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Way Out Lent (19) Exodus 39,40

Well done loyal reader - if you have stuck with me this far, you have made it through the whole of Exodus!

The final couple of chapters are mainly taken up with description of the making of the vestments for Aaron and his sons in their perpetual ordination as a priestly order/clan.  Again, it's tempting to skim-read and so miss odd details that are, in my view, worth noting.

A Huge Project!

We are not told exactly how many people were involved in making the items that would form the Tabernacle, the sacred objects to go inside it or the garments for the priests, but it is safe to assume it must have been a lot.  When everything is complete, the people bring it to Moses, who notes that everything has been completed exactly as required... for once the people have obeyed God's commands to the letter - not one 'jot or tittle' has been overlooked.  After all that has gone on before, now is a good day, an excellent day - and Moses blesses the people.

I imagine the people were were pretty chuffed with themselves - and rightly so, they had achieved something incredible.  This for everyone was the culmination of a long, challenging project begun at a time when they seem to have been in some state of disarray following the Golden Calf incident.

There can be something hugely unifying about sharing in a large, complex project.  There can be a shared sense of purpose that draws people together in ways not otherwise so easy to achieve.

There is something good in pausing to savour the moment when a project is completed - but also the recognition that this is a pause not an ending, a marker on a journey (literal or metaphorical) not an ultimate destination.  And that can be tricky for everyone.

For now, though, a moment to rejoice with the Israelites as they complete a huge project successfully.

A Year On...

We are told that this project was completed, and the Tabernacle dedicated on Day 1 of Month 1 of Year 2 after the people left Egypt.  Without getting hung up on the chronology and its literal or symbolic significance, what we do see is that this emergent nation has come a long way very quickly.  Since leaving Egypt there has been what management courses refer to as "storming, norming and performing" as structure of governance and a legal framework emerged.  Moses has had to learn how to lead this "stiff-necked people" and of his own need for support in so-doing.  The people have moaned and grumbled about how much better the old regime was; the unintended consequences of the choices they made have begun to emerge, and they have flirted with an alternative religious framework.

Cloud and Fire

This section, and with it the scroll, ends by telling us that cloud descends on the Tabernacle, a sign that God's glory fills it, and that Moses cannot enter it unless or until the cloud lifts.  I do find myself wondering at this - so much effort has gone into creating it, and now no-one is allowed in because God is there.  I guess it reflects a very different worldview, and serves as yet another reminder that we need to be careful when we approach these texts not read in what isn't there or read out through unhelpful lenses.

The cloud by day and the fire by night, and when they lift, the people move on, in step with God's leading.  Maybe that's the point, the message to be found?  In the letter to the Galatians we are urged to "keep in step with the Spirit".  I am reminded of a conversation with a minister friend many years back about this verse, and a shared observation that this meant neither lagging behind (the interpretation we had both heard many times) nor running on ahead (an interpretation neither of us had heard) but going at the same pace as God's Spirit.  Maybe the Israeilites, for all their stubborness, wilfulness and apparent slowness in understanding, might also have been tempted to rush on ahead, to try to get to their final destination as quickly as possible, thereby arriving without learning whatever they stil needed to learn.  Maybe they needed the steadying presence of the cloud/fire.  Maybe I/we do too.


So that's Exodus in 19 days!  I've discovered and rediscovered a lot from this close reading, and have found myself challenged along the way.  Tomorrow it will be on to Numbers... and you are invited to journey on with me, if you find that interesting or helpful.

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