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Moses, the Wedding Photographer

The tabernacle and the priesthood were given to build our relationship with God.

My wife and I had two photographers at our wedding, my sister Regina and a professional that we hired for the day. They wandered around ahead of the big event, snapping photos–both candid and posed–of the preparations. They took many more pictures of the ceremony, capturing the moments and expressions, the dresses and flower arrangements, and of the celebration afterwards.

When the digital images were available online, Paula created a photo book from the best pictures, and we keep it on the living room coffee table to this day. A few pictures are in frames and on walls in other rooms. Tucked away somewhere, we also have copies of our vows and invitations, the guest list, and all of the cards that we received from family and friends.

Everything about our wedding held significant meaning for us. We put many hours of thought into our vows, the choices of colors and flowers, the guests we invited, the design and ingredients for the cake, the embroidery on my tallit, and many other elements. Our vision for our coming life together was, in many ways, symbolized by the ceremony and trappings of our wedding, even the higher-than-predicted wind that gave so many of the family portraits a mildly comical flavor. It was a beautiful day–one of the most important of our lives–and we wanted to remember it all.

We are fortunate to live at a time when technology allows us to record important events in minute detail. We have computer records and photography and video so that we can go back and see the expressions on individual faces decades later. People used to have to rely solely on their memories and the written word. There are pros and cons to both, I suppose.

These are the records of the tabernacle, the tabernacle of the testimony, as they were recorded at the commandment of Moses, the responsibility of the Levites under the direction of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest.
Exodus 38:21

Why Is the Tabernacle Important?

Precious metals and stones, threads and fabrics, skins, wood, oil, spices, measurements, directions, and rituals… Then more of the same. And more again. Sometimes it seems like the last third of the Book of Exodus reads more like a hardware store inventory than a work of spiritual truths, but it’s actually the record of a wedding (or of a betrothal ceremony, depending on how you look at it).

God is timeless and unimaginably powerful; he created the universe with only a few words. Be assured that he doesn’t do anything frivolously, and every detail that he told his prophets to write down for us is elegantly profound even when it appears to be drab. He wants us to remember the events at Sinai with all their pageantry and to meditate on them frequently. He wants us to search out the many dimensions of meaning in the forms and functions of Priest and Tabernacle, meaning both to him and to our relationship with him.

In the Exodus description of the Tabernacle and the priesthood, God used words, colors, materials, and measurements to paint a picture for us of his plan for us and our relationship with him. Our sins and his gracious forgiveness, our worship and his love, our failures and his Messiah, all laid out with gold and silver, crimson and blue, incense and oil, in more dimensions that we can perceive and probably more than we can understand.

God’s thoughts are too complex–incomprehensible, even–to be reduced to mere words, instead he primarily communicates to us through stories, objects, people, and events. The interplay of the varied elements over time is like an animated work of art carved into the heart of a gemstone that reveals a different aspect of the same story in each separate facet.

God’s Religion Is All about Relationship

Studying the Tabernacle and priestly service can be difficult, but as you read the technical-sounding words, remember the divine subtext: God loves us and desperately wants to share his life with us. He betrothed us to himself and gave us this living album to remember that day, to enhance and develop our relationship with him over time, and to remind us of what it promised, a new and better covenant sealed by the blood of Yeshua.

All of these things and much more are recorded in the description of the Tabernacle in Exodus and of the Temple in Ezekiel. Even if you don’t understand what they mean now, keep going back to them, keep meditating on them. Some day when the events of Yeshua’s return begin to unfold around us, you will remember the four pillars before the Most Holy Place or the crown about the rim of the Table of the Presence, and you’ll suddenly think, “Ah! That’s what that meant!”

(The feature image was modified from an original by hillary h at flickr.)

If You Love Me…

In the Torah portion called Pekudei, (Exodus 38:21-40:38), Moses recorded twenty times that the Israelites did exactly as Yahweh commanded.

Twenty iterations of “They did all that Yahweh commanded Moses,” or some slight variation thereof. (See below for a complete list.)

They made the furniture of the Tabernacle. They wove and embroidered the curtains and the priestly garments. They erected the structure, anointed its contents and its priests, and put the various articles in their assigned places. Finally they lit the menorah, placed the bread, and burned the incense.

All exactly as Yahweh had commanded.

Take a moment to check out these interesting observations about the twenty statements of obedience in this parsha.

Twenty Statements of Obedience

  • The first time, the people did according to what Moses commanded.
    • 38:21 – At the commandment of Moses
  • The next eleven times, the people did according to what Yahweh commanded Moses.
    • 38:22 – All that YHVH commanded Moses
    • 39:1 – As YHVH had commanded Moses
    • 39:5 – As YHVH had commanded Moses
    • 39:7 – As YHVH had commanded Moses
    • 39:21 – As YHVH had commanded Moses
    • 39:26 – As YHVH had commanded Moses
    • 39:29 – As YHVH had commanded Moses
    • 39:31 – As YHVH had commanded Moses
    • 39:32 – According to all that YHVH had commanded Moses
    • 39:42 – According to all that YHVH had commanded Moses
    • 39:43 – As YHVH had commanded
  • The next seven times, Moses did what Yahweh commanded.
    • 40:16 – According to all that YHVH commanded him
    • 40:19 – As YHVH had commanded Moses
    • 40:21 – As YHVH had commanded Moses
    • 40:23 – As YHVH had commanded Moses
    • 40:25 – As YHVH had commanded Moses
    • 40:27 – As YHVH had commanded Moses
    • 40:29 – As YHVH had commanded Moses
  • The next time, Moses plus the Cohanim (priests) did what Yahweh commanded Moses.
    • 40:32 – As YHVH commanded Moses
  • Finally, Moses completed the work.

Obedience by the Numbers

Okay, maybe you won’t find that as interesting as I do, but here’s some of what this says to me:

Twelve times, the people did what they were commanded: once by the command of Moses and eleven by the command of God delivered through Moses. Twelve is the number of God’s people. There are twelve tribes, twelve gates, and twelve disciples. Except when one of those disciples followed the commands of men instead of God.

Seven times, Moses alone did as he was commanded directly. Seven represents perfection. David reminded us over and over that God’s Torah is perfect, and Moses delivered God’s Law perfectly, just as God intended it to be. Then he commanded us not to alter it. Yeshua reiterated that command when he said that anyone who relaxes even the tiniest part of it will be called the least in heaven.

Psalms 19:7 The law [Hebrew: torah] of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.

The final statement of obedience in Exodus 40:32 doesn’t stand on its own. It is the eighth statement of Moses’ obedience, eight being the number of new beginnings, but this time, he was joined by the priests. He was a king-like figure acting as one with the High Priest.

Yeshua is king and high priest in one.

The aim of the Torah (misleadingly translated as “the end of the Law” in Romans 10:4) is the Messiah who has become our High Priest. It teaches us about him and points us to him. It tells us how to recognize him, why we need him, and what he does for us. He is our Cohen Ha Gadol, our High Priest, albeit of a different order than the sons of Aaron. He is our new beginning and our rebirth.

Remember, however, that it was not the priest alone included in the eighth repetition, but Moses and the High Priest together. Just as Jeremiah prophesied, the New Covenant brought by Yeshua does not leave Moses behind (Jeremiah 31:33).

In the New Covenant, the God’s Law that was delivered through Moses (aka the Torah) is to be written on our hearts and no longer on stone. God still wants his people to keep his Torah, but we are not condemned by it because we are not under its authority. We are children of the King and obey his laws because we love him, not because we are afraid of the King’s sheriff.

After all twenty statements are complete, the Torah says, “And Moses finished the work.”

As James taught to the first century church, no one needs to keep the Torah in order to gain their salvation, but once a person becomes a citizen of the kingdom he would do well to begin learning and practicing its laws. (Acts 15:21)

The End of the Matter

God gives us an enormous amount of freedom in how we are to live our lives, but as anyone who has lived long enough to outgrow the fiery idealism of our youth realizes, true freedom is not possible without some rules. Neither is love.

A husband cannot say to his wife, “I will show my love for you by pouring red wine on all of your white blouses.” Well, I suppose he could say it, but I don’t think she would quite get the message he intended. Or maybe he could say, “Honey, I’m thinking of a very nice anniversary card and a set of beautiful diamond earrings.” Unless he followed his imaginings with happenings, they won’t be very well received.

We frequently hear people say that it’s the thought that counts, but we all know that’s only true in very limited circumstances. It’s the thought plus the deed that really counts, and if the deed is carelessly executed, we probably can’t even say that the thoughts were all that great. If the husband in the examples above had poured his wife a glass of water (not on her blouse) and bought her a card and a bouquet of roses, then his grand intentions, however humbly expressed, would have counted for much, much more.

Several things are conspicuously missing from the list of the people’s contributions to the Tabernacle in Vayakhel (Exodus 30:11-34:35) and Pekudei: green, orange, and yellow yarn; iron and lead ingots; cowhides; marble and fossils; oak and ironwood. I am certain that some people wanted to give these things along with their gold and silver, but God was very specific about what materials could be used in his Tabernacle.

Just like the man’s wife who didn’t want wine on her clothes, God didn’t want lead in his Holy Place. I can speculate all day and night about the spiritual significance of this or that metal and color, but it really comes down to this: God knows what he wants, and he doesn’t want just anything.

Yeshua said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” and also, “I and the Father are one.”

John also linked the love of God and obedience to the commandments in 1 John 5:2: “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.”

  • If we love Yeshua, we will keep his commandments.
    • Yeshua and the Father are one, and their commandments are one.
  • If we love the Father, we will keep his commandments.

We have the freedom to serve him and a lot of leeway in how we carry out his will, but we do not have the freedom to serve him in any way we choose. If we love God, we will obey his commandments. God doesn’t want us all to be missionaries to Borneo or to give him a million dollars. What he wants from each of us might be very different, but he always wants us to give him our best, and to give him what he asks.

God especially wants our love, and he wants it by his rules, not ours.