Exodus 39: Priestly Garments and Tabernacle Assembly

Here at the penultimate chapter of Exodus we have what is basically the completion of the construction of the tabernacle and its primary components, especially the priestly garments. Exodus 40 finishes up some details, but with this chapter, all of the heavy lifting is completed.

Themes that we can learn from this chapter do not differ greatly from themes of the previous chapters:

  • The dedication of God’s people to exactly follow His instructions
  • The temple represents God’s presence among the people in the Old Testament
  • Christ represents God’s presence among the people in the New Testament

The importance of the priestly garments is obvious in this chapter. The first thirty-one verses detail out the making of the ephod, the breastplate, and the other garments with all of their detail of colored threads, stones, and chains. There was so much woven work for Aaron and his sons, and the importance of the details of incorporating the tribes, sanctification, and representation each play their part to assemble the clothes of this high holy priest.

Putting together the tabernacle and assembling all of its various parts, each with their own element of meaning, must have been very rewarding for everyone involved. In previous chapters, we have discussed how the tabernacle can be interpreted for today in New Testament times to signify the modern church or Christ. In this chapter, though, as we witness the tabernacle being assembled with all its different parts and pieces, each playing a different role, it is hard not to be reminded of the modern church. The modern kingdom of God, the final dispensation here on earth is His church, the bride of Christ. As we endeavor to serve and worship God following New Testament examples and commandments, our assemblage is not unlike that of the temple. Indeed, God did purpose each one of us to have a job in the kingdom:

“for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” Ephesians 4:12-16

For Moses and the people, this was all about pleasing the Almighty God. God, who saved them from slavery and guided them to safety. God, who killed or blessed in the blink of an eye and did so with finality. The people of Israel still have a very long way to go towards knowing their God. They will cling to and deny Him over and over again as the years come.

But we are blessed in the full knowledge of God. We have the revelation of Jesus Christ and the blessing of the knowledge of salvation through Him. The children of Israel worshipped God, who seemed out of reach yet there were signs of Him all around. For us, we miss the visible signs of God, but we live blessed with the full knowledge of the plan of our God to save us.

Exodus 38: Tabernacle Almost Complete

The dedication of both the people and the artisans is expressed in this chapter as we read of the construction of the altar, the laver, and the court. Most impressive in this chapter is the description of the amounts of bronze and silver. The people had indeed given much; so much that their wealth was translated into the obedience as the tabernacle and its artifacts were constructed of large volumes of precious materials.

Bezalel and Aholiab continue to fashion the tabernacle and its materials exactly according to the specifications of God’s instruction.

The descriptions of the volume of silver and brass denote both the immense value of the tabernacle and the seriousness with which it was to be regarded. In concept, it is not unlike descriptions heaven from the book of Revelation where there are streets paved with gold and the foundations are adorned with precious jewels.

We will get further into Revelation 21 as a companion study to Exodus 39, but for now let us take a look at verses 3-8 of that chapter. In this passage, we have a simple and clear description of how there will no longer be the need for a tabernacle because God Himself will be among the people in the form of His Son Jesus Christ. Make no mistake, the adornment, beauty and majesty of the tabernacle described in Exodus are great, and the fact that God made arrangements to be in the presence of the people through the tabernacle is also wonderful, but this earthly construction does not compare with the saving power of the blood of Jesus Christ, the final revelation of God’s plan to redeem the righteous:

“And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.” And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.””

It would have been wonderful to be one of the Israelites, witnessing Moses come down from the mountain, the peoples’ repentance, and the construction of the tabernacle. But we have the greater blessing today as recipients of the full knowledge of God’s perfect plan to save us through the sacrifice of His Son. The sober warning of Hell compels us to act hastily in obedience to God, to pursue righteousness and purity of heart and thought, for we do not know what the future holds!

Exodus 37: Bezalel Fulfills the Word of God

In Exodus 36, we learned about the dedication of both the people and the artisans as they carried out the will of God in preparing the tabernacle. It is pleasing to witness their return to God in the wake of the incident with the golden calf.

Work to complete God’s instructions on the tabernacle continues in Exodus 37. In this chapter, we watch Bezalel as he does the work to complete some of the major pieces of the tabernacle. As the chief artisan of the tabernacle, Bezalel is personally crafting the ark of the covenant, the mercy seat, the table for the showbread, the lampstand, and the altar of incense in this chapter. These items were fashioned with the aid of gold rather than bronze because they were to be within the holy place of the tabernacle.

Verses 1-9: The Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat

The ark and the lid were both created as specified. The ark itself was made out of durable acacia wood, and was covered wholly inside and out with pure gold. The mercy seat, or ark lid was made out of pure gold. Being more than two cubits long and more than a cubit wide, it must have been very heavy. Bezalel took special care with the goldwork and it was surely very beautiful. This receptacle was meant to eventually carry those very special artifacts that carried much meaning for the Israelites’ relationship with Almighty God: the Ten Commandments, a golden bowl of manna which represented God’s care for their physical well-being, and Aarons’ rod.

Verses 10-16: The Table for the Showbread

The tale for showbread was also very ornate. It was made out of acacia wood and overlaid with gold too. The utensils that accompanied the table were made out of pure gold as well: dishes, cups, bowls, and pitchers. The table and the showbread were meant as a constant reminder of how God provides for His people.

Verses 17-24: The Lampstand

The lampstand was another wonder. Made entirely out of one piece of solid gold, the lampstand held seven lamps, with ornamental flowers and branches, and the bowls were shaped like almond blossoms. The seven lamps, the wick-trimmers, and trays were also made of solid gold. The lampstand, fashioned as a tree and giving off light, was representative of the life-giving power of God and the light that He brings to the world.

Verses 25-29: The Altar of Incense

The altar of incense was also made of acacia wood with gold overlay and its incense represented the prayers floating up from the people to God.

The lessons from chapter 36 can still be found in this chapter:

  • Honor God’s guidance to create something beautiful and honor Him
  • Follow God’s instructions exactly because “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much”

But particularly in these four items crafted by Bezalel, we can still find valuable lessons:

  • The ark of the covenant: Do we hold dear God’s covenant with us? The symbols of our covenant with God today are the body and blood of Jesus Christ. When we observe the Lord’s Supper, do we hold these artifacts in vessels of gold as it were? Do we honor Christ with the same or better reverence as what is physically represented in the ark of the covenant?
  • The table for the showbread: Do we daily consider the ways that God provides for us? Do we count our blessings? If we started, we would not soon stop. God provides for us in so many ways, food being just a part of that. Do we express gratitude to God for health, families, comfort, His Word?
  • The lampstand: Even today, God’s Word is a light to our path through life. His commandments and wisdom give us the needed information to make the right choices in life to avoid foolish mistakes and to make sure we are on a path to spiritual success. Do we pay attention to the things that God’s Word sheds light on?
  • The altar of incense: Do we honor God each day when we rise and lay down with going to Him in prayer? Is our approach and attitude correct? Or do we get busy with ultimately less important pursuits? Going to God early and often in prayer is perhaps one of our most-overlooked advantages as His children.

Such is the absolute mastery of God’s living Word: even in an archaic-seeming chapter from the Old Testament, we find valuably practical lessons whose relevance to our daily lives is indisputable.

Exodus 36: Much More than Enough

In the first seven verses of this chapter, the pleasant scene of obedience and giving is extended over from the previous chapter. God’s people continue to give the materials needed for the construction of the tabernacle and its artifacts from their own possessions. Bezalel and Aholiab are the gifted artisans identified by name, and they as well as other artisans are called by Moses to do the work.

As they begin their work, an assessment is made that they have been given sufficient materials to complete the tabernacle and associated items. As it says in the latter part of verse six and verse seven, “And the people were restrained from bringing, for the material they had was sufficient for all the work to be done—indeed too much.”

In verses eight through thirty-eight, we have a detailed description of the work that is taking place. While reading through these verses, the details are familiar as these were things that God instructed Moses in previous chapters.

There are two valuable lessons in this chapter that are easy to miss. The first is the dedication of the artisans and the people to serve God with exactitude. If God is our supreme Creator (He is), and we recognize Him as such (we do), then ought not His Words be more important than any words we hear or read? How much more important then should His instruction to us be, that we make sure we follow His guidance and fulfill His commands? If God is our Master, it is our duty to be faithful and obedient and to do so with fullness of heart, just like the giving people and the hardworking artisans of this chapter. It follows also that obedience to God precedes but does not exclude obedience to our superiors. Our bosses, teachers, parents, anyone with a hierarchical command over us should be obeyed so that we can display a godly example of obedience.

“He who despises the word will be destroyed, but he who fears the commandment will be rewarded.” Proverbs 13:13

“Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ; not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free.” Ephesians 6:5-8

“Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh. For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God.” I Peter 2:18-20

The second lesson is that the little things matter. Think of all of the little details of intricate gold and bronze work, colored thread, and carved wood that were necessary to complete the tabernacle. Moses and the artisans were committed to getting these details all exactly right. It makes one think of Jesus’ words from the book of Luke, and how if one is faithful in the very small things, it is a practice that is made consistent to the bigger things of life too. It is a simple concept that is easy to remember. So, let us pledge to be faithful and honorable and obedient in even the smallest matters, so that when we face trials of great magnitude, we will be prepared to make the tough decisions needed to stay on the right side of the Lord.

Luke 16:10: “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much.”

Luke 19:17: “And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant; because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities.’”

Exodus 35: Willing Spirits

In Exodus 34, Moses made new tablets and his shining face provided evidence to the Israelites that he was indeed speaking as an oracle of God. In chapter 35, Moses takes time to instruct the Israelites on the Sabbath and the materials needed to construct the Tabernacle.

Moses asked the people to bring what was needed from their own possessions: “Whoever is of a willing heart, let him bring it as an offering to the Lord: gold, silver, and bronze; blue, purple, and scarlet thread, fine linen, and goats’ hair; ram skins dyed red, badger skins, and acacia wood; oil for the light, and spices for the anointing oil and for the sweet incense; onyx stones, and stones to be set in the ephod and in the breastplate.”

As we read from verses 5-9 above, it serves as a reminder of all of the description and instruction that God gave Moses on the mountain. Moses’ requests to the people continues on through verse 19 as he describes the different articles of the tabernacle to the artisans.

Moses’ instruction had an effect on the people “whose heart was stirred and everyone whose spirit was willing.” The effect was great and the people’s reaction was magnanimous and impressive. Both men and women came to give of their own possessions, of their time, and their individual talents.

Impressive still is the description of the artisans in verses 30-35. These men were filled with the spirit of God, the ability to teach, and to do all manner of skilled work. In this instance, there was a massive give-and-take between God and the people. God gave them instruction, they gave God the materials, then God gave them the talent to complete the work in an artistic fashion. Interwoven through stages of this process is the peoples’ stirred hearts and willing spirits. God provided for them in so many ways and any gap they had in understanding or satisfaction in the relationship was due to their own cold hearts and refusal to recognize God Almighty as the one true God. Over and over in the latter verses of this chapter, the phrasing suggests that all who had to give, gave, and that they gave very much.

In the dark shadow of the very recent worship of the golden calf, this peaceful and harmonious chapter is a comfort. In the center of the communication delivery is Moses. Without his righteous leadership, the people would have faltered even worse than they had previously. Moses recalled everything that God told him to relay and iterated and reiterated those pieces that the people and the artisans needed to hear to complete the work.

Exodus 34: Let’s Try This Again

Now that Moses has interceded for the people and God has relented from their destruction, God sets things to rights again. This chapter can be separated into three sections where Moses makes new tablets, God reiterates the promises and terms of His covenant with the Israelites, and finally the description of a curious physical change in Moses as the result of his communion with God.

In Exodus 31:18, God gave Moses the original tablets of stone with the Ten Commandments written on them. Those original versions were destroyed in chapter 32 and now here in the beginning of chapter 34, God tells Moses to cut two tablets of stone “like the first ones.” There may or may not be significance to the fact that God has Moses cut the replacements himself rather than simply providing them, but if there were, it would be the observation that the first effort by God to provide the tablets was full of grace and the second time around, God requires Moses to write the Ten Commandments himself on the tablets of stone because of the great transgressions of the people in their worship of the golden calf.

When Moses meets God again on top of the mountain, he calls out to God and God responds with a strong proclamation of His identity: “The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and fourth generation.” This series of statements by God is timely and accurate considering recent events. God did relent from ultimate destruction of His people after the events of the golden calf, but also allowed Moses to kill the chief leaders of the idol worship (Exodus 32:25-29). Through Moses, God is saying to the people that He will punish iniquity when it is committed, but if forgiveness is sought, He will forgive. Moses responds with humility and penitence, admitting that the people are stubborn while also beseeching God to accompany the people as they travel to the promised land.

In verses 10-28 of Exodus 34, God renews His covenant with the people through Moses. There is nothing necessarily new in God’s speech but it is a great enumeration of the dimensions of God’s covenant with the people that started with Abraham.

God’s covenant with the Israelites required things of them:

  • The Israelites are not to make agreements with the native people lest it corrupt them
  • The Israelites are to destroy the pagan worship places and their idols
  • The Israelites are not to intermarry with the people lest it corrupt them
  • The Israelites are not to make molded images for themselves to worship
  • The Israelites will keep the Feast of the Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Ingathering
  • The Israelites are to dedicate their firstborn to God
  • The Israelites are to give to God, not appearing before Him empty-handed
  • The Israelites shall not work on the Sabbath
  • The Israelites will offer pure sacrifices, the first fruits of their land, and will not engage in pagan practices for sacrifice

God’s promises to the people are also described:

  • God will bless the people as only He can
  • God will drive the native people out of the promised land and enlarge their borders
  • God is jealous and will not tolerate the worship of other gods

In addition to these parts of the covenant that God iterated to Moses, God made other parts of His portion of the covenant clear in previous chapters in Genesis and Exodus. Other aspects consist of His protection of the people, their numeric proliferation, and their station as chosen, distinct, and favored among all other men and peoples. Moses was with God for another forty days and forty nights. He neither ate nor drank during this time.

After this time spent with God, Moses’ face shone. The description in the latter part of the chapter makes it clear that the skin of his face shone and that Moses himself was unaware that it did so. The people were afraid to approach him. This evidently caused Moses to put a veil on his face to alleviate the people’s fear. His face shining occurred after the time when he spoke with God, whether from on top of the mountain or from within the most holy place inside the tabernacle. This phenomenon is mysterious to us, but it is not without a similar occurrence in the New Testament. In Mark 9:3, during Jesus’ transfiguration, “His clothes became shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them.”

This brilliance of human appearance after coming into contact with God in some way is indicative of the brilliance of God reflecting on mere human form. Christ, who was divinity Himself, need not know that God showed favor on Him, for He already knew it. Moses, also, being in conversation with God, understood God’s directions and provisions for the people. Why, then, did God choose to illuminate Moses’ face and Jesus’ clothing?

He did it in order to impress upon others that these individuals were approved of by God as His messengers. In Jesus’ case, Peter, James, and John saw Jesus in the same group as Elijah and Moses, which was meant to affirm the connection of God’s blessings and providence upon those that seek and serve Him. Jesus was the culmination of God’s plan and there is no mistaking the impact of Christ death, burial, and resurrection. Conversely, Moses was crucial to God’s plan of sheltering the Israelites as His chosen people. Unsurprising it is then, that Moses appeared with Jesus during the transfiguration where God was showing preference and favor on His Son.

For Exodus 34, Moses face shone with the glory of God even as he was unaware of it. We can view Moses’ face shining as God continuing to find grace in Moses and by extension giving that grace to the Israelites too. God’s glory shining on the face of Moses such that he had to wear a veil was to show the people that God was communicating to the people through the covenant, the Ten Commandments, and of course through His servant Moses.

Exodus 33: Finding Grace in the Sight of God

This chapter contains a wonderful exchange between Moses and God after the events of the golden calf. We will see that God, despite His anger, still has the capacity for great compassion, blessings, forgiveness and grace. Man, for his part, must demonstrate repentance.

Starting the chapter, the Lord is still angry at His “stiff-necked” people for their idol worship and clear lack of faith. God will keep His promises however, and He tells Moses to lead the people out of the land of Egypt to “the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” The native peoples of the promised land will be driven out. But there is also a dark message for the people from God: He will no longer be in their presence as they travel. They are greatly saddened at this and demonstrated repentance when they took off their ornaments, which were associated with worship of the golden calf. But even with this demonstration of repentance, they would still be making the journey alone. The price for their disobedience is steep and pervasive, for now.

In verses 7-11, Moses communes with God within the tabernacle. This exchange occurs in such a way (with the pilar of cloud – indicating it occurred during the day) that the people are able to observe it. This inspired the people to worship God and “the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.”

The latter part of this chapter in verses 12-23 is mysterious, yet also comforting. We get the details of Moses’ conversation with God. As Moses did on top of the mountain when God wanted to destroy the people for their idol worship, he intercedes on their behalf. Moses, although humble and in fear of God, is aware that God extends grace to him. Because of this fact, and because of his compassion and love for the Israelite people, Moses asks that God “consider that this nation is Your people.” Moses also asks for the proof of God’s grace be exhibited in the action of God accompanying them, so that they shall be separate “from all the people who are upon the face of the earth.”

Between Moses’s pleas God says in verses 14 and 17 that He will go with the people and that He will comfort them. God attributes this change to Moses, “for you have found grace in my sight, and I know you by name.”

Verses 12-23 are an open discussion between God and Moses that display for us God’s paradigm for forgiveness, repentance, and the grace and blessings that follow. Moses has an understanding of God that the people do not have, and Moses also has an understanding of the people that is such that compels him to advocate for them. God understands everything about the people, but His anger at their blatant disobedience removes the possibility for compassion and grace. Moses, however, having received God’s grace, dares to approach God and arrange for such forgiveness on behalf of this stubborn, people. Surprisingly or unsurprisingly, it works. We might have had little expectation for how God would treat His people at this very early stage of their relationship, and the appearance of His grace is comforting. Likely the fact that Moses enacted punishment on the people in chapter 32 helped grease the wheels of divine grace. It also seems likely that Moses’ anger at the peoples’ sin pleased God and further confirmed Moses’ stature as His divine representative.

Looking deeper into this interchange between Moses and God, we also cannot help but notice Moses as a Christ-figure. The impression is stronger in the previous chapter when Moses offered that he be blotted out of God’s holy book to make atonement for their sin. But here, we see a different dimension to Moses’ plea. He wants for the glory of God to be seen in His people, and that this will be strongest when God is with them. So where the plea in Exodus 32 was to stop the punishment, the plea in this chapter asks yet more of God, that He accompany them, even after God had said that He would not.

What do these interchanges between Moses and God tell us?

  • God’s anger is justified and real, culminating in harsh and deadly consequences
  • Despite His anger and desire to punish, God’s ear is open to hearing pleas for forgiveness and expressions of repentance
  • God is multi-dimensional in His perspective and His grace is near at hand despite the immediate threat of punishment
  • When a righteous man that is favored in His sight makes a request, God is more likely to grant and bless (James 5:16)
  • It is seemingly never too late to petition for God’s forgiveness through prayer, request, and true repentance
  • Goodwill, goodness, and blessings from God follow the condition of a forgiven soul

The conclusion of the chapter quickly ends an era where God spoke to man in a familiar and regular circumstance. There is not a specific reason for why God spoke to Moses “face to face,” then changes to “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.” We could presume that it is due to the peoples’ having so blatantly worshipped the idol, prompting new relationship parameters, or something else. But the most reasonable conclusion to come to is that we should be satisfied to revel in the mystery of God:

God, being spirit, can manifest as flesh, or however He wishes in the world He created. It is difficult for us to comprehend the details of Moses’ and God’s relationship, its physicality, and the implications. Human language fails at expressing such things and we are left with our faith and our imagination. Whatever Moses “saw” of God surely must have been the merest glimpse of what awaits the faithful in heaven.

Exodus 32: The Folly of Gold

While Moses was communing with God, receiving all of the divine instruction needed to worship Him as a people, the people themselves were getting restless at the foot of Mt. Sinai. Their immediate desire to worship another god tells us two things:

  1. Mankind has an innate knowledge of a higher power that compels him to worship something that he considers is greater than himself
  2. Mankind’s overall lack of loyalty to the true God is not new, and people with a more tangible connection to God like the early Israelites even had difficulty remaining loyal to the true God that saved them in many ways

Perhaps they had not time enough to grow in their faith, or perhaps they were still unconvinced that this God that had brought them out of Egypt was deserving of total devotion. It is difficult to gauge what was going through their minds when they decided to make another god to worship. Part of it is undoubtedly the fact that Moses had been the representative of God and now he was missing atop the mountain for an extended amount of time. But nothing could excuse the statement made in the latter part of verse four, after Aaron the soon-to-be high priest had fashioned them a golden calf: “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!” Surely they had seen enough of the power of the true God to stop them from putting their faith in a material thing that had just been fashioned before their eyes. One would think…

But even weak-willed Aaron could not stand in the way of the people’s foolishness as he led them in worship to this false god. Aaron effectively led them in breaking the first three commandments. If the plagues and miracles were not enough, the people had also been told by God numerous times that it was He and He alone that was responsible for bringing them out of Egypt.

God of course is aware of these abominations and sends Moses back down the mountain to stop the idol worshipping. God wishes to destroy the people for their disrespect and lack of loyalty. Moses, however, pleads on their behalf and brings to light the promise God made to multiply the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel as many as the stars of heaven.

Joshua accompanied Moses back down the mountain and the sound of the people was such that it made him think it was a battle at the foot of the mountain. But Moses knew better. It was the sound of the people as they were singing and dancing. Moses’ anger is such that he breaks the tablets with the Ten Commandments at the foot of the mountain. He then takes the golden calf, burns it, and scatters the detritus in the water, then forces the people to drink it.

Aaron dodges accountability for his actions in leading the people, blaming them for their desires to serve the false god. And although it may have been difficult to assuage the passionate crowd, Aaron still bears hefty blame for lacking the backbone to reprimand the people for their sin and refusing to participate. Instead of standing up and acting truly as a Hight Priest worthy of the title, Aaron either has zero backbone or is a willing participant in the sinful acts of worship, or both.

When Moses sees the condition of the people, he calls the righteous to him and bids them to kill the unrighteous sinners in the camp. About three thousand men died in the ensuing retribution for having turned their backs on God. Moses then goes to God and intercedes for the people, offering that he himself be blotted out of God’s book if that means that the people will be forgiven.

God does not agree to Moses’ proposal but instead pledges that the people that sinned against Him will be blotted out of His book. God then urges Moses to continue leading the people to the designated place. But the Lord does put a plague on the people of Israel as an interim punishment for having worshipped the gold calf.

The lessons for this familiar Bible story are many. Thinking about the dynamic of God, Moses, Aaron, and the people, there is quite a bit to glean:

  • When there is weak or new faith, it is especially susceptible to temptation
  • When there is a spiritual leader in charge, he must be strong and unwavering in his leadership, intolerable of encroaching threats to the faith
  • In the absence of physical reminders, faith should grow and expand to fill in the gap until confidence once more is the norm

How can you apply these principles to your life? In the absence of daily Bible reading, we can become like the listless Israelites, searching for something in the place of God that has little or no value. If you are in a leadership position, how aware are you of the always-existent threats, no matter how harmless, wrong, or ridiculous they might seem? Are you ready to stand up and face the ugly visage of bold sin?

I encourage you to pray daily for your strength of faith and for your willingness to speak up for the truth. Not your truth, his truth, or her truth, but THE truth.

Exodus 31: Artisans, Sabbath, and the Finger of God

Having read through the previous chapters wherein was described the different artifacts used in service to God, we have formed a picture in our minds of the layout of the tabernacle. This mental vision is complete, and we can easily search for and find recreations and pictures that show us what it must have looked like. Such are the details of the tabernacle described by God to Moses. To complete the construction of the tabernacle, God has identified and blessed specific artisans, whom He calls by name. These men will work with the wood, gold, silver and bronze to artistically create the implements just as described.

The animal sacrifices were unblemished. The construction of the altars, table, mercy seat, etc., were all described as beautiful and pleasing to the eye. The point of having skilled artisans create the tabernacle artifacts elevates the entire environment to a more spiritual and holy atmosphere. How much more should we adorn our hearts when we are in prayer and engage in worship to God today? Although our offerings are not physical in nature, but rather spiritual, we still need to be pure of heart and nice of appearance when worshipping God. Our offerings to God need to be pure, holy, and undefiled.

The Sabbath is stressed in this chapter as well and is notable in that it was meant to be a day of worship rather than a simple day of rest. God knew that it would be good for man to rest and reflect at a regular interval, as He had rested after creating the heavens and the earth. This was another ritual that separated the Israelites from the pagans around them and was punishable by death if not taken seriously.

The conclusion of this chapter contains considerable power. Moses’ revelation from God on the mountain has been ongoing, having started back in Exodus 25. Moses was on top of the mountain for forty days and forty nights, in communion of sorts with God, who was delivering these complex instructions on the tabernacle and the nuances of how, with what, and when He should be worshipped. This interaction was profound, and so too is its conclusion in verse 18: “And when He had made an end of speaking with him on Mount Sinai, He gave Moses two tablets of the Testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.”

The “finger of God” is a distinct anthropomorphism (deity described as having human characteristics) and is effective in driving the point home that these instructions were nothing but divine, not authored by man but authored by the Almighty Creator Jehovah God, who is deserving of all praise, honor, and glory.

Exodus 30: Additional Artifacts of the Tabernacle

Exodus 30 continues to explain the various artifacts of worship contained in the tabernacle.

The altar of incense was a smaller structure than the altar upon which sacrifices were offered, but its design was similar in some aspects. The altar of incense was to be overlaid with gold rather than bronze, but it still had the decorative horns and gold rings for transport. Aaron, or the high priest, was to burn the incense on this altar and it was to be placed before the veil, behind which was the most holy place. This altar of incense was very important to God and was to be purified once a year. The yearly event of purifying things touched by the hands of man would eventually be the annual even called the Day of Atonement described in Leviticus 16. We may wonder why this altar existed, and why did God direct that it was to burn continuously? Was it to help create an environment that was distinguished from the environment outside of the tabernacle? Was it to foster a sense of holiness and to underscore the importance of this physical space? Very likely the answer is a combination of these. When the people were in the tabernacle, they were as close as they could be to the presence of God, and God wanted to build in reminders of the holiness and the sanctity of that space and more importantly, their relationship with Him.

The ransom money is the earliest incarnation we have of giving money to the Lord so that His work can continue. The description of the money and how it is gathered is connected to a regular census that took place, although the frequency for collection is not detailed at this time. The money was to be used in service to the temple by the Levites, to continue to provide the materials needed to carry out the various aspects of worship. The term “ransom money” is a reference to the fact that the Israelites owed their lives to God. It is because of Him that they are able to live and subsist as they are and regular reminders of this fact reinforces the important dynamics of their relationship with God.

The bronze laver was a bowl for the washing of hands and feet. The presence of this device and the importance placed on it is a sign that this early covenant between God and His people had a huge spiritual component. Recall that the various artifacts of the tabernacle are purified with blood from animal offerings and that Aaron and his sons were also purified with blood. The washing of hands and feet was to happen “lest they die.” This physical cleanliness was not the entire point of the laver and its surrounding commandments, rather, the washing was to remind the people of their lack of holiness and their default state of impurity due to their sin. Washing was a reminder to the high priests and the other priests that they were in a constant need of purification as they ministered to God with the various activities taking place in the tabernacle.

The holy anointing oil takes the idea of purification to an even higher level than the washing at the bronze laver. Verses 22-33 make it clear how valuable the ingredients of the oil are, how then the oil itself is highly valuable, and that the use of the oil was to be taken very seriously. Setting apart materials and men for the use of worship to God was not to be taken lightly and the seriousness with which the Israelites were meant to approach the holy anointing oil was to be of the utmost. Aaron and his sons are part of the anointing process with this valuable oil, signaling that they, like the ark of the covenant, are used in service to the worship of Almighty God. If it was used improperly, the person responsible was to be cast out of the Israelite community. The importance of this oil is not the point, however. The importance of the oil points to a higher truth: that the relationship they have with God was holy, singular, special, and to be respected higher than any other thing. The requirement of the washing, the anointing, the gold and bronze overlays, and ceremonial clothing all work together to compose an environment where the people understand that their relationship with God is more important than anything else.

The incense is also similar in importance and likeness to the holy anointing oil. It was to be used in the altar of incense and the ingredients were distinct and valuable. Stressing the importance of the relationship again, this incense was to be used for no other purpose other than in service to God in the tabernacle. Given the valuable ingredients, it was sure to be a pleasant smell. But if one were to replicate and use it for personal use, they would be cut off from the rest of the Israelite community forever.

The lesson that we can take from this chapter is fairly obvious: the relationship that man has with God is more important than anything. Even though we do not have physical materials prescribed in the New Testament like the ones described here, we can rest assured that the spiritual rigors that we employ in our service to God are just as important as the bronze laver and the holy anointing oil.