Exodus 38-40

Good morning! We close out the month of January today with the final three chapters of Exodus. Earlier we’ve read God’s instruction to Moses about each part of the tabernacle, then read about it being built. Here we have the actual setting up of the tabernacle, which is a great accomplishment for the Hebrew people and a “guarantee” of God’s presence among them for the decades of wilderness time still to come.

Yesterday, one of our readers helpfully pointed out that rather than just treat this as a “laundry list”, we might recognize and celebrate the fact that the Israelites are all working together here, not quarreling with God or Moses. That helps me find much more significance in this third-time reading through these details. There’s also a new and curious reference to “the women who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting” in 38:8. What was the service of these women? Other ancient shrines and temples had male and female prostitutes at the temple, but I don’t see any suggestion of that here. Is it possible that these women served in some sacramental or priestly role? It’s just a brief reference, but opens up possibilities of imagining a public role for women in ancient Israel.

The priestly vestments created in Exodus 39 sound absolutely lovely. It’s powerful imagery that the high priest bears the names of the tribes not just on the shoulders but also on the breastpiece. This gives witness to the symbolic responsibility of the High Priest (and the priesthood in general) to represent with utmost care the people before God, and God before the people. The Hebrews accomplish all that Moses and the crafters have asked of them, demonstrating their ability (at least sometimes) to be faithful and follow through with what God requests. I can almost see Moses’ pride in his people as he blesses them.

In chapter 40, the carefully constructed tabernacle is set up on the first day of the first month—a fully fresh start. The tabernacle images that readers posted on January 26th are very helpful in picturing what this looked like when it was finally complete. Note that everything set up is consecrated to be made holy, and the priests wash before they minister in the tabernacle (reminiscent of Muslims today who wash hands, feet and face before prayer). God arrives and inhabits the tabernacle as a cloud by day and fiery presence at night. For the rest of the Hebrews’ time in the wilderness, the cloud/fire was a daily direction for whether they were to stay or go. Wherever the cloud went they went, and so the whole people had visual confirmation that they were with God. Happy reading!

Read Exodus 38-40.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. Tomorrow’s passage is Leviticus 1-3. Thanks for reading!

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