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Shemot/Exodus 38:21 These are the accounts of the Mishkan, the Mishkan of the Testimony, that was counted by the word of Moshe ...
This verse uses the ubiquitous and many-flavoured verb twice: the first time - - as a Qal passive participle, mp, in construct form; the second - - as a Pu'al affix 3ms form1. Davidson lists a bewildering set of meanings: visit, examine, punish, review, muster, number, look after, appoint, and charge with or enjoin. These are all related meanings, but in this context, it seems clear that something in the "count or number" group must be required. Nahum Sarna suggests that the first word should be understood as an inventory or tally, in line with Egyptian practice. He points out that "Egyptian art depicting scenes of metalworking regularly features the master weigher weighing the metals on balances and the scribes recording the results in their ledgers before issuing the materials to the artisans."2 There is some question, from the precise counts that follow, whether this is a count of all the materials being used - although the amounts of gold and bronze are given in full, the amount of silver is specifically listed as the half-shekels from the census atonement, ignoring any other silver given as a free-will offering - or simply an indicative count of some of the resources used in the construction process.
Abravanel makes an incisive comment about how the counting was done: "As is standard with accounting, three different groups are mentioned here: Moshe, who ordered the accounting to be made; the Levites, under Itamar's direction, who did the accounting; and Bezalel, who reported, 'This is what I took in and this is what I spent'." This provides a model for how accounting should be carried out among believers today whenever an offering is taken: a team of counters - so there should be no loss or mistake at the physical level - another person who banks the money and reports the totals to the third person, the accountant. There should be a similar process for the expenditure of money: one person who processes the invoices and receipts, one who writes the cheques and the accountant who signs the cheques on sight of all the paperwork. In this day and age, we must not only be transparent but be seen to be transparent and scrupulously honest in our handling of finances. Drazin and Wagner comment that "Although Moshe and Bezalel were above suspicion, they set an example in the use of public funds."3
Rashi comments that the word is used twice in the text, as adjacent words. He suggests that the word is stated "twice, an allusion to the Beit HaMikdash. There were two temples: Solomon's Temple and Herod's Temple, both of which were destroyed because of the sins of Israel. Hirsch takes this a step further and adds that "the total sum of the precious metals spent on this is mentioned, to show how small this total is in comparison to the treasure spent on the later temples, and yet no other temple achieved the importance in heaven that this simple Temple-Tent reached." Only in the Tent was visibly displayed the glory of G-d in the pillars of fire and cloud; the second Temple even lacked the Ark and the Urim and Thumim.
Accurate counting, then, is considered important by the Scriptures and the commentators. Those who constructed the Tabernacle are expected to take care of the materials that are given to them and to be prepared to give an account of the way those material were used to complete the work assigned for them. Little wonder that the Scriptures apply the same criteria to those who are called to be leaders within the Body of Messiah: "Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you" (Hebrews 13:17, ESV). Leaders will be required to give an account for the souls of those that have been entrusted into their care. Job, too, recognises that he will have to give an answer for his own life to G-d: "Oh, that I had one to hear me! (Here is my signature! Let the Almighty answer me!) Oh, that I had the indictment written by my adversary! Surely I would carry it on my shoulder; I would bind it on me as a crown; I would give Him an account of all my steps; like a prince I would approach Him" (Job 31:35-37, ESV).
This principle of personal accounting extends to all believers, "And no creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account" (Hebrews 4:13, ESV) and even to all people, regardless of their state or behaviour: "For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead" (1 Peter 4:3-5, ESV). Yeshua makes it clear that this even goes down to the things we say: "I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matthew 12:36-37, ESV).
Just like Moshe and Bezalel, Yeshua Himself is completely above suspicion, yet is also held accountable. He too will have to give an account to the Father for everyone who comes to Him. In John's gospel we hear Him explain how the process works: "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand" (John 10:27-28, ESV). By His own words, Yeshua is trustworthy; He will not lose anyone who comes to Him; not one soul will slip through His fingers or fall by the wayside - they will all be given eternal life. Then the next verse show the accountability: "My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand" (v. 29, ESV). Even though Yeshua did not and will not fail, He has been entrusted by the Father and the Father's hand is involved in the process as well. The Father is underwriting the whole thing to ensure - as if it were necessary - that nothing and no-one is lost. Isn't it comforting to know that even Yeshua has someone standing behind Him? Secure in Him, we are also secure in Father G-d's hands and love.
1. - This verse is the only place in the Hebrew scriptures where this particular Pu'al affix 3ms form occurs.
2. - Nahum Sarna, The JPS Torah Commentary - Exodus, Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia 1991, page 231
3. - Israel Drazin and Stanley M. Wagner, Onkelos on the Torah - Exodus, Gefen Publishing, Jerusalem 2006, page 265
Further Study: 1 Corinthians 15:28; Ephesians 1:19-23
Application: Do you ever find yourself wondering what would happen if ... the unthinkable thought! We are secure because our faith in Yeshua is founded in G-d's promises and commitment. As the Scripture says: "So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of His purpose, He guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us" (Hebrews 6:17-18, CJB). We can depend on it, because we depend on Him!
© Jonathan Allen, 2011
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