[K:NWTS 12/1 (May 1997) 3-9]

Clothing From Heaven

Exodus 39

Douglas B. Clawson

Kerux 12N1A1

As we have considered these last chapters of the book of Exodus, I have labored to show that what God is doing here at the foot of Sinai is like what happened in the creation and fall and redemption of man. I have attempted to show that the tabernacle was a type of the garden of Eden. It was like paradise where God and man met. It was a living and functioning example of what it was to be like for Israel to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

If an Israelite could have sat and watched the comings and goings of the priests and Levites at the tabernacle, he would have been watching a type of the garden of Eden. He would have seen a type of the Kingdom of God and ultimately a shadow of the new heavens and new earth. Only unlike Adam and Eve who, on account of their sin, were forced to live outside of but within sight of the garden, God provided a way for Israel to come within the barriers.

Along the lines of thinking that I have already proposed in approaching these chapters, chapter 39, with its completion of the clothing for the priests and the examination of the completed parts of the tabernacle and its court, is reminiscent of the sixth day of creation.

In Genesis 1:24 and following, we read about the sixth day of creation.  

And God said, Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: Livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind. And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.

Then God said, let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground ....

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

As on the sixth day of creation, when in his final work of creation God made man, the people of God here, reflecting God's creative work, make as their final work, the clothing which must be filled by the man and the men who will serve in the presence of the coming God. They cannot fill the clothing, only God can do that. It is something like God forming the body of man from the dust of the ground and then breathing into the man to make him a living being. Israel made the clothing of the priest; it would be up to God to fill it.

Once the clothing is completed, like God who on the sixth day examined all and pronounced it good, Moses here examines all the work of the workmen, sees that all has been completed as the Lord commanded and blesses the people. This examination is not of a people who have labored in their own strength. This is an examination of a people who have sinned and have been forgiven; a people who once wanted other gods and who now want this God; a people who once only wanted gods to lead, but who now want a God who will live with them and allow them to live with him.

Just as with the other chapters that repeat the material found before the incident with the calf, we will not reconsider the details that we looked at in Exodus 28. Rather we will look at the material here in light of the grace revealed after Israel's sin with the calf, and the grace to be revealed in the coming of God to dwell with his people. God has forgiven his people. He has shown them in the example of Moses' relationship to himself, the relationship they can have. God has made his people want him and now only the clothing of the priests must be finished.

Having completed the construction of the tent, the ark of the covenant, its atonement cover, the lampstand, the table of the bread of presence, the golden altar of incense, the copper laver, the altar of burnt offering and the curtains for the barrier around the tabernacle, all that now remained to be described for the completion of the worship of God's people is the clothing for the priests. All was done exactly as God had revealed it to Moses, and as Moses had instructed Bezalel and Oholiab. God combined the Spirit-given wisdom of the craftsmen with the God-revealed knowledge that was given to Moses.

God's will was done on earth as it was in heaven. In fact, that point is made excruciatingly clear in this chapter. Look at verse 1—"as the Lord commanded Moses"; verse 5—"as the Lord commanded Moses"; verse 7—"as the Lord commanded Moses"; verse 21—" as the Lord commanded Moses"; verse 26—"as the Lord commanded Moses"; verse 29—"as the Lord commanded Moses"; verse 31—"as the Lord commanded Moses"; verse 32—"The Israelites did everything just as the Lord commanded Moses"; and verses 42 and 43—"The Israelites had done all the work just as the Lord had commanded Moses. Moses inspected the work and saw that they had done it just as the Lord had commanded." God's will was done on earth as it was in heaven and all is almost ready for God to come to his people. In the next to the last chapter of the Book of Exodus, we discover that the tabernacle and the clothing of the priest are completed. And behold, all is very good.

I. The Completed Clothing of the Priests

From the same woven material with which they made the inner curtains of the tabernacle, the children of Israel made the garments for the High Priest.

In the description of the ephod here in chapter 39, we have a description of the manner in which the ephod was fabricated that is not found anywhere else. The gold was hammered into sheets and then cut into thin strips so that it could be woven like thread into the ephod. The ephod and the stones and the shoulder pieces with the memorial stones were made for the High Priest exactly as the Lord commanded Moses. Then a breast-piece was made with its gem stones and gold rings and waistband. Everything was made exactly as the Lord commanded Moses.  

The skilled craftsmen also made the robe and the linen pomegranates around the hem of the robe, the band around the opening, the bells and the tunics for all of the other priests. Everything was made exactly as the Lord commanded Moses. They made the linen tunics for the rest of the priests with the turban, the headbands, the undergarments and sash. Everything was made as the Lord had commanded.

They also made the plate that fits on the turban and that hangs between the eyes of the priests. They made the gold plate with the words "Holy to the Lord" engraved on it. Even this simple plate was made exactly as the Lord had commanded Moses.

As we have seen in previous passages, these priests—these servants—were to be like the servants, the angels, who serve in the tabernacle in heaven (as seen by the apostle John in Revelation 15:5, 6). Everything was done on earth as it is in heaven. That is what was revealed to Israel in all this.

Israel was being pointed beyond the earthly to the heavenly, just as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had been. That is why everything is repeated from the earlier chapter 28, where God revealed the garments of the high priests and priests on the mountain. That is why we find it written over and over again that it was done as the Lord had commanded Moses.

God called Israel to be a kingdom of priests—a manifestation on earth of what is in heaven. God was clothing Israel's priests exactly as he had revealed to Moses, so that Israel would see in the priests that Israel should be clothed exactly as God had revealed from heaven. No, not in fine colored linen, jewels and gold, but in the righteousness, the holiness and true knowledge which those precious things shadowed.

In writing about what will happen at the return of Jesus Christ when the dead in Christ are raised, Paul says, "For the perishable must be clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality" (1 Cor. 15:53). But what about now? How should those who have been called and made priests of the most high God be clothed?

In Romans 13:13, Paul writes "Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather cloth yourselves with Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful flesh." The sins that Paul describes here are the very sins that characterized the lives of the Israelites. The shadows which were placed before the eyes of Israel as an example of how they should really be clothed pointed them to Christ. The fulfillment of these shadows has been given to you. You must be clothed in Christ—his righteousness, holiness and true knowledge.

That is why Paul also commands the Colossians to clothe themselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, to bear with one another and forgive one another as the Lord has forgiven them and over all these to put on love" (3:12-14). That is why Peter tells believing wives that their beauty should not come from the clothes, gold and jewels, but from the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit (1 Pet. 3:3).

You must be clothed with Christ, the Savior and Lord revealed from heaven, just as the priests were to be clothed exactly as the Lord revealed to Moses from heaven. Just as their linen, gold and jewels were formed and put together exactly as revealed, the character of your life must be exactly like Christ's. His life in yours; his character in you.

II. The Completed Tabernacle

This tent, this dwelling place for God while he lived among his people, was fundamentally a place where God would be present, but present for a purpose. God would be present in order to meet with his people on a continual basis.

Only Moses had seen the heavenly vision and received the specific instructions from God. The skilled workmen had the words and they had the Spirit of Wisdom, but only Moses had seen the original. Everything from the tent to the furniture to the utensils and the tent pegs and posts was brought to Moses so that he could compare what was on earth and see if it corresponded to what had been revealed from heaven.  

Now in his examination of the completed work, what Moses saw is exactly what had been declared over and over. Everything was made as the Lord commanded Moses. Moses' response to this obedience, to this zeal to do the will of the Lord, was to bless the people. In essence, Moses saw that all was good.

Oh that at his return, Jesus would see that in him and through him, all that we have done has been done exactly as the Lord has commanded, exactly as it has been revealed from heaven through Jesus Christ. Oh that Jesus would bless us on that day with the words, "Well done my good and faithful servants." Oh that he would see that all is very good.

Like the making of the garden for man to dwell in, God has instructed his people to do what Adam was to have done, to work on caring for and building the paradise in which God and man would have fellowship, communion and union together. For you, such building takes place not in the building of a kingdom for this present earth, or in the construction of anything built with human hands. For you, it is the building here on earth, by Christ, of that kingdom of heaven, that kingdom of God, that kingdom of Christ which Jesus has begun in himself.

The heavenly kingdom is not characterized on earth by earthly power, an earthly nature or earthly extension. It is characterized as the manifestation of a new creation—a creation, a paradise, a tabernacle where the will of the Father is carried out in the hearts and minds of believers.

Two things remain for Israel beside the actual setting up of the tabernacle—namely for God to descend and inhabit the dwelling place and for God to fill the clothing of the priests. God will do the first in the next chapter. He will do the second when he has the priests ordained. Yet even these remaining events are only anticipatory to the fullness of their reality to be accomplished in Jesus Christ. In Jesus, God does both. In Jesus, God comes to dwell among his people; and in Christ, God is the one to fill the clothing of the priest who is the perfect mediator for his people.

For you, God has caused the reality of what Israel had only in shadow to be fulfilled. Jesus is the paradise of God for you. It is in Christ that man meets God and finds communion in him and union with him. He is the ultimate paradigm for the garden of Eden, the kingdom of God and the New Heavens and the New Earth. In Jesus, man meets and walks and talks and has communion with God.

In him, all is prepared and laid out before the Father and seen to be exactly as the Father has commanded. In him, you too are placed before the Father, like a curtain, a jewel, a board, a tent peg. In Christ, God sees that you have been made and are being made exactly as the Lord has commanded from heaven.  

In Christ, God blesses you and sees that all is very good.

Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church
Hanover Park, Illinois