Curtains, I tell you, Curtains! Exodus 26
I continue through the whole Bible, and that leaves us in a place that is somewhat hard to be, though not any harder than Numbers will be at points. I click open my Logos Bible Software and see that I owe you an explanation of Exodus 26 (link). Which is about---
Well, and a veil, a screen, and some boards and sockets that essentially exist to hold up the curtains. This is where the reader of Exodus is treated to the directions on how to build the Tabernacle. It is within these verses that a couple of themes show forth that bear repeating:
1.) In no portion of Scripture do we see worship presented as being strictly defined by how the worshipper wants to do it. While the Tabernacle was constructed from free-will offerings of the people, the form and layout was still commanded by God regarding how the Tabernacle was to be built.
The Israelites were free to worship God, but not free to worship God as they desired. They were free to worship as He commanded. This is important to bring forward appropriately into the time we live in. As believers in Jesus, we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God and through the Holy Spirit, we understand His Word and are free to follow what He has said there. We are also free to follow the guidance of the Spirit in the areas where the Word itself is silent.
Yet we cannot confuse that with being free to worship in manners contrary to the commands of God. John 4 gives us one of the critical commands: true worship is in Spirit and in truth. Spirit comes from being those who are His and truth is about worship being centered on Him and His Word. Anything that exalts other things or people or downplays Jesus to focus on others is contrary to this.
Connected, though, is that freedom: there are dimensions given but no commands on the exact shade or how the fabric was to lay—those were within the Spirit-led sense of the maker. We are currently more in danger of neglecting the guidelines of worship God has given us than we are of being too constricted by add-ons, but that is not always going to be the case. We people have trouble not bouncing off the extreme edges.
2.) This is a general principle of Biblical interpretation that we all need to remember: sometimes, Scripture carries an accurate record of what happened, a recounting of events. Those events show us how the people of Israel worshipped or how the early church raised funds or what happened in a specific battle. The theme of that passage is seeing how God worked in history at that time.
And that's it. There is no hidden meaning, no secret knowledge to be gained, no key to change your life from knowing how many curtains there were or how long they were to be.
We need to be wary of the danger of supplying an over-mystified meaning into the text that the text never had. One principle that I think is valuable is that the text does not have a meaning that it never had. That is, if this was written for 14th century B.C. Israel, the meaning for them is instructive for the meaning for us.
We may look back and see how the overall structure was a shadow of what was to come in Jesus, but we do not need to look back and see the goat hair curtains as symbolic of the clothes of John the Baptist or any other oddity. Scripture is not really that complex, with the possible exception being prophecy related to the end of the world.
Even that is simpler than we account it: you cannot do anything about the end of the world except trust God to handle it. So, whether we see a pre-tribulation rapture, a post-tribulation rapture, or a pre-wrath/mid-tribulation rapture, what differences does that make? Either your trust is in God or it isn't. If all true believers persevere to the end, then you pre-trib folks will not fall away if it takes an extra 7 years—and any post-trib folks will be happy to leave early!
Back on track: be careful not to fish for meaning. We can see Jesus in the scope and sweep of Old Testament narrative, and truly every jot and tittle of the Hebrew text resounds with His glory. Yet that glory can come in a people willing to follow the plans that have a lopsided curtain count of 11. You do not have to make each curtain symbolic of a three-year block of the life of Christ.
Take the Word for what is there. There is more than enough if we would focus on the One who left it there for us.
Today's Nerd Note: I see one other theme here in the last 15 chapters of Exodus. It relates to authorship. One of the key questions of the last two centuries of Biblical studies has been the authorship and date of the whole Pentateuch, including a major effort to show that Genesis-Deuteronomy were constructed much later in the history of Israel than traditionally thought.
The idea presented is that these books were written by a people group with an identity as Israel to provide them some background on their identity. Those scholars will propose that some of it may be more the stuff of legend, like throwing quarters over the Potomac, rather than the stuff of history.
The details of Tabernacle construction, though, poke a logical hole in this theory for me. While some will have an explanation, it seems to me that a people living in an age of foundation-locked temples would hardly have bothered to create the elaborate descriptions of a tent to worship God.
An aspect of the argument for a more recent, more fabricated view of Exodus has the priests of Israel writing it to push the people to the God of their worship instead of the other gods of the area. Except all of those gods demanded big, fancy temples. How would concocting a God in a tent be persuasive?
Further, the long-range development of the history of Israel seems to leave them without the tent that was the Tabernacle. If you are going to concoct a story, why not use something you had around? Likewise for much of the holy furniture discussed.
In all, it supports an Exodus story that is at the least sourced deep in the antiquity of the Jewish people.