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.  

Daniel’s Character

Tonight I would like to look at some aspects of Daniel’s life and faith. Daniel did his best for the Lord and there are many wonderful examples of his faith in action recorded in the book of Daniel. We encounter challenges to our beliefs and our faith regularly Sometimes the reasons for the wars within us are very specifically directed towards us and we see shades of this with Daniel.  Daniel fought a war within himself to remain loyal to God, but the origins of the conflict came from outside and were repetitive.  Here are some examples of Daniel’s successes:

In Daniel chapter 1, Daniel does not defile himself with the king’s delicacies, but is found approved both by God and the king. In chapter 2, Daniel, by remaining loyal to God, is able to interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams. Through Daniel’s interpretations, Nebuchadnezzar comes to respect God, but still condones idol worship. Ultimately, after the interpretation of a second dream, Nebuchadnezzar was made into a sort of animal as the result of his pride, but in the end, he praises God.  (Daniel 4:28-36)

In Daniel chapter 6, we find that the governors and satraps of the kingdom sought to find some charge against Daniel due to Daniel’s excellent spirit. These governors and satraps convinced the king to decree that anyone that petitioned any god or man except for the king would be cast into a den of lions.  They knew that Daniel would break the decree due to his loyalty to God. 

Daniel did exactly what we should all do in the face of such adversity: he worshipped and prayed to God despite the decree.  When he was brought before King Darius for doing so, the king, with a heavy heart, condemned Daniel to the lion’s den. 

After a sleepless night, the king went to the lion’s den to find Daniel untouched. The king was exceedingly glad and cast Daniel’s accusers (along with their families) into the den of lions.  After the ordeal, the king decreed the following in Daniel 6:25-26 “Then King Darius wrote: To all peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth: Peace be multiplied to you. I make a decree that in every dominion of my kingdom men must tremble and fear before the God of Daniel. For He is the living God, And steadfast forever; His kingdom is the one which shall not be destroyed, And His dominion shall endure to the end. He delivers and rescues, And He works signs and wonders In heaven and on earth, Who has delivered Daniel from the power of the lions.“  Daniel’s faith had revealed the power of God to King Darius.  We may not be saved from the mouths of lions, but truly, our dedication to God can do the same to others in our lives.

Some things worth noting in the example of David and the lion’s den: when the governors and satraps sought to find a charge against Daniel, they could find nothing at all concerning the kingdom, so they had to find a way of accusing him concerning the law of God.  Could the same thing be said about any one of us? Doing the right thing spiritually means doing it with totality of purpose. To our friends, family and coworkers, being blameless in all of our affairs should be a goal for us. 

Daniel, by remaining loyal to God, withstood pressure from many fronts in a spiritually hostile environment.  By trusting in God, Daniel’s actions revealed themselves as godly and he seems to have won whatever wars took place inside him with ease. 

Exodus 29: The Consecration of Priests

As Exodus 28 described the holy raiment of the priests and closed out with an explanation of when Aaron and his sons would wear the garments, chapter 29 describes the consecration (dedication, or ordination) of the priests and the sacrificial offerings.

The consecration takes place in the first nine verses and it is a small, humble ceremony that identifies and sets these men aside as dedicated to do the Lord’s work in the tabernacle. Total completion time will be seven days.

Verses 10-14 describe a bull sacrifice that is to be made on behalf of Aaron and his sons. This bull was to “contain” the sins of the priests and sacrificing it would atone for their sins, making them more righteous and fit to serve. A quick note on sacrifices here – atoning for sin through any animal sacrifice did not absolve the sin or produce forgiveness from God. It only helped to compensate for their sins so that both the priests and the people could stand accepted before God as they maintained the terms of the covenant. Forgiveness of sins would of course come much later in the form of Jesus Christ. To forgive sin, there must be a perfect sacrifice, and the obedience of man to enter into the appropriate relationship with God to obtain it. Isaiah 53 tells us that the Suffering Servant Christ will be that atonement, and we enter into the relationship through faith and being obedient to God in baptism (John 3:5, Mark 16:16, I Peter 3:21).

The offering of the bull has some symbolism to address. The blood, here as in throughout the Bible, represents life. The placing of the bull’s blood before the altar and on the horns of the altar represents that the animal’s life was given as a substitute for the life of the sinner. This, incidentally, reveals the seriousness of sin’s consequences. The fat and the kidneys were to be burned on the altar while the rest of the animal was to be burned outside the tabernacle. The fat in many ways represented the best that the animal had to offer because it was the excess of the animal, showing that it was healthy and considered fit for God. The kidneys, along with the heart, are considered representative of a man’s inner life. Sacrificing the bull in this way reminded the priests of the price of sin. This offering serves to anoint them as priests, after all. In fact, it should have also initiated a surge of gratitude towards God because it was the bull and not they, that was giving its life for their transgressions of the law.

The sacrifices mentioned in verses 15-28 are described as fire offerings, wave offerings, burnt offerings, and heave offerings. These offerings are described in their detail and serve to please God. The burnt offerings (fire offerings included) are meant to please God with their aroma. Further anointing with blood on and around the altar and around the priest’s bodies takes place. No reason is given for why blood is placed on the right ear, thumb, and big toe. But if you look ahead to Leviticus 14:14-18, a person seeking ceremonial cleansing after recovering from a skin disease received the same treatment with blood and oil.

The peace offerings (wave, heave offerings) celebrated the priests’ communion with God and incorporated a shared meal of sorts.

In verses 29-37, we have the conclusion of the ceremony needed to consecrate Aaron and his sons as priests. This process was to take seven days. The holiness of the priests would be sufficient for serving God in the tabernacle and presiding over the daily sacrifices. The holiness of the altar was stressed mightily along with the priests: “Seven days you shall make atonement for the altar and sanctify it. And the altar shall be most holy. Whatever touches the altar must be holy.” These in-depth explanations serve to stress to the Israelites and us today just how far away we are from God, how far sin has taken us from Him. If all of the actions of seven days did not properly forgive transgressions for the priests, it is another indicator of just how precious the saving blood of Christ is.

There is a lengthy yet revealing explanation in Hebrews on how animal sacrifices were futile in the mission to forgive sin, albeit necessary under Old Testament law for the people to be able to serve and approach God. Pay attention to the italicized statements in the passage below. As has been mentioned before in our study of Exodus, the Old Covenant was for us a teacher, to prepare mankind for the ultimate sacrifice in Jesus Christ that was perfect enough to offer salvation to every human being that has ever, or will ever live.

Hebrews 10:1-10: “For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins. Therefore, when He came into the world, He said: “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You have prepared for Me. In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin you had no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come— in the volume of the book it is written of Me— to do Your will, O God.’ ”  Previously saying, “Sacrifice and offering, burnt offerings, and offerings for sin You did not desire, nor had pleasure in them” (which are offered according to the law), then He said, “Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God.” He takes away the first that He may establish the second. By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

The final verses of this lengthy chapter sum up the point of it all. What is all of this ceremony, show, preparation, and sacrifice building to? Why go to all of this trouble?

Exodus 29:46: “And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them up out of the land of Egypt, that I may dwell among them. I am the Lord their God.”

There should be very little doubt as to why. In the face of a powerful God that can and will exact vengeance for sin (including those with whom He has a covenant), mankind has no greater duty to fill than to follow the commandments of the Lord, and to do so with purpose, gratitude, pride, and fear.

Exodus 28: Holy Habiliment

Exodus 28 is special because it embodies an idea of outward holiness reflective of how we should approach God. These verses describe the different parts of clothing that the Priests of God (Aaron and his sons) were to wear. As verse two says, these garments were made for glory and for beauty. They are meant to distinguish the priests from the rest of the Israelite population, recognizing their ordination as ministers to God. They are consecrated and meant for godly service and the clothes make it obvious. Herein are described a breastplate, an ephod, a robe, a tunic, a turban, and other articles.

The ephod – The ephod was like a vest or apron and it came to mean that if you were wearing an ephod, you were serving as a priest. It was made with gold, blue, purple, and scarlet thread with fine woven linen. The ephod was an outer garment to be worn under the tunic. Two onyx stones, each engraved with six names of the sons of Israel, completing the twelve names, were to be set in gold and placed so that they would be on the shoulders of the priest when he wore the ephod. Wearing the names in this way testified to God that the priest knew it was whom God had chosen. By bearing the names of the sons of Israel on his shoulders as he ministered to God the sacrifices and other rituals and rites, the high priest would always know for whom he was ministering.

The breastplate – The breastplate was the most elaborate of all of the garment pieces. Named in verse 15 as the “breastplate of judgment,” it was to mirror the artistry of the ephod and also made with gold, blue, purple, and scarlet thread, with fine woven linen. The breastplate goes further in documenting the twelve tribes as there are twelve precious stones to be embedded in the breastplate, each representing a tribe. The breastplate, not unlike the ark of the covenant, was to be connected by gold rings, in this case to the ephod. The detail and value of the precious stones drive the point home of how special God considered the relationship He had with His people. The high priest is ministering to God on behalf of the people and this likely weighty ephod is a physical representation of how the high priest represents their interests, gratitude, worship and supplication to God.

The Urim and Thummim mentioned in this section are mysterious in their nature and makeup. Most likely stones, many consider them to have been physical symbols of light and perfection and that their inclusion in the priestly garb helped assure the priest and the people that the decisions coming from the Lord would be true, great, and in the best interest of the people.

The robe – The robe was to be blue and would go underneath the ephod and breast plate. Surely beautiful and striking in its appearance, the bright blue color with the ornate bells described along the hem would serve to draw attention to the priest and to his movements. The mention “that he might not die” is a reference to the priest’s attitude before God. Recall Moses’ taking his shoes off before God at the burning bush. This was a recognition of God’s holiness and man’s ineptitude before his Creator. Likewise, the priest, wearing these detailed garments as God specified, attributes that He is approaching God with the right amount of humility, respect, and awe.

The turban – Along the same lines of being holy, the turban was to include a plate of pure gold which had engraved on it the phrase, “Holiness to the Lord.” Verse 38 says about this plate, “So it shall be on Aaron’s forehead, that Aaron may bear the iniquity of the holy things which the children of Israel hallow in all their holy gifts; and it shall always be on his forehead, that they may be accepted before the Lord.” God required this plate to distinguish the high priest as consecrated for holy duties. The high priest belonged to the Lord for the purpose of service and ministering and the gold plate was a reminder to all of this relationship.

The tunic – The tunic and trousers were the innermost pieces, the trousers serving as undergarments and the tunic being that article that came between the trousers and the robe. The tunic was to be made of fine linen and a sash mentioned here that would go around the waist, would be of intricately woven work.

With all of the symbology inherent in the physical sight of the priest, none would doubt who he was or whom he was serving. These articles are meant to draw attention because the relationship that the Israelites had with God was the most important thing in their lives. It is the same for us today. Our relationship with God is more important than the ones we have with our parents, our children our friends, and even our spouses. God comes first.

So, what can we learn from this chapter detailing the holy raiment of the high priest? Initially, we should be reminded of the importance of our attitude when approaching God. This is true for how we approach Him in prayer and in our thoughts. When I regard God, do I do so with a sense of awe and reverence, keeping in mind how lop-sided the relationship is? It might seem like a hard truth, but God does not owe you or me anything at all. And yet the relationship that He created with us in the present day is priceless, the greatest gift in all the world. When I pray, and when I consider my actions, and when I consider my speech, and when I consider the patterns of my heart, am I as wonderfully clothed with respect and reverence as the high priest?

Also, there is something that we “put on” in our present age as New Testament Christians, Christ Himself. Leaving our old man of sin behind, we find ourselves indebted to Him eternally as we are forgiven. Being baptized in Christ, we come out of the water a new creature, having put on Christ. This is a garment that transcends the priestly garments in every way. Because the putting on of Christ for me and for you is a spiritual act. And it is holier than even the glory of the priest’s garments.  

This week, let us remember the garments of the ancient high priests with fondness and reverence, but also in the proper context. For what we wear to sanctify ourselves before God in Jesus Christ is greater, simpler, and perfect:

“And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” Romans 13:11-14

Exodus 27: The Altar, Court, and Lampstand Care

This week we continue the explanation from God to Moses on how to configure various elements of the tabernacle.

The Altar

The altar is described as a sturdy structure made of wood, overlaid with bronze and with bronze implements to adjust the offerings. This is the place where animal sacrifices would be offered to God on behalf of the transgressions of the Israelites. It would have been roughly seven and a half feet square and four and a half feet tall. The bronze overlays would have protected the acacia wood from the fire and its shovels, basins, forks, firepan and grate are all the implements needed to lay the offerings on the burning altar and catch the ash and detritus as the it burned. The poles to carry the altar would also be overlaid with bronze.

This altar, the physical description of the first method to atone for sin, would be a symbol of sacrifice for the Israelites for the foreseeable future. But the altar had limited function and could not wholly erase the blight of sin from the spirit of man or from the mind of God. As men and women under the dispensation of Jesus Christ, we understand the meaning of the altar better than these early Israelites. This old law is at last tutor for us, readying us for the relationship of grace we enjoy with God through Jesus Christ. See this passage from Hebrews 9:13-15:

“For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.”

As much as Christ has done for us personally through the forgiveness of our awful sins, we see in this passage how expansive yet at the same time exacting his sacrifice was: it served to also forgive the transgressions of the Israelites under the first covenant. What a savior!

The Court

The court of the tabernacle can be defined as a common area. It would house the altar, the bronze laver and it would have a gate. The boundary of the tabernacle court is again determined by screens and hangings using silver hooks. The pillar sockets would be made of bronze. It would be approximately sixty yards long and thirty yards wide.

The sacrifices were to be made there and the Jewish people could come into the court. The distinction of the court and the holy place were evident. Only the priests and the high priest could enter the holy place. This physical boundary of the court and the holy place within represented the closeness of the priests and the common people to God, respectively.

An “Eternal” Flame

The oil in the lampstand, pressed from olives and used to keep the lamp lit, was to burn continuously. It also represents the gifts and knowledge of God. The oil provided by God gives light which man can see, Likewise, God’s Word and gifts lift man up and allow man to let his light shine before others as He practices lawfulness and righteousness in a sinful world.

Although these elements of the temple seem common and may even lack relevance to us in any practical sense, we can readily see how the symbols they embody are still very close to us today. Christ was the one true last sacrifice to atone for all. We also are to present our bodies as a living sacrifice before Him. On the altar of the cross, Christ offered himself and we likewise offer ourselves on the altar of our lives.

Letting our light shine before men is also a known New Testament directive. In these detailed plans for a house of God, we have the beginnings of a blueprint for the salvation of all mankind.

Exodus 26: The House of God

Exodus 26 explains the construction and details of the Tabernacle. Moses will have taken these details back to the people eventually for construction. The Tabernacle is built as a way to represent the presence of God among the people. Within the Tabernacle, there is a nucleus referred to as the “Most Holy Place.” This place is the core of the presence of God as it would hold the Ark of the Covenant, which will ultimately contain physical artifacts that represent proofs of the agreement and promises that God made with the Israelites.

The Tabernacle was very ornate, decorated with rare materials and colors. The beauty of the Tabernacle was to call attention to the sanctity of the relationship that God has with His people. The many curtains described identified boundaries and served to create a “holy” atmosphere. When the people saw or entered the Tabernacle, there would be no mistake that they would know that it pointed them toward the Lord. Thread colors are specified blue, purple, and scarlet and there is much written on the significance of this color grouping. Blue, the color of heaven, purple, the color of royalty, and scarlet, the color of blood. The meanings are clear yet complex when you think of God communicating from the heavens to man, who will sacrifice to Him.

There are ther attributes of the Tabernacle which indicate specialness or holiness. The outer coverings were made of more hardy or common materials, while the inner and interlocking junctures were made of strong and costly materials:

  • Loops of blue yarn
  • Clasps of gold
  • Clasps of bronze
  • Sockets of silver
  • Sockets of bronze
  • Curtains of goats’ hair for the tabernacle covering
  • Covering of ram skins dyed red
  • Covering of badger skins

The significance of the Tabernacle has meaning for us under the law of grace in Jesus Christ as well. The writer of the book of Hebrews (most likely the apostle Paul) recognizes the symbolism and order that the Tabernacle represented for God’s people:

Hebrews 9:2-5: “For a tabernacle was prepared: the first part, in which was the lampstand, the table, and the showbread, which is called the sanctuary; and behind the second veil, the part of the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of All, which had the golden censer and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold, in which were the golden pot that had the manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant; and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.”

“These things” were known oracles to New Testament Christians as they are to us today. Perhaps mysterious in nature to these early Jews, the contents of the Tabernacle no longer hold much mystery to us under the law of liberty in Jesus Christ. For He has brought everything to us, has made everything known through His death, burial and resurrection:

Matthew 27:51: “Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split.” This veil was of course that covering leading to the Most Holy Place where the Ark of the Covenant was kept.

The Tabernacle, a place where Israelites interfaced with God, loses its weight for us today since God made all things new under Christ (Revelation 21:5). But the Tabernacle still has a mysterious attraction as a relic of our Creator’s interaction with mankind. God, at this time in human history, saw fit to create a dwelling place among His people where they could sacrifice to Him and maintain the artifacts of His holy covenant. For thousands of years, God’s people would utilize the Tabernacle to interact with Him. The Tabernacle would not always be a holy place, as man would corrupt and misuse it. But through Jesus, God created the perfect way to dwell among us, and the perfect singular sacrifice to atone for all sin.

Just like so many other examples from Exodus, the Tabernacle served as a tutor. Galatians 3:24-25: “But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.”

The Tabernacle, or God’s “dwelling place” among His people, was supplanted by His Son Jesus. Matthew 1:23: ““Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.””