Monthly Archives: August 2017

Exodus 26 The Tabernacle

Erection of the Tabernacle and Sacred Vessels by Gerard Hoet (1728)

Exodus 26

Moreover you shall make the tabernacle with ten curtains of fine twisted linen, and blue, purple, and crimson yarns; you shall make them with cherubim skillfully worked into them. 2 The length of each curtain shall be twenty-eight cubits, and the width of each curtain four cubits; all the curtains shall be of the same size. 3 Five curtains shall be joined to one another; and the other five curtains shall be joined to one another. 4 You shall make loops of blue on the edge of the outermost curtain in the first set; and likewise you shall make loops on the edge of the outermost curtain in the second set. 5 You shall make fifty loops on the one curtain, and you shall make fifty loops on the edge of the curtain that is in the second set; the loops shall be opposite one another. 6 You shall make fifty clasps of gold, and join the curtains to one another with the clasps, so that the tabernacle may be one whole.

 7 You shall also make curtains of goats’ hair for a tent over the tabernacle; you shall make eleven curtains. 8 The length of each curtain shall be thirty cubits, and the width of each curtain four cubits; the eleven curtains shall be of the same size. 9 You shall join five curtains by themselves, and six curtains by themselves, and the sixth curtain you shall double over at the front of the tent. 10 You shall make fifty loops on the edge of the curtain that is outermost in one set, and fifty loops on the edge of the curtain that is outermost in the second set.

 11 You shall make fifty clasps of bronze, and put the clasps into the loops, and join the tent together, so that it may be one whole. 12 The part that remains of the curtains of the tent, the half curtain that remains, shall hang over the back of the tabernacle. 13 The cubit on the one side, and the cubit on the other side, of what remains in the length of the curtains of the tent, shall hang over the sides of the tabernacle, on this side and that side, to cover it. 14 You shall make for the tent a covering of tanned rams’ skins and an outer covering of fine leather.1

 15 You shall make upright frames of acacia wood for the tabernacle. 16 Ten cubits shall be the length of a frame, and a cubit and a half the width of each frame. 17 There shall be two pegs in each frame to fit the frames together; you shall make these for all the frames of the tabernacle. 18 You shall make the frames for the tabernacle: twenty frames for the south side; 19 and you shall make forty bases of silver under the twenty frames, two bases under the first frame for its two pegs, and two bases under the next frame for its two pegs; 20 and for the second side of the tabernacle, on the north side twenty frames,21 and their forty bases of silver, two bases under the first frame, and two bases under the next frame; 22 and for the rear of the tabernacle westward you shall make six frames. 23 You shall make two frames for corners of the tabernacle in the rear; 24 they shall be separate beneath, but joined at the top, at the first ring; it shall be the same with both of them; they shall form the two corners. 25 And so there shall be eight frames, with their bases of silver, sixteen bases; two bases under the first frame, and two bases under the next frame.

 26 You shall make bars of acacia wood, five for the frames of the one side of the tabernacle, 27 and five bars for the frames of the other side of the tabernacle, and five bars for the frames of the side of the tabernacle at the rear westward. 28 The middle bar, halfway up the frames, shall pass through from end to end. 29 You shall overlay the frames with gold, and shall make their rings of gold to hold the bars; and you shall overlay the bars with gold. 30 Then you shall erect the tabernacle according to the plan for it that you were shown on the mountain.

 31 You shall make a curtain of blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and of fine twisted linen; it shall be made with cherubim skillfully worked into it. 32 You shall hang it on four pillars of acacia overlaid with gold, which have hooks of gold and rest on four bases of silver. 33 You shall hang the curtain under the clasps, and bring the ark of the covenant 1 in there, within the curtain; and the curtain shall separate for you the holy place from the most holy. 34 You shall put the mercy seat1 on the ark of the covenant 2 in the most holy place. 35 You shall set the table outside the curtain, and the lampstand on the south side of the tabernacle opposite the table; and you shall put the table on the north side.

 36 You shall make a screen for the entrance of the tent, of blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and of fine twisted linen, embroidered with needlework. 37 You shall make for the screen five pillars of acacia, and overlay them with gold; their hooks shall be of gold, and you shall cast five bases of bronze for them.

Constructing holy space is something every religious tradition has to think about and the way in which a tradition creates that space illuminates something about the people who worship there and the god or gods they attempt to worship. The tabernacle serves an unsettled people, a people who are still on their Exodus journey. It is designed to be transported across the wilderness and set up wherever the people dwell. It is a holy space for a God who is not associated with one particular place but rather a God that can move with the people and who desires to dwell among them. Even though there is the desire for a place where the LORD will dwell among the people there is still a need for zones of holiness. Paradoxically the God of Israel is viewed as being both unapproachable and yet approaching to dwell with the people. The tabernacle becomes a place to mediate the presence of the holy God.

The tabernacle is constructed out of the most valuable materials: Gold, silver and copper, acacia wood, died wool and tanned animal skins. Within the curtains, bars, bases and clasps used for the holiest regions the best material is used: gold and precious died wools in purple, blue and crimson. Wool, and in particular the three stated colors, may seem like an ordinary commodity in our time but in the ancient world purple, blue and crimson in particular are self-fixing colors that do not fade with the exposure to sun and water but are expensive to make because of the materials to make them being rare or dangerous to work with. (Myers, 2005, p. 235)  Purple was often a color associated with royalty precisely because of the cost of producing purple cloth. These curtains or sections are probably woven together and the cherubim designs are included as a part of the weaving. Each of these curtains is roughly forty two feet by six feet and a total of ten of these sections are made to enclose the most holy portion of the space. This is a space designed around the ark of the covenant described in the previous chapter that it will contain.

The worship space itself is big for a mobile structure, but it would not be big in terms of worship space that we would design for a modern congregation. Most of the people would never enter the tabernacle and certainly not the holy of holies with the ark, instead they would be outside the tabernacle while the priests would intercede, sacrifice and mediate the presence of the LORD to the waiting people. The curtains and bars and bases all set aside space and the ark, lampstand and table sit within the set aside space. It is the uncluttered worship space of an Exodus people.

Even when King David desires to build a temple (2 Samuel 7) there is resistance to the idea of transitioning from a tent and a tabernacle to a fixed temple. The LORD does not dwell in one specific place and within the construction of the temple there are some often unnoticed contrasts between the temple work and the tabernacle work. The tabernacle work comes from the voluntary offering of the people but the temple built under Solomon will involve conscripted labor and would be a part of the building projects that placed a heavy burden on the people and would eventually lead to the splitting of Israel away from Judah. Eventually the temple itself became such a focal point that it, the Davidic king and the city of Jerusalem became central for the identity of the people. During the Babylonian exile when Jerusalem, the king and the temple were lost the memory of God’s presence moving with the people in a mobile tabernacle may have been a source of comfort as they found themselves separated from their former home in a strange land and wondered how the LORD could be present.

Chapter 3- T-Rex Island

Seabird Colony with great frigatebirds, red-tailed tropicbird, red-footed boobies, sooty terns and black noddies By Duncan Wright, USFWS – Own work, Public Domain,


“Shimar!” shouted the young pups as they came back to sit at the base of the chair where the older dog liked to rest. “Tell us another story of you and Reggie the Terrible and the pirate ship The Dirty Drawers.!”

Shimar arched his back, and then stretched out his stiff leg as he opened his one eye to gaze upon the growing group of young pups that had returned to hear stories of the pirate life and times on the high seas. He smiled, loving the attention and knowing that the stories had snared them like the fish he used to pull out of the ocean. To his amusement he noticed one of the pups, a young lab named Spike, was sporting an eye patch. So, he once again had his own little crew of pirates, ready to set forth on the seas. Just like in the old days.

“OK my little pirate crew,” he began, “how about I tell you about Reggie and my visit to T-Rex Island?”

“T-Rex Island, we’ve never heard of that island? Where is it on the map?” Shouted Simon, a particularly inquisitive Border Collie.

“Well,” started Shimar, “it is way out on the Eastern edge of the Caribbean, it is a little bitty speck of a place on the Southern edge of the Windward Islands, just North of Granada. Others had different names for the island but for reasons that will become clear for the crew of the Dirty Drawers it was always called T-Rex Island.”

“Our story begins in what had been a very uneventful journey for the ship. The Vice Grip was patrolling further North looking for merchant ships and we had been sweeping to the South. Our supplies were running low and so we dropped anchor off this tiny, uninhabited island and Snarl’s gun-crews were tasked with finding food to feed our crew. The island was swarming with birds and we knew that where there are that many birds there must be eggs. We had been at sea for a month and a wonderful supper of eggs sounded like a sailor’s dream. We also figured there must be some type of fruit or other sustenance we would find on the island but Snarl, myself, Reggie, Pippin, Rusty and Gunter set ashore on a rowboat towards this tiny little gem of an island sitting in the midst of a coral reef. We had to row quite a long way since it was too shallow for the Dirty Drawers to approach and they had withdrawn to a more hidden location while we searched for sustenance.

We made our ways onto the island and pulled the boat onto the shore our paws sank into the soft sand at our feet. The air was hot and humid and we were all panting from the exertion of rowing to shore. All around us the sea birds called and taunted us as they effortlessly sailed above the island and the surrounding ocean. We broke into two teams with Snarl taking Peppin and Rusty while I led Gunter and Reggie in the opposite direction. Each team would look for nests and we would meet back at the boat in an hour with our captured provisions.

This was one of those times where my once beautiful coat of fur became a challenge. I seemed to attract every bur from the underbrush as we moved through it and the sand matted into my wet fur. As we moved inland I began to look more and more like a pincushion. Even Reggie’s fur began to accumulate burs and only Gunter’s short coat seemed to pass through the underbrush without accumulating a large layer of burs, seedpods and leaves. Gunter remarked that I looked more like Shimar the urchin than Shimar the pirate before I barked at him that it wasn’t funny. In hindsight, it was funny but I was feeling embarrassed that while I was supposed to be accumulating food I was only attracting burs. Well burs and bugs.

Oh yes, the bugs, let me tell you about the bugs in that place. There were beetles that crawled upon the ground that were the size of your head. Millipedes and centipedes seemed to be everywhere. The mosquitos swarmed in such thick swarms that I swore every time I swung my machete I cut through a solid mass. And the spiders, I tremble at the memory of all the spider webs that I walked through and the monster spider that Gunter pulled off my fur. Yet, I was in charge of our operation so I pushed ahead through the brush and the bugs until we came upon what we were looking for on the Eastern edge of the Island.

It was there that we found the colony of birds, nesting undisturbed on the ground. There were dozens of them, maybe as many as a hundred. We had hit the jackpot. More eggs than our crew could consume in weeks. All we had to do was to shoo away all these birds and we would accomplish our mission and come back to the Dirty Drawers as heroes.

As we approached the nest the alarm went up and the boobies and frigatebirds cries filled the air. The three of us began to approach the colony boldly, after all what were sea birds going to do to pirates? Well, we found out. No sooner had we begun to approach the nests than the birds began to divebomb us and after the third or fourth time I was knocked to the ground I called out to my comrades to retreat. We moved back into the underbrush as the birds laughed and laughed and laughed. A great frigatebird who seemed to be the chief of the colony puffed out his red chest and sang out:

Runaway little pirates, no eggs today

Runaway little pirates, we birds don’t play

Steal our eggs and we will strike you

With beak and wing and talon bite you

His song got a great reception from his counterparts in the colony and they shrieked their approval. On our own we would never get the eggs we hoped for, but pirates don’t give up easily. We returned to rendezvous with Snarl and his team at the boat and it was there that I suggested a plan. Snarl and everyone but Reggie and myself would take the boat and move slowly around to the other side of the island while Reggie and I would repeat our trek through the brush and bugs to the colony of birds on the other side.

Before we began our trek both Reggie and I rolled in the sea water and then in the sand, accumulating a thick layer of sand that was caked onto our fur. Then as we passed through the brush we allowed every bur and seed and weed to embed themselves into our fur no matter how uncomfortable. When next we saw the birds, we would be as armored as armadillo ready for the approaching attack. We even left the spider webs in place that clung to us even though our constant temptation was to scratch and shake it all out. It seemed like it took hours to cross the island through the thick vegetation but one consolation was that aside from our nose and ears the mosquitos couldn’t find a place to bite and only a few managed to strike like the little vampires they are.

Eventually we reached the edge of the vegetation and looked out longingly at all the nests with seabirds sitting upon them. I needed to get all their attention focused on Reggie and myself and hope that the rest of Snarl’s group was in position at the critical moment so they could surprise the birds. So, to capture their attention I began to sing my own little song:

Little birds, little birds, sitting on the nest

Little birds, little birds, whose wings need rest

Don’t mind us hungry pirates in your home

We only eat a little then we leave you alone

For we are the descendants of the wolf and fox

We are predators you are prey, so stop your squawks


If nothing else, my little song got some appreciative squeaks and laughs from the seabird. Then the leader, the great frigatebird left his perch and landed in front of Reggie and me. His feathers were jet black and he puffed out his brilliant scarlet throat pouch while he flapped his wings threateningly.

“Little sea dogs go back to your ships, there is nothing for you here. This is our land and we will defend it on the ground and from the sky. Two little dogs like you can’t hope to prevail against us.”

“But we are the descendants of the mighty wolf and we will not be intimidated by a bunch of songbirds.” I barked back.

“Well, well, well, that changes everything!” Laughed their leader, “Surely then you must be the runts of the wolf litter. But under all the vines and sand and burs you look more like a porcupine or a trash heap than a proud descendant of wolves. But even so wolves have no place on this island where the birds reign supreme and I am their king.” As he inflated his throat pouch even more.

“You are nothing but a bunch of chickens, good for laying eggs and being eaten. We are sea dogs and wolves who have come to eat.” I taunted.

“Chickens!” shrieked their king. I knew I had touched a nerve as the whole colony seemed ready to attack at once. “Chickens! You may claim to be descendants of the mighty wolves of old but you will find that we are descendants of the mighty Tyrannosaurus Rex and we are far fiercer than you seem to think. My fellow birds let us show these silly dogs the way back to the sea with their tails between their legs.”

At that moment, the entire colony took to the air and oriented themselves on Reggie and myself as we continued to bark out challenges at them. They squawked and screeched insults about our coats, about our inability to fly, and about our size. Yet we were tiny terrors and we didn’t back down we held our own and so one by one the birds went from circling over us to dive bombing us time and time again.

While the birds had their attention focused on us, and as we moved further and further from the colony Snarl, Pippin, Rusty and Gunter crept silently up to the colony and began to gather up the eggs that would later become our feast. They worked quickly while Reggie and I attempted to hold their attention. We only needed to give them five or ten more minutes.

Our armor of detritus didn’t work quite as well as we hoped, but it did absorb some of the impact as the birds divebombed us or attempted to peck at us with beaks or scratch with talons. After a minute or two Reggie retreated into the underbrush but I was determined to give our crew a couple additional minutes and so I continued to bark out threats and then I curled into a ball while they attacked. I would still try to snap at the birds if they attempted to land and peck at me or scratch me and several times I came away with a mouthful of feathers. The melee seemed to drag on interminably until I heard one of the bird cry out, “Thieves!” as they noticed the rowboat pulling away. Suddenly I was forgotten and I made my way back into the safety of the underbrush with Reggie. There was nothing more I could do for my fellow Tiny Terrors, they would have to get away on their own.

Reggie and I made our way to the other side of the island and we attempted to wash the sand out of our fur in the ocean. We also attempted to remove some of the burs and stickers from our fur but we quickly found this was a hopeless endeavor. The stickers and burs we wore as armor had embedded itself into my thick fur and unfortunately the only path forward would be a haircut once I returned to the Dirty Drawers. Ultimately, I was bruised and battered and hungry but we had successfully done our part to procure eggs from T-Rex Island.

A couple of hours later the rowboat returned with Old Jack at its front. He welcomed us back into the boat and patted us both on the back as we returned to the pirate ship. Unfortunately, as he patted me on the back he came away with a terribly sharp bur in his paw and let out a loud yelp as the bur was painfully extracted. He told us our story was already being told throughout the ship and that we would be welcomed back to the ship as heroes. He was right, we came back to cries of “Shimar the Wolf” and “Reggie the Terrible” and “T-Rex Tricksters.” Our shipmates had been busy cracking eggs into the biggest bowl we had and then cooking them on an iron skillet over an open fire. We ate like kings that night, the kings of T-Rex island I suppose.

Before we could go to sleep that night both Reggie and I received fur cuts to get the remaining stickers out. Reggie’s fur was able to be trimmed down a little bit since the burs didn’t seem to embed themselves quite so deeply in his fur, but unfortunately that was not the case for me. Many of the stickers and burs seemed to be right against my skin and they finally had to pull out a straight razor and shave away portions of my back and belly to get the last of them. The only fur I had left were on my face and on my legs.

My hair never grew back right after it was shaved. Maybe it was the hot sun that baked my skin while we sailed the seas, maybe it was damage done by the razor or some poison from the sticker burs but whatever the reason I ended up with Pomeranian pattern baldness. Yet, I wore it as a badge of honor. It made me look tougher and with my one eye and battle-scarred body I rarely had people question my toughness again. It was also a reminder of my heroics upon T-Rex Island and my victory over the descendants of the Tyrannosaurus Rex as they referred to themselves. Snarl was promoted to become the ships quartermaster and so I assumed the position of leading the gun crews of the Dirty Drawers.

We would continue to take on new recruits to fill up our gun crews and I trained them the way Snarl had trained me. We were to be Tiny Terrors, nobody was going to push us around. We were meaner and tougher than any other gun crew on any pirate ship. We were seasoned pirates of the Ghost fleet, and little dogs with ample attitudes.

Chapter 2- Reggie the Terrible

The real Reggie the Terrible

Sometime later we headed out to sea again, looking for treasure to steal and adventures to tell about. This was my third or fourth voyage on the Vice Grip and the previous journeys had been profitable but not overly exciting. But all of that was about to change as we set to sea in those turbulent times. The British Empire had set its eyes on expanding its influence in the Caribbean and while the British Navy and the Spanish Navy fought like cats and dogs we would often hang around out of the line of battle and swoop in to either attempt to pick like vultures through the remains of ships that wrecked upon the shores of the islands or capture wounded ships and attempt to sail them back to Tortuga or Jamaica to repair and refit. It was during one of these raids that Reggie the Terrible enters our story. Once again, we partnered with Captain Silver in seeking to profit from the conflict that raged in our sea.

As we sailed along the shore of Cuba we happened upon the Tigre, one of the Spanish ships of the line we constantly had to avoid for she would outgun any ships we could throw at her. She was engaged in a heated battle with a couple of English frigates and a sloop. Even though those English devil dogs had numbers on their side, the Tigre was a much larger and more heavily armed ship. The first frigate’s captain made the mistake of allowing the Tigre a clear shot along her broadside. Even though the frigate got off a first shot, the Tigre showed her claws by unleashing over thirty cannons at once. The initial salvo threw smoke into the air and knocked the unwitting frigate backwards in the water. The frigate was soon taking on water as the Tigre unleashed a second salvo to finish off its first opponent.

Pirates know when to enter a fight and when to sit on the sidelines and wait. The Tigre would be a mighty prize, but she would be almost impossible to take without sinking because of the number of feline marines and sailors that would protect her. Yet the English frigate and sloop were not going to give up the fight. When the battle ended in a draw with the frigate and sloop retreating with significant damage to their hulls and the frigate losing one of its masts. The Tigre turned towards Havana to lick its wounds and to fight another day. We decided the two English ships would be our quarry for the day. Silver commanded the Specter to pursue the larger, but more heavily damaged frigate while we set our site on the smaller and faster sloop. While we sailed through the wreckage of the first frigate seeking any easy pickings before setting off in pursuit. We pulled up a few valuables, rescued a few of the English dogs (we may be pirates but former sailors often made the best recruits) including one soaking wet Yorkshire Terrier named Reginald.

“Was that Reggie the Terrible?” asked one of the pups.

“Well he would come to be known as Reggie the Terrible, but that comes a little later in our story. Anyways, with new dogs pulled from the sea locked up to ensure they didn’t interfere and a slightly heavier cargo hold we set out after the sloop which was attempting to escape to the colonies for repairs. We were hours behind them after our brief pause for salvaging but we had a good captain and crew and a quick ship. The Vice Grip sailed through the seas, gliding upon the water like we had wings and by evening of the second day we could see the sloop in the distance. We crept up on her through the night and by morning we were nearly upon her. She was a pretty ship, sounds strange to call a ship pretty but even in her wounded state she looked like she could put up a pretty tough fight.

As we approached we could see how deeply the Tigre’s cannons had dug into its skin. Its starboard side had taken the lion’s share of the damage and it was listing slightly to that side. That proved to be a decisive advantage for us since it would make it difficult for the guns on that side to have the same range as ours. We unleashed our pirate colors, our black flag with the bulldog skull cracking a bone and loaded all of our canons in preparation for battle. The English captain, an English Setter or royal bearing, was in a difficult position. His ship was already heavily damaged and doubtless his crew had suffered heavy casualties in the previous battle. Yet, the prospect of surrendering his ship to a crew of pirates without a fight would permanently stain his honor. We approached as he fired his first salvo of shots which fell harmlessly into the ocean well short of our ship. We fired shots into right side, but at a modest pace, not wanting to damage the ship too much. Ultimately our goal was to capture her as intact as possible. We took a little damage as the Vice Grip pulled alongside and we began to send our fighters onto the ship to capture her.

The battle for the Royal Beagle, as we soon learned the ship was named, was fierce but quick. The ship’s dogged crew was undermanned and those numbers had been further reduced by two battles in short succession. Captain Smith, the English Setter who commanded the Royal Beagle was forced to surrender the ship to the Ghost. Ghost gave command of the captured ship to Old Jack, his former first mate, an old English Sheepdog whose loyalty to the Ghost was fiercer than even his loud bark. To crew the two ships, we were stretched very thin and we gave the opportunity to some of our captives to join our crew under close guard. As a part of Snarl’s gun crew, we were brought over to the Royal Beagle and were one of only four-gun crews on the ship. In a fight, we would be in real trouble, but the Vice Grip would escort us back into port at Tortuga. To reinforce our gun crew, we were given two of captured or rescued crew. One of these was a Jack Russel Terrier named Peppin and the other was Reggie the Terrible.

“So why was he named Reggie the Terrible” asked a couple pups.

Well a part of our bounty from the raid was a store of chocolate that we captured. You all know that chocolate isn’t good for dogs, but well Reggie never let that stop him. So, as we were heading back to the island of Tortuga, Reggie managed to break into the stores. That dog always seemed to be hungry and there he would devour anything you set in front of him. Anyways, he was looking for something additional to eat after his kibble, some kind of a midnight snack while he was on duty with Rusty. Rusty must not have paid attention because he found the chocolate and began to eat and eat and eat until he was stuffed and his belly bulged from being stuffed full of chocolate. When Rusty later discovered him lying on the deck with his belly up in the air Reggie was moaning and groaning something terrible, and that was only his stomach. Reggie, Rusty and me were responsible for four of the guns on the port side of the ship and we were attempting to get them ready for battle in case we needed to assist the Vice Grip in a fight. All that day Reggie’s stomach lurched and turned and growled and groaned and the gas that was coming out of that dog was potent enough to make a polecat cry. When Old Jack learned of Reginald’s theft from the ship’s supply of chocolate he wondered about what an appropriate punishment would be, but when he heard the commotion in the dog’s stomach and could see the obvious discomfort of not only Reginald but also the gun crews forced to work in a confined space with him he chuckled to himself and said, “Reginald, let that be a lesson to you. From now on I dub you Reggie the Terrible. Terrible to look at, and terrible to smell. I suppose I don’t have to worry about putting a guard on the chocolate tonight.”

Reggie looked terrible, he was ashamed of his actions and he was in pain as he labored on the gun deck attempting to clean, load and work with the rest of the crew to repair the damaged guns as best we could at sea. He didn’t eat anything the rest of the day and he looked terrible. By the following day he was looking and smelling better and he attacked his kibble with his previous zeal always looking at everyone else’s plates hopeful that they might leave something. He also attempted to redeem himself in the eyes of his fellow shipmates as they made their way back to refit and repair. But thankfully the temptation of the chocolate was just too great for Reggie the Terrible to resist. I suppose we all have weaknesses and vices, but Reggie’s attraction to chocolate would continue to something we would have to watch for all throughout his time at sea.

As I mentioned Reggie’s attraction to chocolate proved too strong for him and three days after the initial foray into the chocolate we seized in the previous battle once again Reggie relapsed and broke into the chocolate stores eating his fill and was found the next day lying on the deck his belly swelling and groaning. Old Jack was about to decide upon discipline for Reggie the Terrible when the lookout cried out an alert for all dogs to man their battle stations. A ship was approaching our two ships from the west and she was another ship-of-the line, a massive ship with rows upon rows of canons. We signaled the Vice Grip to run, since they were still capable of outrunning the approaching ship, but for those of us on the Royal Beagle we knew running was hopeless and fighting would be futile. But that was when Old Jack came up with a terrible plan.

“Oh no, where you captured sir?” Shrieked one of the pups.

Well, we would have been for sure if Old Jack hadn’t been as quick thinking as he is. Although he never put up the white flag of surrender he ordered the sails to be struck and for our ship to drift like it was mortally wounded. He ordered the gun crews, except for Reginald, to go to the port side guns and have all of them ready to fire on Snarl’s orders. He was going to have the ship come in as close as possible to board us and he wanted to capitalize on the angle of the ship and elevate the guns to aim at the masts on the incoming ship. We worked feverishly aiming and elevating the gun barrels in preparation for our one shot at surviving an encounter with a far superior enemy.

The approaching ship was the Spanish ship, the Puma, had a midnight black cat as its captain known for his razor-sharp claws and lack of mercy. His feline crew climbed up and down the masts ready for their assault upon the wounded Royal Beagle. Their gun crews fired several shots across the bow as warnings not to engage them in combat, but their goal was to capture the sloop intact as a trophy for their captain and their crown. Their crew was efficient and the Puma swiftly moved in to pounce upon its much smaller prey. With swords and pistols in their hands they prepared to board the ship and they positioned sharpshooters with rifles upon in their stations on the top of all three masts. They had us outnumbered, outgunned and in almost every way outclassed. As they threw over grappling hooks to bring their ship alongside to begin boarding the only thing they saw waiting upon the deck were Old Jack with a torch in his hand and Reginald laying in obvious pain upon the deck.

The felines taunted our crew and called out for our captain’s surrender but Old Jack stood there silent and stoic while the felines began to put out the boarding planks and nets. As the cats began to make their way across the span between the two ships they began to wrinkle their noses and hiss and gag. “What is that smell?” one of them screeched as it began to cough. Through watering eyes, the cats still continued their advance, although more cautiously than previously. Below deck we waited, with our shirts pulled up over our noses, for the sign that Old Jack had prepared for us.

The Puma’s captain demanded once more that Old Jack surrender to him the ship or face boarding and ultimately destruction or enslavement. But as the captain of the cat’s words were spoken he began to cough and choke as the odor emanating from Reggie the Terrible lived up to his new name. The gas was filling the air when the captain threw his torch into the air igniting the gas and burning the hair off of several of the cats attempting to board at the same time. At the same moment in sequence we fired every canon on the port side causing chaos on the deck of the Puma as the main and the mizzen mast were shattered.

Take us out of here, best possible speed, called out Old Jack. The Puma’s gun crews hadn’t expected a fight and were unready to fire on us in return for the damage we did to them. Most of the gun crews had been pulled up top to assist with the boarding party. Their captain attempted to order the crews below to pour their fire into our ship, but confusion reigned as we pulled away and cats fell from their boarding planks and nets into the sea and we moved away from the side of the Puma.  Their forward canons managed to get a few rounds off a close range into the aft side of the ship, but we escaped an impossible situation thanks to some quick thinking and a dog with an addiction to chocolate.

We managed to put a couple parting shots into the Puma, but it would’ve been impossible to sink her or capture her so we turned and limped for home in the Royal Beagle. As we pulled away we shouted, “Hurrah for Old Jack the Clever and hurrah for Reggie the Terrible.” Anytime he entered the room the crew would shout out, “Reggie, Reggie, Reggie!” until he blushed all the way through his fur. But bad stomach or not he was one of us now. He was one of the tiny terrors, who had now expanded in their role among the guns of the Royal Beagle.  In one mission, we had captured a sloop and survived run-ins with two ships of the line of the Spanish armada.

As we were spotted approaching the island of Tortuga, the crew of the Vice Grip came out to meet us as we came up to the port. We were greeted by our brothers in amazement and they listened attentively as we told the story of Old Jack the Clever and Reggie the Terrible. By morning the tale had traveled around the island and in his own way Reggie the Terrible became a local celebrity.

From that point, onward chocolate was kept under lock and key on any ship that Reggie would sail upon and he would go on many other adventures upon the high sea throughout his time as one of the Ghost pirates. The tiny terrors became recognized as one of the finest gun crews after the battle with the Puma and they became a select fraternity among the pirates, only accepting the toughest dogs of smaller breeds to be a part of their crews. The Royal Beagle would be refitted, reequipped and renamed after returning to port. Old Jack would become its captain and continue to serve as the Ghost’s chief lieutenant in the Ghost fleet. The sloop would be renamed the Dirty Drawers in memory of the smell that Reggie the Terrible gave off during that fateful battle when it was the Royal Beagle.

“So, he was called Reggie the Terrible because he had terrible gas!” Exclaimed one of the young pups no longer able to restrain himself. Even Shimar smiled as the young pups rolled upon the floor laughing and howling and a few even crying because they were laughing so hard.

Never underestimate the power of chocolate. Now when your mothers tell you that chocolate isn’t good for dogs they aren’t kidding. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t taste good but stay away! It isn’t worth it.

One of the pups named Clint who also has a tendency to overeat had been laughing so hard that he accidentally let out a loud fart and for a minute the room filled with gas. As the other pups started to cough, Shimar looked with his one eye at Clint and said, “Especially you Clint, you could easily find yourself branded as Clint the Calamitous.”

And the laughter started again.


Introducing Shimar the Pirate Dog

The Real Life Shimar in the inspiration for his ship’s name, the Dirty Drawers

For the last couple years I have been trying to imagine what is going on in my dog Shimar’s mind. I have a number of stories I have been developing and sharing with kids, co-workers, and others and I realized that these stories were beginning to create their own little world in my imagination. So one of my goals over this week while I took some time away was to put some of these short stories on paper and see where it went. They are more children’s stories than anything else. They are not strictly historical, although they do pull on some historical places and times (even though a good historian will see all the places where I combine different times and places-for example the lead up to the Battle for Havanna with the pirate use of the Island of Tortuga (which declined almost one hundred years earlier). But it is a story of cats, dogs, and ferrets who command ships so don’t expect strict the story to be bound by strict historical accuracy. In a time where there are a lot of serious things to talk about sometimes it is important to take a little time to tell children’s stories, to indulge in foolishness and to imagine what is going on in the mind of a one eyed dog with a lot of personality.

Welcome to the world of Shimar the Pirate Dog, Reggie the Terrible who will eventually become his first mate and their ship the Dirty Drawers that I hope to have episodes coming out over the next couple days. They are long reads for a blog but for fiction each chapter is fairly short, each of the first two chapters is about five pages, single spaced. I will include this page as a holder for the table of contents.

Shimar and Reggie are real dogs and their personality is the inspiration for the two main characters. The ferrets, Nick and Leah are also real but most of the other characters were made up to fill in the story. In casting the sailors and people Spanish and Portugal as cats while the English and many of the pirates are dogs is simply intended to play on the long running trope of the battle between cats and dogs and placing it in a historical battle. Portugal made a nice play on words for Purrtugal, and since the history of the Caribbean is a history of struggle between the English and Spanish empires around the time of pirates.

Chapter 1- Shimar the Pirate Dog
Chapter 2- Reggie the Terrible
Chapter 3- T-Rex Island

Chapter 1- Shimar the Pirate Dog

Shimar on one of his favorite spots

“Listen up you young pups, now I know when you look at me you see a dog of small stature with only one eye, bare skin where once there was a long coat of crème and white fur and a limp in my back leg but don’t’ forget that you look upon the legendary Shimar the Pirate Dog.”

“Shimar the Pirate Dog?” puzzled the puppies as they looked upon the small dog perched upon a pillow that rested upon the arm of a sofa. “You, but you aren’t much bigger than we are! And we are nowhere near the ocean. How can a little dog like you have been a pirate on the high seas?”

“Well pipe down and I will spin you a tale, a tale of me, the Pirate captain Shimar, of my first mate Reggie the Terrible, and our ship the Dirty Drawers.” Said the old dog.

“So why is your ship called the Dirty Drawers?” Said one pup

“And why is your first mate called the Terrible?” spoke up another.

“And how did you lose your eye and your fur?” ventured a third.

“Quiet, quiet,” cautioned Shimar, “all in good time, they are all a part of the story that I am about to tell. It all begins many years ago, a little while before Reggie enters the story or before any other parts of the adventure when I was a prisoner, serving a life sentence in that worst of all prisons, the pound.”

“No, not the pound, not that horrible place!” Shrieked one of the youngest pups.

“Yes, the pound, locked away with all the dogs and cats and other critters. Confined to a small cage, far from the oceans swell and the sea breeze. I thought my days were done. As a young pup, I had escaped any fence that someone tried to enclose me in and I loved to run free and wild, like our ancestors the might wolves, but one day they managed to snag me, they put me into a cage and oh the sad songs I heard in the jailhouse. The wails of caged dogs protesting their innocence, the evil cry of cats vowing vengeance upon their captors. Yet, while I could tell you all kinds of jailhouse tails but you don’t want to hear about that place with its hardships, what you want to hear about it my life as Shimar the pirate dog, am I right?”

“Yeah!” cried the pups.

“So, prison life was hard. There was the confinement, there were the guards and worst of all were the cats. Many of the cats in prison were hardened catnip addicts who would take on a Rottweiler if they thought they could get catnip for it. I had attempted to escape several times. I had tried looking cute, at that point I still had a soft, bushy coat of crème and white fur and even though I only had one eye I was still a pretty attractive pup.”

“But you only had one eye, how’d that happen?”

“Oh, well I got into a fight with a prison gang called the Fierce Feral Felines who were running a catnip smuggling operation in the pound. That my young friends is a tale for another time, but if I stop to tell every tale you’ll never get to hear about my adventures as a pirate. So where was I, ah yes, I was being rescued and it was an epic jail break. The alarms were blaring, the dogs were howling in rhythm with the alarms, the light went out, and they broke me out of my cage, and ran with me out of the pound with a hoard of dogcatchers shouting and trying to stop them as this group of dogs came in, opening all the dog cages and it was epic. Our rescuers barked at us to head outside and there waiting on a horse drawn carriage was an old solid white bulldog directing the smaller dogs to get up on the wagon and the larger dogs to run alongside. Some of his pack were holding the dog catchers at bay while we loaded up and then with a loud, commanding bark the horses began to move and the remaining dogs fell back as we fled into the setting sun. The dog catchers furiously shouted and yelled and some even for a little while ran after us. We rode and we rode, and I would be happy to never ride on a horse drawn carriage as long as I live. The road was rough and we were thrown all about the carriage as the bigger dogs ran alongside howling and barking and jumping as the night began to set in. We journeyed across open country for what seemed an eternity stopping only to let the horses and the bigger dogs rest. It was an awesome sight, some sixty dogs of various sizes and ages moving across the countryside. Once we were far enough away all but the oldest were commanded to run and stay together with the pack. It was hot and my little legs were tired and there was never enough food but I was a free dog and I ran and yipped and barked with my companions. Eventually several days later, though it seemed like weeks upon weeks we reached the ocean.

Never before had I seen the ocean or smelled the salty air. I ran in the hot sand yipping and rolling like a young pup, although I had already spent my youth behind bars. I was free, it was a freedom I had never known before. No fences to keep me in, no leashes or chains constraining where I could run, just the sand and the sea. I chased after seagulls, I ran through the waves, I dug tunnels in the sand, I got pinched on the nose by a crab- I don’t recommend that, smarted for days afterwards, and my liberators laughed and laughed and laughed at my foolishness as well as the foolishness of the other dogs on the beach. I was free at last and I didn’t care how foolish my antics might look to anyone else. I was covered in sand and seaweed and salt when I saw the ship for the first time.

The captain, the white bulldog who oversaw our rescue who I now knew was called Ghost, told us he expected some of us to join his crew of the pirate ship Vice Grip, named after his jaws once he held onto something. It would be hard and dangerous work, the pay was poor, the living conditions small but you it would be a pirate’s life where you could take what you wanted and perhaps one day one of us might command our own ship.

The first time the captain looked upon me he snorted, “You’re no sea dog, you are a land lover who should stay on the shore.” But I was determined to prove him wrong. I would stand on the prow of the ship as the waves broke on her hull. I would swab the decks until you could eat off of them, although admittedly for dogs that didn’t have to be that clean, I would chase every rat that stowed away on board trying to eat our kibble that we took with us, and I would become a fierce and fearless pirate. I already had only one eye, so all I needed was an eye patch to fit the part. I would be a sea wolf, a terror of the seas, I would set sail on the Vice Grip and prove myself to the captain and his fearsome crew.

The Vice Grip was a sleek and powerful brig with 20 guns and a crew of around 150 pirates who were fiercely loyal to the Ghost as we referred reverently to our captain. We set off on what was my initial voyage into the dangerous Caribbean Waters setting off for the pirate port of Tortuga where we were to rendezvous with a couple other ships to prowl the waters searching for fame, fortune, and most importantly for me at that point adventure. That initial voyage was difficult, I was continually sea sick and I often had to ‘feed the fishes’ if you know what I mean. It took me a little while to get my sea legs under me and much of life upon the open ocean is repetitive and boring, especially as a newbie sailor. There are long patches where you see nothing but the blue of the seemingly endless ocean stretching to meet the endless blue of the sky, you are a small wooden ark in the vastness of the abyss. Occasionally we’d see creatures leap out of the ocean, and sea gulls would pursue us and call out continually for food. But aside from aching bones from hours of hard work and an uneasy stomach that initial voyage upon the waters of the Caribbean was uneventful until we pulled into Tortuga.:

“But I thought you were a pirate captain, sir?” interrupted one of the pups.

“Patience my young friends, you don’t become a pirate captain overnight, you have to start at the bottom and I had already moved from being a prisoner to being a pirate on what I thought was one of the greatest pirate crews of the age. The Ghost had demonstrated his courage to me when he orchestrated our jailbreak and his crew seemed to hold him in an awe approaching worship at times. I only saw someone challenge him once, and that was in Tortuga when we were taking on supplies and a Mastiff barked that he couldn’t believe that such a ship could be commanded by someone so small. The Ghost quickly turned towards this massive dog and moved towards him slowly, bulldogs don’t move anywhere too quickly, and growled in his deep, gravelly voice, “Is that a challenge you filthy cur dog?” When the mastiff growled bag, Ghost, quicker than I thought possible lunged and grabbed onto his rear leg with his strong massive jaws. Oh, how that mastiff cried and howled and begged to be set free and Ghost held on until he decided it was time to let the challenger limp away with tail dragging between his legs.

Later that day he came up to me and said, “Never let anyone challenge you or intimidate you just because you are small in stature. Being a small in stature simply means that you must be big in attitude and that for your bark to be respected your bite has to be worse.” I was surrounded by several dogs bigger than me: Pit bulls, Dobermans, and German Shepherds but we had our share of Terriers, Dachshunds, and even one Chihuahua who was meaner and tougher than any of them. We loaded the ship with kibble, gunpowder, and rolled the cannon balls and stowed them on the gun decks. While in port I was assigned to a 12-pound cannon crews, one of our smaller guns and I stored the munitions that were for the two 12 pounders. While we were in port the leader of our gun crew showed me what my responsibility was as we practiced cleaning, loading and positioning for fire our gun. We worked and drilled until I could do my job in my sleep, and I think I did at times as I laid there in my hammock. Our cannon was nicknamed tiny terror, since the Chihuahua I mentioned above commanded it. The Chihuahua’s name was Juan but we all called him Snarl since his lip seemed to be locked in an eternal snarl. He drove us mercilessly but we were his crew and he made sure that nobody else messed with his crew. Being one of the smaller guns we were a small group of dogs of smaller breeds: there was Rusty, a good-natured mutt, and Gunter the Dachshund in addition to me who were responsible for keeping the tiny terror ready to bite at a moment’s notice.

And I learned to take care of myself, pirates are a rough group. Once while we were on Tortuga a group of pirates from another crew threatened us tiny terrors one night as we were eating and drinking and when Snarl said attack and launched himself from the table onto the back of the Rottweiler who was barking threats at us. I found myself matched up against a boxer and my speed came in handy as I darted around nipping at his back legs and every time he reached for me all he could ever get was a mouthful of fur. Before long the Rottweiler was pleading from mercy from Snarl and we tiny terrors proved equal to our name. From that night on we didn’t have any trouble in port.

After a couple days of refitting, rest and planning we joined up with the crew of the Specter led by Captain Silver, a greyhound whose daring raids were spoken of across the island and the Hyena a massive older ship, not as fast as the Vice Grip of the Specter but more heavily armed and able to carry a larger crew and a more cargo. The three ships were going to sail in the direction of Havana in search of ships carrying treasure from the new world back across the ocean. Finding ships once they entered the Atlantic would be near impossible but within the Caribbean there was a greater opportunity to find ships and to capture their cargo. So, we set off and I was in high spirits for I was finally earning a place among the pirates and I would have a part, even if it was a small part in the prize that was to come.

We departed on a rainy morning in March, and the rain was colder than I thought possible for that part of the world, and it wasn’t long before all of our coats were drenched with rain, but Ghost’s commands were heard above the wind and the rain as we moved away from Tortuga into the deep waters. The days were filled with drilling on cannon drills, cleaning the deck, and in joyous expectation of our first contact with a treasure ship. We sailed at a modest pace, to allow the Hyena to run with the faster Vice Grip and Specter. Apart from the rains the initial day the winds were favorable and the weather good and on the evening of our third day of patrols the Specter signaled that she had spotted our prey approaching. We moved to begin the long task of intercepting the ships, initially approaching at a pace where the Hyena wouldn’t be left too far behind but as we saw the ship growing closer the Vice Grip and Specter set their sales for speed and began to outdistance the Hyena, but this was all a part of the plan agreed upon by the captains. The ship we were approaching also didn’t change course which was a bit unsettling, either their captain was a fool or there was some danger we were not yet aware of, but as we scanned the horizon we didn’t see any evidence of danger.

We quickly approached, and the captain ordered us to fly our colors and the black flag with a bulldog head biting through a bone flew from our mast while captain Silver’s slender skull with crosses sabers on a black background flew from his ship. The announcement that we were pirates had its desired effect, the captain of the merchant ship struck his sails, allowing us to move alongside and board it without contest. Its crew cowered as we came alongside and began to board. Quickly chests and food were carried back across from their ship to ours. We searched their ship from top to bottom for anything that was worth taking back to our ships to split with our comrades on the Specter and Hyena. We made quick work of it, but even though we worked quickly before we were finished we heard our captain order us back to the ship. We grabbed one last crate and returned to our home on the Vice Grip to learn that the Hyena had spotted a frigate approaching. Even with three ships we would be hard pressed to take on a frigate unless we were able to coordinate all three ships. Captain Silver signaled all three ships to separate and meet back in Tortuga in two weeks. Our two faster ships would attempt to lead the frigate away from the Hyena. It would be a challenging ordeal because even though a frigate was larger than either the Vice Grip or Specter it was just as fast on the open seas. We would pass closest to the path of the frigate to attempt to get it to change its course away from the Hyena. We were ordered to load the cannons and our crew got the tiny terror ready for action.

As we approached the frigate I got to experience the tiny terror’s bark. We were ordered to put a shell in the direction of the frigate, even though we were still out of range and so under Snarl’s orders we fired the canon and it was louder than anything I had ever heard. A spray of water erupted from where the 12-pound shell landed and the frigate answered with one of her own cannons which landed close enough to our ship that I got a face full of salty water. We passed close enough that their captain changed course to pursue us, but we were already making our fastest pace as we moved toward the Bahamas where we hoped to lose our pursuers. The next two days were tense as the frigate continued to pursue us, but the winds were good and we continued to stay ahead of them until we were able to hide in the midst of the islands.

As we returned to Tortuga to reunite with the crews of the Specter and Hyena we began to examine the loot we pulled from the hull of the merchant ship. In many respects, it was not an exceptional cargo, pine and oak pulled from the forests of the Americas, sugar, molasses and spice which we could get a decent price for, but there was also one crate that the crew had seemed especially reluctant to part with. One of the German Shepherds cracked open the crate and gave it a sniff, wrinkled its eyebrows and said, “What is this?”

But I knew, and it made sense now why the frigate pursued us as long as they did. “That’s catnip!” I exclaimed, “no wonder the cats on the merchant ship looked so defeated as we took it away. We could get a good price for that on the black market. One sniff of that and cats will be rolling around on the deck powerless before you! They will do anything, anything for that.”

“But Mr. Shimar, how did you know it was catnip?” Said one of the listening pups.

Well, remember I said I had lost my eye to the Fierce Feral Felines in prison, they were running a catnip smuggling ring. I had seen what it did to other cats and how they used it. I also knew that this was high quality catnip, not some rejects from the edges of a field. There was a note inside that this was a special reserve harvest sent as a gift to Purrincess Maria, the daughter of the feline king of Purrtugal.

Prophesy to the Wind

The Knesset Memorial, Jerusalem (Detail) Ezekiel in the Valley of Dry Bones

O mortal can these bones live? This people who continues to dwell in the valley of death
This people who refuses to learn from the past, these ears that did not hear
These hands which did not help and the eyes that remain obstructed so that they do not see
The cataracts of hatred and privilege that blind them to the neighbor they sacrificed
The ears made deaf by the cacophony of shouting voices that no longer hear the victims cry
And yet the Lord says to prophesy to the bones and once again they will rise up again
Bone will join to bone, sinew to sinew, flesh and tendons and heart and muscle will grow anew
So dry bones hear the words the prophet proclaims, from one who stands in the valley of death
Daring to enter into that place where dreams have died and history is forgotten
Walking to the remains of a people whose heart and soul shriveled and died as they forgot love
These shambling remains of the people of a dream and a hope, to a nation which lost its way
Stand upon the graves of the present and shout at the top of your lungs about resurrection
Not to some distant heaven but a new creation where eyes and ears and hearts are opened
The death of the moment is not the end of the story for the prophet tells of new beginnings
The prophet whose voice strained as he tried to change their direction of yesterday’s winds
Now prophesies again to the four winds that blow upon the earth as they return the breath of God
Which enters into the nostrils and fills the lungs with the air of the new creation which doesn’t die
For the voices of hatred and death, of separation and war, the raised voices of angry men fall silent
As the still, soft, silent creative words are finally heard after the fire, thunder, winds and quakes
And with tears in his eyes the prophet sees the dry bones live, the blind eyes see and the deaf ears hear
As the new hearts learn how to love rather than hate and arms are raised to embrace rather than strike
Perhaps the prophet is a madman listening to the voices in his head and prophesying to the wind
To continue to cry out for the possibility of something new as demons dance in the graveyard
To believe that the dry bones might someday choose something other than the death they know
Or perhaps the stubborn prophet is the only sane one, the voice of life in the midst of devastation
The dreamer who refuses to give up in the midst of the nightmare and believes the darkness will end
Perhaps like Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel the prophet will become a beacon of hope in the night
O mortal can these bones live? Can this people be renewed? O Sovereign Lord, you know
Until that day the prophet’s voice goes out to the dry bones and prophesies into the wind.


Exodus 25: Holy Things for Holy Space

Exodus 25: 1-9 A Voluntary Offering for the Tabernacle

The LORD said to Moses: 2 Tell the Israelites to take for me an offering; from all whose hearts prompt them to give you shall receive the offering for me. 3 This is the offering that you shall receive from them: gold, silver, and bronze, 4 blue, purple, and crimson yarns and fine linen, goats’ hair, 5 tanned rams’ skins, fine leather,1 acacia wood, 6 oil for the lamps, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, 7 onyx stones and gems to be set in the ephod and for the breastpiece. 8 And have them make me a sanctuary, so that I may dwell among them. 9 In accordance with all that I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle and of all its furniture, so you shall make it.

For many Christians Exodus 25-31 and 35-40 are portions of scripture they either pass over or perhaps read without much reflection. Yet, particularly in ancient literature where the documents must be hand copied by a scribe, the dedication to such a significant amount of space, ink and time to the preservation of this vision of the tabernacle should make us slow down and take notice. In contrast, the construction of the temple in 1 Kings occupies only two chapters.

Perhaps because I have spent a lot of time over the past two years planning and working with an architectural firm on an expansion for my congregation I have a greater appreciation for the level of detail that goes in taking a vision and attempting to communicate it in text to the people who will construct the expansion. The term tabernacle comes from the Hebrew word which means to dwell and the project they will be constructing will be a place the LORD can dwell with the people. In one sense, it is attempting to create a bit of heaven on earth: the use of the finest resources and specific patterns to emulate in some small way the visions of the throne room of God that Moses and others will see. In another sense, it is a modeling of what creation was supposed to be. There is a creation narrative pattern where the order is brought together and God comes to dwell with humanity in a recreated garden space. Probably both heaven and earth become models for this dwelling place and the greatest resources of the earth are used for this act of creation of a sacred space.

The offering for the space is voluntary not compulsory. Unlike the temple, where Solomon’s building activity places a heavy burden on the people including compulsory labor, the tabernacle will utilize the gifts people freely bring and the divinely gifted artisans that God provides. Unlike the golden calf of Exodus 32 which is hastily molded and cast and whose worship quickly devolves into reveling and disorder, this will be a space where the orderly worship parallels the orderly vision of creation in Genesis.

As we move through the individual components set aside for the tabernacle and the construction of those elements I do believe the construction of this holy space is an act of devotion and worship. There have been times within Christianity where the focus has been upon the building and the collection for those building would also put a high toll on the faithful. My tradition, the Lutheran Church, emerges out of a conflict over the raising of funds through indulgences which would ultimately go to build St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. But as people of faith we do need sacred spaces, places where God promises to dwell among us. It is faithful for people to give of their own wealth and resources and talents to build these places that are a little taste of heaven here on earth.

James Tissot, Moses and Joshua in the Tabernacle (1896-1902)

Exodus 25: 10-22 The Ark of the Covenant

10 They shall make an ark of acacia wood; it shall be two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high. 11 You shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and outside you shall overlay it, and you shall make a molding of gold upon it all around. 12 You shall cast four rings of gold for it and put them on its four feet, two rings on the one side of it, and two rings on the other side. 13 You shall make poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold. 14 And you shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, by which to carry the ark. 15 The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be taken from it. 16 You shall put into the ark the covenant1 that I shall give you.

17 Then you shall make a mercy seat of pure gold; two cubits and a half shall be its length, and a cubit and a half its width. 18 You shall make two cherubim of gold; you shall make them of hammered work, at the two ends of the mercy seat. 19 Make one cherub at the one end, and one cherub at the other; of one piece with the mercy seat you shall make the cherubim at its two ends. 20 The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings. They shall face one to another; the faces of the cherubim shall be turned toward the mercy seat. 21 You shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark; and in the ark you shall put the covenant that I shall give you. 22 There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the covenant, I will deliver to you all my commands for the Israelites.

Rather than an image of the LORD the people of Israel have a chair or footstool marking where God’s presence will meet them in this holy space. The ark also serves the additional purpose of being a storage space, like a chest, for the covenant or the law. The very best materials are used in this item that will occupy the central and holiest place within the tabernacle. Acacia wood and pure gold form the box and the elaborate lid for the ark of the covenant.

The ark will become a central representation of God’s presence among the Israelites in the time of Joshua, the Judges, King Saul and King David. It is brought out into the battlefield with the armies of Israel. At times when it is captured it bring calamity to the nations who are not the LORD’s priestly kingdom and who place the ark within the pantheon of gods that they worship. It is a place where God’s holiness is reflected to the people and some manner of God’s presence dwells. The ark, which is roughly forty-five inches long and twenty-seven inches wide and deep, (Myers, 2005, p. 227) becomes a mobile seat of God’s presence. Interestingly the mentions of the ark of the covenant disappear during the time a permanent temple is built and it is not mentioned from Solomon’s reign onward. The lost ‘ark of the covenant’ has occupied the imagination of writers of fiction along with items like the holy grail or Noah’s ark as a powerful relic of ancient times.

It is also notable that while the mentions of the ark of the covenant disappear in the time of the monarchy so do the references among the kings to the covenant itself. It is only when the high priest Hilkiah rediscovers the book of the law in the temple that the covenant is for a moment renewed prior to the Babylonian exile. During the exile as the people no longer have the physical structures of the temple to be a place where they can be brought close to God’s presence the written copies of the Torah and other writings become the center of life for the Jewish people. It is during this time without a tabernacle or temple, ark of the covenant or any of the other items used in the worship of God that the Jewish and later Christian followers of God would become people of the written word.

Exodus 25: 23-40 The Table and Lampstand

23 You shall make a table of acacia wood, two cubits long, one cubit wide, and a cubit and a half high. 24 You shall overlay it with pure gold, and make a molding of gold around it. 25 You shall make around it a rim a handbreadth wide, and a molding of gold around the rim. 26 You shall make for it four rings of gold, and fasten the rings to the four corners at its four legs. 27 The rings that hold the poles used for carrying the table shall be close to the rim. 28 You shall make the poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold, and the table shall be carried with these. 29 You shall make its plates and dishes for incense, and its flagons and bowls with which to pour drink offerings; you shall make them of pure gold. 30 And you shall set the bread of the Presence on the table before me always.

31 You shall make a lampstand of pure gold. The base and the shaft of the lampstand shall be made of hammered work; its cups, its calyxes, and its petals shall be of one piece with it; 32 and there shall be six branches going out of its sides, three branches of the lampstand out of one side of it and three branches of the lampstand out of the other side of it; 33 three cups shaped like almond blossoms, each with calyx and petals, on one branch, and three cups shaped like almond blossoms, each with calyx and petals, on the other branch — so for the six branches going out of the lampstand. 34 On the lampstand itself there shall be four cups shaped like almond blossoms, each with its calyxes and petals. 35 There shall be a calyx of one piece with it under the first pair of branches, a calyx of one piece with it under the next pair of branches, and a calyx of one piece with it under the last pair of branches — so for the six branches that go out of the lampstand. 36 Their calyxes and their branches shall be of one piece with it, the whole of it one hammered piece of pure gold. 37 You shall make the seven lamps for it; and the lamps shall be set up so as to give light on the space in front of it. 38 Its snuffers and trays shall be of pure gold. 39 It, and all these utensils, shall be made from a talent of pure gold. 40 And see that you make them according to the pattern for them, which is being shown you on the mountain.

Before we have the design of the building we have the details of some of the central items that will occupy the space that will be designed around it. The ark, the table and the lampstand have symbolic and functional purposes. The table is also to be used for holy things and so it is made from acacia wood and pure gold. It may not occupy the same type of visual imagery within the people of Israel’s imagination as the ark of the covenant will, but it does hold a very practical purpose of being a place where the twelve loaves of the bread of the Presence are placed as offering. Bread was the basic element of food for the Jewish people and the twelve loaves probably symbolized the produce of the twelve tribes before God visually. It is these loaves that David is given to eat since there is no other bread in the temple when he is fleeing from King Saul in 1 Samuel 21, which apparently were normally eaten by the priests who worked in the tabernacle.

The lampstand with six branches, three on each side with lamps on each branch and in the center, artistically crafted from gold to look like almond blossoms while serving a practical function of providing light in a time before electricity would also come to serve a symbolic function. Even though the ark disappears from imagery and writing once the temple is built the lampstand would remain and become a central image of Judaism to the present day. For example, when the temple is destroyed in 70 C.E. and items from the temple are brought in procession in Rome one of the easily recognizable images is the lampstand and it becomes reproduced on the arch of Titus in Rome (see below). The Menorah, as this type of lampstand will later be known, is still the Emblem of the State of Israel.

Roman triumphal procession with spoils from the Temple, depicted on the inside wall of the Arch of Titus in Rome

Exodus 24: Sealing the Covenant and Approaching God at Sinai

David Roberts, Mount Sinai (1839)

Exodus 24: 1-8 Sealing the Covenant

Then he said to Moses, “Come up to the LORD, you and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and worship at a distance. 2 Moses alone shall come near the LORD; but the others shall not come near, and the people shall not come up with him.”

 3 Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice, and said, “All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do.” 4 And Moses wrote down all the words of the LORD. He rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and set up twelve pillars, corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel. 5 He sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed oxen as offerings of well-being to the LORD. 6 Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he dashed against the altar. 7 Then he took the book of the covenant, and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” 8 Moses took the blood and dashed it on the people, and said, “See the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.”

Moses has taken the words of the LORD and the ordinances, presumably the content of the previous four chapters, and returned to the people to communicate and teach them these commandments and laws. The people again answer that “All the words the LORD has spoken we will do.” But now there is a liturgical sealing of the acceptance of the words of God. The covenant is cut, to use the Hebrew phrasing, and these pacts or covenants were often sealed by sacrifice or blood of some type. Genesis 15 is an example of this type of ceremony where God makes a covenant with Abraham and both pass through the pieces of the sacrificed animals, passing through the blood and in effect saying that faithfulness to the covenant is a deadly serious business. Here the blood of the oxen is sprinkled on the people and dashed against the altar binding both parties.

The place of sacrifice is very simple with an altar and twelve pillars. The pillars here correspond to the people rather than some representation of God, the prohibition against forming images of God holds here, although in later times these places with pillars will come to represent the idolatry of the people. Here an altar or earth or uncut stones (see Exodus 20: 22-26) along with the pillars at the base of the Mount Sinai becomes the only things necessary on this holy place. The mountain itself is a holy space, a place where God has come down to dwell among the people. Much of the rest of the book of Exodus will be concerned with the construction of a mobile place that God can come down to dwell with the people, but here, like when God speaks to Moses in chapter three, the people are on holy ground.

The blood of the covenant seals the relationship between the people and their God. They have now received some initial guidance from God on the type of community they are to construct and how they are to live into their identity as a ‘treasured possession, a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.’ (see Exodus 19: 5-6) They are now marked and set aside for their calling. Within Christianity this type of liturgical language of covenant sealing gets echoes both in relation to baptism and in communion. The wine in communion is the ‘blood of the new covenant’ and baptism is a point where the individual is ‘baptized into the death of Christ’ so that they might be dead to sin and alive to Christ.

Jean-Leon Gerome, Moses on Mount Sinai (1895-1900)

Exodus 24: 9-18 Meeting with the LORD on the Mountain

 9 Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, 10 and they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there was something like a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. 11 God1 did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; also they beheld God, and they ate and drank.

 12 The LORD said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.” 13 So Moses set out with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. 14 To the elders he had said, “Wait here for us, until we come to you again; for Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a dispute may go to them.”

 15 Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16 The glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. 17 Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. 18 Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.

We are given multiple views of the theophany on Mount Sinai. There is the perspective of the majority of the people at the base of the mountain which is described in a way that the closest analogy would be a volcano. To the people on the ground the approach of God is terrifying and dangerous, a devouring fire on the top of the mountain. For the seventy elders and the three priests there is the appearance of a dwelling place of God, beautiful in its description and an appearance of God that is only modestly described. There is a physical manifestation of the LORD, whose feet rest upon a pavement of sapphire stones of great clarity and the LORD is described anthropomorphically (using human features even when done metaphorically like when it states God did not lay his hands on the chief men). Yet, unlike in Isaiah 6 or Ezekiel 1 (and even these theophanies are very reticent to discuss the actual appearance of the LORD) there is no description of the LORD. Unlike other religions where there are vivid representations of the gods and goddesses, Judaism’s aniconic relationship with their God also extends to descriptions of God’s appearance with words. Yet, within the book of Exodus, there are multiple times where there is a tangible presence of God, even if it is not something to be described or even fully seen (as in Exodus 33). Finally, there is the experience of Moses who will spend extended periods of time in God’s presence.

The scene also sets the stage for the drama that will come in Exodus 32. Moses departs up the mountain for forty days and forty nights in the cloud with the LORD. The people remain at the base of the mountain waiting on Moses and Aaron and Hur are left to hear the disputes of the people. The next several chapters will have God describe to Moses the vision for the tabernacle where God can come down to dwell with the people. Yet, during this absence the people will come to Aaron and move away from God’s command not to create an image of God by creating the golden calf which they will worship. Yet, for a time we get to ascend with Moses into the cloud and see the vision of the tabernacle and enter into this time away from the people and with God.

Exodus 23: Justice, Celebration and Presence

Torah inside of the former Glockengasse Synagogue in Cologne. Photo shared under Creative Commons Attribution- Share Alike 4.0, source Zeughaus

Exodus 23:1-9 And Justice for All

 You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with the wicked to act as a malicious witness. 2 You shall not follow a majority in wrongdoing; when you bear witness in a lawsuit, you shall not side with the majority so as to pervert justice; 3 nor shall you be partial to the poor in a lawsuit.

 4 When you come upon your enemy’s ox or donkey going astray, you shall bring it back.

 5 When you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden and you would hold back from setting it free, you must help to set it free.1

 6 You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in their lawsuits. 7 Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent and those in the right, for I will not acquit the guilty. 8 You shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the officials, and subverts the cause of those who are in the right.

 9 You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.

The end of the Pledge of Allegiance for the United States ends with the phrase, “with liberty and justice for all.” Yet, liberty and justice for all people has been a challenging part of the United States’ story as it attempts to live into these words. Who does the ‘all’ encompass? In the United States that definition was initially white landholding males. The Civil War and the long struggle for Civil Rights attempted to expand the all to include people of color. Women’s movements have attempted to increase the equity in the world and the workplace for women. Probably the place where this generates the largest amount of friction in our current civil discourse relates to men and women who are LGBTQ in their identity. Without justice, the alternative society the people of Israel were tasked to create would devolve into a mirror of the Egyptian society they left.

Initially the ‘all’ in Exodus 23 extends to all citizens, both the rich and the poor. Truthful speech on behalf of the neighbor was essential. Not only does the command to not bear false witness get included in Exodus 20:16 but here it is amplified. They are to be people of truthful speech on behalf of their neighbor, they are not to be deceitful for their own gain of to remain in good standing with the majority. They are to be willing to speak inconvenient truths rather than to pervert justice. The prophets will be examples of those who are charged to speak in ways that rely upon God’s witness and the truth to both leaders and people who may not want to hear. Judgment is not to favor the rich and the powerful but it is also not to be swayed by a bias towards the poor (or against the rich).

Secondly the ‘all’ extends to the enemy and their property, particularly here the animals. Exodus is realistic enough to understand that all relationships within a society will not be friendly. Yet, my enemy’s animal being loose or overburdened becomes my responsibility. Even though the loss of an animal would hurt the one who hates me, for both my enemy and the animal I bear responsibility to set it free from its burden or to bring it back to my enemy.  Ultimately my enemy is my neighbor and the law protects my enemy and their property.

The ‘all’ includes my neighbor, rich or poor, and neither are to be denied justice. Justice requires the people in authority not to take bribes, for people not to bring false charges to steal a neighbor’s property, life or reputation, or any other practice that subverts justice. Finally, the ‘all’ extends to the stranger, or the resident alien as the NRSV translates it. As in the previous chapter, these strangers who are not a part of the people of Israel are not to be oppressed. The experience of the people of Israel being oppressed as ‘strangers’ or ‘resident aliens’ in Egypt is to form a contrast to the society they are to create. Within the immigration debate in the United States is another realm where our nation struggles with the ‘all’ of the pledge. Within the Torah the inclusion of the ‘resident alien’ into the ‘all’ is stated frequently as a reminder to the people of Israel, and those who would claim their scriptures as a part of their own scriptures, that they are to be a people where the ‘all’ is very expansive.

Exodus 23: 10-13 Creation’s Sabbath Rest

 10 For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield; 11 but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the wild animals may eat. You shall do the same with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard.

 12 Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest, so that your ox and your donkey may have relief, and your homeborn slave and the resident alien may be refreshed. 13 Be attentive to all that I have said to you. Do not invoke the names of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips.

The practice of a fallow year for the fields may have had a positive impact on the fertility of the ground but here the justification goes back to the care of the neighbor. The year where the field lies fallow and vineyards and olive orchards grow without the tending allow for the poor and the wild animals to benefit. Much as the gleaning provisions in Leviticus 19: 9-10, 23:22 and Deuteronomy 24: 21 provide a way for the vulnerable of the land to be cared for, here this seventh-year practice is another way in which the community is to provide an opportunity for survival of the at-risk neighbor.

The Sabbath commandment is re-visited here as well along with the reminder that the Sabbath is rest not only for the people of Israel but for all in their borders to rest. Animals, slaves and resident aliens are beneficiaries along with the people of Israel in this commandment to rest. Here in Exodus there is a creation pattern which the Sabbath is modeled after: In six days the earth was created (according to Genesis 1) and on the seventh day the LORD rested. Now this seventh day which the LORD hallowed becomes the model for the seventh year where the fields lie fallow and the seventh day where people and animals of creation rest.

Painted Sukkah with a view of Jerusalem, Late 19th Century, Austria or South Germany

Exodus 23: 14-19 Festival and Sacrifice

 14 Three times in the year you shall hold a festival for me. 15 You shall observe the festival of unleavened bread; as I commanded you, you shall eat unleavened bread for seven days at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt.

No one shall appear before me empty-handed.

 16 You shall observe the festival of harvest, of the first fruits of your labor, of what you sow in the field. You shall observe the festival of ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in from the field the fruit of your labor. 17 Three times in the year all your males shall appear before the Lord GOD.

 18 You shall not offer the blood of my sacrifice with anything leavened, or let the fat of my festival remain until the morning.

 19 The choicest of the first fruits of your ground you shall bring into the house of the LORD your God. You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.

The calendar of festivals for the people of Israel is centered around the Exodus narrative and the yearly cycle of harvest. Exodus 12 and 13 narrate the celebration of Passover as a part of the narrative of the people leaving Egypt. This was to be the defining narrative of the people and the community in their gathering, sacrifice and ritualized eating would tell again the narrative of what made this celebration unique and how these actions defined their life as the people of God.

Deuteronomy 16 also narrates the festivals of first fruits and the festival at the end of the harvest. These were to be the times when the males of Israel would appear before the LORD. In a time where people would have to travel to the place where the LORD placed his name (either the tabernacle, shrines or later the temple) there was not the ability for most people to worship weekly like many people are familiar with. These festivals became communal gathering times and times of celebration for the harvest that was a part of the year.

The people were to bring their best to the LORD at these celebrations and times of sacrifice. There were practices they were not to do: like boiling a kid in its mother’s milk or offering anything leavened with the blood of the sacrifice, but most of these offerings were used as a part of the community’s celebration. They were times of feasting and celebration, storytelling and gathering.

Exodus 23: 20-33 Promised Presence in Future Conflicts

 20 I am going to send an angel in front of you, to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. 21 Be attentive to him and listen to his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression; for my name is in him.

 22 But if you listen attentively to his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and a foe to your foes.

 23 When my angel goes in front of you, and brings you to the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, and I blot them out, 24 you shall not bow down to their gods, or worship them, or follow their practices, but you shall utterly demolish them and break their pillars in pieces. 25 You shall worship the LORD your God, and I1 will bless your bread and your water; and I will take sickness away from among you. 26 No one shall miscarry or be barren in your land; I will fulfill the number of your days. 27 I will send my terror in front of you, and will throw into confusion all the people against whom you shall come, and I will make all your enemies turn their backs to you. 28 And I will send the pestilence1 in front of you, which shall drive out the Hivites, the Canaanites, and the Hittites from before you. 29 I will not drive them out from before you in one year, or the land would become desolate and the wild animals would multiply against you. 30 Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased and possess the land. 31 I will set your borders from the Red Sea1 to the sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness to the Euphrates; for I will hand over to you the inhabitants of the land, and you shall drive them out before you. 32 You shall make no covenant with them and their gods. 33 They shall not live in your land, or they will make you sin against me; for if you worship their gods, it will surely be a snare to you.

The God of the Exodus has brought the people out of the land of Egypt and is bringing them on a journey to a new, promised land. The angel of the LORD who goes with the people becomes an intermediary of God’s promised presence and a guarantee of the LORD’s provision of security. There is both promise and threat here, much as Deuteronomy’s blessings and curses in Deuteronomy 28 and 29. If the people will listen to the voice of God, mediated through the angel (in addition to Moses) then God will be with them. However, if they do not there are consequences-this representative of God is not a forgiving presence. As people who have grown up with different sensibilities than the ancient Hebrew people there may be a tension between this demanding voice of God and many passages where God is portrayed as more gracious. Yet, obedience is one of the covenant expectations for the people.

The promise of God’s presence in the conquest of the promised land as it occurs in Deuteronomy 2, 3 and the book of Joshua presents many ethical challenges which I have addressed other places (see additionally Exodus 15, Deuteronomy 20, Psalm 18 and Violence and the Bible). There is an unavoidable tension between the concern for the resident alien and the command to utterly demolish the people of the land. Especially in the United States where there is a ‘new Exodus’ narrative (the United States becoming for many early Americans a new promised land and what that meant for the native Americans who were driven from their homes). There are no easy answers, every people has times where religion has been used to justify acts of violence. Every nation has parts of their history that have been glossed over. One of the struggles and gifts of going back to parts of the Bible that are rarely used is the opportunity to wrestle with the uncomfortable parts of the tradition and see what parts of the narrative we can lift up and what parts we need to acknowledge and ask forgiveness for.

Without dwelling on this in the same way I have in the other places listed above, the positive force in this is the command to trust in the promised presence of God in the people’s future conflicts. Ultimately, this formerly enslaved people have been promised God’s intervention as they make their way beyond the wilderness into their promised land. For the people, the promise of God’s presence makes the difference between their weakness on their own and their ability to conquer their foes through God’s strength.