Though Yahweh’s people don’t deserve his presence, he has handed them more of himself. How will this fact affect their covenant relationship? What will happen to all the blueprints for the tabernacle? We’ve decided not to freak out over the massive repetition of tabernacle details. So how do we understand these closing chapters of Exodus? I will focus on the new material.
Observation of Exodus 35-39
Ten most repeated words: made (81 times), gold (48x), all (46), two (36), base (30), cubits (28), Lord (28), one (26), work (26), frame (25)
- clearly, this section is about gathering all the materials and constructing the tabernacle
- I’ll mention one other prominent repeated word, though it’s not in the top 10: commanded (19 times). It occurs in both the first and last verses of this section, as well as at key points throughout.
The narrative picks up exactly where Yahweh’s instructions had left off: with the weekly cycle of 6 working days followed by one Sabbath day (Ex 35:1-3, compare with Ex 31:12-17).
- Moses’ words in Ex 35:2 are almost an exact repetition of Yahweh’s words in Ex 31:15, even standing by the death penalty for disobedience.
- But Moses adds a new instruction: kindle no fire in your dwellings on the Sabbath (Ex 35:3).
Moses then moves to the next “commandment” of Yahweh: to take a contribution for the tabernacle’s materials (Ex 35:4-9).
- Not just anyone is to give. The focus is on “whoever is of a generous heart” (Ex 35:5).
Then he addresses the “skillful craftsmen”: come and make all that Yahweh has commanded (Ex 35:10-19).
- Moses lists all the parts and pieces of the tabernacle to be built.
- The pieces are listed here in the same order their construction is narrated in Ex 36:8-39:23. See my outline.
- The only exceptions are the inside veil and the outside entrance curtain for the tabernacle. They are woven along with the tent curtains in Ex 36, but this list puts them in more logical places (veil after ark; entrance screen after remaining inside furniture—Ex 35:12, 15).
- This makes this inventory list a table of contents for the next few chapters.
Next, we see the people going crazy to contribute the requested materials (Ex 35:20-29).
- This long paragraph once again lists all the materials by name.
- The paragraph begins by mentioning “everyone whose heart stirred him, and everyone whose spirit moved him” (Ex 35:21).
- The paragraph tells of both men and women (Ex 35:22, 29).
- Everyone, who could contribute, did (Ex 35:24).
- Women used their hands to create the right cloth (Ex 35:25-26).
- The leaders also brought precious materials (Ex 35:27-28).
- The paragraph closes with a comprehensive mention of “all the men and women, the people of Israel, whose heart moved them…brought it” (Ex 35:29).
- And it was all for “the work that Yahweh had commanded by Moses to be done” (Ex 35:29).
Moses then appoints Bezalel and Oholiab to the primary work of craftsmanship (Ex 35:30-36:1), just as Yahweh had said in his sixth speech (Ex 31:1-11).
The craftsmen begin their work by receiving and inventorying the people’s contributions (Ex 36:2-7).
- The craftsmen get so overwhelmed by the daily contributions (Ex 36:3) that they must leave their work (Ex 36:4) and appeal to Moses regarding the surplus (Ex 36:5).
- Moses must “command” and “restrain” the people from bringing more (Ex 36:6).
- Because, in case you didn’t get it, “the material they had was sufficient…and more” (Ex 36:7).
The craftsmen craft everything, in the order listed in Ex 35:10-19, exactly as Yahweh had commanded in Ex 25-31 (Ex 36:8-39:31).
- The only significant interruption to the narrative (i.e. the only main thing that is not a repetition from Ex 25-31) is the inventory of resources used in Ex 38:24-31.
- But there is also a not-so-subtle insertion into the narration of the crafting of the priests’ garments in chapter 39.
- “As Yahweh had commanded Moses,” “as Yahweh had commanded Moses,” “as Yahweh had commanded Moses”…seven times (Ex 39:1, 5, 7, 21, 26, 29, and 31).
Finally, the section ends with yet one more inventory of tabernacle pieces (Ex 39:32-43).
- The work was finished (Ex 39:32).
- The people did, once more, “according to all that Yahweh had commanded Moses” (Ex 39:32).
- The list occurs in the same order as the list in Ex 35:10-19, which is also the same order of narration in Ex 38:8-39:32.
- According to all that Yahweh had commanded Moses, so the people did (Ex 39:42).
- Moses saw the work; behold they had done it (Ex 39:43).
- As Yahweh had commanded, so had they done it (Ex 39:43).
- Then Moses blessed them (Ex 39:43).
- Moses issues Yahweh’s commands (Ex 35:1-19)
- Work and rest (Ex 35:1-3)
- Contribute (Ex 35:4-9)
- Craft (Ex 35:10-19)
- First inventory (Ex 35:11-19)
- The people obey, in every particular, and more (Ex 35:20-39:31)
- They get to work (Ex 35:20-21)
- They contribute (Ex 35:21-29)
- The craftsmen begin (Ex 35:30-36:1)
- The craftsmen have to restrain the people from contributing further (Ex 36:2-7)
- The craftsmen build, according to the inventory list (Ex 36:8-39:31)
- Evaluation of their efforts (Ex 39:32-43)
- Finished work, according to Yahweh’s command (Ex 39:32)
- Closing inventory (Ex 39:33-41)
- Moses sees the work and blesses the people (Ex 39:42-43)
Interpretation of Exodus 35-39
Some possible questions:
- Why does the narrative of Ex 35:1-3 pick up exactly where the instructions of Ex 31:12-17 left off?
- Why does Moses add the new instruction not to kindle fires in their personal dwellings on the Sabbath?
- Why is Moses concerned that contributions come only from those who are of a generous heart (Ex 35:5)?
- Why does the work (Ex 36:8-39:31) follow the same order as the inventories (Ex 35:11-19, 39:33-41)?
- What is the point of the closing paragraph (Ex 39:32-43)?
My answers (numbers correspond to the questions):
- It is as though the events of Ex 32-34 didn’t even happen. Everything proceeds as it ought to have, as though they never turned aside to worship the golden calf. Yahweh clearly remembers their sins no more.
- The tabernacle instructions began with God’s intent to dwell with his people (Ex 25:8, 29:45-46). There is no such statement of intent here. Instead, we’re reminded that each Israelite family has its own dwelling. And the Sabbath day is a reminder of God’s dwelling place with his people, such that there must be no fires in their dwellings to compete with the fire in his dwelling. No wonder the next recorded sin involves the bringing of “strange fire” to Yahweh’s dwelling, in competition with Yahweh’s own fire (Lev 9:23-10:3).
- God doesn’t just want their stuff; he wants their hearts. This is the very problem he sought to address in Ex 32-34 (see Ex 32:8). It’s no coincidence that the first item on every list of resources is gold (Ex 35:5, 38:24). God doesn’t really need their gold (which they could use to fashion a calf); he wants their hearts.
- With the triple repetition (first inventory list, narrative of crafting items in same order, closing inventory list), the narrator shows the perfect obedience to all that Yahweh has commanded. Combine this with the sevenfold insertion in chapter 39: “as Yahweh commanded Moses.” Combine this also with the near-exact repetition of Ex 36:8-39:31 with Ex 25:1-31:18. Combine this as well with the over-the-top statements in the concluding paragraph (Ex 39:32, 42-43). Put all this together, and we see an unblinking focus on the perfect and complete obedience of these remade, Spirit-filled people, to all that Yahweh has commanded them.
- In addition to giving a place for clear statements of the people’s obedience (Ex 39:32, 42-43), the closing paragraph also completes the links we saw between the crafting of the tabernacle and the creation of the world. But with a major progression. In Genesis 1 and 2, God is the one who “sees” the completed work of creation and blesses his subordinates (Gen 1:31, 1:28). But now, it is Moses who stands in that place of seeing, evaluating, and blessing (Ex 39:43).What a glorious elevation of God’s people!
Train of thought:
- Yahweh commands.
- The people obey (to the extreme).
- It is good. It is all good.
Main point: When God empowers his people with the glory of his grace and truth, his redeemed, new covenant people are able to do everything just as he commands.
Connection to Christ: Of course, these people don’t last long. Their leaders offer strange fire. They doubt God’s promises. They repudiate his commands. They hope in their tabernacle instead of in their God. Their hearts move far from him. They fall in the wilderness.
- They (we) need God to take on flesh and dwell among them. He is filled with the Spirit (Luke 4:16-21). He can build his temple (John 2:19, Eph 2:19-22). He obeys everything the Father gives him to do (John 5:19-20, 30; Matt 5:17-20). Through his death and resurrection, he can now grant to his new covenant people all things that pertain to life and godliness, so they may partake in his divine nature (2 Peter 1:3-11).
My Application of Exodus 35-39
In Christ, I have everything I need to obey what God has commanded. My obedience does not earn his favor, but it flows from his favor. My obedience enables me to experience a deeper communion and intimacy with him (James 4:7-10). This is worth far more to me than whatever reward my disobedience deceptively promises.
No excuse for disobedience will ever carry weight. But it’s who I am. But she hurt me first. But the situation was out of control. But you would have done the same thing in my place. But nobody is perfect. Blah, blah, blah (Rom 6:12, 17-18).
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