Friday, May 26

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, May 27

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 in 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, May 28

John 9:24-41: We come now to the deeper blindness in the story, an unrepentance that is the real sin. Thus, at the very end of the account, Jesus gives the response to the original query, “Who sinned?” To those hard of heart who condemned the man born blind, the Lord asserts, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘We see.’ Therefore, your sin remains” (9:41).

This is the story’s final answer to its first question. Thus, the problem of “who sinned” is an interpretive key to the whole narrative. The real sin in this story is the unbelief which is willful darkness, intentional darkness, a preference for darkness rather than light. This is the blindness of Sodom and the 9th plague of Egypt.

This intricate narrative is an illustration of a theme introduced early in the Gospel of John. As Jesus begins to heal the blind man, he announces, “I am the light of the world” (9:5), a self-identification paraphrasing a line near the beginning of the Gospel: “That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world” (1:9). Just a few weeks ago, at the midnight opening of Pascha, we stood here in church and heard those words.

This man born blind, then, is represents all those to whom the true Light appears, full of truth and glory.

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).

Monday, May 29

Psalms 89 (Greek and Latin 88): This psalm is composed of three parts. The first has to do with God’s activity in the creation of the heavens and the earth, the second with His covenant and promise with respect to the house of David, and the third with certain crises of history that threaten that covenant and put its promise at peril. All three themes are organically connected.

To see how these three realities are joined within the Christian mystery, we may begin with a text from St. Clement of Alexandria around the year 200. He wrote:

the ancient and catholic Church stands alone in essence and idea and principle and preeminence, gathering together, by the will of the one God, through the one Lord, into the unity of the one faith, built upon the appropriate covenants, or rather the one covenant given at different times, all those who are already enlisted in it, whom He foreordained, having known from the foundation of the world that they would be righteous (Stromateis 7.17.107).

In sum, all of God’s dealings with this world are of whole cloth, including the grace of creation. All the historical covenants are expressions of the one covenant. From the beginning of time there has been only one God, one Lord, one faith. The mystery of Christ was already present, then, when the voice of God called out into the aboriginal darkness of non-being, “Let there be light.” Christ is no afterthought in the divine plan; God has no relations with this world except in Christ. Even when the Father’s voice imposed form over the chaos of nonexistence, it was the form contained in His Word, who is His Son. God’s covenant with creation was the initial exercise in applied Christology.

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).

Tuesday, May 30

John 10:10-21: The difference between the hireling and the true shepherd, our Lord declares, is that the sheep belong to the shepherd. They do not belong to the hireling. With respect to the hireling the sheep are not “his own sheep.”

Between the sheep and the shepherd, says Jesus, there is a relationship of recognition. They know one another. What sort of knowledge is this? It is like the knowledge that God the Father has for His Son. It is intimate and essential.

This mutual recognition of the sheep and the Shepherd is one of communion. The death of the Shepherd does more than free the sheep from the wolf. It introduces the sheep into a new life of divine communion. The Shepherd’s Resurrection—the life of the Resurrection—is the goal and purpose of His death:

As the Son receives His identity from the Father, so these sheep receive their identity from the Shepherd. The true identity of the sheep is not monistic. It comes from their recognition of the One to whom they belong. The Shepherd truly owns them. They do not belong to themselves. Left to themselves, they would have no identity, and no one to protect them from the wolf.

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 that 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).

Wednesday, May 31

Psalms 101 (Greek and Latin 100): This is a hymn of dedication and promise on the part of God’s servant, and its reference to the punishment of evildoers has prompted some critics to see in it the kind of righteous political program possibly associated with a royal enthronement. Indeed, the psalm is ascribed to David.

Along with such a political reading of the text, nonetheless, this psalm applies also to the humbler, yet perhaps more substantial task of the governance of one’s own home. Twice here we find the expression “my house”—“I have walked in the innocence of my heart, in the midst of my house” and “The man who practices arrogance will not lodge in the midst of my house.” This psalm may be read, then, as a text concerned with the godly governance of a man’s household.

A house is an intentionally structured reality; it is quite different from dwelling in a cave or abiding under the branches of a tree. A house is designed; it is shaped according to a pattern, and the integrity of the house depends on its adherence to principles and laws. And what is true of the house is true likewise of the household, which is also structured according to principles and laws.

A household, moreover, is “hierarchical,” a Greek word indicating that its structure, its ordering, is sacral and stands under the aegis of heavenly prerogative. Founded on divinely sanctioned authority, families are hierarchical realities. Family homes are eminently prescriptive institutions, the loci of inherited wisdom and the transmission of identity and culture. It is in homes that we learn to speak, and therefore to think. It is in homes that we learn to relate to other people and are thus cultured into human beings.

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).

Thursday, June 1

Psalm 105 (Greek and Latin 104): Following a primitive schema preserved in Deuteronomy 26:1–9, the narrative in this psalm breaks into three parts: the Patriarchs, the sojourn in Egypt, and the Exodus, all of them joined by the themes of God’s fidelity to His covenant promises and His active providence in fulfilling them.

While the whole psalm deals with God’s providence on behalf of all the people, the second section, dealing with the sojourn in Egypt, also includes what we may think of as “individual” providence. What the Bible portrays as God’s care for the history of the whole people of Israel is shown also to be at work in the life and destiny of a single man. It is the awesome story of Joseph and God’s care for him through many trials. Sold by his brothers into Egypt, falsely accused and unjustly imprisoned, forsaken for twenty years, the faith of Joseph was still able to say, at the end: “God sent me before you to preserve life. . . . God sent me before you. . . . But as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 45:5, 7; 50:20). Joseph’s faith in God’s providence, even as he was proved by steel and fire, is preserved also in this psalm: “[God] sent a man before them, Joseph, sold into slavery. They humbled his feet with fetters; his soul was shackled in iron. Until his word came to pass, the word of the Lord seared through him.”

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.”

Friday, June 2

Psalms 107 (Greek and Latin 106): This psalm celebrates God’s deliverance of His People in four situations of distress (corresponding to the four directions of the compass in verse 3). These are described in language with multiple references. Thus, when the psalm speaks of suffering in a waterless, trackless wasteland, this may be understood as referring to the return from the Babylonian Exile as well as to the earlier wandering of the Exodus generation.

It may also include any experience of being lost and trying to find one’s way back home. t may describe the journey of a reckless son lost in a distant country and already given up for dead (Luke 15:13, 24). This son, in turn, may be Jacob exiled in Harran, where the drought consumed him by day, and the frost by night, and sleep departed from his eyes (cf. Gen. 31:40). And it may likewise be any one or all of us, exiled from the Garden and wandering away from the face of God. This part of the psalm, then, is a parable of ourselves “without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12).

Similarly, the psalm’s next part, dealing with bondage or imprisonment, may refer to Joseph sold into slavery, fettered in a foreign land and presumed already to have perished (Gen. 37). Or it may be descriptive of Micaiah (1 Kin. 22:26, 27), or Jeremiah (chapters 37—39), or John the Baptist (Matt. 11; 14), or the Apostle Paul (Acts 23—26). And it may refer to our spiritual captivity, of which Jesus said that He came to set the oppressed at liberty (Luke 4:18).

Then there is the section of the psalm describing conditions of sickness, which is manifold in its applications. This could be a prayer during the deathly illness of King Hezekiah, for instance, or the affliction of the paralytics of Capernaum (Mark 2) and Bethesda (John 5), or the woman with chronic bleeding (Mark 5), or the lame man at the gate called Beautiful (Acts 3). To Jesus, after all, they brought “all sick people who were afflicted with various diseases and torments, and those who were demon-possessed, epileptics, and paralytics; and He healed them” (Matt. 4:24). And the Lord’s healing especially concerns the forgiveness of sins (cf. Mark 2:5; John 5:14). This part of the psalm, then, is also a metaphor of our own various illnesses.

Likewise, when our psalm speaks of enduring a storm at sea, it may refer to the storm suffered by the shipmates of Jonah, or St. Paul, or the disciples on the Lake of Gennesaret, while Jesus yet slept in the stern of the boat. The fierce storm of this story may also indicate all of us as “children, tossed to fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting” (Eph. 4:14). Many and diverse are this world’s storms and hurricanes.

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).