VI. Copper and Linen
The Tabernacle of Israel, by George de Charms, 1969
The twelve materials offered for the construction of the tabernacle are to be divided into three groups of four each, according to their spiritual significance. In each group the first two materials mentioned in the list recorded in Exodus have reference to the internal mind, and the last two to the external. The gold and the silver, being the first in order represent respectively, the will and the understanding of the internal mind, while the brass and the linen represent the will and the understanding of the external mind.
Wherever brass is mentioned in the Sacred Scripture it is said to represent "natural good" (A.C. 9465) By this is meant the love of justice and uprightness, of honesty and fair-dealing, of honor and all the moral virtues. However, the meaning of the Hebrew word which is translated as "brass" in the Authorized Version of the Bible is not known. In Deuteronomy 8:7, 9 the same word obviously denotes copper: "For the Lord thy God bringeth thee into a good land ... a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills thou mayest dig brass." Of course the native metal is meant here, and not a man-made alloy. There is no historic record to show that brass was known at the time of Moses. It is an alloy of copper and zinc. We know that bronze, the alloy of copper and tin, was used as early as 2000 b.c. because tools, weapons, and knives made of that metal have been found belonging to that era. It is probable, however that copper rather than bronze was used in the building of the tabernacle because it was more practical. This applies especially to the construction of the altar of burnt offering, copper being more resistant to heat than is bronze.
Gold was used only in the tabernacle itself, while copper was used in the court. The gold boards of the tabernacle walls could indeed be seen from the court, because they extended 2 cubits beyond the hanging of the door, forming a sort of porch at the entrance to the holy place. The bases of the pillars supporting the outer veil were of copper, although they were inside the holy place. In both cases something is represented that is intermediate between the court and the holy place. This is indicated by the fact that the court not only provided a protective space around the tent of meeting, but also afforded a way of entrance into it.
The laver was made entirely of copper, the altar of burnt offering was lined with copper, and the bases of the pillars in the court, together with their stakes, were of the same metal.
Religion is of life. It is a life according to the law of God, which is the spiritual truth of the Word. That truth must, of course be known, and in some measure understood. But faith in abstract doctrines, by itself, is not sufficient for man's salvation. It must be applied to life; that is, to the solution of the practical problems with which everyone is confronted each day of his life. Medieval ascetics sought the good life by separating themselves from the world because they regarded all earthly things as evil and fled from them into a world of prayer and religious meditation. In modern times many Christians have gone to the opposite extreme, considering that religion requires no more of man than to meet the responsibilities of every-day life here on earth. If he does this, they believe, the life after death will take care of itself. Neither of these concepts of religion is correct. The medieval church might be compared to a tabernacle divested of its outer coverings and of its surrounding court, while the Christian Church, based on what has been called "the social gospel" may be compared to the court alone, without the tent of meeting with its holy place and its holy of holies.
If it is to have saving power, religion must find expression in the performance of useful services to the neighbor. Yet these services must be performed according to true principles derived from the teaching of the Word. Every act must be governed by the dictates of a conscience based on spiritual truth, and thus on the law of God. It must be an act of obedience to Divine command rather than one of mere conformity with the demands of society. Only when this is the case does a life in accord with the laws of civil justice, and of moral probity, become a life of religion.
Both the civil and the moral law are of Divine origin. Without them society could not exist. Without them the order on which all human freedom rests could not be maintained; and without freedom of action and of thought, there could be no religion. They are provided by the Lord, therefore, as a necessary protection to the church and to the life of religion, and also as a mode of approach to the true worship of God. For this reason they represent the court of the tabernacle.
Religion must pervade all things of man's life. It must govern not only his faith and his inmost love, but also his thought, his speech, and his action in the performance of his business and his profession. By inherited nature every man tends to love himself, and to strive for worldly wealth, power, and prestige, as the most important goals to be achieved. Such worldly ambition may be purely selfish, but if it is subject to the spiritual teaching of the Word, it may be inspired by love to the Lord and by the love of use to others without thought of personal reward. Such a love of use is not innate with man. It is a gift from God. It is insinuated from heaven during infancy and childhood, and man is made consciously aware of it in adult age by means of the Word. No one can achieve it by his own power. Yet everyone can perceive it as an ideal to be attained by willing obedience to the spiritual principles of religion. The will to do this, and the determination to persist in it through every temptation, is what is represented by the copper that was offered for the construction of the tabernacle.1
The linen of the court was related to the copper as the gold of the tabernacle was related to the silver, the first representing the will and the second the understanding. The curtains of the court were made of plain white linen. Only the gate was embroidered in the four sacred colors. This linen, when presented to Moses as an offering, represents the teaching of religion received in childhood with affection and unquestioning faith. It is stored in the mind in the form of knowledges, which are however understood only in a childish way. Loyal acceptance of parental teaching is the only means of introduction to a religious faith. However, any religious belief, whether true or false, may be imparted in this way to the next generation. By this means many of the religions of the world have been perpetuated for countless ages. If human errors are ever to be corrected, each individual at adult age, must approach the Word for himself, and seek direct instruction from the Lord. This is possible only if a reverence for the Word has been instilled in childhood, and a desire to investigate and discover spiritual truth by personal reading of the Word and reflection upon its teachings. This spiritual curiosity is what is meant by the gift of linen for the tabernacle.
If such a desire to learn the truth concerning spiritual tilings is not inspired during childhood and youth, religion in adult age cannot be based on spiritual understanding or insight. It becomes a traditional faith, to be observed from habit, and from training. It loses any vital relation to man's daily life. Because of this men accept it only with reservations and observe it only so far as it is convenient and helpful to their worldly success to do so. When this comes to pass the church with man has lost its soul.
It is vitally important, therefore, that religious education should inculcate a love of spiritual truth that will lead in adult age to the Word as the source of all enlightenment and wisdom. Even in childhood, whatever is learned in a sphere of holiness when there is a sense of awe and reverence is deeply impressed upon the mind. It is perceived as something wonderful, precious, and to
be valued above all other knowledges. As it is recalled at adult age it inspires one to seek instruction from the Lord. This is what protects the inner life of religion and invites the Lord to enter each individual mind, there to build a tabernacle for Himself. It provides throughout life a protecting wall, guarding from injury the inner loves and thoughts of man's internal mind.2
The four colors woven into the linen curtain that formed the gate of the court, the veils and the curtain of the tabernacle, represent the various ways in which one may approach the Word for Divine instruction. The Sacred Scripture contains infinite depths of Divine truth, and yet it is clothed in human ideas, and words that bring its general meaning within the comprehension even of little children. The insight that may be derived from it depends upon the motive, the purpose, or the end of love from which it is approached. The light of the mind is love, and the degree of the light that is seen in the Word depends upon the quality of the love that inspires the one who reads it.
There are in general four degrees of love, each being represented by one of the sacred colors. If the Word is read merely to gain intellectual knowledge, the truth that is seen is called "fine twined linen." It will reveal the literal sense with its historical implications, all of which are valuable as a background of a deeper understanding. It will store the mind with technical details on which the spiritual representation depends. It includes all scholarly research, and critical analysis of the text.
If, on the other hand, the Word is studied with an end of use to society on earth, all its teachings take on a different color in the mind. If we approach the Scripture seeking therein a Divine guide to direct us in determining questions of justice and honor in civil and moral affairs the Word shines with a new light. This is the light of charity, the light of love to the neighbor, the love of country, and of society in general. The color which this love casts over all the teachings of the Word is represented by what is called "scarlet double-dyed." This color everywhere in the Sacred Scripture represents the letter of the Word, that is, the natural understanding of the Word.3 This is meant by "the vesture dipped in blood" worn by the man on the white horse, spoken of in the Apocalypse. (Revelation 19:13; A.R. 825) It is described in the Writings as the color of mutual love. It is interesting to note how in the history of humanity, Divine revelation has been the source and origin of all human ideas and ideals of justice, of law, of moral and ethical standards.
If, again, the Word is approached not with a view to the external application of its teachings to human conditions, but with a thirst for knowledge concerning heaven, eternal life, the nature and attributes of God, and the laws of His operation, then does all its doctrine take on still another color. For then the eyes of the spirit are lifted up from the earth. They look beyond space and time into the eternal world, where all that exists is to us on earth abstract, intangible, and imponderable. We think of such things as purely theoretical, yet all the central problems of human life lead us back to this realm of spiritual thought, where alone their solution is to be found. We can truly understand nothing except as we look back of nature to the Source of all things and learn from the teachings of the Word concerning both the beginning and the end of life. The desire to search out this higher truth is implanted by the Lord in the human mind. It is a distinctly human love in the light of which the spiritual implications of the Scripture may be seen. The color that this love casts over all the doctrine of the Word is described as cerulean blue, the blue of the sky, which represented heaven to the ancients.4
Such abstract principles of thought, regarded as the means of attaining a deeper understanding of life are indeed essential; but above it, more important still, is the use to which that heavenly knowledge should be put. There is in the inmost of the human mind a love of use that is celestial. It is the love of heaven, the Lord's love of saving human souls. In man this becomes a love of cooperating with the Lord in the work of regeneration. When from this love we draw near to the Word, its teaching takes on that color in the mind which is here called purple.3 It is a color halfway between cerulean blue and scarlet double-dyed.6 It is a color in which the red predominates, but is tinged with blue to form a brilliant rich crimson, the royal purple of ancient times.7 When so approached the teaching of the Word becomes illuminated as to heavenly uses; not as to its external application to the civil and moral needs of men on earth, but as to its application to the eternal uses of man's spirit into which he will enter after death. These also are the spiritual uses by which he is prepared for heaven.
In a human mind that is fully regenerate, all things of memory, of thought, of understanding, and of perception are woven into a perfect harmony by love to the Lord and charity toward the neighbor. The Word is then perceived as to all the degrees of its internal sense. This is why the veil of linen, woven of the four sacred colors formed both the gate of the court, and the door of the tabernacle through which alone one could gain entrance to the holy place, and the holy of holies.