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Shemot/Exodus 36:22 So he did for all the beams of the tabernacle
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We are now in the portion of the Torah that describes the building of the tabernacle by Betzalel and Oholiav, leading a team of artisans and craftsmen. It is an almost verbatim repetition of G-d's instructions given in previous chapters, substituting "he did" for "you shall do". It is also one of the sparser areas for the commentators, most of whom let the text go by with just the occasional comment about a wording or order difference between the instruction and its fulfillment.Nachmanides comments to the whole section that, "All this repetition is an affectionate and distinctive way to say that G-d took pleasure in the work, and mentioned it in His Torah many times to multiply the reward for those engaged in it." Certainly for several complete chapters, pride of place is given to Betzalel so that apart from the occasional comment that everything was done "as Adonai had commanded Moshe" (Shemot 39:7, 21, 27, etc.), all the action if focused on the craft team.
This particular text comes at the conclusion of the making of the first plank or board for the tabernacle, "fifteen feet long and two-and-a-quarter feet wide" (36:21, CJB). In the following verses, up to verse 30, Betzalel us to make 48 planks in all: 20 for the south side, 20 for the north side, 6 for the west side ad two extra to reinforce the corners. 48 planks, all exactly the same, but of very plain and simple design, is quite a lengthy and not very exciting job for a master craftsman; there is very little scope for imaginative design skills or innovative decoration and finishing in 48 identical wooden planks which are, in any case, about to be overlaid with gold. Perhaps that is why the text emphasises the detail of Betzalel's work - even though repetitive and relatively mundane - he finishes the job without comment or complaint, to the exacting standards of both Moshe - his line-manager - an the L-rd Himself.
Shortly before the destruction of Solomon's temple, when Jerusalem was - as it were - living on borrowed time after Nebuchadnezzar had reduced the kingdom of Judah to a client state and left Zedekiah as a vassal king, Jeremiah wrote to the first wave of exiles who had been taken to Babylon, the artisans and craftsmen, the merchants, the wealthy aristocracy, priests and civil servants. In the letter, Jeremiah urges the exiles to "Build houses and plan to stay. Plant gardens and eat the food you produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them and have many grandchildren" (Jeremiah 29:5-6, NLT). G-d is giving the people a long-term charge to stay where they (now) are, to build new lives as a people in exile, to be a witness for Him there. Babylon is to be their home - there has been a Jewish community in Babylon and its successor, Baghdad until modern times - and they are to get on with the work there. G-d warns them, "'Do not let the prophets and mediums who are there in Babylon trick you. Do not listen to their dreams because they prophecy lies in My name. I have not sent them,' says the L-rd. 'The truth is that you will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come...'" (29:8-10, NLT). "Rabbi Tarfon said, 'You are not required to complete the task, yet you are not free to withdraw from it'" (m. Pirkei Avot 2:21); the job goes on and we each have our part to play in advancing the work of the Kingdom, even though we do not necessarily see the fruit of our labours.
We find Yeshua saying similar things to His talmidim as He sends them out to preach and teach in the towns and villages of the Galil: "Truly I say to you, you shall not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes" (Matthew 10:23, NASB). Although He was sending them out in a local sense, as His representatives while He Himself was still teaching in the same cities (cf. Matthew 11:1), He was alerting them to the size and magnitude of the task of the Kingdom: they would not finish it in their lifetimes, but they were to do their part in that work while they could. Interestingly, it is in recent years that we have seen the Kingdom advancing again among G-d's ancient people; one of the "signs of the times" that warns us of the approach of Yeshua again. How amazed Peter, John and James would have been to think that it would be two millenia before Yeshua returned. How puzzled Rav Sha'ul, who wrote "For you yourselves know full well that the day of the L-rd will come just like a thief in the night" (1 Thessalonians 5:2, NASB) to one of the early churches, would be to find we are still waiting for that "day of the L-rd" to come, hundreds of generations after he wrote.
Although making boards for the tabernacle might not be the most exciting job, it had to be finished off properly, or the tabernacle would not stand correctly. Betzalel had to start, continue and finish the task. Yeshua asked, "Who is the faithful and sensible servant whose master puts him in charge of the household staff, to give them their food at the proper time? It will go well with that servant if he is found doing his job when his master comes" (Matthew 24:45-46, CJB). In the parallel passage in Luke's gospel, Yeshua goes a little further: "Happy the slave whom the master finds alert when he comes! Yes! I tell you that he will put on his work clothes, seat them at the table and come serve them himself! Whether it is late at night or early in the morning, if this is how he finds them, those slaves are happy" (Luke 12:37-38, CJB).
Further Study: Matthew 16:27-28; Mark 13:9-13
Application: Are you making planks for the tabernacle? Do you have a job that the L-rd has given you and, although not high profile or glamorous, you know it needs to be done; that - so to speak - the L-rd depends on you? Now is the time to persist, to be sure that you move steadily on with the work, even if the end is not in sight, so that you may be ready when He comes and be found faithfully engaged in His business.
© Jonathan Allen, 2008
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