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Shemot/Exodus 26:36 And you shall make a covering for the opening of the Tent, of blue, purple and scarlet wool and twisted linen: the work of a weaver.
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Our text describes the second curtain in five verses. The first one, with the designation , parochet, is introduced in verse 31 and hangs on four pillars with gold hooks and silver bases to divide the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place, or Holy of Holies,HaShem's inner sanctum where the Ark of the Covenant is placed. This curtain is designated , masach, "a covering or screen", for the entrance into the Tabernacle. It is the dividing point between the priests-only Tabernacle and the courtyard surrounding the Tabernacle where the Children of Israel would come to bring their offerings and sacrifices to the priests to be offered to HaShem.
comes from the same root - , to cover, conceal, protect - as , succot, tabernacles, the the last of the autumn festivals when Israel dwells in temporary shelters or covers to remember the way that HaShem provided for our people in tents or temporary dwellings during the days of the Exodus journey from Egypt to the Promised Land.Rashi explains that this is "a curtain, which acts as a screen for the entrance, an expression of protection." Why would that be needed? Don Yitz'kakh Abravanel explains that "the curtain and the screen follow the idea in "It is the glory of G-d to conceal a matter" (Proverbs 25:2, NJPS)." By having a physical barrier, shielding what went on inside, the space of the Tabernacle was hallowed - declared holy - it was separated from the people and the courtyard outside; that holiness spoke of HaShem's holiness and so gave Him glory in the eyes of the people and the priests.
Space is an important concept for mankind. We are essentially "dwellers all in time and space"1, living through time and inhabiting one space at a time. Since antiquity, man has recognised or designated buildings or spaces as 'holy' because G-d is to be found or experienced at such a place. Terence Fretheim remarks that "the hallowing of space and not simply time is given prominence. G-d chooses a place because G-d has entered into history with a people for whom place is important. If places are important for people, they are important for G-d. ... Because the human is not simply a spiritual creature but physical through and through, there had to be a tangible place, as well as sights and sounds, touch and movement, in Israel's worship. The Tabernacle provides for this."2 One of the Jewish names for HaShem is , ha'makom, the place, reflecting the idea that HaShem is the place to which we run and where we find security: "The name of the L-RD is a strong tower; The righteous runs into it and is safe" (Proverbs 18:10, NASB).
The is made from the same materials as the : blue, purple and scarlet yarn, on a base of fine or twisted - some suggest woven or interleaved - linen. However, unlike the inner curtain, which is specifically decorated with cherubim - the winged heavenly creatures that stand facing each other on either side of the mercy seat on the gold cover for the Ark of the Covenant placed inside the curtain - no design or decoration is supplied for the outer curtain. The account of the creation of the Tabernacle supplies us with more information about its mechanical construction, but still nothing about its detailed design or appearance: "a screen for the entrance of the tent, of blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, embroidered with needlework" (Shemot 36:37, NJPS).
Our verse ends with the two word phrase , a construct translated "the work of a weaver." is the Qal ms participle of the root , "to embroider or to weave with threads of different colours", used here as a substantive: a person performing that action. RabbiHirsch suggests that the root is related to , a root meaning "to throw stones", commenting that "the figures seem to be thrown onto the material." So whereas the parochet is woven, with the design appearing on both sides - a part, as it were, of the fabric itself - this decoration is applied later, onto the fabric. Rashi says that "the images are made on it by needlework; the face on one side is the same as the face on the other", while the Ralbag says that, "unlike a woven design, this design would appear only on one side: I think it must have been on the inside." Peter Enns writes "this curtain has no cherubim worked into it since this is one step removed from the Most Holy Place."3
Now let's pay a little more attention to the word , the weaver or embroider who was responsible for producing this screen. David Clines give the meaning as "a weaver of coloured fabric, a variegator."4 Some manuscripts ofTargum Onkelos change "an embroiderer" to "embroidery", talking of the product rather than the producer, while others retain the correct focus on the craftsman. Although Ibn Ezra complains that "this is inferior to a 'worked design'" and Nahum Sarna claims that this is simply "another specialised form of weaving, required less skill than that required for the coverings of the Tabernacle and the inner curtain", we must not lose sight of the placement and purpose of this fabric. It provides both a barrier - creating the holiness of separation for the Tabernacle - and the window for the people to 'see' G-d and the function of worship taking place inside: the movement of the priests, the candle-lit menorah, the burning incense rising before HaShem and the shewbread set out on the table before Him.
What did the people see? Hanging on gold hooks, but on pillars with bronze feet (Shemot 26:37) - the half-way point between the holy and the ordinary world outside - the people saw a splash of rich, glorious, even perhaps, excessive colour. They saw that G-d is a riot of colour, yet a riot yielding order and design, the work of a weaver. A weaver/embroiderer is a skilled artisan, working with the precious and costly threads to create an image of the holy, to inspire the people with a view of G-d. This points to the amazing truth that G-d Himself is a weaver, weaving threads not of coloured yarns, but of life itself. G-d spins a fabric of intertwined lives, clans, families and - of course - Himself. They are the woof, while time is the warp. He makes a tapestry of endless variation yet showing and pointing to His glory.
Perhaps more importantly, the screen that separated the courtyard from the Holy Place and so illustrated the holiness of G-d, is not black and white - it is not a stark contrast where everything has been resolved into binary choices. Neither is it a grey-scale, a spectrum or range, suggesting that holiness is somehow relative and that anything that is not at one end or the other is somehow open to negotiation. G-d's holiness - and the holiness to which we are all called as followers of Yeshua - is never negotiable. On the contrary, by design, the screen has colour and variation. This suggests that holiness, while remaining - in G-d's sight - holy, may surprise us with its vitality and freshness, or even shock us with its sheer gritty, raw quality.
Yeshua told a story about a Pharisee and a tax-collector who came to the Temple to pray. The Pharisee, stood by himself and drew everything in sharp black and white: "G-d, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get" (Luke 18:11-12, ESV). The tax collector also saw things in somewhat back and white terms; feeling unable to lift his eyes to heaven, he beat his chest and cried out, "G-d, be merciful to me, a sinner!" (v. 13, ESV). Yeshua warned the disciples not to jump to the wrong conclusion, not to see that way: "[the tax collector] went down to his house justified, rather than the other" (v. 14, ESV). Was the tax collector white, all of a sudden? No, like most of us, he was a glorious display of mixed colours and accepted by G-d. He was alive and vibrant, not clinical and detached; he wasn't pasty, washed out and anaemic, but rich, complex and genuine. The Pharisee is desaturated, reduced to a pixilated caricature of the image of G-d. The tax collector - although the smaller part in the story - is a fully-orbed, life-like portrait of a real human being. Yeshua says that it is he, unlike the blanched Pharisee, who is accepted, justified and in an honest relationship with his G-d.
Believers these days tend to be rather monochrome. Some wave their evangelical banners and go for clinical purity; others are fiercely and intolerantly insistent upon their own self-selected hue. Rav Sha'ul's assertion that in the kingdom of G-d "there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Messiah is all, and in all" (Colossians 3:11, ESV), must encourage us all to retain the glorious colours with which we were created. The key question we all need to ask ourselves is this: Who is the weaver in our lives? What is he weaving and from what? Are we turning into a bleached and sterile mannequin, or are we the beautiful multi-coloured tapestry of G-d's making and design?
1. - A line from the last verse of Henry Francis Lyte's 1834 hymn, "Praise My Soul the King of Heaven".
2. - Terence E. Fretheim, Exodus, Interpretation, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), page 273.
3. - Peter Enns, Exodus, The NIV Application Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), page 519.
4. - David J. A. Clines (ed.) The Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2009), page 431.
Further Study: Psalm 79:9; Luke 14:11; 1 Corinthians 7:17-20
Application: Are you black and white, grainy and pixilated, or are you a riot of exhilarating colour, almost splashed or thrown together according to the Maker's original design? Speak to the Divine Colourist today and see how He can help you to glow with the true colours of the kingdom to bring others rushing to join the party!
Comment - 11:08 30Jan22 Joshua VanTine: Thank you for the colourful drash. It comes strongly across that our Father, the King, likes a coat of many colours for His children, that represents from whom and where they came from. May we in Messiah Yeshua sparkle each one their particular spectrum of a rainbow shining like emerald!
Comment - 12:43 30Jan22 Nancy Rothstein: Thank you for this insightful drash! It is full of the richness of God's glory. I enjoyed how you described the weaver's skill and how God is weaving us.
Comment - 20:15 30Jan22 Kate Miller: Taking deep breaths of Ruach freedom - thank you for these life giving words and the application/exhortation.
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© Jonathan Allen, 2022
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