Tag Archives: Tabernacle

Revelation 15 A Song Before the Wrath

York Minster, Great East Window, 4a, The Plague Angels and the Harpers (1405-1408)

Revelation 15

1 Then I saw another portent in heaven, great and amazing: seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is ended.

2 And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. 3 And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb:

“Great and amazing are your deeds, Lord God the Almighty!
 Just and true are your ways, King of the nations!
4 Lord, who will not fear and glorify your name? For you alone are holy.
All nations will come and worship before you, for your judgments have been revealed.”

5 After this I looked, and the temple of the tent of witness in heaven was opened, 6 and out of the temple came the seven angels with the seven plagues, robed in pure bright linen, with golden sashes across their chests. 7 Then one of the four living creatures gave the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God, who lives forever and ever; 8 and the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels were ended.

Chapter fifteen provides a transition into the final cycle of plagues and a metaphorical telling of the collapse of the forces opposed to God’s will. The seven angels with the seven bowls should remind us of the seven angels with the seven trumpets in Revelation 8:6-11:13 and the seven seals in Revelation 6:1-8:5. Since the seven bowls are actually poured out in the following chapter I’ll look at the parallels between the bowls, trumpets and seals as well as the similarities with the plagues in Exodus at that point. For this brief chapter I’ll focus on this brief pause to worship prior to the unveiling of the judgment of God upon the earth.

Throughout Revelation there is this pause and restraint that interrupts the descent into judgment. While these portions of Revelation may not occupy the imaginative space of the horsemen of the apocalypse, the great dragon, the beasts and the numerous other images of the book of Revelation they are important to the rhythm and understanding of the book. Amid all the chaos that appears to be unleashed upon the earth they are continual reminders to the faithful that God is in control and that their faithful witness is how they will conquer the seemingly unconquerable forces that are arrayed against them. They will stand with Moses and the faithful of all ages proclaiming the praise of God and the Lamb.

The sea of glass follows the image of the rivers of blood up to the horse’s bridle, and as the faithful gather to sing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb we are reminded of when Moses and Miriam and the people of God sang on the far side of the Red Sea as Pharaoh and his armies were submerged in the sea in Exodus 14. The song which the faithful sing is not the song of Moses, recorded in Exodus 15, even though it reflects some similar themes but instead the song of Moses and Lamb. The Lamb is joined to the messenger of God who told the people how to celebrate the first Passover. In the story of Exodus there is an extended pause for worship and ritual prior to the final judgment on Egypt. Here the faithful gather around the glass sea to sing songs of praise before the seven golden bowls are distributed.

The song reflects the most hopeful vision of the prophets where all nations will come and worship before God. Texts like Isaiah 2: 2-4, Isaiah 66: 23, Jeremiah 16:19 and Zechariah 8:22 all point hopefully to the time when all the earth realizes the Lordship of the Creator. A time when no one worships the beast or the dragon or any other idol, but all can realize that God alone is holy.

In Revelation 8: 3-5 the prayers of the saints are offered up with incense to God and earlier in Revelation 6:9-11 when the fifth seal was opened the martyrs had cried out “how long will it be before you judge the earth.” God sees, hears and now responds to this earlier offering. God’s wrath at those who have oppressed not only God’s people, but God’s creation will no longer be contained. Earlier the prayers of the faithful were offered on the altar, now from the temple come the seven bowls filled with God’s wrath.

The language of the temple of the tent of witnesses also harkens back to the tabernacle created for the journey through the wilderness. While earlier we have heard the temple referenced we now are referred to the central portion of a heavenly tabernacle. The tabernacle was built on a model given to Moses in the book of Exodus and many Jewish people believed it was an earthly model of God’s heavenly temple. Yet it is also the place of worship for a people and a God on the move and as the movement of Revelation continues we will see that God is on the move to have God’s kingdom dwell on earth. The tabernacle on earth and the tabernacle in heaven are temporary structures to serve until the time when there is no longer a need for a temple in the city of God for God dwells in the midst of the city.

 

Exodus 40 A Hopeful Conclusion

Model of the Tabernacle as seen in Timna Park, Israel shared by author through Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0

 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.

Exodus 39 Completing the Work of the Tabernacle

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

 Exodus 39: 1-31 The Vestments

Of the blue, purple, and crimson yarns they made finely worked vestments, for ministering in the holy place; they made the sacred vestments for Aaron; as the LORD had commanded Moses.

2 He made the ephod of gold, of blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and of fine twisted linen. 3 Gold leaf was hammered out and cut into threads to work into the blue, purple, and crimson yarns and into the fine twisted linen, in skilled design. 4 They made for the ephod shoulder-pieces, joined to it at its two edges. 5 The decorated band on it was of the same materials and workmanship, of gold, of blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and of fine twisted linen; as the LORD had commanded Moses.

6 The onyx stones were prepared, enclosed in settings of gold filigree and engraved like the engravings of a signet, according to the names of the sons of Israel. 7 He set them on the shoulder-pieces of the ephod, to be stones of remembrance for the sons of Israel; as the LORD had commanded Moses.

8 He made the breastpiece, in skilled work, like the work of the ephod, of gold, of blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and of fine twisted linen. 9 It was square; the breastpiece was made double, a span in length and a span in width when doubled. 10 They set in it four rows of stones. A row of carnelian, chrysolite, and emerald was the first row; 11 and the second row, a turquoise, a sapphire, and a moonstone; 12 and the third row, a jacinth, an agate, and an amethyst; 13 and the fourth row, a beryl, an onyx, and a jasper; they were enclosed in settings of gold filigree. 14 There were twelve stones with names corresponding to the names of the sons of Israel; they were like signets, each engraved with its name, for the twelve tribes. 15 They made on the breastpiece chains of pure gold, twisted like cords; 16 and they made two settings of gold filigree and two gold rings, and put the two rings on the two edges of the breastpiece; 17 and they put the two cords of gold in the two rings at the edges of the breastpiece. 18 Two ends of the two cords they had attached to the two settings of filigree; in this way they attached it in front to the shoulder-pieces of the ephod. 19 Then they made two rings of gold, and put them at the two ends of the breastpiece, on its inside edge next to the ephod. 20 They made two rings of gold, and attached them in front to the lower part of the two shoulder-pieces of the ephod, at its joining above the decorated band of the ephod. 21 They bound the breastpiece by its rings to the rings of the ephod with a blue cord, so that it should lie on the decorated band of the ephod, and that the breastpiece should not come loose from the ephod; as the LORD had commanded Moses.

22 He also made the robe of the ephod woven all of blue yarn; 23 and the opening of the robe in the middle of it was like the opening in a coat of mail, with a binding around the opening, so that it might not be torn. 24 On the lower hem of the robe they made pomegranates of blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and of fine twisted linen. 25 They also made bells of pure gold, and put the bells between the pomegranates on the lower hem of the robe all around, between the pomegranates; 26 a bell and a pomegranate, a bell and a pomegranate all around on the lower hem of the robe for ministering; as the LORD had commanded Moses.

27 They also made the tunics, woven of fine linen, for Aaron and his sons, 28 and the turban of fine linen, and the headdresses of fine linen, and the linen undergarments of fine twisted linen, 29 and the sash of fine twisted linen, and of blue, purple, and crimson yarns, embroidered with needlework; as the LORD had commanded Moses.

30 They made the rosette of the holy diadem of pure gold, and wrote on it an inscription, like the engraving of a signet, “Holy to the LORD.” 31 They tied to it a blue cord, to fasten it on the turban above; as the LORD had commanded Moses.

Perhaps the crafting of the garments for the priesthood are even more important after the incident of the golden calf in Exodus 32 to set aside Aaron and his sons for the priesthood. The directions for the vestments was outlined in Exodus 28 and I don’t have a lot to add to the earlier discussion. This is a place where the clothes do make the person.

In our modern world we don’t consider the priestly role a particularly risky one but for the Israelites there is always risk when entering the presence of the holy LORD of Israel. Yet, on behalf of the people, the priest is to put on the sacred vestments and perform their tasks. We won’t see the ordination of Moses and his sons until Leviticus 6, but as we approach the end of Exodus the vestments for their work have been created and the place where they are to minister to the LORD is ready to be presented.

Exodus 39: 32-43 The Completion of the Work

32 In this way all the work of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting was finished; the Israelites had done everything just as the LORD had commanded Moses. 33 Then they brought the tabernacle to Moses, the tent and all its utensils, its hooks, its frames, its bars, its pillars, and its bases; 34 the covering of tanned rams’ skins and the covering of fine leather, and the curtain for the screen; 35 the ark of the covenant with its poles and the mercy seat; 36 the table with all its utensils, and the bread of the Presence; 37 the pure lampstand with its lamps set on it and all its utensils, and the oil for the light; 38 the golden altar, the anointing oil and the fragrant incense, and the screen for the entrance of the tent; 39 the bronze altar, and its grating of bronze, its poles, and all its utensils; the basin with its stand; 40 the hangings of the court, its pillars, and its bases, and the screen for the gate of the court, its cords, and its pegs; and all the utensils for the service of the tabernacle, for the tent of meeting; 41 the finely worked vestments for ministering in the holy place, the sacred vestments for the priest Aaron, and the vestments of his sons to serve as priests. 42 The Israelites had done all of the work just as the LORD had commanded Moses. 43 When Moses saw that they had done all the work just as the LORD had commanded, he blessed them.

The artisans have done their work, their ministry in the creation of all the items for this holy space and the holy things to occupy the space is completed and presented to Moses. Even though the LORD’s desire to dwell among the people was placed in jeopardy by the people’s betrayal with the golden calf, they now have given and labored in the creation of this place which is a little bit of heaven on earth. They have created a mobile holy space as a pilgrim people still journeying to their promised home. It is their offering of obedience and of their treasures presented to their LORD. The work is now finished, and Moses blesses the people. The LORD has dwelt away from the people, but now the people have prepared a place in the camp for the LORD to dwell among them. As we approach the end we await to see if the LORD’s presence will occupy this space.

Exodus 37-38 Holy Things for Holy Space

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

Exodus 37 Holy Things for the Holy Space

Bezalel made the ark of acacia wood; it was two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high. 2 He overlaid it with pure gold inside and outside, and made a molding of gold around it. 3 He cast for it four rings of gold for its four feet, two rings on its one side and two rings on its other side. 4 He made poles of acacia wood, and overlaid them with gold, 5 and put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, to carry the ark. 6 He made a mercy seat of pure gold; two cubits and a half was its length, and a cubit and a half its width. 7 He made two cherubim of hammered gold; at the two ends of the mercy seat he made them, 8 one cherub at the one end, and one cherub at the other end; of one piece with the mercy seat1 he made the cherubim at its two ends. 9 The cherubim spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings. They faced one another; the faces of the cherubim were turned toward the mercy seat.

10 He also made the table of acacia wood, two cubits long, one cubit wide, and a cubit and a half high. 11 He overlaid it with pure gold, and made a molding of gold around it. 12 He made around it a rim a handbreadth wide, and made a molding of gold around the rim. 13 He cast for it four rings of gold, and fastened the rings to the four corners at its four legs. 14 The rings that held the poles used for carrying the table were close to the rim. 15 He made the poles of acacia wood to carry the table, and overlaid them with gold. 16 And he made the vessels of pure gold that were to be on the table, its plates and dishes for incense, and its bowls and flagons with which to pour drink offerings.

17 He also made the lampstand of pure gold. The base and the shaft of the lampstand were made of hammered work; its cups, its calyxes, and its petals were of one piece with it. 18 There were 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; 19 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. 20 On the lampstand itself there were four cups shaped like almond blossoms, each with its calyxes and petals. 21 There was 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. 22 Their calyxes and their branches were of one piece with it, the whole of it one hammered piece of pure gold. 23 He made its seven lamps and its snuffers and its trays of pure gold. 24 He made it and all its utensils of a talent of pure gold.

25 He made the altar of incense of acacia wood, one cubit long, and one cubit wide; it was square, and was two cubits high; its horns were of one piece with it. 26 He overlaid it with pure gold, its top, and its sides all around, and its horns; and he made for it a molding of gold all around, 27 and made two golden rings for it under its molding, on two opposite sides of it, to hold the poles with which to carry it. 28 And he made the poles of acacia wood, and overlaid them with gold.

29 He made the holy anointing oil also, and the pure fragrant incense, blended as by the perfumer.

Bezalel, Oholiab and all the workers take the resources of the people and begin to create the holy things that will be used in the worship of the LORD the God of Israel. The ark is constructed as outlined in Exodus 25: 1-22. The focus on the construction of the objects does take less description than initially given to Moses on the mountain, but the direction of these texts points towards the obedience of the workers to the design laid out to Moses by God. Although the ark itself will come to have powerful function as a symbolic representation of God’s presence it is ultimately a box designed to hold the covenant given to Moses between God and the people. In a much later time for the Jewish people the Torah scrolls will come to have central place as their most precious and holy things, but even here it is a receptacle for the words spoken by God which takes the place of an image of God that the people would rally around.

The table for the bread of presence (based on the design of Exodus 25: 23-30) and the lampstand (see Exodus 25: 31-40) are the next two pieces that the narrative lists in the construction process of these holy things. Bread is the basic staple for life and here it serves as a place where a loaf for each tribe can be lifted up before the LORD. Light also was an essential image for the people and in a time before electricity this elaborate lampstand would have been a difficult piece to construct requiring great skill, but it is also a sign of people using their best talents to place within the holy space of the tabernacle.

Word of God, light and bread are central religious symbols that occupy a place in the center of the temple and will continue to occupy religious language, symbolism and imagery throughout the centuries. It is probably not accidental that the gospel of John takes these three images (among others) in referring to the meaning of who Jesus is for these early followers of Jesus (Jesus as the Word of God, the light that has come into the world, the bread of life).

The altar of incense comes later in the plans that are given to Moses (Exodus 30: 1-10) but the construction of the space in oriented more pragmatically around similar types of items being discussed being crafted together.  The detailed description of the anointing oil, and incense in Exodus 30: 22-28 is reduced to a simple line stating that the oils and incense were made as by a perfumer. There is an olfactory element to the worship, an element that some traditions still maintain. Although I am very sensitive to many fragrances we host a Coptic Orthodox church at our congregation which uses incense as a part of every worship service. The holy things for worship include unique smells that are only to be associated with the worship of the LORD.

  Exodus 38: 1-8 Altar and Basin for the Holy Space

 He made the altar of burnt offering also of acacia wood; it was five cubits long, and five cubits wide; it was square, and three cubits high. 2 He made horns for it on its four corners; its horns were of one piece with it, and he overlaid it with bronze. 3 He made all the utensils of the altar, the pots, the shovels, the basins, the forks, and the firepans: all its utensils he made of bronze. 4 He made for the altar a grating, a network of bronze, under its ledge, extending halfway down. 5 He cast four rings on the four corners of the bronze grating to hold the poles; 6 he made the poles of acacia wood, and overlaid them with bronze. 7 And he put the poles through the rings on the sides of the altar, to carry it with them; he made it hollow, with boards.

8 He made the basin of bronze with its stand of bronze, from the mirrors of the women who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting.

The altar, as outlined in Exodus 27: 1-8, which is made of bronze and occupies a space farther away from the central tabernacle (and uses a less precious material) becomes one of the final items mentioned as it is constructed. Finally, there is the basin of bronze initially described in Exodus 30: 17-21. Within this brief note on the basin is an interesting and often overlooked note that the basin was made from the mirrors of the women who served at the entrance of the tent of meeting. There were women who were a part of the work of the tabernacle! We don’t know what their function was, but it places them near the holiest places. I believe that in Herod’s temple that there is a delineation between the court of women and the court of Israel where only men could approach, but apparently in the description of the tabernacle’s construction there are women who also have a function within the holy places.

Model of Tabernacle, as seen in Israel, Timna Park licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0

Exodus 28: 9-20 The Court of the Tabernacle

 9 He made the court; for the south side the hangings of the court were of fine twisted linen, one hundred cubits long; 10 its twenty pillars and their twenty bases were of bronze, but the hooks of the pillars and their bands were of silver. 11 For the north side there were hangings one hundred cubits long; its twenty pillars and their twenty bases were of bronze, but the hooks of the pillars and their bands were of silver. 12 For the west side there were hangings fifty cubits long, with ten pillars and ten bases; the hooks of the pillars and their bands were of silver 13 And for the front to the east, fifty cubits. 14 The hangings for one side of the gate were fifteen cubits, with three pillars and three bases. 15 And so for the other side; on each side of the gate of the court were hangings of fifteen cubits, with three pillars and three bases. 16 All the hangings around the court were of fine twisted linen. 17 The bases for the pillars were of bronze, but the hooks of the pillars and their bands were of silver; the overlaying of their capitals was also of silver, and all the pillars of the court were banded with silver. 18 The screen for the entrance to the court was embroidered with needlework in blue, purple, and crimson yarns and fine twisted linen. It was twenty cubits long and, along the width of it, five cubits high, corresponding to the hangings of the court. 19 There were four pillars; their four bases were of bronze, their hooks of silver, and the overlaying of their capitals and their bands of silver. 20 All the pegs for the tabernacle and for the court all around were of bronze.

The court is outlined in Exodus 27: 9-19 and this serves as a buffer zone between the holiest space and the space where the people live and work. The court is also a place where most of the work done by the priests is done, since the entrance into the tabernacle will only occur at the day when the camp is to move or at the specified times given to the high priest.

Exodus 28: 21-31 Stewarding the Resources for the Temple

21 These are the records of the tabernacle, the tabernacle of the covenant, which were drawn up at the commandment of Moses, the work of the Levites being under the direction of Ithamar son of the priest Aaron. 22 Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, made all that the LORD commanded Moses; 23 and with him was Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, engraver, designer, and embroiderer in blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and in fine linen.

24 All the gold that was used for the work, in all the construction of the sanctuary, the gold from the offering, was twenty-nine talents and seven hundred thirty shekels, measured by the sanctuary shekel. 25 The silver from those of the congregation who were counted was one hundred talents and one thousand seven hundred seventy-five shekels, measured by the sanctuary shekel; 26 a beka a head (that is, half a shekel, measured by the sanctuary shekel), for everyone who was counted in the census, from twenty years old and upward, for six hundred three thousand, five hundred fifty men. 27 The hundred talents of silver were for casting the bases of the sanctuary, and the bases of the curtain; one hundred bases for the hundred talents, a talent for a base. 28 Of the thousand seven hundred seventy-five shekels he made hooks for the pillars, and overlaid their capitals and made bands for them. 29 The bronze that was contributed was seventy talents, and two thousand four hundred shekels; 30 with it he made the bases for the entrance of the tent of meeting, the bronze altar and the bronze grating for it and all the utensils of the altar, 31 the bases all around the court, and the bases of the gate of the court, all the pegs of the tabernacle, and all the pegs around the court.

Even in ancient times there is a desire for accountability for the resources invested in a project. This is a phenomenal investment of resources. A talent is roughly 75 pounds, and so at the modern value of gold the 37 talents is worth roughly $46 million dollars, in addition to the cost of the silver, bronze, yarn, spices, oils and the physical labor that went into the construction project. Ithamar, a son of Aaron, is tasked with overseeing the accounting for the work that Bezalel and Oholiab oversee. It also begins to give some idea of the resources necessary to move the tabernacle in a time prior to mechanical locomotion. One hundred silver bases, each weighing around 75 pounds, in addition to hundreds of feet of curtains, poles, the bronze bases and all the furnishings-each movement was a significant undertaking. The tabernacle will involve not only a significant investment of resources to construct but for a people on the move it will also involve a large investment of human and animal strength dedicated to the movement and assembly/disassembly of the structure.

The designation of the half shekel for each man over twenty-five is outlined in Exodus 30: 11-16 and the offering for the tabernacle is described in Exodus 35: 4-29 and as Exodus 36: 3-7 where we are told the people brought more than enough resources for this project.

Exodus 35-36 Beginning the Construction of the Tabernacle

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

The final six chapters of the book of Exodus echo Exodus 25-31. In many places I will refer to the appropriate discussion from those chapters which lay out the plan of the tabernacle, the holy items that are within the tabernacle, the clothing for the priests as well as oil and incense used for the holy things. These chapters, like chapters 25-31, most Christians never read or when they do they scan through them but the reality that the book of Exodus dedicates more time to the design and construction of the tabernacle than anything else in the book should make us pause. Physically writing out these chapters, which is a part of my discipline, has made me realize the importance of these chapters as a part of the narrative of reconciliation between the LORD the God of Israel and the people of Israel. The people’s participation in this project is an essential part of moving back towards God.

Exodus 35: 1-3 Sabbath

Moses assembled all the congregation of the Israelites and said to them: These are the things that the LORD has commanded you to do:

2 Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a holy sabbath of solemn rest to the LORD; whoever does any work on it shall be put to death. 3 You shall kindle no fire in all your dwellings on the sabbath day.

The practice of Sabbath is a critical part of the life that the people of God are to live. Sabbath is emphasized not only in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) but is also reemphasized in Exodus 23: 10-13, and in Exodus 34: 21-24 and once again here at the beginning of the construction of the tabernacle. Even in this work of creating the tabernacle, sabbath is still essential. Sabbath takes precedence even over doing holy work. As a pastor, I can appreciate the emphasis on Sabbath even as one undertakes God’s work. I also see the continual temptation in my people and even in my own life to allow work to consume this space of solemn rest.

Exodus 35: 4-29 The Offering for the Sanctuary

4 Moses said to all the congregation of the Israelites: This is the thing that the LORD has commanded: 5 Take from among you an offering to the LORD; let whoever is of a generous heart bring the LORD’s offering: gold, silver, and bronze; 6 blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and fine linen; goats’ hair, 7 tanned rams’ skins, and fine leather; acacia wood, 8 oil for the light, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, 9 and onyx stones and gems to be set in the ephod and the breastpiece.

10 All who are skillful among you shall come and make all that the LORD has commanded: the tabernacle, 11 its tent and its covering, its clasps and its frames, its bars, its pillars, and its bases; 12 the ark with its poles, the mercy seat, and the curtain for the screen; 13 the table with its poles and all its utensils, and the bread of the Presence; 14 the lampstand also for the light, with its utensils and its lamps, and the oil for the light; 15 and the altar of incense, with its poles, and the anointing oil and the fragrant incense, and the screen for the entrance, the entrance of the tabernacle; 16 the altar of burnt offering, with its grating of bronze, its poles, and all its utensils, the basin with its stand; 17 the hangings of the court, its pillars and its bases, and the screen for the gate of the court; 18 the pegs of the tabernacle and the pegs of the court, and their cords; 19 the finely worked vestments for ministering in the holy place, the holy vestments for the priest Aaron, and the vestments of his sons, for their service as priests.

20 Then all the congregation of the Israelites withdrew from the presence of Moses. 21 And they came, everyone whose heart was stirred, and everyone whose spirit was willing, and brought the LORD’s offering to be used for the tent of meeting, and for all its service, and for the sacred vestments. 22 So they came, both men and women; all who were of a willing heart brought brooches and earrings and signet rings and pendants, all sorts of gold objects, everyone bringing an offering of gold to the LORD. 23 And everyone who possessed blue or purple or crimson yarn or fine linen or goats’ hair or tanned rams’ skins or fine leather, brought them. 24 Everyone who could make an offering of silver or bronze brought it as the LORD’s offering; and everyone who possessed acacia wood of any use in the work, brought it. 25 All the skillful women spun with their hands, and brought what they had spun in blue and purple and crimson yarns and fine linen; 26 all the women whose hearts moved them to use their skill spun the goats’ hair. 27 And the leaders brought onyx stones and gems to be set in the ephod and the breastpiece, 28 and spices and oil for the light, and for the anointing oil, and for the fragrant incense. 29 All the Israelite men and women whose hearts made them willing to bring anything for the work that the LORD had commanded by Moses to be done, brought it as a freewill offering to the LORD.

Years ago, when I was serving as an intern pastor in Wisconsin for a rural parish with several congregations over one hundred years old I got to see some of the records about the initial construction of the buildings. It was amazing to look back upon the way in which the entire community pulled together and with their hands, skills and resources they built a building to be a place where they could worship. I often forget how recent most of the technology I take for granted is. As the people bring their very best resources together for the construction of the tabernacle it is a voluntary offering. Unlike the golden calf where Aaron orders the people to remove their earrings and bring them to him, now those who are moved by generosity bring the materials needed for construction. Those who have specific gifts also use those gifts to be a part of this gift they are creating for their LORD.

Both men and women have access to these fine materials that will be used for the various projects and both have a hand in bringing this project to completion. There is plenty of work for both women and men contribute in the creation of these holy places and holy things. Women probably had a larger role in the creation of the curtains and hangings, while men probably had a greater involvement in the creation of the frames, metal work and stone work but both roles were essential in the creation of the holy things.

The offering fulfills the original plan for the offering in Exodus 25: 1-9. There are additional reflections on the offering at that point.

Exodus 35: 30-35 Setting Aside Bezalel and Oholiab

Bezalel by James Tissot (1896-1902)

30 Then Moses said to the Israelites: See, the LORD has called by name Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; 31 he has filled him with divine spirit, with skill, intelligence, and knowledge in every kind of craft, 32 to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, 33 in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, in every kind of craft. 34 And he has inspired him to teach, both him and Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. 35 He has filled them with skill to do every kind of work done by an artisan or by a designer or by an embroiderer in blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and in fine linen, or by a weaver — by any sort of artisan or skilled designer.

Two craftsmen are named and will have a crucial role in the completion of the tabernacle plans. Bezalel and Oholiab also have the Spirit of God come upon them for their work of construction and teaching. Their vocation as craftsmen will be a vital part of the project coming to completion. The setting aside of Bezalel and Oholiab completes their appointment by God on Mount Sinai, prior to the golden calf which Aaron crafted, in Exodus 31:1-11. There is additional discussion in my comments on Exodus 31 about Bezalel, Oholiab and the need for people skilled as artisans in addition to the roles of priest and prophet.

 Exodus 36:1-7 The Completion of the Offering

Bezalel and Oholiab and every skillful one to whom the LORD has given skill and understanding to know how to do any work in the construction of the sanctuary shall work in accordance with all that the LORD has commanded.

2 Moses then called Bezalel and Oholiab and every skillful one to whom the LORD had given skill, everyone whose heart was stirred to come to do the work; 3 and they received from Moses all the freewill offerings that the Israelites had brought for doing the work on the sanctuary. They still kept bringing him freewill offerings every morning, 4 so that all the artisans who were doing every sort of task on the sanctuary came, each from the task being performed, 5 and said to Moses, “The people are bringing much more than enough for doing the work that the LORD has commanded us to do.” 6 So Moses gave command, and word was proclaimed throughout the camp: “No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.” So the people were restrained from bringing; 7 for what they had already brought was more than enough to do all the work.

The people are called together into this project and their hearts are moved to give generously. They are a part of something bigger than themselves. In one sense, the offerings and the work they do become a peace offering to God. They are a way to fulfill a part of God’s vision of a place where God can dwell in the center of the people. In another sense, it is a project that unites the people in a common goal as they come together to build the tabernacle. This common project for a time unites them as a people of Israel rather than the twelve tribes and countless families that are a part of the wilderness journey. There is more than enough for the project to be completed and the giving seems to be a joyful act. The abundance is so great that Moses must put an end to the offering because the workers are being overwhelmed by the abundance of materials being brought together. The impossible task now seems possible. The seemingly incredible amount of resources required to build the place of worship for a pilgrim people is quickly surpassed with the resources that people carried with them on their journey. God’s vision begins to take shape through the hands of the men and women gifted to be both givers and builders of this place where the LORD will dwell among the people.

Exodus 36: 8-38 The Construction of the Tabernacle

8 All those with skill among the workers made the tabernacle with ten curtains; they were made of fine twisted linen, and blue, purple, and crimson yarns, with cherubim skillfully worked into them. 9 The length of each curtain was twenty-eight cubits, and the width of each curtain four cubits; all the curtains were of the same size.

10 He joined five curtains to one another, and the other five curtains he joined to one another. 11 He made loops of blue on the edge of the outermost curtain of the first set; likewise he made them on the edge of the outermost curtain of the second set; 12 he made fifty loops on the one curtain, and he made fifty loops on the edge of the curtain that was in the second set; the loops were opposite one another. 13 And he made fifty clasps of gold, and joined the curtains one to the other with clasps; so the tabernacle was one whole.

14 He also made curtains of goats’ hair for a tent over the tabernacle; he made eleven curtains. 15 The length of each curtain was thirty cubits, and the width of each curtain four cubits; the eleven curtains were of the same size. 16 He joined five curtains by themselves, and six curtains by themselves. 17 He made fifty loops on the edge of the outermost curtain of the one set, and fifty loops on the edge of the other connecting curtain. 18 He made fifty clasps of bronze to join the tent together so that it might be one whole. 19 And he made for the tent a covering of tanned rams’ skins and an outer covering of fine leather.

20 Then he made the upright frames for the tabernacle of acacia wood. 21 Ten cubits was the length of a frame, and a cubit and a half the width of each frame. 22 Each frame had two pegs for fitting together; he did this for all the frames of the tabernacle. 23 The frames for the tabernacle he made in this way: twenty frames for the south side; 24 and he made 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. 25 For the second side of the tabernacle, on the north side, he made twenty frames 26 and their forty bases of silver, two bases under the first frame and two bases under the next frame. 27 For the rear of the tabernacle westward he made six frames. 28 He made two frames for corners of the tabernacle in the rear. 29 They were separate beneath, but joined at the top, at the first ring; he made two of them in this way, for the two corners. 30 There were eight frames with their bases of silver: sixteen bases, under every frame two bases.

31 He made bars of acacia wood, five for the frames of the one side of the tabernacle, 32 and five bars for the frames of the other side of the tabernacle, and five bars for the frames of the tabernacle at the rear westward. 33 He made the middle bar to pass through from end to end halfway up the frames. 34 And he overlaid the frames with gold, and made rings of gold for them to hold the bars, and overlaid the bars with gold.

35 He made the curtain of blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and fine twisted linen, with cherubim skillfully worked into it. 36 For it he made four pillars of acacia, and overlaid them with gold; their hooks were of gold, and he cast for them four bases of silver. 37 He also made a screen for the entrance to the tent, of blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and fine twisted linen, embroidered with needlework; 38 and its five pillars with their hooks. He overlaid their capitals and their bases with gold, but their five bases were of bronze.

The tabernacle, the place for the holy things and ultimately where God will meet with the high priest, becomes the first item listed as the construction begins. The construction description proceeds in a different order than the plans. Ultimately, they are carried out as laid out on Mount Sinai. The plans for the tabernacle are described in Exodus 26 and there are additional comments there about the tabernacle itself.

Exodus 31: The Artisans, The Sabbath and the Tablets

Rembrandt, Moses with the Ten Commandments

Exodus 31:1-11 The Divinely Gifted Artisans

The LORD spoke to Moses: 2 See, I have called by name Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah: 3 and I have filled him with divine spirit,1 with ability, intelligence, and knowledge in every kind of craft, 4 to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze,5 in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, in every kind of craft. 6 Moreover, I have appointed with him Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan; and I have given skill to all the skillful, so that they may make all that I have commanded you: 7 the tent of meeting, and the ark of the covenant,1 and the mercy seat2 that is on it, and all the furnishings of the tent, 8 the table and its utensils, and the pure lampstand with all its utensils, and the altar of incense, 9 and the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the basin with its stand, 10 and the finely worked vestments, the holy vestments for the priest Aaron and the vestments of his sons, for their service as priests, 11 and the anointing oil and the fragrant incense for the holy place. They shall do just as I have commanded you.

The appointment of Bezalel and Oholiab along with the rest of the divinely inspired artisans presents an opportunity to expand the role of the called people of God beyond prophets and priests. Bezalel coming out of the tribe of Judah and Oholiab coming out of the tribe of Dan expands the group of people upon which the divine spirit rests. The work of constructing a tabernacle or a church is the work of the people, not just the work of the priests and pastors. There is within the calling of these artisans a recognition that the accomplishment of the divine vision involves the various gifts of the priest, the prophet, the artisan and the worker. Each person has a part to play in the unfolding of God’s purpose for God’s people.

Martin Luther expanded upon this in his belief that every Christian had a vocation or multiple vocations, areas where their skills were used to serve God. Each person, whether a mother, a farmer, a shoemaker, a pastor, or a prince all had a role to play and gifts to serve God’s kingdom. St. Paul could refer to many gifts coming from the one Spirit of God (both Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12) and that all the gifts of the community of faith where for the work of God in the church. God has spread the gifts among God’s people and not solely in the hands of the ordained ministers of the church. One of the peculiarities of the next chapter is that when Aaron the priest becomes the artisan everything comes out wrong.

I’ve mentioned a couple times in this section that my congregation is going through a building expansion as I write this and I’ve gotten to see firsthand the skilled work of the artisans who are working on the building. I have some skill with my hands, but it is not my primary gift. Yet, the crew who is working in concrete, steel, sheetrock and paint (not to mention plumbing, electrical wires and the like) have gifts and skills I do not. I could learn those skills given time, but that is not my vocation or my position. I am able to delight in the work that God is able to do through these artisans and at the same time celebrate the work that God has equipped me to do.

Exodus 31: 12-17 The Seriousness of Sabbath

12 The LORD said to Moses: 13 You yourself are to speak to the Israelites: “You shall keep my sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, given in order that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you. 14 You shall keep the sabbath, because it is holy for you; everyone who profanes it shall be put to death; whoever does any work on it shall be cut off from among the people. 15 Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD; whoever does any work on the sabbath day shall be put to death. 16 Therefore the Israelites shall keep the sabbath, observing the sabbath throughout their generations, as a perpetual covenant. 17 It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.”

I had the opportunity over the weekend to travel with my wife to see some of the areas she grew up, and one of the gifts of the weekend was sitting on a deck in some cooler weather than we are currently experiencing in Texas and just to look out over the terrain and be. My wife and I both work jobs that can consume a lot of our life and time and it was good to have some time to just be together and to rest. This is what sabbath is about. It is about resting and it is a deadly serious proposition for the people. The sabbath gets its own commandment in Exodus 20, is mentioned again Exodus 23: 12-13 and then again is brought up here. Even prior to the construction of the tabernacle after the incident of the golden calf the sabbath will again be highlighted at the beginning of Exodus 35. The sabbath for the covenant people is highlighted as a matter of life and death.

In my time and context we have a difficult time with sabbath. I fought for years having a smartphone, and while I enjoy its capability it also ensures that I am continually connected to the demands of work. In the United States we live in a society of acquisition where we place a monetary value on things and while the logo ‘In God we trust’ may be placed on our bills and coins I sometimes wonder if the bills and coins are the god we truly trust. As Rabbi Sacks can wisely state, “When money rules, we remember the price of things and forget the value of things.” (Sacks, 2010, p. 260)

Sabbath is a day where there is no buying or selling, where work is prohibited and people are forced to rest and sit. In our frenetic society this may be the most difficult commandment to live into. In a society where the blue laws that forced businesses to be closed on Sundays it may have been easier since there were few options on Sundays. Yet, that is not our time and there is no easy going back to a past that may or may not have existed like we imagine. For now, the wisdom of sabbath may be learning that it is a matter of life and death in our culture to stop and reflect on the value of things we have rather than the price of the things we can accumulate.

Within the Hebrew Scriptures there is a call to learn patience that moves against our own sense of immediate need. The people in the wilderness would call upon Moses every time there didn’t seem to be enough food or water immediately and threaten to return to Egypt. While Moses is up on the mountain the people will come to Aaron and ask him to craft their gods for them. The LORD expects the people to stop and wait at times and lingers with them in the wilderness while the details are handed on. The sabbath also expect the people to learn the value of waiting, or resting and of valuing the things that have been provided rather than straining towards the things they can acquire.

Exodus 31: 18 The Tablets of the Covenant

18 When God1 finished speaking with Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two tablets of the covenant,2 tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.

The infamous stone tablets are finally given to Moses as the scene transitions from Moses’ time with God on Mount Sinai to Aaron’s struggles with the people in the valley. Moses listens, the people demand. God departs the plan for the tabernacle where God can dwell among the people, Aaron crafts golden calves as poor substitution for an imageless God of Israel. God’s vision is one of order in contrast to the disorder Moses will find when he descends the mountain. The covenant will be broken and remade but it remains the word of God that is to be brought to God’s people.

Exodus 30: Precious Things for the Sacred not the Secular

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

 Exodus 30: 1-10 The Incense Altar of Gold

You shall make an altar on which to offer incense; you shall make it of acacia wood. 2 It shall be one cubit long, and one cubit wide; it shall be square, and shall be two cubits high; its horns shall be of one piece with it. 3 You shall overlay it with pure gold, its top, and its sides all around and its horns; and you shall make for it a molding of gold all around. 4 And you shall make two golden rings for it; under its molding on two opposite sides of it you shall make them, and they shall hold the poles with which to carry it. 5 You shall make the poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold. 6 You shall place it in front of the curtain that is above the ark of the covenant,1 in front of the mercy seat2 that is over the covenant,3 where I will meet with you. 7 Aaron shall offer fragrant incense on it; every morning when he dresses the lamps he shall offer it, 8 and when Aaron sets up the lamps in the evening, he shall offer it, a regular incense offering before the LORD throughout your generations. 9 You shall not offer unholy incense on it, or a burnt offering, or a grain offering; and you shall not pour a drink offering on it. 10 Once a year Aaron shall perform the rite of atonement on its horns. Throughout your generations he shall perform the atonement for it once a year with the blood of the atoning sin offering. It is most holy to the LORD.

This chapter finishes the description of the holy things that are to be created for the service to the LORD in the tabernacle. On first glance, it seems a random collection of things put at the end, but upon closer inspection there is an order in this chapter. The incense altar is the final golden items described and this small (roughly 1 ½ foot square) altar is near the holiest space and is used to provide a fragrant offering of incense (described at the end of the chapter) before the place where the LORD is to meet Moses or the high priest. The incense is to be set upon the altar every morning and evening and like everything else this altar is portable. An additional part of the priesthood’s job is to maintain this continual offering of incense before the LORD.

Exodus 30: 11-16 The Census of Silver

11 The LORD spoke to Moses: 12 When you take a census of the Israelites to register them, at registration all of them shall give a ransom for their lives to the LORD, so that no plague may come upon them for being registered. 13 This is what each one who is registered shall give: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary (the shekel is twenty gerahs), half a shekel as an offering to the LORD. 14 Each one who is registered, from twenty years old and upward, shall give the LORD’s offering. 15 The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less, than the half shekel, when you bring this offering to the LORD to make atonement for your lives. 16 You shall take the atonement money from the Israelites and shall designate it for the service of the tent of meeting; before the LORD it will be a reminder to the Israelites of the ransom given for your lives.

The Hebrew Scriptures are of a mixed mind on taking censuses. On the one hand there is the census mentioned here and at the beginning of the book of Numbers where the people are enrolled in obedience to God’s command. On the other hand, in 2 Samuel 24 when David conducts a census it is a sin against God that results in a plague. Perhaps the answer lies in the reason for the census and how it is done. Here and in Numbers the census is an act of worship and devotion where, especially here, the people are measured by the gift they bring. The donation of a shekel allows the census to be taken without counting heads or viable soldiers but instead by measuring the gifts. In contrast, when David orders the military leaders to measure the population in 2 Samuel it is specifically a counting of how many soldiers are available and a measurement of the strength of his kingdom. As Rabbi Sacks can remind us, “The danger in counting Jews is that if they believed, even for a moment, that there is strength in numbers, the Jewish people long ago would have given way to despair.” (Sacks, 2010, p. 267)

Perhaps the wisdom for our time may be the difference between counting gifts and counting resources. We live in a world of accounting, where resources are counted and measured and it is ultimately a worldview based on scarcity. When we attempt to catalog all that we need to ensure nothing is missing and our world becomes based on measuring people, money, or possessions then we can become fixated on securing our own future. The scriptures point to a different type of reality where God is the one who provides for the needs of the people and the offering they provide is a way of giving thanks for the gifts that God has given. It is a way of measuring the gifts that people bring, it is a way that can be more grateful for what has been received rather than fearful of what one doesn’t have.

Exodus 30: 17-21 The Basin of Bronze

17 The LORD spoke to Moses: 18 You shall make a bronze basin with a bronze stand for washing. You shall put it between the tent of meeting and the altar, and you shall put water in it; 19 with the water1 Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet. 20 When they go into the tent of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister, to make an offering by fire to the LORD, they shall wash with water, so that they may not die. 21 They shall wash their hands and their feet, so that they may not die: it shall be a perpetual ordinance for them, for him and for his descendants throughout their generations.

We have moved from a golden altar to a silver offering to a bronze basin. Here the basin is described in a very plain manner, it is of the lowest precious metal and is used for the functional, but necessary, washing. This ordinary thing provides a way of preparation for the extraordinary ministry of the priest. Being washed in the water of the basin becomes a necessary preparation for the work of ministry.

Stepping back from the tabernacle itself there is perhaps some reflection that we Christians can do about the way in which our own baptism prepares us for the callings that God has for us. As a pastor my calling is an extension and only possible because of the work that God has done with water and promise. I am continually called back to my baptism which prepares me for the work of ministry that I do daily. Here with the bronze basin and the water the priest is prepared for the work with the holy by things that are both mundane and essential.

Exodus 30: 22-38 Anointing Oil and Incense

22 The LORD spoke to Moses: 23 Take the finest spices: of liquid myrrh five hundred shekels, and of sweet-smelling cinnamon half as much, that is, two hundred fifty, and two hundred fifty of aromatic cane, 24 and five hundred of cassia — measured by the sanctuary shekel — and a hin of olive oil; 25 and you shall make of these a sacred anointing oil blended as by the perfumer; it shall be a holy anointing oil. 26 With it you shall anoint the tent of meeting and the ark of the covenant,1 27 and the table and all its utensils, and the lampstand and its utensils, and the altar of incense, 28 and the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the basin with its stand; 29 you shall consecrate them, so that they may be most holy; whatever touches them will become holy. 30 You shall anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, in order that they may serve me as priests. 31 You shall say to the Israelites, “This shall be my holy anointing oil throughout your generations. 32 It shall not be used in any ordinary anointing of the body, and you shall make no other like it in composition; it is holy, and it shall be holy to you. 33 Whoever compounds any like it or whoever puts any of it on an unqualified person shall be cut off from the people.”

34 The LORD said to Moses: Take sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum, sweet spices with pure frankincense (an equal part of each), 35 and make an incense blended as by the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy; 36 and you shall beat some of it into powder, and put part of it before the covenant1 in the tent of meeting where I shall meet with you; it shall be for you most holy. 37 When you make incense according to this composition, you shall not make it for yourselves; it shall be regarded by you as holy to the LORD. 38 Whoever makes any like it to use as perfume shall be cut off from the people.

Spices in the ancient world are as valuable as gold and silver, and here these precious spices are used both for an anointing oil and for the incense used in the tabernacle. The anointing oil is used over all the implements of the tabernacle and over Aaron and the priests. This is to be specifically and only used in the tabernacle and its service. The place is to have a unique odor that is not to be copied for mundane things. In a similar way the incense is a unique and precious blend to only be used in the tabernacle. Both are holy things set aside for a specific purpose.

As a Christian the myrrh used in the anointing oil and the frankincense used in the incense remind me of the story of the magi bringing their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to Jesus and his parents as they paid him homage. On the one hand, these are very valuable substances but on the other hand gold, frankincense and myrrh are all used in the tabernacle for the most holy.

Aside: Holy and Sacred in our Secular Conversations

Over the past weekend there was significant controversy when players, coaches and owners in various ways kneeled, locked arms or stayed in the locker room during the national anthem. Within some people’s outrage the language of sacred and holy about the anthem or to the flag was used and I think we need to pay attention to the way in which our language reflects that which we worship. As a Christian I cannot say that the flag or the anthem or any secular ritual are sacred things nor do I worship my nation. But I also think the contrast in the way this language is used in times of controversy and the blasé way we typically use these items is also worth calling attention to.

As a veteran I spent a lot of years where proper respect for a flag was very important. I have always felt uneasy about the way in which the flag was used in clothing, or the modifications that people felt free to place upon the flag. For example, the blue lives matter flag where a blue bar replaces one of the red bars in the flag, or there is a person in my neighborhood who flies an American flag with the “don’t tread on me” snake emblem placed on top of it. These are all things that are improper (not to mention wearing the flag as clothing, as a bag or bandanna or many other ways it is frequently used) within the code that I had to learn as a soldier. I understand that for many people who may either be primarily secularist or for whom their Christianity is a subset of their patriotism (which one should wonder then, is it really Christianity, but I digress) references to the flag as holy or sacred or to patriotic acts as taking on these same meaning may be a part of their ‘faith.’ Yet, I am puzzled by the way in which people will take one type of ‘disrespect of the flag’ as patriotic and the protests on Sunday are somehow unpatriotic. I know these are emotional issues but we also need to acknowledge that sometimes our emotions are being played to let one thing be ok and another not.

Yet, for the Hebrew Scriptures that which is holy or sacred is used only for holy and sacred purposes. The incense or anointing oil is not to be imitated for secular use. The penalty for misusing sacred things for secular purposes is being cut off from the people. We live in a secular society where certain rights, particularly the right of free speech, are highlighted as values to be protected. One can value something secular or feel that a secular ritual to invest things like anthems or flags with religious language and fervor is a short step away from the worship of the gods of a land or nation.

Exodus 27: The Court of the Tabernacle and the Altar

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

Exodus 27: 1-8 The Altar

You shall make the altar of acacia wood, five cubits long and five cubits wide; the altar shall be square, and it shall be three cubits high. 2 You shall make horns for it on its four corners; its horns shall be of one piece with it, and you shall overlay it with bronze. 3 You shall make pots for it to receive its ashes, and shovels and basins and forks and firepans; you shall make all its utensils of bronze. 4 You shall also make for it a grating, a network of bronze; and on the net you shall make four bronze rings at its four corners. 5 You shall set it under the ledge of the altar so that the net shall extend halfway down the altar. 6 You shall make poles for the altar, poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with bronze; 7 the poles shall be put through the rings, so that the poles shall be on the two sides of the altar when it is carried. 8 You shall make it hollow, with boards. They shall be made just as you were shown on the mountain.

Most people assume that the sacrificial rites were at the center of the religion of the ancient Jewish people, yet this assumption is incorrect. The altar for sacrifice is placed outside of the tabernacle itself in the court of the tabernacle. The altar is made out of lesser materials than the materials used for the ark of the covenant and the lampstand and the table where the bread of the presence is placed. Instead of gold, bronze is used to overlay the acacia table and poles that make up the altar. The sacrifice is done in that space between the holy place of the tabernacle and the common space where the people live, work and worship.

The altar itself is massive, roughly seven and a half feet square and four and a half feet tall. It is also a significant departure from the low stone or earth altars discussed earlier in Exodus. Also at four and a half feet tall the priest would need some type of stair or pedestal to stand upon to be able to use the altar. This new altar is a departure from the open, simple and very modest temporary altars. Yet, it is also very functional for use with larger animals and for regular use. Perhaps the altar was placed closer to the front of the court of the tabernacle so that the priest when he ascended the stairs would be facing away from the tabernacle and not have to worry about exposing himself when climbing the stairs.

As a Christian, I also think this provokes some interesting thoughts about the way in which we arrange things in our worship spaces. Many traditions will call the fixture in the front of their worship space an altar, and particularly for a Catholic perspective where they can talk about the sacrifice of the mass this makes sense. From a Lutheran perspective, we may officially call the fixture a table but many people still consider it an altar even though we have a different perspective on exactly what communion is and what it is for. Many older churches have this table or altar pushed against the back wall there the pastor or priest faces away from the people (and presumably toward God) but most newer church buildings place the altar away from the wall and the pastor/priest faces the people. The architecture and where the pastor/priest faces makes a theological point about the character of worship and who the act is for. From a Lutheran perspective, the act of communion is primarily for the people, and for the ancient Jewish people there is a part of the sacrificial act which is for the people since much of the sacrifice was not burned up but eaten by the family or the priests. From a Catholic perspective, the sacrifice is offered up before God as a reminder of Christ’s sacrifice, and from the ancient Jewish perspective there is also the element of the sacrifice raising up a pleasing odor to God. Ultimately all of these traditions attempt to give glory and offer up their best to the God they attempt to serve faithfully.

 

Exodus 27: 9-19 The Court of the Tabernacle

9 You shall make the court of the tabernacle. On the south side the court shall have hangings of fine twisted linen one hundred cubits long for that side; 10 its twenty pillars and their twenty bases shall be of bronze, but the hooks of the pillars and their bands shall be of silver. 11 Likewise for its length on the north side there shall be hangings one hundred cubits long, their pillars twenty and their bases twenty, of bronze, but the hooks of the pillars and their bands shall be of silver. 12 For the width of the court on the west side there shall be fifty cubits of hangings, with ten pillars and ten bases. 13 The width of the court on the front to the east shall be fifty cubits. 14 There shall be fifteen cubits of hangings on the one side, with three pillars and three bases. 15 There shall be fifteen cubits of hangings on the other side, with three pillars and three bases. 16 For the gate of the court there shall be a screen twenty cubits long, of blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and of fine twisted linen, embroidered with needlework; it shall have four pillars and with them four bases. 17 All the pillars around the court shall be banded with silver; their hooks shall be of silver, and their bases of bronze. 18 The length of the court shall be one hundred cubits, the width fifty, and the height five cubits, with hangings of fine twisted linen and bases of bronze. 19 All the utensils of the tabernacle for every use, and all its pegs and all the pegs of the court, shall be of bronze.

Over the past couple years, I have learned a lot about church design because I was involved with planning, and now executing an expansion to the congregation I serve. There is a lot of work and planning that goes into utilizing the resources that people commit to the church and to attempting to design space faithfully. One thing I have learned that designing sanctuary space or holy space is much more expensive than designing office space or fellowship space. Holy space attempts to communicate something of a connection to God and it frequently uses various types of precious things: metalwork, art, stained glass, high ceilings or large windows. Typically, when you build a church these are the first things that you design and build since they serve the central functions of worship where the other spaces serve a supporting function. That doesn’t mean these other spaces are unimportant but for religious spaces the highlight of their function is for worship and the most precious resources go into those places. The design of the tabernacle reflects this. The tabernacle itself uses primarily gold and gold overlaid pieces of furniture, clasps, and utensils. For the court, the primary metals used becomes bronze and silver.

The tabernacle’s walls are twice the height of the court’s walls and would be seen from the exterior of the structure, and yet this courtyard does provide a buffer between the holiest place of the tabernacle and the mundane place where the people live. It is an open-air area which is very common in ancient dwellings and temples since much of the activity would be outside. The court of the tabernacle is larger, roughly 150 feet by 75 feet, than the tabernacle but still not a huge space by modern standards of building. Yet, the structure is primarily a place where the priests would be and not the people, like in modern worship spaces, and the structure had to be portable so that also puts a severe limit on the size of the structure.

Exodus 27: 20-21 The Lamp

20 You shall further command the Israelites to bring you pure oil of beaten olives for the light, so that a lamp may be set up to burn regularly. 21 In the tent of meeting, outside the curtain that is before the covenant,1 Aaron and his sons shall tend it from evening to morning before the LORD. It shall be a perpetual ordinance to be observed throughout their generations by the Israelites.

An olive oil lamp that is to be tended by the priests is to provide light outside the tent of the tabernacle perpetually burning during the night, or perhaps perpetually depending on how the translation is rendered. Either way the lampstand outlined previously now is given its function and a part of the role of Aaron and his sons is to maintain this light and keep the lampstand burning. In many churches, they keep perpetual candles going as a symbol of the presence of God or as a reminder of the eternal light of God. Most of these in modern churches are long burning candles that are replaced regularly rather than an oil lamp, but the distinctive lampstand becomes an important symbol for the Jewish people as discussed in Exodus 25: 23-40.

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.

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