Friday, May 31

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 1

John 9:13-23: The story of the Man Born Blind is an illustration of a theme introduced early in the Gospel of John. As He begins to heal the blind man, Jesus 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). This man born blind, then, is the image of all to whom the true Light appears.

The enemies of Jesus in this story are theorists. They know that Jesus “is not from God” (9:16), because His interpretation of the Law differs from theirs. By way of contrast, the man born blind begins with no theory. Indeed, he is a practical empiricist, who knows what he sees: “One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see” (9:25). For him, any theories about “who sinned” must commence with certain established facts, facts as plain as the mud that he washed from his eyes.

Commencing with these facts, the man will reason his way to others, and one may observe a transformation in his regard for Jesus. It is ironic, moreover, that the interrogation of the Lord’s enemies becomes the impetus driving him to an ever more comprehensive recognition.

Immediately after the healing, he speaks simply of “a Man called Jesus” (9:11). When pushed on the point, however, he finds himself forced to a new conclusion about Jesus: “He is a prophet” (9:17). As he argues with Jesus’ enemies, logic compels him to admit that Jesus comes from God (9:32). Finally, he recognizes that Jesus is the Son of God, and at his last appearance in this story the man born blind is prostrate before Him in adoration (9:35–38).

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 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.

Sunday, June 2

Acts 1:15-26: There is a rolling of dice near both the beginning (1:9) and the ending (23:34) of that Gospel. However subtle, nonetheless, this symmetry was hardly lost on the refined Schriftsgefu?hl of St. Ambrose, who perceived therein a comparison and contrast between the Levitical priesthood of Zacharias, chosen by lot to offer the incense, and that new priesthood by which Jesus offered His sacrifice on the Cross while the soldiers cast lots for His clothing. “So the priest was chosen by lot,” he says with respect to Zacharias, and then he adds: “Perhaps on this account the soldiers cast lots for the Lord’s garments. Since the Lord prepared to offer sacrifice for us in His temple, the shaking of the lots around Him would also fulfill the precept of the Law.”

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, June 3

Psalms 89 (Greek & Latin 88): 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.

A text from St. Clement of Alexandria, around the year 200, suggests how these three themes are organically connected. He wrote that “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, June 4

Psalms 100 (Greek & Lain 99): The correct praise of God in this psalm, as truly in all of Holy Scripture, is inseparable from our relationship to Him in covenant. He is “our God,” as distinct from simply “God.” And we are “His people,” as distinct from just a bunch of folks. This mutual belonging to one another is the whole business of the covenant. “I will be their God, and they shall be My people,” the Lord says through Jeremiah (31:33) in a passage later quoted by Hebrews (8:10). This, one may take it, is the source of the joy in our psalm.

This “belonging,” nonetheless, our mutual relationship to God, is not a purely individual thing. True it is, of course, that He “calls his own sheep by name “(John 10:3), nor is one disposed to give that important fact less than its proper emphasis. The Good Shepherd did die for each one of us (cf. Gal. 2:20), so each of us can address Him as “my God,” which in the psalms we rather often do. In the present psalm, on the other hand, the accent seems rather to fall on the human community created by God’s covenant; we speak of ourselves as “the sheep of His pasture.” It is precisely the pasture that we belong to; it is the flock that we are members of. Which is to say that the mystery of Holy Church is ever at the heart of our prayer, no matter how individual the setting or intimate the sentiments.

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, June 5

Psalms 101 (Greek & Latin 100): In this psalm we twice 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.

Proper, godly governance of one’s house is called “economics,” another Greek word that literally means “house law.” Perhaps most often understood nowadays solely in terms of the material resources of a household, economics certainly means a great measure more. A house is a human institution, after all, and a properly human existence involves dimensions far beyond the maintenance of physical and material conditions. If man is truly to be man, he does not live by bread alone. Indeed, with respect to those material and physical things needed for the household, our unique Economist affirmed that, if we will seek first the Kingdom of God and His justice, all these other things would be given to us as well. The standing or falling of houses has less to do with the material than with the moral, for the pursuit of justice is the true foundation of a house.

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 6

1 Corinthians 12:12-31: It is important not to separate these verses from Paul’s theology of the Lord’s Supper in chapter 10, where he wrote, “The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, being many, are one bread, one body; for we all partake of that one bread.” The union of Christians with one another is derived from their sharing the one bread and cup of the Lord’s Supper.

Paul extends that thought here in chapter 12. When Paul describes the Church here as Christ’s body, he is not using a simple metaphor. He does not mean, simply, that the organization of the Church resembles a living body. He has in mind, rather, the mystic unity of believers with one another by reason of their union with Christ.

Later, in the epistles to the Colossians and the Ephesians, Paul will further develop that thought in a new direction, when he calls Christ the ‘head” of that body.

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 7

Psalms 107 (Greek & Latin 106): This psalm describes a series of adversities suffered by God’s servants, along with His continued intervention to deliver them from all such troubles. It is an historical meditation for attaining contemplative wisdom; its final line asks, “Who is wise and will guard these things, and will understand the mercies of the Lord?”
Among the distresses of God’s servants, as our psalm narrates them, we may identify two sections, one near the beginning and one close to the end, as dealing with the sufferings associated with the wandering of the people in the desert.

Between these two sections are three others that describe a situation of imprisonment or bondage, a sickness, and a storm at sea. All of these depictions are colorful and detailed. Two refrains bind all the parts together: “Then they cried to the Lord in their tribulation, and He delivered them from their every distress,” and “Let them confess the Lord for His mercies, and His wonders to the sons of men.”

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.