Further Up and Further In (Exodus 40)

Exodus is like climbing a mountain, whereupon coming up through the mist and cloud, expecting to arrive at the summit, you discover yet another mountain remains to be climbed. How sad that many climb only through the first mist and soon give up for exhaustion or for boredom. By God’s grace one presses on through the first summit of God’s ten wonders of judgment. From there you behold intimidating Sinai, but sure of your mediator Jesus Christ, you press upward and behold greater glories. Still, God called his children to go further up with Moses, to the heavenly heights to behold the tabernacle as a revelation of heavenly truths.

On the other side, after a laborious but worthwhile climb, you come to the consummation of the construction of this tent, anticipating the greatest sight of glory yet.

The filling of the tabernacle is the climactic glory of Exodus; the supreme manifestation of God’s glory in this epic book. Israel has seen the Nile turned to blood, the Egyptian’s livestock die of plague, hail decimate her crops, darkness cover their land, and their firstborn die. She’s seen the Red Sea split and walked through it. She ate manna in the wilderness and water from the rock. She has seen Sinai covered in smoke and fire, trembling beneath the glory of God—but this surpasses all she’s seen. Here is how you know that this is the supreme manifestation of God’s glory—Moses, who spoke with God at the burning bush, Moses, through whom God’s ten wonders came, Moses, who split the river and struck the rock, Moses, who ascended Sinai and beheld God’s glory and spoke with God as a man speaks to his friend—this Moses couldn’t enter the tent for the glory of God (Exodus 40:35). One commentator says that the tabernacle thus becomes “a miniature portable Sinai [MacKay].” It may be miniature as to physical size but it is bigger in glory.

Exodus ends on this climax without consummation or resolution. It ends on a to be continued. There are heights yet to climb. Exodus is clearly part of a multi-volume work with Leviticus picking up where Exodus leaves off. Yes, even with all five volumes of the Pentateuch, Moses didn’t get to finish. The same cloud of glory that dwells in Israel’s midst will guide and protect them bringing them to the promised land, and thus into fuller enjoyment of Yahweh’s covenant with them. Moses didn’t write that chapter, because he didn’t experience it, but this isn’t to say he missed the height of heights.

God, by His Spirit is still leading his people home, and He will not forsake any of us, bringing us all to the height of heights, Mount Zion, the new Jerusalem, where all is temple, illuminated by the glory of God.

Follow the Tendons (Exodus 39)

As you study the anatomy of the Scripture, don’t be so wowed by its muscle that you fail to notice the ligaments and tendons. The connective tissue of the Bible is fascinating. Often it tells you what the muscle is there for—what it does.

Note the way this section (Exodus 39:1–32), which clearly deals with the priest’s garments, begins. There is no introduction. It seems abrupt and clumsy. In urging you to pay attention to the connective tissue of the Bible I am also asking you to pay little regard to chapter divisions. They’re helpful as addresses and pretty much detrimental otherwise. The chapter divisions often dissect the text unnaturally, separating muscle from tendon. Read from 38:21 forward, without the chapter division, and see if there is a flow. When you read about the records for the tabernacle, do you feel as though something is missing? Of all the things contributed for the tabernacle, we’re only told about the precious metals. What about the fabric?

So while Exodus 39:1–32 is different, it clearly has ties back to chapter 38. Here is why this is significant: it means that the priestly garments are part of the tabernacle. The making of them is included as part of “the records of the tabernacle (38:21).” This section ends speaking of the completion of “the work of the tabernacle (39:32).” These garments match the tabernacle curtains and the veil because they are one with it. The priest, clothed in holiness is linked to the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies as part of it. Vern Poythress writes, “The high priest himself is in fact a kind of vertical replica of the tabernacle.”

So, this is significant, because all of this is significant. All of this, altogether, inseparably, is a sign pointing to Christ. This is what the connective tissue of the Bible always tells us. Why is the muscle there? Follow the tendons. They always lead to Christ.

Where’s Your Glory? (Exodus 38)

He made the basin of bronze and its stand of bronze, from the mirrors of the ministering women who ministered in the entrance of the tent of meeting (Exodus 38:8 ESV).

Who were these women? How did they serve? This was clearly something that was perpetuated (1 Samuel 2:22), so what was it? I have no clue. It is easier to tell you what they didn’t do than what they did. We know that they were not priests, but there are endless other ministries they could’ve performed. There are roles and ministries that only men should do, notably that of elder or priest. There are also roles that only women should do, notably the high and honorable roles disparaged by our culture known as wife and mother. Also, there are many ministries that both can do. Complementarianism does not make less of women. It glories in men being men, women being women, and both being made in the image of God. In John Piper’s little book, What’s the Difference?, he lists 80 kinds of ministry open to women.

But all this is beside the point I want to make. The emphasis here is not that these women served, but that the women who served gave their polished bronze mirrors for the construction of the basin.

Imagine you’re a slave. You’ve had very little and feel worn for your hard service. You see the Egyptian women with their mirrors, concerned with their beauty. They’re silk and you’re burlap. But, because of Yahweh’s victory, Israel now has the mirrors, along with jewelry and fine fabrics. What do you expect them to do with them?

These women, specifically these women who serve at the tent, give up their mirrors. Egypt no longer cared to see herself for her glory was destroyed. Israel didn’t need to see herself for her glory was another. By giving up their mirrors and serving at the tabernacle, these women are saying they’d rather behold God’s glory than their own.

I have little doubt these were among the most beautiful women of Israel because of what they did.

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening (1 Peter 3:1–6 ESV).

Scriptures like there are only as hard to embrace as mirrors are hard to let go of. If you find these words hard, ask yourself, “Where’s my glory?” The example laid down for you by these women isn’t to be less beautiful, but more beautiful. Bask in Jesus’ light and you will radiate. Peter gives Sarah as an example here, a woman who was praised for her beauty.

Douglas Wilson once debated an atheist from Beverly Hills. One thing he accused the Christian faith of being was misogynistic, yet, at dinner one evening, he turned to one of Douglas’ friends and commented that he had never seen so many beautiful women as they had in their community. How is this so? Because Jesus’ beauty treatment for His bride is unsurpassed. Because Jesus commands husbands to love their wives into beauty, just as He does the church. Enthralled with His beauty, we need not be concerned for our own.

What’s the Point? (Exodus 37)

The symphony of Exodus has four movements: Egypt, Exodus, Sinai, and Tabernacle. Of the last sixteen chapters of this book thirteen deal with the tabernacle. The remaining three are are so intertwined with the tent that they cannot be understood apart from it. The tabernacle is the climactic focus and conclusion to this epic book.

The major theme of the tabernacle is God dwelling with His people in covenant love by mediation and sacrifice. This theme is carried over from chapters 25–34 into chapters 35–40, but in chapters 35–40, an additional minor motif is added, that of the Spirit-wrought and Spirit-gifted obedience of Israel.

Some homiletics professors (homiletics is the study of the art of preaching) will tell you that your sermon must have only one laser-focused point. Good homiletics instructors will tell you that the point of your sermon must be the point of the text. Indeed, this is excellent advice for clear and effective communication, but I have a fear in this. What if God intended a text to have multiple points? Or a main point with various side points. In other words, I fear trying to wrap up God’s words in too pretty of a bow with our little words. Let the text be lord, for the Lord is Lord of the text, not us. If a text appears to have multiple points, declare them. Certainly, the minister should be able to state these clearly and succinctly, and show how they relate. No doubt there will be unifying factors, but again, these unifying factors may be multiple and varied.

And so here, in Exodus 37 one could pick up on either the major or the minor themes and faithfully preach the text. Or, they could preach them both and show the harmony between them. It is such preaching, preaching “in harmony” rather than “in unison,” that I believe is most glorious.

So how do these two themes harmonize? Here are just two thoughts. First, by emphasizing that this tabernacle was built according to God’s commands by the power of the Spirit it reminds us that the tabernacle isn’t something man is doing for God, rather, it is something God is doing for man. All of this—the plan, the materials, the construction, the function, the sacrifices, the feasts, the priesthood, the ceremonies—all of this is a gift from God. The second thing is that none of this was sufficient. The tabernacle wasn’t enough. The Spirit-wrought and Spirit-gifted obedience of Israel wasn’t enough. All of this is a shadow of the One, who by His perfect Spirit-powered ministry and obedience would make all things new in the ultimate hope of a new creation where all is temple. How do these two motifs harmonize? In the single symphony of the Scriptures titled Jesus Christ. So perhaps the professors were right, every sermon should have a single point. Not only so, but every sermon should have the same ultimate point—Jesus Christ.

Craftsmen, Contributions, Construction, and the Conductor (Exodus 35:30–36:38)

In Exodus 35 and 36 we see two kinds of Spirit-gifting. Some are given gifts, others give gifts. The contributions given are Spirit-wrought, the skills necessary for construction are Spirit–gifted.

The result of this Spirit-wrought and Spirit-gifted obedience is that God’s commands are stunningly obeyed. The people give such that they have to be asked to stop. Israel so obeys the command to give that the craftsmen have everything they need to obey the command to build. As you read through the details of the construction of the tent, you’re struck with how they sound exactly like God’s instructions, and that’s the point. They’re building the tent exactly as God told them to.

The construction of the tabernacle is glorious like an orchestra filled with gifted and passionate instrumentalists dedicated to a brilliant composer/conductor. Or, it as awesome as a mighty army of zealous patriots marching as one to the orders of a revered and tactically brilliant general. Or combine the two, the construction of the tabernacle is like seeing the perfect marching band where every note is precise and never a step is missed, all ordered by a director without peer.

All this beauty and glory is Spirit-wrought and Spirit-gifted. Marvel at the obedience in such a way that you marvel at God. God is the composer, God is the conductor, God is the inspirer, God is the gifter of skills, and God is the giver of the instruments with which Israel plays. This is a glorious heavenly symphony, and as Bach ended his works, so this one has SDG written all over it, soli Deo gloria, glory to God alone.

Commanded Love (Exodus 35:1–29)

God commands a voluntary giving in Exodus 35. If you can’t make sense of that, you can’t make sense of any of God’s commands because they all deal with the heart. God always demands more than outward obedience. All of God’s commands demand all of us.

Fallen man cannot understand the beauty of God commanding, “You shall love me.” Imagine a princess being blinded to the beauty of the prince who was once her greatest love and deepest joy. Instead, she hates him, irrationally, as intensely as she once adored him. Imagine a command came from him, to love him, with a power that awakened what was commanded. So it is with God’s commands. They do not constrain, they free.

Fallen man’s darkened, authority-hating, idol-loving hearts cannot conceive of love being commanded. Which proves we understand neither love nor authority. Jesus said, “If you love me you will keep my commandments (John 14:15).” So often, we believe those who love us say things like, “Do whatever makes you happy.” God sovereignly, with all wisdom says, “Only I can make you happy, all else is an illusion.” Then, for those He has redeemed, He speaks with liberating power, “You shall love the LORD your God with all.”

And so it is, when God commands, we receive. Obeying God’s commands is like a hammer finally hitting a nail after years of having tried to unscrew a screw. God’s commands are telling the adventurous beached whale, “Go back to the sea,” or the foolish bird, “You were not made to slither. Soar!” In all true God-enabled and faith-driven obedience to God’s commands, we ever remain the beneficiaries. Obeying God’s commands isn’t like being choked, but finally breathing.

“All Christian and No Church” or “When Helium Tries to Strut Like Lead” (Exodus 34:29–35)

I’m concerned that many Christians are trying to be too Christian. When a person is all Christian and no church they’re like a single hydrogen atom strutting as though it’s lead. How often is Moses’ experience on Sinai and his subsequent radiance individualized? Visit a “Christian” bookstore if you don’t believe me. Read the titles, they’re heavy on the Christian, light on the church. Which is to say, they’re not that heavy.

The Hebrew word for “glory” carries the connotation of weight. Glory is weighty. If you believe you were meant to fly solo, you won’t have much substance, much weight, much glory. Strive to be Moses, and your complexion will be dull. Own up to being Israel, then you’ll shine.

You’re not shining Moses. You’re sinning Israel. The good news is that you have one better than Moses and in having Him, you have more than Moses. Try to be Moses, and you will see less of God. Be Israel, pleading for the better Moses, and you will see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. You are not meant to be a mediator, you need one. You’re not meant to see like Moses, but like Israel, and because of Jesus, this means seeing more than Moses in the mediator Jesus Christ.

This isn’t a sight you are to strive for individualistically, aiming to outshine all the other hydrogen atoms. Such a congregating of hydrogen atoms is explosively bad. Beholding the glory of God is the collective experience of the body of Christ. We behold and we become together (2 Corinthians 3:18). The church is weapons grade plutonium, radiating with the glory of Christ as she sits under His word.