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Shemot/Exodus 39:33 And they brought the Mishkan to Moshe
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On the surface, this seems a perfectly normal concluding step to the preparation and construction of the Tabernacle. The previous verse says that, "all the work of the Tabernacle of the Tent of Meeting was completed; and the sons of Israel did according to all that the L-rd had commanded Moshe; so they did" (Shemot 39:32, NASB). What could be more natural that to bring everything that they had made to Moshe for his approval and to move on with the next step? The following verses summarise all the different classes of components and furniture that had been made and prepared, almost repeating verse 32 as verse 42: "So the sons of Israel did all the work according to all that the L-rd had commanded Moshe" (NASB). Finally, the section ends with a record of Moshe examining all the work and agreeing that they had done it all correctly, before blessing the people and the craftsmen.
Nevertheless that narrative does not satisfy a number of the commentators who want to know why the workmen did not assemble the the Tabernacle before calling in Moshe to do the final assessment. Would it not have been more fitting, they imply, for Moshe to have inspected the fully erected Tabernacle and be sure that it did assemble correctly and see with his own eyes that all the pieces did fit together and were accurately balanced? Presumably the craftsmen had in fact assembled parts of the Tabernacle before, as they were making it, to check the fit and precision of their work!Rashi comments, "And they brought the Mishkan: because they were unable to erect it ... for no man was able to erect it because of the weight of its beams." He then cites a midrash that has Moshe miming the erection of the Tabernacle while the beams and pillars miraculously lift themselves into place (Tanchuma 11). Rashi concludes, "this is the meaning of - the Mishkan was set up (Shemot 40:17, later); it was set up on its own". The later use of a passive verb, Ho'fal Affix, allows the commentators to consider that no human hands were involved.
Nechama Leibowitz takes the argument another stage. Quoting the Alshikh, who said: "In the construction of the Tabernacle the Israelites were not even expert in the work, which was executed miraculously of its own accord through Divine Providence", she comments, "This principle may, however, be said to apply equally to every performance mentioned in the Torah since we know that man can accomplish nothing by himself but only by the grace of G-d, as it is stated: 'But you shall remember the L-rd your G-d, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth!' (Devarim 8:18, NASB)". Although Leibowitz considers the latter reference to be given in the context of "the every day tasks of field and vineyard", she nevertheless extends the argument to cover every activity in which mankind is involved, from the smallest personal action to big, formal, corporate plans and events. This position is, of course, strongly echoed by the more conservative church commentators who also see - based upon different premises and verses - a complete dependence on G-d's grace for man to do or accomplish anything.
We can see the same principle at work in the story of the feeding of the five thousand in Matthew's gospel. As the story starts, the people have been with Yeshua most of the day and He has been healing whoever was sick among the crowd. As evening starts to draw in, the talmidim come to Yeshua and, pointing out that it is both late and a remote place, ask Him to dismiss the crowd so that they can go and get food in the local villages. Unexpectedly, Yeshua responds by telling the talmidim to feed the people themselves, right there. This confuses the disciples: "'All we have with us,' they said, 'is five loaves of barley and two fish'" (Matthew 14:17, CJB). As if that would feed more than a few of the huge crowd (see v. 14)! But Yeshua is not fazed: "He said, 'Bring them here to Me'" (v.18, CJB), and after telling the people to sit down on the grass, He makes the normal blessing "... hamotzi lechem min ha'aretz - who brings forth bread from the earth", breaks the bread and calmly tells the talmidim to hand it round to everyone. In something of an understatement, Matthew dryly comments that "They all ate as much as they wanted, and they took up twelve baskets full of the pieces left over. Those eating numbered five thousand men, plus women and children" (vv. 20-21, CJB). Setting aside the interesting question of where the twelve baskets came from to collect the left-overs, or the sound ecological principle of picking up the left-overs rather than just leaving them lying about on the ground, we have the astounding fact that a crowd approaching ten thousand in number had all been fed to surfeit from five loaves and two fishes. Either the disciples had hurriedly ran a human supply chain into the local villages and bought up every loaf to be found for a thirty mile radius, or a very open and public miracle had been performed. The miracle actually sounds the more credible of the options!
The process here started with two phrases: "All we have is five loaves and two fishes" and "Bring them here to Me". G-d used the same principle 600-700 years earlier when the widow of Zaraphat had to give her last small loaf of bread and a cup of water to Elijah before the pot of meal and the cruise of oil became never-ending (1 Kings 17:3-14). So it is with the Israelites in our text from the Torah: they had to bring what they had to Moshe, G-d's appointed agent of the moment, for approval and acceptance, before the miracle of assembly took place. Exactly the same principle applies in our lives: if we want to see miracles wrought in our midst, if we want to see dramatic growth in the Kingdom of G-d, if we truly long to see G-d glorified in our everyday lives, then we have to bring everything to Him; we have to hand it over and wait to see what He will do, trusting that He wastes nothing and that His word never returns to Him void without accomplishing what He has determined (Isaiah 55:11).
Further Study: B'Midbar 11:21-23; Proverbs 10:22
Application: Do you long to see G-d moving in your life and affecting those around you? Then the time has come to bring everything that you have to Him and lay it down before Him so that He can work the miracle today.
© Jonathan Allen, 2009
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