Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Exodus 39:1-40:38


Exodus 39 details the construction of the vestments the priests are to wear while serving in the Tabernacle.

In verse 32, the Tabernacle is once again refered to as "the Tent of Meeting." It is in the Tabernacle, and later the Temple, that YHWH meets with his chosen people through the intermediary priests.

After everything is completed, Moses inspects the Tabernacle, its furnishings, and the vestements. He declares that everything is up to spec and blesses the people.

Chapter 40 tells how the Tabernacle is set up. The stone tablets on which God wrote the 10 Commandments are placed inside the Ark of the Covenant. That means that if my dream of doing handwriting analysis on YHWH is to be realized, the ark will have to be found. If Steven Speilberg is right, we'll have to dig it out of a mysterious government installation in Nevada.

Then again, if Speilberg is right, I wouldn't open it!

Contra Speilberg, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church claims to have possession of the actual Ark of the Covenant. They keep it behind locked gates in a little chapel in Axum. They're not showing it, though. So, no Divine graphology is likely to take place.

But leaving aside silliness and speculation, let us return to the text. The book of Exodus ends with notice that the glory of God, in the form of that pillar of smoke and fire, descends upon the Tabernacle and fills it.

I recently read an op-ed piece on the Huffington Post religion blog. The author, a Jewish atheist named Staks Rosch, argues that the story of the exodus is thoroughgoing fiction. Whether there is a kernel of historic fact behind the exodus, I'm not equipped to say.  I am convinced that the book of Exodus is not a straightforward narration of historical facts. What I know is that this is how Israel told its origin story. It is a tale of liberation, of freedom, and of God's providence. There are dark and troubling passages in this book. Not everything that it says about God is noble. If I were an Egyptian, I'm quite sure I wouldn't like this book at all.

There are laws in the book of Exodus. Some of them seem odd and culturally remote. Don't boil a kid in it's mother's milk?

Other laws are more universally applicable. Don't follow a crowd in doing wrong. Don't show favoritism to the rich or the poor in court. Don't commit adultery. Don't commit murder.

I don't think for a second that modern believers are called upon to recreate the culture in which Exodus was written. Reading and applying the biblical laws (and there are many more ahead) calls for discernment.

The focus on the Tabernacle in the last chapters of Exodus indicate its importance, and the later importance of the Jerusalem Temple, in the life of ancient Judaism

Next: Leviticus 1-4.

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