The Glory and the Tabernacle

Wood, and metals, skins and curtains—it seemed impossible that God would take up residence in such a place. Could this be the dwelling place of the living God? Would the LORD really come down and dwell in a tent?

The glory descending on the tabernacle in the wilderness. (Image © First Fruits of Zion)

Portion Summary & Scripture Reading

Regular Shabbat Readings

  • Pekudei (פְקוּדֵי | Countings)
  • Torah: Exodus 38:21-40:38
  • Haftarah: 1 Kings 7:51-8:21
  • Gospel: Luke 16:1-13

* References are from the Hebrew Bible. Christian Bibles vary slightly when indicated with *.

Portion Outline

  • Torah
    • Exodus 38:21 | Materials of the Tabernacle
    • Exodus 39:1 | Making the Vestments for the Priesthood
    • Exodus 39:32 | The Work Completed
    • Exodus 40:1 | The Tabernacle Erected and Its Equipment Installed
    • Exodus 40:34 | The Cloud and the Glory
  • Prophets
    • 1Ki 7:13 | Products of Hiram the Bronzeworker

Portion Summary

The twenty-third reading from the Torah and last reading from the book of Exodus is called Pekudei, which means "Accounts." The first words of the first verse of the reading could be literally translated to read, "These are the accounts (pekudei) of the Tabernacle" (Exodus 38:21). The last reading from Exodus begins with an audit of how the contributions for the Tabernacle were used. The portion goes on to describe the completion of the Tabernacle and its assembly and concludes by depicting the glory of the LORD entering it. In most years, synagogues read Pekudei together with the previous portion, Vayakhel; therefore, the comments on this week's reading will be brief.

A sudden shout rose up through the assembly and all eyes turned to the mountain. The cloud, which had covered the top of the mountain those many days, began to descend, rolling and cascading down the mountainside like a sudden avalanche of vapor, mist, and smoke.

A panic spread through the people; a holy terror seized every heart. As if choreographed in advance, all Israel—every man, woman, and child—fell prostrate to the ground. A brilliant light emanated from the cloud as it dropped from the top of Mount Sinai. The peak of the mountain emerged visible, gleaming in the sun, for the first time in nine months. Without the towering cloud hovering over it, the mountain seemed small, humble, and insignificant after all. The LORD had left Sinai.

The cloud of glory settled onto the tent of meeting and the glory of the Most High filled the Sanctuary. Moses tried to enter, but he found he could not bear the weight of the glory. He was not able to enter the tent of meeting. God had come to dwell with His people; the Tabernacle was a success, but a fundamental problem with the entire Tabernacle concept emerged immediately.

Even if God can dwell among His people in a holy place, that does not mean that His people can draw near to him to enjoy communion or interaction with Him. God had taken up residence in the Tabernacle, but He appeared unapproachable. Even Moses, who was accustomed to standing upon Mount Sinai and basking in the glory of the presence of the LORD, could not enter.

The book of Exodus ends with the problem unresolved. The problem illustrates the classic theological paradox between the immanence of God and the transcendence of God. God is remote and inaccessible, and yet, at the same time, He is ever close and personal. The Tabernacle illustrated the paradox. On the one hand, the LORD moved into the midst of the camp of Israel, but on the other hand, no one could enter His presence.

The paradox between immanence and transcendence is also obvious in our sorry attempts to form a Christology to explain the divine nature of Messiah. Some explanations seem to be more theologically consistent than others, but aAny attempt at explaining how the infinite can occupy the finite necessarily involves an inversion in logic. The mystery of the Tabernacle is not less baffling than the mystery of God taking up residence within the Messiah.

The book of Exodus ends with a cliffhanger. It leaves the reader with the question, “How are the people supposed to approach God? How will they to come near to Him?”

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Adapted From: Torah Club Commentary Set: Depths of the Torah. Learn more about Torah Club and how you can start a Club of your own, or join a Torah Club in your area. Visit TORAHCLUB.ORG

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