Okay, Shmoopers. We're going to be completely straight with you. This whole section has some important pieces, but to be frank, it's very long and very boring.
Talk about a letdown. We just saw God engulf Moses in a cloud of divine stormfire, and now we get this huge section on ritual. Whoop-dee-doo. It's a total Buzz Killington.
We'll give you the rundown here, but check out the "Symbols" and "Themes" sections for some more, um, fun thoughts on these chapters.
A brief introduction before we deal with all of this. Why would an author go from fire and brimstone to legal jargon almost immediately? It breaks the tension, bores the casual reader, and isn't very helpful unless you're a priest.
So let's assume that these passages don't come from the time the Israelites were in the desert. The whole section's tone, purpose, and writing style are completely different than what comes before it—and after it, for that matter.
But even if they weren't stuck in the desert, how is the average Israelite supposed to get all the stuff mentioned here, like gold, silver, opals, iron, and jewels? This stuff doesn't exactly grow on cacti in the desert or even on your local organic Israelite farmer's land.
The point is that this piece of text has a distinct purpose from the rest of the Exodus story. It wasn't written by or for an average worshipper. More likely, it was written by someone who had a vested interest in the priesthood. Think about it: would a doctor write a memo full of industrial jargon? Of course not. You write what you know, and this passage is no exception.
And who wants to read lines and lines and lines of specific instructions for how to meld gold? Only people who meld gold every day. This section of Exodus was written by priests, for priests.
Okay, let's dive in.
25:1-9: The Checklist and The Receptacle
God gives Moses a nice big list of things he'll accept as offerings. Notice how every one of these things has some association of luxury.
He also says he's about to give Moses directions for building a place to house all of this stuff. God needs a pad, and he's going to tell them how to build it.
25:10-30: The Ark of the Covenant
Indy, just grab it! Okay, so Harrison Ford wasn't in the Bible, but all of those Ark legends come from this one spot, where God gives the Israelites instructions on how to build the thing. See more about the Ark in our "Symbols" section.
25:31-39: Lampshades…No, Lampstands!
Ever heard of a menorah? Or a candelabra? Or a free-standing chandelier? Yup. That's this thing. Check out the image in 25:33, where the writer says that the candle-holder's cup should look like "almond blossoms." Not only is that a beautiful image, but it's super naturalistic. The fire on the gold looks just like blossoms on a tree.
Never let anybody tell you differently: these writers had style.
Chapter 26: The Tabernacle's Structure
The Tabernacle is a little more low-profile in our pop culture than the Ark, and we actually have no archaeological dirt on the thing. It is a tent, after all.
In a nutshell, the idea of the Tabernacle is to make a place for God on earth—it's his home in the desert. It holds the Ark of the Covenant, the Altar of Burnt Offering, and the Altar of Incense.
27:1-8: Burn It All!
God ordains that an altar should be put in the Tabernacle for burnt offerings. And it has horns! Say what? Check out our "Symbols" section to find out why.
27:9-19: In The Court of the Crimson King
Basically, the court is just an open area surrounding the holy objects inside the Tabernacle. Like the other objects, they have their own special design, makeup, and instructions.
The image the writer creates here is beautiful: you enter this nice-smelling tent, and the wind blows the sides of the tent so the air ripples surround you and the Ark. Pretty nice break from the desert heat.
This short section just specifies that only the most "pure oil of beaten olives" should be used for the big candle-holder. It is also meant to stay burning day and night (humans like the idea of foreverness).
This section deals with the way an Aaronite priest (related to Aaron) should dress and be ordained. This was an important process for the priesthood (who do you think is writing this section?), but also for Israelite culture in general. These are their spiritual and political leaders, after all.
Think of it in terms of a presidential inauguration, getting a degree, or being promoted. We have manuals, traditions, and books about that stuff and the rituals surrounding it, so why shouldn't the Israelites have had the same thing?
29:38-46: Lamb Tartare
Here God indicates what he wants for dinner each night.
Well, maybe not dinner, but God needs burnt offering every day. It's just part of the deal.
God even provides us with a little recipe: "and with the first lamb one-tenth of a measure of choice flour mixed with one-fourth of a hin of beaten oil, and one-fourth of a hin of wine for a drink offering." This is all about using materials at your disposal to honor God and the priests.
Even though these are seemingly minor regulations about how and when to kill an animal, the writer follows up with a dramatic reminder of why they do this. God says, "I will dwell among the Israelites, and I will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them; I am the Lord their God." Can't get much clearer than that. (Why=God.)
30:1-38: Nifty Incense, Censuses, and Another Altar
In this chapter, we get more instructions on how to build the Altar of Incense, a special basin for the priests to wash in, and recipes on how to prepare special oils and incenses for the Tabernacle.
God also demands that a census be taken of all Israelites over 20. Oh, and you have to pay a little "ransom" or tax when you register: "When you take a census of the Israelites to register them, at registration all of them shall give a ransom for their lives to the Lord, so that no plague may come upon them for being registered" (30:12). For giving money, they get access to the Tabernacle's benefits, i.e., divine protection.
In terms of the census, the Bible take steps to ensure that the count is accurate and not based on class: "The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less, than the half shekel, when you bring this offering to the Lord to make atonement for your lives" (30:15). Every life here is worth the same. A pretty interesting pronouncement right in the middle of a section about how awesome and cool priests are.
31:1-11: Introducing the Builders
Now God introduces the guys who are going to be the primary contractors on this job, Bezalel and Oholiab. They're skilled and majorly cool.
Think about why the Bible bothers to mention these guys. To give them glory? To glorify their houses or tribes? Or maybe they were just hanging around when all of this stuff was going in the book.
31:12-18: Sabbath Rocks
Don't worry, we're almost done.
Now God repeats his command to Moses that the Sabbath should be sacred. Basically, if you do any work on this appointed day, you'll be "put to death" (31:14). It's not just a designated rest day, but also a memorial to God's power and example. After all, in Genesis, he created the world in six days and then took the day off. Why shouldn't everyone else do the same? It's a bonding thing.
Then, in verse 18, God gives Moses the two stones with the Ten Commandments inscribed on them.
This is a big handover, folks. God wrote these with his own hand, and now he's giving them to Moses so that he can give them to the people.
It's no coincidence that this big moment is paired with the instructions about the Sabbath; it gives the whole Sabbath thing some major hype.