Exodus 40:1-33 Moses Finishes the Work of the Tabernacle
The LORD spoke to Moses: 2 On the first day of the first month you shall set up the tabernacle of the tent of meeting. 3 You shall put in it the ark of the covenant, and you shall screen the ark with the curtain. 4 You shall bring in the table, and arrange its setting; and you shall bring in the lampstand, and set up its lamps. 5 You shall put the golden altar for incense before the ark of the covenant, and set up the screen for the entrance of the tabernacle. 6 You shall set the altar of burnt offering before the entrance of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting, 7 and place the basin between the tent of meeting and the altar, and put water in it. 8 You shall set up the court all around, and hang up the screen for the gate of the court. 9 Then you shall take the anointing oil, and anoint the tabernacle and all that is in it, and consecrate it and all its furniture, so that it shall become holy. 10 You shall also anoint the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, and consecrate the altar, so that the altar shall be most holy. 11 You shall also anoint the basin with its stand, and consecrate it. 12 Then you shall bring Aaron and his sons to the entrance of the tent of meeting, and shall wash them with water, 13 and put on Aaron the sacred vestments, and you shall anoint him and consecrate him, so that he may serve me as priest. 14 You shall bring his sons also and put tunics on them, 15 and anoint them, as you anointed their father, that they may serve me as priests: and their anointing shall admit them to a perpetual priesthood throughout all generations to come.
16 Moses did everything just as the LORD had commanded him. 17 In the first month in the second year, on the first day of the month, the tabernacle was set up. 18 Moses set up the tabernacle; he laid its bases, and set up its frames, and put in its poles, and raised up its pillars; 19 and he spread the tent over the tabernacle, and put the covering of the tent over it; as the LORD had commanded Moses. 20 He took the covenant and put it into the ark, and put the poles on the ark, and set the mercy seat above the ark; 21 and he brought the ark into the tabernacle, and set up the curtain for screening, and screened the ark of the covenant; as the LORD had commanded Moses. 22 He put the table in the tent of meeting, on the north side of the tabernacle, outside the curtain, 23 and set the bread in order on it before the LORD; as the LORD had commanded Moses. 24 He put the lampstand in the tent of meeting, opposite the table on the south side of the tabernacle, 25 and set up the lamps before the LORD; as the LORD had commanded Moses. 26 He put the golden altar in the tent of meeting before the curtain, 27 and offered fragrant incense on it; as the LORD had commanded Moses. 28 He also put in place the screen for the entrance of the tabernacle. 29 He set the altar of burnt offering at the entrance of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting, and offered on it the burnt offering and the grain offering as the LORD had commanded Moses. 30 He set the basin between the tent of meeting and the altar, and put water in it for washing, 31 with which Moses and Aaron and his sons washed their hands and their feet. 32 When they went into the tent of meeting, and when they approached the altar, they washed; as the LORD had commanded Moses. 33 He set up the court around the tabernacle and the altar, and put up the screen at the gate of the court. So Moses finished the work.
One year after the beginning of the journey the new year begins with the assembly of the tabernacle. On the first day of the first month of the second year there is a new opportunity to begin again. Just as the previous year began with the people’s position as slaves ending and their journey into the wilderness as the people of the LORD the God of Israel began, now here at the beginning of year two they witness the completion of their work for a dwelling for the LORD in their midst. The tent of meeting previously had been outside the camp and a place where only Moses and Joshua would go to. The LORD’s dream of dwelling among the people was shattered in the betrayal by Aaron and the rest of the people with the golden calf.
The craftsmen Bezalel and Oholiob and all the craftsmen and women of Israel who were a part of creating the curtains, bars, the ark, the altars, the incense and the anointing oil have completed their work. They have taken the gifts of the people, the best of precious metals, stones, fabric, spices and oils and they have used their divinely inspired talents to create this space where the LORD’s presence can inhabit. It is to be a little bit of heaven on earth, a place that can be holy because the one who will inhabit it will be holy. It is an offering of reconciliation from the people. The gifts and the work become a communal act of apology and hope that the LORD who brought them out of Egypt will come and abide in their midst.
Moses is the one who is charged with completing the work and the repetitive refrain ‘as the LORD commanded Moses’ emphasizes the obedience of Moses. The phrase occurs initially encompassing all the work and then seven additional times as it details the completion of each portion. Seven indicates completion in the bible and so the number of times the phrase is repeated is probably not a coincidence. The careful articulation also mirrors the seven days of the creation narrative and this human work of creation is offered up to the Creator of the heavens and the earth.
Moses fulfils the function that Aaron and his sons are not yet ready to perform. Moses is a holy person, a person who can go and speak to God face to face as one speaks to a friend. Moses is allowed to go into the holy spaces with the LORD. Aaron and his sons will be washed but they will still need to be ordained for their ministry to begin. In our time we are skeptical of the idea of holy people, holy place and holy things but this story points to reality that, “holy acts by holy persons in holy places give access to the liberating, healing, forgiving power of the holy God.” (Actemeir, 1997, pp. 977, Vol. 1) Moses as a holy person consecrates the act of the people, lifts up their offering to God of this place created to be holy and completes the work of the people in creating the tabernacle.
Exodus 40: 34-38 God Dwells Among the People
34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. 35 Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled upon it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. 36 Whenever the cloud was taken up from the tabernacle, the Israelites would set out on each stage of their journey; 37 but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day that it was taken up. 38 For the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, before the eyes of all the house of Israel at each stage of their journey.
The book of Exodus ends on a hope filled note. Reconciliation has occurred to the point where God will dwell among the people. The tent of meeting becomes filled with the presence of God, the tabernacle has been accepted as a dwelling place for the holiness of the LORD of Israel. The betrayal of the golden calf has been overcome and there is a new possibility as the journey can now continue. The people of God now enter the precious and dangerous vocation of journeying with God. Moses has held together the people and the LORD through the journey from Egypt to Sinai. They are not to the promised land, but they are a people of hope. They no longer dwell under the oppression of the king of Egypt, they are a people whose God dwells among them, has established the covenant with them, and will now journey with them to the promised land. They are a people of the law which points to a new way of living, a different way than the ways of the land of Egypt they were taken out of. They are a people. They are a people who the LORD has provided for throughout their journey and promises to continue to provide for. They are a people who are expected to live a life of obedience and thankfulness for the calling they have received. Their journey continues, and they will be a people on the move. They have journeyed far but there are still many miles and many experiences that lay before they inhabit the promised land. But for now, the book of Exodus closes on a note of hope: God has forgiven. A small portion of God’s vision for the people has now been fulfilled. The journey with God continues for Moses and the people. It is a new year, a chance at a new beginning for the pilgrim people of God.