Lecture 9.

The Sockets and the Boards

(Exodus 36:20-24; Exodus 30:11-16; Exodus 38:25-27.)

Having looked at the wood and the gold which formed the boards of the tabernacle, we will now examine their form, dimensions, foundation and relation to each other.

As we have already seen, each board rested upon two sockets or foundations of silver of one talent each, cast from the silver of the redemption money which each man of responsible age had to pay for his ransom, half a shekel or ten gerahs. Thus standing side by side these boards not only rested securely upon their foundation, but were held firmly together by the three bars passed through the golden rings on the boards all around; while at the corners, whatever the details, provision was made for strength and to prevent any separation, where it would be most likely to occur.

Forty-eight boards in all formed the tabernacle — twenty for each side, six at the rear, and two at the corners. The front was open, save for the hanging and the five pillars from which it was suspended. There were also four pillars within the tabernacle, to support the veil which divided the Most Holy from the Holy place; each of the four pillars resting upon a silver socket.

Let us now look at the spiritual meaning of all this, as the Lord may enlighten us. We begin where the builder always begins, with the foundation. Unless this be right the whole superstructure is of no value. At the close of the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord speaks of the foundation rather than the character of the house built by His hearers. That being right, all would be secure. The wise man builds upon the rock of a genuine obedience to Christ; the foolish, upon the sand of an empty profession (Matt. 7:24-27).

The meaning of these silver sockets is made so clear from the scripture that speaks of them, that there can be no question. God's habitation — His redeemed people — was to rest upon the solid foundation of redemption. The necessity for this is strongly emphasized in that no man could be considered as His at all apart from the redemption-money paid for each one. No exemption was made, and no excuse could be pleaded. The rich were not permitted to pay more, nor the poor less than the half shekel.* If God is to have a redeemed people among whom He will dwell, it must be according to His, not their, thoughts. The price is to be half a shekel, or ten gerahs, according to the shekel of the sanctuary — the divine estimation. Man might conceive that something else might be more suited for his redemption — his own works, his feelings, his worthiness, or his faithfulness. But God's holiness and righteousness would not permit poor man to be so deceived. The foundation must be according to God's estimation, the shekel must be according to the balances of the sanctuary.

{*A shekel is said to be equivalent to 2s 6d, or about 62 cents [in 1914]. A half shekel each man alike had to pay God is no respecter of persons, and redemption views all men on the same level before God. The rich might think it but a trifle, but it could not be neglected; and none were so poor as to be unable to give it. The prominent thought is the availability of the ransom price, so as to leave each one without excuse

This half shekel is also called a "bekah" (Ex 38:26), which literally means a "split," or "half." It seems to have been a coin or unit of weight, and thus would be used in much the same way as we speak of a "quarter," meaning the coin of the value of twenty-five cents. The golden earring, or face jewel which Abraham's servant gave to Rebekah was a "bekah of a shekel" (Gen. 24:22). The verb means to cleave or divide, and is used of the cleaving of "the rocks in the wilderness" (Ps. 78:15) — a significant reminder of the Rock which was cleft for us.}

Notice that the price was ten gerahs. We have this number in the height of the boards, and have already seen its significance, as in the ten commandments, the divine measure of man's responsibility, and in the ten curtains which show how perfectly Christ met this. A ransom must meet this responsibility, or it cannot avail before God. The lawyer, "willing to justify himself," cuts the law in two: "And who is my neighbor?" (Luke 10:29). He leaves God out, the only One before whom man must be justified. And how common, well-nigh universal, is this thought! Men's consciences seem to be asleep as to God's claims, and they profess to think that if they do their duty to their fellow-men — and even that according to their own estimation — it is a good ground of acceptance before God!

But could a man fully meet his responsibility to his fellow-men, could he love his neighbor as himself, would that meet his responsibility to God? The very image of God in which man was made declares God's absolute claim upon him for perfect allegiance and devotedness. Can man be independent of or indifferent to his Creator and Preserver's holy will and be guiltless? And obedience to God must be, like Himself, perfect in every part to be acceptable to Him. Thus all are "guilty before God" (Rom. 3:19), for none have kept His law in this way, nor can fallen man do so. Therefore he needs what God in His love has provided — a ransom which measures up perfectly to all that in which man has utterly failed; a ransom provided by God, and therefore perfect as Himself.

What this ransom is every child of God knows — that which meets the curse of the broken law. But "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree" (Gal. 3:13). Thus while man never has and never could pay the ten gerahs of his responsibility, Christ has paid in full, according to the divine estimation, and thus provided the perfect ransom. This atonement price forms the solid and eternal foundation upon which the guiltiest sinner who believes upon Him can rest. In the type, this was the ten gerahs of silver. The anti-type is given thus: "Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold … but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot" (1 Peter 1:18-19).

If we take up that holy law which declares our responsibility, and look at each commandment, we must confess we have utterly failed in keeping any part of it; we have broken it in heart if not outwardly, as our Lord shows in the Sermon on the Mount. But as we take up each command, instead of saying, "Lord, have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law," we can say, "Redeemed with the precious blood of Christ." Broken every command, in spirit at least — guilty of all in the sight of God, but "redeemed with the precious blood of Christ!" Here we rest — on a solid and eternal foundation upon which all the redeemed for all time will find that it can never be shaken. It is the assurance of this which by the Holy Spirit produces love and gratitude which constrain the soul to abhor sin and to walk in obedience to God.

But what did this "redemption through His blood" (Eph. 1:7) involve for our holy Lord The parable of the pearl of great price, in Matt. 13:45-46, will show us. The usual thought that the merchantman is the sinner seeking for salvation, which is the pearl — or perhaps Christ is considered that — is far from the truth; far from God's thought. The sinner giving up all that he has to buy salvation — to buy Christ?! What has he to buy with but his sins. Is this the gospel of the grace of God? But, thank God, the gospel He has sent His servants to proclaim is "that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:3); and, "the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 6:23). We know it is the Shepherd "who gave His life for the sheep" (John 10:11).

But, it may be objected, if the merchantman is Christ who is seeking the sinner, then the pearl, that beautiful jewel, must be the sinner! Yes, we reply; for this is the wonder of divine love and grace. No one but the practised seeker would know that down at the bottom of the sea in the unsightly shell-fish is the pearl which, brought out and polished, is fit to adorn a royal crown. So no eye but that of our Lord, piercing down through the dark waters of death, where we lay in the mire of our sin, could see in us a beauty which He Himself was to put upon us. And no power but His could have gone down, at the cost of His own life, to bring us up and make us meet to adorn His crown of rejoicing for eternity. Yes, the Church is the pearl, as in Rev. 21:21, where each gate speaks of it.

This indeed shows us what price was paid for the pearl. "Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet fat your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich" (2 Cor. 8:9). How poor did the Son of God become? He laid aside His divine glory; took a servant's form; "had not where to lay His head," as He said. When asked about paying tribute to Caesar, He asked for the tribute money. Women ministered to Him of their substance (Luke 8:3) — precious privilege, to be had even now in ministering to "one of the least" of His own. Yet all this could not measure His poverty. We must look at Calvary, where He laid down His life under God's judgment for our sins. So poor He became. From the glory of heaven down to be made a curse Truly He sold all that He had.

Here then are the silver sockets — the redemption-price paid by our Lord on the cross. Thus was the foundation laid on which He builds His Church, on which the whole redeemed family of God rests, and the gates of hades shall not prevail against it. Could we for a moment think of resting upon any other foundation? Would Moses have set up those boards on the shifting sands of the desert? "Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 3:11). There is the foundation laid by God Himself, and every believer is upon it.

This gives us at once, then, the significance of the boards resting upon their sockets. For whatever rests upon the foundation must in some manner refer to the believer. Our Lord needed no salvation, but stood before God in the perfection of His own person and character. These boards then set forth His people who form the habitation of God in this world. Let us look at them.

The ten cubits in height, as already seen in the ten gerahs of the ransom money, speak of full responsibility; and how beautifully do these two fit together — a redemption price equal to the full demand of God's perfect law which had been broken by us, and an acceptance and standing in Christ which is equally perfect. These boards are standing up. The sinner may well prostrate himself before God in self-abhorrence "Unclean, unclean;" "God be merciful to me a sinner" (Luke 18:13), is all he can say. But what a change for the believer; his leprosy is cleansed, his sins are forgiven, and now he stands upon the solid foundation of God's own providing, confessing it is all the merits of Christ in whom he is made to stand. There is no boasting of self, but in Christ Jesus is our all.*

{*The word "stand" is one of frequent occurrence both in the Old and New Testaments. Its meaning is obvious: to be upright, to abide. It is used to describe the attitude of one who has access before God (Gen 19:27; 1 Sam. 6:20; Luke 1:19, etc ). It is also used of standing before the enemy (Joshua 23:9). Abiding, permanency, is also conveyed in the word, as in Psalm 119:89, 91; Prov. 19:21.

In the New Testament the word also means a standing before God, or the maintenance of an abiding Christian position. Most fittingly then are the boards spoken of as standing. "Yea, he shall be holden up, for God is able to make him stand" (Rom. 14:4).}

This perfectly explains what would otherwise be an insurmountable difficulty. The materials of the board speak, as we said, of the two natures of our Lord — His humanity and His deity, united in His one Person. But some one will say, Is it not thoroughly unscriptural and blasphemous to speak of our being in Christ's deity, suggested by the gold? If it were only the acacia wood it might represent His people, but how can they be said to be in the deity?

This would indeed be blasphemy. But we must remember that while the link with us is His human nature, through death, yet He is but one person, and all that He is is for His people. The Last Adam is also the Son of God, and all who are partakers of life in Him are in Him according to the full value of what He is.

A passage from the second chapter of Colossians may make this clear: "As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him … For in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in Him, who is the Head of all principality and power" (vers. 6-10). In Him, in whom dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily, we are complete, or filled up. No one who knows God could think for a moment of the creature being in Him as partaking of deity. But the value of the person to whom we are united is divine; and here again is seen the amazing character of that grace which stooped so low to lift poor rebels out of their lost condition and make them "heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ" (Rom. 8:17). In 2 Cor. 5:21 also we have, "For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of. God in Him." A divine standing in righteousness is ours who believe. Divine righteousness is so perfectly glorified in Christ, that it finds nothing in our acceptance unsuited to it.

The apostle John, speaking of relationship in the family of God by divine life, says, "As He is, so are we in this world" (1 John 4:17). And how is He? — so are we, "accepted in the Beloved" (Eph. 1:6). "We know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know Him that is true; and we are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life" (1 John 5:18-20). How amazing is all this! Of course, it is only through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ that it could be, but "This [One] is the true God and eternal life," and all that He is imparts its value to what His people are in Him. Thus God sees fit to set forth His people's standing, not only in the shittim wood but in Him who was both that and the gold. Thus we have a perfect foundation, a perfect redemption, and a perfect standing — Christ.

But the timid soul says, "I know both the work and the person of Christ are perfect, but if I could only be sure I had an interest in it!" This is divinely provided for in the boards. There were, not one, but two tenons on each board, each imbedded in its socket. The word for tenon is "hand," suggesting the hand of faith laying hold vitally upon the finished work of Christ, as the tenons found a secure resting-place and were held fast in their sockets of silver made of the atonement money.

How suggestive this is! Does the "hand" of faith, of felt need, reach out after God? Here is the divine provision for it in the work of Christ. Is the sense of sin, of guilt and helplessness upon us? Here is the hiding-place provided in the love of God. The very things in us which show our need, are provided for in this divine work. Are we without strength? ungodly? "When we were yet without strength, in due dine Christ died for the ungodly" (Rom. 5:6). Are we sinners? "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (1 Tim. 1:15). So our God puts the very words in our mouth, and bids us welcome to the shelter of the Cross, to all that is secured through it. The sockets are fitted for the tenons, and there is nothing that fits so perfectly as the work of Christ and the poor needy sinner. Thus faith drops its hands into the place provided for it.

But after the tenons have found their place in the sockets, they are invisible. So with the believer. He cannot think about his wonderful faith; it is not on exhibition, but is hidden in that upon which it rests. It is not as though the boards were suspended from the sockets and held on to them, but they are resting upon them. So the believer is not "clinging," nor "holding on" for salvation, as though all depended upon his strength: he is resting with his whole weight upon the provision in the work of our Lord Jesus. Thus His work, His redemption is alone before the soul, not the strength or weakness of the faith which has laid hold of Him. Faith rests on the bosom of redeeming love — is occupied with that, and not itself. The tenon would prevent the board from slipping off the socket it was not held simply by its weight, whence a sudden jar might cause it to slip off. So, too, the saint, through a divinely-given faith, not merely rests with his own weight upon Christ's work, but can never perish, for he is eternally united to the value of that work: "None shall pluck them out of My hand" (John 10:28).

The two tenons and sockets would speak of competent testimony and of salvation, and of the two-fold view of redemption provided for us. We have already looked at the two tables of the law — the Godward and manward aspect of responsibility. Both have been fully net by our blessed Lord on His cross. The full penalty of a broken law, of sin against God and against man, has been borne for us. We may also look at sin as transgression and as bondage or defilement. The Cross is the two-fold provision for this: redemption is from the guilt and from the power of sin. It is
"Of sin the double cure."

Or we may look at sin as committed before conversion, and after also. What a dreadful thing it is that a child of God should thus fall into what brought our Lord Jesus to the cross! But the love that passeth knowledge has provided for all sin. Ours were all future when our Lord bore their penalty on the cross: all was provided for. May such grace soften our poor hearts and lead us to abhor sin and turn more fully unto our Lord.

We might think also of redemption in its two-fold aspect, as securing the work in us as well as being the work for us. He has "condemned sin in the flesh," by His Cross, and He also came "for sin," a sin-offering (Rom. 8:3). Thus sin, the root, has been judged, and sins, the fruit, put away.

So we can look at this precious truth in many ways and see its two-fold character. We can think of it as a present and eternal salvation; as pertaining to the soul and to the body; as revealed in Old and New Testaments, in type and fulfilment; for the Jew and the Gentile. He is the God of all grace, and that grace has shown itself in its fulness in redemption by Christ our Lord.

Recurring again to the thought of testimony suggested by the two sockets and tenons, we are reminded that the full witness to all we have been seeing, and far more, is given in the word of God. Salvation depends alone upon the work of our Lord Jesus, but the assurance of that is given through the word of God. Thus we can never separate the work and the Word. Wherever this is done, it will be found that both are denied. Those who question the truth of Scripture, its authenticity, its inerrancy and divine perfection — all that unbelief which goes under the pretentious name of "Higher Criticism" — will be found to think lightly of the Cross of Christ and the results of that work.

Before leaving the boards, looked at individually, we may inquire as to the significance of the breadth, one and a half* cubits. Three being the number of divine glory, it has been suggested that it points to the fact that man has "come short" of that glory. But we must remember it is not man in his natural state of guilt that the boards represent, but as complete in Christ, in whom God is perfectly glorified. Perhaps a clue may be found in the height and breadth of the ark, where we have the same dimensions cubits). The ark, as we shall see later on, typifies Christ as the One who sustains the very throne of God. Thus if the ten cubits in height speak of Christ having fully glorified God in the place of human responsibility, the breadth might likewise remind us of Him in connection with the throne of God. There may be instruction in the proportion between the height and the breadth, which is 10 to 1&1/2, or 20 to 3. This would give an infinite series of 6 as the expression of the relation — unending and eternal victory in Christ — blessed truth indeed, whether or no we are fully justified in gathering it from these numbers. Lastly, this half may possibly suggest "the whole" is yet to follow, in eternity. This seems to be the thought in the drink-offerings connected with the burnt-offerings (Num. 28:14). A fraction of a hin of wine was poured out, increasing from the fourth part of the hin for a lamb to a half hin for a bullock. The higher the apprehension of Christ the fuller the joy; but at best we must say with the Queen of Sheba, The half has not been told (2 Chron. 9:6).

{*The word "half," from a root meaning to cut, or cut in two, is used with considerable frequency in the Old Testament. The following are the characteristic connections in which it occurs:
1. As giving added measure, as in the dimensions of the boards, etc. (see Ex. 25:10, etc.).
2. As showing a curtailment of time or number, as in Psalm 102:24, "In the midst [half] of my days." The sacrifice is made to cease "in the midst [half] of the week" (Dan. 9:27 ).
3. As expressing equal division, as the blood of the covenant, half upon the altar and half upon the people (Ex. 24:6). So Solomon proposed the division of the child (1 Kings 3:25, etc ).
4. As suggesting a large proportion, "the half of the kingdom" (Esther 5:3).
5. As suggesting small proportion, with "not" — as in the words of the Queen of Sheba (1 Kings 10:7).
6. As suggesting, possibly, more still to follow (Num. 15:9, etc.).

There seem to be suggestions from a number of these as to the boards. The half is added to the width of one cubit. There is a character to the standing which is thus expressed. It is more than mere forgiveness, but fullest justification, as in the fifth part added to the payment of the trespass (Lev. 5:16). God is more glorified in the person and work of our Lord than in the mere obedience of unfallen man.

As length or height speaks of full measure, breadth might suggest the character of the measure, as in the curtains, and this character seen in our Lord and in His people, as responding to the claims of God's throne.}

We may also see the effect of this half cubit upon the length and width of the tabernacle. Had the boards been but one cubit broad, it would have been but twenty cubits long, and, perhaps, but seven broad. But instead of this the tabernacle was thirty cubits long — divine glory manifested in full responsibility, and that responsibility again seen in the ten cubits of breadth. In the temple these dimensions were doubled, which would confirm the thought that in the day of glory — for Israel millennial, for the Church heaven — the full measure of God's thoughts of His people in Christ will be manifest.

We pass now from that which speaks of the individual believer and the perfection of his standing in Christ to his corporate relations. Each board had a perfectly secure foundation apart from its connection with the other boards, as the individual believer's security does not depend upon his fellow-Christians, but upon Christ's work alone. But this gives no thought of a dwelling-place for God; but God's purpose is to build them together for His habitation.

At this very point we see that selfishness in our hearts, which is one great proof of our fallen nature. We think of our own salvation and security rather than of God's glory and His habitation; so there is often little exercise as to His abode on earth. But the same scripture which tells us we are builded upon the foundation, also declares that we are "builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit" (Eph. 2:20-22). The fact that each board in the tabernacle was prepared with a distinct purpose for its place in the building, shows that God, by the Spirit, has a distinct purpose to place each believer where he belongs in the house of God. Nor does this refer merely to its full display in glory, but to the present time, while He leaves us in this wilderness world.

This is learned in the rings, of which, as we have already seen, there were probably three upon each board through which the bars were to pass, thus uniting them all together. No board was complete until it had these rings upon it, and they plainly declared that no board was for itself, but had a connection with all the others. The rings (a complete circle) would remind us of the eternal link between the believer and Christ: the bars being passed through the rings could in no way be loosed from them. "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" The gold of these rings speaks of the divine character of this tie — born, not of blood, nor of man's, nor of flesh's will, but of God. And the three rings would speak of the full manifestation of God in this blessed union. The three persons of the Godhead are engaged and pledged in it — the Father sent His Son, has accepted His work, and fully justifies the believer; the Son has perfectly accomplished redemption, and the Spirit has not only regenerated each believer, but has sealed him, as belonging to God until the day of redemption (Eph. 1:13). The work of the Spirit is further shown in His baptism of all believers into one body (1 Cor. 12:13). So the rings declare plainly that each believer is forever and by a divine work linked with his blessed Saviour and Lord, and thus to all his fellow-believers.

We have already had the intimation of the meaning of the bars. Their material acacia wood overlaid with gold — shows us the divine and human nature of our Lord. Five bars would also give us the number of the incarnate Son, as well as reminding us that full responsibility toward God in everything is met by Him. Five is composed of four and one, the numbers that speak of the creature in union with One, the Creator. The central bar extending from end to end would suggest the deity of our Lord, while the four others might well remind us of His humanity. Thus again and again are these precious facts brought before us.

Christ then, in the fulness of His person, unites His people together. The boards were placed upon their sockets, side by side, in alignment; then it was an easy matter to pass the bars through all the rings and form a complete wall for the house of God. According to God's mind and purpose, believers are "builded together," and set in the body, so that their union with Christ is also union with one another. Thus it was at Pentecost. One day it will be displayed in all its perfection. Faith is to exhibit this unity in a practical way, and this involves exercise and responsibility. Alas, the results of failure here are only too manifest even to the eye of the world.

If then our Lord's prayer for unity is to be seen even here, it must be along the lines suggested by what we have been learning. Every believer, a divinely-prepared board, resting upon the finished work of Christ, is to recognize his union with his Lord and Saviour so fully that there is no hindrance to His will and way being accomplished in him. This will bring him in alignment with all who are likewise subject to Christ, and a "tabernacle of witness" will be the result — a witness to the world as our Lord said, "That the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me" (John 17:21). Do we not seem to see the golden rings in that verse? — "As Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us."

And how many errors as to the house of God on earth do these holy truths correct; and what shame and confusion of face should they produce in us, and what exercise of conscience and searching of heart. We hear of persons "joining the Church;" here we are first of all reminded that there is no room for empty profession; none but golden-covered boards, resting on silver foundations. None but those who are born again, and so "in Christ," shown by their resting upon His precious blood, our redemption, can find a place in this building of God. Even true Christians speak of "the church of their choice," and of joining it; not knowing that there is but one Church, one habitation of God, His building, or the Church to which He joins. Nothing is left for human will; all is provided for in God's word. The golden rings proclaim that all must be ac cording to divine order, as revealed in His Word.

Could we imagine Moses selecting a few boards and building a small tabernacle in one place, and Aaron doing the same in another, and Eleazar and Ithamar, Joshua and Caleb, repeating this? What a travesty each would have been upon God's plan! What would it have mattered if each had loudly claimed special recognition for his own little tabernacle? Nay, each one of these men of God would have said, Who are we, that you should rend the house of God asunder to provide a place for us? So God rebuked the thought of Peter to make three tabernacles" One for Thee, one for Moses, and one for Elias" (Matt. 17:4). There was but One whom they should thus honor; He alone the Centre of His people: "This is My beloved Son, hear ye Him." And if it be thought impossible that any man should thus be made a centre for division where God intends unity, we need only read the first chapter of 1st Corinthians: "Every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ," which the apostle rebukes by: "Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

Let us not then defend the sad failure of the whole Church of God, which has established various divisions and defends them as right and good. If so, where is the testimony to the unity of God's house? What thinks the world of all this?

But let us go deeper than the outward testimony and ask, What state of heart has made all this division possible? Has not profession been given a place which has mixed together the true and the false? Are there not many claiming to be "boards" who have no divinely-given marks of being so? No "rings," no solid foundation? And how much insubjection to the word of God on the part of true believers also; how little is the Lord given His true place of lordship in heart and practice! It may be some doctrine, scriptural and true, perhaps, but given a place of undue prominence, and the simplicity that is in Christ" has been clouded. Or, it may be, well-meant but humanly-devised provisions for order, ministry, etc., have been adopted; or the apparently harmless adoption of a denominational name has displaced the one only Name which we should confess, and to which His people are to gather (Matt 18:20).

And these things are no trifles. The apostle asked, where these things existed in their germ only, "Are ye not carnal, and walk as men?" (1 Cor. 3:3), that is, as men of the world. Alas, such a hint scarcely touches the conscience of the mass who have professed to be as a "chaste virgin espoused to Christ." But to the soul truly loyal to Him, constrained by His love, devoted to His fear, such a question would bring the blush of shame. "They are not of the world even as I am not of the world," said the Holy and the True. Can it be then a trifle in His eyes when His people walk as men of the world?

Oh for hearts to mourn over the ruin that has come in through our own folly! No place becomes us but that of true humiliation before Him. He still has, and ever will have, respect unto the lowly. Then, even though the boards be dispersed in the wilderness, He will have a word to say to the "afflicted and poor, people" (Zeph. 3:12), even as to His testimony, which will comfort without filling with pride.

But returning from the confession of our common failure to the plan and purpose of God, let us examine a little more closely the passage already partly quoted from 1 Corinthians 12: "As the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body," etc. (vers. 12, 13). Here we have the individuality of each believer preserved: "many members," yet but "one body." There were twenty boards on each side, north and south; six at the west end, and one at each corner, making forty-eight boards In all. These would suggest the "many members" of the body of Christ. The factors of forty-eight are 6 x 8, in which six is the number of limitation of and victory over evil, and eight (7 + 1), the familiar number of new creation. God has by the Cross put a limit upon the world and man's day; it is going to end, however much the riches of divine patience are exercised toward it. But in amazing love, apart from human righteousness, God has, in the very cross which has declared the judgment of this world, gained the victory over evil. Christ has "spoiled principalities and powers," and "made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it" (Col. 2:15), that is, in the cross. This victory is in perfect grace "to every one that believeth" (Rom. 1:16), so that now upon the ruins of the old creation, and independent of it, He has introduced the new creation: "If any man be in Christ, there is new creation" (2 Cor. 5:17). And this is the other factor, the companion to the victory over evil; the two taken together give the "new man, which after God is created in righteousness and holiness of truth" (Eph. 4:24). All this is seen in its perfection in Christ alone, until the day when He shall display His redeemed in the glory He has given them. Till then faith is ever occupied with Him, never with ourselves. It is of "the man in Christ" that we can glory and not in ourselves (2 Cor. 12:2, 5). The golden boards ever speak of Him, but, through divine grace, His people are "in Him," and thus are made "the righteousness of God."

But let it be remembered that for the full display of this victory over evil in new creation, every board is needed; forty-seven boards would tell us nothing of it. So our God has made it impossible for one to be wanting in His sight. Notice how the apostle speaks of this "one body" — "So also is Christ." He does not say, "the body of Christ." This brings out the golden boards again. So, when Saul of Tarsus was persecuting the saints, our blessed Lord from the glory asked, "Why persecutest thou Me" (Acts 9:4)? Saul was persecuting Christ — so completely He identifies His people with Himself. This then is "the Christ" — His people in Him, and He the Head. This is effected by no human agency, but by the Holy Spirit who baptizes all believers into this one body, this habitation of God.

We can see the Spirit's work in thus uniting believers to Christ and to each other, suggested by the rings and bars, in the unity and fellowship of believers at Pentecost. Saints might be persecuted and imprisoned, but "being let go, they went to their own company (Acts 4:23). "Ye are taught of God to love one another" (1 Thess. 4:9). "Holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God" (Col. 2:19). These and many other precious scriptures dwell upon the practical unity and fellowship of believers, the only standard for which is the perfect mind of God, displayed in what we have been, feebly enough, dwelling upon.

What special lessons are we to gather from the corner boards? They are, like all the others, to rest upon silver sockets, and therefore would speak of believers. But this position at the corners would suggest some other thoughts of importance. Next to the foundation, the corner is the most important part of a house. So our Lord is spoken of in the same verse as "a precious corner-stone" and "a sure foundation" (Isa. 28:16). He is the "Head of the corner" (Matt. 21:42), though rejected by His earthly people. It is at the corner that special care must be taken to bind the walls together, that there be no parting and making a rent. Christ has done this, so far as the eternal display in glory is concerned, but God has also made divine provision for it in a practical way, illustrated in these corner boards.

There may be architectural details which we could not fully represent in a model. But certain features are clear. "And they were coupled (twinned) beneath, and coupled together at the head thereof, to one ring: thus he did to both of them in both the corners" (Ex. 36:29). Another version renders it, "And they were twain below; but they were whole together toward its head in the one ring" (Num. Bible). The evident thought is that what might naturally be two, and thus divided, is "fitly joined together" (Eph. 4:16). A distinction is made between the bottom and top of these corner boards. They were twain below; or, even if "twinned" be the better reading, the thought of distinction from the adjacent boards is suggested. This is at the base, near the silver sockets. May not this emphasize the individuality of each believer? No matter what position he may have in the house of God — even though it be of the greatest importance, and in closest conjunction with others — he rests for himself upon the work of Christ. "If any man trust to himself that he is Christ's, let him of himself think this again, that, as he is Christ's, even so are we Christ's" (2 Cor. 10:7). These are the words of an apostle, a most important "corner" surely, but he does not boast of his apostleship; his place in the house of God is first of all by redemption; whatever of service he may have rendered to the saints, and thus to the Lord, he glories in the "man in Christ." So also Peter writes "to them that have obtained like precious faith with us" (2 Peter 1:1); and in the Acts classes himself with all believers, Jew and Gentile alike: "We believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they" (Acts 15:11). And so with John and all the writers of the New Testament: their official position made them not one whit different from the simplest saint; all alike rested upon the precious redemption price. So the wondrous truths which they ministered to us were the food and stay of their own souls.

And so it is with all true believers: gifts, service, miracles, can never interfere with this basic fact, that they rest for themselves alone upon Christ and His work. That distinguishes between those most closely united, whether in the family or in that which professes to be the house of God. Without that resting-place one might preach the gospel to others and yet be a castaway (1 Cor. 9:27). Paul was in no uncertainty as to his present and eternal security, for he knew whom he had believed; he did not base one shred of his soul's salvation upon his apostleship and ministry: as our Lord said to His disciples, when they rejoiced that they could cast out demons, "Rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven" (Luke 10:20). In the matter of our soul's eternal salvation, we neither need nor can have any other resting-place than the foundation that is laid, "which is Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 3:11).

But while at the base the boards are thus distinct, at the head or top they are firmly joined to the others — on each side — "in one ring." This is a divine bond at just the point where it is needed. The sockets would hold them together at the base — no danger of a true believer being moved away from the work of Christ; but there is a danger of his drawing away from his true place with the people of God, "at the head." He may become puffed up, "heady," and so instead of a flawless union, there may be a yawning crevice at a crucial point. Here is where divine love encircles the saints and holds them fast in its eternal embrace; and where this is entered into fully, the "corners" and places of natural weakness, become special points of strength.

What makes corners naturally a place of weakness is that the direction of the wall being there changed a strain is felt, upon the upper part especially. We can easily apply this to the house of God, and see the importance both of the silver sockets below and of the ring above.

There were several such turning points in the book of Acts. A murmuring — a cleavage — arose of the Grecians (the foreign Jews) against the Hebrews (those of Palestine) "because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration" (Acts 6:1). Here was an apparent divergence of interests, and the Spirit of God, through the apostles, corrected the trouble at once. All these saints were upon the silver sockets, but the "corners" were weak, from the natural jealousy and selfishness of the human heart, particularly noticeable among the Jews. There was need of rings for the corner boards. So, divinely-designated men are set over the whole matter of temporal care. From their names it would seem they were all foreign Jews — the very class from which the complaint had come; and they embraced in the ring of divine love and care — for they were "full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom" (verse 3) — every needy saint, whether foreign or home-born. Thus the threatened trouble was averted. Does it seem extravagant to say that special strength came from this, as seen in Stephen's blessed testimony and martyrdom (chap. 7)?*

{*This acquisition of special strength, at the right moment, is seen in the separating character of Stephen's testimony. From the beginning of the history, God's way with His believing people was shown to be of a separating character. Abraham was called from home and country; Joseph and Moses were separated from their brethren — the mass of the nation had always resisted the Holy Ghost. Thus God's company had from the beginning always been a remnant. Saints, united with Christ who had been rejected and crucified by the nation and its leaders, were manifestly a separate people. The very martyrdom of Stephen but illustrated this, and prepared them for the general persecution which ensued. When this had done its work, a corner had been turned: historical Judaism was manifested as essentially hostile to true Christianity, and their paths had divided the former, to their inevitable scattering and the blotting out of their name and place; and the latter, onward toward the fulfilment of the worldwide purpose of God's grace.}

But a more serious schism threatened the unity of the testimony which God was establishing, and that of which we have just spoken was but a premonition of it. The Church is composed of both Jew and Gentile by nature, but none in it are either Jew or Gentile, for all are "in Christ" (Eph. 2:14; Col. 3:11). But what divine care was needed that, as this truth was acted upon, there should be no violence done to weak and unestablished consciences. When the gospel was carried down to Samaria — and it is noteworthy that this was done by Philip, one of the seven already mentioned — there was a fresh departure, a "corner" was made. But how careful the Spirit is to guard against schism. "The Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans" (John 4:9). But here were precious souls saved through faith in Christ; the "boards" were upon the silver sockets. At Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit had been given to all believers in the Lord Jesus, but the Samaritans had received no such public seal as yet. That blessing comes through the apostles Peter and John, who come down from Jerusalem and lay their hands upon them. Thus the "ring" is put around both, and saints at Jerusalem, Jews by nature, and Samaritans, are held fast in the eternal bond of the Spirit's seal and baptism (Acts 8:1-17).

The same is seen then in a farther step. The Spirit of God was leading onward in an entirely different path from what had hitherto been taken. "Salvation is of the Jews" (John 4:22), but it was to be carried now to the ends of the earth. So Cornelius, a Gentile, awakened by God to the desire of the full blessing flowing forth, is brought to the knowledge of forgiveness through the name of the Lord Jesus. But we see again the Spirit of God putting on the "ring." It is Peter, the apostle of the circumcision, who is seen as a corner board linking what might otherwise be apart. How beautifully he shows the "ring" of divine love when questioned by the saints in Jerusalem: "Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as He did unto us who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, what was I that I could withstand God?" (Acts 11:17).

Likewise in the great crisis of Acts 15. In spite of all that God had so plainly shown, the reactionary spirit of Judaism was asserting itself; and even after a mighty wave of blessing had swept in multitudes of Gentiles from many quarters, and where assemblies largely composed of Gentiles had been established, there were those who taught that these "must be circumcised and keep the law." How easy would it have been for Paul at that point to have completely severed his connection with Jewish Christians, and devote himself to the beloved Gentile flock. A rash act, a few hasty words, and Jerusalem would have been left, and the words, so unrighteously used by the ten tribes, could have been adapted: "What portion have we in David? neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse … now see to thine own house, David" (1 Kings 12:16).

But the Spirit of God was guiding, and at the turning of this "corner" the strong "ring" held fast the beloved Jewish and Gentile saints together in divine fellowship. They go to Jerusalem, from whence these troublers of the Gentiles had come. There, assembled together concerning this matter, Peter recounts what God had done through him in bringing in the Gentiles, alluding also to the intolerable yoke of the law. Barnabas and Paul then recount the wonderful works of divine grace among the Gentiles; and James puts the "ring" of Scripture to bind all fast. The letter of love was sent out, and for saints who bowed to God's truth the question could never again be raised. A breach was averted. In fact the "corner" in that way becomes a point of strength, holding both lines of truth fast, and the clasped hands of Peter and Paul show how freely the gospel was to go forth. Peter can write of "our beloved brother Paul" (2 Peter 3:15), and though Paul may rebuke Peter for his inconsistency (Gal. 2), it is in the knowledge that the conscience of the beloved apostle of the circumcision was with the truth.

Thus were all united. Alas, when faith waned, and the guidance of the Spirit was no longer yielded to, as by the apostles, we see, by the later epistles, there was a drifting back toward Judaism and the very foundations were denied. Then it was no longer Christian love to hold fast to Judaism. Christ was openly rejected again, and the word for His own was: "Let us go forth unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach" (Heb. 13:13).

Enough has been said to indicate the importance of these corner boards. Application can surely be made all through the history of the Lord's people, in the Church at large, and in remnant days too, among the saints in an assembly, or among all such as are seeking to hold and act upon the truth of the house of God. There are times of special stress and danger when the Spirit of God may be leading out into fuller truth. It is easier to hold back and walk only in the beaten paths, but this quenches the Spirit and hinders true progress, which also means the loss of what is already held. Progress is a divine law; "not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect" (Phil. 3:12). How needful then are the lessons we have been learning. Even truth unduly pressed, to the ignoring of other truth, may wound weak consciences, and be used of the enemy to make a breach when there should be unity. Let us note what we have learned:

First of all, the great foundation fact of redemption by the work of Christ, and all other fundamental truths, must be fully owned. Secondly, the great principle of the holiness of the house of God must be bowed to — the headship and authority of Christ our Lord. If these are not recognized and obeyed there can be no testimony. But when these are recognized and owned to be of God, there is fullest room for the exercise of forbearance and of the love which knits the people of God together. We may well take the instances we have been looking at as our models and learn from them to apply the "ring" at the proper place.

But let us ever remember the solemn truth that it is the house of God we are dealing with, not a building of man, therefore no unity but the unity of the Spirit is to be kept. Rome has made outward unity her object, and has therefore put her rings — unholy ones indeed — about anything and everything, to call it her own. Verily, "Babylon the great" has been stamped upon her forehead; she has become the "cage of every unclean and hateful bird" (Rev. 18:2). Nor is professing Protestantism far behind when, for the sake of a falsely-called peace, divine truth is sacrificed, and everything calling itself by the name of Christian is allowed a place. We are living in days of "broad-minded liberalism," when men who deny the inspiration of the word of God, the eternal destinies of men, and even the deity of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ are tolerated, welcomed and followed. What awful mockery is it to call such indifference by the holy name of "love." Is it love to despise Christ, to dishonor and disobey Him?

For many, the last-mentioned things may seem so glaring as to be needless. Let us be reminded then that the same principles may lurk under a very pleasing exterior. The sin of disobedience, which is the root of all sin, has many forms. The only way of safety is to hold fast the faithful Word. And in the matter of which we are speaking, it must ever be remembered that what is subversive of the very testimony which God would have cannot under any plea be allowed.

But, within these limits, what room there is for the exercise of love that all may be "fitly joined together." The weak need to be comforted, the feeble-minded, or those of little courage, need to be sustained, as well as the unruly to be admonished. What an honor it is in any sense to be privileged to be a "corner-board" — not filling a large place, but in just the place where God would have us, and furnishing the opportunity for the "ring" of divine love and truth to extend from us to our brethren on either hand.

A word remains as to the sockets. There were one hundred of them in all, 10 x 10 (Ex. 38:27), of one talent each, made of the redemption money of ten gerahs for each man. The word for "talent" is kikkar — a circle or globe, so called perhaps from its being a complete or rounded-out sum. From Exodus 38:25-26, it was equal to 3000 shekels, or 6000 bekahs. The factors of ten are here so prominent that the great foundation fact of responsibility is emphasized — a responsibility in which we have utterly failed, but which our Lord has fully met on the cross and glorified God thereby. Resting securely on that foundation, the believer looks forward to that eternal day with joy and praise and meanwhile, though treading the wilderness land, learns to answer in some little measure to the grace that has saved him, and to meet responsibilities which once he ignored.