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The Book of Exodus by B. Davie Napier


B. Davie Napier, at the time of this writing was Holmes Professor of Old Testament Criticism and Intepretation at Yale Divinity School. He later became President of Pacific School of Religion. He is a minister of the United Church of Christ and an author of several books on the Old Testament. This book was published in 1963 by John Knox Press. Used by permission of the author. It was prepared for Religion Online by Harry W. and Grace C. Adams.


Chapter 5: The Act of Institution (Exodus 35:1-40:38)


There is little in this extended section which has not appeared earlier in Exodus, chapters 25-31. In the earlier section these elaborate instructions on the physical means, forms, nature, dimensions, and personnel of the institutional "plant" are recorded as plans, while here they are repeated as a record of actual construction.

Sabbath (35:1-3)

In view of the other Sabbath prescriptions which exhibit sensitivity, imagination, eloquence, and theological insight (16:23-30; 20:8-11; 31:13-17; Deut. 5:12-15), this is, relatively speaking, a prosaic rendering of the commandment. Missing especially is reference to the basis of the Sabbath in Creation or in the act of deliverance.

Introduction (35:4-29)

Here, as in 25:1-9, the emphasis is placed upon the spirit of the giver, the cordial, willing disposition of the one making the offering of help for the Tabernacle (see especially vss. 5, 21, 22, 26, 29). The Tabernacle is to be built now (according to the list of specifications which are recorded in summary fashion in verses 10-18) with the free offerings of gifts and services of all Israel.

On Staff and Material (35:30-36:7)

The parallel account in 31:1-11 is dependent upon, and therefore later than, the section here. Two men of particular gifts, Bezalel and Oholiab, are called to teach and to serve as chief designing engineers. Along with them, however, is to serve "every able man in whom the LORD has put ability" (36:1). Meanwhile, gifts of material were coming in such profusion as in fact to handicap the work; and Moses was compelled to call a halt to this vigorous response.

The Tabernacle and Its Furnishings (36:8-38:20)

Parallels for these sections will be found as follows:

the Tabernacle itself (36:8-38) in 26:1-37;

Ark, table, and lampstand (37:1-24) in 25:10-40;

incense altar (37:25-28) in 30:1-10;

incense and oil (37:29) in 30:22-38;

altar of burnt offering, the main altar (38:1-7) in 27:1-8;

bronze basin ("layer"; 38:8) in 30:17-21;

court (38:9-20) in 27:9-19.

Inventory of Services and Offerings (38:21-31)

This appears to he a very late editorial offering, and does not have a parallel elsewhere.

The Priests’ Apparel (39:1-31)

With this section comparison should be made with 28:1-43. It can also be observed that the account in chapter 39 has nothing to parallel the offices of ordination described in chapter 29.

Moses’ Approval of the Tabernacle (39:32-43)

The finished work is reviewed by Moses and the conclusion of the matter is set in language strongly reminiscent of the account of Creation, where "God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good" (Gen. 1:31). Here Moses saw all the work, and behold, they had done it; as the LORD had commanded, so had they done it. And Moses blessed them (39:43).

The Erection and Meaning of the Tabernacle (40:1-38)

Moses saw the completed work, but with the parts as yet unassembled. Now all the components are appropriately joined and arranged — by Moses himself. And yet, as is consistent with the rest of Exodus, it is Moses acting in precise obedience to the command of the Lord. The Tabernacle, the prototype of the Temple, with authority and validation to be taken over into the Temple, is then in fact the creation of God, through the instrumentality of Moses. Seven (the sacred number) times the phrase of identification is reiterated — Moses did so-and-so, "as the LORD had commanded Moses" (verses 19, 21, 23, 25, 27, 29, 32). "So Moses finished the work" (vs. 33).

The indestructible faith of Israel speaks in the closing lines of Exodus. Tabernacle and Temple tangibly represent the Presence of the Lord, the reality of the Covenant, the power of the Covenant promise. This unit of the physical institution is the material symbol of the supremely significant relationship of Elector-elected, Chooser-chosen, of the Lord-Israel, of God-people:

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. . . For throughout all their journeys the cloud of the LORD was upon the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel (40:34, 38).

In the Book of Exodus tradition has created an inspired masterpiece. We who come to it with faith find that it is also our history, our story, our torah, our institution — but all gathered up and fulfilled in him who even now brings us up out of Egypt into life with God. We can affirm with Exodus — and with greater conviction because of Exodus — that in all our journeys we are not alone, that when we look with faith, the Lord is himself even now "in the sight of all the house of Israel."

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