The instructions for the covering that was put over the tabernacle are as follows: Exodus 26:7-13 “And thou shalt make curtains of goats’ hair to be a covering upon the tabernacle: eleven curtains shalt thou make. The length of one curtain shall be thirty cubits, and the breadth of one curtain four cubits: and the eleven curtains shall be all of one measure. And thou shalt couple five curtains by themselves, and six curtains by themselves, and shalt double the sixth curtain in the forefront of the tabernacle. And thou shalt make fifty loops on the edge of the one curtain that is outmost in the coupling, and fifty loops in the edge of the curtain which coupleth the second. And thou shalt make fifty taches of brass, and put the taches into the loops, and couple the tent together, that it may be one. And the remnant that remaineth of the curtains of the tent, the half curtain that remaineth, shall hang over the backside of the tabernacle. And a cubit on the one side, and a cubit on the other side of that which remaineth in the length of the curtains of the tent, it shall hang over the sides of the tabernacle on this side and on that side, to cover it”.
The word for goat used here usually means a she-goat, but when it is in the plural, then it means goats’ hair. This is why “hair” is in italics, for the idea of the hair comes from the fact that the word goat is in the plural. Notice the position of the apostrophe. Since it is after the “s” it means the hair of more than one goat. Now it is possible to obtain goat’s hair either from a living goat, (Angora, for example), or from a dead goat. This is suggestive, for there was a special occasion in Israel’s calendar when two goats featured, and one goat died, the other goat lived. That occasion was the Day of Atonement. One of the reasons for the Day of Atonement ceremonies was the need to defend God from the charge of being indifferent to evil. The heathen might charge Him with tolerating sin by dwelling amongst the sinning people of Israel. To avoid this charge, the tabernacle was reconciled by the blood of atonement, for it dwelt among the camp of Israel, and they were unclean. The literal expression, as we already noticed, was “the tabernacle dwelleth among them in the midst of their uncleanness”, Leviticus 16:16, where the word dwelleth is the same as tabernacle, giving the idea of the tabernacle tabernacling. We have already linked this to John 1:14, with the Word tabernacling among men. If the physical tabernacle had to be preserved in the wilderness, and the name of God vindicated, is it not also the case that the honour of Christ and His Father need to be safeguarded when he was here amongst men? Indeed it is, so at the precise moment of the beginning of Christ’s public ministry, the word rings out from John the Baptist, son of a priest, “Behold, the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world”, John 1:29. A lamb can refer to both a sheep or a goat, as we see from Exodus 12:5, and so we may understand that John is announcing Christ as the One who will fulfil the Day of Atonement. As “the Lamb of God”, He is like the goat upon whom the Lord’s lot fell, in Leviticus 16:9. As the one who “beareth away the sin of the world”, He is like the living goat that became the scapegoat, bearing the load of sin into the place from which it would never return, verse 10. And by announcing Him like this, John is vindicating Christ from any charge of associating with sin by tabernacling amongst men. So it is that the goats’ hair curtain is a tent or covering for the tabernacle curtain, just as the impending work of atonement vindicates Christ for dwelling amongst the uncleanness of the world of men. And this covering is complete, for the goats’ hair curtains were two cubits longer that the tabernacle curtain, and so were able to reach right to the desert floor even on the north and south sides. The character of Christ is completely protected by God from the wrong thoughts men might have about it. Because the eleven curtains were “all of one measure”, we know they were all four cubits broad. And because the inner curtains were likewise all four cubits broad, and also because the taches were above the veil, we can see that each tabernacle curtain was aligned perfectly to each goats’ hair curtain. Now we have suggested that each of the tabernacle curtains represented, not only that Christ kept and explained the law, but that He gave the ultimate exposition of the character of God, as He lived here. Now we are learning that there is a complete correspondence between what happened at Calvary, and what He, as the Word, expressed in His life. Every infringement of Divine law was “covered” by Christ’s propitiatory work at Calvary. He gave to God the complete answer to every demand of God’s law, and also to every infringement of that law by men. He also safeguarded by His teaching the demands of God’s law. But He did more than keep the law, pleasing as that was to God. Just as the goats’ hair curtains went beyond the inner curtain, so Christ, in grace went beyond the demands of mere law. God’s warning to Israel was that they would be under a curse if they did not keep the law. But this keeping of the law was not simply to be in the letter, but also in the spirit- they must really want to keep it. This is what is meant when God said, “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things that are written in the law to do them”, Galatians 3:10. The last three words made the greatest demand, for they signified wholehearted obedience to God, and not simply outward observance. The very same construction is found in Psalm 40:8, words quoted about the Lord Jesus in Hebrews 10:7, “Lo, I come to do thy will O God”. Thus the wholehearted determination of Christ to do the will of His Father is indicated to us. Significantly, the words “Yea, Thy law is within My heart” are omitted in Hebrews 10, for the Lord was moved by grace in His heart. It was by the grace of God that He “tasted death for every man”, Hebrew 2:9.
The eleventh curtain A distinctive feature of the goats’ hair curtain was that it had an extra section, and this was hung over the front of the tabernacle, and was folded, so as to make a double thickness. This suggests several things. First, that not even the front edge of the inner curtain was visible. Only the priests could see it from within the sanctuary. We are reminded that it is only those who are born of God, John 1:12,13, who can see His glory, verse 14. We have to be on the inside, so to speak. “For the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned”, 1 Corinthians 2:14. The apostle Peter makes it clear that Christian priesthood is based on being born of God. See the references to being born, or being children, in 1 Peter 1:3,14,17,23; 2:2,5. Just as Aaron’s sons were priests in virtue of being begotten of him, so Christians are priests in virtue of being born of God. As such, they have the immense privilege of drawing near to God. The psalmist said, “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in His temple”, Psalm 27:4. We would do well to have the same all-consuming desire.
Second, there was a constant reminder to all Israel of the Day of Atonement. Every time they looked toward the tabernacle they could not avoid seeing the goats’ hair. This cautioned them against sinning, for they were reminded that a goat must die and another goat must bear sins if they did transgress. But the curtain also encouraged them that God was able to deal with their sin. There was provision for them, so that they could be preserved as a nation. This also reminded them that they were individually responsible also, so that when they sinned they should bring their own offering for that sin. Christ in His life was like the eleventh curtain, a rebuke to sin, for He represented Divine holiness and righteousness, and as such condemned the sin of men. “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil”, John 3:19. But it was also true that He had come to deal with sin at Calvary; even when He was born He was given a name which implied that He would save His people from their sins. So even the mention of His name was an indication of Calvary.
Third, the priests passed into the tabernacle under it, reminding them that the Day of Atonement ceremony was necessary because of the failure of Nadab and Abihu, Leviticus 16:1. As they walked beneath the archway of the eleventh curtain, they would need to ask themselves what was in their hands. For their brothers had ventured beneath that curtain with strange fire and strange incense. As a consequence, fire came out from the Lord and devoured them, Leviticus 10:2. The writer to the Hebrews exhorts us to “serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire”, Hebrews 12:28,29. Just because He is the God of grace does not mean that He may be trifled with. Nadab and Abihu came with the boldness of arrogance and rebellion, whereas the Christian priests have boldness to enter into God’s presence because of Christ’s sin-offering work, Hebrews 10:11-19. Theirs is the boldness of confidence in the work of Christ. They are safeguarded by what He did for them, and thus they “draw near with full assurance of faith”, Hebrews 10:22.
Fourth, John the Baptist, the son of a priest, announced the coming of Christ to His public ministry with the words, “Behold the lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world”, John 1:29. The apostle Paul referred to this in his address in the synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia. “Of this man’s seed hath God according to His promise raised unto israel a Saviour, Jesus: when John had first preached, before His coming, the baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel”, Acts 13:23,24. The word for “coming” in Acts 13:24 is literally “entrance”. This clearly does not refer to the entrance of the Lord Jesus into the world by His birth, but rather His entrance upon His public ministry at His baptism. So John was privileged to connect together the coming into public view of the Lord Jesus, and the way in which He would disappear from public view at Calvary. So the folded goats’ hair curtain that hung over the entrance to the tabernacle, reminds us of the character of the entrance of the Lord Jesus into public ministry.