Exodus 38-40
(Tabernacle Done!)
January 27th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verse

All the gold used in the entire construction of the sanctuary, having previously been given as an offering, amounted to twenty-nine talents and seven hundred and thirty shekels, according to the standard of the sanctuary shekel.

- Exodus 38:24 (NAB)

Summary of Chapters

The Israelites were all descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The family had immigrated to Egypt during a terrible drought, as described at the end of the book of Genesis. After some number of generations the Egyptians enslaved the Israelites, but God came to the rescue, appointing Moses and his brother Aaron to confront the Pharaoh of Egypt and lead his people out of bondage, as described earlier in Exodus. God had led the people into the desert, where he gave them instructions on how to worship him and live with each other.

Today's story, captured in the last three chapters of Exodus, describes a scene that took place about one year after the escape from Egypt. At this point in the narrative, the Israelites had just finished constructing all components of the tabernacle for worship under the supervision of Moses. They also set up the tabernacle for the first time.

Chapter 38 provides the details of the measurements and materials used by carpenters and other craftspeople for constructing the altar, the washing basin, and an elaborate courtyard. Note that some translations of the Bible reference a measurement known as a cubit, which is about 1 feet (almost half a meter). Thus, the alter for burnt offerings described in Exodus 38:1 was 5 cubits long by 5 cubits wide in the ancient measuring systems as reported in many translates, which is the equivalent of about 7 feet by 7 feet (as noted in the MSG) in US Customary Units (which is also relatively ancient) or 2.2 meters by 2.2 meters (as noted in the GNB) in the metric system.

The end of this chapter provides a staggering accounting of the precious metals collected from the people for use in the building of the tabernacle. For example, Ithamar, son of Aaron recorded that the amount of gold they had collected was "29 talents and 730 shekels (Exodus 38:24 - NIV)," which is about 1 metric ton of gold, or 32,150 troy ounces. At market prices from January 2016 of US$1,110 per troy ounce, that ton of gold would be worth over US$35 million! The amount of silver collected was about four times the volume of the gold collected and the amount of bronze collected was about twice the size of the gold.

Chapter 39 describes the garments created for Aaron and the other priests by the weavers and embroiderers (Aaron had been forgiven for his role in the desert rebellion). The end of the chapter describes Moses' inspection of all of the components for the tent, including the priestly garments.

    The Israelites completed all the work, just as God had commanded. Moses saw that they had done all the work and done it exactly as God had commanded. Moses blessed them.

    - Exodus 39:42-43 (MSG)

In the final chapter, the LORD tells Moses to set up the tabernacle, and he explained where to place all the sacred objects. It was the beginning of the second year in the desert. The LORD filled the tent with his glory, as symbolized by a cloud that covered it. When the cloud lifted, the Israelites were to take the tabernacle down, move to a new location, and set it up there.

Reflection and Application

Good leaders communicate plans, delegate to trusted team members, and give praise where applicable, as Moses did in supervising the building of the tabernacle. Good leaders also follow the instructions from the people above them. Note that in chapter 39, seven of the paragraphs end with the refrain, "as the LORD commanded Moses (e.g. Exodus 39:1)." The same pattern occurs in chapter 40, where there are seven instances of either "the LORD commanded Moses" or "as the LORD commanded him." Moses respected the higher authority and obeyed.

Good leaders also need a skilled and diverse team to achieve their project goals. Therefore each role in the church or any other project is important, no matter how insignificant it may seem. Think for a moment about the role of the embroiderers and weavers of the robes for the high priests, and the people who contributed gold, silver, and bronze that added up to tons of precious metal. These roles may not have been on center stage, like the ones performed by Bezalel and Oholiab. Nevertheless, the contributions from the weavers, embroiderers, and precious metal donors was just as valuable, as was the role of the people who fed and cared for the workers during the construction project.

Think for a moment about the contrast of the Hebrews' work before and after the Exodus. They had been living under the laws of oppression in Egypt for 400 years. The Pharaoh and other Egyptians forced the Israelites to build palaces and cities that exalted earthly leaders and various pagan gods, none of which had any real power. Following the Exodus, the Israelites were living under a set of fair laws and rules that required respect of every individual. They voluntarily built a tabernacle that honored the one true God, who provided protection, wisdom, and food. All the people would benefit from the sacrifice and worship at the tabernacle.

We had noted in the study for See Study of Exodus 24-27 that the lampstand represented the Holy Trinity: The substance of the lampstand was pure gold, which symbolizes God the Father in his divine nature. The gold was beaten into the form of a lampstand, which symbolizes God the Son, who is the embodiment of God the Father. The seven shining lamps symbolize God the Spirit as the seven spirits of God Note that each of the other articles in the tabernacle also had a special significance (1):

    Ark of the Covenant Symbolized God's covenant with Israel's people
    Atonement Cover Symbolized the presence of God among his people
    Curtain Symbolized how the people were separated from God because of sin
    Bread of the Presence Symbolized the spiritual nourishment God offers his people
    Altar of Incense Symbolic of acceptable prayer
    Anointing Oil A sign of being set apart for God
    Altar of Burnt Offering Symbolized how sacrifice restored one's relationship with God
    Basin Symbolized the need for spiritual cleansing

The descendants of the twelve tribes had thirty-eight more years of wandering yet to go, but they had established critical foundations of rule and worship for the future generations, which was an important milestone in the metanarrative of the Bible.

This reading concludes our study of the book of Exodus. What are the words and themes that resonated most for you? What words do you think occurred most often in this book? Consider that question for a few minutes and then take a look at a graphical word count from the Sixty-Six Clouds website: Exodus word cloud

"From the Inside Out," performed by Hillsong

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. What has been one of your most memorable projects of building a physical structure (house, furniture, etc.)?
    2. What are the forces that are currently oppressing you and how do you make your exodus from those forces?
    3. Once you have escaped, what will be your new guidelines for living and worshiping?
    Recommended Prayer
    Father, please help me to trust you to deliver us from whatever oppression we face and help us live according to your guidelines.

    Suggested Prayer Concerns
    Sextons and other caretakers of houses of worship


    (1) Life Application Study Bible, New International Version, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, M; 1991, p.161

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Overview of Leviticus and Leviticus 1-4 (Four Types of Sacrifices)

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