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Shemot/Exodus 40:2 In the day of the first month, on the first day of the month, you shall establish the Tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting
The phrase - literally: in the day of the month, the first - seems an awkward way to start this series of instructions from HaShem to Moshe. Which month is being described here? Is it the biblical month of Aviv, designated as the first month of the year in Shemot chapter 12, now called Nissan in the Jewish calendar, or is it the month of Tishrei to line up with the rabbinic idea of the creation of the world? The Sages seem to reach consensus here that it is Aviv, just a twelvemonth after the Exodus from Egypt and nine months after the theophany at Mt. Sinai, while our people are still encamped at the mountain. The next phrase, the two words, - literally: in the first to the month - is taken to mean the day of Rosh Chodesh, the New Moon; a fortnight short of one year after the night of the Exodus itself.
There is also some debate over the context of the word - Hif'il, prefix, 2ms, in Qal "to rise, rise up, flourish, prosper", in Hif'il "to set up, establish, make to to stand". The meaning seems clear enough:HaShem is telling Moshe to put up the Tabernacle. The debate is over how often Moshe did this during the inauguration week of Aharon and his sons. Was it just the once and, once up, it stayed up for the week; or was it seven times, each morning, taking it down again at night; and, if the latter, was it just once a day or several times each day for the three times of sacrifice, so as to demonstrate exactly how it was done and where the pieces went? There is general agreement that the day being spoken of here is at the end of that week, so that either way this would have been the last time that Moshe erected the Tabernacle before it was handed over into the care of the cohanim - the priests - and the Levites.
The last question that is commonly asked about this text is why it is necessary at all. It is followed by a detailed list of the components of the Tabernacle and its furniture - hadn't Moshe commissioned and overseen their building and, in just the previous verses, officially received and checked them before blessing the craftsmen? Why should HaShem now need to tell Moshe to put them up? Nahum Sarna suggests that "He personally is charged with this task because the entire enterprise is based on a celestial image or prototype that had been shown to Moshe on Mt. Sinai. Hence, he alone possesses a mental image of the completed whole." Again, here we have a hint at the idea of Moshe teaching the priests and Levites where everything goes so that they will get it right when they become responsible for the building up and taking down of the Tabernacle on a regular basis, but we are still left unclear why HaShem found it necessary to walk Moshe himself through the instructions all over again.
Step forward to an event in the gospels. Yeshua and three of the talmidim have been up a mountain, experiencing Yeshua's transfiguration; they come down to rejoin the others and "as they came up to the crowd, a man approached Yeshua, kneeled down in front of him, and said, 'Sir, have mercy on my son, because he is an epileptic and has such terrible fits that he often falls into the fire or into the water. I brought him to your talmidim, but they couldn't heal him'" (Matthew 17:14-16, CJB). What is this all about? Why is there an issue? Hadn't Yeshua given the disciples authority to handle this sort of thing? The text certainly seems to say so: "Calling together the Twelve, Yeshua gave them power and authority to expel all the demons and to cure diseases; and he sent them out to proclaim the Kingdom of G-d and to heal" (Luke 9:1-2, CJB; cf. Matthew 10:1). Yeshua calmly deals with the situation, casting a demon out of the man's son so that he is healed. Then we get the anxious debrief: "The talmidim went to him privately and said, 'Why couldn't we drive it out?" (Matthew 17:19, CJB). There were still nine of them there, only three had gone up the mountain with Yeshua; wasn't that enough? Besides, they had been out and done this sort of thing before on their own, both as twelve and even seventy. Luke tells us that, "The seventy came back jubilant. 'L-rd,' they said, 'with your power, even the demons submit to us!'" (Luke 10:17, CJB), so much so that Yeshua replies, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven" (v. 18, CJB), rejoicing that the powers of the enemy have been impacted by the disciples' faith and actions. Yet in the next breath He reminds them: "Remember, I have given you authority; so you can trample down snakes and scorpions, indeed, all the Enemy's forces; and you will remain completely unharmed" (v. 19, CJB). But isn't that just what they had been doing? Yeshua even starts with the word "remember"; He has already said this, but He is saying it again.
We miss something if we fail to see that the disciples - yes, the Apostles - were human and needed frequent reminders of their instructions and the gifts and authorities they had been given. Even after successful ministry trips all over the Galil, they still hadn't reached the full measure of faith. Here is Yeshua's answer to their question: "Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you" (Matthew 17:20, ESV). Do we hear that? After between two and three years of ministry with the Master Teacher Himself, up hill and down dale, dragging all through the dust of the Galil, seeing Yeshua healing everyone who came to Him and casting out every demon, then being sent out to do the same themselves and bringing back a report that made Yeshua rejoice, still He rebukes them for their lack of faith. Just before He ascends into heaven, Yeshua reminds the disciples, "And these signs will accompany those who do trust: in My name they will drive out demons, speak with new tongues, not be injured if they handle snakes or drink poison, and heal the sick by laying hands on them" (Mark 16:17-18, CJB). This itself is a repeat of the words He used just a few weeks before in the run-up to the Last Supper: "I tell you that whoever trusts in me will also do the works I do! Indeed, he will do greater ones, because I am going to the Father" (John 14:12, CJB). Just like Moshe, the disciples needed to hear it time and again in order for it to become a confident part of their faith walk.
And what about us? Are we any different from the Apostles? We haven't had the advantage of three years personal full-time ministry training from Yeshua in the flesh; most of us haven't seen as many miracles in a lifetime as they saw in a week. Perhaps that is why Rav Sha'ul writes that, "And He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of G-d, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:11-13, ESV); G-d gave the instructors, encouragers and leaders that He knew we would need if we were to measure up to the standard of Yeshua. That is why we need to keep on hearing words of encouragement and - where necessary - rebuke, to keep us steady in our walk. It is also why we need to keep putting our faith into practice, getting out there, getting our hands dirty, touching and healing people just as Yeshua did, and - yes - failing occasionally so that we learn to do it right. We depend on the Holy Spirit to empower us and show us who and how to touch, but we are the Tabernacle builders in this generation. Just as Moshe was told, "Now build the Tabernacle", we are told, "Now build My kingdom". The instructions are to hand, the people are watching to see how to do it, we have been given the parts and the authority; what are we waiting for?
Further Study: Acts 19:13-16; Romans 15:18-19
Application: From the very largest to the very smallest, everyone has a part to play. From the smallest bronze socket to the menorah or the parokhet (curtain), every piece of the Tabernacle was essential to make it assemble correctly. Where are you in that process? What is your role? As you hear the call to build, seek G-d's directions for your life and get plugged in!
© Jonathan Allen, 2010
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