Light from the Sidra

Pekudei ('Amounts of...'). 1 March 2014. 29 Adar 5774

Torah: Exodus 38:21-40:38. Haftarah: Ezekiel 45:16-46:18

Please note that unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from Tanach (The Artscroll™ Series/Stone Edition, April 2013. Published and Distributed by Mesorah Publications, Ltd, 4401 Second Avenue / Brooklyn, New York 11232)

The true Tabernacle

Last week I said I would demonstrate that there was no need for Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai to reinvent Judaism because, even though the Temple had been destroyed, the reality it symbolised was even more firmly in place.

M. R. DeHaan stated, ‘The only building ever constructed upon this earth which was perfect from its very beginning and outset in every detail, and never again needed attention, alteration, was the tabernacle in the wilderness . . . Every single detail was designed by Almighty God, every part had a prophetic, redemptive and typical significance.’

The worship of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob consisted of pitching their tents, building their altars and calling on the name of the Lord (Gen 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, they built an altar and called on his name. When Israel came into the land God promised them and began to live in permanent dwellings, God also began to live in a house of stone, the temple.

Detailed instructions for the construction of the tabernacle in the wilderness were given to Moses on Mount Sinai, and an elaborate system of rituals and sacrifices was also ordained with 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. In Exodus 40, as the Tabernacle was raised and dedicated, and the glory of God descended and tok up residence in the Holy of Holies.

The Mishkan proper was situated in a courtyard. It measured 30 cubits (45 feet) by ten cubits (15 feet) by ten cubits. Inside, the mishkan was divided into two sections: the Holy Place, where the priests went daily to perform their duties, and the Most Holy Place (Holy of Holies). The two sections were divided by a thick curtain, and the High Priest alone was allowed to go beyond that curtain or veil once a year on the Day of Atonement (Lev 16).

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 bath or laver; the golden table containing the ‘bread of the Presence’; 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 was laid out in the form of a cross. The twelve tribes camped round the Tabernacle in the shape 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 says: ‘ [Moses] erected the Courtyard all around the Tabernacle and . . . completed the work. The cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of HASHEM filled the Tabernacle.’

In the New Testament’s Gospel According to John 1:14, the author Yochanan tells us, ‘The Word [of God that created the Universe in Gen 1:1] became flesh, and set his tent among us [the Jewish people]. We saw his glory, a glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.’

Yochanan (John) chose his words carefully. ‘The Word became flesh and set his tent [or Tabernacle] among us.’ Yochanan was claiming that the Mishkan in the wilderness was a foreshadowing of Yeshua (Jesus), the Word of God, and that Jesus is in fact the true Mishkan in whom the glory of God lives. In his Gospel, John reveals the glory of the Word by showing how every piece of furniture in the Tabernacle corresponded to a glorious quality in Jesus.

First of all, John does something none of the other Gospel writers do. He presents to us Jesus as ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.’ By so doing, he takes us inside the gate of the true Tabernacle to:

1. The Altar of Sacrifice (Ex 27:1-8; 38:1-7)

John 1:29: ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.’ See also 1:36: ‘Behold the Lamb of God!”

The lambs that atoned for sins were sacrificed on the bronze altar just inside the gate of the Tabernacle courtyard. By identifying Jesus as the sacrificial ‘Lamb of God’, John is taking us to that altar.

2. The Basin/Laver (Ex 30:17-21; 38:8)

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 John chapters 2 to 5 is water. Water that is better because it is turned into wine; water that reaches the parts the water of the Tabernacle could ever do.

2:1-11: ‘. . .When the master of the feast tasted the water that had now become wine . . . This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory.’

3:1-8: ‘Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’

4:1-30: ‘But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water swelling up to eternal life.’

5:1-9: ‘Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda . . . One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty eight years.’

3. The Table of “Shewbread” (Ex 25:1-9; 37:10-16)

The theme of John 6 is the feeding of a great multitude of people in Galilee and Jesus’ declaration that he is the ‘bread of life’.

6:35: ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.’

6:41: ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’

6:51: ‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven.’

In the next chapter, John concludes his theme of Jesus the True Bread with what might seem to us to be a throwaway line but which would have had great significance to his first-century Jewish readers. Jesus the ‘bread of life’ was born in Bethlehem which, in Hebrew (Beit Lechem), means ‘House of Bread’.

7:35: ‘When they heard these words, 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?”’

4. The Menorah/Seven-branched Lampstand (Ex 25:31-40; 37:17-24)

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 ancient Tabernacle. Light is a symbol of truth and chapters 13-16 comprise the longest recorded discourse by Jesus in the Gospels, as he teaches his disciples.

9:5: ‘As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’

9:39: ‘For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.’

11:9,10: ‘If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.’

12:35,36: ‘The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.

12:44: ‘I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.’

5. The Altar of Incense (Ex 30:1-10; 37:25-29)

A beautiful little gold altar stood before the curtain which sealed off the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place. Here, the High Priest prayed for the people wearing the 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 Gerthsemane.

17:9: ‘I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.’

17:20: ‘I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.’

6&7. The Ark of the Covenant & the Mercy Seat (Ex 25:10-22; 37vv1-9)

21:17: ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’

According to the Letter to the Hebrews 9:11,12, ‘Messiah appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.’

In his Gospel, Yochanan 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 and inner refreshment and satisfaction; as the ‘bread from heaven’, he feeds and sustains his people in himself; as the ‘light of the world’ he is the perfect light, by whom we find the Father (14:6); 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 all Jews today with a greater atonement, a greater cleansing, a greater light and greater High Priest.

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