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XV. The Curtains
The Tabernacle of Israel, by George de Charms, 1969
We have already treated of the significance of the tabernacle curtains in Chapters VI and VII, where we spoke of the materials of which they were made. Here we shall treat of their construction, their use, and their signification as curtains.
The covers of the tabernacle were four in number. The first in the order in which they were placed upon the tabernacle was called the "habitacle." It was made of linen with interwoven colors white, blue, purple, scarlet and gold.1 It was made in strips 4 cubits wide and 28 cubits long. There were ten of these, five being sewed together, and the other five also sewed together, to form two curtains measuring 20 by 28 cubits. Along one 28-cubit edge of each of these were placed fifty loops of blue by means of which the two parts were to be joined together. The joining was effected by S-shaped hooks of gold, called taches.2
Since this curtain was laid over the tabernacle in such a way that one 28-cubit edge was even with the eastern end of the wall, the joining edge fell 20 cubits to the west, at the point where the veil was to be hung as a division between the holy place and the holy of holies. The curtain continued to the west and fell down over the western wall of the tabernacle, almost, but not quite, reaching the ground. Along the sides outside the wall the curtain reached to within 11/6 cubits of the ground. The only part of this curtain which remained in view after the tabernacle was fully erected was that which formed the ceiling over the holy place and the holy of holies.
The four colors -- white, blue, purple, and scarlet -- were woven in narrow stripes forming a rainbow effect, while the gold was inwoven in an all-over pattern of cherubim. No indication is given as to the form of these cherubim, that is, whether they were human figures or some conventional design. It is probable that they were conventionalized forms suggesting the cherubim mentioned in Ezekiel, the essential part being outstretched wings. The reason for this conclusion is drawn from their signification, which is the protection of the Divine Providence, always represented in the Word by wings.3 It is to be noted that the cherubim were not embroidered, but were actually woven into the fabric on the loom, like a damask.
As already stated in the chapters cited, the curtains of the tabernacle in general represented the intellectual mind. This linen curtain being the inmost represents particularly the inmost of the intellectual mind. It is formed of the truths of religion drawn from the letter of the Word. The four colors represent these truths as they appear in different states of life: White represents truths learned from the love of knowing as a part of instruction and education; such truths are known as facts to be believed and acknowledged, but they are not yet understood as applied to the uses of life.4 Blue represents truths interiorly understood because they are learned from the love of spiritual understanding which is never satisfied with a mere recognition of a fact, but always seeks to acquire an intelligent grasp of its cause and its relation to other facts.5 Purple represents truths learned from a heavenly love of use, that is, from a desire to be of eternal service to others, especially as regards their spiritual life; such truths are principles and laws of spiritual life formulated from the teaching of the Word, that they may actually show how to perform a use." Scarlet represents truth seen in relation to civil and moral life, from the love of justice, honor, and uprightness in the conduct of the external uses of the world; this is the ultimate means by which regeneration is to be effected.7 The cherubim of gold represent the presence of the Lord with man in this knowledge from the Word, the Divine love ordering and organizing all things of the mind and thus giving man enlightenment and illustration. This is the Divine proceeding called the Holy Spirit, which inflows through the heavens with a protecting sphere. These cherubim are to the intellectual mind what the golden cherubim above the mercy seat were to the celestial degree of the mind.8
That these curtains should be made in strips is also deeply significant. The truths here represented are thosewhich are implanted in the internal memory through love, that same memory which is represented by the onyx stones worn on the shoulders of the high priest. There is this difference, however: these stones represent that memory active in any given state, its activity changing with the questions or problems that arise, and modifying the answers received through the Urim and Thummin. This curtain represents the whole mass of such truths stored up in the unconscious mind, and present as a source of knowledge and a background from which active thought at any given moment draws its material. No truths can be drawn up into this internal memory so as to become part of the man's actual mental equipment except such as are joined to good, that is, such as are sought from some end of love and brought into action. This is what is represented by the 4 cubits in width and 28 cubits in length. The number 4 signifies conjunction, and 28made up of 4 multiplied by 7represents conjunction even to fullness or holiness.9 That there were ten of these curtains, all made to the same measurements, represents that every possible state of life which enters into this internal mind and affects it, derives its quality from the conjunction of truth with good. By means of such states man's spiritual character is formed.10
It is to be noted that no more than a third part of these curtains could be seen. The rest were hidden by the boards of the walls. This also is significant, for so it is with the human mind. There is a portion of that which is so retained in the memory that it may be recalled at will. There is much more which lies stored up too deeply to be so recalled. That part of the curtain which is hidden represents that large share of our knowledge which lies buried in the unconscious, profoundly affecting all our thought, although we are unaware of its operation, modifying and giving quality to everything which comes to our consciousness.
There is also a difference between that portion of the curtain which forms the ceiling of the holy place and that which forms the ceiling of the holy of holies. The former represents truths which we clearly and rationally understand, and from which are drawn the active principles of our thought. But the latter represents truths which we realize must be so, and which we acknowledge because we see the need and the use of them, but which are too deep to be fully grasped. Such, for instance, are many of the truths given in the Word concerning the Lord's glorification, the resurrection of His body, the mode by which He governs the entire universe, as it were, at a glance and with complete knowledge of all its parts. This knowledge is, as the Psalmist says: "too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it."11 We know that it must be true, although we cannot understand how it is true. Such truths become clear only to those who enter into the celestial heaven, which is represented by the holy of holies; and yet those in the spiritual and natural heavens, and even men on earth, acknowledge them from love and believe them without fully grasping their significance. These truths, drawn from the Word by the intellectual mind through reading, and reflection, are the media of communication between men on earth and the angels of heaven. When they come into active thought, they open the gate to influx from the spiritual heaven. To the angels of this heaven, the understanding of these truths is the delight of their life. They inspire men with the love of understanding, and thus impart to them illustration and enlightenment. Indeed, specific truths from the Word bring influx from specific societies of that heaven. All the truths of the Church taken together give communication with all the societies of heaven. There is no other direct medium of communication and influx. For this reason the spiritual mind of man, where heavenly truths are loved and cherished may be compared to a canopy of heavenly influences, guarding and directing his spiritual life. This degree of man's mind can be opened and formed only by the secret operation of the Lord. This is what is meant in the 40th chapter of Isaiah where it is said of the Lord: "It is He that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in." (v. 22) And in Zechariah 12:1 "Jehovah that stretcheth out the heavens and layeth the foundation of the earth, and formeth the spirit of man within him."
Note that this curtain, although it covered the holy of holies as well as the holy place, represents, in its entirety, the spiritual heaven; for this surrounds the celestial heaven. There is no approach to the latter except through the former. It protects it, guards it, and, as it were, holds it in its bosom, as here the holy of holies, with its precious ark, was enclosed on all sides by the curtain we are considering. This representation of the spiritual heaven exists in spite of the fact that a certain portion of the curtain could be seen only from behind the veil. The deepest truths of the spiritual heaven can be fully understood only by celestial angels.
Over this there was now thrown a second curtain made of goats' wool, or as is said in one passage in the Word Explained, of sheeps' wool.12 It was entirely white, and it was similar in construction to the curtain of linen, being made in strips which were sewed together. These strips, however, were 4 cubits in width and 30 cubits in length, instead of 28, and there were eleven such strips instead of ten. Six of them were joined together, and five were joined together to form two curtainsthe one 24 by 30 cubits, and the other 20 by 30 cubits. Along one of the 30-cubit edges of each curtain there were placed fifty loops, not of blue, but of white; and these were fastened together by fifty hooks, not of gold, but of copper.13 The curtain formed of six strips was placed on the eastern end of the tabernacle ceiling, while that having five strips fell over the western end. The strip at the extreme east was doubled throughout its entire length, being folded under the linen curtain, covering it underneath as far back as the door of the tabernacle, so that nothing of the linen curtain might be seen from the court. As the result of this doubling, the seams of this woolen curtain fell in the middle of each strip in the linen curtain, thus preventing any moisture from penetrating. Therefore the point of juncture between the two parts of the woolen curtain fell 2 cubits west of the inner veil. Because these strips were 2 cubits longer than those of the linen curtain, they fell on either side of the tabernacle wall to a point that covered the linen curtain completely.
As we have noted in speaking of the materials, this second curtain represents, not the perfect spiritual truths of religion derived from the Word, but the truths of philosophy drawn by enlightened reason from the testimony of experience. They are of intermediate character, forming a bridge, as it were, between science and religion. By them we are able to pass over from the material ideas which have been received through the senses to the spiritual concepts of the internal mind. Without this bridge of philosophy no communication or conjunction could be effected between the internal mind and the external. The truths of philosophy can be rightly understood only in the light of spiritual principles. But philosophy looks primarily to the application of truth from the facts of nature. We arrive at such truth by seeking to understand the Divine Providence as it is manifested in the obvious laws and activities of the material universe. The origin of the world, the creation of all things, the perpetuation of organic life, the Lord's Divine end and purpose in creation as revealed in the history of the rocks, the planets, and the stars, as well as in the orderly evolution of vegetable, animal, and human life, all these are subjects of philosophic inquiry. They lie beyond the realm of immediate observation. For their solution they require a process of reasoning which may be either true or false. If it is true, it will be derived of necessity from spiritual insight. It will begin in the acknowledgment of the Lord, of heaven, of the spiritual sun, of the existence of the relation between the two worlds, and of many other fundamental truths which in themselves are spiritual. But this understanding will bring spiritual light to bear upon natural experience, and will offer a satisfactory solution for the problems posed by natural phenomena. Such truth is more general, more obscure, more fallible than are the pure truths of the Word; yet it is essential to every advance in spiritual understanding, for it provides illustrations, examples, analogies, that bring the truth of heaven into more perfect focus before the mind's eye. This is illustrated by Swedenborg's preparation for his mission. When we think of a spiritual truth and seek to understand it rationally, we must clothe it with some such philosophic conception as may form a tangible body through which the spiritual can be seen. Wherefore this truth of philosophy is Divinely provided as a covering for the truth of heaven and as a further accommodation of all such truth to the needs and requirements of man. So also the woolen curtain formed a protective covering over the curtain of linen. When we are inside the holy place, that is, when we are in spiritual enlightenment, we see truth directly from the Word, and we perceive no need for philosophy because our interest is focussed upon purely spiritual things. But when we are in a natural state we may be said to stand in the court of the tabernacle. Then we can think of spiritual things only in terms of philosophical ideas. This is illustrated by the fact that the woolen curtain was folded under the linen curtain as far back as the door of the tabernacle, thus concealing it from the view of anyone standing in the court.
Because philosophy serves as an introduction to spiritual understanding the woolen curtain was visible only where it formed the ceiling of a sort of vestibule at the east end of the tabernacle. The strips of the woolen curtain were 30 cubits in length. The number 30 signifies the beginning of a new state, and by means of philosophy man acquires a new understanding of truth.14 This understanding is of no value, however, unless it is applied to life, and for this reason each strip was 4 cubits in breadth because the number 4 signifies the conjunction of truth with good through the performance of a use. It is also significant that the two parts of this curtain were of unequal length. One was composed of five strips and the other of six. Five and six are components of thirty, and have a similar representation.
It is evident that the tabernacle would not have been protected from the elements by these two curtains alone. They are of materials too fine to resist the rain and wind. So also the human mind could not operate in the outer world if it had only spiritual and philosophic truth. More ultimate and effective coverings are necessary, even as over the surface of the body there is not a single skin, but a four-fold covering, each with its own specific use, the outer ones alone being hard and resistent enough to afford adequate protection.
So we find a third and a fourth curtain prescribed for the tabernacle. The third covering is said to be made of rams' skins dyed red. No dimensions are given for it in the Scripture, but it is probable that it was the largest of all the curtains and covered over the white curtain completely, except for the portion seen at the entrance, as described above. The rams' skins were sewed together in a manner still in use among primitive peoples, and this has been represented in the tabernacle model by the joining of irregular pieces of leather, too large indeed to be in proportion, but yet sufficient to give some correct idea of how the curtain was made. If this curtain of ramskin had been smaller than the outmost one of kid-skin it would have been completely hidden. It must have been longer in order to provide that a portion of it might be visible along the outside of the wall just above the ground. The reason for this is noted.15 Because of the many seams formed by the joining of the skins, such a curtain alone would not be impervious to water; but because it was covered with the fourth curtain this difficulty was overcome.
The last curtain was made of skins which, in the Authorized Version of the Bible, are called "badger skins." On this material we have already spoken and have given the reasons why it is to be translated "kid skins."16 This curtain is made like the one of rams' skins. Its dimensions are not given. We have made it of such a size that when it is in place about a cubit's breadth of the red curtain may be seen around its lower edge. These last two curtains represent respectively the truths of civil and moral life, and the truths of social decorum -- politeness and refinement. These form the outer covering of the mind, whereby a man appears before the world. Also, they represent the principles of practical life in business and social contacts. The outmost curtain represents the scientific facts stored in the memory, and continually increased in number by experience. These form the basis of all man's thinking.
This curtain was fastened to the ground at the base of the wall by copper pegs and linen cords that stretched it taut. Other linen cords extended from pegs at the top of the boards. These passed through all the curtains, after the manner of a tent pole. From these pegs, linen cords extended to copper pegs driven into the ground some distance from the base of the wall, and by this means the kidskin curtain that formed the outer roof of the tabernacle, was tightly stretched. The number of pegs and cords is not mentioned, nor are we told just where they were to be placed; but the fact that they were used for this purpose is clearly indicated.17
From all that is here said, it is evident how minutely the particulars recorded in the Word concerning the tabernacle spiritually represent the proper structure and formation of the human mind.18