Tetzaveh-Ki Tisa “You Shall Command-When You Lift Up”

This week we have a double parasha. Our first parasha is Tetzaveh which means “you shall command” and covers Exodus 27:20 – 30:10. This parasha covers the unique garments, food, and anointing for the priests (Cohanim) as well as the altar of Adonai and the sacrifices.

We begin at the end of Exodus 27 with the commandment for the Priesthood to keep lamps burning eternally outside of the Holy of Holies. The parasha continues with Exodus 28 which details the garments for Aaron as High Priest. Described in detail are the ephod, breastplate, robe, woven tunic, turban, and sash. Each of these items were beautifully crafted to very precise detail given by the Lord.

In Exodus 29 we read that for seven days sacrifices of bulls and rams were offered before the Lord for Aaron, his sons, and the tent of meeting with the sacrificial altar. Aaron and his sons were washed and anointed with oil to set them apart as the Priesthood of Israel. The seriousness, deliberateness, and holiness of this consecration ceremony is apparent with detail in how each sacrifice was to be offered.

Our parasha ends in Exodus 30 with the construction of the altar of incense to the Lord. Every morning and evening Aaron was to offer incense to the Lord on this altar and tend to the lamps. No other offering was to be performed on this altar except the atoning sin offering during Yom Kippur.

Parasha Tetzaveh can be summarized in a single theological principle: Holiness. The word kadosh – “holy” is found throughout this parasha. Kadosh means to distinguish, to set apart that which serves God’s purposes from everything else. We see this idea of holiness in the garments of the priesthood, the sacrifices, and even the anointing oil. These items and sacrifices allowed the Aaronic priesthood to intercede before our Holy God on behalf of our people. It is only those who are holy who can stand before an infinitely holy God and not be killed.

The holiness of the Aaronic priesthood was given by the Lord through the Mosaic Covenant. Aaron was declared holy by the Lord’s standard, not his own. He did not create his own holiness. This holiness, given by the Lord, was to start with Aaron as our high priest and spread through his service to all our people. If the Laws of God were obeyed through the Sinai Covenant, we would all be declared to be holy, set aside as the Lord’s treasure. We would also be a kingdom of priests, holy to the Lord. This idea of a kingdom of priests is repeated in 1 Peter 2, where those who are a part of the New Covenant are also declared to be a priesthood, who also need to be holy to the Lord.

But as the story of our people unfolds in the Torah, we will see in the very next parasha that Aaron failed in his duty as a priest of Adonai. The incident of the Golden Calf, and the history of our people recorded throughout the rest of God’s Word, shows how we failed over and over again to be priests that were Holy To The Lord.

But the Lord in His mercy knew that because of our fallen sinful nature we would fail in meeting the standard of holiness set forth in His law. This was not because the law was flawed in some way but because of our choices. So, He sent the Messiah, Messiah Yeshua, who through His Death, Burial, and Resurrection, has become the sinless and perfectly holy high priest we desperately need.

Parasha Tetzavah makes it clear there is only one standard of holiness, the Lord’s. The only way to the Lord is through the way He has provided. So, for us today we must know Messiah Yeshua, and accept the grace and forgiveness of sin provided through His sacrifice and His ministry as our High Priest.

In these chaotic and dark times, we must minister to those who are lost showing them the light of God reflected in our hearts through His spirit.

We move from the light of God’s holiness to a much more sinful parasha. Our second torah portion is Ki Tisa, which translates to “When You Lift Up” and covers Exodus 30:11–34:35. Chapters 30 and 31 are more instructions from the Lord to Moses. The Lord gave him instructions concerning the census tax, the bronze basin, the anointing oil, and the Sabbath. But I would like to draw our attention to chapter 32 which recounts one of the lowest points of our people’s history, the sin of the Golden Calf.

Moses had been gone for almost 40 days and our people decided that it was likely he would not return. They then came to Aaron and told him that since “this Moses”, was gone they wanted new gods to replace Adonai. Aaron, whether out of fear of the people or sharing their fear of Moses never returning agreed to their request. He took gold they offered and from it created a golden calf or bull. This idol was given the Lord’s special name and Aaron declared that the next day they would offer it sacrifices and celebrate. The next day they had a great time feasting and drinking.

This incident of idolatry was one of the lowest spiritual points in our people’s history. Our people, from Aaron down, turned from the Lord. We created a false god, gave it the Lord’s name, and attributed to it the great blessings and miracles of Adonai. It is hard to picture a greater blasphemy.

After informing Moses of what our “stiff-necked” people had done, the Lord offered to destroy us and make a new people from Moses. Moses interceded before the Lord and in His mercy He relented. Moses went down Mount Sinai with the tablets of the law the Lord had created in hand and met Joshua who had been waiting for him.

On seeing the idolatry at the camp Moses smashed the tablets showing how thoroughly the covenant with the Lord had been broken. He then took the golden calf and ground it down into a fine powder and forced our people to drink our idol.

Moses then asked Aaron what on Earth had happened in the camp. Aaron immediately tried to blame Moses, and then our people. He also tried to convince Moses that he had thrown the gold into the fire and out popped this idol. Aaron claimed it had been supernatural instead of crafted by him. These excuses of course did nothing to calm Moses down. Seeing how our people were running wild thanks to Aaron, he stood at the gate of the camp and asked for all who were for the Lord to stand with him. Only the tribe of Levi answered his call, and they were told to kill many of the people for their sins, including people they knew. After this was done the tribe of Levi was ordained for service to the Lord.

The parasha continues with the Lord bringing a plague on our people. Moses interceded again, our people repented from our sins, and then the covenant was renewed. Forty days later Moses descended from Mount Sinai with new tablets from the Lord and this time he found our people still loyal to Adonai.

It is easy to see the sins of our people in this parasha and assume we would have acted better.  But we are just as sinful, fearful, and self-obsessed as that generation in the wilderness. Truthfully, while the adversary is very real, the golden calf was completely dead and useless. It did not jump from the fire, Aaron deliberately crafted it, a pointed repeated several times. We deliberately chose to sin and rebel against God in this parasha, just as human beings continue to do today. The idols might change, the lies and reasons might grow more complex, but the same underlying ideas of pride and fear are as powerful motivators now as they were then.

There is another aspect of this parasha worth considering. Even in this great sin the Lord reserved a remnant for Himself. There was one other person who waited for Moses to return, one person who waited alone with a simple trust in the Lord, Joshua. Thogh overlooked by many and only mentioned briefly in the narrative, Joshua is the only person who did not sin like all the rest. We read in Hebrews that “faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Joshua demonstrates this definition of faith. He had trust in the Lord and waited patiently for Moses’s return.

Just as Joshua waited for Moses’s return, we as Messiah’s community of Jews and Gentiles, wait for the return of the one greater than Moses, Messiah Yeshua. Moses descended from Mount Sinai and the Son of God will descend from the clouds. When Yeshua returns all worthless and dead idols will be broken and those who have placed their trust in them will become like them.  If you have placed your trust in any golden idols of politicians, philosophies, or other religions now is the day to reject these false idols for the only real source of Truth, Messiah Yeshua.

Those who have placed their faith in Adonai, through faith in His Son will experience blessings and rewards beyond Earthly comprehension.  Be sure you know which side of the line you are on.

As we go through the wilderness of this world, we have to choose who we will put our faith in. Will we be moved by the Fear of the Lord, or the fear of man? Will we succumb to our desires for pleasure, for ease, for a good time, or have the patient faith of Joshua?

May the Lord make us holy to the Lord through His spirit. May the Lord give us all the faith of Joshua. May we remain loyal during times of testing, as we look forward to everlasting life with Him.