Wednesday, October 25, 2006

How Lovely Is Your Dwelling Place (Exodus 25-31)

After telling the people the Law, the Lord calls Moses up to the mountain. He has something important to discuss with him, and the writing here is meant to bring memories of Genesis – both creation and flood:
Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the Lord dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. … Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.
God was able to summarize the law to him at the base of the mountain. What conversation is so important that Moses needs to be in the very presence of God for a flood’s worth of time? As it turns out, God actually wants Moses to build him an Ark (of acacia wood rather than gopher).

Well, that and then some. Reading these chapters of specific architectural instructions does call to mind God’s instructions to Noah – of how many cubits wide, long, and high, of what to cover it with, of how to build a roof over top. But that structure was fairly utilitarian – it had to float and hold animals for a short time. The tabernacle, on the other hand, is much loftier:
Let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it. … And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty. You shall speak to all the skillful, whom I have filled with a spirit of skill.
What a wonderful set of chapters for artists! Such affirmation of beauty and creativity coming from the one whom we knew as creator before anything else. It shouldn’t surprise us that the Lord himself is sometimes a carpenter.

What follows is a beautiful and detailed description of a magnificent structure. It’s the Lord’s house, and he knows what he wants. I can’t help but be struck again by the contrast between the people’s shallow ambitions and the purposes of their God. They would be content with the meat pots of Egypt; He wants them to aspire to build a house fit for the one for whom the Earth itself is a footstool.

As with the Law, the tabernacle designs are rooted in the story of the people of God. The golden lamp stand, with one candle privileged over the other six, reminds us of the order of creation and the Sabbath day. Cherubim in particular are all over the place: those angelic beings standing guard over the tree of life now lost to man. But the ark was built to provide man hope of redemption – that God himself intended to put right what had gone wrong in the garden. Now he invites a man to pass between the cherubim, wearing the stones of the twelve tribes of Israel on his heart.

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