Our “Goat” Nature
The tabernacle is the most crucial picture in the whole Old Testament. It shows us the testimony of the Lord concerning both the church and the growth of all the individual saints. In it we see Christ, God, and how He works with people like us to turn us into what He wants.
The tabernacle has four coverings. God, who dwells in the holy of holies in the center of the tabernacle, looks from the inside out. He sees the inside covering, the “fine twisted linen and blue and purple and scarlet material” (Exo. 26:1). Isn’t it wonderful that God sees the church and us in such a way? From His view, everything is complete.
Man, however, lives on the outside. We see all the problems and ugliness. The apostle Paul, who was a spiritual man in whom God had done so much, said, “From now on we recognize no one according to the flesh” (2 Cor. 5:16). Yet the Corinthians could only see according to the flesh and said of Paul, “His personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible” (10:10). Most people only see the top layer—the ugly badger skin.
Over the years God has produced many spiritual men and women such as Paul, and like Paul, they look so common. They do not seem at all special, but they are solid, standing firm for the interest of the saints and the church. This is the outermost covering of badger’s skin. They have no boast even though they may be quite operative, because they know who they are. They are just sinners saved by grace, and apart from the redeeming blood of Christ they could not stand. This is the covering of rams’ skin dyed red, the second covering. If we examine these spiritual ones closely we will discover that they are each quite goat-like in their own way, yet their goats’ hair has been made beautiful and used by God. This is the third covering. If we only know men according to the flesh, we will be disappointed, but if we dig deeper, we will see in them the fourth covering of fine twisted linen. This is what God sees.
We may see past the first two coverings, but it is hard to get past the third. We think spiritual people should not have anything goat-like, yet God allows it and even uses it. No one knows what the thorn was in Paul’s flesh, but it must have been quite goat-like because he prayed three times for God to remove it (2 Cor. 12:7-8). God’s response was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (v. 9). God used this thorn to make Paul into the servant He wanted.
People sometimes think that, because I am a servant of God serving the churches, I must have no interest outside the Bible. They are surprised to learn that I keep a small collection of novels by my bed. Often when I cannot sleep, I open one of these and read until I get tired. This is some of my goat hair. I use these novels like others use a sleep aid. It is my medicine. I would never promote novels or read them in front of others, because I care for others’ consciences. But reading helps me to be enlarged and to understand the human condition. It is a bit goat-like, but it is not sin and God has used it in this way to enrich my ministry.
I have more that is goat-like. I love vases. One day some brothers came to my home for fellowship. While I was out of the room, they counted that I had around one hundred fifty vases on display. How goat-like! Please do not examine me too closely. You will find a lot of other goat-like things.
If you touch my being, you will discover that I have a goat-like nature, a little lion-like. This comes as a genuine surprise to many. They ask, “How can a spiritual man be like this? How can he be so goat-like?” Sin is taken away by the blood of Christ, but for some reason God allows some of our goat-like nature to remain so He can have the goats’ hair for His tabernacle. Paul’s thorn could not have been sin, or God would never have tolerated it. It was something goat-like, and it kept Paul from exalting himself.
It is hard to tolerate anything goat-like from someone we think is spiritual. We want them to grow gold, not goat hair. But no one grows gold. We can only grow goat hair—messy, dirty, matted, and mixed with thorns and other things. Amazingly, this is the covering directly above the fine twisted linen.
A Border of Goats’ Hair
The covering of goats’ hair was made by joining eleven panels, each measuring thirty by four cubits (Exo. 26:7–8). The covering of fine linen under it was made by joining ten panels, each measuring twenty-eight by four cubits (vv. 1–2). Thus the goats’ hair covering was a little larger in both its length and width. If we were in the holy of holies admiring the fine linen, we could still see a border of goats’ hair all the way around the bottom.
The fine linen is the most spiritual of the four coverings. It is the most inward covering and represents our most spiritual and heavenly experiences. There is nothing here of the ugliness of the badgers’ skin or of the sin dealt with by the rams’ skin dyed red. But it seems that no matter how spiritual we become, our goat-like nature is larger and always shows something of itself. The more spiritual we think we are, the greater our shortcomings will be.
A number of years ago our young people seemed to be continually writing new songs. They were excellent songs and I really enjoyed singing them. I was amazed that we had so much talent among us. Then, years later, I discovered that they were using contemporary music with only a few changes to the words. A popular love song with only minor changes instantly became a love song to the Lord. I didn’t know it, but every new one who came through the doors quickly recognized the music and saw how goat-like we were. There was nothing wrong. It was not sinful. It was simply goat-like.
Even something as simple as a baked potato can become goat-like to us because while we eat it we forget about the Lord. It tastes so good that it temporarily replaces our enjoyment of Christ. If we try to not enjoy it we cannot help ourselves. If we try to give up potatoes, our heart longs for them even more. Eating our favorite food is not sinful, and if it causes us to forget Christ for a while, we can always repent to the Lord and come back. No mater how mature we are in Christ, something of our goat-like nature always remains.
We all have a bit of the goat nature. We all do things and have things that smell of goat. Often we are not even aware of these things, but if we are, there is no need to put them on display. This is not hypocrisy—this is caring for other’s consciences. Those who are spiritual will not be bothered, but those who are a bit religious may be unnecessarily troubled.
The Bible doesn’t simply say that the covering of fine linen was made of ten panels and the one of goats’ hair was made of eleven. It is much more specific. It tells that the linen panels were divided into two sets of five (Exo. 26:3), and the goats’ hair panels were divided into one set of five and another set of six (v. 9). In the Bible, the number five represents responsibility, and the number six represents man.
The fine linen represents God’s testimony, and for this He uses five and five. Both God and man must bear responsibility for His testimony. But when it comes to our goat-like nature God uses five and six, indicating that He bears all the responsibility for us.
Who is responsible for our individual growth in life to produce the fine linen with its three colors? Who is responsible for raising up the corporate testimony of the church? This responsibility is both God’s and ours. God uses all things, but we must cooperate with Him even if it is through tears. God is so wise and eventually He gets all the glory.
Yet right above this covering, and showing all around the bottom, is the goats’ hair. We can never fully deal with our goat-like nature. No matter how spiritual we become, it remains. This is why God says that this layer is uniquely His responsibility.
We grow a lot of goats’ hair. When we make a decision, it causes lots of problems. When we give a message, some brothers get offended. When we preach the gospel, we do it in a way that the police have to come. But through all this, remember that we have the number five (God) and the number six (us). God is responsible for all the problems, the hurt feelings, and the damage we have caused. Concerning our goat-like nature we are hopeless, but we have God.
We must worship the Lord for such a picture. We must grow and develop to become a covering to the tabernacle. At the same time, we also grow so much goats’ hair. The things we do can sometimes damage the church much more than we realize, but God finds a way to use even this.
I have been serving the Lord for sixty years, and over this time there are many things I regret. I have done many unwise things out of a good heart that were not necessarily of God. Yet in spite of all the frustrations and failures due to my goat-like nature, what eventually comes out is a covering for the tabernacle. It is a covering made of transformed goats’ hair. Only God could take such a messy thing and produce something so beautiful. Our accumulation of failure becomes such a blessing!
God’s view of the tabernacle starts from the ark of testimony on the inside and looks out. He sees the covering of fine linen as the beautiful result of His finished work. People always start from the outside and look in. They see how messy God’s people are and are amazed that they can be made into a beautiful covering for God’s testimony. When people see us, they see goats’ hair. When God sees us, He sees fine linen. What can we do but praise the Lord for His masterful work to gain His testimony.