February 10, 2020

Yahweh's initial instruction for the construction of the tabernacle is "take for me a contribution (terumah) . . . take a contribution" (Exodus 25:2).

Derived from the verb rum, "lift up," terumah has often been translated as "heave offering," which implies that the offering is lifted toward heaven. It's likely better to translate it a "contribution." The contribution isn't literally lifted up, though it is "elevated" into Yahweh's realm to become His possession. (The similar term, tenuphah, does describe a gesture of elevation.)

The contribution for the tabernacle comes "from every man whose heart moves him" (25:2). Egypt is the ultimate source of the materials for the tabernacle; Yahweh defeated Egypt, Israel plundered Egypt, and then Egypt's plunder is devoted to Yahweh's house. As He often does, He builds His house from the captured plunder of His holy wars.

The people give - not merely the leaders or priests - and Yahweh emphasizes that the contribution is a freewill offering. He doesn't impose a standardized tax, or demand that everyone make a contribution. Rather, the contribution comes from the heart, and represents the hearts of Israel. The tabernacle stands as testimony to those who love the Lord with their hearts, and so devote their treasure to adorn His house.

The materials are divided into several categories: metals, fabrics, skins, wood, oil and spices, and stones. Every part of the tabernacle is represented in a "raw" form. Gold, silver, and bronze will be used for the furniture of the tabernacle, the bases for the wooden frames, hooks and rings for connecting and hanging curtains. The order in 25:3 is an order of value and holiness (gold is most valuable, then silver, then bronze), and represents a movement out from the interior of the tabernacle.

Blue, purple, and scarlet are all dyed wool, and together with "fine linen" provide the raw materials for the curtains, veils, and screens, and for the priests' garments. Goat hair, rams' skins, and porpoise skins are the materials of the multi-layered covering of the tabernacle.

Acacia wood was used for the furniture of the house, and also for the wooden frame and poles over which the tent fabrics were draped. Oil and spices are grouped together (v. 6): Oil alone was used to light the lamps, incense alone for the golden altar's incense, and a mixture of oil and incense-spices formed the aromatic oil used for anointings. Finally, onyx and other stones are given for the breastplate of the high priest and the shoulders of his robe.

Every section of the tabernacle - court, holy place, most holy place - and every main feature of the construction is represented on the list of materials.

Beyond that, the list also hints at the cosmological dimensions of the tent. Minerals (precious metals, stones) are included, representing earth. Acacia wood comes from acacia trees, the oil is pressed from olives, the spices and incense are precipitates from plants, and linen comes from flax. The animal world is represented by the animals skins and dyed fabrics. Land animals are represented, but so are the (Gentile) sea creatures: Porpoise (or dugong) skins form out outermost layer of the tabernacle, and ancient dyes were often made from sea creatures.

Yahweh first created the universe as a house to dwell in. Now He instructs Israel to build Him a house, and it incorporates creatures from nearly every zone of creation. It is a microcosmic house.

The house is to be made according to the "pattern" (tabnit) Moses sees on the mountain. In the Hebrew Bible, tabnit has an intriguingly complex usage. It is used twice in Exodus to describe a model or blueprint for the tabernacle (Exodus 25:9, 40).

Deuteronomy 4:16-18 uses the word five times, not of a “model” or “plan” but of likenesses made according to a plan or model. Yahweh prohibits Israel from making and venerating a tabnit of male or female, animals, birds, creeping things, or fish (note the Genesis 1 classification of creatures). Here the living creature – the woman or the calf or the snake – is the model, and the graven-thing is the likeness of the model. The word tabnit is used for the copy rather than the original (cf. the similar use in Psalm 106:20; Isaiah 44:13; Ezekiel 8:10).

Derived from banah, “build,” tabnit can embrace the whole process of building or making. It names the initial conception, the plan or model, and the finished object, a copy of the model or execution of the plan. It is both exemplar and instance, model and product, an ideal thing-to-be-built and the particular, concrete built-thing (usually an idol). Both ideal and object are designated as tabnit.

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