28 April 2012

"Have them make me a sanctuary, so that I may dwell among them." (v. 8)


Moses and the Israelites encountered God on the holy mountain, but the next chapters of Exodus give detailed instructions for the construction of a different place of meeting with God. It is not entirely clear what is intended - a permanent sanctuary or a travelling one, but that tension enables us to think of God not just present in a particular holy place, but travelling with us on our journey.

Only the finest materials are to be used (verses 3-7). We might ask how the people had accumulated such riches and Exodus 12:35-36 may provide an explanation.

Verses 10-22 describe the Ark of the Covenant, an ornate box to contain the stone tablets of the law (Exodus 24:12). Carefully covered, it was carried in front of the people on their 40 year journey through the wilderness, and housed in the tabernacle or tent when they rested. It was made to be portable, and thus was made of wood covered in gold, rather than solid gold. It was not large. The ancient measurement of the cubit was based on the length of a man's forearm from tip of the longest finger to the elbow. The Good News Bible suggests dimensions of 110 centimetres in length and 66 centimetres in height and width.

The gold cherubim who decorated the lid of the box were representations of figures whose role was to protect the sacred. They were posted at the entrance to the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve were expelled (Genesis 3:24) and protected the holy place in Solomon's Temple (1 Kings 6:23-28). Perhaps the most significant part of the box was its cover, described as the mercy-seat. Leviticus 16:14 describes how sacrificial blood was to be sprinkled there for the forgiveness of sins. It was the sacred place where God met and communicated with God's own people (verse 22).

To Ponder

Only the finest, richest materials were to be used in the sanctuary. Do you think that God would prefer something less ostentatious, or is this a valid expression of devotion?

The presence of the two golden cherubim on the Ark could be seen to transgress the second Commandment about making idols or images (Exodus 20:4). How do you feel about the statues and art work to be found in some Christian churches?

Do we really need religious buildings in which to worship God? Can other places provide us with sacred space? How?

Bible notes author: The Revd Richard Bielby

  • Sign up for e-newslettersKeep in touch with what interests you