The covenant between Yahweh and Israel has been written down (Exodus 20-23) and enacted with blood (Exodus 24). Moses went back up on the mountain (Ex 24:18) to receive the next phase of instructions from the Creator of heaven and earth. A series of seven speeches will outline plans for a sanctuary-tent in which Yahweh will dwell among his people. With last week’s guidelines, we’re ready to dive in.
Observation of Exodus 25:1-40
Most repeated words: make (20 times), gold (17x), one (11), two (9), ark (8), branches (8), cubit (8), pure (8), rings (8)
- The clear focus of Yahweh’s speech is on what the people are to “make.”
- This first chapter describes a few items made primarily of gold.
The first paragraph introduces the construction project:
- Take a contribution from people with willing hearts – Ex 25:2
- List of materials to be contributed – Ex 25:3-7
- But what are all these materials for? A “sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst” (Ex 25:8)
- Deep concern that they follow the blueprint for both tabernacle and furniture – Ex 25:9
The second and third paragraphs describe the first furniture piece, the ark:
- The ark itself
- Though we’re probably stuck forever with the unfortunate word “ark,” this thing is nothing more than a wood box covered with a layer of gold – Ex 25:10-11
- The box has rings attached to its feet so they can carry it with poles – Ex 25:12-15
- The purpose of the box is to hold “the testimony” – all the stuff written in Ex 20-23 about the treaty between Yahweh and Israel
- The box’s lid
- Another whole paragraph is dedicated to the lid that covers the box
- The lid is called a “mercy seat” (ESV) or “atonement cover” (NIV), and its dimensions match the length and width of the box – Ex 25:17
- Twin statues of cherubim face each other, attached to the lid, overshadowing the lid with their wings – Ex 25:18-20
- Again, we’re told the purpose of the box: to hold the testimony – Ex 25:21
- But there’s another purpose when the lid is in place: from above the mercy seat, God will meet with them and speak his commandments – Ex 25:22
The last two paragraphs describe two more furniture pieces:
- The table
- Made of wood, covered in gold, slightly smaller than the box (but same height), with a rim and molding around it – Ex 25:23-25
- The table has rings attached to its legs so they can carry it with poles – Ex 25:26-28
- On the table go plates, dishes, flagons, bowls, and “regular” bread “of the Presence” – Ex 25:29-30
- The lampstand
- Pure gold (no wood), all of one piece – Ex 25:31
- This lampstand is an artificial almond tree, with stem, branches, calyxes, and flowers – Ex 25:32-36
- Note: This is not the traditional “menorah” we see in symbols and drawings, which won’t come along for a few more centuries. This lamp looks more like a tree.
- The purpose of the lampstand is to cast light on the space in front of it – Ex 25:37
- It has tongs, trays, and utensils, all made from pure gold according to the mountain-top blueprint – Ex 25:38-40
It’s worth also observing what’s NOT in this chapter:
- We know they’re building a tent (Ex 25:8-9), but we don’t yet know the floor plan. So we don’t know where these furniture pieces will go.
- We don’t know what cherubim look like. The passage assumes they knew.
- We don’t know who will use these things.
- We don’t know how these things will be used, other than:
- The box holds the treaty;
- Yahweh meets with them above the mercy seat that covers the law treaty;
- The table gets bread on it “regularly”; and
- The lamp casts light onto the space in front of it
Interpretation of Exodus 25
I already did much interpretation (especially the “what” questions) above under observation. So I’ll keep this section short. Some possible questions:
- Why does the tabernacle section begin with the list of materials?
- Why these materials?
- Why are the box, table, and lampstand the first items in the instructions?
My answers (numbers correspond to the questions):
- Perhaps this is self-evident, but isn’t the first step in a building project (besides generating the plan itself) to collect the materials?
- Perhaps, on the surface, these are simply what they had available from their spoiling of Egypt (Ex 12:35-36). But the list of materials will be repeated (Ex 35:5-9), over (Ex 35:22-29), and over (Ex 35:30-35), and over again (Ex 38:24-31). If we are not familiar with this list of items (gold, silver, bronze; blue, purple, and scarlet yarn; fine twisted linen, onyx stones, etc.), we might miss the many allusions to them in the rest of Scripture. For example, the lovers in Solomon’s Song describe one another in tabernacle-material imagery (Song 4:1-16, 5:10-16). The merchants weep over the destruction of “Babylon” using tabernacle-material imagery (Rev 18:11-13).
- At this point, I don’t know. But I’ll keep in mind this question of structure as I work through the tabernacle instructions and eventually pull it all together.
Train of thought:
- Gather the materials for a place where Yahweh can dwell with his people
- Begin by building a box for the treaty, a place of mercy for God to meet with you, a surface for regular bread, and an implement to cast light on the operation.
Main point: For God to dwell with his people, mercy must cover the law, bread must be provided, and light must shine.
Connection to Christ: Jesus is Immanuel, God with us (as we keep the tabernacle’s big picture in mind, this idea will come up a lot, though with many facets). He provides atonement (mercy to cover the law). He is our daily bread of life. He is the light of the world.
My Application of Exodus 25
I don’t know if James had the box of the covenant in mind when he wrote “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13), but the application connects. God spoke all 10 commandments, not just one or two (James 2:10-11). The law judges and condemns us when we break it (James 2:12), especially by showing favoritism based on appearances (James 2:8-9). So “judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy,”, but “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).
All these ideas are pictured in that box, housing the law treaty, but covered with a mercy seat where the people can meet with God. It’s possible to meet with God only if his mercy trumps the judgment of the law.
And if this is so in my relationship with God, so also in my relationships with others. James goes in this direction when he commands mercy toward people who are different, lowly, etc. I’m especially struck by this principle in my parenting. I respond to my children’s failures (especially when they reflect negatively on me) too often with quick judgment. But when I trust in Jesus as Immanuel (God with us), I will be much more prone to extend mercy so we can dwell together without hostility.
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