Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Glorious Coincidence?

One of the things I've always been fascinated about when I'm studying the Bible is when I see texts--words, stories, images--tie together and unfold each other. Imagery congeals into fleshy subtance. Meaning precipitates. Events echo and reverberate. Propositions polymerize into connected chains. (Can you tell I'm a science teacher?)

One such instance occurred yesterday morning as I was reading the closing chapters of Exodus. In chapters 35-40 the erection of the tabernacle is described in detail. The tabernacle, or tent of meeting, was meant to be the site where sinful Israel would meet with her holy God--but not without a covering of blood, the life which atoned for her sin.

As its construction reached completion, the following words are recorded:

Thus all the work of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting was finished, and the people of Israel did according to all that the LORD had commanded Moses; so they did. . . . According to all that the LORD had commanded Moses, so the people of Israel had done all the work. And Moses saw all the work, and behold, they had done it; as the LORD had commanded, so had they done it. Then Moses blessed them. (39:32, 42-43 ESV)

Then the following words bring the building phase to its end: "So Moses finished the work" (40:33).

As I chewed on this passage, Genesis 1:31--2:3 came to mind.

And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.

The italicized words may be a coincidence, an artefact of my overly-enthusiastic imagination. But didn't Moses pen them all? It seems to me that there is some direct and intentional parallelism going on here. But what might it mean? In creation, God finished the work he had done; he saw that it was good and blessed it with his favor and approval. When Moses saw that the people had finished the tabernacle according to God's commands, he blessed them as well.*

The story doesn't end there, though. As the sign of his approval, the Lord's radiant shekinah glory-cloud moved in to the tabernacle and took up residence, dwelling there among his people. "Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle" (Exodus 40:34). Whereas once he refused to meet with sinful, idolatrous Israel within the borders of her camp, opting instead for the top of Mt. Sinai or a tent of meeting outside the camp, God now moved to dwell among his people and reveal his glory there.

Does this imply that in the creation of the universe, God was preparing for himself a place to dwell as the universe's King? Or does it perhaps reveal that the tabernacle is the creation of God's new dwelling place on earth? Should the reader infer that Israel herself is the beginning of a new, redemeed creation of sorts? Taking it further, what does this mean for the church, the fullness of Israel, where God dwells with his covenant people by means of the life-offering of Jesus Christ? I haven't put a lot of thought into it beyond this, but I think it is so awesome to see these sort of connections in Scripture. To me they reveal so much; they are the lifeblood (no pun intended) of study. How much of this stuff is going on in the New Testament as it echoes and retells the Old, and we just don't see it?

"And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God' " (Revelation 21:3).
*Another thing I thought of was that in Genesis 1, God commands or speaks, and his Spirit carries it out. In Exodus 35-40, God lays out the plan for the tabernacle in his commands to Moses, and the Spirit fills Bezalel and Oholiab with the wisdom and skill needed to craft and engineer it.


Halfmom, AKA, Susan said...

You'll love the notes - and the second day's questions - even more to think about in type and symbolism

Ezekiel said...


I love your connections, and I think you're right on target. Regarding the OT-NT echoes, this makes the Septuagint (Greek OT) the Bible student's best friend. Incidentally, one of the most influential volumes of the last couple decades in biblical studies is Richard Hays's Echoes of Scripture. You would like it. He's one of my heroes.

And to build on the Gen 1/Exodus 40 connection: what about John 19v31, Jesus on the cross: "it is finished." What is finished? I think you have some clues in the trail of thought you're already headed down.

p.s. I'm bloggercising again, for I don't know how long.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Yes, redemption and creation certainly go together. When our theology of creation is weak, it impacts our theology of redemption for ill, for sure.

Good thoughts here. And I'm reminded how by grace we enter into God's work ourselves, how we are participants with God, and then dwell with God- we together. I like the emphasis in God and in the people getting the work done. Repetition is sometimes just a part of language and I'd like to know if emphasis is intended here by it. And how translations like the NLT might bring that out, but that's an aside.

Recently a version of a replica of the Tabernacle was in Grand Rapids. Deb and I had the privilege of seeing it, and taking pictures. It was simple and profound of course, in all the meaning, although I have to admit a study in Exodus as you are undertaking would be good for me.