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XXIV. The Removal of the Tabernacle and the Order of March
The Tabernacle of Israel, by George de Charms, 1969
The construction of the tabernacle, and the order according to which the congregation of Israel was encamped, represented as to every detail the heavens as they are Divinely ordered by the Lord. They also pictured the mind of man as it is ordered by regeneration.
This representation was altered, but by no means destroyed when the tabernacle was taken down to be removed to another place. This removal was effected according to an order that is minutely described in the Sacred Scripture, and is deeply significant.
It may be remembered that as long as the tabernacle remained in one place a pillar of cloud rose above it by day, and a pillar of fire by night. When, however, the time arrived for the congregation to undertake a journey, the pillar of cloud and fire was removed from its position over the holy of holies. At once when this happened, trumpets were sounded, and everyone was called upon to prepare for departure. The sons of Israel struck their tents, packed their goods, and formed themselves into the prescribed order of procession. The priests and Levites meanwhile, prepared the tabernacle for removal.
This was done in the following order: First Aaron and the priests entered into the holy place, unfastened the veil from its supports, and threw it back over the ark and the cherubim. They then folded it tightly around the ark, and bound it securely with linen cords. Over the veil they then placed a covering of kidskin, and over this one of blue linen.
The furniture in the holy place was next prepared for removal from the tabernacle. The golden vessels, the plates and coverings from the table of shewbread, with all the bowls and instruments that were used in connection with this table, were arranged on top of it, being thus enclosed by the crown, which, it will be remembered, extended about a palm's breadth above the surface of the table. The rods for carrying it were then placed in the orbs, and over the whole was thrown a cloth of scarlet linen, surmounted by a final covering of kidskin, the whole being tightly bound about with cords. This binding is not mentioned, but would be necessary in order that the covers might be held securely in place.
The lights in the lampstand having been extinguished and the lamps removed, the stand itself was covered with a cloth of blue linen, and over this a covering of kidskin. In the folds of these coverings were placed the lamps, the snuffers, and any other instruments used in connection with the care of the lampstand. The whole was again bound about with cords. It is said that the lampstand was placed upon a rod, by which is meant, either that it was bound by ropes to a rod, or more probably, that it was placed upon a sort of platform between two rods, and carried upon the shoulders. This at least is the mode depicted on the arch of Titus, as that by which it was carried in triumphal procession through the streets of Rome.
Next, the altar of incense, the golden censer and other instruments used in connection with it having been placed on top of it, was similarly protected, first with a cloth of blue linen, and then with a cover of kidskin, its rods by which it was carried having been placed in the orbs.
Finally, other sacred vessels, dishes, and accessories of the holy place were wrapped first in blue linen and then in kidskin.
Then the altar of burnt offering was prepared for the journey. Pieces of burning wood were placed in fire-pans, to be carried in the procession. The fire was never allowed to go out. If it should be extinguished in one pan, it was lighted again from the fire in other pans. After the ashes had been removed, the altar was covered, first with a purple cloth and then with kidskin; the rods were then put in the orbs.
Nothing is said as to the covering of the laver, nor as to how it was carried. It is probable, however, that the mode of its conveyance was similar to that employed for the lampstand.1
All this was done by the priests before the Levites were allowed to enter the holy place, because the sacred vessels and furniture were to be seen only by the priests. The Kohathites then entered under the direction of Eleazar, and carried out the furniture to a place whence they might take their prescribed position in the procession.2
It will be noted that each piece of furniture was thus provided with a kind of miniature tabernacle of its own. When prepared for a journey the things which had been together in a common tent were separated. The coordination of their respective uses was not restored until the journey was over, and they were placed again in the tabernacle.
When the furniture had been removed, the Gershonites, under the direction of Ithamar, took down the four coverings of the tabernacle and folded them, together with the door of the tent, the gate of the court, the linen hanging of the court, and the stakes and cords of the tabernacle. These they placed upon two ox carts provided for that purpose.
This having been done, the Merarites, also directed by Ithamar, took down the boards and pillars, both of the tabernacle and of the court, packing them, together with the bases, cords and stakes of the court, upon four ox carts. It has been a matter of wide controversy as to how so heavy a load could possibly be conveyed upon so few carts. We have no solution to offer, but the number is clearly correspondential.
As to the signification of this removal of the tabernacle and of the coverings used for the various pieces of furniture, we can say only a word. The life of regeneration is one of alternation between attention to the needs of the body and the world, and a conscious turning of the mind toward the contemplation of things spiritual and eternal. These two different states are represented in the Scripture by the six days of labor and the Sabbath rest. The state of worship and of spiritual reflection was represented by the tabernacle when it was in place and prepared for priestly ministrations. Then there was communication with Jehovah and consequent enlightenment. But such a state cannot be perpetually maintained. The needs of the world are too insistent to be ignored for long.
Their imperative demands call one back to the daily struggle for physical survival, and to the pursuit of one's natural ambitions. The light of spiritual daytime is succeeded by the shades of evening and of night. Yet it is during the period of labor and conflict that genuine progress is made in the life of regeneration, and this was represented by the journeys of the sons of Israel.
During states of worship man receives new insights, and pictures in the imagination new spiritual goals to be achieved; but only when the truth so seen is actually applied to life can it reform the mind, and rebuild man's character. Then temptations arise whereby evils may be met and overcome. At such times one's attention is not focussed upon learning new truth, but upon the task of assimilating the truth he already knows. Although the mind is not in illustration, the memory of what was previously perceived remains, and forms the conscience according to which man acts. By the daily life of religion, spiritual progress is made. This, in time leads to the realization of the need for a deeper understanding, and thus for renewed contact with the Divine source of all truth.
When one is actively engaged in the affairs of his business or profession, the faculties of the internal mind are, as it were, in disarray, even as when the tabernacle was taken down and all its parts and contents were packed for a journey. Yet the perceptions of that mind are protected and preserved for future use, even as the parts of the tabernacle were enshrouded in representative coverings and guarded from injury or loss. These coverings represent the memory of spiritual things, recalled with affection and treasured for their surpassing value. They also represent habits of reverence and of order,
spontaneously observed. In states of spiritual obscurity it is essential that one should, from obedience, persevere in the external forms of worship and of religious life, even when the delight in them is not felt. Internal states rest upon external order as upon a foundation, and this was specifically represented by the coverings of kidskin that were placed over articles to be carried in procession. The ark was the only exception to this rule, its outer covering being of blue linen. This indicated a general sense of the Lord's presence, and a deep concern to obey His will, which is the soul and life of all religion. The Lord's presence must be acknowledged even when it is not inwardly perceived. Next to the ark was the veil, which represents the Word. The daily habit of reading the Word is represented by the kidskin covering over the veil; but this can be maintained if there still remains a remnant of the love of spiritual truth represented by the blue linen. At such times, when one reads the Word, there must not be any insistence upon immediate enlightenment. One must rest satisfied with the generals of truth that are already known, and must "wait for the Lord" with the trust and confidence that He will provide whatever insight is necessary for the "daily bread" that will sustain spiritual life. This explains why the covering of blue linen over the ark served as a banner at the head of the procession to lead the congregation on its journey. Here a word must be added as to the order of the procession. In the forefront was the ark, borne by the Kohathites. It was probably followed immediately by Moses, Aaron, and the priests, although this is not stated in the Word. Next came the army of Judah, consisting of the tribes of Judah, Issachar, and Zebulon. They were followed by the Gershonites with the two ox carts bearing the curtains of the tabernacle, its hangings, and its cords. Then came the Merarites with their four ox carts on which were the boards, the bases and the pillars of the tabernacle, and the pillars, cords, and stakes of the court. Next came the army of Reuben, including the tribes of Reuben, Simeon, and Gad, all of whom had been encamped toward the south. They were followed by the Kohathites bearing the furniture of the holy place and of the court, and the implements associated with them. Then came the army of Ephraim, consisting of the tribes of Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin, who had been camped to the west. And finally, the army of Dan, consisting of Dan, Asher, and Naphtali, who had been encamped to the north.3
It should be noted that this order of march preserved each camp intact and in the order of encampment, while the Levites were placed between the armies in order that the sacred objects they carried might be protected against the possibility of some enemy attack. All this represented the way in which man's mind must be disposed during periods of spiritual obscurity when he is journeying through the wilderness of temptation. The details of this representation are too numerous for explication here, and indeed, no specific revelation of them has been made in the Writings, although interesting suggestions are to be found there by which it would be possible for a student to deduce the correspondences involved, and apply them to states of regeneration in man. For nothing is mentioned in the Word that has not a deep human significance, and nothing is there involved which may not now be elucidated by the teaching of the Writings if sufficient study be given, and enlightenment be granted by the Lord.