Why does God seem to care so much about the furniture within the tabernacle? The instructions for the tabernacle furniture are about far more than aesthetics. They were means of dealing with Israel’s moral brokenness, they served as reminders of Eden, and they were designed to form Israel into a people of perpetual surrender. In this episode, join Tim and Jon as they continue to trace the theme of the temple in the third movement of Exodus.
This altar and its sacrifices are filled with language from both Passover and from the story of Isaac on Mount Moriah. It’s an act of perpetual surrender before Yahweh, and when Yahweh’s people surrender in asking for forgiveness, he will happily release from the source of life blessing toward his people.
In part one (00:00-16:45), Tim and Jon recap our last episode, where we talked about the significance of the tabernacle as a symbol of eternal life.
God is the eternal, unconditional source of all life. The story of the Bible is all about God creating humans and sharing his own life with them. As Yahweh sustains human life, they sustain his image on the earth because he made humans to be his image bearers. When humans forfeit God’s blessing and presence in the garden of Eden, God chooses the nation of Israel to bring his Eden blessings to the rest of creation again. The tabernacle is a micro-Eden, where he dwells with his people again. In the tabernacle, the God who is present in all of time and space limits himself to one physical space in which he dwells with humanity.
In this sense, we can experience eternal life in our present reality. As our lives are united to Jesus’ own, we too become temples where heaven and earth are one. But there’s more to come: the resurrected Jesus shows us we should expect to dwell eternally with God in bodily, physical form.
The Israelites needed a way for their moral brokenness to be dealt with before heaven and earth could be reunited, and that’s where the tabernacle articles and furniture come in—they’re mechanisms for restoring the fallout of human folly.
In part two (16:45-39:30), Tim and Jon explore the design behind the literary structure of the third movement of Exodus.
Yahweh gives seven speeches, which make up the major segments of the entire third movement. On top of that, the movement begins and ends with a list of seven items. The movement also contains instructions for the seven-day ordination process for priests and the seven items the priests ought to wear. In his final speech, Yahweh reminds Israel to honor the seventh-day rest, the Sabbath. (In other words, there’s a lot of sevens.)
The description of the tabernacle is one in which God’s priestly image bearers rule and maintain order, as they obey him and listen to his voice. Sounds a lot like Eden, right? The whole movement is conveyed in structures and patterns of seven, and every element of the tabernacle is designed to remind us of Eden.
For example, at the center of the tabernacle is the ark of the covenant and the mercy seat, where God’s presence dwells, guarded by two carved cherubim. The narrator describes the ark of the covenant in language almost identical to the description of Noah’s ark, drawing our minds back to the “floating Eden” boat of Genesis 6-7 and to the garden itself. Not only this, but God also placed cherubim at the entrance to the garden of Eden (Gen. 3:24). In the Bible, they are the guardians of the boundary line between heaven and earth.
In part three (39:30-48:00), the guys discuss the significance of the rest of the tabernacle furniture.
After the list of materials and description of the ark comes a golden table for bread, a menorah (lamp), and the altar of incense, all of it rich with symbolic meaning. For instance, the priests arrange 12 loaves of bread on the table—one for each tribe of Israel. The menorah is a lampstand with seven lights on it that never go out, but constantly shine on the loaves of bread as an image of God’s light shining perpetually on his people. The altar of incense also burns constantly and represents the prayers of God’s people rising up before him.
If you were to walk through the tabernacle, you would pass through two outer courts en route to the Holy of Holies. The entrances of each court, guarded by cherubim, would remind you that each boundary you pass brings you into greater proximity to God’s own presence and the location where heaven and earth are one.
In part four (48:00-1:00:30), Tim and Jon conclude by talking about the altar in front of the Holy of Holies. Its position served as a reminder that a sacrifice had to be made before humans could enter God’s presence.
The surrounding Canaanite nations had similar systems, with totally different goals in mind. The Canaanites made sacrifices to their gods to appease them and to try to catch their fickle attention.
Yahweh’s attention toward his people is far from fickle, and he doesn’t need to be appeased. Rather, he creates the Israelite sacrificial system to form their identity as people—to remind them of their own sin and moral brokenness, but also to impress upon them Yahweh’s desire to dwell with them. The sacrificial system taught Israel to be a people of perpetual surrender.
Show produced by Cooper Peltz. Edited by Dan Gummel. Show notes by Lindsey Ponder.
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Why Does the Tabernacle Furniture Even Matter?
Series: Exodus Scroll E9
Podcast Date: May 9, 2022, 60:30
Speakers in the audio file: Jon Collins, Tim Mackie
Jon: Have you ever tried to read through the book of Exodus? If you have, you've probably found it fairly riveting. Israel is in slavery, so God has a showdown with Pharaoh to liberate them. Then God leads Israel through the wilderness with death on all sides. And then they come to Mount Sinai, and God appears in fire, and God gives them the ten commandments. This is all really exciting stuff.
But then turn the page, and now we're reading the architectural blueprints for a tent that God wants Israel to build. And it's really easy to be underwhelmed as we read the instructions for the tabernacle. But this is an ancient symbol for a magnificent truth.
Tim: That God wants Heaven and Earth to be one.
Jon: In the first page of the Bible, we see God create everything in seven days, and it's good. And humans and God (00:01:00) live together and there's blessing. And this tabernacle, it's meant to shape your heart and imagination to see Genesis 1 life exploding back into this reality. The themes of Genesis 1 are even in the furniture.
Tim: Seven items that are designed, and all of them are going to be about creation in Eden.
Jon: For example, the menorah with its seven lights helping us imagine the lights of creation on day four.
Tim: The lights that sit in front of the blue curtain inside the tent make sure they are tended to every evening, every morning so that they perpetually shine like the stars.
Jon: And the priests who go in and out of the tabernacle, they're like new humans entering into a new creation.
Tim: You get two long chapters about the priests, one describing the priestly clothes, and guess what, there’s seven items.
Jon: So today, we continue to read the third movement of Exodus. And as we do, let yourself sit and imagine this beautiful piece of craftsmanship (00:02:00) that sits at the center of Israel to shape their entire lives.
Tim: The tabernacle was a thing of beauty, it was a place of mercy and grace, and it told a story of God's generosity.
Jon: Thanks for joining us. Here we go.
Tim: Hey, Jon.
Jon: So last week we had a really intense … not intense.
Tim: Meandering conversation.
Jon: Also meandering … Trying to wrap our minds around why is the tabernacle even significant. Because here we are, we're gonna be talking about the tabernacle, the blueprints of the tabernacle that Moses gets on Mount Sinai. And you asked the question, why does this even matter? And we started just talking about what does it mean to have access to eternal life, to the Heaven and Earth space, to God's own life? And if God is the (00:03:00) source of all life, the ever present I Am, what does it mean to be able to have access to that? Whether that's in the form of a tent the Israelites are gonna get or let's back out of that and just in general, what does it mean that through Jesus we have access to that?
Tim: Yeah. But, in particular, I think what we were after was in the tabernacle, God, as it were, self-limits the power and the scope of his presence into one physical spot that is at this tent in a really powerful and dramatic way. Which doesn't mean that God doesn't also pervade all of creation. Because like David who brought the tabernacle to Jerusalem can talk about celebrating going into God's presence in the tent, but then he can also write a poem like Psalm 139 and say, "If I ascend up to the skies, you're there! Or anywhere on the land, you're there! (00:04:00) And anywhere I would go in sea, you're there, too."
So there's a sense of God's everywhere because God is the ever present sustainer of all that is at every moment. Flipside, the tabernacle represents a time and a place where God has localized the divine presence in a particularly intense way here that is both a blessing but also dangerous to his people. And that's the focus. Or that's what's being explored through all the furniture and the symbolic architecture that we're going to talk about right now.
Jon: We went on a detour about what does eternal life even mean?
Tim: Or eternity.
Jon: Eternity. As that kind of conversation said a little bit, do you have any way to kind of just … I don't know, I feel unresolved a little bit …
Tim: Oh, okay.
Jon: … in my spirit about it.
Tim: Sure. Interesting. Well, God is the eternal present source of all life, creation, (00:05:00) existence itself. The biblical story—
Jon: And he offers it to us.
Tim: Yeah. The biblical story is about God generating an other, something that is other but also contained and sustained within God's own being. Because how else could anything be if it's not sustained by God?
Jon: He makes us out of the dirt. And we are—
Tim: And the dirt itself is a part of a created order that as a whole is sustained …
Jon: By God.
Tim: … by God. The flabbergasting claim of the biblical story is God wants to elevate a creature, a collocation of dust, an amalgamation of dust, that he holds together in the form of this conscious being that he appoints as an image of the divine in the world.
Jon: And he wants to sustain it—
Tim: Yeah, so that it can become a representation of God's own divine will and character in the world. What a remarkable story! It's a remarkable thing to claim about human beings. (00:06:00) But those humans have to learn and trust to be God's partners. Have to learn to trust. Now we're doing what we always do, which is just getting trapped in Genesis 1 and 2. But God makes available his eternal presence in the form of the tree of life, and access to that is lost or forfeited by the humans because of their folly and breaking the divine command.
So what the tabernacle represents is among the one family of all the nations that he's chosen to restore the Eden blessing to everybody through them is by giving them a little micro Eden at the heart of their camp. And when God is … we're gonna see takes up residence in the heart of this tent, it's the presence, it's the Eden presence of God but in a localized form so that it's a Heaven and Earth eternity in time touching together at once. (00:07:00) I don't know. Is that a decent summary?
Jon: Mm-hmm. Yeah. And then for whatever reason, my mind goes to what happens when you die? And I can just hear everyone else thinking that out loud.
Tim: Yeah, sure.
Jon: We could just say that's not what we're talking about, so let's leave that …
Jon: … for another podcast.
Tim: Yeah, that's right. Oh, interesting.
Jon: Or you could give me the answer to that.
Tim: I don't know. I mean, we ended the last conversation by reflecting on what Jesus means when he says to the guy being executed next to him, "I'll meet you in the garden of Eden later today."
Jon: "You're about to die, but we're gonna be hanging out in the hotspot."
Tim: Yeah. “I’ll see you in the hotspot." But the imagery of the risen Jesus is of him existing in the hotspot and in embodied, what we would say material, form at the same time. (00:08:00) The portraits of the risen Jesus, that's why they're so weird. You can be somewhere and not be somewhere. And then after the ascension, he exists in some sort of resurrected form. But we don't have language for it. Physical, non-material because he can be everywhere, but also localized somewhere.
Jon: Is that the destiny that I'm supposed to anticipate?
Tim: I think so. Yeah.
Jon: That I will have some sort of physical form that transcends what I understand as space time?
Tim: I think that's what John in the Revelation is trying to communicate by talking about "I saw the heavenly city coming down to Earth." That it's a fusion or union of the eternity and what we call our present into a union or the union of Heaven and Earth, the union of God and humanity.
Jon: Okay, let's get into it. This is not where we're going, but I just have to ask.
Tim: Okay. (00:09:00)
Jon: So the story begins with this clear delineation between you got the hosts of heaven, right?
Tim: In Genesis 1, yeah.
Jon: And those are the creatures that you think of as kind of like transcending. Like, they're the ones that get to … they exist in the divine realm.
Jon: And they rule the sky and then you got the humans that rule the Earth. The way that you're describing Jesus is saying here's a human who was also the sky ruler combined together—
Tim: With a human land ruler as one.
Jon: As one.
Tim: Yes, that is what I think that I'm saying.
Jon: And then when I asked, "Is that my destiny?" Are you saying that I am meant to, in some way, transcend just being a ruler of the Earth and also being a ruler of the sky?
Tim: Oh, well, I think that's definitely how Jesus imagined his destiny on the other side of his execution. That is how Jesus is described as being and talking. (00:10:00) And that's definitely how Paul articulates it. He says to the Corinthians, "Don't you know that we're going to rule angels?" And he's got Daniel 7 on the brain as a model that he believes has already happened to one person on behalf of the many, which is a human who is transformed into an earthly and heavenly ruler at the same time. So yeah. I'm not saying I find any of this easy to comprehend. I'm just saying I think I understand that this is what Jesus and the apostles are trying to talk about.
Jon: So if you read that back into the story of Adam and Eve, when God is saying, "Come eat of the tree of life," what he's saying is, "I know I appointed the sky rulers above and you're the rulers of the land, but what I'm inviting you to be is actually with me rulers of both domains."
Tim: Well, yeah, I mean, in terms of meditation literature, when you read through the Hebrew Bible and then come back around (00:11:00) for the 200th time, it's hard not to see the destiny of a human in Daniel 7 as being in seed form (pun intended) with the invitation to eat from the tree of life. Because it would be, as we said in the Tree of Life video, it would be a kind of life that transforms you to participate in God's own life.
And that's how the risen Jesus is depicted, is a human who is at once God's own life but also a human life unified together. And now I'm thinking in terms of Paul's category, is if I through trust am in the Messiah that his resurrection is my resurrection. Which is why Paul can write to believers in Laodicea or Ephesus and say in Ephesians chapter 2 that you have already been resurrected and seated in the skies with the ruling Messiah. (00:12:00)
Jon: He says that?
Tim: Yes. “You were dead but God who is rich in mercy made us all live together with the Messiah and seated us in the sky realm.” Past tense. It has happened.
Jon: It has happened.
Tim: Because when the risen Jesus was exalted over Heaven and Earth, you and I, we were saved.
Jon: We're part of that.
Tim: Yeah. His destiny is mine.
Jon: I think another thing, as we set the table again to talk about the tabernacle, is it's easy to then think, okay, this is all about the future of just kind of being able to get access to this future state.
Tim: Right. Right. Right. Right. Right.
Jon: Where there's this real sense of the way we treat each other now, the way that we love our neighbor, the way we treat the other, this is all about bringing Heaven and Earth together now.
Tim: Yeah, that is one way.
Jon: One way.
Tim: I mean, that is living on Earth as if you are under the rule of Heaven. (00:13:00) Another way is through prayer. And prayer is through its long history in the biblical story and development as a theme is about recognizing that every space that I go is a potential space where I can encounter the divine presence through the presence of the Spirit. So that is surely what the author of the Hebrews is saying, is we can boldly enter into the inner room of the temple. He uses language like that.
Jon: And he's talking about prayer.
Tim: He's talking about prayer and worship, about developing an awareness of God's eternal presence in any moment in any space. And this is what in classic Christian tradition the practices of silence, solitude, prayer, worship, meditation, fasting, these are habits you can form that train your consciousness to become more aware, heightened awareness of eternity (00:14:00) in God's presence in whatever place I happen to be right now. And all of that is packed in symbolic form into what the tabernacle means in the story.
Jon: Access to the divine.
Tim: Yeah, access to the divine. Yeah. And even though it's through priestly mediators, if this tabernacle with these mediators are undergoing these ritual, little spectacles, symbolic rituals every day in the heart of your camp, it's teaching you a view of reality about who you are, who we are, who God is, and how the blessing is going to be made accessible to others.
Jon: So the big biblical story is about humanity having access to that, the tree of life, eternal life, God's presence, the top of the mountain, the holy of holies. And the reason why we're at this part of the story we're at now, where Israel, this one group of people are given (00:15:00) this localized version of access to that is because—
Tim: What he says to the people when he brought him to the mountain: "I carried you on eagle's wings and I brought you to myself." And now he says, "We entered into a covenant and I'm going to come live in your midst, because you're my partners. We're going to be together. And I'm going to give you, through representative mediators, images of all the people, access to my divine presence through the mediator.”
So both teaches you that God wants to be in our midst, that God wants Heaven and Earth to be one. But we're also outside Eden for a reason. Humans are really stupid and selfish and violent. So all of that moral brokenness has to be dealt with before Heaven and Earth are united. And that's what all of this ritual (00:16:00) furniture is all about.
But what we've been talking about is just the fact that there is a sacred space broken into these tiers that map onto the mountain and map onto Eden symbolically. That's what we have been talking about. But what the rest of the tabernacle furniture is about is, what are the mechanisms for restoring the connection that has broken down because of human folly and violence. And that's what the rest of the tabernacle furniture is all about. So let's look at the golden tables and bronze altars, shall we?
Jon: We shall.
Section break (00:16:36)
Tim: First, let's just do a quick tour. And this will be less exciting to hear it than it would be to see it. And here I've adapted, not just copied and pasted, but adapted some work of a Hebrew Bible scholar, David Dorsey, in his book, The Literary Structure of the Old Testament. And he highlighted the literary design of this first section of the blueprints in a way that was helpful for me. And then I've kind of modified it and tweaked it a little bit. Check this out.
So the first block, this is all the seven speeches, God's speeches to Moses up on top of the mountain. There's seven of them. And it's the tabernacle instructions. Just check out how the section is designed. It opens with chapter 25, 26, and most of 27 as a list of seven things. This is just in the first speech. So there's a list of the materials, then it's a verbal description of the ark of the covenant. Then third, the table for the bread goes inside the tent. Fourth, the menorah—it has seven lights on it. (00:18:00) Fifth is the actual curtains and the tent itself that's going to house all that stuff. Then sixth is the altar—
Jon: That sits outside of it.
Tim: It sits right outside the door of the tent. And then seven is the pipe and drape that makes the courtyard area. Yeah, that's the first block of material. Then you get this random little instruction about, hey, yeah, speaking of those menorah lights, the seven menorah lights inside, make sure that you light them in front of Yahweh perpetually, they're to never burn out and go tend to them every evening and every morning.
Jon: And there was evening and there was morning.
Tim: Yeah. So you got a seven-fold tabernacle, seven items that are designed. And all of them are going to be about creation in Eden. Then you get a little instruction about make sure the lights, the lights that sit in front of the blue curtain inside the tent, make sure they are (00:19:00) attended to every evening, every morning so that they perpetually shine like the stars.
Then you get two long chapters about the priests. One describing the priestly clothes, and guess what, seven items to the priestly clothes. The center, fourth item is the special gold medallion plaque that the priest wears as a crown.
Jon: Is that the ephod?
Tim: No, the ephod is the chest.
Jon: That's the chest piece?
Tim: Yeah, that's right.
Tim: But it's this gold flower medallion.
Tim: It's the fourth item that is this plaque or this crown plaque that goes on the forehead of the priest. Then you get a long description of the ritual for ordaining the priests. Of course, that takes place over seven days. Then you get another short little law here about the daily sacrifices that need to be offered on that altar every morning and every evening perpetually.
Then you back out and you've got seven more (00:20:00) items of the tabernacle furniture that are described, the altar of incense first. Second is another type of fundraiser that's to go on for the maintenance of the tent. Third is this water basin, because it's gonna get bloody around there, so the priests need to wash their hands.
Fourth is the anointing oil, a special oil for pouring it on everything when you anoint it, make it holy. Fifth is the incense for the incense altar. Sixth is a paragraph where God instructs the artisans who are going to make it all, a guy named Bezalel and a guy named Oholiab. And then the seventh—
Jon: That's not an item but it's a—
Tim: Oh, that's right. Sorry, these are seven paragraphs. Yeah, I should have said that. And then the seventh paragraph is “make sure you rest on the seventh day.” So when you back out, it begins and ends with a list with seven items or seven paragraphs. Inside of that are two short little laws about the—
Jon: Something that happens evening and morning.
Tim: Something happens evening and morning. (00:21:00) And then the middle of that is two chapters on the image of God priests and their symbolic clothing that they are to wear and the ordination process that they're to wear. And there are seven items of clothing and there's a seven-day ordination process. That's so rad, man. That's amazing.
Jon: The design is amazing.
Tim: The design and what it communicates. Just like Genesis 1, it communicates order. It's a highly ordered space. Everything in its place. And then second is the drama, the ritual stage play happening through this is a reenactment where the human images of God keep the ordered space. It's like a place where they rule, and they hear God's word and then they do it the way God says. And it's a well working little organism, micro Eden, as it were. And it's all in structures and patterns of seven, (00:22:00) which reminds you of the seven days of creation—
Jon: The purpose of creation.
Tim: And the number seven which is completion or fulfillment.
Jon: Creation, resting, humans ruling. This is all coming to its climactic moment.
Tim: The rift in between God and humans is beginning to be repaired in an important way here. It's powerful. It's really powerful.
Tim: So maybe let's zoom in here on a couple of these furniture items.
Jon: Okay. And the first set of seven.
Tim: The first set of seven, yeah. So they, that is the artisans called to do all this, they shall make an ark. It's the word “aron.” Similar to Aaron's name, Aharon, but it doesn't have the "hah" in it. The Hebrew for “Aaron” is “Aharon” and then the Hebrew word for “ark” is “aron.”
Jon: This is not the same word as the Noah's ark.
Tim: No, no. Though symbolically it (00:23:00) fits the same slot. It's a little divinely measured and divinely mandated vehicle for the preservation of life.
Jon: Why don't we just call it a box? Why do we have to call it an ark?
Tim: I don't know. I don't know why.
Jon: Where does that come from?
Tim: I don't know. It's very confusing that Noah's ark is called an ark in our English translations, and that this box is called by the same English word ark because it's two different Hebrew words.
Jon: Two different Hebrew words.
Tim: But it's actually a happy coincidence because symbolically they both play the same role in their respective stories.
Tim: “So they shall make an ark of acacia wood.” You can google acacia trees. They're cool looking. “Two and a half cubits long, one and a half cubits wide, one and a half cubits high. You shall overlay it with pure gold inside and out. You shall overlay it, make a gold molding all around.”
Jon: It's going to be heavy.
Tim: It's going to be heavy. Yeah, totally. (00:24:00) That's right. Let me just read to you the description of God telling Noah to make an ark. Genesis 6:14, "You shall make an ark of gopher wood.”
Jon: That's a different type of wood.
Tim: But that sentence is almost identical.
Tim: Make for yourself an ark of x wood.
Jon: And to be clear, it's a different word for “ark.”
Tim: Yes. Here's the Hebrew word is “tevah.”
Tim: Which is an Egyptian loanword. There's a whole fascinating thing going on here. "You shall make the ark with ..." And here actually our English translations kind of struggle. Most of our English translations say, "Make the ark with rooms."
Jon: Like all the stables you'd imagine?
Tim: That's typically what is taken to mean. The same sequence of Hebrew letters is the same way that you could spell the word “reeds.” Like kind of like what Moses' mom—
Jon: The Reed Sea.
Tim: Yeah. It would be called kannim. (00:25:00) Or the word could be pronounced kinnim. In which case the meaning of kinnim is not reeds. But it's also not rooms. It's the word for “bird nest.” The word “kinnim” means bird nest.
Jon: Okay. Well, nest.
Tim: Yeah, totally. So anyway, there's scholar John Day who wrote an article on this a long time ago. Because literally it would be "you shall make the ark of gopher trees and you shall make it with nests." And what's fascinating is just like check out how birds' nests are talked about in the Hebrew Bible. And they're talked about as refuges up on high. Little refuges. Of course, that's what they are. That's what they are for the animals—little safe refuges up on high, which is precisely what the ark becomes in the story is a nest for the refuge of life from the dangerous waters.
Jon: The nest.
Tim: But then also the birthplace of new life out of which it will all emerge. (00:26:00)
Jon: That's cool.
Tim: I kind of like that. “You shall make it with nests. And you shall cover it inside and out with pitch.” So the idea is you have this box—
Jon: Because the Noah's ark is a box.
Tim: Noah's ark is a box. “And this is how you shall make it. The length of the ark, 300 cubits; its breadth, 50 cubits; its height, 30 cubits.” So 300 long by 50 wide by 30 high.
Jon: And a cubit is generally … Do we know?
Tim: Man, people debate these things.
Jon: Okay, people debate.
Tim: In translations, it says a cubit is approximately 18 inches. So it's a rectangle.
Jon: It's a big rectangle.
Tim: Big rectangle just like—
Jon: Out of gopher wood, pitch on the outside …
Tim: And on the inside.
Jon: … pitch on the inside.
Tim: That's right.
Jon: And the ark is a big rectangle—
Tim: Also made of wood.
Jon: Made of wood, acacia wood.
Tim: Same dimensions are given. And then it is also overlaid inside and out but not with pitch, but with gold.
Jon: Is it the same dimensions? (00:27:00)
Tim: Ooh. Two and a half long, one and a half high, one and a half wide. No. So it's not quite. But here's the thing is, in the Torah, how many boxes are described in the Torah? That's interesting. There's two.
Jon: Oh, okay.
Tim: And the way those instructions are designed and even worded and ordered matches precisely the order in the description of this box right here.
Tim: And what is this box going to contain within it? It's going to contain God's word, the commands—
Jon: You're talking about the ark of the covenant now?
Tim: Yeah, that's right. It's gonna contain a little jar of manna later on in the story, and then it's gonna contain Aaron's little rod. The little magic, blossoming ... well, not magic. The little divinely sprouting almond flower. But the whole point is that this ark is (00:28:00) the thing over which Yahweh will dwell. He's the one who dwells above the cherubim. So this thing has a lid on it, it has four gold rings with poles—
Jon: On the corners.
Tim: So you never touch it. Never touch it. You carry it with poles. And then the last part of the description is about two things. One is “you shall make a kaporet (a lid) of pure gold.” And it gets translated … Ooh, this is interesting. Verse 17. NIV translates this as “atonement cover.” English Standard Version calls it a “mercy seat.” New American Standard said “mercy seat.” Ooh, so does NRSV. That comes from the King James “mercy seat.”
Jon: Okay. So it's all “mercy seat” for the big five except for NIV.
Tim: NIV says “atonement cover.”
Jon: Atonement cover.
Tim: Mercy seat. Oh, it's kind of the seat of mercy.
Jon: So wait, in Hebrew, it's what?
Tim: In Hebrew the word is kaporet. (00:29:00)
Tim: And the ka, the po, and the ret is the root letter of the word “kaphar” or it's the root letters of the Hebrew root kaphar which means to atone for. So there's the Day of Atonement in Jewish feasts. If you say it in Hebrew, Yom Kippur, there's three letters again. So this thing is called a kaporet.
Jon: The kaporet.
Tim: An atonement thing.
Jon: So it is referring to atonement?
Tim: It's the word “atonement” turned into a noun that describes a physical object as the location or place.
Jon: Is there anything else in the Hebrew Bible referred as the noun “kaporet”?
Tim: No, no. This word "kaporet" refers to the golden lid of this box.
Jon: The lid itself is some sort of atonement lid.
Tim: Yeah. Atonement cover is where NIV goes. It's you shall make the thing on which … (00:30:00) You shall make the thing that will become the place where one makes atonement for the sins of the people. In other words, the name of this lid assumes the ritual that's going to be happening in the tent that won't be described until the next scroll of the Torah.
Jon: And then really quick, the atonement means, and the ritual is—
Tim: Yeah, there's two things that atonement does. One is it covers for the relational damage that has been done because of someone's moral failures. So when I damage the relationship between you and I, how do I repair the relationship?
Jon: I'll take the hit.
Tim: Well, how you would do it between you and I is you bring an animal for Israelites—
Jon: No, we wouldn't do this.
Tim: No, we wouldn't do this. If you're an Israelite. You bring an animal. It'd be called asham, the repair offering or the guilt offering because I've incurred guilt before God and before you.
Jon: What did you do to me?
Tim: I don't know. I stole your lawn mower or something. (00:31:00) I don't know. What did I do? Do you have a lawn mower?
Jon: I do.
Tim: Okay, let's say I stole it.
Jon: Okay. And the chargers, it’s an electric one.
Tim: That's fine. And if I feel wracked with guilt the next day, I come back to you and I'm like, "Jon ...”
Jon: You can't just give me back my lawn mower?
Tim: I can and I must.
Jon: But you also have to—
Tim: No, I've wronged you, and you're an image of God. So I've wronged the one in whose image you're made. So I go to the tabernacle, and I say to the priest, "Moshe ..." No, Aharon is there that day and I'm like, "Man, here's what I did. So here's the blameless goat, a young goat without blemish, and I offer it as an asham.” So that animal's life is translated into smoke that rises up to the heavens, and maybe some of it wafts into the tent, but you know, it's in front of. And then—
Jon: Hold on. Sorry, I get distracted by a lawn mower because it doesn't feel like a big deal to me. (00:32:00) You could have just borrowed it.
Tim: Well, I'm not done yet.
Jon: Well, hold on. But if you stole my ox, you're stealing my livelihood. So in this story it's like you got me fired from my job.
Tim: Oh, I see.
Jon: Right? It's like that intense.
Tim: Oh, yeah, I wronged you.
Jon: You wronged me.
Tim: There's laws in the Torah about stolen goods.
Jon: Even stolen goods.
Tim: But what I do … So the first thing is the animal's death. What happens the life of the animal, which is tamim, which means it's without blemish, but it's the same Hebrew word as for moral blamelessness, God accepts it as a substitute for me. So that's one thing. Its life is surrendered in place of my life. But then also with the asham, I both give back to you either the thing that I took or the monetary value and I add 1/5 of its monetary value …
Jon: Oh, you do.
Tim: … and give it back to you with the guilt offering. (00:33:00) And where would the priest do that? That only takes place right there at the altar. This is Leviticus 4 and 5. What happens if—
Jon: So I would be there with you when we do this?
Tim: Oh, that's not described.
Tim: That's not described. What if all the people did something, well, then you would need to take the blood of the animal and not just let it be on the altar. You would need to take some and take it into the tent, and sprinkle it on the screen, the veil.
And let's say it's the high priest who blows, does something, yeah, you're gonna have to take the blood inside that tent. But let's say all the people are blowing it and the high priest and everybody's blowing it, well, pretty much there's only one time in place you're gonna be able to provide atonement for that. And that is on one day a year only the high priest goes through the two veils, the one into the first veil, second veil, goes through the blue sky veil (00:34:00) past the cherubim, and you sprinkle the blood on the kaporet.
Jon: The kaporet.
Tim: The place of atonement.
Jon: I see. And that's the atoning sacrifice? That's the sacrifice of atonement?
Tim: The Day of Atonement.
Jon: The Day of Atonement. It happens once a year.
Tim: Yeah. And there's two goats. Sin is dealt with in two ways on the Day of Atonement. One goat is sacrificed like you would an offering of atonement. And then the other half of the ritual is that all the sins of Israel are put on the goat that's alive and then it's driven, exiled, to the east outside of the camp. So the sin goes with the life goat out of the camp. And what the blood of the sacrificed goat does is it covers for. It's offered up as a substitute. And that substitute life purifies the altar in the camp from impurity.
So that's why this thing is called the atonement lid. It's named after the function that it has on the day of atonement. (00:35:00) Which is funny as you're reading through the Torah, because you're like, "The day of atonement? Where am I going to learn about that?" Oh, not for a long time, reader. But once you read the Torah through one time, then you'll come back to it.
Jon: Then you'll know.
Tim: So that's the ark. And then what God says is … After he describes how it's made, then he says, "Make two cherubim," which are just described as creatures that have faces and wings. But both we know from archaeology and from other descriptions of these beings that they are hybrid, a fusion of human and different kinds of animals. They represent the creatures that reside at the boundary of Heaven and Earth. And then God says, "Above the cherubim I will meet with you and speak to you." And there you go. That's the thing at the hotspot of the tabernacle.
Jon: That's the tree of life in a sense.
Tim: Oh, yeah, it fits the same slot in the tabernacle that is occupied by (00:36:00) the fire on the top of the mountain or the fire in the burning bush that Moses encounters and occupies as the same spot as the tree of life at the center of the garden.
Jon: And the top of it is the atonement lid.
Tim: The cherubim, there's this line that happens throughout the Psalms calling Yahweh the one who sits above the cherubim. This is why, just like there was no human or animal form at the top of Mount Sinai, so God said, "Don't make any idols of me." So also here at the center, there's no form. There's no form of anything above the cherubim.
Jon: Oh, yeah, because this is also meant to be a throne.
Tim: This is God's throne.
Jon: This ark is not just a box to collect some stuff in.
Tim: Yeah. It's a throne.
Jon: It's the throne of God.
Tim: It's a mobile throne.
Jon: It's a mobile throne. And that's why you can carry it.
Tim: Yeah, that's right.
Jon: But it doesn't have a back. It's kind of more of like an ottoman. But it is a throne.
Tim: Yeah. And it hosts (00:37:00) the invisible presence.
Jon: Now in a neighboring culture, you go into their temple, and you get to where god is and it's a statue on a box.
Tim: And on a statue sitting on a throne.
Jon: Sitting on a throne.
Tim: Many examples from the cultures of Israel's neighbors.
Jon: So you go in, and what you would expect is to see the statue of God. There's no statue.
Tim: No statue.
Jon: The throne is unoccupied in a sense. Yet it is occupied.
Tim: Yeah, exactly. And that's the irony is that one, it's empty, as it were, in one level. On another level, it's a human image of God is the one who's entering in there and seeing it.
Jon: The priest is.
Tim: Yeah. What's interesting is on one level you'd say, if you walked in there, it's empty. But then when Ezekiel the prophet and Isaiah the prophet have visions, apocalyptic visions, (00:38:00) where the reality of what's happening here is unveiled before them, what they see are their famous visions of Yahweh seated on the throne surrounded by these heavenly beings.
Jon: Like in some sense Yahweh is sitting on a throne. But we're not supposed to make an image of what that looks like.
Tim: Yeah. And what Isaiah and Ezekiel see when their eyes are opened is a humanoid form sitting on a throne. They see the form of a human. I think even that right there, there's a way that you could walk into the space and see, but what you would be seeing is not normal, what you would see with your earthly eyes or something like that. Anyway, we're back to our previous conversation, but that's the idea here. It's the mobile throne.
Section break (00:38:47)
Tim: So just as a quick note, the imagery and the architecture and symbolism is being revealed to Moses, right? This divine pattern is being shown on top of the mountain. It also corresponds to how sacred spaces were architected and decorated in the cultures of Israel's neighbors of Canaanite culture, Egyptian culture. The cherubim corresponds roughly to the same role that the sphinx plays in the pyramids outside of Cairo, Egypt. A divine, a fusion—
Jon: A bodyguard.
Tim: Bodyguard. Yeah, that's right.
Jon: The divine bodyguards.
Tim: And these creatures also were set as statues and were set as guardians of temples out in Assyria and Babylon. So this was a shared cultural motif that the Israelites adopted. But then they also made these creatures, they fit them, adjusted them into their vision and their convictions about the identity and person of the God of Israel. So these are not like rival gods. They are like bouncer guardians as it were. And there you go. So that's the box. How are you doing? Our tour is not going very quickly. (00:41:00)
Jon: No. And is that box related to Eden in any sense? I mean, we call it the tree of life because that's where it sits. But in any other sense is it related to Eden? Oh, the cherubim on it.
Tim: Yeah, totally. The cherubim are on it and the cherubim are present as guardians of the way in and out of Eden. I guess that's the most explicit one. And gold. Everything's made of gold. Eden had a lot of gold. But after you leave Eden, the ark revealed to Noah becomes a temporary Eden refuge where the humans and animals live together in peace.
So when the ark here is described with the language, precisely the same type of language used to describe the construction of the ark, but it's decorated with imagery of Eden, it's a good example of how this narrative assumes that you saw the connection between Eden and Noah's ark as being images of each other back in Genesis. (00:42:00) So the next three items that are described are—
Jon: Was that the first of the seven?
Tim: That was, well, the list of materials.
Jon: Oh, the list of materials.
Tim: It's the first paragraph. Second paragraph is the ark. Third is a golden table that is set inside the tent, but not in the most holy place.
Jon: Yeah, this is where the bread is put on.
Tim: Yeah. So this is called the golden table for bread. Then there's a couple other things. Then there's the seven-part—
Jon: The menorah.
Tim: The menorah that's described as flowery blossoms emerging out of flowery blossoms. It’s like blossoms. So there'll be multiple blossom like spots as you go up the seven lamps and then the altar of incense, which is a high, small table. Kind of maybe like an end table. And those are the three pieces of furniture in the little antechamber.
And you have to finish through the Torah and even into the Prophets and you get the bread is (00:43:00) set in rows. And there's twelves loaves. And of course, the number twelve representing the twelve tribes of Israel. So that's kind of on your … I forget if that is on your left or is that on your right when you go in. So the table is on one side, and then on the opposite side within the antechamber is the lights, the seven lights.
And later in Leviticus, the two are described as connected because you said to put the bread before the face of the lights, and the light shine upon the bread. So it's this cool little image about the sevenfold light that never goes out, constantly shining on the twelve loaves of bread. This is cool. Complete light. Seven means complete. So it's an image I think of God's own life and light, the light of day one. God's own light perpetually shining on the perpetually fresh bread—(00:44:00)
Jon: Which is Israel.
Tim: Which is God's people, yeah. So cool.
Jon: That's the image.
Tim: That's the image. And then either to the front, the next to one of those is the altar of incense, so that this place is continually filled with smoke. In the Psalms, the smoke is described as representing the continually ascending prayers of Israel before God. So just this "let my prayer be like incense before your throne." So inside there's perpetual prayer being offered on behalf of Israel as it experiences the perpetual light shining upon the twelve loaves. Isn’t that cool?
Jon: This is cool.
Tim: God wants to shine his light upon his people, and the vehicle for that is the priestly intercession. This just continually smoking there rising up to God. (00:45:00)
Jon: This is kind of a picture of both what God wants for humanity and like some sort of perfect state of his life shining on them. But then it also shows how this is kind of being realized in this fallen state, which is where only priests can come in, the prayers are going up as intercessory prayers, and it's kind of holding it together for the time being.
Tim: It's like a little ritual stage show, something like that. The bread surely has multiple layers of symbolism, because one is twelve tribes of Israel, the light shines on the bread. But also bread that’s perpetually there and fresh.
Jon: It's abundance. It's the blessing.
Tim: Yes. Yeah. Perpetual food like Eden. Just perpetually fresh food. Because the bread gets changed out every seven days. So you think by day six, it's a little—
Jon: A little stale.
Tim: A little stale, but—
Jon: But for ancient bread, I'm sure that's still great. You're gonna get away (00:46:00) with that at Subway.
Tim: So right outside the tent door. So there's the holy of holies, you go right outside of that screen or veil is the place we just described the holy place, the antechamber and then you go through that cherubim little veil out and you'll see a large bronze altar.
Jon: And now you're in the outer court.
Tim: Now you're in the outer court, but the altar is placed right in front of the door.
Jon: There's cherubim at every juncture.
Tim: Yes. That's right.
Jon: There's three cherubim in the holy place protecting the throne, the ark.
Tim: Yes, the two on the throne.
Jon: Then there's the cherubim in the blue curtains that lets you into the holy of holies. And then to walk in you'd be (00:47:00) in the room we were just talking about with the showbread and the incense. And then to get into that room are curtains with the cherubim.
Tim: Yes, that's right.
Jon: So cherubim blocking each level.
Tim: Yeah, that's right. Yeah, totally. And each step reminds you you are passing through a boundary, another boundary, and coming into greater proximity of the Heaven and Earth spot. It's powerful.
Section break (00:47:30)
Tim: The altar. So it’s probably seven feet long and seven feet wide. Maybe more. It's big. It's a big, huge stone table. And then it has these protrusions on the four corners that are called horns. It's the same word as used for animal horns. They were kind of shaped like it. And that's where animals that have been already slaughtered and (unintelligible - 00:49:00), and then are put there. There's like a mesh network bronze. What do you call it? Grate?
Jon: Oh, like a grill?
Tim: Like a metal grate grill? Yeah, yeah, that hovers over, you know, coals and wood.
Jon: So you're actually cooking it up there?
Tim: Yeah, whatever you put on there is going to be burned and consumed in the fire.
Jon: Oh, you're not cooking it to eat it. You're cooking it to just—
Tim: To translate it into smoke.
Tim: These are the five offerings, five different types of offerings that we won't describe now. We'll describe them later in Leviticus. What's fascinating is you're introduced to the altar, and the fact that there will be sacrifices, but the types of sacrifices are not explained to you until later in the Torah. But the idea is, before I can enter into the place where Heaven and Earth are one, being in the state that we are out of Eden, why are we outside of Eden? Well, because we're violent and stupid and we do terrible things to each other. (00:50:00) So we wrong each other and we wrong God. God has provided … This isn't about appeasing God and maybe—
Jon: Yeah. Because this is hyperlinking back to the stories of God providing the goat for Abraham and providing …
Tim: The substitute for him. Yes, that's right. Yeah.
Jon: … the lamb for Israel in Egypt.
Tim: Yeah, the Passover lamb.
Jon: These are animals that God provided as a way out.
Tim: That's right, yeah. So even though it's the same mechanism as your Canaanite neighbors down the road and they're …
Jon: We're trying to appease God.
Tim: … with the Philistines, and they're like, "Oh, I wonder if Dagon is into us today and will give us favor. Well, let's—"
Jon: "Let's give him some goats."
Tim: Yeah, let's give him some goats. And maybe I might even need to … Like for the prophets of Baal, you know, that Elijah is around, I might even need to do self-harm, like cut myself so that I'm bleeding along with the blood of the animals to get the god’s attention. This is different. (00:51:00) This is God saying, "Here's how you can access me. Here's how you can ..."
Jon: "You can know. And it's a gift from me."
Tim: "Know it's a gift from me. This process will form you into people who begin to see your own moral failures in a certain light, but also see my desire for you expressed through this ritual system." These laws are a part of what the psalmist who wrote Psalm 119 said. "How beautiful are your laws and your commands. They give light to my eyes; they guide my path."
Jon: This would be one of the laws that are …
Tim: These are—
Jon: … among the laws.
Tim: These are among the 613 laws of the Torah.
Tim: The guidelines for the tabernacle. So the idea is we're constantly ruining life, taking away life through our selfishness, stupidity, foolishness. We either diminish life or we take away life—we kill. (00:52:00) So what God gives as a gift is instead of you constantly dying for your failures, I will provide in your place a substitute animal that is your blameless representative. It will rise up into the skies on your behalf, and I will accept it as your substitute, and then bring blessing on you instead of letting you die in your stupidity.
Jon: Now, in a sense, we're all going to die, and in a sense, we're all going to die because of … Well, I guess in one way, you can say just because we're mortal but another way you can say is because of our corruption.
Tim: That's right. The fact that all of us on our own ways replay the failure of Adam and Eve.
Jon: Yeah. Which keeps us in this state of—
Tim: Perpetual exile.
Jon: Which is going to end in actual just—
Tim: Return to the dust.
Jon: Returning to the dust. (00:53:00) In another sense, when you stole my lawn mower, you don't deserve to die because of that.
Tim: No, sure. I hear that.
Jon: But you’re still like the animals getting in the process.
Tim: It seems like this ritual system doesn't separate … it does acknowledge degrees of sin and consequence. So like if your average Israelite wrongs somebody else, the blood just needs to cover for the altar. But if a high priest or all the people, you need to take it inside the tent. So there's the sense of like human moral failure and evil has this vandalizing effect. God wants to be with sinful people, but he stakes out a little holy outpost. Human evil is constantly threatening to overwhelm it, vandalize it, so to speak. And so through these purification rituals, the blood both covers for, in terms of substitute life, (00:54:00) but also the blood is a purifying agent.
There's the Jewish scholar Jacob Milgram who's like the sage master of all things Leviticus. He wrote like 1,600 pages in multivolume commentaries. So he calls the bloody ritual “detergent.” Sin is like this vandalism of creation and of God's holy space, and so the blood is a ritual detergent, which is a metaphor, impurity, defilement, vandalism.
Jon: Do they go in and wash this down every once in a while?
Tim: Well, totally. They had to. And that's why there's a big bronze basin of water that's constantly refilled. Yeah, a lot of hand washing.
Jon: Well, not just their hands. If you're going in and sprinkling stuff with blood, you let that cake on …
Jon: Oh, yeah, totally.
Jon: … and you come back, I mean, that's intense.
Tim: It is. Think of the blood that sprinkled on the atonement lid once a year. That adds up over the decades. A little pile of dried blood. (00:55:00) Yeah, especially if there's no wind or breeze in there, it would just get kind of gnarly. Anyway. There's a lot more that we could do, but that's the basic outline of the first—
Jon: That's just the first seven.
Tim: Oh, yeah, totally. But those are the main seven.
Tim: So the lights are lit day and night inside, perpetual incense going up in the fresh bread, outside there's a morning offering and an evening offering that's for nobody and everybody. Like it's just offered no matter what.
Jon: The just-in-case offering.
Tim: Yeah, totally. And those are the ‘olah. So some offerings you offer part of the animal. Actually, we'll talk about this later when we get to Leviticus. But the daily offering in evening and morning is called the ‘olah, and it's the whole animal. Nothing is left. It all is consumed. And it's perpetual surrender.
Remember all the way back. This is all patterned connecting back to Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah and also to the Passover lamb that was offered as a substitute. (00:56:00) And both of those stories are hyperlinked to each other through shared language. And then together this altar and its sacrifices are filled with language from both Passover and from Isaac on Mount Moriah.
So it's an act of perpetual surrender before Yahweh. And when Yahweh's people surrender and ask him for forgiveness, he will happily release from the source of life … He'll release the blessing out towards his people. That's the story being told in the space every evening and every morning and all throughout the day. It's powerful, man. It's the power of ritual, the power of symbolic spaces and behavior to tell a story that shapes a people.
Jon: So I imagine that we're gonna have to move on to the next story of the golden calf.
Tim: Yeah, I kind of figured it would be like this. The blueprints are five long chapters.
Jon: There's a lot more here.
Tim: There's more here. (00:57:00) We haven't covered everything, but I think we've covered the important things that we can cover.
Jon: Well, I mean, the priestly garments sound important.
Tim: Yeah, they are cool. Actually, they will become relevant when we talk about Moses on the mountain shining like a star.
Tim: So yeah, there's two big blocks of blueprints. One is the description of them, five chapters, Exodus 25 to 31. And then there's five chapters of them being made in the same verbal detail as the blueprints. And that's chapters 35 through 40 of Exodus.
Jon: To the end of the scroll.
Tim: Yeah, so I thought we could just have the conversation we just had and the one before that to cover those two big blocks. In the center of the two blocks is the story of the golden calf …
Jon: Is the narrative of the golden calf.
Tim: … where Moses takes the role and job of the high priest of Israel because the guy who's supposed to be the high priest of Israel is not covering for the sins of the people, (00:58:00) he is adding to them. That's the next story. But for now, let's just, you know, ponder the beauty of this picture. The tabernacle was a thing of beauty. It was a place of mercy and grace, and it told the story of God's generosity. But also it told a story that human evil is terrible, and it ruins us, and it vandalizes the most beautiful place that's the center of our life, but God has provided a way for us to be reconnected to him. And that's the story that the tabernacle tells.
Jon: Thanks for listening to this episode of BibleProject podcast. Next week we finish up the third movement of Exodus. The instructions for the tabernacle have been given and Moses comes down to find Israel building a golden calf.
Tim: So the golden calf did something that ruptured the relationship between God and his people such that even Moses who could and did ascend (00:59:00) into the glory cloud, now that the glory cloud dwells in the middle of these people, there's unresolved problems.
Jon: Today's show is produced by Cooper Peltz, edited by Dan Gummel, show notes by Lindsey Ponder, and the annotated podcast for the app is done by Ashlyn Heise and Hannah Woo. BibleProject is a nonprofit. We exist to experience the Bible as a unified story that leads to Jesus. Everything that we make is free because of the generous support of thousands of people just like you. Thank you so much for being a part of this with us.