God’s Word for You
Numbers 3:33-37 The framework of worship
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, June 3, 2021
33 From Merari came the Mahlite clan and the Mushite clan. These were the Merarite clans. 34 Those who were registered, counting all the males who were a month old and up, were 6,200. 35 The tribal chief of the father’s house for the Merarite clans was Zuriel son of Abihail. They camped on the north side of the Dwelling. 36 The appointed duties for the sons of Merari involved the Dwelling’s boards, its crossbars, its posts, its bases, all its equipment—everything related to this work, 37 also the posts for the surrounding courtyard, their bases, their tent pegs, and their ropes.
The framework of worship
There are seven kinds of items listed here for the structure of the Dwelling or Tabernacle. Moses presents them in a logical descending order of size or weight. First, there was the qeresh. These qereshim were the heavy boards that formed the solid frame of the shrine, the Holy Place and the attached Most Holy Place. Qeresh is also the Hebrew word for a deck plank on a ship (Ezekiel 27:6). The details of these boards are given as follows: Upright frames 15 feet long and 2¼ feet wide with two ‘projections’ set parallel to each other. There were 52 of these boards: 20 for the north side, 20 for the south side, 6 for the west (back), and 2 for the east (front), with doubled planks at the corners (Exodus 26:15-25). The ‘projections’ (Hebrew yadoth “hands”) were probably tenons for a mortise and tenon joint into the silver bases. There are examples of mortise and tenon joints in Egyptian furniture from this period and much earlier.
The bariach was a bar or crossbar, the wood that makes an x-shape on a wooden gate. Running a diagonal board behind a set of other boards adds strength. We see this word appearing several times when Nehemiah was repairing the gates of Jerusalem after the exiles returned from Babylon (Nehemiah 3:3, 3:6, 3:13-15). However, according to Exodus 26:28, the crossbars of the Dwelling ran across the middle of the structure, not diagonally. Both the boards and the crossbars of the Dwelling or Tabernacle were overlaid with gold.
An ‘amud was a pillar, like the stone pillars of Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 7:6), but translated here as “post.” These were the posts used to hold the curtains of the outer courtyard. These wooden posts were more than six feet tall (four cubits), since that was the height of the curtains themselves, not counting the bronze bases. There were 20 of these posts to the north side, 20 to the south, 10 to the west, and another 10 at the east side which was also the entrance. The four posts in the middle of the east side made up the only doorway to the sanctuary.
An ’eden was a base; this word is not related to the place name “Eden” which had a different spelling. The bases were made of bronze, which is a hard and durable alloy of copper and tin. A bronze base could easily be cast with a mortise hole already in place to receive the tenon (yadoth) from the corresponding post. The bases for the boards of the Holy Place were not bronze, but silver. Although everything else in the Holy Place was overlaid with gold, the bases were cast from silver. My opinion is that because gold is a soft metal, gold bases might bend or the mortises might widen under the stress of high winds, and so a stronger material was required. Silver would be a good second choice. But please understand: the facts here are accurate, but the reason I just gave is my opinion, not a fact given in Scripture.
The final three items far outnumbered everything else in the list. Tent pegs, cords, and other “equipment.” The last word, k’li, “vessels,” could mean anything from the bags they stored pegs and cords in, to the hammers, knives, axes, adzes, and other things for replacing cracked or broken poles and boards.
All three clans of Levites had important tasks, without which the courtyard and the Dwelling of the tabernacle could not function. Fabric, furniture and framework were all necessary and vital for the function of the Lord’s dwelling place among his people. Today, our ushers and altar committees have related tasks, as do our boards of properties and similar groups. But anyone who has worshiped or served in a mission setting knows that no structure or furniture at all is really required for worship. A service can be conducted around a kitchen table, by a hospital bed, in a living room, in a backyard, or at a graveside. What is truly necessary is the Word of God preached to God’s people. To this we add our prayers, confessions of sin and of faith, and music if possible. Our path of worship today has its roots in the synagogue worship of the exiled Jews, but not really in the sacrifices of the tabernacle and temple. We preach Christ crucified, and therefore the sacrifices that foreshadowed Jesus are fulfilled and at an end. But they served their excellent purpose: They showed the believers of the Old Testament the work of Jesus in a way that they could understand. St. Augustine put it this way:
“The Old Testament is the New Testament concealed,
the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed.”
Pastor Timothy Smith