These two parashot are read together this week, because there are more portions in total than can be read in a normal-length year. It makes sense to read these two together, because together they tell the full story of how the Tabernacle – God’s sacred tent in the wilderness – was finally completed. Having come down again from Mount Sinai with the new stone tablets, Moses passed on God’s instructions to invite contributions of materials and skills from all the people, and to appoint Bezalel and Oholiab as the overseers of the whole construction project. They then built the fixtures and furnishings of the Tabernacle precisely as God had told Moses in the blueprints revealed earlier in Exodus 25–31. When they had finished everything, Moses checked it carefully, and then on the first day of Israel’s second year in the wilderness, he set up the whole Tabernacle personally. When it was all finished, God Himself filled the ‘tent of meeting’ with the cloud of His glory, and this became the permanent sign of His presence with His people.
It can sometimes be difficult for us to read through such long and detailed descriptions in the Bible, especially when they are just repeating earlier instructions. The same is true of the detailed instructions about sacrifices or purification rituals in Leviticus. In these sorts of chapters, one of the best ways of understanding what the author is trying to say, is to compare the two similar accounts and see how they differ from each other. Those differences are likely to be significant. In oral cultures, hearing these chapters being read out regularly would be like a child who hears a favourite bed-time story, and can always recognise if you read even one sentence differently. You can compare these chapters with chapters 25–31 in your own time, to see what details change.
However, the main point here is that nothing has changed. It is as if the reader is allowed to see through Moses’ eyes, checking with him to see if every detail of the Tabernacle has been made with the right materials and measurements and numbers. If anything was wrong, Moses would find it. After all, God had given a very detailed plan to Moses, so He would certainly know if it had not been followed properly. When Moses confirmed that everything was made correctly, he blessed the workers (39:43). In the same way, after Moses had set up the whole Tabernacle, God blessed the whole nation of Israel by filling the Tabernacle with His own glory, in full view of everyone (40:34-38).
This is a pattern for how Jesus also was fully obedient in everything God had given Him to do. Every biblical prophecy that referred to His first coming, He fulfilled perfectly, even though some of these required Him to be abused and tortured and killed. When everything had been completed perfectly, Jesus declared on the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30), just before He died. The bodily temple of God’s presence was torn down, but in response to Jesus’ full obedience, God rebuilt it again just three days later by raising Jesus from the dead (John 2:19-22), and then after exalting Him to heaven God poured out the Holy Spirit over Him at Pentecost (Psalm 45:1-7; Psalm 133; John 14:15-31). In the same way, when the Church (made up of Israel and all nations) has been fully obedient to God’s commands, particularly to take the good news to every people group on earth, then God will bless us by filling us as His temple with His glory (Haggai 2:5-9; Zechariah 2:10-12).
Perhaps the most surprising thing in this week’s parashot, though, is the way it starts. God wanted Israel to build for Him a beautiful tent in which His presence could be with His people. This was top priority for Moses and for the whole nation. Everyone was to be involved, whether in bringing precious materials or in doing the work of weaving and carving and embroidering and mixing and constructing. Yet the first command that Moses passes on from God is that every seventh day must be set apart as holy, “a sabbath of complete rest to the Lord” (35:2-3). Even when the work was the most sacred and God-honouring work that could be imagined, God still commanded His people to rest every seventh day. God was more interested in His people enjoying rest with Him, than in working to please Him (just like Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42). We have much to do to obey God and prepare for the building of His kingdom on earth. But nothing is more important than taking a break from work just to be with God. If you don’t already rest one day in seven, maybe that is a good place to begin – the first and greatest instruction when building for God’s glory.
The European Coalition for Israel is a unique grassroots movement, which is seeking to promote better relations between Europe and Israel through advocacy and education. More information: www.ec4i.org