Friday, May 18, 2012

Don't forget to turn on the lights: Exodus 27

Exodus continues with the instructions for the building of the Tabernacle and its related accoutrements in Exodus 27 (link). It's a bit dry, unless you are in the mood to construct an altar and need directions on how to do so.

One of the keys that is present here is that God leaves no detail out as He gives instructions for construction. Not only do we see a specific instruction on how the altar was to be made, but we also see that God commands buckets, basins, firepans, shovels, and all the other utensils necessary for the operation of an altar. The details are not lost on Him.

Additionally, one might note that this is a further evidence for the antiquity of this passage: why would a people living in the Greco-Roman world construct this type of passage? They would not need instructions to remember firepans—they would be used to having those. Moreover, in the time after exposure to all the great constructions of Babylon and Persia, it is unlikely that Israel would have constructed an altar merely of bronze.

Of application relevance within this passage, there are a pair of things that I think are worth noting today:

1. This is repetitious throughout these passages, but the idea here is mobility. Note the rings on the side of the altar that are for staves (Exodus 27:7) or its hollowness (Exodus 27:8) that would have made carrying this thing around easier.

We can make too much or too little out the idea of mobility. Some of us have moved a lot over our years. I find it easy to look at these passages and justify keeping a stockpile of boxes and storing U-Haul coupons. After all, the Tabernacle had tote rings on everything, did it not?

Yet the point here is not to be always ready to move. The point is that following God's directions results in being equipped to walk in obedience to what God commands. In this case, His commands equipped the Israelites with a mobile worship center so that they could obey Him, but it would also be acceptable for usage in a settled location.

Keep in mind, after all, that at least two centuries pass between the Exodus and Solomon's Temple. I'd say nearer to five centuries—well, 480 (1 Kings 6:1) years. For that time, the Israelites that remained faithful used what they had, the Tabernacle, to worship God. And it was good, because it was worship offered in faith.

So, willingness to go is crucial, but willingness to stay is too. Why? Because it was never about staying or going in the first place. It was about realizing that wherever you were, God was present. It was about obeying Him no matter what.

2. The second thing of note is the clear oil at the end of the passage. One of the commentaries I read to rev my brain up for this post pointed out that it was not uncommon to leave one lamp burning in a home until the last person had gone to bed in a home. Since the people had lights in their home and the Tabernacle was the symbolic home of God, it would be rude for Him not to have light, wouldn't it?

Not that He actually needs it, but there is a purpose in this. Note what the text says: the light is to stay burning all night long. Why?

Because God never goes to bed and goes to sleep. NEVER. It was symbolic for the people to realize that God was always watching over them, always aware.

I think there is the added benefit to show that the service of God was not to be undertaken in the dark. Now, I'm not speaking of persecuted believers and their need to preserve their lives by meeting at night and in seclusion.

I'm speaking of the need to avoid "secret" proceedings and hidden behaviors in the ministry of the Word. That is not to say that we broadcast everything—what people share with me about their lives stays between them and me. Rather, the habit of hiding decision making or plans or other actions from the rest of the congregation. In the Tabernacle, there was always light—Aaron and his sons could not go slinking around in the dark and their actions not be known.

We need to be the same way—especially my fellow pastor-teacher-shepherds. We work in the light, not the darkness, and should not be hiding things.

Today's nerd note: I have to be honest with you, it was a little challenging to find a nerd note for today. I have a couple of brief semi-nerdy observations for you:

1. The directions are given in cubits. Many modern Bible translations will either footnote a modern measure or use the modern measure in the text (like the New Living Translation at the link.) I find one thing difficult with that: we are not assured of the actual size of a cubit. Really. Most of us that study the Bible are comfortable with the idea that an average cubit was 18-inches. It's considered the length of the forearm and was typically 2 spans. You could travel 2000 cubits on a Sabbath.

Except if your forearm was longer, you could go farther. It's a relative measure rather than a standard measure. What seems typical is that one workman, probably the boss (Bezalel in this case,) would have been the forearm used for the project. This makes all of the measurements standard to each other and the project built in proper proportion. The cubit is known to range from 16.5 to 20.5 inches, and could have ranged further. So, there's a range here of size possibilities.

Typically, a translation will use the 18-inch standard, but that could be off by 2.5 inches. That gets to be a big deal the more cubits you've got. Or when you're looking at cubic size of something, like an Ark.

2. The use of clearly beaten olive oil would have helped reduce the smokiness of the Tabernacle. The clearer, the purer, and therefore the fewer byproducts of keeping the lights burning. Plus, being a smoke-free environment would have lowered the health care costs of priests and Levites. It's a win-win.

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Sermon Recap for June 9 2024

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