Thursday, July 12, 2012

Load it up: Exodus37

The construction narrative continues in Exodus 37 (link) as we see Bezalel and Oholiab working through the Tabernacle instructions. They construct in this passage: the Ark of the Covenant; the table for showbread; utensils for it; a lampstand; the altar; the anointing oil and the incense. While the text only names Bezalel in the passage, it is likely that he made these items in the same sense that a general contractor builds a house: who is in charge? Bezalel is the general contractor on this project, it appears.

These passages are ripe, as I have said before, for “over-allegorization” where we try and make the number of loops or the number of inches in a cubit relevant to our life or emblematic for Christ. At the risk of getting too far down that path, I want to highlight the key repeating features of all of these items:

1. Gold. There is no way to read this passage without seeing that a large amount of gold goes into this construction project. Gold is one of the most well-known precious metals on earth. There are very few, if any cultures, that acknowledge material wealth that do not find gold valuable. It stays shiny, does not tarnish, and there is a clearly limited supply of it on this planet.

It is one of the hard currencies used by multiple nations for international exchange. It’s recommended by conspiracy nuts and pessimists in preparation for the coming breakdown of society. Personally I recommend brass and lead over gold for that possibility, but that’s another post.

The thing about using gold is that there’s no new gold to be had. You can find more, hopefully, but it’s not something you can manufacture. By using gold in the Tabernacle, it is removed from being used by the people, ever. There is a sense of permanent sacrifice involved.

2. The rings for the poles. It’s been said often that one of the key features of the Tabernacle is mobility. While the people are headed toward the land which God has promised them, He commands His sanctuary as a mobile dwelling. Not only is it a tent, but everything big has carry poles. When you get into duties of the Levites, you find that there are people whose responsibility it is to arrange items on the table then cover the table, so that it can be carried. The whole thing is mobile.

There’s no reason for it to be mobile. No logical reason, at least. If you look at what the Israelites are expecting at this stage of Exodus, they do not expect to be mobile for long. They are headed for the Promised Land and planning to conquer it and occupy it quickly. Not as the 99% or the 1% but as the 100%, with no Canaanites left behind when this goes down.

Yet this reinforces one of the concepts that Scripture teaches about God: He knows what we do not know. For God, the future is as clear as the present and the past. He is not going to be surprised a little further down the road when the people of Israel waffle about His provision and refuse to take the Promised Land. He is never, actually, surprised by anything.

His grace and provision drifts into places that we cannot imagine. Here we see God provide even before the sins of the people for them to have the visible evidence of His presence throughout the consequences of their sin.

Now, what do we do with this information?

With the first: Our worship ought to be golden. While I believe that as a Christian every aspect of my life belongs to God, there are certain things that are more valuable than others. Those are the things of which I have a limited supply, of which I can make no more than I already have. For example, I have 168 hours in a week. I cannot make more hours. While I believe that my actions affect the days of my life, I also know that the terminal point of my life is clearly defined by the sovereignty of God.

In that respect, how I spent my hours and days is more important than how I spend my money. More money can usually be made---there are exceptions, but generally, material can be added up and added in as time goes by. More hours cannot be created. Whether or not I spend that time serving God with it is what matters most.

Now, in American Christianity we tend to conflate worship with a specific gathering at church. They are not the same thing. If we do not worship with the rest of our hours, the hour at a designated place and time will not be worship either.

With the second: Our commitment to God includes a recognition that He knows what we do not. That’s an important starting point. There are some attempts in theology that attempt to protect the free will of man by making God not aware of the future or that God simply knows all possible futures and is waiting to see which ones we choose. This view, to my reading, violates the general sweep of Scripture and this passage specifically.

We walk as disciples of Christ with this knowledge and awareness. We need to grasp that various times of preparation in our life are brought by God because of the events He knows will happen. That does not mean we always embrace those moments, but we do take the opportunities for growth as they arise. Even when we do not know what they are for…

Today’s Nerd Note: Yikes. It’s hard to isolate something here. Well, isolate and be brief in discussing. What remains fascinating to me is this question: what happened to all of these implements over the course of history? There is no definite record of their existence past the fall of the Temple in 587-586 BC, and it’s possible that they were not present even at that time. At the construction of the Temple, it seems possible that new implements would have been made.

So, where are these? These could be hidden somewhere, they could be melted, there is just no clear answer…but I remain curious.

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