The Orthodox Pages

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TALK ON THE HOLY BIBLE

Part 9

28th November 2013

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Last week we saw that Moses went up Mount Sinai and received from God the Ten Commandments and many other laws and ordinances dealing with worship and sacrifices, premeditated or accidental murder, on servants rights, and generally on how to live peacefully with one's neighbour by respecting his property and livestock. After listening to all these commandments Moses had to return to the people and announce to them everything God had told him. It was not enough for God to speak and say you shall not do this and that, this was a covenant – an agreement between God and Israel and needed Israel's agreement to be valid. Thus Moses returns to the people and tells them all the words of God and the people answered with one voice and said they will heed to everything the Lord has said. Moses then proceeds to write down the law in what became known as the Book of the Covenant.

In the morning Moses rose up early an built an altar under the mount with twelve stones representing the twelve tribes of Israel. A covenant had been agreed upon between God and Israel and this had to be officially sealed and celebrated. The first act of this ceremony was to offer sacrifices to God. Moses sends the young men of Israel to offer whole burnt offerings and peace offerings upon the altar. For the second act of the ceremony Moses took the blood from the sacrifices and poured half of it on the altar to sanctify it. The other half he kept to sanctify the people. The third act was to read aloud the Book of the Covenant to all the people. After the people had heard aloud the word of God and having agreed to abide by the law, Moses sprinkled the Book and the people with the blood saying: Behold this is the blood of the Covenant which the Lord hath made with you concerning all these words. This should sound somewhat familiar to your ears. Every covenant with God is sealed with blood. In the Old Testament the Covenant was sealed with the blood of the sacrificial animals. In the New Testament it is sealed with the blood of Christ. This is what Christ meant when he said: "Drink ye all of it this is my Blood of the New Testament which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins". As the blood of the sacrifices sealed the old agreement between God and Israel, the Blood of Christ sealed the new agreement between God and all of mankind.

The next act of this agreement was for God to endorse it by appearing to the elders of Israel. Thus Moses, Jesus (Joshua) of Nun, Aaron, his two eldest sons and the seventy elders of Israel went to the Mount and saw the place where God stood. Of course no one can see God and live as we are told later, not even Moses could see the face of God but was allowed to see the backward parts of God which we have no idea what that means. What the elders saw was an image, probably in human form of God's feet and under his feet the place where he stood was like sapphire stones and like a clear sky the colour of cyan or azure blue; images of God's purity and greatness. Every one of the chosen saw where God stood and after this the ceremony of the institution of the Book of the Covenant is finalized with a celebration dinner using what was left of the peace offerings.  

Next Moses is to go up the Mount again to receive the stone tablets with the Ten Commandments written on both sides by the finger of God. With him he takes Jesus of Nun and leaves Aaron and Hur to take charge of the people and their problems. It says that God came down upon the mount and the cloud covered the mount for six days. On the seventh day God calls Moses to enter the cloud something which Moses did not dare do until he was called. In the centre of the cloud on the peak of the mountain the Lord's glory was like a burning fire and the peak appeared as though it was on fire. Here Moses remained for forty days and forty nights. With the Covenant now agreed upon and the laws given, God now proceeds to give Moses instructions on how the ark of the covenant was to be constructed in which was to be placed inside the stone tablets.

The ark was to be made of wood which doesn't decay probably of acacia wood which was in plenty on Sinai. This was then to be gilded in gold inside and out. Rings on the outside allowed for poles to be passed through to carry the ark and on top of the lid were to be made two cherubim made of gold facing each other and with the wings outstretched. The ark was known by three names: In Exodus it is called the ark of the testimony, In Deuteronomy it is called the Ark of the Covenant and in the Book of 1 Kings (1 Samuel) the ark of God. It was the ark of the testimony because it contained the stone tablets which were a permanent testimony or witness to the agreement made between God and Israel at Sinai. It was the Ark of the Covenant for the same reason in Deuteronomy and in Kings it was the throne of God seated upon the cherubim where God appeared to the people and received their prayers. Many of the items used for liturgical use in the Old Testament have their equivalent item in the New Testament Church. The Ark of God as the throne of God is now the Holy Altar in our Churches.

Next Moses is given instructions to make a table of gold and on it to place dishes to offer breads, a container for the incense, cups for wine offerings and cups for water all of which were to be made of pure gold. This table is the table of oblation and is equivalent to our Prothesis where we prepare the breads and wine for the Holy Eucharist. God continues to give Moses instructions on how to make the seven branched oil lamp known as the Menorah and other smaller items all to be made of gold according to how he was shown on the mount. By this is would appear that Moses not only had verbal instructions, but was also shown visually how the items were to look like. 

Having given the instructions on how to make the vessels, God then proceeds to tell Moses how to make the tabernacle which was to house the Ark of the Covenant and other vessels. The frame of the tabernacle was of wood which was covered with various cloths and skins. The first covering visible inside was of fine linen dyed in three colours blue, purple and red and was embroidered with cherubim. The next coverings were of skins to protect the tabernacle from the weather. The skins, which were hairy were again dyed with colours. We are not told the colour of the second covering with was of rams skin, but it was probably purple as the colours of purple red and blue were used throughout the tabernacle with curtains to divide each chamber. The next covering was of rams skin dyed red and the fourth covering of fox skins dyed blue. In the Hebrew text the Greek word for blue, κυανου, meaning cyan blue is not a colour, but refers to skins of seals. In the KJB this is translated as badgers. It seems highly unlikely that they could find seals in the desert and enough seals to make a covering for the tabernacle the size of 15x20 metres. On the other hand foxes were in great numbers in the area.

After the instructions for the tabernacle come the instructions for the courtyard and the altar for the burnt offerings. This was of wood covered with brass and all the instruments needed for the altar and other furniture in the court were again all of brass. The courtyard is then enclosed with the overall length of about 46 metres and 23metres in width with pillars overlaid with silver and sockets made of brass. To these pillars were hung curtains of fine linen with a height of 2.3metres (7˝ feet).

With the tabernacle finished the next step is to make the garments for the high priest and priests who at the time were Aaron, Moses brother and his sons Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. The vestments for the high priest consisted of inner linen breeches followed by a fine linen tunic in white. On top of this was a slightly shorter robe of blue and on top of this was worn the ephod, a garment embroidered with blue, purple red and gold threads. This was joined at the shoulders with two large emerald stones with the names of 12 tribes of Israel engraved on them, six on each side.  The breastplate of the high priest is the most precious of all the vestments. It is a square piece made of the same material as the ephod and on it are twelve precious stones each engraved with the name of one of the tribes of Israel. The stones were attached to the material in four rows of threes. The names of the stones do not actually identify what stones they were. The Hebrew names for the minerals are not clear and though the Greek names for them in the Septuagint are more clear, scholars believe that it cannot be completely relied on for this matter because the breastplate had ceased to be in use by the time the Septuagint was created, and several Greek names for various gems have changed meaning between the classical era and modern times. According to the Greek the stones of the first row were Sardius, topaz and emerald; the second row: diamond, sapphire and jasper: the third row – ligure, agate, and amethyst and the fourth row chrysolythos meaning a gold coloured stone, beryl and onyx. The purpose of the breastplate was for God to hold in remembrance the tribes of Israel every time Aaron entered the Holy of Holies. Another precious item of the high priest was the golden crown or mitre which had engraved on it holiness unto the Lord.

All this happened during the first few months of leaving Egypt. The Israelites would take another forty years to reach the Promised Land so even though they moved slowly and stopped for long intervals, everything for the tabernacle had to be portable and temporary. The permanent temple to house the Ark of the Covenant will be built much later in the time of Solomon. But even though the tabernacle was temporary, God did not spare the details or the cost for the items needed for the people to worship him.

In our times the church is often accused of spending great amounts to decorate the church with golden vessels studded with jewels and priests are often accused of having richly decorated vestments with large golden crosses decorated with priceless jewels saying that Christ didn’t have such luxuries and riches so why do we fill our churches with the best money can buy. The answer is that if we look at what a priest or monk wears during the day there is nothing fancy or rich in his black cassock. The black garments represents his tomb, a reminder that he must be dead to the passions and sin. This is his personal life, a continual reminder of death, but in public and liturgical life a priest represents Christ the high priest.

If God told Moses to pay such meticulous detail to the vestments, vessels and the temple of the Old Testament which were a shadow of that which was to come, doesn’t he expect from us who have received better than the shadow, also to offer, if not better, then at least the same. Yet our offerings are not the same. They may look rich, but our gold is not real gold but plated metal, our stones are not precious but just coloured glass, our materials are rarely of the finest materials but cheap polyesters and cottons. Yet all these can be expensive not because they are expensive materials, but because they are made to order and not mass produced. When Mary the sister of Lazarus poured the precious ointment on Christ feet, Judas complained that the ointment could have been sold for a great deal of money and used to help the poor. Jesus replied: "Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this. For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always." In other words Jesus didn't find the ointment poured on his feet as wasteful because it was offered to God and only the best should be offered to God. If we want to help the poor they are always with us and we can help them any time we want. Didn't Christ say elsewhere: if you want to follow me, sell all you have and give to the poor and then come and follow me. Also we should not be scandalized by what we see in church, most of the things we see are gifts from people who having made a votive vow want to offer their gift to God. The church very rarely spends money on vessels and vestments and in fact the priests' vestments are paid for by the priests themselves. The money the church receives through feasts, memorials and candles go towards wages, electricity and the general upkeep of the church and anything surplus to the church's expenses can then be divided among the poor.  

Anyway let's return to Moses on the mount receiving instructions from God on how he wants to be worshipped. After the instructions for the tabernacle and vestments, God then tells Moses how Aaron and his sons are to be ordained into the priesthood. First they are to be washed by the doors of the tabernacle; this is symbolic of their purity. We do something similar before we begin the liturgy by washing our hands as a sign that the priesthood is without sin. Then to dress Aaron with the full length robe and the other garments. Then attach the shoulder pieces and the breastplate, the headdress and golden crown, then with the anointing oil to pour it upon his head.

Then follows sacrifices with a calf and two rams. Some of the blood of the calf is placed on the altar with the finger and the rest is poured out at the foot of the altar. The fat, the liver and kidneys are also placed on the altar, but the rest of the animal is burnt with fire outside the camp. Something similar is done with the blood of the first ram which is then offered as a whole burnt offering. With the blood of the second ram, some of it is placed on Aaron's right ear, on the thumb of his right hand and the large toe of the right foot. The same is done to his sons. Then taking the blood from the altar and the anointing oil, to sprinkle them upon Aaron and his sons and upon their garments. After the animal sacrifices follow bread and wine offerings and certain ritual eatings which Aaron and his sons had to do for seven days.  

After more instructions for sacrifices that had to be offered yearly by the priests, Moses is then instructed to make an altar for incense offerings. This again is of acacia wood overlaid with gold with instructions on when and how to offer incense. Three more instructions remain for the use of the tabernacle. A holy tax is to be placed on all the Israelites over twenty for use by the tabernacle. The tax is to be the same for both rich and poor, but as it is such a small amount everyone could afford to pay it. A wash basin was to be made for the priests to wash their hands and feet before offering sacrifices. The priests entered the sanctuary barefooted and their feet had to be clean before touching holy ground. Washing the hands before beginning their priestly duties was a sign of internal cleansing and ignoring this commandment meant death.

So with everything given for the tabernacle and priests it remains for the tabernacle and instruments to be sanctified with an inauguration service. For this an anointing oil is to be made with sweet herbs and spices according to God's instructions and everything is to be anointed with it; the ark of the testimony, the altar, all the vessels, the candlestick, the altar of incense, the altar of whole burnt offerings, all the utensils and the wash basin. After giving Moses the names of the skilled craftsmen who were to make all the items, God stops speaking and gives Moses the two tablets of stone of the testimony written with the finger of God.

During the time Moses spent up the mount the people became restless and thinking that Moses had deserted them asked Aaron to make them visible gods they could worship. Aaron listens to their request and taking the golden earrings of all the women made a idol of a calf. Aaron even goes a step further and builds an altar before it to offer whole burnt offerings and organized a festival for the idol god with eating and drinking and playful activities. God informs Moses of what is happening in the Israelite camp and tells him to go down quickly. God is angry at how quickly the Israelites have forgotten what he had done for them and this is reflected in how he tells Moses to go down. Because they had worshipped another god and sacrificed to it, God no more considers them his people and says to Moses go down quickly because your people who you brought out of Egypt have transgressed. He then tells Moses to allow him to be extremely angry with them and to destroy them and instead of the promise he made with Abraham that his seed will become a great nation God tells Moses that he will make him into a new Abraham. What God is actually saying to Moses is to beseech him to not destroy them. With the words allow me or suffer me to destroy them God is saying don't plead with me to save them, but means the opposite; don't be ashamed to beseech me on their behalf.

Thus Moses prayed to God and says if he destroys them it will harm his glory: he brought them out of Egypt with great power, but now the Egyptians will say what God is this that brought his people out of Egypt only to slay them in the mountain. Cease from your anger and look favourably upon the sin of your people, remembering Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob your servants; to whom you yourself did swear saying to them, I will greatly multiply your seed as the multitude of the stars of heaven and all this land that you has spoken of, to give it unto their seed, that they shall possess it for ever. Moses indeed was a true mediator because even though he was on God's side, he did not forget his wandering and deluded people. God hears Moses prayer and leaves off from destroying the Israelites.

Thus Moses goes down the mountain holding the two tablets of stone with the testimony written by God. Joshua, who was with Moses on the mount heard the noise of the people and said to Moses that there was a war in the camp. Moses assures him that is it not the noise of war, but the voice of them drunk with wine. Coming near to the camp, Moses sees the golden calf and the dancing and raging with anger casts the two tablets from his hands and breaks them to pieces. This was a result of his anger but it also symbolized the annulment of the first covenant, the agreement between God and the people which was endorsed by the elders and sanctified with a ceremony before Moses went up the mountain to receive the stone tablets. Moses then takes the golden calf and burns it and grinds it to a powder. He then threw the dust onto the water of the creek that run by Sinai and made the people drink of it. This he did so that the people could understand and feel the complete non-existence and impossibility of the false god to do them either good or bad. 

Moses then asks Aaron somewhat ironically:  What did this people unto you, that you have brought great sin upon them? Moses had left Aaron in charge and he should have fought and resisted their impulse to have false gods and even if they turned against him he should have had no part in their sin. Instead Aaron made the calf for them, built an altar for sacrifices and designated a feast for this idol. His defence is a reply of someone with a weak character. He said, don't be angry you know what the people are like, after they requested a visible god I asked the women to give me their golden earrings and I cast them into the fire and without doing anything else the mass of gold miraculously became a calf all by itself. I'm sure Moses didn't believe a word of it and there was punishment to be made. He stood by the gate of the camp and said "who is with the Lord?" The Levites responded and gathered themselves together with him. Then Moses tells them to take up their swords and go through the camps and kill everyone guilty sparing no one whether they be brother of neighbour. Thus the sons of Levi did according to what Moses had commanded them and killed three thousand men. This is a small number compared to the two million and more of the total camp of the Israelites so it would seem that the greater mass of the people asked for mercy and repented or not everyone took part in the idolatrous feast.   

In the morning Moses returned to the mount to pray for the forgiveness of the people. He is ready to take the whole weight of their sin upon his shoulders and says: if you do not forgive them then blot me out of thy book which you have written, in other words remove my life from the eternal blessings you have prepare for your chosen in exchange for their sin. God replies: He will only blot out any man that has sinned against him.

After the sin of the Israelites God decides to distance himself from them as he did with Adam and Eve. He was bound though by the promise he had made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob thus he says he will fulfil his promise to them and lead them to the Promised Land but he will no longer be with them, but rather he will send his angel before them to lead them. This was a form of punishment for their sin, but at the same time God is being merciful because he knows that they are a stiffnecked and hardhearted people inclined to sin and fears that if he follows them personally as he had done up to now and they sin again he will completely destroy them.

When the people heard that God will remove himself from them they repented and mourned for their terrible sin against him. This pleased God who then told them to remove the luxurious clothing and gold jewellery items from them because through these they had made the golden calf. 

Moses is then told to take his tabernacle and pitch it outside the camp. This is not the tabernacle of the covenant because it still has to be made. This is Moses" personal tent which was used as a temporary religious centre and were Moses received divine guidance. As such it could no longer remain within the camp because the camp had become polluted with the worship of the calf and God could no longer speak to Moses there. By moving the tent, it reminded them of their sin and served to strengthen the Israelites repentance. With the tent outside the camp Moses would enter and a cloud would descend and stand by the door and talk with him. In the cloud was God who it says stood before Moses and spoke with him as one speaks to a friend. Moses would come and go passing on to the people God's messages. Jesus the son of Nun was the guardian of the tent.     

Now God said that he will no longer be with them and instead will send his angel before them to lead them into the land of milk and honey, but Moses was not finished with bargaining with God. He says to God: "You tell me to lead this people, but you haven't specified who you will send with me to lead them. You told me you love me above all others and that I have found special favour in thy sight. If therefore I have special favour before you show yourself to me not in clouds and fire but as you really are so that I may be convinced that indeed I have found favour with you and that I may know that this nation is your people." Moses wins his first request and God says he will go before him to the promised land and will not send his angel in his stead.

Moses needs more assurance and confirmation of this promise and continues: If you yourself do not go up with us don't ask me to move from here. If you go with us then it will be known that I have found favour with you, both I and the people and we will be glorified among the nations, because if we have a visible protection from God, there will be a visible difference between Israel and the other nations for here is the difference between the God of Israel and the gods of other nations. Moses wins God over and God promises he will do this thing for him because he has found favour with him and he knows him above all others. So with the covenant between God and Israel re-established Moses proceeds to his other request to see God face to face. God tells Moses that no man can see his face and live, but he will see his glory pass by him and as it does he will hear the name of the Lord. There is a place by me, meaning a rock on the mount, where there is a cleft in the rock where I will place you and when my glory passes you I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by then I will remove my hand and you will see my back parts, but my face you shall not see.

So for Moses to see the glory of the Lord he has to go up the mount again. God tells him to cut two tablets of stone like the first tablets and he will write upon the tablets the words that were on the first tablets which Moses broke. In the morning Moses was to go up the mount completely by himself. Thus in the morning Moses went up the mountain with the tablets of stone and the Lord descended in a cloud and stood beside him. Then the Lord passed by him and called: The Lord God, compassionate and merciful, longsuffering and true, and keeping justice, and doing mercy for thousands, taking away transgressions, and injustice, and sins; and He will not clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third, and to the fourth generation. All these things consisted of the name of the Lord which were spoken by God himself and not Moses. In the name is revealed the presence of God and defines his substance.   

So having seen the backwards parts of God Moses falls to the ground and prostrates himself before God and again asks to take away the sins of the people. God reaffirms that he will establish his covenant with him and the people, he will do glorious things for Israel such as have never been seen before on earth or in any other nation. As they proceed on their journey he will cast out the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hittites, the Hevites, the Gergesites and the Jebusites, but warns be careful not to come to an agreement with the inhabitants of these lands wherein you shall enter. You shall destroy their altars and break in pieces their pillars, cut down their forests and burn with fire the images of their gods. The pillars referred to here are stone pillars raised in honour of the gods and the forests were trees with bushy leaves which were symbols of the earths fertility also used in their idolatrous practices. God tells Moses that by no means are they to worship strange gods because he is a jealous God. What he means is that now with the covenant re-established God is the husband and Israel is the bride. In this very close relationship God is like a jealous husband and worshipping other Gods would be equivalent to adultery and reason for a divorce.

God continues warning Moses that they are not to sacrifice to these gods, they are not to take their daughters for your sons and you shall not give your daughters to their sons and your sons and daughters go a whoring after their gods. God is persistent on this matter, but he knows that later on just before entering the Promised Land, the men will commit fornication with the Moabite women and sacrifice to their gods and as a result 24,000 Israelites will be put to death.

God continues reminding Moses of the Covenant laws like keeping the Sabbath, offering the firstborn of the cattle and men and of the feast they must keep. After God had finished he instructs Moses to write down everything he has been told. Moses was in the mount for forty days and nights and during that whole time he did neither eat nor drink anything. He now begins his journey down the mountain holding the two stone tablets with the Ten Commandments written upon them. What Moses didn't realize was that having seen God and being with him for forty days his own face shone with glory and when he came down Aaron and the other elders were afraid to come near him. But Moses calls them and calms them and tells them of all the things God had told him on the mount. The glory with which Moses shone must have been blinding to the others so after this Moses put a veil over his face. When he entered his tent to talk with God he would take the veil off and when he came out he would again place it over his face.        

With the covenant re-established Moses gathers the people together and tells them that everyone is to bring items needed for the making of the tabernacle and priestly garments. They are to bring gold, silver, brass, blue, purple and red spun fine linen, goats hair, rams skins dyed red and blue, acacia wood, precious stone in their possession and any other materials needed according to the instructions given by God for the ark of the covenant, the tabernacle, furniture, vessels and garments.

The last few chapter of Exodus are a repeat the all the instructions for the ark and tabernacle now conveyed to the people by Moses and the production of them. Within the year all the work is finished and on the first day of the first month of the second year, God instructs Moses to set up the tabernacle and place the ark inside.  With everything in place the tabernacle is sanctified with the anointing oil, the priests are ordained and worship is ready to begin.

If you remember when the Israelites left Egypt, a pillar of cloud went before them by day and a pillar of fire by night to show them the way. Now the cloud descends upon the tabernacle and the tabernacle is filled with the glory of the Lord that not even Moses can enter in. The same cloud and fire that led them before now leads them again but through the tabernacle. When the cloud went up from the tabernacle the Israelites broke camp and proceeded on their journey; if the cloud remained over the tabernacle they were to stay where they were until the day the cloud lifted. At night the cloud was replaced with fire which gave light to all of Israel in all their journeying.