The Courtyard

Sometimes our culture influences our approach to God. Have you noticed? God commanded the construction of a courtyard in which the Tabernacle or dwelling of God would be housed. Importantly, there is one courtyard. There is no Court of Women or Court of Gentiles. Nope. Not even a hint of these other courtyards which seemed to pop up by the time of Jesus. And the very existence of these courtyards is to communicate that the men of Israel were better than the women of Israel who were better than any Gentile any day. But that is not God’s communication. He commanded that one courtyard be built. The only distinction is that the priest could enter the Holy Space to perform daily service before Yahweh and the High Priest could enter into the Holy of Holies once a year. Imagine a male dominant culture changing the very construction of the Temple in order to communicate that they are somehow closer to God than those inferior women. We humans tend to mess up God’s plans. And yet . . . and yet he still works his glory through us.

Exodus 27:9-19 is about the courtyard of the Tabernacle. This courtyard was 150 feet (set up to face north and south) by 75 feet (set up to face east and west). This would have been about 11,250 square feet. So, you know, pretty large. Other than the size there are several important features of the courtyard. The materials, though expensive, were less so than those used on the Tabernacle. Again, this was to communicate that the closer you get to the Presence of Yahweh the more precious the building materials and utensils used. Yahweh’s holiness demanded some form of recognition that would have been understood by the Israelites. One source pointed out that the closer things and people are to the Presence of God the better they must be. Or another way to put this may be that nearness to Yahweh makes things and people more precious. I wonder if that is one of the messages the Holy Spirit was communicating as he was commanding the construction of this courtyard. Whether or not that is a clear message to be discovered in the building of this courtyard or not is debatable. But it is a good and true message nonetheless. Draw near then.

The courtyard walls or curtains were to be 7 and a half feet tall. So, from their tents which will be arranged around the Tabernacle, they would be able to see the Tabernacle, which was twice the height at 15 feet, over the courtyard walls. But inside the walls they would not have been able to see their own tents. And maybe there is another communication here. When we approach to worship Yahweh, we should turn our attention away from our own dwellings and things and focus on his dwelling; his Presence. Minimize distractions in order to worship Yahweh. That only makes sense doesn’t it?

The gate, which was a screen placed in front of a gap in the construction, was thirty feet wide. And could this be another communication? View this as a large opening welcoming all to come on in. And this brings us back to the beginning of the article. There was no division; no courts restricting access because of gender or race; no communication that one men are holier and therefore can approach a little closer to Yahweh’s Presence than women. Nope, one large courtyard with one large gate through which all were welcome to come in. Okay, to be honest, there may not have been any non-Jewish people who were invited to “come on in” through this gate. But I don’t see any restrictions either. Maybe later, but not here.

Some have suggested that verses 20-21 are out of place. And their instruction does seem a bit random. Others have postulated that these verses introduce the next section concerning the priests’ garments. But what if it is a subtle reminder of the Presence of God. After all, this courtyard, as welcoming as it was intended to be, is still separated from the actual Presence. Aaron and his descendants can go into the Holy Space and keep the lamps burning with the pure, beaten, not pressed olive oil. All are welcome into the courtyard. All may benefit from worshiping the Presence. But only Aaron and his sons can actually go in and minister even closer to the Presence. But what if the communication is really not about that. What if the communication is to those in the Courtyard who cannot enter the Holy Space. The light of the Presence is always lit and that with the purest of oil. Rest assured, the Light is always Present. And maybe just as the church is the temple today, maybe it is also the courtyard. And would this mean that we are to be helping all, and I mean absolutely everyone, focus on the Presence? That sounds right. Peace, Walter