themselves. Without the silver hooks and bars, there is no place to display the fine twisted linen. Others may greatly appreciate these lonely pillars, but the testimony of Christ is missing. The attractiveness of the church life is found only when the brothers and sisters stand together displaying Christ for His testimony.
The more salvation we experience, the stronger our hook is. If we experience Christ just a little, our hook will be very fragile. For instance, we may start to read the Bible with others. Then after a while we stop. Why? Because our hook was too weak and it dropped the bar. The first time our reading together was so enjoyable, but after a few times it became a pressure to us. We are funny people. Remember, the more we experience salvation, the stronger our hook will be.
The Bible does not say, but I like to think of the hooks and bars being on the back of the pillars so that the beautiful transformed acacia wood could be seen along with the hangings of fine linen. How inviting this would be to all who approach. Not only do they see our wonderful Christ as the linen, they also see saved and transformed people standing with Him, defending His interest. Although we are each quite different, we are all standing in bronze, capped with silver, connected by silver hooks and bars, and displaying the fine twisted linen. This is a beautiful picture of the attractive church life.