The Torah portion this week (Ki Tisa, Exodus 30:11 – 34:35) continues with some discussion of the Tabernacle (Mishkan) and more. The most important verse for understanding Shabbat is in here (Exod 31:13). Lots of good stuff, including the Golden Calf narrative and Moses in close contact with the Kavod (Glory). It’s not fair for one parashah to have so much important material (especially when some others are a bit dry).
One observation that is timely on this day of Shushan Purim: there is a connection between this parashah and Purim. What is it, you may ask? According to the Mishnah, the temple tax (30:11-16) was due on the first of Adar. Today coins are given for the poor on the day before Purim as a remembrance of this ancient custom.
I thought I’d share an excerpt from my book A New Look at the Old Testament about the meaning of the Mishkan vessels, furniture, and furnishings. This part of the chapter is me trying to offer a correction to the well-meaning but misguided allegorical interpretations often suggested in Christian sermons and books.
**HINT: The book is available on amazon. And I’d so love it if you also looked at my Paul book.
The most important issues in the Tabernacle, understood within the Hebrew Bible and its culture, are:
–The dwelling of God.
–Holiness, purity, and sacrifice.
–Drawing near to God.
All of these themes come from the text itself, not human imagination, and relate to the culture of Israel and the Ancient Near East.
The clear message of the tabernacle is that God cannot simply be approached on human terms. God’s holiness is fatal to sinful men. His presence dwells within an inner chamber of the tabernacle, approachable only once a year by the High Priest with blood and incense. The closer you move to the inner chamber where God’s presence dwells, the fewer people who can enter:
• In front of the courtyard … Anyone can come near.
• Inside the courtyard … Only those bringing offerings or doing the priestly work may enter.
• Inside the tent … Only the priests doing the work of the tabernacle may enter.
• Inside the Holy of Holies … No one may enter.
This message of the tabernacle does relate to Messiah. Messiah’s death and resurrection are the means which make it possible for man to dwell with God. The idea that man is not capable of being in God’s direct presence without purification flows from the Torah into New Testament teaching.
The concepts of purity abound in the tabernacle. Priests must wash before entering the tent. Sacrificial blood must be dashed against the altar and sometimes in the tent and once a year in the Holy of Holies. The purity laws of Israel have to do with God’s holiness. He is separate from sin and death (all purity laws relate to death or the loss of life). He is the God of righteousness and life.
So Messiah can be understood in this way. His death is a purification, not of the altar or the sanctuary as in Leviticus, but of the follower of God, of Israel, of the nations. Every person is in need of a personal purification.
God’s dwelling with his people is central to the tabernacle. The whole land of Israel, with the tabernacle as the spiritual center, is holy. God dwells in the tabernacle so that the people may sense their nearness to him. Yet the sins and impurities of the people pollute the tabernacle and must be continually cleansed with sacrifices. All that can be accomplished through this system is the people being able to draw near to God hidden in a tent.
This relates to Messiah’s work as well, for the idea must occur that if we are to live with God in the Age to Come, something better than the tabernacle must come. Instead of God dwelling in a tent, hidden from direct contact, there must be some way for us to directly live with him. This is where Messiah’s redemption is seen to be superior and the next step from the work of the tabernacle.
Finally, the tabernacle is about humankind drawing near to God. God made us in his image and to have relationship with him. The tabernacle is the place to which the Israelites came for three annual festivals (Passover, Shavuot (Weeks), and Sukkot (Tabernacles)) to worship before God and enjoy his provision in a great feast.
This too is made complete in Messiah, who brings us near to God. Through him, we will worship God in the Age to Come directly and without separation.