From the exciting narrative of the plagues and the crossing of the Red Sea, we move to more detailed descriptions of two major features of ancient Israelite life: the priesthood and the Tabernacle, later to be replaced by the Temple. These were understood to be pictures of greater realities in heaven (Hebrews 8:5). Christians understand them to be pictures of a reality to come, with Jesus (Hebrews 8 &9). Its not necessary to go overboard trying to find moral or spiritual lessons or applications for every detail of the Tabernacle or of Aaron’s priestly garments. The most important aspect of the Tabernacle is summed up in Exodus 29: 4 “So I will consecrate the Tent of Meeting and the altar and will consecrate Aaron and his sons to serve me as priests. 45 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.”
The meaning of the Tabernacle, as a meeting place between God and his people on the move, is also applied to Jesus in John 1:14, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” literally, he “tented” or “tabernacled” among us. Our temple will have to wait for later, the New Jerusalem.
For a picture and diagram of the Tabernacle, check out http://www.bibleplaces.com/tabernacle.htm.
As for the priesthood: “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, 6and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.” (Rev. 1:5). So an identity that applied mostly to one tribe of Israel (the Levites) now applies to the worldwide church. For info on the mysterious “urim and thumim,” check out http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=52&letter=U.
CENSUS, PLAGUES AND PURITY:
In Exodus 30: 11-16, we read of a census that is to be taken of the people, for the sake of the tabernacle, with the implication that a plague might break out otherwise. It is a “ransom” of sorts, another reminder that life is a gift for which we owe responsibility back to the Giver. Thbat’s also why all the firstborn males of families and livestock were to be redeemed by sacrifice. In I Samuel 24, we read of a census done by King David, not ordained by God, for the purpose of determining how many men there were who “draw the sword,” in effect, a military census, rather than a religious one. For that, a plague does break out against Israel. A mysterious and disturbing story, perhaps explained, in part, by the fact that David was snatching God’s prerogative for his own egotistical, imperial and military purposes, showing (again) how Caesar claims what is God’s, to the peril and impoverishment of the people, as Samuel warned the people when they clamored for a king. This is one of many biblical reasons to view militarism as a religion, a false, idolatrous one.
A JEALOUS GOD?
The modern reader recoils at the notion of God, especially a God who is Love, feeling and being jealous. That sounds, at first, so petty, reactionary and even juvenile. We associate jealousy with middle school cliques or even toddlers in day care fighting over a toy. But maybe we have it backwards. What is so petty, juvenile and foolish about so much human jealousy is that it is a pale and ridiculous copy of something that belongs only to God, the way worship does. The one exception to our contempt for jealousy is that of a betrayed and abandoned spouse, or a jilted lover, who had every reason to believe that a covenant existed between the lovers. Now he or she sees the one who played with his or her affections in the arms of another lover. That hurts deeply, especially if that new lover is more prosperous and popular than the jilted one. Which would imply that the faithless spouse or lover has had mercenary motives all along. How can he or she ever trust anyone with love again? This is the kind of jealousy to which we normally give some respect. Because someone has taken the effort and the risk to hand his or her heart over to someone else, only to have it handed back, torn by shame and rejection.
This is the kind of jealousy to which God lays claim, for risking his name, his honor, and his heart on those he woos. He has handed those, and every other blessing, over to people who so often spurn, ignore, misuse and abuse such love for temporary, worldly and mercenary motives. Time and again, through Creation, the giving of the Law, through the Prophets, and finally, through the gift of His Son, God has offered himself like a suitor to his would-be bride, Israel and the Church. The story ends well, with the wedding feast of the Lamb at the end of John’s Revelation. But its a rocky, tear-soaked road all the way to the altar. Just read Hosea. Or the Passion narratives of the Gospels. Jealousy, among humans, is the most suspect of all our emotions, but only when we get jealous about the wrong thing, and because jealousy is, finally, God’s prerogative.