When God instructed Moses to build the Tabernacle, he was to make it after the pattern he was given in the mount. On its completion we read, “They had done it as the Lord had commanded, even so had they don it” (Ex 39:40). Thus the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle (40:34). Any additions would have been unthinkable.
Yet some years later God gave further instructions to Moses that broad plates be added to the alter. In Numbers 16, Korah, Dathan and Abiram, able men in their own way, along with 250 princes, “famous in the congregation,” rose up against Moses and Aaron and provoked the Lord in presuming to violate God’s order of priesthood and offer incense themselves. This resulted in the earth swallowing them up (v 32) and fire from the Lord consuming the 250 men who offered incense (v 35). However, the 250 hallowed brazen censors (v 17,36) withstood the judgement. God gave instructions that these should be taken up and beaten into broad plates for a covering of the alter (v 38). This would be an additional covering, “encasement” with metal (v 39). The other other uses of this word are in Exodus 38:17,19, “and the overlaying”, and Isaiah 30:22, “the covering” (Strong’s Concordance). This additional covering to the sides was always visible as the alter was approached. Not only was this to be a sign (v 38), but also a memorial to the children of Israel that no stranger which is not of the seed of Aaron was to come near to offer incense before the Lord. (v 40).
God had given Israel other memorials, and it may be helpful to note some of these very briefly:
1. In Exodus 3:15, “This is My name forever, and this is My memorial unto all generations.” The name of God, The Lord, Jehovah, Elohim, the everlasting Triune God is His memorial. Compare Hosea 12:5, “Even the Lord God of Hosts, the Lord is His memorial”.
2. The passover was a memorial throughout their generations (Ex 12:14). They were to remember that they were redeemed from Egypt.
3. Following this they were to eat unleavened bread for seven days, a memorial that having been redeemed they were to live holy lives (Exod 13:7). Christ our passover is sacrificed for us therefore, after salvation, we should not only feed on Christ, but live holy lives too (1 Cor 5:7-8).
4. The victory over Amalek was to be written for a memorial (Exod 17:4). What victory there is when hands are upheld in prayer!
5. The two stones on the shoulders of the ephod which Aaron bore before the Lord, as well as those on the breastplate, were for a memorial before the Lord (Exod 20:12,29). Portraying the standing and affection the children of Israel had before God.
6. The atonement money which was silver was a memorial of their redemption (Exod 30:16).
7. The blowing of the silver trumpets (Num 10:10) was a memorial that their journeys, gatherings to gather and other exercises were all guided by God.
8. The twelve stones from Jordan (Joshua) were to be a memorial to the children of Israel forever. They spoke of resurrection.
The above memorials were all events of great importance, some to be remembered continually, others to be commemorated at given times. The memorial of the broad plates differed from these and was in contrast to them in that this memorial was to be a constant reminder, a warning, not only that God’s order of priesthood was not to be violated, but of the serious consequences that had already followed previous violation. It was the priestly family, the sons of Aaron only, and only after their consecration, who were to function in the priesthood. This had to be in accordance with the prescribed order which all centered around the Tabernacle.
God still has a prescribed order as well as a gathering center whereby He can be approached. As the sons of Aaron had the right of priesthood by birth, so today the only ones who can function are those who have first experienced the new birth. Peter speaks about a “holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ”, as well as a “royal priesthood” to “show forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet 2:9). The remembrance of the Lord on the first day of each week is not anticipated in the New Testament apart from a local assembly. Our Lord is there the Center (Matt 18:20). Although He is rejected and outside the camp, we go forth unto Him, bearing His reproach (Hen 13:13). Being thus gathered we are able to remember Him, as He requested, and sometimes sing:
“By Christ redeemed, in Christ restored,
We keep the memory adored,
And show the death of our dear Lord,
Until He come.”
This is one of a number of privileges associated with a local assembly, but it is all important and should not be taken lightly. Scripture also exhorts that we should examine ourselves before participating in it and thus avoid doing so unworthily, thereby being guilty of the body and blood of the Lord (1 Cor 11:27-28)