The parasha for this Shabbat is entitled Terumah which means “Contribution” or “offering”. With the exception of chapters 32-34, the remainder of the book of Exodus is concerned with just one thing: the construction and ministry of the Tabernacle. The Hebrew word for ‘Tabernacle’ is Mishkan, the noun form of the verb shachan – to ‘dwell’ or ‘inhabit’. God gives Moses very detailed instructions about how to construct the Tabernacle, and the list of materials required is impressive… and a bit eclectic:
- gold, silver and bronze
- blue, purple and scarlet colored fabric and goat hair
- rams’ skins dyed red and porpoise skins
- acacia wood, oil and spices
- onyx stones and various precious and semi-precious stones
And all of this for one purpose: (25:8) “…That I may dwell among them.”
God’s command that we construct a Tabernacle wasn’t merely to keep us busy and out of trouble. It was to be a labor of love, with love as its ultimate goal. The rich symbolism represented in the Tabernacle and its furnishings is a study from which all of us can benefit greatly. In fact, such a study will enhance our insight into The Letter to the Messianic Jews (Hebrews). Sadly, we too often treat these chapters of Exodus much as people treat the Bible’s genealogies – something to be gotten through quickly.
*Note: since we have had to cancel services due to the weather, perhaps a great way to spend this Shabbat would be to sit down with a nice hot cup of tea, and read Exodus 25-30 and 38-40, and then read Hebrews, chapter 9!
Within the Tabernacle would reside the Ark of the Covenant, the Table of Consecrated Bread (‘showbread’), the Menorat Zahav – the Golden Lampstand and the Bronze Altar – each so rich in symbolism, demonstrating God’s holiness, His desire to draw near to men, and the great Redemption that Messiah would bring.The most significant piece of furniture for the Tabernacle was, of course, the Ark. It was to be constructed of acacia wood; it’s dimensions were 45″ long by 27″ wide by 27″ high, and it was to be overlaid with pure gold – inside and out. It was never to be picked up and hand-carried, but rather four cast rings of gold were to be fastened at its corners, and poles of acacia wood, also overlaid with gold, were to be used to carry the Ark whenever God was leading Israel to move out. The contents of the Ark included the tablets with the 10 Commandments (also called “the Testimony”). The writer of Hebrews reminds us that the Ark would also eventually house the jar containing the omer of manna, along with Aaron’s rod which God had supernaturally caused to sprout buds – making it perfectly clear forever that the tribe of Levi and the family of Aaron were chosen to serve in the Tabernacle and later the Temple.
The Ark was to have a solid gold covering, called the kapporet, which means ‘covering’, but which has come to be translated alternately as mercy seat or propitiation because the same root word, kapper, is the verb for ‘atonement’. Its dimensions were to match the measurements of the Ark. But it was far more than just the top of a box. In fact, it was of such importance that in 2 Chronicles 28, the Holy of Holies is actually called “the house of the kapporet”. Above the kapporet was where God would manifest Himself in a cloud (Lev. 16:2)! The kapporet was also to be adorned on its top with two golden cherubim, also of solid gold, facing each other, one at each end, their wings spreading over it.
The Tabernacle precinct included an outer Court 150′ long and 75′ wide. Within that court was the Tabernacle itself, surrounded itself by curtains, within which only the priests and Levites could enter. Within the inner court was the Holy Place, into which only select priests could go, and only at appointed times. And within the Holy Place was the Most Holy Place, into which only the High Priest of Israel was permitted, and only once each year (at Yom Kippur), and only after lengthy ritual washings and the putting on of sacred ceremonial garments.
If you get a sense of separation, you are beginning to understand. The Scriptures tell us that God, who is infinitely holy, must separate Himself from fallen, sinful human beings, though it has always been His desire to have communion with us. Therefore it is necessary to have these degrees of separation. It also helps us to appreciate fully what Matthew recorded – that at the very moment of Yeshua’s death on that Roman cross, the veil which blocked the way into the Holy of Holies was supernaturally ripped in two from top to bottom (Matt. 27:50-51). The way was now open for man to have intimate fellowship with God. What’s more, this access to the Throne of Grace has now been opened to Gentiles as well as Jews. God is making us into His one flock, Yeshua being our one Shepherd.
Let me leave you with two main thoughts this morning:
1. We must never mistake God’s desire for fellowship to be an invitation to practice ‘religion’ on our own terms. “Doing your own thing” doesn’t cut it with the Holy One of Israel. Evangelicalism may have moved us away from rigid, formal religion, and restored to the Church a sense of joy and intimacy with God. But an unintended consequence of emphasizing the need for individual salvation and relationship with God is that we have lost a measure of appreciation for the holy.
God ordained the building of a Tabernacle so that He might commune with Israel. But it was crucial that its construction and operation be according to His specific instructions. Good engineers and good theologians will tell you the same thing: never ignore design specifications! Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu would learn the hard way that you dare not approach an infinitely holy God in a cavalier fashion. Uzzah found out the hard way why the Ark had rings and poles.
2. God beckons us to participate in what He is doing. This parasha opens with God’s invitation to raise a contribution – a terumah. It was not to be under any compulsion, but rather, “from every man whose heart moves him…” That contribution included silver and gold and bronze, but it also included multi-colored fabrics, exotic stones, oil and spices. In other words, everyone would have had something to contribute, if they were so inclined. We are not told who brought what; but those whose heart stirred them to contribute to the building of this sacred place to worship God would have had the great satisfaction of knowing that they participated in something of inestimable value. The same would later be true of those who contributed to the rebuilding of Jerusalem under Ezra and Nehemiah.
The only question that remains is whether your heart is one that is so stirred. I hope so. Those who give most generously of their time, talents and finances to the work of God are typically those whose joy is most evident. May our congregation always overflow with a sense of God’s holy presence, and also with joy!