Sunday, March 07, 2010

Finding meaning in Exodus and Leviticus


During my sporadic following of my two-year Bible reading plan, I’ve been determined to find meaning in every section that I study. Exodus and Leviticus probably aren’t the first places that most people turn when they are choosing what to read each day, but that’s why reading plans are good. They force us to read the parts of the Bible we would otherwise neglect.

So, as my reading plan has brought me to unfrequented chapters of the Bible, I’ve found myself asking: why did God spend so many chapters of the Bible giving directions about the tabernacle?

I’m sure there are numerous answers to why God wrote what He did. The ones I’m coming up with may not even be the central reasons. If anyone else has some insights, I’d love to hear them.

Do we believe in “The Force?”

One insight that we can gain from reading chapter after chapter about tabernacle details, is that God is very unlike “The Force.”

Now I know few Bible-believing Christians would ever admit that they believe God is anything like The Force. We all learned in Sunday School 101 that God is a person and therefore has a distinct personality. And yet, being able to parrot that truth back is not the same as internalizing it. The Force view of God is not thinking that is relegated only to Star Wars, but is innate within human nature. After all, The Force is very appealing. The Force doesn’t have any opinions about anything, it’s just power that you tap into that makes you into a little god. It doesn’t need to be obeyed; it can be wielded to obey you.

But as we read through the passages of scripture, we find ourselves becoming acquainted with God’s personality in a way that merely giving lip service to a belief in His personality, could never replace.

A Detail-Oriented God

In Exodus 26, we read directions about what God wants the curtains of the Tabernacle to look like:

“Moreover, you shall make the tabernacle with ten curtains of fine twisted linen and blue and purple and scarlet yarns; you shall make them with cherubim skillfully worked into them. ..You shall make loops of blue on the edge…fifty loops you shall make on one curtain… and you shall make fifty clamps of gold…” Ex 26: 1,4,6

God could have said anything to us in Exodus chapter 26, but what He ordained that we would be reading thousands of years later, is the colors and patterns He desired to have on the tabernacle curtain.

Reading this chapter can either be a real yawner, or it can put chills up your spine. When it starts to dawn on us how distinct God’s personality is, and how zealous He is that He be worshiped in the exact way that He has prescribed, and not any willy-nilly way that fancies us, it ceases to be boring. It suddenly becomes an insight into what is near to His heart, and what we should be zealous about as well.

God’s not a micromanager, per se. There are not instructions on how the Israelites were to decorate their own houses and what color their curtains had to be. But when it comes to how He is worshiped, we see that God has very strong opinions, or maybe I should say commands.

As to what the Priests’ robes looked like, they were to have gold bells and blue, purple and scarlet pomegranates around the hem of the robe (Ex. 28:33). This verse should get our attention. God doesn't want pears on the priests' robes. He doesn't want apples. He doesn't want oranges. He could have said fruit. But He wants pomegranates on the robes. Doesn't this just perk your interest? Doesn't it surprise you? Doesn't this cause you to wonder? It should at least make us smile as we're reading along. It should also cause us to ask questions. I wonder why pomegranates?

Worship is a Priority to God

Reading through these chapters, you almost get the impression that God becomes “caught up” in His descriptions of the worship of the tabernacle. It reminds me of what King Solomon may have been like brain-storming with his chief architects about his palace plans. “Let’s have a fountain over here, surrounded by gardens and a pavilion here, some flowering trees…” and he starts to get more and more excited and the scribe is sketching as furiously as he can. Similarly, God shows us a portion of the richness of His personality in His instructions of how He wants to be worshiped. You get to know a little more about a person when you visit them in their home. We get to know more of God when we read about His tabernacle.

The Center of Israelite Culture

In Exodus, we learn that God commanded His center of worship to be constructed from the most precious materials on earth. Gold, the finest wood, and many different jewels were necessary. This required sacrifice on the part of the Israelites, because it meant that each family had to donate to make this happen. But we learn from this that God wanted the tabernacle to be the very center of Israelite culture.

A people group that does not have a cultural center are considered primitive or tribal. Having a pinnacle of culture sets a society apart and makes them advanced. God desired that His worship be everything to His people. He didn’t want them to have some cutting-edge palace for their king, while the tabernacle, the place of worship and sacrifice, was some lousy, tacky hut made of pine wood and boring curtains. Everything in the tabernacle had to be made glorious because God is glorious. He was to be treated as the center of the Israelites existence, because He is the center of everything. He’s not afraid to let us know that.

The center of the whole tabernacle was the altar where sacrifices took place. Many chapters are devoted to the descriptions of how and why and when to sacrifice. We see the centrality that the forgiveness of sins had to play for God to dwell with the Israelites.

Understanding this for Today

In the New Testament, we see the centrality of Christ’s death in everything we do. It’s not something that we believe only in the beginning of our faith and move on from, but something that is central to our walk every day. Paul could teach on many subjects, and yet say to the Ephesians, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Christ and Him crucified.” (1 Cor. 2:2)

Furthermore, the temple is now us, the people of God (Eph 2:21.) And God is still just as concerned about our worship as He was back then. He still desires our worship of Him to be the center of our lives.

The shallowness of our modern day T. V. shows, paperbacks, and magazines predisposes us to struggle to understand most of the Bible. But the effort will always reward us.

Finally, here is an excellent quote by David Powlison from his book Suffering and the Soveignty of God, about how to read the Bible:

I don’t know how you read Scripture. But there is a way to read Scripture that leaves you wishing God had said a whole lot more. How did Satan become evil? Why does Chronicles add zeros to the numbers in Samuel and Kings? How did Jonah avoid asphyxiation? Who wrote the book of Hebrews? And those aren’t even the questions that most often divide and perplex the church. Wouldn’t it have been great if the Lord had slipped in one killer verse that pinned down the eschatological timetable; that resolved once and for all every question about baptism; that specifically told us how to organize church leadership and government; that told us exactly what sort of music to use in worship; that explained how God’s absolute sovereignty neatly dovetails with full human responsibility? Only one more verse! And think what he could have told us with an extra paragraph or chapter! If only the Lord had shortened the genealogies, omitted mention of a few villages in the land distribution, and condensed the spec sheet for the temple’s dimensions, dishware, décor, and duties. Our Bible would be exactly the same length—even shorter—but a hundred of our questions could have been anticipated and definitively answered. Somehow, God in his providence didn’t choose to do that.
It comes down to what you are looking for as you read and listen. When you get to what most matters, to life-and-death issues, what more can he say than to you he has said? Betrayal by someone you trusted? Aggressive, incurable cancer? Your most persistent sin? A disfiguring disability? The meaning and purpose of your life? Good and evil? Love and hate? Truth and lie? Hope in the face of death? Mercy in the face of sin? Justice in the face of unfairness? The character of God? The dynamics of the human heart?
What more can he say than to you he has said? Listen well. There is nothing more that he needed to say.

[You can read Powlinson's book for free if you click the title above.]

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