Thursday, October 31, 2013
In Search Of Truth, Exodus 26:1-37
When we look for encouraging words, or verses from the Bible that tell us about who God is, we don't turn to Exodus 26 as our first stop. It reads like an instruction manual, and that's a pretty fair description. This is a blueprint for the Tabernacle in grammatical form. And despite the dry nature of the material, it does indicate some truths about God that we can be grateful for.
The tabernacle was about 15ft x 45ft, standing about 15ft high. The frame was made of hard acacia wood, which insects avoided.
The walls and ceiling of the tabernacle were made up of four layers of curtains. The innermost layer was made of fine linens, dyed with colors that were associated with royalty. The cherubim designs included on the curtains are also similar to the sphinx designs found on ancient Egyptian thrones. Yahweh was not just the God of Israel, he was the king as well, which was communicated by this design. He ruled both the hearts and day to day lives of Israel. And the tabernacle was his symbolic throne room.
As the structural description continues through verse 14 we see a total of four layers that make up the walls and ceiling of the tabernacle. The first, as mentioned, serves an aesthetic and symbolic purpose, while the remaining layers are increasingly practical, progressing through goat-hair curtains, a ram-skin covering and finally a sea cow hide covering. Combined, these layers created a sealed environment, completely protected from the outdoor elements. This level of protection was practical, but also symbolic. The tabernacle was the symbolic dwelling place of God. But because of the sin of humans it was appropriate for there to be a strong separation between God and the mundane world.
We see further indications of royalty and holiness in the design of a special curtain made to separate two sections inside the tabernacle. The larger of the two sections was called The Holy Place, and contained the table and "bread of the Presence" as well as the golden lampstand. The smaller section, behind the ornate veil created to divide the two, was The Most Holy Place, which contained the ark of the covenant and the atonement cover. The High Priest, and only the High Priest, entered this place only one time each year to make atonement for the people of Israel, in part by sprinkling the blood of sacrifices on the atonement cover. (See Leviticus 16)
It seems Yahweh wanted to make it very clear that human sin causes a severe separation to exist in our relationship with him. He wants us to be near him, but refuses to compromise his holiness. A couple of priests learned this the hard way and were killed by Yahweh for entering The Most Holy Place without the consideration due a holy God. (Leviticus 10:1-2) There is even an unconfirmed tradition that for many years the High Priests of the temple (which was modeled after the tabernacle and served essentially the same purpose) would wear bells and a rope around their waste when they went into the Most Holy Place each year. This was supposedly done so that if they were struck down for not approaching Yahweh appropriately, the other priests would hear the bells as they fell down and would then pull their body out using the attached rope.
Yahweh is so amazing, so wonderful, so outside-the-box incredible that none of us deserve to spend time with him. None of us deserve to have any kind of friendship with him. In fact we don't even deserve the honor of bowing in his presence. And if we have trouble with that idea, it's because our imagination is too small and so is our view of God. Either way, that's the reality.
God wants to have a relationship with us, but he can't remain a perfect being and simply ignore our selfishness. The sacrificial system acknowledged this problem. Because of sin, someone or something had to be punished. Yahweh allowed certain animals to take our place for a time, but they weren't an actual solution. Otherwise the sacrifices wouldn't have needed to be repeated year after year.
God loves us, and doesn't want us to have to be punished for our sin. But he's perfect and just, so evil must be punished. God sits between the proverbial rock and hard place. Which is why something radical had to occur in order for any kind of relationship between us and God to be possible.
It's at this point that a detail accompanying the death of Jesus becomes very interesting.
(Mark 15:37-38, ESV) And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.
This specifically referred to the curtain which shielded The Most Holy Place. The author of Hebrews applies the significance of this event to our relationship with Yahweh.
(Hebrews 10:19-22, ESV) Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
Jesus assumed the responsibility of High Priest, chief mediator, between humanity and God. He did this, once for all, by his death on the cross, which provided sacrificial blood worth infinitely more than the blood of animals offered in the past.
(Hebrews 4:15-16, ESV) For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
God has not become any less holy because of the death of Christ. But we who place our trust in the rescue that Christ provides are transformed and given a new nature, whether we feel a daily awareness of it or not, so that we can worship the God of the universe and also call him our friend.