Light from the Sidra

Pekudei (‘Accounts’). 12th March 2016. 2nd Adar 5776

Torah: Exodus 38:21–40:38. Haftarah: 2 Kings 7:51-8:21

The true Tabernacle

Last week I promised to demonstrate that there was no need for Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai to reinvent Judaism because even though the Jewish people have had no temple for over 1,900 years, the reality the tabernacle symbolised was even more firmly in place. The worship of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob consisted of pitching their tents, building their altars and calling on the name of HASHEM (Genesis 12:8; 26:25; 33:19,20) but when God redeemed Israel from Egypt, he pitched his tent (mishkan) among them and, according to his commandment, the Israelites built an altar and called on his name.

Detailed instructions for the construction of the tabernacle in the wilderness were given to Moses on Mount Sinai, along with an elaborate system of rituals and sacrifices and a professional priesthood to attend to the worship of God. The mishkan was the house of God. It was the place where heaven and earth met. Seven pieces of furniture paved the way from the gate of the outer court of the tabernacle to the holy of holies: the bronze altar of sacrifice; the bronze washbowl; the golden table containing the ‘bread of the face; the seven-branched lampstand or menorah; the gold altar of incense; and the ark of the covenant on which rested the mercy seat of God.

These pieces of furniture were laid out in the form of a cross. The twelve tribes camped round the tabernacle in the pattern of a cross. When the blood of the Passover lamb was daubed on the doorposts and lintels of the Israelite homes in Egypt, the one who painted the blood did so by making the sign of the cross. The cross has always been way to God and the means of redemption for God’s people.

Exodus 40:33-35 tells us that when Moses erected the tabernacle, ‘The cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of HASHEM filled the Tabernacle.’ The Gospel According to John 1:14 in the New Testament tells us, ‘The Word [of God that created the Universe in Gen 1:1] became flesh, and set his tabernacle among us [the Jewish people]. We saw his glory, a glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.’

John chose his words carefully: Jesus became flesh and pitched his tabernacle among us. Therefore the mishkan in the wilderness foreshadowed Jesus, so that Jesus is the true mishkan in whom the glory of God resides. John reveals the glory of Jesus by showing how every piece of furniture in the Tabernacle corresponded to a glorious quality in Jesus.

John does something none of the other Gospel writers do. He first of all presents to us Jesus as ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.’ When John identifies Jesus as ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, he is taking us to the altar of sacrifice The lambs that atoned for sins were sacrificed on the bronze altar just inside the gate of the tabernacle courtyard and John identifies Jesus as the sacrificial ‘Lamb of God’.

The second piece of furniture in the Tabernacle was the bronze laver, at which the priests bathed themselves daily before commencing their duties. The recurring motif in the next four chapters of John’s Gospel is water. In chapter 2, Jesus turns water into something better: wine and in the next chapter he teaches Torah scholar Nakdimon that ‘unless one is born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’ In chapter 4, Jesus says that he has water to give that will become in those who drink ‘a spring of water swelling up to eternal life.’ Finally, Jesus heals a cripple at a water pool near the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem.

In John 6 Jesus performs an incredible miracle in the Galilee when he feeds thousands of people with a few loaves and some fish. The miracle becomes a lesson that Jesus is the ‘bread of life’: ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.’ The ‘Bread’ section finishes at the end of chapter 7 where John records an argument among the people about whether Jesus is the Messiah: ‘Some of the people said, “This really is the Prophet,” Others said, “This is the Messiah.” But some said, “Is the Messiah to come from Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Messiah… comes from Bethlehem [‘House of Bread’]?”’

From chapter 9 of John’s Gospel to the end of chapter 16, the dominant motif is light, a motif that corresponds to the menorah in the tabernacle. Light is a symbol of truth and chapters 13-16 comprise the longest recorded discourse by Jesus, as he teaches his disciples: ‘I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.’

A beautiful little gold altar stood before the curtain which sealed off the holy of holies from the Most Holy Place. Here, the High Priest prayed for the people wearing a linen breastplate with twelve precious stones attached to it so that he carried the people of Israel on his heart (Ex 28:29). In John 17, Jesus carries his people through all ages on his heart before God as he prays in the Garden of Gethsemane: ‘I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.’

John’s Gospel reveals the glory of Jesus as the fulfilment of all that the furniture of the Tabernacle symbolised. As the Lamb of God, Jesus is Israel’s atonement and the source of forgiveness; as the fulfilment of the laver, he provides inner cleansing, refreshment and satisfaction; as the ‘bread from heaven’, he feeds and sustains his people; as the ‘light of the world’ he is the perfect light, by whom we find HASHEM; as the high priest, he bears his people on his heart and constantly intercedes for them in heaven; after his resurrection he physically ascended to the Holy of Holies in heaven where, as it were, he sprinkled his atoning blood. Whatever we need, Jesus is the answer. In him heaven and earth meet. He is Israel’s perfect tabernacle, whose glory we see in the pages of the Fourth Gospel.

Since Rabbi Yochanan be Zakkai restructured Judaism after the earthly Temple was removed Judaism has had no glory. If he had only embraced Jesus, Judaism would have had an even greater glory than the earthly tabernacle could sustain. But that glory is available to Jewish people today with a greater atonement, a greater cleansing, a greater light and greater High Priest. Why settle for a Judaism that was made on the hoof as a substitute for the Judaism revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. Come to HASHEM through the one of whom the glorious ancient mishkan was but a dim foreshadowing.

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