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The Shape of Exodus 25-31

One observant reader of Bible Matrix pointed out that the order of the Tabernacle furnishings in the seven speeches in Exodus 25-31 does not in fact correspond to the Creation Week. There is a good reason for this, and it is “Trinitarian” in nature.

Although there are seven speeches, each beginning with a variant of “the Lord said to Moses,” the passage itself is divided into three cycles. This allows for a more detailed literary construct than the basic sevenfold order, and one which is Trinitarian in its architecture. Reflecting the threefold prohibition against idolatry in Exodus 20:4, the instructions for the Tabernacle work from above, to beside, to below, that is, through the ministries of the Father, the Son and the Spirit.

You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. (Exodus 20:4)

The first cycle forms, the second fills, and the third concerns the “Bridal” future. Moreover, each of the three sections begins with an item which was splashed or daubed with sacrificial blood: the Ark of the Covenant (heaven), the Bronze Altar (earth), and the Incense Altar (mediators/sea).

Preceding the three cycles of instruction is an introduction (Exodus 25:1-9) which lists the materials that God requests for donation. Not surprisingly, this passage itself follows the Creation/Covenant pattern, subtly prefiguring the purpose of the finished house. The speech itself is architecture of a sublime standard. Most notably, the Division/Exodus section reflects the tenfold structure of the Ten Words.1See God-in-a-Box.

TRANSCENDENCE

Creation (Sabbath)
The Lord said to Moses,

HIERARCHY

Division (Passover)
“Speak / to the children of Israel, (Transcendence)
that they take / a contribution for me. (Hierarchy)
From every man / whose heart moves him (Ethics)
you shall take / the contribution for me. (Sanctions)
And this is the contribution / that you shall take from them: (Succession)

ETHICS

Ascension (Firstfruits – PRIEST)
gold, silver, and bronze, (Transcendence – Light)
blue and purple and scarlet yarns (Hierarchy – Veil)
and fine twined linen, (Ethics – Sacrifice)
goats’ hair, tanned rams’ skins, skins of tachash,2For the definition of tachash, see the comments on Exodus 25-26 below. (Sanctions – Coverings)
acacia wood, (Succession – Shelter, Trees of Righteousness)
Testing (Pentecost – KING)
oil for the lamps,
Maturity (Trumpets – PROPHET)
spices (Initiation: Flesh)
for the oil (Delegation: Head)
of anointing (Purification: Spirit)
and incense (Vindication: Body)
fragrant, (Representation: Ministry)

OATH/SANCTIONS

Conquest (Atonement/High Priest)
onyx stones, (Transcendence)
and stones (Hierarchy)
for setting, (Ethics)
for the ephod (Oath/Sanctions)
and for the breast piece. (Succession)

SUCCESSION

Booths (Shelter, Trees of Righteousness) 
And let them make / a sanctuary to me, (Transcendence)
that I may dwell / in their midst. (Hierarchy)
According to all / that I show you, (Ethics)
the pattern of the Tabernacle / and the pattern of all the instruments, (Oath/Sanctions)
even so / shall you make.” (Succession)

Now, we can begin an analysis of the three major cycles in this passage. We will not be parsing them line by line (the trees) but only by subject matter (the forest).

THE FATHER (HEAVEN)

(Exodus 25-26)

Creation – THE ARK OF THE TESTIMONY
Exodus 25:10-16 (Sabbath)
Division – THE KAPPORET
Exodus 25:17-22 (Passover)
Ascension – THE GOLDEN TABLE
Exodus 25:23-30 (Firstfruits)
Testing –  THE GOLDEN LAMPSTAND
Exodus 25:31-40 (Pentecost)
Maturity – THE TENT & POLES
Exodus 26:1-30 (Trumpets)
Conquest – THE VEILS
Exodus 26:31-35 (Atonement/Coverings)
Glorification – THE ENTRY SCREEN
Exodus 26:36 (Booths)
  • The kapporet was the lid of the Ark, made of the purest hammered gold, a mini-firmament between the two angels above it and the earthy tablets below. For more information see Peter J. Leithart, The Footstool of His Feet, Biblical Horizons No. 50.
  • The tent poles, as worked timber (trees) covered in precious metal represented the people of Israel cut down, “engraved” by the Law and resurrected in glory, mustered and arranged around God in military “clouds” as His house expressed in human flesh.
  • The covering of the tent itself is triune, consisting of Garden: linen curtains (like the “burial cloth” worn by the High Priest on the Day of Coverings); Land: red-dyed ram skin; and World (Sea): decorative beadwork with a deep blue or turquoise background, like the Crystal Sea in Exodus 24:10. For discussion on the translation of tachash as beadwork here and as beaded bridal sandals Ezekiel 16:10-13, see Natan Slifkin, Sacred Monsters: Mysterious and Mythical Creatures of Scripture, Talmud and Midrash, 76-79.
  • It is interesting that no bronze furniture features in this cycle, only gold. Yet the golden Incense Altar is not included, for the Bride is the work of the Spirit.

THE SON (EARTH)

(Exodus 27-29)

TRANSCENDENCE
THE BRONZE ALTAR
Exodus 27:1-8
(Initiation – Israel as Land)

HIERARCHY
THE COURTYARD
Exodus 27:9-19
(Delegation – Gentile Sea)

ETHICS
OIL FOR THE LAMP
Exodus 27:20-21
(Purification – Heavenly Rulers)

SANCTIONS
THE PRIESTS’ GARMENTS
Exodus 28
(Vindication – Mediators)

SUCCESSION
CONSECRATION OF THE PRIESTS
Exodus 29
(Representation – Sword Bearers)

  • As the first level was a new Creation, so this level is a five-fold Covenant waiting to be “opened” in the sacrificial flesh of the Son. Rather than being divided into the Triune Office (priest, king, prophet) the Ethics section is singular, highlighting the fact that we are dealing only with Above, Beside, Below, the vertical beam of the cruciform architecture.
  • Each of the three sections begins with a place of blood. In this case it is the Bronze Altar, the earth below.
  • The priests’ garments correspond to the intended investiture of Adam on Day 6, a rite of “coverings.” Their consecration rite signifies the qualification of Adam in the Garden.

THE SPIRIT
(MEDIATION “IN THE AIR”)

(Exodus 30-31)

Creation – THE ALTAR OF INCENSE
Exodus 30:1-10 (Sabbath)
Division – THE RANSOM MONEY
Exodus 30:11-16 (Passover)
Ascension – THE BRONZE LAVER
Exodus 30:17-21 (Firstfruits)
Testing –  THE ANOINTING OIL
Exodus 30:22-33 (Pentecost)
Maturity – THE INCENSE
Exodus 30:34-38 (Trumpets)
Conquest – THE TWO CRAFTSMEN
Exodus 31:1-11 (Coverings – Two Cherubim)
Glorification – THE SABBATH
Exodus 31:12-17 (Booths)
  • The third level of instructions concerns the “matchmaking” work of the Spirit, that is, integration, relationships, joinings-together. It is “Bridal.”
  • Each of the three sections begins with a place of blood. In this case it is the Incense Altar, between heaven (the Ark above) and earth (the Bronze Altar below).
  • It is interesting that all Israel is “redeemed” at the Passover step in this cycle.
  • The Laver seems to be out of its usual place, but here it is about the washing of the hands and feet of the priests. To ascend from the earth to heaven (the Bronze Altar to the tent) they must pass through the Crystal Sea. A bronze bowl is the combination of fire and water, the “hot and cold” of the instruments of sound judgment.
  • If we view all three cycles as a chiastic unit, the two Spirit-filled craftsmen near the end correspond to the two cherubim on the kapporet near the beginning.

So, how does this threefold sequence also point us toward the Creation Week? Since it is divided into seven by the commencement of new speeches, we should first note where these speeches begin. James Jordan writes:

There are seven speeches from the Lord, each introduced by a formula: “Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying” (Ex. 25:1; 30:11, 17, 22, 34; 31:1, 12). As has been pointed out by others, and argued at length by me, these seven speeches follow the order of the seven days of Genesis 1. (See Peter J. Kearney, “Creation and Liturgy: The P Redaction of Exodus 25-40,” Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 89 [1977]: 375-86; and James B. Jordan, “The Tabernacle: A New Creation” [Niceville, FL: Biblical Horizons , 1993].) The reason for this is that the Tabernacle is a microcosm.3James B. Jordan, The Chronology of the Pentateuch (Part 1), Biblical Chronology, Vol. 6, No. 3.

Since the first speech takes us from the beginning of the entire passage to the end of the instructions for the Incense Altar, the final six speeches correspond to the last six steps in the “Spirit” pattern. The first speech is very long and the rest are much shorter. I am not sure what this means, but I can make some observations that might be helpful:

  • The first speech takes us to the end of the final place where blood was daubed or sprinkled, and the beginning of the ransom of the children of Israel.
  • The Triune Office is the “horizontal” or mediatory expression of the “vertical” architecture of the Trinity. The Incense Altar pictures the ministry of prophecy, the era when men have listened (Priest), obeyed (King) and now speak on God’s behalf (Prophet). This might be the reason why the final cycle consists of separate speeches. Heaven now speaks directly to earth through God’s faithful mediators, men who, like Aholiab and Bezalel, construct the kingdom in the power of the Spirit.

Next we shall look at the structure of Exodus 32-33 as twin cycles in a process of death and resurrection.


If you are new to this method of interpretation, please visit the Welcome page for some help to get you up to speed.

References   [ + ]

1. See God-in-a-Box.
2. For the definition of tachash, see the comments on Exodus 25-26 below.
3. James B. Jordan, The Chronology of the Pentateuch (Part 1), Biblical Chronology, Vol. 6, No. 3.

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