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Shemot/Exodus 27:9 ... at the south side, curtains for the courtyard, fine linen, twisted ...
The curtains provided for the outside perimeter area of the tabernacle generate some interest in the commentators. The word is a masculine plural noun, from the root , which has the slightly surprising meaning "to sling or throw with a sling; to cut out or reject; to cut out or carve" (Davidson); the noun is used as a sling - just twice: "The L-RD of hosts will defend them. And they will devour, and trample on the sling stones" (Zechariah 9:15, NASB), "Uzziah prepared for all the army shields, spears, helmets, body armor, bows and sling stones" (2 Chronicles 26:14, NASB) - or a curtain or hanging, eight times in the book of Shemot. Citing the verse, "The cedar of the interior of the House had carvings of gourds and calyxes" (1 Kings 6:18, JPS),Rashbam prefers the 'carve' meaning even at this point, leading us into the suggestion that the curtains were not of solid weave. Ibn Ezra comments that "Unlike the clothes of the Tabernacle, the hangings were made of linen only." Rashi adds that they were "made by braiding, not weaving" and points out that Targum Onkelos translates the word by , netting or grating, the same word used by Onkelos for the grating around the altar in verse 4. Nahum Sarna explains, "literally 'plaited, basket work', probably referring to the type of textile manufactured by basketry technique. Linen of this type has been found in Egypt dating to around 2500 BCE." It would seem, then, that the curtains were not opaque, so as to form a complete visual barrier, but were more of a transparent marker, forming a physical boundary while allowing relatively uninterrupted viewing of what transpired inside.
Why would the outer curtains of the tabernacle be made in this way? What is the point of such permeable curtains? Why have them at all if anyone can wander up and look through to see what is happening inside? Wouldn't a row of those ubiquitous sockets laid out on the sand accomplish the same function if delineation of space is the only purpose? Rabbi Samson RaphaelHirsch steps back from the curtains to consider the space that they enclose. He points out that the word translated "for the courtyard", , has a double meaning, being both "beneficial and limiting". The fence provides a "spacious enclosure ... so that the objects of the building are given the space to be developed." Remarking that the equivalent rooms surrounding the sanctuary in the Temple were named "helping rooms/space", Hirsch suggests that the space enclosed by the curtains was not just in front - as in a forecourt - but all around and that the area itself provided space as an essential part of the function of the tabernacle and a place to develop relationship with the Almighty.
In Jewish tradition, one of the names for G-d is , which literally means "the place" and is often translated as "The Omnipresent"1. This expresses the idea that G-d is everywhere, that He is not at a place, but is the place; anywhere where His people are and cry out to Him becomes His place. Any place nevertheless has boundaries, so that you know when you are in that place and when you are not in that place. Judaism sees the Torah as the boundaries of G-d's place; when we obey the Torah we are in the place and when we disobey the Torah we have stepped outside the place. This draws on the above ideas about the nature of the boundary; to allow crossing, the boundary must be porous, but to inhibit crossing inadvertently, it must be substantial. To cross the boundary must be a deliberate action. Similarly, to allow free-will, the boundary must be only partially opaque; it must allow a measure of transparency so that a choice between two alternatives is possible. Notice, however, that the vision through the boundary is partially obscured: those looking in from the outside like the open space, but fear what they think are the restrictions of Torah; those looking out from the inside see the temptations of an unrestricted life but fail to see the cost and separation that accompany it.
Rav Sha'ul is very aware of the believer's location. The phrase "in Christ" occurs over 85 times in some 80 verses in his letters. Whether by salutation, "Greet every saint in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:21, NASB), to the order of resurrection, "the dead in Christ will rise first" (1 Thessalonians 4:16, NASB), the place of our blessing "the grace that is in Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 2:1, NASB), or our status and position as believers, "[G-d] raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:6, NASB). Yeshua likened this to being in His hand: "I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand" (John 10:28, NASB); the boundary prevents any force from outside being able to snatch us away from Him, as Sha'ul memorably proclaims: "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, shall be able to separate us from the love of G-d, which is in Christ Jesus our L-rd" (Romans 8:38-39, NASB). At the same time, because that boundary is porous, we can see outside, be tempted and can choose to step outside as the writer to the Hebrews solemnly warns: "For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of G-d and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of G-d, and put Him to open shame" (Hebrews 6:4-6, NASB). Do not be deceived by the suggestion that those who fall away were never true believers; the text says clearly that they had been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, who is only given to those who repent and believe (Acts 2:38-39). These are believers just like you and I, who have chosen - or been persuaded to choose - to step outside the boundary of the kingdom and have fallen away from Yeshua.
So the question is: where are you? Are you in Messiah, or are you not in Messiah? Sha'ul writes of the need to be "found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from G-d on the basis of faith" (Philippians 3:9, NASB). Where will G-d look for you and will He be able to find you when you call on Him? Peter urges the disciples to "be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless" (2 Peter 3:14, NASB). This takes effort and determination: to avoid the temptations in the world; to keep our whole selves, not just our feet, in Messiah; to be consistent and faithful. But it is our life and our life depends on it!
1 - see, for example, Pirkei Avot 2:14: "one who borrows from man is like one who borrows - - from The Omnipresent" and the prayer of consolation: " - May the Omnipresent comfort you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem".
Further Study: Proverbs 8:29; Joshua 23:16; 1 Timothy 1:16
Application: Turn on your spiritual GPS receiver today and ask the question, "Where am I?" Do you see the signs of life and joy that show that you are "in Christ", in the kingdom of G-d and walking according to His commands? Or do you see stress, worry and death as you walk away from the only one who is life? Make no mistake - it is vital that each of us knows exactly where we stand!
© Jonathan Allen, 2010
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