Thursday, July 19, 2007

God with us? II

God with Israel: Exodus 25
The first half of Exodus is a riveting and rollicking story: a baby saved from the bulrushes and brought up amongst foreigners; murder and betrayal; a burning bush and plagues; dramatic rescue and great rejoicing; suffering and complaining; bread from heaven, a flaming mountain, earthquakes and God himself writing on tablets of stone. It’s the kind of material you’d make a movie out of – or maybe two.

But the movies – and most readers – give up when they hit the second half. After 20 or so chapters of action, most of the second half of the book seems to be building instructions.

My in-laws are architects and so I’m learning to love buildings, but even I find these chapters hard going. First come seven chapters (Exodus 25-31) filled with detailed instructions on making a box (ark), table, lampstand, tent (tabernacle), altar, courtyard, dress clothes for priests and more, then a few chapters on the golden calf incident (Exodus 32-34), before the same elements appear again in similar detail recording the actual construction of each element (Exodus 35-40).

All together, it probably looked something like this or this or this.

The tabernacle was basically a mobile tent with portable furniture. The Israelites traveled with it and set it up wherever they pitched camp while wandering through the wilderness. The tabernacle would be in the center of the camp, and the 12 tribes of Israel would set up their tents around it. There was a fenced courtyard, and then the tabernacle itself was divided into two sections: the holy place, which contained the lampstand, table and altar, and the holy of holies, which contained the ark of the covenant. This ark was a wooden box overlaid with gold in which were placed the tablets recording the covenant (binding agreement) made between God and Israel at Mount Sinai. On top of the ark were golden statues of two winged angels (cherubim) facing each other.

Unless you’re an archeologist or have a thing for tents, it’s all a bit of a slog to read. What’s it all doing here? What’s it all about? The key is in Exodus 25.8: And have them make me sanctuary, so that I may dwell among them. God's presence in the midst of his people Israel - that's what this whole section is about: the concern for holiness; the importance of the sacrifices; the repetition and symbolism of different numbers; the position and orientation of the tabernacle; how the quality of the metals increases the closer they are to Holy of Holies (bronze, silver, gold); the way the ark was meant to represent the throne of God, such that he would sit ‘enthroned between the cherubim’. All this was to highlight what an awesome and weighty privilege it was for the Israelites to have the living God in their midst.
Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI.


David Entwistle said...

Looking forward to reading the rest of the series. Any points for guessing the artist? Mondrain?

Anonymous said...

It is true, isn't it? we are often caught up with the details that we forget the most important part of it. God wants to dwell with us! Thanks for the reminder! :) Ai