Thursday, 24 February 2011

Tabernacle, Creation and Sabbath -- building a 'rest home' for the people of God?

Recently I’ve been busy working on a long-term project to do with the opening chapters of Genesis. I’m encouraged by the fact that Augustine of Hippo wrote two volumes on this before he gave up, so I was thinking now might be a good idea to run a couple of things past the reading public.

The latest stage had me looking at where else the six days of creation are referred to in the Bible, apart from Genesis 1. And as far as I can see there are only two occasions, in Exodus 20 and Exodus 31:

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. [...] For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Ex 20:8,11, NIV)

The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath ... for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he abstained from work and rested. (Ex 31:16a,17b, NIV)

And that’s apparently it! The second occasion, however, had me particularly intrigued, because it comes at the end of five-and-a-half chapters of detailed instructions on how and why to build a Tabernacle (Exodus 25:1-31:11).

The ‘why’ is in 25:8, where God says to Moses,

Then have them [the Israelites] make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.

And then the details run on, page after page until chapter 31 where we hear about Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, who is going to be filled with God’s Spirit to supervise the construction of what has been detailed in the previous chapters.

Then we get, almost out of the blue, the second reference to the Sabbath above (vv 12-17). Now my question was, “Why does this reference to the Sabbath come here?” And the answer I am exploring is that there are allusions throughout the instructions for building the Tabernacle to the situation described in the Genesis accounts of creation and the garden in Eden.

Compare the following table I drew up:

Should we perhaps see a parallel between the creation of the world in Genesis, which leads up to the seventh day of divine ‘rest’, and the construction of the Tabernacle in Exodus, which therefore (logically) leads up to the Sabbath day of symbolic ‘creation rest’ (when not only people but animals ceased from their labours)?

I notice, incidentally, that in Genesis 2, the seventh day is not actually referred to as a ‘Sabbath’. Indeed, the word doesn’t occur until Exodus 16:23 (which precedes the giving of the Ten Commandments). Does this underline the symbolic nature of the human Sabbath-day?

BTW, simply observing, “They’re different traditions” isn’t what I’m looking for by way of help! And for what it’s worth, I’ve already read John Walton and Gregory Beale who have some interesting things to say on these topics.

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  1. John,
    If you're serious about this inquiry, and I have no reason to doubt that you are, you may find answers in the writings of the late Dr. Ernest L. Martin, many of which can be found on the website Dr. Martin was a long-time Sabbatarian and explored such issues as the Sabbath, Tithing and the Temple in particular. I'd encourage you to look at some of his work. Our friend the Anglican Curmudgeon is also familiar with Dr. Martin. I happen to know Dr. Martin's widow and his son.

  2. If the image and likeness which accompanies the previous comment is to be believed - how splendid that you have no less a personage and scholar than Mandell Creighton, sometime Bishop of London, responding to your thesis.

  3. If the image and likeness which accompanies the previous comment is to be believed - how splendid that the line of Henry VIII did not die out after all! Better not tell the Windsors, though...

    Mark B. (aniconic)

  4. Can I also recommend Margaret Barker's work on Temple Theology? Very relevant.

  5. Fr. David,
    Thank you for giving me the name of the character I have been using as my avatar. I simply liked the picture. Those who are unfamiliar with Bishop Mandell Creighton would do well to start by reading the biography of him on Wikipedia, for starts. Very interesting man.

  6. John,

    I am sure you are right. The Sabbath in the context of Ex 31 is with God's rest for his people. The Tabernacle is God's presence with his people. His will done, so that there can be a rest for the poeple of God.

    In Genesis God saw that his creation with man at its head, was complete and he took pleasure in it. The seventh day is to be a continual reminder to mankind of God's action.

    The Tabernalce looks back to that which was lost by the Fall so in grace God can dwell with his people. It also looks forward to the eternal rest as found through Christ. One only has to look at ch 32 to see the wonder of God's grace and his need to remind his poeple of their need of God's rest!
    So much for the typological, allegorical or symbolic analysis of this but what about what the text actually says and why seven days?

    I think we dwell on these various interpretations of the text because we have problems understanding these seven days to be literal history as obviously did the writer. This prevents us from seeing the grandure of God's purposes.

    We reckon our knowledge is superior thus we have to deviate in to cul -de- sacs to try and make sense of the obscurity of the text from our perspective. We have detached the text from true truth and in Francis Schaeffer's terms relegated it to 'upper story' religious ideas. It seems to me that Jesus' understanding of the Sabbath was based in real history as opposed to upper story or religious history.

    A very interesting comment is found on the six days of creation and the seventh in a book by Dr Kurt Wise (A Paleontologist, studied under Stephen Jay Gould) Faith, Form, and Time. On p46 he asks the question, 'Why a Week'?

    On p48, he says,

    'A literal week of creation also provides an explanation for the existence of seven day weeks in pagan cultures. While astrononical indicators provide time markers for days, months, seasons, and years, there is no astronomical indicator for a week. The seven day work week seems to be based solely upon a seven day creation. Biblical evidence suggests strongly that the Creation Week of Genesis 1 and 2 was human work-week in length - seven earth rotation days in time, counting the day of rest'

    I guess God needed perhaps to tell Adam about this primeval event and this is what we call revelation and that's what was passed on to Moses. Quite simple really!

    Rev Stephen Bazlinton.

  7. I haven't checked it recently but I seem to reacall that Gordon Wenham's word commentary on Genesis 1-15 explores the use of teabernacle languagein the description of the Graden of Eden. You may find more parallels there - further evidence as well of the symbolic genre of Genesis.
    Mark B.

  8. Yes, John, I'm sure that's right.

    From memory, I think Peter Enns develops some of this in his commentary on Exodus. The tabernacle as a garden in the desert, a reconstruction of Eden, complete with a cherub guarded entrance at the east.

    Sacred time as well as sacred space. Is it right that the instructions for the tabernacle comprise 7 discrete instructions to Moses? (Count "YHWH said to Moses").

    Also, the chiasm. A: Instructions for tabernacle. B. Sabbath. C. Golden Calf. B'. Sabbath. A'. Building the tabernacle.

    Far from being a few verses' red-herring, the two Sabbath sections (B and B') tell us the point of the whole tabernacle project. As in Psalm 95, it's an opportunity to re-enter God's rest. Take out B and B', we'd be at risk of missing the whole point of chapters 25-40 of Exodus.

    James Oakley, Kemsing, Kent

  9. John

    The only comment I would make is that the tabernacle did not bring in rest (it was a kind of War tent). It is only in the land when David finished warring that plans to build the temple (temples apparently built to signify settled peace and rest). 2 Sam 7.

  10. PS

    I am not saying in above comment that the symbol of rest is not present in the sabbath, I think it is. God's purpose is always to dwell among his people and have them enjoy his rest.

    It is not however until Solomon that this rest finds its typical fulfilment.

    1Kgs 5:2-5 (ESV)
    And Solomon sent word to Hiram, “You know that David my father could not build a house for the name of the Lord his God because of the warfare with which his enemies surrounded him, until the Lord put them under the soles of his feet. But now the Lord my God has given me rest on every side. There is neither adversary nor misfortune. And so I intend to build a house for the name of the Lord my God, as the Lord said to David my father, ‘Your son, whom I will set on your throne in your place, shall build the house for my name.’

    Interestingly in 2 Sam 7 although God will not allow David to build him a house in which to rest God promises a house and rest for David.

    '2Sam 7:11 (ESV)
    from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house.

  11. Sorry... still reflecting on parallels. In chart should the parallel in clothing not be a contrast. In garden complete nakedness in the presence of God (appropriate to innocence not sinfulness or even holiness): in the tabernacle body completely covered (appropriate to sinners). Even in new creation bodies covered (dressed in white linen [priestly?] the righteousnesses of the saints).

    PS Adam conscious he is naked in presence of God even with fig leaves.

    Tabernacle God is present among his people but distant. Only high priest can enter holiest and now entrance requires blood.

    Q: how do we relate seventh day of creation rest eschatologically to the symbolism of a Sunday and new beginning.