Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel logo

God’s Word for You

Numbers 3:27-32 The furniture of worship

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, June 2, 2021

27 From Kohath came the Amramite clan, the Izharite clan, the Hebronite clan, and the Uzzielite clan. These were the Kohathite clans. 28 Counting all the males who were a month old and up, there were 8,600 to perform the duties of the sanctuary. 29 The clans of the descendants of Kohath camped on the south side of the Dwelling. 30 The tribal chief of the father’s house for the Kohathite clans was Elizaphan son of Uzziel. 31 Their duties involved the ark, the table, the lampstand, the altars, the sanctuary utensils with which they serve, and the screen—everything related to this work. 32 The tribal chief over the Levite tribal chiefs was Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest. He was in charge of those performing the duties of the sanctuary.

The furniture of worship

The Kohathites were responsible for the care of the articles we would think of as the furniture of worship; everything that was not a post, a pole, or a curtain.

The most important item was the Ark of the Covenant. This was a wooden chest 3 feet 9 inches long and just over 2 feet wide and high. It was overlaid with gold. Like all of the large items, it had rings so that poles could be inserted for easier carrying, something David’s men did not consider when they recovered the ark from the Philistines (2 Samuel 6:3). The cover for this chest was heavy, cast from pure gold, and it depicted two cherubim (winged angels) facing one another with their wings spread over the cover and with their faces looking at it (Exodus 37:9). There was not much in this chest: at first, just the two tablets of the ten commandments. Later, a golden jar with some manna was placed inside, and also Aaron’s staff, but the story of that staff and why it went into the ark will happen later in this book (Numbers 17:1-11).

The lampstand was the light for the sanctuary. Its description is given in Exodus 25:31-40, but it is also depicted in Rome in the Arch of Titus, since the lampstand from Solomon’s temple was carried away by the Romans when they destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD.

The golden incense stand was there to allow incense to burn and represent the prayers of the people ascending to God: “The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel’s hand” (Revelation 8:4).

There was a table, wood overlaid with gold, about nine inches shorter than the incense stand. On this low table (just 27” tall) was set large loaves of unleavened bread, baked fresh every week, one loaf for each of the twelve tribes of Israel. One branch of the Kohathite family baked this bread (1 Chronicles 9:32), and a late tradition names the family as the house of Garmu.

The altar was made of wood overlaid with bronze, 4½ feet tall and 7½ long and wide. It would have required several men to carry any distance, weighing something more than a king-sized bed but less than a funeral casket. Unlike the furniture inside the tent, it was overlaid with bronze, as were most of the other items in the courtyard. As one approached the Holy Place, the metals got more precious and the fabric got more decorative.

Another bronze item was the bronze basin or “sea.” This was necessary because the priests had to bathe their hands and feet whenever they entered the tent and whenever they approached the altar to make a sacrifice of any kind (Exodus 30:19-21).

There were many tools or utensils for the altar: “pots to remove the ashes, shovels, sprinkling bowls, meat forks, and fire pans” (Exodus 27:3) and the metal grating for the altar with its “bronze network” (Exodus 27:4).

These articles, the furniture of worship, were cared for by this clan of Levites and preserved for hundreds of years. They knew just how to prepare the wicks for the lamp, the recipe for the oil and the special incense, as well as the way to make excellent unleavened bread. Some of the furniture is repeated in our Christian churches today: the altar, the lampstand, the basin of water for washing, and a table for the bread. The altar and the lampstand (candles) are often combined today. Only thank-offerings are laid on our altar, since the sacrifice of Christ is completed. “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more. And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin” (Hebrews 10:17). The water basin is for baptism, and whatever form the table takes (a railing, or a step on the floor) is for the Lord’s Supper. Both of our sacraments were therefore prefigured in the furniture of the ancient tabernacle. The feature of our churches that was not present in the tabernacle was a place to preach. The tabernacle was not designed to accommodate hundreds of worshipers all at once. The word of God was locked away then; it is openly proclaimed now. When you are next in church, consider the furniture that you see, and what it’s for. See how the roots of these things go back to Moses and Aaron. Remember that the reason for what we use today is either to receive the gospel, to proclaim the gospel, or to offer the gospel. We do not merit anything by using these things or by attending worship, but we learn about Jesus, whose merits are ours, completely and thoroughly ours, by faith.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


Browse Devotion Archive