5 May 2012

Exodus 40:17-38

"He set up the court around the tabernacle and the altar, and put up the screen at the gate of the court. So Moses finished the work." (v. 33)


We reach the end of the book of Exodus with the completion of the tabernacle of God. The story of Exodus began with the Israelites in slavery in Egypt, oppressed and crying out to a God who did not seem to answer their prayers. This book reaches a climax, not with the point where they gain their own land, but with the point where God's tabernacle - which symbolises God's presence with them - is complete. They are still a nomadic people, so God's dwelling place is a tent, but still it is clear that the creation of this dwelling place, is important.

Some commentators find several references in the text to the original act of creation. For example, the tabernacle is created on the "first day" (v. 17). Verse 16 introduces this passage with the statement that Moses did everything that Yahweh had commanded him and that statement is echoed seven times as the story continues (verses 19, 21, 23, 25, 27, 29, 32). The fact that it is repeated seven times may indicated total and complete obedience (because seven was seen as the perfect number), but it does remind us that creation was completed in seven acts (with two acts happening on the third day, thus allowing God to rest on the seventh day). The reading ends with the claim that Moses "finished" the work in just the same way that Genesis 2:1-2 ends the creation story by saying that God "finished" the work. Perhaps there is here a story of new creation - the completion of the tabernacle gives Israel a new start and says that they have been made a 'new people' - God's people.

And then the journey continues, the same but different; verse 34 onwards describes a new sense of God's presence leading the people of Israel as they set out once more.

To Ponder

  • What significance do you see in the creation of the tabernacle before the Israelites reach the land they have been dreaming about?
  • Do you have any tabernacles, ie places where God seems especially close? What are they? And how do you feel the nearness of God there?

Bible notes author

The Revd Judith Rossall

Judith Rossall is a Methodist tutor at Queen's Foundation in Birmingham. Before moving to Queen's, she was a circuit minister and taught at STETS in Salisbury.