Structure of Exodus 35-40
March 15, 2021

C.J. Labuschagne (Numerical Secrets of the Bible, 44-48) offers an intriguing numerical-structural analysis of the second half of the tabernacle section of Exodus, Exodus 35-38.

Over chapters 35-38, there are seven references to things that Yahweh had earlier commanded Moses to do, phrased in a variety of ways (35:1, 4, 10, 29; 36:1, 5; 38:22). The numerical center is 35:29, which speaks of the contribution of the people. That theme is being highlighted in this section.

Chapter 39, further, uses the phrase “as Yahweh commanded Moses” seven times (39:1, 5, 7, 21, 26, 29, 31). After these seven fulfilled commands, 39:32-43 informs us that Moses “saw” the work of the craftsmen and “blessed” them.

Labuschagne rightly sees an allusion to Genesis 1: “having performed his last act of creation, ‘God saw all he had made, and it was very good’ (Gen 1:31), and in 2:3 that God rested on the seventh day, and blessed the day and made it holy. The analogy between Moses seeing what he had accomplished and blessing it, on the one hand, and God’s seeing what he had accomplished and his blessing, on the other, is unmistakable” (45). 

Indeed it is, and the theological import is profound, because Moses takes up the divine role in the tabernacle version of the creation account. Moses doesn’t speak the tabernacle into being. If anyone does, Yahweh does. Yet Moses becomes the agent of the word, an embodied word of Yahweh, who accomplishes the creative word of the Creator. Yahweh said Moses would become a “god” to Pharaoh. He is also a “god” to the craftsman, a divine maker equipped by the Word to build a new world.

Labuschagne observes that 39:32-43 includes three additional fulfillment formulas, though they differ from the others in chapter 39. That brings the total number of “as Yahweh commanded” phrases to 10, the same number of times Genesis 1 uses “God said.”

Exodus 40, which describes the actual construction of the tabernacle, takes up these same numerical patterns. The first 16 verses record Yahweh’s final instructions. Verse 1 begins with “Yahweh spoke to Moses” and v 16 concludes with “Moses did everything exactly as Yahweh commanded Him.”

After that neatly frame introduction. Verses 17-33 recount Moses’ obedience to Yahweh’s instructions. “As Yahweh commanded” is again used seven times (40:19, 21, 23, 25, 27, 29, 32). 

The middle (4th) use is 40:25, which describes Moses lighting of the lamps on the menorah. Once again, Moses slips into the role of Creator: As Yahweh made the great lights of heaven on Day 4, so Moses lights the lamps of the earthly heaven in the fourth act of construction. 

Labuschagne suggests these sevenfold patterns are literary versions of the menorah: “This widely used pattern derives from the shape of the menorah, the six-branched lamp stand, whose form in turn originated from the stylized tree of life, having a central stem and six branches - three on each side” (47). Each time the biblical writers use the “menorah” to structure a text, they’re reminding us that Yahweh’s Word is a “light” on our path.

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