Periodically, I show the series “The Bible” to the students at a youth correction facility. The scenes depicting the Israelites in the wilderness make me laugh. Maybe they had money constraints. Who knows? But the Israelites are depicted as this small band of wanderers. You know, a small band of maybe a couple hundred which would have been super easy for God to provide for in the wilderness. Exodus 38:26 tells us there were 603,550 men who were twenty years old and older. And that boys and girls is just the adult men. If there were as many women the number bumps up to 1,207,100. And then you have to throw in the children. O, and think of the livestock. God provided food and water for all of these people and their animals as they journeyed through a harsh desert land. God is amazing folks! And is it any wonder that the people would respond with gratitude? And there you have it: the theme of today’s article – The Amazing Yahweh and the overflowing gratitude of the Israelites.
Exodus 38:21-31 is an account of the cost; a sermon on the amount, if you will. Specifically it is an account of the precious metals used in the constructing the Tabernacle and its furnishings. These things were appointed by God. They were not allowed to make do; to construct the Tabernacle with whatever throwaway metals they had no use for. We are told that Aaron’s youngest son Ithamar was put in charge of the keeping track of all this. This would not have been a minor task. We are talking about a lot of precious metals to be weighed, stored, and then provided to the skilled workers so they could turn them into Tabernacle quality stuff. We are told again of Bezalel and his assistant Oholiab. This is just a reminder of who was in charge of turning this collection of material into things like sockets and altars and, you know, Tabernacle stuff.
We are then given the amount of gold, silver, and copper that was collected for the Tabernacle. These items were measured by weight and the measurements given is that of talents and shekels. Ancient measurements are never easy to convert into modern measurements because they were not standardized. The sources I looked at give three different sets of numbers in their conversions. I have no idea which is close or if any of them are. So, take that into account as I provide the numbers of one source. The gold may have equaled about 2,210 pounds; the silver about 7,601 pounds, and the copper 5,350 pounds. Now, that would be a lot of precious metals to be hauling across the desert. A man by the name of Lucas has done extensive research and has shown that the amounts given here are not unrealistic. Egypt was known for its working of precious metals. And remember the size of the multitude and remember that as they were leaving Egypt the Egyptians gave them silver and gold.
The silver collected was a result of the half-shekel that each male twenty years and older was to pay. It is called the shekel of the sanctuary here and in Exodus 30. In Exodus 30 it is taken up for two main purposes – for the tabernacle and as an atonement or covering. All of the 603,550 men paid their half-shekel atonement tax and the silver was provided. The gold and copper represent the free-will offerings. The rest of the passage tells us what the precious metals were made into.
The emphasis seems to be twofold: the Tabernacle of Yahweh was to be constructed with the most precious of metals and the gratitude of the people who had been delivered from slavery and given a second chance after having trampled all over their covenant relationship with Yahweh. Yahweh was, once again, consenting to dwell among them. Did he need a tent? Well no. The tent – the Tabernacle – was built so that the people could have a visual of Yahweh tenting with them. But he was not one of them. He was not to be thought of as just another wandering Israelite, relegated to a fellow ex-slave. He is Yahweh, God of Israel, the Amazing God who delivered them out of Egypt, was guiding them through the wilderness to the promised land, had cut a covenant with them – twice, and provided for them in the midst of a harsh land. The Tabernacle would need to reflect this reality as well. The people responded with grateful hearts. This large multitude in the desert finally understood what Yahweh was doing for them. And when the time came to construct the Tabernacle they gave up their gold jewelry and whatever else that it would take to make sure that God would tent with them. The Amazing Yahweh was consenting to tabernacle with them. That will make you give up anything. Right? And isn’t this the story of Jesus – God with us? Give it up! Walter