XVI. The Boards and Bases
The Tabernacle of Israel, by George de Charms, 1969
Boards, Pillars, and Bases
Having spoken of the curtains, we come now to consider the walls by which these curtains were supported. These walls were made of boards of cedar wood covered with gold. They were forty-eight in number, each board measuring 10 cubits long and 11/2 cubits wide. Their third dimension is not specified, but after careful study it was found that only if the boards were 1/6 of a cubit thick could the required dimensions of the tabernacle be satisfied. Translated into more familiar terms we would say that each board was 15 feet long, 2 feet 3 inches wide, and 3 inches thick.
Projecting from one end of each board were two tenons called "hands" in the original.1 As to the length or shape of these we are given no information. They were simply driven into the ground to hold each board steady when it was in position.
Each tenon passed through a socket or base of silver, which rested on the ground, preventing the end of the board from sinking into the soil under the weight and pressure of the tent.2 There were two such bases for each board and four for the pillars that supported the veil, making one hundred bases in all. It is specified that each base should contain one talent of silver, a talent weighing 961/2 lbs., and representing approximately $194 in our money.3
The north and south walls contained twenty boards and forty bases, each board being 11/2 cubits in width. The total length of the wall thus formed was 30 cubits, which was the prescribed measure for the inside length of the tabernacle. For the west wall there remained eight boards. Their combined width would be 12 cubits but the inside width of the tabernacle is said to be 10 cubits. The discrepancy is accounted for by what are called the "twinned boards" which were to form the two west corners of the wall. Since no special measurements are given for these corner boards, we presume that they were the same size as the others, and this is implied in what is said of the boards in Exodus. The six boards together make a total of 9 cubits, leaving 1/2 cubit on each side to be filled in by a corner board. These boards, we are told, faced all four quarters. The interpretation is that they were split into two parts which were then joined together at right angles. The question as to how to make these boards so that they will exactly fill the half-cubit space remaining to complete the width of the tabernacle has been widely discussed by biblical scholars. Dr. E. E. Iungerich discovered what appears to be an entirely satisfactory solution of the problem, of which he gives a mathematical analysis.4 Simply stated the solution lies in so cutting each corner board that one part will measure 5/6 of a cubit and the other part 2/3 of a cubit in width; when these two are placed together at right angles in such a way that the two legs are equal, and when one of the legs is placed overlapping the end board of the side wall, the other will exactly fill the space in the west wall.
The boards of each wall were bound together by means of rods which were passed through rings of gold. There were five rings specified for each board, and five rods for each wall. The rods, like the boards, were made of cedar wood covered withi gold. The rings and the rods were placed on the inside surface of the wall. If they had been on the outside, as is the suggestion of many scholars, they would have been completely covered by the curtains. The central rod was longer than the others and is said to extend from end to end.5 By this we understand that this rod locked witli the center rod of the west wall binding the two walls together, while the other four rods were not so fastened. This construction made the wall firm and solid when the curtains had been stretched over it by cords and stakes, yet it could easily be taken apart to be carried from place to place. In connection with the moving of it, a statement which has puzzled the scholars, and which we are not prepared to solve, is to the effect that the boards were carried on four ox carts, together with all the bases of silver, the pillars of the court and of the tabernacle, and the cords and stakes. How so tremendous a load could be placed on four ox carts such as were used in ancient times it is difficult to understand from a practical point of view.6
We may ask, what was the special human representation of the golden walls with their silver foundations. Their use was to support the curtains, and so to form a protecting space within, where the furniture might be placed, and where the priests might minister before the Lord. This raising up and stretching out was the means of providing not only protection, but freedom of action and movement within. Here was protection from external pressures either from the elements or from human observation and interference. Thus by these walls, there was established a condition of equilibrium which is the secret of their representation.
The walls represent that in man which establishes and preserves his mental equilibrium, that is, a perpetual balance of opposing forces, by virtue of which he has free will and liberty both of thought and action. Man, since he has no life in himself but is a mere vessel receptive of life from God, is incapable of the least of will, thought, or action. He must be moved. And in order that he may be moved, there must be forces which play upon him. If there were a single force, or if all were in a single direction, then would he be borne irresistibly along as on the current of a river. But the Lord provides that there should be many forces and that they shall so react upon each other as to form a balance in the midst of which man is held. This is a balance between the forces of the world, entering through the senses of the body, and the forces of heaven, entering through the soul. Because he is held between equal forces man is free to tip the scales in this way or in that, by yielding to one force and resisting the other. By his own will he is continually upsetting the balance, as a result of which he loses something of his freedom and becomes a creature of that impulse which he has allowed to take possession of his mind. So long as man lives in the world, the Lord continually restores that balance, maintains the equilibrium, and so protects man's freedom.7 When, however, man by his life in the world has repeatedly tipped the scales on one side, and has deliberately chosen to be ruled by one set of forces rather than by the other, he passes into the other world where he can no longer change that fundamental choice. The Lord then operates to preserve his freedom in that choice, and if the man has chosen the forces of heaven, he then comes into the stream of the Divine order, so that he can be led by the Lord freely from within according to his own love and delight. Because the forces that direct him from within are according to his own love, he does not perceive them as outside of himself. He feels as if they were his own. Thus he seems to lead himself, and to be free. In this freedom the happiness of heaven consists. However, if a man has chosen the forces of the world, then he can be led only from without. His will is against the Lord's leading from within. He finds himself in opposition to the order of heaven. The Lord operating from without exerts a force that is felt as outside the man himself. It is felt as a compulsion, as a restriction that brings him into slavery. He has made himself the servant of sin, and he can never be free; and this eternal bondage is the unhappiness of hell.
There is no power in heaven or on earth except that of the Lord Himself which can maintain this balance of forces whereby man is given freedom to think, to will, and to act as if of himself. The Lord must establish that balance with every individual, and He must continually re-establish it, operating from His infinite wisdom to counterbalance every choice which man makes, by an opposing influence that keeps him free. And in order to do this with individuals the Lord must maintain a perfect balance in the Grand Man itself, between the combined forces of hell on the one hand, and the combined forces of heaven on the other; that is, a balance between those forces as they impinge upon the minds of men by influx, inspiration, infestation, and temptation.
It was to re-establish this balance for all men -- which, because of the increase of evil in the world of spirits, was in danger of being destroyed -- that the Lord came on earth. He fought against the hells, overcame them, and by His own power re-formed them into an organization which He could eternally control. At the same time He re-ordered the heavens that through them He might operate continually for the preservation of human freedom. Wherefore He said to His disciples, "All power is given unto Me in heaven and on earth."8 This power the Lord has taken to Himself by virtue of His conquest over the hells; and because He did this by His own power, it is called "His merit and righteousness." The Lord alone has merit and He alone has righteousness because He alone can act from His own power. Man can act only from the power of the Lord and therefore he has no merit or righteousness of his own.
All this we must have in mind in order to understand what is meant by the boards of the tabernacle. They were made of cedar, or shittim wood, by which is represented the Lord's merit and righteousness. They represent, therefore, the Lord's presence with man, sustaining his life, maintaining his equilibrium, ever guarding and protecting his freedom that he may have power to will, to think and to act as of himself. Like these boards, the Lord holds back the forces that press in on all sides, by providing that man may withdraw from the world through personal reflection and contemplation. He can be alone with God and therefore free to will, to think, to choose his course and direct his life without compelling interference. This ever-present Divine power is not seen. It is hidden, secret, wholly unconscious to man. If this were not so, man would not be free. He would be conscious that his freedom was given to him every moment and this fact would render him no longer free. To be free, man must seem to have power in himself to resist the forces that play upon him, and to hold them at bay.
To represent the fact that the Lord's presence is secret and wholly unrealized, the boards of the tabernacle were covered on both sides with gold. The Lord can lead man only if man responds to His leading with love. Man's responsive love to the Lord is represented by the gold. Of this love man is fully aware, and it seems to be his own. In thinking and acting according to it he feels that he is free. But the truth is that the Lord secretly inspires this love. Man, from his inherited nature, is altogether incapable of it. But the Lord insinuates it during infancy and childhood by influx out of heaven.
The appearance is, therefore, that man's love to the Lord produces and sustains his spiritual life; but this is no more true than it is that the gold plates on the boards held up the curtains of the tabernacle. Only the boards of shittim wood had power to do this. So also, only the Lord, present secretly within, has power to establish and sustain the life of religion with man. Man derives his knowledge of the Lord's presence from the Word. But the perpetual acknowledgment from the heart of the Lord's underlying power is the only thing that can protect man from confirming the appearance that he has life and power in himself. To do this is to deny God and worship self. Therefore, there must always be two things with man: the appearance that he lives and acts from himself; and the acknowledgment that he is led in all things by the Lord alone. These two are represented by the boards covered with gold.
The bases of silver represent the fundamental religious and philosophical concepts on which this acknowledgment of the Lord's over-ruling power must rest. We mean by this the truth that there is a God; the truth that He is Life itself, and that man is only a vessel that perpetually receives inflowing life from God. These and many other truths like them are basic conceptions without which we can have no understanding of the universe in which we live. Without them we can find no first cause, no final end, no reason for being, or goal toward which to progress. Without them we cannot think spiritually at all, nor can we think rationally concerning even natural things. These truths form the basis and foundation of all our mental activities. They give us ground on which to stand -- a starting point from which to think. They are fundamental to spiritual sanity; and when we start from them there follows, as an inevitable consequence, the acknowledgment that the Lord is inmostly present with us; that He is supporting our life; that He is giving us freedom and protection every moment -- and this, even though we do not perceive His presence, but seem to be dependent upon our own prudence, wisdom, and power of will. So do the gold-covered boards rest upon the silver foundations, and, as it were, arise out of them.
The rods by which these boards were held together, when passed through the golden rings, represent other truths which bind the mental structure into a unit. The truths which spring from this acknowledgment of the Lord's presence, and of His immediate leading, are those that give strength and endurance in temptation. Such truths as this: that all good is from the Lord, but also all evil is from hell, and thus that it is not to be appropriated by man to himself, but is something which he can, with the Lord's help, shun and put away. Evil spirits seek to persuade man that he is wholly evil, and that the evil is part of him, and so bring him into states of despair, the result of which is nonresistance to evil. On the other hand, such truths as those just mentioned give hope, courage, and trust in the providence of the Lord, which enable man to face the problems of life squarely and to strive manfully against the tendencies to evil in himself.
These are the truths which a man consciously perceives and acknowledges and from which he thinks. Thus they are relatively few. This idea is involved in the number five, and is the reason why the rods were five in number. But they are also sufficient for his needs from day to day, giving him power to resist temptation in every state of life. Those on the south represent such power in a state of clear light and manifest perception -- when the mind is exalted into the state of heaven. Those on the north represent the same in a state of obscurity and doubt when he does not see clearly the way ahead, but is still able to cling to his faith and continue his resistance. Those on the west, or toward the sea, have the same representation in states when his love of spiritual things is cool, and when he is consequently flooded with external or natural perplexities arising from the outward circumstances of his life in the world. Here, also, he is enabled to see enough of the truth to hold fast that which he has, "that no man take his crown." (Revelation 3:11)
As these truths derive their real power immediately from the Lord so the rods derive their ability to bind together the walls of the tabernacle from the rings of gold which are fastened into the wood of the boards. It is love to the Lord, within the man himself -- a love of which he is conscious and which seems to be his own -- that alone can give man power, as of himself, to resist evil and remain steadfast in the life of his religion.9