“These are the appointed things for the dwelling place, the dwelling place of the testimony, as they were numbered according to the command of Moses…” (Ex.38:21)
The finishing of the work of building the Tabernacle is summarized by Moses beginning with this statement, and in his subsequent enumerating of the materials used in its building. It is called a reckoning, and represents a glorious moment in which the people pass from atonement to restoration.
The sages teach that the completion of the work, along with the voluntary contributions of the people towards it, resulting in a functioning dwelling place for the Divine Presence in the midst of the people, is a form of moral rehabilitation.
This leads us to consider an aspect of the kingdom of God that is usually missing from most presentations of it. Commonly, when Christian preachers or commentators evaluate the Levitical worship system, the focus of attention is upon the act of atonement for sin. Since we know that the Messiah provides atonement for our souls, we ignore the other aspects of the worship system as extraneous detail, and therefore not terribly relevant to the life of a disciple.
In truth, the Temple and the worship system attendant to it have more to do with restoration than with atonement.
There is a beautiful connection in rabbinic legend about this passage, which I believe has a meaningful parallel to a disciple of the Master.
As Rabbi Elie Munk explains in his commentary:
“The Zohar…makes a connection between the word פקודי, accountings, and פקד פקדתי, I have indeed taken account of you (Ex.3:16), a phrase which symbolized God’s imminent intervention at the start of Moses’s mission….Now, at the conclusion of Exodus, the Torah proclaims how this promise was fulfilled through the building of the Mishkan. This is פקודי המשכן משכן העדת, the visit of the Tabernacle, the Tabernacle of the Testimony (of God’s love)…a visit which came about according to the words of Moses. The word משכן, derived from משף, to draw near, implies that Moses was able to draw the Shekhinah, the Divine Presence, closer and insure it’s residence among the children of Israel.” (Munk, The Call of the Torah, Shemos, pg.530)
The messianic parallels are immediately apparent, thanks to the elucidation provided by the Zohar. The atonement (the forgiveness of the sin of the Golden Calf) was achieved through the intercession of God’s Agent of redemption.
“But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near…” (Eph.2:13)
Now, the people, having been cleansed through the unmerited chesed (kindness) of God, must participate in the process of restoration into right relationship with HaShem through the cost of the building of the Mishkan. In allegorical terms (the way the apostles present the matter), this means discipleship.
While our status is changed from condemned to forgiven through grace, our state of being must be restored through the cost of sanctification and the works of faith. Only then, as we willingly take on the yoke of the Master, are we brought near to God.
The Temple, in Jewish thought, is a pledge, or token, of God’s relationship with His people. Therefore, when the Temple is destroyed (which has happened twice), it represents exile, but not the destruction of the people. Rashi tells us that God destroyed the Temple as a pledge of debt for the people’s sin, so that they themselves would be preserved for a future restoration.
Perhaps this idea was also in the mind of the apostle Paul as he describes the state of those who have been set apart through Christ, yet fail to sanctify their personal dwelling. Paul frequently uses Temple terminology to explain the status of the believer.
“…each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it…and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. Do you not know that you are a sanctuary of God and that the spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Cor.3:13-15)
Paul, seemingly at the same time, tells us that if we destroy our “sanctuary” that God will destroy us (suggesting the loss of place in the kingdom), but also that those who fail to sanctify themselves will be saved as though through fire (preserving one’s place) yet will suffer loss. A contradiction? Not when one considers Jewish thought regarding the sanctity and place of the Temple among the people.
The Temple represents the place where God meets with His people. the Tabernacle is the Dwelling Place of His Spirit.
“And the word became flesh and tabernacled among us…” (Jn.1:14)
In Christian tradition, theologians and pastors alike point to the destruction of the Second Temple as proof that the “old” system of atonement and worship has been done away with to make room for the “new”. However, if this were true, then how do these same people explain the destruction of Solomon’s Temple? After all, the Messiah did not come before this event. Further, the prophets declare that the Temple will again be rebuilt after the Messiah comes. So, clearly, it is a mistake of exegesis to teach that the destruction of the Temple represents the abolishment of the Old Covenant.
Rather, it appears that the apostolic testimony affirms the traditional Jewish testimony on the matter, that the Temple can be taken in pledge on behalf of the people, for their protection and preservation, even while hope burns alive for its restoration. The Temple’s destruction is not, in fact, a sign of the religion of the Jewish people transitioning into a “new way” called Christianity, but actually represents God’s care and preservation of the same, in spite of exile and correction.
In the same way, Christ, as the tabernacle which dwelt among us, is taken in pledge for our future redemption.
“…We also ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for the adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.” (Rom.8:23)
This is how, even though we may physically perish, we don’t really perish ultimately when we are in Messiah, since we have a pledge of redemption. Paul affirms for us in beautiful and well-known fashion that we are assured of this atonement as long as we are named in Christ,
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom.8:38-39)
This is nothing new to the average Christian, and is also a very well-known idea within Judaism (the concept of grace from God and assurance which transcends circumstance or worldly status).
But this leaves the other part of Paul’s teaching to wrestle with; the part of suffering loss. Why does Paul warn us about this? Well, the Master does as well, and it relates to our parsha in Exodus, just as the believer relates to the work of the Temple.
The reckoning of the materials which the people brought forth voluntarily towards the building of the Mishkan, in addition to the half-shekel which is demanded of all, represents the part the people play in the relationship that God establishes with His people. This because, while the promise of future relationship and restoration is always present for those who place their hope and trust in God’s deliverance, the loss of the Dwelling Presence through the destruction of the tabernacle represents a breach of fellowship, and the onset of exile.
The presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer is spoken of by the Lord as a comfort. It gives confidence and consolation to a person, as well as empowerment, to persevere in the face of trial and circumstance. This infers the presence of struggle, pain, and hardship, and the need for such comfort and support.
This is just as the Jewish people have treated the absence of the Temple from their national reality. They have preserved it by turning inward, and establishing liturgy and prayers and teachings which establish the Divine Presence in the daily worship and reverence of the devout, even though the actual Temple is not available.
It is the future hope of restoration, which is promised in the Bible, which sustains, just as Paul exhorts his congregations, using the Temple as metaphor, to do the same.
The Temple is built at the cost of the people’s voluntary offering of their strength, which is interpreted in Jewish thought to be our money, our wealth.
“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your wealth (might).” (Deut.6:5)
Paul, in his warning about being “saved as though through fire”, is therefore offerning the same exhortation which the Master gives us in the gospels,
“For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.'” (Lk.14:28-29)
The fact that Moses ordered the counting and recording of the funds used for the building as well as the funds left over, not only establishes his innocence regarding the materials and their stewardship, it also gives testimony that he has been faithful regarding the stewardship of the process of restoration of the people. We see an echo of this idea as Yeshua comes to end of his earthly ministry.
“I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to me, and they have kept your word.” (Jn.17:6)
But, to our point here, the reckoning also shows us that works of righteousness, based on belief and repentance, are required to reestablish the broken fellowship between God and His people. Yeshua came to reconcile us to the Father (2 Cor.5:18), which means not only to provide atonement for sin, but to restore relationship. But the restoration of relationship requires the cooperation of man.
There is a poisonous strain of thought running through the evangelical world, which is telling people that repentance is nothing more than “changing one’s mind”. It seems based upon a myopic reading of the Greek. But this is not biblical repentance. Yes, changing our minds about God is important, but what’s more important is putting action behind our conviction. Actually turning and coming near in humility with enthusiastic obedience.
The people sinned greatly by using the gold from Egypt to build a god of their own making, in the absence of Moses. God forgives the people without any help from the people themselves, due to the intercession of Moses, but the restoration of relationship is accomplished through the cooperative effort of the people to take what was once used for sin, and to bring it forth and lay it down before their God, so that a Holy Dwelling may be built before Him, that He may dwell in their midst.
In like manner, a man or woman who comes to faith in Christ has “changed their mind” about him, but there is more to be done to reconcile them to God: They must lay down the gold of their idols and bring forth fruits of righteousness. God has ordained that when this is done, His Divine Presence floods them with His light and love and the warmth of His Spirit.
“Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” (Js.1:21-22)