Saturday, April 14, 2012

Bible Commentary - Exodus 40

In this chapter, Moses is commanded to erect the Tabernacle, and when he does so the cloud of glory descends upon it.

We haven't been told yet about the "showbread".  Also, we haven't been told the various rituals related to the bronze altar, the proper way to slaughter animals, or the details of how the atonement is made before the ark of the covenant.  These have all been left out of the Exodus account.  If you think about it, we were given the construction plans for the Tabernacle and told that priests were appointed to serve in it, but we haven't really been told what the priests do or how the Israelites are supposed to relate to the Tabernacle.  We have been told that the lamps are always to be lit, incense must always burn, and there are to be two daily sacrifices on the bronze altar, but there are lots of other rituals that have been left out.  Fortunately, these areas will be filled in by the next three books.

Note when the author writes that certain things "shall be holy", v. 9, or "shall be most holy", v. 10.  These are ceremonial designations, which we saw earlier, but I didn't mention it at the time (cf. Ex 29:37, Ex 30:29).  Basically anything related to worship or the Tabernacle is considered ceremonially holy to some extent, and then there is a whole system of rules designating various objects, animals or behaviors as unclean, which is more or less the opposite of holy.  This part of the ceremonial system is only mentioned in passing here, but will be substantially elaborated upon in Leviticus and later.

The bread of the presence is mentioned again, but we still haven't exactly been told what's the deal with this bread.  Of course, that's true for a lot of things, but in my foreknowledge I know that the bread of the presence will be explained a bit more later on, so we are fortunate that the bible will not leave this a total mystery.

The testimony (i.e. the stone tablets with the covenant written on them) is placed inside the ark of the testimony, conveniently enough.  We can also infer that the jar of manna is placed inside the ark of the covenant, because we are told back in Ex 16:34 that the jar was placed "before the testimony", even though we hadn't yet been told what the testimony was or where it was kept.  Now those mysteries are solved, and we know that both the jar of manna and the tablets are kept within the ark of the covenant, inside the Tabernacle.

The chapter emphasizing again and again that everything Moses does is following directions from the LORD.  This obviously encourages precision in following all of these commands, both because Moses is the leader of the congregation and also because of the result in verse 34, the descent of the cloud of glory upon the Tabernacle.  We see that the way to God is through the covenant, but following the covenant is not exactly simple, and certainly more complex than the lifestyles of the patriarchs.

I'd like to conclude by reviewing a few of the points I made in the introduction to Exodus.  First is that the way to God is now tightly structured.  This chapter in particular shows us that it is by doing what "the LORD had commanded" that one can approach God, and it is by following these rules that the manifest presence of God appeared to the Israelites.  On the one hand, this makes God accessible to everyone.  On the other hand, it might prove difficult to follow all of the laws, ordinances and regulations.

Second, I have frequently pointed out the various sins and rebellion of the people, most notably in Ex 32 with the golden calf, although before that the people complained several times against Moses and threatened to kill him.  This should leave us all with a skepticism and apprehension towards the Israelites' future behavior with respect to the LORD and the covenant.  If they cannot obey the covenant for 40 days, how will they do so for generations after Moses dies?  We will see, but the omens are not felicitous.

Third, and lastly, is the subject of redemption and forgiveness.  The plagues of Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea were both acts of redemption, bringing the people out of slavery and leading them to the promised land.  After introducing the people to a new covenant, the LORD also conveyed to Moses the plans for the Tabernacle, which is itself an act of redemption, because it restores the people's ability to commune with God.  This was broken when Adam and Eve were exiled from the garden of Eden.

In summary, the book of Exodus shows us how to reverse the curse of Adam, through an atoning sacrificial lamb and through the adoption of the covenant, which is most prominently signified by the Law of Moses and the Tabernacle (i.e. residence).  Now, through following the Law of the LORD and through the covenant, the way has been opened for all people to draw near to the LORD and his manifest presence in the Residence: a cloud by day and a fire by night, visible guidance and protection.

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