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Shemot/Exodus 39:42 Like everything that the L-rd commanded Moshe, so the Children of Israel did: all the work.
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The phrase "as the L-rd commanded", usually "just as the L-rd commanded Moshe", occurs ten times in this sixth aliyah, chapter thirty-nine (vv. 1, 5, 7, 21, 26, 29, 21, 32, 42, 43). Our text is the ninth instance in the series and tells us that all the things that had been made for the Tabernacle were made by the Israelites. Another sequence of eight similar phrases in the next chapter (chapter forty) relates how Moshe set up the Tabernacle and put everything is its place, just as the L-rd commanded.
Our text starts with the word : the preposition meaning 'as', 'like' or perhaps here, "according to", and the noun , usually translated 'all', but - particularly when used on its own - also rendered 'everything'. Together, as above, "like everything" or perhaps "according to all" offers the best translation. Everything was made exactly asHaShem had commanded. The Sforno reports that this was "in the order that G-d later commanded Moshe to follow when erecting the Mishkan (40:2-15). In that same order the craftsmen made and the donors gave."
The Torah makes an unusual word choice, however, at the end of the verse in order to tell us something important. The usual word used for 'work' throughout the description of the Tabernacle's construction is , from the unused root , from which we also get the nouns 'angel' and 'messenger'. It is that is prohibited on Shabbat. However, here the text ends with the word , from the root , to work, serve or worship. It is the word used for the worship of HaShem, the work of the Tabernacle. TheRamban comments that is "the word used for the 'service' of G-d. For that was why they made the Tabernacle, to follow the commandment 'You shall serve the L-rd your G-d' (Shemot 23:25); 'serve none but Him' (D'varim 13:5)." Perhaps, he suggests, "'all the work' here refers to all the utensils, comparable to 'all the furnishings for the service of the Tabernacle (Shemot 39:40)", which would imply that "even with the smallest details, the Israelites took great care."
With such motivation, working together for the first time since leaving Egypt, why not? Nahum Sarna says that "the entire project is presented from first to last as an enterprise of all the Israelites." Although the 'manufacturing' effort was functionally led and enabled by Betzalel and Ohaliab, all the people participated in the work - the spinning and the weaving, the hammering and metalworking - and certainly in giving the materials needed for the construction so that craftsmen had to say, "The people are bringing more than is needed for the tasks entailed in the work that the L-RD has commanded to be done" (Shemot 36:5, NJPS) and have Moshe tell them to stop. The task of funding, provisioning and building the Tabernacle has been formational for the people: they have contributed from their own private treasure to supply the common good; they have worked together and given of their time and skills, supporting each other to release the best craftsmen and artisans to do the work of fabrication. This has clearly meant personal, family and communal cost, but they have done it gladly; throughout the whole process, the Torah has not recorded one murmur or complaint as they focused on their common task.
Was this typical of religious projects in the those days? Thomas Dozeman tells us that the ANE pattern is for the king to claim his part in the temple-building process.1 Tiglath-pileser I reports the building of a temple to Anu and Adad: "The pure temple ... I planned, I exerted myself, I built, I completed." The state records of Sennacherib, Esarhaddon, Ashurbanipal and Nebuchadnezzar all include temple or sanctuary building projects with some variant of "I built and I completed." The same is true of Solomon: "When Solomon had completed the construction of the House ..." (1 Kings 6:14, NJPS), leading to Solomon telling HaShem, "Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You; how much less this house that I have built!" (8:27, ESV). We need to compare Solomon's building with that of the Tabernacle. Solomon's building took twenty years, required conscript labour and cost twenty cities in the Galilee given away to pay for the materials. By sharp contrast, the Tabernacle was built in a matter of months, with entirely voluntary labour. Moshe is explicitly absent from all of the construction reports. At the end, the Torah confirms, "The Israelites did so; just as the L-RD had commanded Moshe, so they did" (Shemot 39:32, NJPS), repeated in our text above. The Israelites did it; Moshe only inspects and blesses. Moshe's 'completion' of the work and the completion formula - "So Moshe finished the work" (40:33, ESV) - is only the assembly and setting to work of the Tabernacle, not its manufacture.
Leon Kass says that everything changed after the episode of the Golden Calf. "Now ... [the people] want a more direct avenue to the divine and possess the means for having it. No longer is Moshe needed as a go-between. They can bring their sacrifices to the Tabernacle and the functionaries of the sanctuary will mediate for them. All will have equal access to make their offerings of atonement and gratitude." If true, this would indeed be a fundamental shift in the attitude of the people. Kass concludes, "inspirited by their own agency and accomplishments, attached to a central sanctuary they build and rebuild with their own hands, practising the rule of law and enjoying a new, equal and less-threatening relationship with the G-d in their midst, the Israelites are united and ready, as never before, for "all their journeys" - open ended but inspiring."FotNoteRef(2) Time will tell whether this rosy picture will last!
Would it be going too far to say that the construction of the Tabernacle was an act of worship? Walter Brueggemann explains that "while commanded by Yahweh, the work of constructing a house for the holy is human work and it must be done well. This G-d needs a place that is reserved precisely for this holiness. The creation of such a place, moreover, requires a combination of passion, generosity, competence and devotion."3 Those qualities combine to describe worship: the giving of self in the act of declaring and proclaiming - verbally, musically, financially and, in this case, in the physical splendour of the Tabernacle and all its fittings and furnishings - the existence, works and praise of G-d! As Yeshua came to 'tabernacle' among us, as "the exact representation of G-d's nature" (Hebrew 1:3), can we see His ministry and work in the same way: as an act of service and worship? Like the Israelites building the Tabernacle, Yeshua did just as HaShem commanded Him and He personally did it all!
If the Tabernacle housed the presence of G-d and Yeshua is the concrete reality of what the Tabernacle symbolised, what are we as the new house that G-d is building to reveal His presence? Mark records a scene from Yeshua's trial before the chief priests and Sanhedrin: a false witness claims, "We heard him say, 'I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another'" (Mark 14:58, ESV). Yet, as we know, even though the quote wasn't exactly correct, Yeshua wasn't talking about the physical Jerusalem Temple, but His physical body (John 2:21). He was resurrected - and took on His new spiritual body - three days after His physical body was destroyed by dying on the cross. This is why Rav Sha'ul tells the Corinthians not to be concerned about dying: "For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from G-d, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens" (2 Corinthians 5:1, ESV). In the resurrection, when Yeshua returns, we too will take on our new spiritual bodies: "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye ... we shall be changed ... this mortal body must put on immortality" (1 Corinthians 15:52-53, ESV).
Don't think that G-d's building project is on hold until that time, though. It continues, day by day, not only building His kingdom but, building a Tabernacle where the presence of G-d will be manifest in the midst of His people, "a holy temple in the L-rd ... a dwelling place for G-d by the Spirit" (Ephesians 2:19-20, ESV). Who is doing the building work? Well, in one sense, we are; Sha'ul tells the Ephesians that Yeshua, "when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love" (4:16, ESV). On the other hand, even when "built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Messiah Yeshua himself being the cornerstone" (2:20), the whole project of the new temple - "you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house" (1 Peter 2:5, ESV) - needs the steady and enduring hand of the Master: building, shaping and assembling each living stone into the whole that He desires.
1. - Thomas B. Dozeman, Exodus, Eerdmans Critical Commentaries, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmanns, 2009), pages 760-761.
2. - Leon R. Kass, Founding G-d's Nation - Reading Exodus (New Haven, Yale University press, 2021), pages 588-589.
3. - Walter Brueggemann, "Exodus", in The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary Vol I, edited by Leander E. Keck, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015), page 502.
Further Study: Shemot 35:10; Acts 17:24-25; 2 Corinthians 4:6-7
Application: Do you have a sense of becoming a living stone and being built into the body and house of the new Temple where G-d will live among His people? Speak to the Master Mason today and ask Him to show you a copy of the plans so that you can see for yourself and know His purpose for you in His hand!UserCommen(17:00 12Mar23, Janet Gray, I'm appreciating and reflecting on the distinction you have highlighted between "avodah" and "malakah"!!)
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© Jonathan Allen, 2023
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