The Coverings as God’s
Blessing to the Church
The four coverings of the tabernacle picture who we are both as believers individually and as the church corporately. When men examine us they do it as though they are looking at the tabernacle from the outside, and see many problems. They see the ugliness of the badgers’ skin, the sin of the rams’ skin, and the problems of the goats’ hair. They are right to see these things because we are full of imperfections.
Fortunately, God has a lot of grace when He examines us. He looks at us as though He is inside the tabernacle, and sees the fine woven linen with the blue, purple, and scarlet material (Exo. 26:1). We may think we are a terrible piece of linen, but God is very happy. This linen is the work of Christ, and when God looks up from the ark in the holy of holies, it is the only covering He sees. It is the work of Christ, yet we are there partaking of it. To God, this is the unique covering of the tabernacle, and it is most precious.
While others look at us and see problems, God looks at us and sees those who are the result of His workmanship (Eph. 2:10), who bear the testimony of Christ. Even if we lack much spiritual maturity, there is something of Christ worked into each of us that God genuinely appreciates.
It is the same with the corporate church life. Men see all the problems, of which there are many. It seems all we can produce is goats’ hair. But the real layer that God sees is right below. To God, the fine linen, with its colors of blue, purple, and scarlet, and its skillfully made cherubim, is the first and only layer. He sees “the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless” (5:27).
The Blessing from Goats’ Hair
No matter how spiritual we are, we are still fallen people. We have all kinds of problems. If we think we have no problems, it is just a matter of time before our problems get exposed. At first we will try to excuse and justify ourselves, because we just can’t believe we are so bad. Then, once we realize that we have problems, we will try to fix ourselves. Eventually we will have to admit that we continually grow goats’ hair. It is God’s mercy that He can take our goats’ hair and use it for a covering for His testimony.
If any would examine me, they would find a lot of goats’ hair. I have a lot of problems. But instead of being disappointed, please realize that my problems are why I can still be here serving the churches. If I was problem free, only the angels would be qualified to receive from me. My problems qualify me to minister to those with problems. This is true of all of God’s servants.
Even our married life is full of goatishness. Any couple that claims they never argue must be so cold to one another. They are not human. How scary and exposing it would be to be married to a perfect person. A normal marriage is full of mistakes, problems, disappointments, hurt feelings, and quarrels. It is full of goats’ hair. Yet most couples find a way to cover, forgive, and accept one another with all their faults, and so their love for each other grows and matures. Such a loving marriage is the covering produced by God out of their messy goats’ hair.
When I was young I used to dream of one day being like Jesus. I even sang hymns that had this thought. Now that I am older, I am afraid to sing such hymns because I know it is impossible. Instead I tell the Lord that I cannot be like Him because I am just a terrible goat who produces a lot of hair. I don’t mind confessing this because I know we are all alike. But somehow, God uses it. He takes our ugly, dirty, smelly goat hair, combs it out and makes a covering that is so useful for His testimony. He turns the curse into a blessing. We who are useless are thus made useful.
We should all be amazed by the Lord’s mercy. We have produced nothing but problems and failure in the church life, yet God is still able to produce a covering of fine linen woven with blue, purple, and scarlet. We can point to no victories or successes, yet God has His testimony. Those of us who are older can look back on our life of failure and really appreciate this mercy. Our failures have turned into a blessing to the body of Christ.
The Covering of Linen
Under the covering of goats’ hair is the covering of “fine twisted linen and blue and purple and scarlet material” (Exo. 26:1). To God, this is the real covering, the only one that counts. The blue, purple, and scarlet material was most likely colored threads woven into the linen.
As we have seen, the process of producing this fine linen involves a lot of painful striking and beating work. This was literally true in the book of Exodus, and it is spiritually true as God works on us today. The process He takes us through can at times be very hard, but only through such hardship can He get the material He needs for His testimony. It may not seem to be God’s blessing as we pass through this process, but what comes out is a real blessing to the church.
The linen was made of both cotton and flax. The cotton represents life and the flax represents the dealings of the cross. How the church needs those constituted with life and those with the experiences of the cross. Without life, we cannot survive. Without the cross, nothing works.
Although we might think that life is good enough, the Lord needs some who experience the cross. If everyone is just cotton, no one will be able to stand when the church needs them. If no one has experienced the Lord’s dealing, the church will not have the backbone to withstand the winds of teaching that inevitably come. It will just be blown away. This has happened again and again in church history.
It is easy for some gifted ones to give good messages on life and gain a following. But can they take a stand when it is needed? Has God worked something solid into them so that they know what they stand for? It is not enough to speak from footnotes, cross references, and word studies. If the truth is not worked into us through the experiences of the cross, our messages will not help anyone when the test comes. Both the speaker and the hearer will withdraw.
Let me boast a little. Concerning life I really depend on the brothers’ support. But concerning our stand, I am very firm. I only care that what the Lord has committed to us concerning the church life be practiced, and that the church not change its nature. That is our vision and commitment. We have to pay a price for this, but we have no choice.
The Colored Threads
The blue, purple, and scarlet threads in the linen represent believers being woven together with other believers in the divine life. What a blessing it is to have these threads.
If we only have the linen experience of being stricken and beaten but are not woven together with other believers in life, we run the danger of becoming bitter. I have seen this happen to some. If in the end they do not see the result they thought they would, they feel cheated. It seems to them that their many years of sacrifice were for nothing. They blame God, the brothers, and the church. Such ones are short of a healthy relationship with others that could cover, strengthen, and nourish them at such a time.
Nobody cheated them. The problem was that their understanding was wrong and they were short of life. Therefore when something came along that bothered them, they quickly reacted as if everything was wrong. Yes, practices can be shallow and God’s ministers can fail, but truth is truth. There is never anything wrong with the truth. What God is doing stands and the ministry of Jesus Christ continues. If we hold up the wrong thing we are bound to be disappointed. But if we are properly woven with some blue, purple, and scarlet ones, we will be protected.
How crucial is the covering of fine linen. It pictures how the church stands and grows. First we need flax which has gone through the hardships of the cross to beat it and break it down. This will produce those who know how to fight for the interest of Christ. But we also need a lot of cotton to supply life. If we only have the flax without the cotton, the cross without the life, it would be too hard. If we have cotton without the flax, we cannot stand. Even more, we are woven together with the blue, purple, and scarlet threads for our protection. All this is God’s supply for the church.