The Brazen Altar and The Courtyard
Exodus 27. Having described the tabernacle, its construction and coverings (ch.26), its vessels of gold for the holy place and the holy of holies (ch.25), we now get the outer courtyard of the tabernacle, with its principal vessel: the brazen or copper altar. It would seem that the laver is omitted in ch.27 because, like the altar of incense, it has especially to do with priesthood. The inner chamber, the holiest of all, represents the third heaven; the immediate presence of God. The sanctuary, the holy place, represents the second heaven; the spiritual realm called the “heavenly places” where we are seated with Christ, and where our priesthood is. The court of the tabernacle represents the first heaven; the physical universe where we live and breathe. This is where the Tabernacle as a type begins, with this earth. God has come down to meet man in his need, and so it is there that our relationship with God begins. The principle element in the courtyard is the Brazen Altar, which speaks of the work of Christ; He was “lifted up” on the cross from the earth to deal with the issue of sin. An Israelite could go no further than the brazen altar. He was free to come inside the gate of the courtyard with is sacrifice, but he could not go into the holy place. In type this is what the sinner must do. He must come to the cross and there see and accept by faith the work of Christ for him. Then he becomes a priest and can go into the sanctuary where there is light, food, and prayer.
The Brazen (or Copper) Altar (27:1-8)
1 And thou shalt make the altar of acacia-wood, five cubits the length, and five cubits the breadth; the altar shall be square; and the height thereof three cubits. 2 And thou shalt make its horns at the four corners thereof; its horns shall be of itself; and thou shalt overlay it with copper. vv.1-2 Construction of the Altar. Usually in scripture when we read of “the altar”, or “the altar of Israel”, without any other designation, it simply refers to the brazen altar that is described in Exodus 27. This altar was the basis of Israel’s relationship with God. This altar was was made of acacia wood overlaid with copper. The ark and other vessels of the tabernacle were made of acacia would overlaid with gold, representing the humanity of Christ in conjunction with His deity. We have a similar thing with this altar, only the metal was copper not gold. Gold represents divine righteousness as the quality of the Divine nature, seen in Christ. Copper (not brass) represents divine righteousness in action, especially in judgment according to responsibility, or purification by judgment (Gen. 4:22; 2 Sam. 3:34; Rev. 1:15). Copper has a higher melting point than gold, therefore it can endure the fire. The altar therefore represents Christ in connection with His death, as the Sin Bearer. He alone answered the claims of divine righteousness, and fully bore the judgment of God against sin. The brazen altar is like what we have in Romans; God’s righteousness in the death of Christ acting for us, while we are here in this world. The ark is like what we have in 2 Corinthians 5:21; Christ presenting us before God as the display of God’s righteousness. In contrast to the thousands of sacrifices of the earthly tabernacle, “we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb. 10:10). The dimensions of the altar are five by five by three. The numeral five speaks of human weakness under responsibility. The numeral three speaks of completeness according to God. On the cross Jesus took up the issue of man’s responsibility fully – five by five square in the horizonal (manward) direction – and satisfied the nature of God fully – three in the vertical (Godward) direction – with respect to it. It is interesting that the dimensions of Solomon’s scaffold were identical to those of the brazen altar (2 Chron. 6:13). This would indicate that the depth of all the Lord’s suffering (brazen altar) will be answered in full by His glory (scaffold)! The horns would be used to secure the sacrifice to the altar (Psa. 118:27). At times, a guilty person would flee to the altar and lay hold of the horns of the altar, an act of unconditional surrender, which in certain cases was accepted (1 Kings 1:50; 1 Kings 2:28; Ex. 21:14).
3 And thou shalt make its pots to cleanse it of the fat, its shovels, and its bowls, and its forks, and its firepans; for all the utensils thereof thou shalt employ copper. v.3 The Utensils. This brazen altar was to be heavily used. In Lev. 6:13 we find that the fire on the brazen altar “shall ever be burning upon the altar, it shall never go out.” A wide range of offerings would be made: burnt offerings, meal offerings, peace offerings, and sin or trespass Therefore, there were many utensils that were required for the operation of the altar; pots, shovels, bowls, forks, and firepans. All of these were to be made of copper, in keeping with the character of that altar.
4 And thou shalt make for it a grating of network of copper; and on the net shalt thou make four copper rings at its four corners; 5 and thou shalt put it under the ledge of the altar beneath, and the net shall be to the very middle of the altar. 6 And thou shalt make staves for the altar, staves of acacia-wood, and overlay them with copper. 7 And its staves shall be put into the rings, that the staves may be on both sides of the altar, when it is carried. vv.4-5 The Grating, Rings, and Staves. The grate or network that would hold the sacrifice until the fire consumed it was to be made of copper, and installed halfway up the height of the altar. Somehow the rings by which the altar was carried were part of the grating. Perhaps this would suggest that there ought to be a practical bearing of the sacrifice of Christ in our daily walk; “bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus” (2 Cor. 4:10-11). There were staves also for the brazen altar, made of acacia wood overlaid with copper.
8 Hollow with boards shalt thou make it: as it hath been shewn thee on the mountain, so shall they make it. v.8 Concluding Directions. The overall construction of the altar was to be a hollow box, made of boards, then overlaid with copper. There were many small details that are not given here, but Moses was shown the pattern of the altar on the mountain, and he was to see that it was made just as God had showed him. This is the fourth time we have the expression, “as it hath been shewn thee on the mountain, so shall they make it”. Following the pattern of the house of God is very important!
The Courtyard (27:9-19)
9 And thou shalt make the court of the tabernacle. On the south side, southward, hangings for the court of twined byssus; a hundred cubits the length for the one side, 10 and the twenty pillars thereof, and their twenty bases of copper, the hooks of the pillars and their connecting-rods of silver. 11 And likewise on the north side in length, hangings a hundred cubits long, and its twenty pillars, and their twenty bases of copper; the hooks of the pillars and their connecting-rods of silver. 12 — And the breadth of the court on the west side, hangings of fifty cubits; their pillars ten, and their bases ten. 13 — And the breadth of the court on the east side, eastward, fifty cubits; 14 the hangings on the one wing, of fifteen cubits; their pillars three, and their bases three. 15 And on the other wing hangings of fifteen cubits; their pillars three, and their bases three. 16 — And for the gate of the court a curtain of twenty cubits, of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and twined byssus, embroidered with needlework; their pillars four, and their bases four. vv.9-16 The Hangings of the Court and the Gate. The courtyard for the Tabernacle was to be arranged the same orientation every time it was set up, with the courtyard being one hundred cubits by fifty cubits, the long direction going from east to west, with the gate on the eastern side. The courtyard was enclosed with hangings of fine linen that were suspended between pillars. Each pillar was spaced five cubits apart for a total of sixty pillars, and they were connected with silver rods, and set upon copper bases. the fine linen that made the enclosure of the courtyard speaks of the spotless holy humanity of the Lord Jesus; e.g. “righteousnesses” (Rev. 19:7). Although never told it was white, we know it was. The hangings would make a separation between between the tabernacle and the camp of Israel, dividing what was holy from what was common. As such, the hangings speak of separation from defilement, and also testimony to the world. On the eastern side there were two wings of fifteen cubits each, leaving twenty cubits for the gate of the courtyard. The gap between pillars at the gate would admit the brazen altar, just as the gap between the pillars of the tabernacle would admit the ark. The gate of the courtyard was a curtain of twenty cubits composed of the same colors that the two veils of the tabernacle were made from; “of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and twined byssus, embroidered with needlework”. The gate speaks of Christ as the way of salvation and access to God, who alone could say, “I am the door” (John 10:7), and “no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me” (John 14:6). Again, these colors speak of the various glories of Christ, made known to any who will come to Him in faith. Notice that there were no cherubim on this curtain, showing that the way was open. So it is with the gospel; it goes out to “whosoever” (John 3:16). He is available to all, but we must have personal faith.
17 All the pillars of the court round about shall be fastened together with rods of silver; their hooks of silver, and their bases of copper. 18 The length of the court shall be a hundred cubits, and the breadth fifty everywhere, and the height five cubits of twined byssus; and their bases of copper. 19 All the utensils of the tabernacle for the service thereof and all the pegs thereof, and all the pegs of the court shall be of copper. vv.17-19 Pillars, Rods, Hooks, and Pegs. The pillars be supported and separated from the sand of the desert by bases made of copper color representing divine righteousness and judgment against sin. The pillars will be joined to one another with a set of series of hooks and rods made of silver, representing the glory of redemption. The height of the enclosure was five cubits, which is connected with human weakness under responsibility. They were evidently “cords” (Ex. 35:18) that were used to keep the pillars upright, attached to copper pegs that were driven into the ground. In Ex. 38:17 we find that the pillars were capped with an overlay of silver. It is interesting that anything touching the ground, whether it be the bases or the pegs, were copper. Meanwhile anything that was off the ground, the hooks, bands, and caps were of silver. We are not told what the material of the pillars was, but without any other structural material described in ch.25, we gather they were made of acacia wood. The pillars might represent individual believers living here in this world as a testimony for God. Our foundation is copper, the finished work of Christ on the cross. What connects us to one another and what crowns our life here in this world is silver, the glory of redemption.
The Continual Lamp (27:20-21)
20 And thou shalt command the children of Israel, that they bring thee olive oil, pure, beaten, for the light, to light the lamp continually. 21 In the tent of meeting outside the veil, which is before the testimony, Aaron and his sons shall dress them from evening to morning before Jehovah: it is an everlasting statute, for their generations, on the part of the children of Israel. vv.20-21 Oil for the Lamp. These last two verses are transitional, and really open out into the subject of priesthood and man’s approach to God. The lamp in the holy place was to be continually burning, giving light in the sanctuary. In order to fuel the lamp the children of Israel had to give pure olive oil. This shows that the source of spiritual illumination for the believer is the Spirit of God.