These last four chapters of Exodus (I cheated and scanned ahead before I did my close reading) describe the making and erecting of the Tabernacle. The text is highly detailed and repeats much of what Moses is recorded as having been told by God whilst he was on the mountain, so it is quite tempting to skim over it especially when some of it turns into the "church accounts" measured in gold, silver and bronze.
There are however things to be gleaned, if one has the time or inclination to dig a little deeper.
"Bronze Mirror" was the title of one my reading books at primary school - I remember nothing about it, except that it comprised myths and legends of Greek and maybe Roman origin. These polished metal mirrors are alluded to in 1 Corinthians as the means by which we may glimpse "a dim reflection", a poor image and yet one that is worth seeing.
In the account of what is brought for the making of the Tabernacle, one detail is that the women who served at the edge of the tent of meeting brought their bronze mirrors. These were melted down and used to make the basin which was to be used by the priests to wash their hands as part of their ritual purification.
The women chose to relinquish something that they valued, and that had allowed them to see their own image, presumably to tend their appearance, something associated with beauty and perhaps self esteem. With no mirrors they had no way of checking what they looked like, which may have been a challenge for some of them... even I like to check I'm not too dishevelled before I go out or when I come in!
I'm not quite sure what a contemporary equivalent might be, but I am intrigued by the idea of letting go of something that is associated with beauty or appearance in order that it be transformed into something used for purification or within worship. I suspect, though, that were I to arrive at church looking like I'd been dragged through a hedge backwards, there would be - totally legitimate - comments!! ;-)
Many a mickle... or, Every Little Helps
A good chunk of the text is taken up with details about how mucc gold, silver and bronze was donated for the work. Expressed in Talents, Shekels and Bekas it can seem a bit meaningless. So I did a bit of digging around on the web and discovered that:
1 Talent = 3000 Shekels
1 shekel weighs roughly 10g
So, in contemporary measures that means
roughly 877kg gold
roughly 3018kg silver (just over three tonnes)
roughly 2124kg bronze (a little over two tonnes)
Huge quantities, and clearly equivalent to an awful lot of money in today's terms, even with fluctuating metal prices.
But wait, there is an easily overlooked detail... the silver is donated by the men aged 26 and over counted in the census - numbered as 603,550. The average amount per person is therefore half a shekel - called a beka - or roughly 5g. According to one website I looked at, 5g of finest quality silver has a scrap value of about £1.50. Irrespective of the purchasing power, that's not a lot of money. Yet when everyone gave their £1.50 worth of silver... Many a mickle maks a muckle, every little helps... we know this, yet still sometimes it's good to be reminded of it. I for one can be guilty of focussing on the huge sums that required for projects to the detriment of valuing the 'mickles' or the 'bekas' that mount up. There is balance somewhere - simply, and solely, collecting pennies is probably not going to finance a building project or fund a mission worker, however well intentioned. At the same time, focussing on big numbers can disempower those who would gladly give their half a shekel, or their bronze mirror...
Again, it's the details that are so easily overlooked that are striking. A reminder that the little things matter, the 'little people' matter and their gifts are often, as with the widow and her two tiny mites, the most valuable of all.