The Tabernacle Revisited. Again.
Exodus 35 to 40.
We all know sometimes I have a tendency to get bogged down in a small section of the Bible and expound on it at length. I can write a thousand words on a meaning of a single sentence in large part because those certain sentences contain so much of what I find absurd… And, of course, I always find it difficult to shut the hell up. As any long time reader of this blog will know, a meaningless law, an absurd restriction, or an illogical divine demand can set me off on a rant and keep there until I have exhausted myself. You people simply have no idea how much work it actually is just to be me.
However, this is not going to be one of those days.
Remember several chapters back when we went over Exodus’ endless, coma-inducing detail on God’s tabernacle instructions? Well, Exodus finishes with a nearly complete recapitulation of that event. Yeah. I know. I just read it thrice. To be honest it’s not exactly the same. The first one was how God wanted it built and this one is the Hebrews actually building it.
For example, here is the original in Exodus 25
“They shall construct an ark of acacia wood two and a half cubits long, and one and a half cubits wide, and one and a half cubits high. “You shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and out you shall overlay it, and you shall make a gold molding around it. “You shall cast four gold rings for it and fasten them on its four feet, and two rings shall be on one side of it and two rings on the other side of it. “You shall make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. “You shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, to carry the ark with them. “The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be removed from it.
“You shall put into the ark the testimony which I shall give you. ”You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold, two and a half cubits long and one and a half cubits wide. “You shall make two cherubim of gold, make them of hammered work at the two ends of the mercy seat. “Make one cherub at one end and one cherub at the other end; you shall make the cherubim of one piece with the mercy seat at its two ends. “The cherubim shall have their wings spread upward, covering the mercy seat with their wings and facing one another; the faces of the cherubim are to be turned toward the mercy seat. “You shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony which I will give to you.
And here is the mildly condensed version in Exodus 37.
Now Bezalel made the ark of acacia wood; its length was two and a half cubits, and its width one and a half cubits, and its height one and a half cubits; and he overlaid it with pure gold inside and out, and made a gold molding for it all around. He cast four rings of gold for it on its four feet; even two rings on one side of it, and two rings on the other side of it. He made poles of acacia wood and overlaid them with gold. He put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, to carry it. He made a mercy seat of pure gold, two and a half cubits long and one and a half cubits wide. He made two cherubim of gold; he made them of hammered work at the two ends of the mercy seat; one cherub at the one end and one cherub at the other end; he made the cherubim of one piece with the mercy seat at the two ends. The cherubim had their wings spread upward, covering the mercy seat with their wings, with their faces toward each other; the faces of the cherubim were toward the mercy seat.
Yeah, I know. Riveting. I can’t wait for the movie.
Any brevity gained in the abridged version is lost with the lengthy descriptions of how happy the Hebrews were to give to their God. They just gave and gave and gave until Moses himself had to put his foot down and say no more. I am quite sure that’s true. After Moses had slaughtered three thousand of them just a few days before during the Golden Calf fiasco, I’m quite sure that everyone was quite… um… willing, yeah, willing to give up their valuables. All that congealing blood on the ground has a rather profound effect on generosity.
Once again a huge section of this book is not about human needs and human desires. It’s not trying to get humans to be better. It’s not about the wonders and beauties of science. It doesn’t say a damned thing about the Germ Theory of Disease or Natural Selection or Quantum Mechanics. There’s not an iota of information that would make people live longer, healthy or more productive lives. It’s all about glorifying God and by very close proxy, his chief priest, Moses. No matter what Exodus is talking about the subject matter always returns to glorifying God. It’s like that person at the dinner party who takes over every conversation and redirects it towards themselves. Yeah. I hate those people.
It becomes apparent that people in their ugly and squalid little lives are unimportant. Their needs are irrelevant. Humanity’s suffering is insignificant. It’s God’s needs that are paramount here, his and his alone. Page after page drip with his demands. For example, his Sabbath must be observed as the second verse in Exodus 35 states so clearly and cruelly.
“For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a holy day, a Sabbath of complete rest to the Lord; whoever does any work on it shall be put to death.”
How sweet. God brought us the weekend… under pain of execution.
People starved all over the world. Sentient beings old and young died of terrible diseases. Pain, suffering and sorrow ruled life utterly and what is God doing about it? Healing them? Teaching them medicine or crop rotation? Making things better? Fuck no! He’s demanding his children build him a house. With all the power he is reputed to have he does nothing about the condition of humanity but uses that power and the fear it generates to glorify himself. Because to this God and his biggest fan that is what is supremely important; fear, glory and power.
Oh sure, Exodus has a few verses about protecting widows, a few more about strangers and others on the solving of property disputes. If taken as a whole it’s three or four pages added together. Contrast that with the 20 or so involved just with building and sanctifying the Tabernacle, a house whose sole purpose it to demand subservience and reverence. Why? What other purpose could it actually serve? It was built to increase the awe of the people and keep them in thrall. This is the purpose. This is the raison d’être.
Oh, I’m sure it also gave Moses a chubby, but let’s not dwell on that now.
It’s so obvious to anyone who really looks that in the church of that time, maintaining and increasing power ranked far above easing the suffering of the weak and helpless. Back then God was only interested in his glory and the subservience of his worshipers.
But the real question you have to ask yourself is this. With fundamentalist churches leading the way to cut spending for the poor, fighting ferociously against any kind of universal health care, screaming against medically necessary abortion, cutting taxes to the richest Americans and supporting corporate interests above any concerns with mere human beings, are today’s churches’ all that different?
For many of the purest and most fundamental Christian Churches, I think not. The difference here is that the ancient Hebrews couldn’t have known any better.
I grow very weary of people whose entire message boils down to “I speak for God, and he, too, thinks you’re an asshole.”