“Tell the people of Israel to take up a collection for me – accept a contribution from anyone who wholeheartedly wants to give” (Ex. 25:2).
The Torah portion of תְּרוּמָה/T’rumah, contribution, begins the intricate narrative focusing on the construction of the Tabernacle in the wilderness; instructions that will account for one-third (1/3rd) of the Book of Exodus itself. As Moses elaborates on the pattern revealed to him on Mt. Sinai (Ex. 25:9), ultimately hundreds of verses will describe its construction and purpose, a purpose that will serve Israel for nearly five hundred years.
It is easy to overlook, or even ignore, the complex details recorded to ensure that the Tabernacle is built to the exact specifications of the Lord. For something that long ago slipped into the history, do we really need to consider these details at all? While it is beyond the scope of this article to examine in detail the meaning of the elements of the Tabernacle, I just finished a several month series on this topic archived on the Messiah Congregation Facebook page (@Messiah3810), we do note its importance by simple comparison.
The Torah opens in Genesis 1 with the account of creation. In this chapter we find the beginning of all things: the heavens and the earth and all their array. This is described in thirty-four verses. By comparison, the Tabernacle and its ministry, inhabiting but the tiniest speck of creation, is detailed in fifty chapters. Why is the Tabernacle given such attention? Is it of greater importance than creation itself? Not greater importance, just a different importance.
Creation is a general revelation of the majesty, sovereignty and glory of the Lord, as we read in Psalm 19:1, “The heavens declare the glory of God, the dome of the sky speaks the work of his hands.” The Tabernacle is part of His special revelation to humanity, specifically covenant humanity. Its purpose is to change and repair the heart, allowing for reconciliation and peace in the human community living and working in His creation.
When considering the flow of the narrative from Exodus 24 to Exodus 25, something seems amiss. The rabbinic sages note that Exodus 25 is the cure sent before the illness of the Golden Calf in Exodus 32:1:
“When the people saw that Moses was taking a long time to come down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said to him, ‘Get busy; and make us gods to go ahead of us; because this Moses, the man that brought us up from the land of Egypt – we don’t know what has become of him.” Aaron then receives contributions of gold from people whose hearts were motivated to give to this cause: the cause to manufacture the Golden Calf.
Why place the cure before the illness? At times it is not necessarily what you are saying that has the greatest impact, but rather, the order in which you are saying it. For future generations of God’s covenant people, to read about the molding of the Golden Calf, and the plague that resulted, might have become an insurmountable stumbling block of fear in light of so great a sin. Yet, by placing the instructions for the Tabernacle, with its furnishings, offerings and sacrifices ministering reconciliation with the Lord before the record of the Golden Calf, it demonstrated that His forgiveness, grace and mercy is greater than our sin. It is an assurance of acceptance, when we make תשובה/t’shuvah, a return, to Him.
The sin of the Golden Calf began as an issue of covetousness, thus violating the tenth commandment. This sin led Israel to violate the second commandment, that of idolatry. In both cases we find a heart issue. The hearts of the covenant people desired a visible god to go before them, revealing that an idol had already crept into the “holy of holies” in their hearts, displacing the covenant Lord. To remedy this, atonement had to be made, and the hearts of the people had to be changed: the ministry of the Brazen Altar.
When building a house, the standard practice is to first build the foundation, the walls, the roof and the finish work, and then add the furnishings. As the Lord details the construction, He does not reveal the boards or coverings of the Tabernacle first, but what will be placed in the most sacred of locations: the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies. This is the place where the blood on יוֹם הַכִּפֻּרִים/Yom HaKippurim, the Day of Atonements, will be sprinkled, covering the broken tablets of the Law, the manna and the staff of Aaron, where the light of the Lord is the only light, and the two cherubim, those armed angels guarding the way into the Garden (Genesis 3:24), will be still in the presence of atonement, later bearing witness to the resurrection in the tomb of Messiah, and His ascension (Jn. 20:12; Acts 1:10).
The Tabernacle is built by contributions, תְּרוּמָה/T’rumah, from those whose hearts moved them to give (Ex. 25:1-2), just as the Golden Calf was created by the stirring of motivated hearts to contribute. While the Golden Calf led to exaltation, partying (Ex. 32:4-6), death and despair, the pattern of the Tabernacle leads to reconciliation by the substitutionary sacrifice of the innocent animal offered by those approaching the holy one of Israel with a broken and contrite heart, in a posture of repentance: brokenness leading to healing and joy.
The Tabernacle demonstrates to us that our first love must, in fact, be first. When the children of Israel wholeheartedly contributed of their treasure to the construction of the Tabernacle, they were placing their treasure where their hearts desired to be – and in that place the Lord would “dwell among them” (Ex. 25:8). Messiah said, “Do not store up for yourselves wealth here on earth, where moths and rust destroy, and burglars break in and steal. Instead, store up for yourselves wealth in heaven, where neither moth nor rest destroys, and burglars do not break in or steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt 6:19-21).
Israel demonstrates for us that any attempt to replace the covenant Lord with something of our own creation will only end in failure and heartache.
How can we determine where our treasure is? Where our first love is?
We must ask ourselves this question, “To what do we flee when things go wrong?” Do we flee to the Lord? Or do we flee from Him?
The contribution building the Tabernacle reminds us that our treasure is, and is with the Lord: Who redeems us, forgives us, provides for us, and Who mercifully waited for us even while we are yet far off, “For while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Ro. 5:8).
Let us flee to the risen Messiah, Yeshua/Jesus, Who gave His life for us, even with the depth of sin that we had known: His blood is enough; His grace is enough; He is enough. And now, He has built His Tabernacle in us, and His contribution paid it all.
Why all the detail about the Tabernacle? Why chapters and chapters about the work of Christ? The Father wants us to know the depth, the breadth and height of His grace, love, and mercy when we come before Him in need.
Be well. Shalom.