Friday, June 3
Exodus 33: Now comes the order to depart from Sinai (verse 1). It is the second month of the second year of Israel’s journey (Numbers 10:11-12). The Israelites had arrived at the mountain during the third month after their crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus 19:1), so they have been in this site for almost a year.
The Lord’s angel will continue to lead them to the Promised Land (verse 2; cf. 23:20). The reason given for this “mediation,” however, is the Lord’s displeasure with the Israelites; He wants to keep some distance from them, as though He could not trust Himself not to destroy them! (verse 3) Learning this, the people put away their jewelry, lest the sight of it remind Lord of the incident with the golden calf (verse 4). One may also note that, by not wearing it, the Israelites will more readily part with it when the time comes for this jewelry to be employed in the adornment of the tabernacle.
There follows a story of Moses’ regular visits to speak with the Lord of a new tabernacle (verses 7-11), which is not so much a liturgical shrine as a sort of oracular place. In short, it is a place where Moses can confer with God.
Unlike the earlier tabernacle, which was placed at the center of the camp (25:8), this one is set up outside the camp. Moses goes there from time to time, to speak with the Lord in great intimacy (Numbers 10:4-8; 17:7-9). When he arrives, he awaits the coming of the Lord in the cloudy pillar which first appeared at the time of the exodus. The other Israelites observe these encounters of the Lord and Moses from the entrances of their own tents.
This new tabernacle becomes the permanent dwelling of Joshua the Ephraemite who in due course succeeds Moses in the leadership of Israel.
Speaking to the Lord in this new tabernacle, Moses now asks something for himself (verses 12-22), confessing that the coming journey may be simply too much for him to endure unless the Lord gives him sufficient light to make coherent sense of it.
God answers this prayer by granting him a special experience of the divine presence—described as a sort of oblique glance at God, catching sight of the Lord’s glory as it passes by. This description is as close as Moses can come to telling of this fleeting and indirect experience of God’s presence, which has been granted to many of the saints in all ages.
St. Augustine (Questions on the Heptateuch 2.154) interprets “I will pass before you” as a reference to the Resurrection of the Lord. No man has ever seen God, except the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father. To the rest of us is given to perceive the glory of God shining on the face of Christ (cf. John 1:14-18; 2 Corinthians 3:7—4:6; 2 Peter 1:16-19).
Saturday, June 4
Exodus 34: We observe that the Israelites, notwithstanding the command to depart from Sinai at the beginning of the previous chapter, are still at the site (verse 2), and it is clear that they will remain there for some time yet.
Moses, we recall, had broken the original tablets of the Decalogue when—in anger because of the golden calf—he had flung them on the ground (32:19). That physical “breaking” of the Law symbolized the true breaking of the commandments by the idolatrous Israelites. Now these stone tablets must be replaced (verse 1).
It is to be remarked that the two stone tables in verses 1-9, though to the naked eye they may seem lifeless and hard, actually embody the awesome personal experience of Moses described in these verses. Regarded in faith and in the context of the covenant, these stones are alive with the grace of that experience. They are “God’s word written.”
Verses 10-28 are joined by the common theme of the purity required for an exclusive fidelity to God.
The Christian theological meaning of verses 29-35 is explained by St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 3:7—4:6. This is our earliest Christian commentary on the scene here in Exodus:
But if the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which glory was passing away, how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory. For even what was made glorious had no glory in this respect, because of the glory that excels. For if what is passing away was glorious, what remains is much more glorious. Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech– unlike Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away. But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
Sunday, June 5
Exodus 35: The final chapters of Exodus (35—40) tell of the execution of the sundry directions given in chapters 25—31. Moses simply repeats, mostly verbatim, the directions he had received on the mountain, and the Israelites strive to comply.
This section of Exodus seems to have undergone extensive editing, an impression strengthened by the great divergence of order between the inherited Hebrew text and the ancient Greek version handed down in the ancient manuscripts of the Christian Church. The traditional Greek version was clearly based on a Hebrew text greatly at variance with the Hebrew text handed down from the Middle Ages, the Massoretic Text.
Although the instructions in this chapter are given quickly and all at once (verses 1-19), one should probably think in terms of several months for their accomplishment (verses 20-29). There was evidently a great deal of hustle and bustle in progress at the foot of Mount Sinai.
After the instructions, the building and proper appointing of the tabernacle must begin with the gathering of the materials. As we shall see in due course, something in the neighborhood of eight tons of precious metals and stones would be required in this work. In addition, there would need to be wood and various kinds of expensive cloth. The present chapter describes how this vast array of materials is assembled by the generosity of the people. This tabernacle would be the consecration of their own material resources, the fruit of their labor.
Because the tabernacle and its appointments were to be modeled on Moses’ vision of the heavenly and eternal tabernacle of heaven, the construction of all these things was dependent on the grace of the Holy Spirit, who would inspire and guide the minds and hands of the artisans (verse 31).
Acts 1:12-26: God’s preference of Matthias implied no censure of the other man. Joseph Barsabbas was not chosen for that particular apostolate, but there was no implied criticism of him.
All through Holy Scripture, indeed, God repeatedly chooses some individuals over others with a view to the divine purposes in history. While each of those choices necessarily implies a rejection of sorts, such rejections are not necessarily condemnations nor repudiations.
Thus, the Lord was not condemning the other sons of Abijah, years earlier, when he caused the lot to fall on Zacharias. It was simply the case that God chose Zacharias to offer incense that day, and not one of the other priests. Not because Zacharias was worthier than his brethren; it was simply that the all-knowing Lord had some rather specific intention in mind, an intention involving Zacharias’s meeting, that day, with an archangel. God knew what He was about. So, too, with Matthias. The Lord had some specific plans for him.
Monday, June 6
Exodus 36: In the account of the gathering of the various materials for the tabernacle, considerable stress is laid on the people’s generosity. Over the course of history, it is a rare thing that God’s people have to be told, as they are told here, to “stop giving!” (verses 5-7) One suspects that this eager generosity in the present instance was in part prompted by the people’s shame and fear at the recent defection and the divine punishment that ensued.
One may compare the generosity shown here with the unselfishness of the Christians in Philippi in Macedonia who, during the three weeks that St. Paul spent in neighboring Thessaloniki (cf. Acts 17:2), twice sent offerings for the maintenance of his ministry (cf. Philippians 4:16). The Apostle would be speaking about that Macedonian generosity for years to come (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:1-5).
Particularly to be noted in this chapter of Exodus is the use of the “veil” in all of Israel’s worship. Even as God “reveals” (a word that literally means “unveils”) Himself, He is manifested, not as an object open to direct regard, but as supreme Mystery, chiefly to be adored.
When God and man are finally reconciled by the death of Jesus on the Cross, this symbolic veil of the Old Testament is rent asunder (Matthew 27:51). The sacrificed Jesus Himself enters behind the veil of the heavenly tabernacle (Hebrews 6:19). In another sense of the same image—because it houses His divine person—the very flesh of Christ is also called the veil of the divine presence (Hebrews 10:20).
Ephesians 4:1-16: This text speaks of the unity of the Church by a sevenfold use of the word “one.” This combination of the word “one” with the number “seven” is significant, because in the Bible “seven” is the number of fullness and perfection. This text points, then, to the perfection of unity that must obtain in the Church of Jesus Christ. This is what Paul refers to here as “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
This perfection of unity, “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” is a gift of God, but the full context of the reference shows that considerable human effort is required for its maintenance. Thus St. Paul describes Christians as “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
That is to say, “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” does not take care of itself. It requires diligent maintenance: spoudazontes terein, “striving to guard.” This is a vigorous expression. The verb spoudazo indicates great effort, zeal, and struggle. The “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” is something that must be worked at.
The other verb, tereo, which means “to guard,” indicates that “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” is subject to attack. It can be undone and destroyed. Even as a gift from God, it cannot be simply presupposed and taken for granted. Its preservation requires a certain effort at vigilance.
Tuesday, June 7
Exodus 37: This chapter narrates that the ark, the table of the presence bread, the lamp stand, and the incense altar were constructed according the specifications Moses received in his Sinai vision of the heavenly sanctuary.
This distinction between the earthly and heavenly sanctuaries was important to the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, who made it the framework for his soteriological exposition. He speaks of the same elements we find in the present chapter of Exodus: the Ark of the Covenant, the table for the Showbread, the golden lamp stand, the altar of incense. He disappoints us (if one may be completely frank) by finishing his description with the comment: “Of these things we cannot now speak in detail” (Hebrews 9:5). One so wishes he had gone on to speak of these things at much greater length!
The author’s point in the Epistle to the Hebrews, however, is not to satisfy our curiosity with respect to the tabernacle that Moses made. He is interested, rather, in directing our attention to that heavenly sanctuary, “the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation” (9:11). It was into this heavenly tabernacle that Christ entered, unto the fulfillment of our redemption.
This heavenly sanctuary is the one that Moses, in mystic vision, saw on the mountain. It is the one that St. John saw when the door opened into heaven (Revelation 4:1). It is to this eternal and heavenly sanctuary that Christians, in their prayer, have eternal access, because Jesus entered into it as the culminating act of our redemption.
Thus, the various appointments in Moses’ tabernacle corresponded to heavenly models. The seven-branched candlestick (verses 17-24) is modeled on that which John beheld in his vision on the isle of Patmos (Revelation 1:12). There are also the altar of incense (verses 25-28 and Revelation 8:3-4) and the Ark of the Covenant (verses 1-9 and Revelation 11:19).
Psalm 99 (Greek and Latin 98): To seek a fellowship in worship with the likes of Moses, Aaron, and Samuel—as this psalm supposes—is a bold thing. With respect to the first of these, we are told: “So the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Ex. 33:11). And of the second we read that “Aaron lifted his hand toward the people, blessed them, and came down from offering the sin offering, . . . and fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering” (Leviticus 9:22, 24). Finally, with respect to Samuel, we learn that “he called upon the mighty Lord, when his enemies pressed upon him on every side, when he offered the suckling lamb. And the Lord thundered from heaven, and with a great noise made His voice to be heard” (Ecclesiasticus 46:16, 17).
These three men all worshipped the Lord in His tabernacle, whether in the desert or at the shrine of Shiloh. All three, that is to say, stood in the presence of the Lord’s “mercy seat” atop the Ark of the Covenant, overshadowed by the wings of the cherubim, behind the veil, within the Holy of Holies.
Wednesday, June 8
Exodus 38: We come now to the construction of the sacrificial altar (verses 1-7), the basin for washing (verse 8), and the outer court (verses 9-20).
When, at their departure, the Israelites “borrowed” silver, gold, and precious stones from their Egyptian neighbors, the text (11:2) did not indicate just how large was the amount. Now we begin to gain a staggering idea of it (verses 21-31). Although the measurement of the ancient talent varied somewhat, it has been reasonably approximated at over 75 pounds, with three thousand shekels to the talent.
Thus, even on the most conservative estimate, we are dealing here with an enormous amount of precious metal: more than a ton of gold, three and a half tons of silver, nearly three tons of bronze. Moreover, if the weight is being computed according to the later temple measurements, these figures may need to be adjusted up to 20% higher.
We surmise that some of this treasure came from the head tax mentioned earlier (verse 26).
Ephesians 5:1-14: The life in Christ, according to this text, is supposed to bear fruit. This is important to say, because some Christians imagine that they will be judged by their roots, not by their fruits.
Such folk pride and preen themselves about their church membership, or the memory of their conversion (“being saved”), or other things of this sort. They fancy that these considerations are enough for them to be pleasing in God’s sight—-simply because their “past” is Christian.
To Christians such as these John the Baptist says, “bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham” (Mt 2:9).
We must not be deceived on this matter: No one has entered into everlasting life because he belongs to the Church or has had a powerful religious experience that left him feeling spiritually secure. That is to say, no one is in heaven because of his roots. Those who have entered into everlasting life have done so because of their fruits.
This is the fruit that comes from union with Christ. This is the union of which Jesus says, “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples” (John 15:8).
The present text partially describes this fruit: “for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth.” A more ample list is available in Galatians 5: “the fruit of the Spirit is charity, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”
Thursday, June 9 Exodus 39: The text moves now to the vestments of Aaron and his priestly sons. Worthy of particular notice among the priestly vestments is the ornate “breastplate” to be worn by the high priest for purposes of divining (verses 8-21). Its twelve polished stones are arranged according to the marching order of the twelve tribes they represent. Thus, when he appears before God, the high priest is adorned in such a way as to represent the whole chosen people. These stones are themselves symbolic, of course, of the great foundational stones of the heavenly city, that final company of the redeemed (Revelation 21:19-20).
The construction of this tabernacle out in the desert of Sinai was a feat of mammoth and nearly unparalleled difficulty. Aside from all the vestments, hangings, instruments, etc., the metal for the construction of the tabernacle apparatus alone has been estimated to weigh around eight tons. Recalling that it was to be carried through the desert for the next forty years gives one enhanced respect for the Levites who were to carry it!
The completion of this work provides an occasion to list an inventory of all of it (verses 32-43).
This chapter’s final verse, in which Moses “looked over all the work, and indeed they had done it; as the Lord had commanded, just so they had done it,” is strikingly reminiscent of the end of Creation itself: “Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good.”
Indeed, the following comment, “And Moses blessed them,” puts the reader in mind of the blessing that follows the completion of Creation: “Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.”
Ephesians 5:15-33: The life in Christ is melodious. It is a musical life, described in Holy Scripture as singing a new song to the Lord. Thus Paul proclaims in the present text, “be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.”
The life in Christ is a life of song. Cantare amantis est, said St. Augustine, “a lover is a singer.” His contemporary, St. Jerome, described Christian peasants as singing to the Lord, all day long, while they worked in the fields. Acts 16 describes Paul and Silas as singing to the Lord in prison in the middle of the night.
Singing to the Lord is supposed to be a daily activity of the life in Christ. It is not something for just Sunday morning. The texts of worship are supposed to be always in our hearts, so that they may rise to our lips in melodies of praise. The cultivation of hymnody in our lives should be a matter of personal discipline.
Indeed, the memorization of psalms and hymns is part of loving God with our whole mind. How else are we to fulfill the mandate that Paul lays on our conscience in the present text, to speak “one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord”?
The melodies we sing in church are not just for church. They are to nourish our hearts and minds at other times as well—while driving our cars, for instance, while cutting potatoes in the kitchen, or sweeping the floor, and certainly when taking a shower. The Christian Church is a hymn-singing religion, and it has been from the beginning. Christians are hymn singing people.
Friday, June 10
Exodus 40: Moses thus did “everything that the Lord commanded him” (verses 16,19,21,23,25,27,29,32).
The Israelites have now been at the base of Sinai for about nine months (verse 17) and have already received, as we saw earlier, their marching orders (33:1). They are nearly ready to depart.
Everything is to be anointed with consecratory oil (verses 9-15). The Christian will read these verses in the awareness that the tabernacle itself is a prefiguration of Christ, the Anointed One. The Son of God, anointed with the oil of gladness above his fellows, is the permanent presence of God to humanity.
The glory of the divine presence descends into the tabernacle (verses 34-38). This glorious cloud, associated with both the passage through the Red Sea and the giving of the Law on Sinai, is now a feature of God’s ongoing presence with His people. Both events become permanent and “institutionalized” in the Mosaic tabernacle. The divine overshadowing will in due course be transferred to the Solomonic temple at Jerusalem (1 Kings 8:10-11), as well as the second temple (Haggai 2:6-9).
All of these manifestations of the divine presence, as well as the rabbinical speculations regarding the cloud (shekinah), are properly taken as prophetic of the Incarnation, in which God’s eternal and consubstantial Word definitively “pitched His tent (eskenosen) among us” (John 1:14). Thus, all of the earlier overshadowings are but prefigurations of that by which the Holy Spirit effects the mystery of the Incarnation in the Woman who served as the tabernacle of God’s presence in this world; cf. Luke 1:35.
Ephesians 6:1-24: Within this text, Paul describes the panoplia of a soldier standing guard. One does not sit guard, or lie down guard. He stands guard. Indeed, Paul especially emphasizes this point: “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth” and so on.
Standing is more than a posture. It is essentially an attitude and a sustained disposition of soul. We chiefly stand in our hearts and minds. This is the proper expression of being “on guard.” Even when we sit or lie down, our minds and hearts must still stand guard.
The obvious context here is the threat of combat. We stand because there are enemies about, and Paul speaks of these enemies: “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”