The Veil and the Screen
April 8, 2020

Exodus 26 describes the formation of the tabernacle - the layered curtains, the boards and bases, the bars that secure the boards. The chapter ends with a description of the paroket, the veil that separates the Holy Place from the Most Holy (Exodus 26:31-37; v. 33).

The screen is made from blue, purple, and scarlet wool, along with fine linen, a holy mixture of two kinds of thread, of animal and vegetable material (26:31). Like the tabernacle itself, the paroket has cherubim worked into it (26:1, 31).

Yahweh sits on a cherubim throne; above him is the tabernacle woven with cherubim, and before Him is the screen, also woven with cherubim. Cherubim are throne guardians, an indication that the tabernacle is an Edenic setting and a replica of the throne room of heaven (cf. Revelation 4).

In addition to the veil, the craftsmen make a screen for the eastern door of the Holy Place. It's made from the same mix of holy materials, but doesn't have cherubim (26:36). It's a "firmament" between the earthly court and the heavenly tent. "Below" the firmament the cherubim are invisible, but priests go past the screen every day to mingle with the cherubim, as the human palace servants and throne guardians.

The veil hangs from four pillars with golden hooks (26:32), and as soon as the veil is set it organizes the whole space (26:33-34). The veil makes the sanctuary a two-room house, and the Lord explains the placement of the furniture only after the veil is hung in place.

The veil "divides" (badal) between the two zones of the tent (26:33). The verb is used several times in Genesis 1 (vv. 4, 6, 7, 14, 18). Hanging the veil is an act of creation, like the formation of the firmament or the dividing of land and sea.

After the veil is hung, Moses will bring the ark behind it (26:33), and then the kapporet, the cover of the ark (26:34). The order indicates that the ark is "ascending" through the veil into the highest heavens, and then is covered. The erection of the tabernacle isn't simply a setting-up. It's a sequence of actions that anticipate a future event, the history of Jesus' ascent to become the throne of His Father.

After the ark and cover are in place, the rest of the furniture - the table and lampstand - are set on the north and south side of the Holy Place (26:35). The ascent of the ark organizes the whole sanctuary, setting a light and a table in the midst of things. Again, the sequence points to an antitype: Jesus ascends, then lights the lamp of His church with the fiery Spirit and lays out a table for His companions.

As Hebrews 9 shows, the paroket forms the sanctuary into two tents, the "first tent" of the Holy Place" and the "second tent" of the Most Holy Place. This division, the writer says, signifies that the way into the Lord's presence hasn't been disclosed (Hebrews 9:8-9). As long as there are two tents, the time of perfection hasn't arrived.

And this is why the paroket is torn at the time of Jesus' death. It is a sign that the way is open; also a sign that the temple is now pointless and doomed. But fundamentally it's a sign that the two-tent, double-sanctuary system of the old is rapidly coming to an end. The world formed by the "dividing" veil is waning, as a new world is born, where the way is open, where traffic moves regularly between heaven and earth.

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