Exodus 40: Move-In Day
Our focus is on chapter 40. The Tabernacle furnishings and equipment have all been constructed. All that remains to be done is actually to set up the Tabernacle and put the furnishings in place. In 40:1-16 we find Yahweh instructing Moses on how to set up the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle, which is basically a large tent, is to be set up on the "first day of the first month of the second year." In other words, the setting up of the Tabernacle will take place one year to the day after the exodus event. (The exodus event was so decisive for Israel that it became their way of marking time.)
Also, Yahweh’s instructions move from the inside out, beginning with the Ark of the Covenant in the holy of holies, moving to the furnishings of the outer holy room, and finally moving to those items that are outside the tent proper. Following the instructions about the Tabernacle set up, Yahweh reminded Moses about the anointing of all the furnishings and the ordination of Aaron and his sons.
Verse 16 concludes this instructional section with the statement, "Moses did everything just as the LORD commanded him." This phrase becomes the refrain of the ensuing report of Moses carrying out Yahweh’s instructions. Seven times in verses 17-33 we hear it reported that Moses did "as the LORD commanded him." At the end of 33 we finally arrive at the statement, "And so Moses finished the work."
The point of this Tabernacle set-up report is obviously the refrain – Moses did "as Yahweh commanded him." The writer wants us to know that Moses was obedient in every detail. It is a continuation of the emphasis of chapters 35-39, where we find the people being word for word obedient in the building of the Tabernacle components.
Such obedience is not an end in itself. Rather, it moves us forward to the close of Exodus, a closing that Exodus has been driving at from chapter one: Yahweh tabernacle-ing among His people Israel. The completion of obedience prepares the way for Yahweh to descend upon the Tabernacle in a cloud of glory (40:34-35). On the day that Moses finished his work, "the glory of Yahweh filled the Tabernacle." What a day that must have been! My imagination is too small to really deal with it. But picture this awesome cloud moving off the top of Mount Sinai and descending upon a 15 by 45 foot tent that you have just pitched with a courtyard about 75 by 150 feet marked off around it. It must have been incredible!
The writer doesn’t spend many words describing the cloud event, except to report that indeed Yahweh’s glory filled the Tabernacle. Thus, we probably should not get caught up in the appearance of the cloud. It lies beyond description. It was one of those events where you had to be there. What is important to the writer, and what we need to hear (and imagine), is that obedience prepared the way for Yahweh’s Presence to be among His people. Israel’s and Moses’ obedience opened the door for Yahweh to dwell in their midst. We have moved from forgiveness to obedience to tabernacle-ing Presence.
That has been the goal all along. The exodus, the journey to Sinai, the giving of the Ten Commandments, Yahweh’s forgiveness: it was all for the sake of creating a people that Yahweh could dwell among, thus becoming savingly Present to all creation through this people. And what was Israel’s part in this project? Obedience. Faithfulness. The relationship grew from liberation and forgiveness to dwelling via obedience. When Israel obeyed, Yahweh came to dwell among them.
I think of Jesus’ words in John 14 and 15. "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him" (14:23).
"Remain in me and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me" (15:4).
"As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love" (15:9-10).
To remain in Christ, to love Jesus, is to obey Jesus. And to live in obedience to Jesus opens one up to the abiding Presence of Jesus and the Father. When we obey the Son the Father and Son dwell in our midst. Through receiving the forgiveness of the Father with a response of obedience we can know the tabernacle-ing of God in our lives.
Now I don’t mean to reduce the experience of the Presence of God to a formula. I don’t think that is the message of either Exodus or John. Yes, obedience is preparatory for Presence. But I don’t think that Presence is an experience for our consumption upon demand. And I also notice that the experience of Presence may require the completion of a "long obedience."
In the Exodus narrative, when we are obedient we are preparing (feel the future thrust) for a day of Presence. Presence is on the other end of obedience. While the Tabernacle was being constructed, the cloud was yet atop Mount Sinai. In terms of John, the Presence is more immediate to obedience, but not always recognizable. God did not appear to be very much with Jesus while he was on the cross, and yet that was Jesus’ most obedient act. The Presence was hidden, and yet it was in that act of the Son’s obedience to the Father that the Father’s glory was most fully revealed.
I cannot tell you when you are going to experience the glory of the Presence of God in your life; only that obedience is critical to that Presence. So if you are going through a stretch where God seems largely absent, make sure you remain faithful regarding the things you know you should be doing. It may very well be that others recognize God’s Presence in your life through your obedience, even though you aren’t exactly feeling filled with glory. In the fullness of time, as you continue to obey, you will once again experience the tabernacle-ing of God in your life.
Having reported the Presence of Yahweh, Exodus closes with a word about the coming travels of Israel: "In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out – until the day it lifted. So the cloud of the LORD was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel during all their travels."
Israel will travel according to the cloud. Life is to be lived around the Presence of Yahweh. Life is not stagnant. It involves a journey. And thus Israel has a Tabernacle with mobility. It is a tent that they can pitch when it is time to settle and pack up when it is time to move.
This mobility is a great thing, something that we surely appreciate in our cell phone society. But I think we need to be careful to recognize the impetus for their mobility. The mobility of the Tabernacle was not so that they could take Yahweh with them, but so that they might be able to follow Yahweh’s leading. I’ll say it again. The Tabernacle was a mobile worship center not so that Israel could take God with them wherever they went, but so that they could worship God wherever God led them. It was portable so that they could follow God, not so that they could carry God with them like a credit card in all of their travels.
I fear that we tend to treat God in His mobility as something packable, something that we can stick in our suitcases and pull out whenever we feel the need for a worship experience or a miracle. We make our life decisions according to where we want to go, generally regarding God as an afterthought. You know, one more item that can be squeezed into the suitcase that would be good to bring along, just incase it rains or gets cold or something. But to live that way is to completely misunderstand the mobility of the Tabernacle-ing God. We are to follow God where God leads, as opposed to taking God with us wherever we decide to go.
Yahweh is to be followed, not merely taken along. Exodus closes with Israel well aware of this truth. How aware of it are we?
As Exodus closes I can’t help but think of the beginning: Israel in bondage in Egypt. How did Israel end up in Egypt? That story is the story of Joseph, beginning in Genesis 37. In short, Israel went to Egypt due to the famine in the land of Promise. They were in grave need of food and Egypt was the place with food.
And how long was Israel down in Egypt? According to Exodus 12:40, Israel was in Egypt 430 years before the exodus. I somehow doubt that the famine lasted 430 years. So what happened? Why the long stay? Could it be that Israel, enjoying the food and prosperity of Egypt, forgot their identity, forgot that they were only there temporarily, forgot that Egypt was not their home, forgot that they were a people of the Promised land?
I suspect that they were lulled into slavery by the prosperity of Egypt, by the food of Egypt. When a new Pharaoh came in and their slavery became void of trickle-down prosperity (no more snacks), they all of a sudden realized their slavery. And as things went from bad to worse, they started remembering that they weren’t from Egypt. And finally they remembered that they did not belong to Pharaoh, but to the God of Abraham. Awakened, they prayed and cried out and even dared to hope that Yahweh might deliver them. And Yahweh did.
In Exodus we have seen Israel go from being slaves under Pharaoh’s rule in Egypt, a rule void of a future, to being a people assembled around Yahweh at Sinai, whose Presence means a future of promise. How many of the Israelites do you think ever saw the inside of Pharaoh’s palace, especially after Joseph was forgotten? Outside of Moses, probably none. All access to Pharaoh was denied. But now, as Exodus closes, what a reversal has taken place! Not Pharaoh, but the Creator of heaven and earth, Yahweh, the One Who Is and Will Be, the One whose word determines reality, is dwelling in the midst of Israel!
"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, full of grace and truth…. Now remain in me, and I will remain in you."