Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
The Altar of Burnt-Offering (cf. Exo 38:1-7). - "Make the altar (the altar of burnt-offering, according to Exo 38:1) of acacia-wood, five cubits long, and five cubits broad (רבוּע "foured," i.e., four-sided or quadrangular), and three cubits high. At its four corners shall its horns be from (out of) it," i.e., not removable, but as if growing out of it. These horns were projections at the corners of the altar, formed to imitate in all probability the horns of oxen, and in these the whole force of the altar was concentrated. The blood of the sin-offering was therefore smeared upon them (Lev 4:7), and those who fled to the altar to save their lives laid hold of them (vid., Exo 21:14, and Kg1 1:50; also my commentary on the passage). The altar was to be covered with copper or brass, and all the things used in connection with it were to be made of brass. These were, - (1) the pans, to cleanse it of the ashes of the fat (Exo 27:3 : דּשּׁן, a denom. verb from דּשׁן the ashes of fat, that is to say, the ashes that arose from burning the flesh of the sacrifice upon the altar, has a privative meaning, and signifies "to ash away," i.e., to cleanse from ashes); (2) יעים shovels, from יעה to take away (Isa 28:17); (3) מזרקות, things used for sprinkling the blood, from fzarq to sprinkle; (4) מזלגות forks, flesh-hooks (cf. מזלג Sa1 3:13); (5) מחתּת coal-scoops (cf. Exo 25:38). וגו לכל־כּליו: either "for all the vessels thereof thou shalt make brass," or "as for all its vessels, thou shalt make (them) of brass."
The altar was to have מכבּר a grating, רשׂת מעשׂה net-work, i.e., a covering of brass made in the form of a net, of larger dimensions that the sides of the altar, for this grating was to be under the "compass" (כּרכּב) of the altar from beneath, and to reach to the half of it (half-way up, Exo 27:5); and in it, i.e., at the four ends (or corners) of it, four brass rings were to be fastened, for the poles to carry it with. כּרכּב (from כּרכּב circumdedit) only occurs here and in Exo 38:4, and signifies a border (סבבא Targums), i.e., a projecting framework or bench running round the four sides of the altar, about half a cubit or a cubit broad, nailed to the walls (of the altar) on the outside, and fastened more firmly to them by the copper covering which was common to both. The copper grating was below this bench, and on the outside. The bench rested upon it, or rather it hung from the outer edge of the bench and rested upon the ground, like the inner chest, which it surrounded on all four sides, and in which there were no perforations. It formed with the bench or carcob a projecting footing, which caused the lower half of the altar to look broader than the upper on every side. The priest stood upon this carcob or bench when offering sacrifice, or when placing the wood, or doing anything else upon the altar. This explains Aaron's coming down (ירד) from the altar (Lev 9:22); and there is no necessity to suppose that there were steps to the altar, as Knobel does in opposition to Exo 20:26. For even if the height of the altar, viz., three cubits, would be so great that a bench half-way up would be too high for any one to step up to, the earth could be slightly raised on one side so as to make the ascent perfectly easy; and when the priest was standing upon the bench, he could perform all that was necessary upon the top of the altar without any difficulty.
The poles were to be made of acacia-wood, and covered with brass, and to be placed in the rings that were fixed in the two sides for the purpose of carrying the altar. The additional instructions in Exo 27:8, "hollow with tables shalt thou make it, as it was showed thee in the mount" (cf. Exo 25:9), refer apparently, if we judge from Exo 20:24-25, simply to the wooden framework of the altar, which was covered with brass, and which was filled with earth, or gravel and stones, when the altar was about to be used, the whole being levelled so as to form a hearth. The shape thus given to the altar of burnt-offering corresponded to the other objects in the sanctuary. It could also be carried about with ease, and fixed in any place, and could be used for burning the sacrifices without the wooden walls being injured by the fire.
(cf. Exo 38:9-20). The Court of the dwelling was to consist of קלעים "hangings" of spun byssus, and pillars with brass (copper) sockets, and hooks and fastenings for the pillars of silver. The pillars were of course made of acacia-wood; they were five cubits high, with silvered capitals (Exo 38:17, Exo 38:19), and carried the hangings, which were fastened to them by means of the hooks and fastenings. There were twenty of them on both the southern and northern sides, and the length of the drapery on each of these sides was 100 cubits (באמּה מאה, 100 sc., measured by the cubit), so that the court was a hundred cubits long (Exo 27:18).
"As for the breadth of the court on the west side, (there shall be) curtains fifty cubits; their pillars twenty; and the breadth of the court towards the front, on the east side, fifty cubits." The front is divided in Exo 27:14-16 into two כּתף, lit., shoulders, i.e., sides or side-pieces, each consisting of 15 cubits of hangings and three pillars with their sockets, and a doorway (שׁער), naturally in the middle, which was covered by a curtain (מסך) formed of the same material as the covering at the entrance to the dwelling, of 20 cubits in length, with four pillars and the same number of sockets. The pillars were therefore equidistant from one another, viz., 5 cubits apart. Their total number was 60 (not 56), which was the number required, at the distance mentioned, to surround a quadrangular space of 100 cubits long and 50 cubits broad.
(Note: Although any one may easily convince himself of the correctness of these numbers by drawing a figure, Knobel has revived Philo's erroneous statement about 56 pillars and the double reckoning of the pillars in the corner. And the statement in Exo 27:14-16, that three pillars were to be made in front to carry the hangings on either side of the door, and four to carry the curtain which covered the entrance, may be easily shown to be correct, notwithstanding the fact that, as every drawing shows, four pillars would be required, and not three only, to carry 15 cubits of hangings, and five (not four) to carry a curtain 20 cubits broad, if the pillars were to be placed 5 cubits apart; for the corner pillars, as belonging to both sides, and the pillars which stood between the hangings and the curtain on either side, could only be reckoned as halves in connection with each side or each post; and in reckoning the number of pillars according to the method adopted in every other case, the pillar from which you start would not be reckoned at all. Now, if you count the pillars of the eastern side upon this principle (starting from a corner pillar, which is not reckoned, because it is the starting-point and is the last pillar of the side wall), you have 1, 2, 3, then 1, 2, 3, 4, and then again 1, 2, 3; that is to say, 3 pillars for each wing and 4 for the curtain, although the hangings of each wing would really be supported by 4 pillars, and the curtain in the middle by 5.)
"All the pillars of the court round about (shall be) bound with connecting rods of silver." As the rods connecting the pillars of the court were of silver, and those connecting the pillars at the entrance to the dwelling were of wood overlaid with gold, the former must have been intended for a different purpose from the latter, simply serving as rods to which to fasten the hangings, whereas those at the door of the dwelling formed an architrave. The height of the hangings of the court and the covering of the door is given in Exo 38:17 as 5 cubits, corresponding to the height of the pillars given in Exo 28:18 of the chapter before us; but the expression in Exo 38:18, "the height in the breadth," is a singular one, and רחב is probably to be understood in the sense of רחב door-place or door-way, - the meaning of the passage being, "the height of the covering in the door-way." In Exo 28:18, "50 everywhere," πεντήκοντα ἐπὶ πεντήκοντα (lxx), lit., 50 by 50, is to be understood as relating to the extent towards the north and south; and the reading of the Samaritan text, viz., באמּה for בחמשּׁים, is merely the result of an arbitrary attempt to bring the text into conformity with the previous באמּה מאה, whilst the lxx, on the other hand, by an equally arbitrary change, have rendered the passage ἑκατὸν εφ ̓ ἑκατὸν.
"All the vessels of the dwelling in all the work thereof (i.e., all the tools needed for the tabernacle), and all its pegs, and all the pegs of the court, (shall be of) brass or copper." The vessels of the dwelling are not the things required for the performance of worship, but the tools used in setting up the tabernacle and taking it down again.
If we inquire still further into the design and meaning of the court, the erection of a court surrounding the dwelling on all four sides is to be traced to the same circumstance as that which rendered it necessary to divide the dwelling itself into two parts, viz., to the fact, that on account of the unholiness of the nation, it could not come directly into the presence of Jehovah, until the sin which separates unholy man from the holy God had been atoned for. Although, by virtue of their election as the children of Jehovah, or their adoption as the nation of God, it was intended that the Israelites should be received by the Lord into His house, and dwell as a son in his father's house; yet under the economy of the law, which only produced the knowledge of sin, uncleanness, and unholiness, their fellowship with Jehovah, the Holy One, could only be sustained through mediators appointed and sanctified by God: viz., at the institution of the covenant, through His servant Moses; and during the existence of this covenant, through the chosen priests of the family of Aaron. It was through them that the Lord was to be approached, and the nation to be brought near to Him. Every day, therefore, they entered the holy place of the dwelling, to offer to the Lord the sacrifices of prayer and the fruits of the people's earthly vocation. But even they were not allowed to go into the immediate presence of the holy God. The most holy place, where God was enthroned, was hidden from them by the curtain, and only once a year was the high priest permitted, as the head of the whole congregation, which was called to be the holy nation of God, to lift this curtain and appear before God with the atoning blood of the sacrifice and the cloud of incense (Lev 16). The access of the nation to its God was restricted to the court. There it could receive from the Lord, through the medium of the sacrifices which it offered upon the altar of burnt-offering, the expiation of its sins, His grace and blessing, and strength to live anew. Whilst the dwelling itself represented the house of God, the dwelling-place of Jehovah in the midst of His people (Exo 23:19; Jos 6:24; Sa1 1:7, Sa1 1:24, etc.), the palace of the God-King, in which the priestly nation drew near to Him (Sa1 1:9; Sa1 3:3; Psa 5:8; Psa 26:4, Psa 26:6); the court which surrounded the dwelling represented the kingdom of the God-King, the covenant land or dwelling-place of Israel in the kingdom of its God. In accordance with this purpose, the court was in the form of an oblong, to exhibit its character as part of the kingdom of God. But its pillars and hangings were only five cubits high, i.e., half the height of the dwelling, to set forth the character of incompleteness, or of the threshold to the sanctuary of God. All its vessels were of copper-brass, which, being allied to the earth in both colour and material, was a symbolical representation of the earthly side of the kingdom of God; whereas the silver of the capitals of the pillars, and of the hooks and rods which sustained the hangings, as well as the white colour of the byssus-hangings, might point to the holiness of this site for the kingdom of God. On the other hand, in the gilding of the capitals of the pillars at the entrance to the dwelling, and the brass of their sockets, we find gold and silver combined, to set forth the union of the court with the sanctuary, i.e., the union of the dwelling-place of Israel with the dwelling-place of its God, which is realized in the kingdom of God.
The design and significance of the court culminated in the altar of burnt-offering, the principal object in the court; and upon this the burnt-offerings and slain-offerings, in which the covenant nation consecrated itself as a possession to its God, were burnt. The heart of this altar was of earth or unhewn stones, having the character of earth, not only on account of its being appointed as the place of sacrifice and as the hearth for the offerings, but because the earth itself formed the real or material sphere for the kingdom of God in the Old Testament stage of its development. This heart of earth was elevated by the square copper covering into a vessel of the sanctuary, a place where Jehovah would record His name, and come to Israel and bless them (Exo 20:24, cf. Exo 29:42, Exo 29:44), and was consecrated as a place of sacrifice, by means of which Israel could raise itself to the Lord, and ascend to Him in the sacrifice. And this significance of the altar culminated in its horns, upon which the blood of the sin-offering was smeared. Just as, in the case of the horned animals, their strength and beauty are concentrated in the horns, and the horn has become in consequence a symbol of strength, or of fulness of vital energy; so the significance of the altar as a place of the saving and life-giving power of God, which the Lord bestows upon His people in His kingdom, was concentrated in the horns of the altar.
The instructions concerning the Oil For the Candlestick, and the daily trimming of the lamps by the priests, form a transition from the fitting up of the sanctuary to the installation of its servants.
The sons of Israel were to bring to Moses (lit., fetch to thee) olive oil, pure (i.e., prepared from olives "which had been cleansed from leaves, twigs, dust, etc., before they were crushed"), beaten, i.e., obtained not by crushing in oil-presses, but by beating, when the oil which flows out by itself is of the finest quality and a white colour. This oil was to be "for the candlestick to set up a continual light."
Aaron and his sons were to prepare this light in the tabernacle outside the curtain, which was over the testimony (i.e., which covered or concealed it), from evening to morning, before Jehovah. "The tabernacle of the congregation," lit., tent of assembly: this expression is applied to the sanctuary for the first time in the preset passage, but it afterwards became the usual appellation, and accords both with its structure and design, as it was a tent in style, and was set apart as the place where Jehovah would meet with the Israelites and commune with them (Exo 25:22). The ordering of the light from evening to morning consisted, according to Exo 30:7-8, and Lev 24:3-4, in placing the lamps upon the candlestick in the evening and lighting them, that they might give light through the night, and then cleaning them in the morning and filling them with fresh oil. The words "a statute for ever unto their generations (see at Exo 12:14) on the part of the children of Israel," are to be understood as referring not merely to the gift of oil to be made by the Israelites for all time, but to the preparation of the light, which was to be regarded as of perpetual obligation and worth. "For ever," in the same sense as in Gen 17:7 and Gen 17:13.