Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
After the completion of all the works, the command was given by God to Moses to set up the dwelling of the tabernacle on the first day of the first month (see at Exo 19:1), sc., in the second year of the Exodus (see Exo 40:17), and to put all the vessels, both of the dwelling and court, in the places appointed by God; also to furnish the table of shew-bread with its fitting out (ערכּו = לחם ערך Exo 40:23), i.e., to arrange the bread upon it in the manner prescribed (Exo 40:4 cf. Lev 24:6-7), and to put water in the laver of the court (Exo 40:7). After that he was to anoint the dwelling and everything in it, also the altar of burnt-offering and laver, with the anointing oil, and to sanctify them (Exo 40:9-11); and to consecrate Aaron and his sons before the door of the tabernacle, and clothe them, anoint them, and sanctify them as priests (Exo 40:12-15). When we read here, however, that the dwelling and the vessels therein would be rendered "holy" through the anointing, but the altar of burnt-offering "most holy," we are not to understand this as attributing a higher degree of holiness to the altar of burnt-offering than to the dwelling and its furniture; but the former is called "most holy" merely in the sense ascribed to it in Exo 30:10 namely, that every one who touched it was to become holy; in other words, the distinction has reference to the fact, that, standing as it did in the court, it was more exposed to contact from the people than the vessels in the dwelling, which no layman was allowed to enter. In this relative sense we find the same statement in Exo 30:29, with reference to the tabernacle and all the vessels therein, the dwelling as well as the court, that they would become most holy in consequence of the anointing (see the remarks on Exo 30:10). It is stated provisionally, in Exo 40:16, that this command was fulfilled by Moses. But from the further history we find that the consecration of the priests did not take place contemporaneously with the erection of the tabernacle, but somewhat later, or not till after the promulgation of the laws of sacrifice (cf. Lev 8 and Lev 1:1.).
On the day mentioned in Exo 40:2 the dwelling and court were erected. As not quite nine months had elapsed between the arrival of the Israelites at Sinai, in the third month after the Exodus (Exo 19:1), and the first day of the second year, when the work was finished and handed over to Moses, the building, and all the work connected with it, had not occupied quite half a year; as we have to deduct from the nine months (or somewhat less) not only the eighty days which Moses spent upon Sinai (Exo 24:18; Exo 34:28), but the days of preparation for the giving of the law and conclusion of the covenant (Ex 19:1-24:11), and the interval between the first and second stay that Moses made upon the mountain (ch. 32 and 33). The erection of the dwelling commenced with the fixing of the sockets, into which the boards were placed and fastened with their bolts, and the setting up of the pillars for the curtains (Exo 40:18). "He (Moses) then spread the tent over the dwelling, and laid the covering of the tent upon the top." By the "covering of the tent" we are to understand the two coverings, made of red rams' skins and the skins of the sea-cow (Exo 26:14). In analogy with this, את־האלל פּרשׂ denotes not only the roofing with the goats' hair, but the spreading out of the inner cloth of mixed colours upon the wooden frame-work.
Arrangement of the ark. "He took and put the testimony into the ark." העדוּת does not mean "the revelation, so far as it existed already, viz., with regard to the erection of the sanctuary and institution of the priesthood (ch. 25-31), and so forth," as Knobel arbitrarily supposes, but "the testimony," i.e., the decalogue written upon the two tables of stone, or the tables of the covenant with the ten words; "the testimony," therefore, is an abbreviated expression for "the tables of testimony" (Exo 31:18, see at Exo 25:16). After the ark had been brought into the dwelling, he "hung the curtain" (vail, see at Exo 26:31; lit., placed it upon the hooks of the pillars), "and so covered over the ark of the testimony," since the ark, when placed in the back part of the dwelling, was covered or concealed from persons entering the dwelling or the holy place.
Arrangement of the front room of the dwelling. The table was placed on the right side, towards the north, and the shew-bread was laid upon it. לחם ערך does not signify "a row of bread," but the "position or placing of bread;" for, according to Lev 24:6-7, the twelve loaves of shew-bread were placed upon the table in two rows, corresponding to the size of the tables (two cubits long and one cubit broad). The candlestick was placed upon the left side, opposite to the table, and the golden altar in front of the curtain, i.e., midway between the two sides, but near the curtain in front of the most holy place (see at Exo 30:6). After these things had been placed, the curtain was hung in the door of the dwelling.
The altar of burnt-offering was then placed "before the door of the dwelling of the tabernacle," and the laver "between the tabernacle and the altar," from which it is evident that the altar was not placed close to the entrance to the dwelling, but at some distance off, though in a straight line with the door. The laver, which stood between the altar and the entrance to the dwelling, was probably placed more to the side; so that when the priests washed their hands and feet, before entering the dwelling or approaching the altar, there was no necessity for them to go round the altar, or to pass close by it, in order to get to the laver. Last of all the court was erected round about the dwelling and the altar, by the setting up of the pillars, which enclosed the space round the dwelling and the altar with their drapery, and the hanging up of the curtain at the entrance to the court. There is no allusion to the anointing of these holy places and things, as commanded in Exo 40:9-11, in the account of their erection; for this did not take place till afterwards, viz., at the consecration of Aaron and his sons as priests (Lev 8:10-11). It is stated, however, on the other hand, that as the vessels were arranged, Moses laid out the shew-bread upon the table (Exo 40:23), burned sweet incense upon the golden altar (Exo 40:27), and offered "the burnt-offering and meat-offering," i.e., the daily morning and evening sacrifice, upon the altar of burnt-offering (Exo 29:38-42). Consequently the sacrificial service was performed upon them before they had been anointed. Although this may appear surprising, there is no ground for rejecting a conclusion, which follows so naturally from the words of the text. The tabernacle and its furniture were not made holy things for the first time by the anointing; this simply sanctified them for the use of the nation, i.e., for the service which the priests were to perform in connection with them on behalf of the congregation (see at Lev 8:10-11). They were made holy things and holy vessels by the fact that they were built, prepared, and set up, according to the instructions given by Jehovah; and still more by the fact, that after the tabernacle had been erected as a dwelling, the "glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle" (Exo 40:34). But the glory of the Lord entered the dwelling before the consecration of the priests, and the accompanying anointing of the tabernacle and its vessels; for, according to Lev 1:1., it was from the tabernacle that Jehovah spake to Moses, when He gave him the laws of sacrifice, which were promulgated before the consecration of the priests, and were carried out in connection with it. But when the glory of the Lord had found a dwelling-place in the tabernacle, Moses was not required to offer continually the sacrifice prescribed for every morning and evening, and by means of this sacrifice to place the congregation in spiritual fellowship with its God, until Aaron and his sons had been consecrated for this service.
When the sanctuary, that had been built for the Lord for a dwelling in Israel, had been set up with all its apparatus, "the cloud covering the tabernacle, and the glory of Jehovah filled the dwelling," so that Moses was unable to enter. The cloud, in which Jehovah had hitherto been present with His people, and guided and protected them upon their journeying (see at Exo 13:21-22), now came down upon the tabernacle and filled the dwelling with the gracious presence of the Lord. So long as this cloud rested upon the tabernacle the children of Israel remained encamped; but when it ascended, they broke up the encampment to proceed onwards. This sign was Jehovah's command for encamping or going forward "throughout all their journeys" (Exo 40:36-38). This statement is repeated still more elaborately in Num 9:15-23. The mode in which the glory of Jehovah filled the dwelling, or in which Jehovah manifested His presence within it, is not described; but the glory of Jehovah filling the dwelling is clearly distinguished from the cloud coming down upon the tabernacle. It is obvious, however, from Lev 16:2, and Kg1 8:10-11, that in the dwelling the glory of God was also manifested in a cloud. At the dedication of the temple (Kg1 8:10-11) the expression "the cloud filled the house of Jehovah" is used interchangeably with "the glory of Jehovah filled the house of Jehovah." To consecrate the sanctuary, which had been finished and erected as His dwelling, and to give to the people a visible proof that He had chosen it for His dwelling, Jehovah filled the dwelling in both its parts with the cloud which shadowed forth His presence, so that Moses was unable to enter it. This cloud afterwards drew back into the most holy place, to dwell there, above the outspread wings of the cherubim of the ark of the covenant; so that Moses and (at a later period) the priests were able to enter the holy place and perform the required service there, without seeing the sign of the gracious presence of God, which was hidden by the curtain of the most holy place. So long as the Israelites were on their journey to Canaan, the presence of Jehovah was manifested outwardly and visibly by the cloud, which settled upon the ark, and rose up from it when they were to travel onward.
With the completion of this building and its divine consecration, Israel had now received a real pledge of the permanence of the covenant of grace, which Jehovah had concluded with it; a sanctuary which perfectly corresponded to the existing circumstances of its religious development, and kept constantly before it the end of its calling from God. For although God dwelt in the tabernacle in the midst of His people, and the Israelites might appear before Him, to pray for and receive the covenant blessings that were promised them, they were still forbidden to go directly to God's throne of grace. The barrier, which sin had erected between the holy God and the unholy nation, was not yet taken away. To this end the law was given, which could only increase their consciousness of sin and unworthiness before God. But as this barrier had already been broken through by the promise of the Lord, that He would meet the people in His glory before the door of the tabernacle at the altar of burnt-offering (Exo 29:42-43); so the entrance of the chosen people into the dwelling of God was effected mediatorially by the service of the sanctified priests in the holy place, which also prefigured their eventual reception into the house of the Lord. And even the curtain, which still hid the glory of God from the chosen priests and sanctified mediators of the nation, was to be lifted at least once a year by the anointed priest, who had been called by God to be the representative of the whole congregation. On the day of atonement the high priest was to sprinkle the blood of atonement in front of the throne of grace, to make expiation for the children of Israel because of all their sin (Lev 16), and to prefigure the perfect atonement through the blood of the eternal Mediator, through which the way to the throne of grace is opened to all believers, that they may go into the house of God and abide there for ever, and for ever see God.