By Titus Chu
The Covering of
Rams’ Skins Dyed Red
“You shall make a covering for the tent of rams’ skins dyed red and a covering of porpoise skins above” (Exo. 26:14).
The covering of the tabernacle had four layers. The top, visible layer was made of porpoise skin, often translated as badger skin. The second layer was made of rams’ skin dyed red. This layer represents the covering we have as New Testament believers of the shed blood of Christ, and is a constant reminder of our sinful condition apart from such a covering.
No doubt the apostle Paul was a blessing to the church. Without him, we would not have a large part of the New Testament, and the churches might be trying to keep the Jewish law to this day. Yet he still testified, “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.” (1 Tim. 1:15)
No matter how much Paul fought, no matter how tough he was, and no matter how much he became a blessing to the church, he still knew that he was nothing but a sinner washed by the precious blood of the Lord, a sinner who had received the grace of the redemption of Christ.
We should all have such a sense of our poor condition apart from the blood of Christ. No matter how marvelous others may think we are and how strongly we stand for the Lord’s interest, we should realize that we are awful and in need of His mercy. We need His covering and cleansing blood applied to us constantly to protect our conscience, or the devil will not let us stand. We need the Lord as our moment by moment Savior. We will never be so spiritual or strong that we can say we no longer need His blood to cover us. The apostle Paul was a genuinely spiritual man, yet he claimed to be the foremost of sinners.
Can we say such a thing? Are we foremost sinners or minor sinners? We may think that we never did anything as bad as Paul. He helped kill Stephen (Acts 7:58–59) and stirred up the persecution against the church in Jerusalem (8:1). He went from place to place arresting and murdering those who followed the Lord (9:1–2). He was really a foremost sinner. We never did anything as evil as he did. We may feel, therefore, that we are just average bad people, nowhere near as sinful as Paul.
But when the light of God shines on us, we all have to say that we are surprised that we have any way to stand before the Lord as His people, or to stand before men as His testimony. It is only by His mercy. Like Paul, no matter how much we become a genuine blessing to the church, we must always be keenly aware that we are only sinners washed by the precious blood of our Lord. James Gray surely had this sensation when he wrote the following chorus:
Only a sinner, saved by grace!
Only a sinner, saved by grace!
This is my story, to God be the glory—
I’m only a sinner saved by grace!
(Songs & Hymns of Life, #154)
Whenever we sing these words, we should be deeply moved. This is really our case. I don’t know how we can all be foremost sinners, but we should each have the sensation that we are. We are each foremost sinners saved by grace. To God be the glory!
A Protective Covering
We usually feel bad when we realize our sinful condition, but such a realization is a healthy and needed safeguard. So many of the problems in the church life can be traced back to the thought that we are not that bad and that we are better than others. How can we fight with others if we realize that we are only sinners saved by grace? Since we are the foremost sinner, we should feel we are much worse than others and can only stand because of the blood of Christ. Then all the saints become so lovely. Nothing is wrong with anyone. Nobody can offend or hurt us. At such a time we become a protective covering to the church, because we experience the rams’ skins dyed red.
We are redeemed by the precious blood of Christ (Rev. 5:9). This is both our individual and corporate protection. Because of the blood neither our conscience nor the devil can condemn us. Because of the blood the church life can be sweet and peaceful with no problems between us. The whole tabernacle was covered by a layer of rams’ skin dyed red.
We all have our weaknesses. One might love movies, another might have a short temper, and still another might smoke. Each has reason to condemn the other, but then the Lord shines and everyone realizes that they are only sinners saved by grace. Suddenly love and forgiveness covers all and the church life is protected.
When unbelievers get saved among us, they come in with all their problems and bad habits. They might tax our patience with their need for hospitality, transportation, or financial aid. These things are hard to take until we remember that we are the foremost of sinners. Then we can be enlarged and the grace of the Lord will reach us all.
If ever we begin to think that someone is a headache and a cause of problems in the church life, we must remember that everyone, including ourselves, is under the same covering of rams’ skin dyed red. No one can point fingers. We must each say, “Lord I’m so thankful. It’s by Your mercy that I am under Your precious blood. I am a foremost sinner saved by grace!”
The ram skins used in the tabernacle were not the skins of common rams. These rams had a special begetting ability. The Lord Jesus was such a ram. He testified that He was a grain of wheat falling into the earth to die and bear much fruit (John 12:24). He also testified, “Behold, I and the children whom God has given Me” (Heb. 2:13). He is full of begetting ability. Tens of millions of believers have been begotten through Him, including us.
While the Lord was the first and in many ways the unique such ram, God desires to gain some strong rams from among us who are also full of begetting ability. This is needed for the testimony of each local church today and for the building of the whole body of Christ. We should not settle for being common. We have to tell the Lord to have mercy on us, so we can have the begetting ability to bless the church with new life and bring grace to all the saints.
No matter how great a blessing we become, we still need to apply the precious blood of the Lord Jesus and abide in His redemption. We can never come out from under the covering of rams’ skin dyed red. Jesus is our Savior in all things. We may indeed become a blessing to the church, but we become that blessing only in the redemption of Christ.
The church needs such strong rams to preach the gospel and bless the saints, but they are not the rams’ skins dyed red. They may be great and useful servants, but they still need to apply the precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ and abide in His salvation. There are no exceptions.
We must depend on Jesus as our Savior in all things. He saves us not only from our sin, but also in our gospel preaching, in our fellowship with the saints, and when we come to the Bible. We can never escape our need for His salvation. Only under this covering can we become a genuine blessing to the church.
We always need to remember that beneath the badger skin covering, there is the rams’ skin dyed red. If we are strong rams, with some ability to help bless the church, we need the blood even more. What a blessing is this!