Posts tagged tabernacle
As I read today about the dedication of the temple, I was reminded of our reading 100 or so days ago, when Moses dedicated the tabernacle. In much the same way that Moses had done before him, Solomon stood before the people and prayed a prayer of dedication. Then, in much the same way as he had done before, God sent this immense fireball to consume the sacrifice. It was as if God was putting his stamp of approval on the temple – his signature on this massive undertaking. It served as a reminder, too, that the same God who brought the people out of Egypt and who had commissioned and blessed the tabernacle was now blessing this temple.
God’s fire from heaven was his initial, public response to the completion and dedication of the temple. But there is also a second, more private response God offers to Solomon. Away from all the festivities and crowds, God appears to Solomon at night and offers these words:
“I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a temple for sacrifices.” (2 Chronicles 7:12)
What an incredible assurance for a king who had worked his entire adult life to make sure that the temple was completed. Then came this:
“When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:13-14)
Now, verse 14 may be familiar to you if you’ve spent any time around church. It is an incredible promise not only for the ancient Israelites, but for us as well. However, I think it’s important to read the sentence (it is, after all, only one sentence divided into two verses) in its entirety. You see, verse 13, the first part of the sentence, says “When” (not if) God shuts the heavens or commands locusts or sends a plague. When God does those things, if the people respond appropriately, God will will hear them, forgive them and heal them.
There are a few things going on here. First, God fully expects that the Israelites are going to screw up. (As I’ve mentioned before, he actually prescribed, in advance, ways for them to make amends for their sins.) Second, he is sending Solomon a subtle reminder that there will be consequences for the sins of the Israelites in the form of droughts, locusts, plagues and the like. And third, he is reminding Solomon that even as he acts as judge over the people, he also acts as defense counsel. If the people – his people – will humble themselves, pray, seek and turn, then he will commute the sentence, pardon the offenders and restore them to relationship with himself.
Verse 14 is an incredible offer of grace that you and I still get to take part in. However, it’s important to remember the truth of verse 13 – that there are consequences for our actions and that God doesn’t simply look the other way. His grace is freely given, but must be received. And, in order to receive it and to receive the pardon that comes along with it, we have to be humble, pray, seek and turn to him.
Today’s Reading: Numbers 7
When Moses entered the tent of meeting to speak with the Lord, he heard the voice speaking to him from between the two cherubim above the atonement cover on the ark of the covenant law. In this way the Lord spoke to him. (Numbers 7:89)
A new day had dawned for Israel. Previously, the Lord had spoken to Moses on a mountaintop – a place where Moses would go by himself, be gone for days and, eventually, return with a message from the Lord. Now, God had come a little closer. God had instructed Moses to construct a place for him – to have a recognized meeting place where they could talk. And now, after the tabernacle was dedicated (with a LOT of animals and grain) it finally happened.
No longer would Moses have to trek up into the mountains to meet with God. No longer would he have to be away from his people for days. Now, God was nearer. And so, this was no insignificant day. For Moses, it had to be a huge relief. Not only would this make his life a little easier, but it was a confirmation that all of this work had not been in vain. And even more than that, it was a confirmation to the people that Moses still “had it.” He was still God’s man for the job.
I think it’s interesting though that, once again, God’s actions in this story serve as a foretaste of his work of salvation through Jesus. You see, this pattern of God drawing nearer to his people would continue several thousand years later as Jesus’ life and death brought an end to the temple curtain that separated those who were “in” with God and those who were not. God would, once again, draw closer to his people.
Through Jesus, we are able to approach God in our daily lives, much like Moses could approach him in the tabernacle – here, instead of up there. The lengths to which God would go, not once, but twice, to make himself more accessible to us – even though we didn’t deserve it – are astounding. God bent over backwards to make it easier for us. And he continues to do it over and over and over again. How often do we take time to recognize that generous gift?
A place for God to dwell. Why did he need one? Why all the effort to construct this ornate structure for a God who dwells in all creation? You have to believe, as I eluded to before, that this was actually not for the benefit of God, but for the benefit of the people. We are given a hint at this purpose at the very end of chapter 40:
“In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out—until the day it lifted.”
It was like a big spiritual traffic light! Cloud means stop and no cloud means go. And by having this specific building to look to in order to receive this “stay or go” direction, the people of Israel had a clear directive. Combine this idea with the previous idea of having some kind of ornate physical representation of God (or, in this case, where God was) and we begin to see the incredible willingness of God to reach out to his people at their level of spiritual maturity.
He didn’t need to come in a cloud, because he was already there. He didn’t need a house, because he dwells everywhere. It is possible, but not necessary, for God to take on some kind of physical form. And so, the only reason that he would do that is for the benefit of those of us who are physical beings and have a very limited understanding of non-physical or metaphysical. And so, this entire tabernacle was not built for God, but was built as a way for the people to better understand and interact with their God. It’s an incredible example of culturally relevant ministry as demonstrated by the God of the universe.
Moses (or whoever Biblical scholars now believe wrote the book of Exodus) makes me laugh. He could have saved himself a lot of ink and parchment if he had simply said, “and they built the tabernacle, ark, alter, etc. to the specifications that God gave them.” Instead, he walks us through all of those specifications again. What’s the point?
Well, as with any piece of scripture, “what’s the point?” is a very valid question to ask. And so, as I read through this list that was essentially the response to God’s call to built the tabernacle, I asked that very question. Why was this all in there again? Maybe it was about reinforcing the fact that God really does care about the details. Of maybe is was a kind of audit – some way of verifying the “what we did” with the “what we were told to do.” Whatever the reason, it’s in there and we should probably read it.
One quick take-away for me is that this was a massive undertaking for people who had no home, very little to eat and who were getting sick and tired of roaming around the desert. What we read in these verses are people who are being obedient – painstakingly so – in building a temporary place of worship, when what they really wanted was a place to call their land and a place where they could build a “proper” house for God. But that wasn’t God’s plan…not yet.
And so, I look at myself in the mirror and I ask what parts of my life I’m truly willing to be obedient with. What are my “tabernacles” – the things that God has asked me to do that I don’t necessarily think are in “his” best interest. Or, the things that simply don’t make sense to me and, therefore, I’m reluctant to do them. Am I willing to pour myself into something temporary just because God asks me to. It’s one of those questions that’s easy to answer with a resounding “yes,” but much harder to walk out when you feel like you’re just wasting your time.
In today’s reading, there is a lot of back and forth between Moses and God and a few strange regulations, but the thing I want to focus on is the section in chapter 35 about the materials for the tabernacle. Obviously, the tabernacle was going to be a pretty ornate spectacle and, as I mentioned before, God wanted to provide the people of Israel with every little detail they needed to build it. In chapter 35, we find that not only did God give the plans, but he also provided the materials and seemingly supernaturally instructed the skilled workers.
In chapter 35, verses 4-9, Moses instructs the people to bring the materials that are needed and in verses 10-19, he instructs them to bring their skills. The thing that’s interesting for me is that these materials and skills were likely the direct result of Israel’s time spent in Egypt. Things like learning to hammer gold and weave intricate patterns would have likely been learned in their different roles as servants in Egypt. Likewise, the expensive materials they had with them (remember, they couldn’t just go to The Home Depot and buy the supplies to build the tabernacle) also came from Egypt. In fact, just before the people made their flight from Egypt, God told them to ask their masters for these kinds of precious gifts.
What sticks out here is that God allowed the people of Israel to acquire a certain amount of wealth through these valuable items. And yet, instead of simply allowing the people to get fat off of their wealth, God had a specific purpose in mind for those items. I wonder how many people have prayed to God for wealth or have somehow become wealthy, but have ceased to take into consideration the fact that God might want to use that wealth for something. I’m sure some of the Israelites hadn’t considered that fact. They thought they just got lucky and got to take some sweet treasure with them on their desert trek. But God knew differently. He knew that he would, in essence, redeem that Egyptian loot and turn it into something holy. This is just another example of God’s plan being so enormous compared to ours and a reminder that he’s always a few hundred steps ahead of us!