XVIII. The Court and the Laver
The Tabernacle of Israel, by George de Charms, 1969
By the court of the tabernacle is meant the rectangular space round about the tabernacle itself. It measured 100 cubits in its east and west dimension, and 50 cubits in its north and south dimension. It was surrounded by a wall or fence of white linen, 5 cubits high, and supported upon pillars of shittim wood of similar height. The total number of pillars is not given. Except for their height no mention is made of their appearance; nor are we told how far apart they were placed.
There have been various interpretations as to how this curtain was supported, but we believe the most probable solution is that, given by Dr. Iungerich in his article on the tabernacle (Journal of Education for 1916, p. 135). The specifications given in Exodus require that there shall be 20 pillars along the south and north walls, and 10 pillars along the east and west walls. If we divide the 100 cubits into a spacing of 20 pillars, there would be but 19 spaces between the pillars, and each of these would have a fractional measure of 5.26 cubits. If we interpret the erection in this way, it would mean that the corner pillars would be counted for both the sides and the end walls, which is improbable; and there would be no basis of correspondence involved in the spacing. If, however, the pillars are placed five cubits apart on centers, and sixty pillars in all are used, they will be found to enclose a space of the required measurements. This involves, however, that the corner pillars be counted as belonging to one side only, and provides for twenty spaces on each of the long sides and ten spaces on each of the short sides. Referring to the plan on pages 12-13, this arrangement will become clear. We have there numbered the pillars that belong to each side, and beginning at the southeast corner and numbering around, we find that sixty pillars are required in all. If we begin counting at the southeast corner, the first twenty pillars reading west will be counted as belonging to the south wall, the twenty-first pillar will be counted as the first of the west wall, which will then contain ten pillars exclusive of that at the northwest corner. This will be counted as the first of the north wall. So also the northeast corner pillar will be counted as belonging to the east wall. The fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh pillars of the east wall will be considered as belonging to the gate of the court, while the eighth, ninth and tenth will belong to the southeast wing of the wall.1
We have made the pillars square rather than round because of the general correspondence. All parts of the tabernacle, excepting the laver and the lampstand, were rectilinear in form, because the tabernacle is in "the ultimates of nature."2 We have arbitrarily assigned to these pillars the thickness of 1/4 of a cubit or 41/2 inches. Each pillar was provided with a tenon which extended into the ground, as was the case with the boards of the tabernacle wall, and also with a base of copper, which was a band protecting the bottom of the pillar from contact with the ground. Each pillar was furnished also with what is called a "fillet" of silver. The term "fillet" has been interpreted by Paine and other scholars as a rod joining two adjacent pillars at the top, in order that the wall might thus be strengthened and the curtain supported throughout its entire length. This interpretation is derived from the original meaning of the Hebrew word here used, the root of which signifies "to join together." But there are many difficulties in the way of this interpretation. The fillets are said to be of silver. But the amount of silver required to make rods extending around the entire court and thus to make a line 300 cubits in length would be prohibitive. To avoid this objection, Paine supposes that these rods were made of shittim wood covered with silver, a supposition that is nowhere suggested by the text. We think it more probable that by "fillet" is meant a cap of silver protecting the top of the pillar and extending a short distance down its sides. Through the fillet was passed a hook, also of silver, upon which the curtain was hung. The pillars were supported by cords and stakes, after the manner of a tent, the stakes being of copper and the cords of linen.3 Unlike the pillars of the tabernacle itself, those of the court were not gilded. Apparently the hanging for the court was made in one piece throughout the entire length of each side, except on the east end. Here the hanging was divided into two wings each 15 cubits in length, and joined in the center by the gate of the court, which was 20 cubits in length. The situation of the tabernacle itself in the court was spoken of in Chapter I.4
In the court there were two articles of furniture, the altar of burnt offering, and the laver. They were situated between the east wall of the court and the east end of the tabernacle, and probably divided that space into three equal parts. The altar was midway between the north and south walls, as would seem to be implied in the statement, "Thou shalt set the altar of burnt offering before the door of the tent of the congregation."5 That this was true also of the laver might be concluded from the succeeding paragraph: "Thou shalt set the laver between the tent of the congregation and the altar."6 But there is a tradition among the Jews that the laver was placed a little toward the south. This is borne out by what is said of the molten sea in the temple of Solomon. "And he set the sea on the right side of the house, eastward over against the south."7
The laver was a vessel of copper designed to hold the water which was to be used for the ceremonial washing of the priests. "And Moses and Aaron and his sons washed their hands and their feet thereat, when they went into the tent of the congregation, and when they came near unto the altar they washed, as the Lord commanded Moses."8 The laver consisted of two parts, the vessel itself and its foot or base, both of copper.9 Its size and its shape are nowhere indicated, but some hint of this can be gathered from what was said of the molten sea. This was to be round, its upper edge "wrought like the brim of a cup with flowers of lilies."10 It was to measure 10 cubits or 15 feet in diameter, and 5 cubits or 71/2 feet in height. It was ornately decorated and set upon twelve oxen, three facing each quarter.11
At the time of Solomon the temple services had increased enormously in number, and a much larger laver was then required. The one used for the tabernacle must have been considerably smaller in view of the fact that it had to be transported from place to place. It was probably simpler in design and execution. Yet it must have presented the general appearance of a cup or vase, and we have adopted a simple form of vase such as was characteristic of the Egyptian art of the period. We have arbitrarily ascribed to it a diameter of 41/2 cubits, and a height of 31/2 cubits, as representing the probable proportion in comparison with the other articles of furniture in the tabernacle. What is called the foot or base formed a lower basin, which received the water from the laver itself for the actual ablutions of the priests. It would not have been practical that the washings should have been done in the laver for two reasons: first, because of its height, and second, because the water would thereby become polluted. There may be an indication of this in Exodus 30:18: "Thou shalt also make a laver of copper, and his foot of copper to wash withal. And thou shalt put water therein." How the water was emptied from the laver into the base below is not known. But in connection with the molten sea there is a tradition of spouts or spigots, which we have adopted here as probable. Nor is there any indication as to how the water was placed in the laver. It was probably poured in by pitchers and other vessels carried by the Levites. There must also have been a means of draining the water out of the base, but concerning this there is no Scriptural indication.
There is an interesting question in connection with the material of which the laver was made. Exodus 38:8 is translated in the Authorized Version of the Bible: "And he made the laver of copper, and the foot of it of copper, of the looking glasses of the women assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation." With this translation all the ancient versions, so far as we have been able to discover, agree, including that of Schmidius, which was the one used and most closely followed by Swedenborg. He always used that version except when there was some spiritual reason for not doing so. In many cases Swedenborg's own translation is much better, from the standpoint of the internal sense, than that of Schmidius. It is significant, therefore, that Swedenborg, in the face of all tradition and against the judgment of all translators, here changes the reading, leaving out entirely the idea of mirrors. "And he made the laver of copper and its foot of copper in the sight of those ministering, who ministered at the door of the tent of meeting."12 This might be accepted as a more literal translation of the original Hebrew, although the word for sight is mentioned in the lexicons as having also the meaning of mirrors. Believing that Swedenborg would not have made this change without reason, we have adopted his reading in preference to that which is traditional. The only conceivable reason why the laver should have been made of mirrors would have been to preserve their highly polished surfaces so that they would still have served as mirrors after they had been incorporated into the laver. This, however, would have required that the vessel should not be round but rather polygonal in shape. Such a form is highly improbable in view of what is said about the shape of the molten sea. It is probable therefore that the laver was simply made of polished copper.
As has been previously indicated, the court represented the natural heaven.13 This is the same as saying that it represents the natural degree of the mind, as was explained in the last chapter. The natural degree is characterized by a simple faith and loyal obedience to a truth which, however, is not interiorly understood. It consists of generals which are seen without discerning insight. One who thinks from such generals must of necessity be guided, to a considerable extent, by the judgment of others. For this reason, those who belong to the natural heaven, or those in whom only the natural degree of the mind has been opened, are relatively as disciples and servants when compared to the higher angels. This is said with reference to spiritual things, for it is on the plane of this natural mind that we live almost entirely at this day. Even if we are regenerating, and thus are entering more and more deeply into an understanding of spiritual tilings, still that inner mind where these things come distinctly to view is covered over by curtains and veils, and can be entered only in certain states of spiritual exaltation. Our thought, even when we regard heavenly things, is clothed in worldly ideas, in conceptions of time and place, and person, which have been derived from the bodily senses. Save for momentary flashes of insight, it is only through these coverings that we can see eternal truth, until after death, when we come into direct contact with a deeper reality.
Those with whom the higher degrees of the mind have not been opened in this world will never be free from their dependence upon worldly ideas. This is true even of those who dwell in the natural heaven.
The natural mind itself is both internal and external. The internal natural is called in the Writings, the "interior mind," to distinguish it from the true internal, which is the spiritual-rational. The outmost mind has to do with speech and action, and with everything that belongs to the material world. It is represented by the camp of Israel round about the tabernacle. The interior mind has to do with the imagination, with desire, passion, ambition, and thus man's motives and intentions. This is what is represented specifically by the court. Here are gathered from the outer memory those things which can serve or promote some purpose of the will or the accomplishment of some end. It is from the affections of this mind that speech and action derive all their quality. For this reason the process of regeneration by means of conflict against evil takes place here. Evil cannot enter into the holy place, and still less into the holy of holies. These two higher degrees of the mind are inviolate. They can be opened or they can be closed but they cannot be desecrated. At least, such desecration is guarded against by all the forces of the Divine Providence, lest the holy things of the church and of heaven be profaned.
The Lord permits a man to enter into the holy place, that is, to open the spiritual degree of his mind, only if he can be given strength to remain in it to the end of life. With the evil, the internal degrees of the mind are not opened, and therefore they are ignorant of spiritual truth and good. In the interior natural mind, however, evils and goods are together, and here the evils must be separated from the goods by a conflict in which one or the other finally conquers. Both are indeed present, but they are not mingled. If the man is internally good, then he receives into that mind only what he thinks, or believes, to be good. And if he should be mistaken, whenever he sees that he has admitted what is evil or false, he will reject it, and so can be perfected and prepared for heaven. If, however, the man is evil, then good is retained in this mind only as a cloak to hide his evil. When it is no longer necessary to do this, he will at once reject that good and confirm its opposite.
With all men in the world, and with all in the world of spirits after death, both good and evil are together in this interior mind, and the process of regeneration is the conflict for mastery between them. The battle must be from spiritual conscience, formed according to the truths of religion on the one hand, or from the hereditary loves of self and the world on the other. This battle determines the quality of the man. On its issue hangs his eternal destiny. Here is to be enacted what we call the life of religion. And yet this mind has no judgment of its own. It is called the "animus," and it is governed and controlled by passions. The power of developing this mind, and the power of controlling it, arise from the presence of the internal, the spiritual, and the truly rational mind; and this is the case even when that mind is not opened. For this reason, even evil men can become keenly intelligent in natural things, and can control their passions and desires for ulterior motives -- being in this respect superior to the beasts. Such control, however, is under the influence of hell. That the control may be under the influence of heaven, there must be some opening of the internal mind, however slight. There must be some understanding of spiritual truth, however general, and some perception of heavenly good, however obscure. Then only can there be influx out of heaven, that the heart may be touched by a spiritual love that empowers man to overcome the forces of evil. Given the beginning of such a spiritual conscience, although one remain, as to active thought, in the realm of natural things, still there can be resistance to evil; that is, resistance to that which is believed to be evil, and as a result of this the interior mind can be purified through temptation, that the man may at last be led to heaven. Nevertheless, because he has no insight or discernment of his own, such a man can easily be deceived and made to believe what is false. He is therefore dependent upon others for leadership. Even in heaven he will depend upon the angels of the higher heavens for instruction and guidance. He will, however, be in the love of obedience, and will enjoy heavenly happiness in the ultimate performance of uses. So far as the internal mind is opened the conflict with evil becomes more acute. For, as one understands spiritual truth more deeply, it reveals the presence of evils which before had not been seen. Spiritual truth penetrates the mask of external appearances behind which evil thoughts and intentions had been concealed. It casts a revealing light upon the ideas that fill the interior natural mind, and enables man to correct the errors that have been harbored there. This purification of the mind is represented both by the laver and by the altar of burnt offering. It is represented by the laver as to the understanding, and by the altar of burnt offering as to the will. The water placed in the laver represents the truth of conscience. The brass or copper of which it was made represents the natural good, the sincere purpose and intent from which that truth is acknowledged and obeyed. And washing at the laver represents the removal of evils and falsities through actual temptation combats. Especially was this washing to be done by the priests in preparation for entrance into the holy place, or for ministrations at the altar. For the mind is to be cleansed from selfish and worldly or unworthy motives as it draws near to the Lord to seek from Him direction and guidance in the affairs of life. Without such resistance to evil in the heart there can be no true worship: Wherefore the Lord said, "Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God."14
The curtains round about the court are said to represent truth from a celestial origin,15 by which is meant the truth of religion, or truth that is believed because of a simple faith in the Lord's Word.
The pillars are said to represent the truths of heaven, and of the church, which give support.16 Because they were made of shittim wood, they represent also the Lord's righteousness, concerning which we spoke in an earlier chapter. That the height of the pillars should be five cubits represents the degree of good and truth which may be perceived by this natural mind, and this is said to be sufficient; that is, sufficient for all the requirements of human life on earth.17 The same would seem to us to be involved in the spacing of the pillars five cubits apart round about the court. The tent-pins of copper, with their cords, represent things that conjoin and strengthen. These are external forms of worship and customs of religious life which support the things of the church and provide an orderly mode for their expression.18 As to the use of the court we shall speak in connection with the representation of the Levites.