Exodus 35-40: The God who comes near

Most movies you watch START SLOW, and BUILD TO AN EXCITING CLIMAX. With a successful rescue, or victory, or satisfying resolution, or arrival at the end of the journey.

Today we come to the end of the book of Exodus. And, at FIRST glance it seems to be a bit of an anti-climax. It’s a story that’s had ALL OF THE EXCITEMENT of a great movie. It started with God’s people in slavery. Unjust treatment, and difficult conditions. And a bad guy. There’s a HERO, and conflict. And God rescued them. Miraculously! They left Egypt, and they crossed the Red Sea. And all Pharaoh’s army was destroyed. And Israel arrived at Mt Sinai, and they worship God. And that’s all by Ch 19.

But, at first glance, that’s where the excitement STOPS. Israel doesn’t MOVE from the foot of Mt Sinai in Ch 19 to the end of Ch 40. There are 21 more chapters. And by comparison, at first glance they seem A BIT DISAPPOINTING. They’re short on action, but long on detail. A bit thin in terms of plot. But full of information and lists.

First there are lots of LAWS at Mt Sinai. “Do this. Don’t do that”. That’s chapters 19 to 24. Then lots of instructions about how to build the tabernacle. The special tent for meeting with God. That’s chapters 25 to 31. Then a few chapters about how close Moses was to God. And then finally, some MORE chapters about how the tabernacle was actually BUILT. With large sections repeated word for word from God’s instructions. Those are the chapters we’re looking at today. 19 chapters of action. Then 21 chapters of information. Surely the writer’s got it the wrong way round. Because that’s not how to write a best-seller!

UNLESS… Unless these last 21 chapters are, really, the IMPORTANT ones. The climax of the whole story. The high point of the journey. And that’s EXACTLY what’s going on. Because the whole point – the whole purpose – of the SLAVERY and the RESCUE/ was so that God could DWELL WITH HIS PEOPLE, and they could WORSHIP him. Listen to what God says in Exodus 29: 45-46. He’s talking about the Tabernacle. And what will happen when they build it.

THEN I WILL DWELL AMONG THE ISRAELITES AND BE THEIR GOD. {46} They will know that I am the LORD their God, WHO BROUGHT THEM OUT OF EGYPT SO THAT I MIGHT DWELL AMONG THEM. I am the LORD their God.

God RESCUED his people from slavery so that he could DWELL with them, and so that they could WORSHIP him. SLAVERY, RESCUE, and WORSHIP.

And that’s really the pattern for each one of us. Slavery, rescue and worship. The journey for each of US started with slavery. Slavery to sin and death. Helpless. Hopeless. But then God RESCUED us. Someone told us the good news of the gospel/ that in Jesus, we could have our sin forgiven. And we put our trust in Jesus. And God forgave our sin. He filled us with his Holy Spirit. And he made us into new people. Sin and death were defeated. Drowned in the Red Sea.

For some of us it was a SPECTACULAR rescue. There were DRAMATIC CHANGES in our lives. For others it didn’t seem too spectacular. God gradually brought us along the road to faith. Perhaps our parents told us about Jesus from the time we were babies. But each rescue was a miracle that only God could do. Slavery and rescue.

And now our journey involves WORSHIP. Meeting with God, and living for him. A life of submission to what HE wants. A life of walking closely with him. In fact, that’s what life is all about. The Shorter Catechism puts it this way. Question 1. “What is the chief end of man?” “The chief end of man is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” Worship is what we were MADE for. It’s what will satisfy us best. It’s our GOAL. Just like it was for Israel in Exodus.

So as we look at these final climactic chapters of Exodus, let’s remember that Israel’s goal is OUR goal too. And as they worship and wonder at God dwelling among them, let’s do that too.

Getting Ready for Royalty (35:1-40:33)

Chapter 35. Building the Tabernacle. God’s given Moses the plans, so Moses begins. He tells the people to bring all the materials to build the Tabernacle. And they obey! They can’t wait to bring everything that’s needed. The theme that keeps appearing here/ is that the people were WILLING. Look at ch 35 v 20.

Then the whole Israelite community withdrew from Moses’ presence, {21} and EVERYONE WHO WAS WILLING AND WHOSE HEART MOVED HIM came and brought an offering to the LORD for the work on the Tent of Meeting, for all its service, and for the sacred garments. {22} ALL WHO WERE WILLING, men and women alike,

They brought GOLD and CLOTH and HIDES and PRECIOUS STONES and SPICES and OIL. And in fact, they’re SO WILLING, the craftsmen have to tell Moses to stop the people bringing anything more! Over in Ch 36, v4 So all the skilled craftsmen who were doing all the work on the sanctuary LEFT their work 5 and said to Moses, “The people are bringing MORE THAN ENOUGH for doing the work the Lord commanded to be done.” 6 Then Moses gave an order and they sent this word throughout the camp: “No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.” And so the people were RESTRAINED from bringing more, 7 because what THEY ALREADY HAD WAS MORE THAN ENOUGH TO DO ALL THE WORK.

The point is/ God’s coming to visit, and the people are keen to make sure they’re ready.

But they’re not doing it alone. Notice that God gives his Spirit to HELP them. He gives them the skill and ability to do the job. Look at Ch 35 v 30.

Then Moses said to the Israelites, “See, the LORD has chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, {31} and he has FILLED HIM WITH THE SPIRIT OF GOD, WITH SKILL, ABILITY AND KNOWLEDGE in all kinds of crafts– {32} to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, {33} to cut and set stones, to work in wood and to engage in all kinds of artistic craftsmanship. {34} And he has given both him and Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, THE ABILITY TO TEACH OTHERS. {35} HE HAS FILLED THEM WITH SKILL to do all kinds of work as craftsmen, designers, embroiderers in blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen, and weavers–all of them master craftsmen and designers.

So Bezalel, Oholiab and EVERY SKILLED PERSON TO WHOM THE LORD HAS GIVEN SKILL AND ABILITY to know how to carry out all the work of constructing the sanctuary are to do the work just as the LORD has commanded.”

And that’s JUST WHAT THEY DO! This is no ordinary tent. There’s precision and beauty and craftsmanship.

It’s interesting watching people put up tents in a caravan park. They either do it QUICKLY so they can get to the BEACH. The ropes are a bit loose. And the canvas droops a bit. And it’s missing a few pegs. But MOST campsites have ONE person for whom tent setting up is a matter of PRIDE. Every rope is tight. Every pole it straight. Even the tent pegs are all lined up in straight rows.

And that’s what it’s like HERE. There’s skill and attention to detail. It’s fit for a king. And that’s the point. They’re getting ready for royalty.

Then finally, in Ch 39 v 32, everything’s finished. And the people bring the tabernacle to Moses. And in v43, Moses inspects the work. And he gives it is tick of approval. The first “quality assured” product.

And ch 40 describes how Moses sets up the Tabernacle. Verses 1-15 are God’s instructions for how Moses is to set it up. And then from v16 we get the DETAIL. How it actually gets set up.

And it’s a familiar pattern. First the INSTRUCTIONS, then the OBEDIENCE. Before it was about BUILDING the tabernacle. Chapters 25-31 were God’s instructions and 35-39 were the people OBEYING them. Same thing here. Except the two steps are crammed into one chapter. And except, Moses sets up the tabernacle. By himself!

Now when a CIRCUS comes to town, it takes dozens of men a long time to put up the main tent. But from v19 on, it reads like MOSES HIMSELF does everything. I think, probably, we’re meant to understand that he was RESPONSIBLE for it being constructed. (Especially in v21, that says Moses carried the ark into the tabernacle. It had two long poles attached and was meant to be carried by FOUR MEN.) I think the point is he’s the one God’s given the INSTRUCTIONS to. He needs to make sure it’s done RIGHT. Because GOD is coming to DWELL. And he DOES! Piece by piece the whole thing comes together. And as each piece is finished, Moses ANOINTS it, and set it apart for its special task.

The king is in the house. (40:34-38)

And then finally, v33, everything’s ready. Moses finishes the work. The tables and the altar are just so. The curtains and the coverings are all sitting straight. Aaron and his sons have been washed – ready to serve in the tabernacle. Everything’s ready for the arrival of the king.

And he stands back to see what will happen. It’s time for God to visit. V34. The king is in the house. Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. {35} Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. {36} In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; {37} but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out–until the day it lifted. {38} So the cloud of the LORD was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel during all their travels.

God was true to his word. He HADN’T left his people. And he was WITH THEM, from then on, as they travelled. He arrives IN HIS GLORY. GLORY is A VISIBLE REVELATION of God himself. GLORY’s connected to the cloud that led the people through the desert. Back in ch 16 v 10. While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the LORD appearing in the cloud.

And a bit later in Ch 24 v 15, the glory comes down on Mt Sinai. When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, {16} and the glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the LORD called to Moses from within the cloud. {17} To the Israelites the glory of the LORD looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain.

And now, here in Ch 40, God’s presence has come down into the middle of the camp. Filling the tabernacle. For everyone to see. Notice the progression? The cloud in THE SKY. The cloud ON MT SINAI. Then finally, the cloud coming down among all the people. Each step, God is getting CLOSER. It’s the climax. The end goal. The conclusion.

But there’s still something unsatisfying. Did you notice the PROBLEM? Did you see how the book ENDS? See v35? the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. {35} MOSES COULD NOT ENTER THE TENT OF MEETING because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.

God is RIGHT THERE AMONG THE PEOPLE. But no one can meet him. Not even MOSES. All that action rescuing a people, then bringing them to himself. And there’s still a BARRIER between God and his people. It’s like one of those romantic movies where you expect the two characters to get together. There are twists and turns, but it’s inevitable. It’s all set up, but then, just as they’re about to KISS, there’s a complication. Something happens to STOP it. And then the final credits roll. And everyone in the audience GROANS!

That’s what it’s like here in Exodus. But here, the complication is SIN. We’ve seen it all the way through. The people’s grumbling and waywardness. They worship other gods. They refuse to keep their side of the covenant. And it SEPARATES them from truly knowing and worshipping God.

And so Exodus finishes with a QUESTION. A PROBLEM. How can sinful people approach a holy God? How can they come into his presence and WORSHIP him? It’s a question that gets answered in the NEXT book, LEVITICUS. Where God describes the SACRIFICES he’ll require.

But even THEN, it’s only a TEMPORARY SOLUTION. God allows an animal to die in place of sinful humans. He permits a sacrifice to smooth the way of people into his presence. But it never actually DEALS WITH SIN. But it looks forward to ANOTHER sacrifice. To the death of Jesus.

And to GET there, I want to follow the thread of GOD’S GLORY through the Bible. A while later, King Solomon builds God a permanent temple. To replace the tabernacle. And, in 1 Kings 8, God’s glory also fills THE TEMPLE. Just like it did the Tabernacle. But, still, there’s a PROBLEM, v11. And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled his temple. God is in the house. But there’s still A SEPARATION caused by sin.

Jump forward another few hundred years. Israel strays from God, and worships OTHER gods. And they even DO IT IN THE TEMPLE. And God’s had enough. The prophet Ezekiel receives a vision, chapter 10-11. He sees God’s glory DEPARTING from the temple because of Israel’s idolatry. He’s abandoning it. He keeps his promise, and Jerusalem is conquered. And the temple is DESTROYED. And the people are exiled to Babylon.

Eventually, seventy years later, they RETURN from exile to rebuild Jerusalem. And A NEW temple’s built under the direction of Ezra and Nehemiah and the governor Zerubbabel.

And one of prophets encouraging them is Haggai. And, through him, God promises him that one day he’ll return to the temple, and FILL IT WITH HIS GLORY. Haggai 2 v4

Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the LORD, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the LORD Almighty. {5} ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’ {6} “This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. {7} I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come, and I WILL FILL THIS HOUSE WITH GLORY,’ says the LORD Almighty.

And before long with Haggai’s encouragement, they FINISH the temple. But there’s no record of God’s glory filling it, like it had in the tabernacle, and the first temple.

And so they waited. Waited for the glory of God to come to the temple. For that momentous event when God would shake the heavens and the earth. 500 years went by. And still nothing.

Until God finally kept his promises. His glory finally descended. He finally visited his people again. The prophecy of Haggai ch 2 was fulfilled. John ch 1 v 14. Describing Jesus. The Word became flesh and MADE HIS DWELLING among us. We have seen his GLORY, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. Jesus is the VISIBLE REVELATION of God. Who dwells, or pitches his tent, among us. Jesus revealed God’s glory in LIFE. (In the way he was full of grace and truth. The way he spoke. His compassion for the lost. His anger at false shepherds. His patience. His faithfulness and obedience to his Father’s will.)

And he visits the TEMPLE. In John chapter 2. God’s GLORY comes into the temple. And he pronounces JUDGMENT on it. And clears it out. And then declares that he’s REPLACING the temple with HIS BODY. He’s thinking about HIS DEATH.

Because even more than in LIFE, we see the glory of God in Jesus’ DEATH. Ultimately, it’s THE CROSS that the Haggai 2 prophecy was talking about. When the heavens and the earth will be shaken. And when the whole world will see God’s glory. In John 12, it’s a few days before Jesus’ arrest and death. And he announces, v23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be GLORIFIED. 24 I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it DIES, it produces MANY SEEDS.

It’s Jesus’ DEATH that reveal God’s glory. When God’s LOVE and JUSTICE will be displayed for the world to see. And it’s Jesus’ DEATH that answers the question of asked at the end of Exodus. Of how sinful people can approach a holy God. It’s Jesus’ death that SHAKES HEAVEN AND EARTH. That tears the curtain that separates the Holy Place from those outside. It’s Jesus’ death that invites us into God’s presence, confident and forgiven.

And, over the last 2000 years, MILLIONS and MILLIONS have done just THAT. And now the CHURCH is God’s temple. Where God dwells, by his Spirit. And the CHURCH is God’s GLORY, the visible representation of God, his hands and feet, his co-workers.

Today we come to the end of Exodus. But the end of Exodus isn’t the end. It’s only the BEGINNING.

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