Interesting things keep jumping out at me as I read in Exodus about Israel’s wanderings, if you really should call them that, in the wilderness. Most of them probably thought of it as wandering, but I’m sure God had a map, an itinerary and an agenda – in order words, a plan.
One thing I wondered about was how long it took to do certain things. Getting from Egypt over to the territory across the Red Sea and make camp that first time, for instance. How long did that take? Well, to know that you need to know when they departed from Egypt, don’t you.
According to Ex. 12:40-41, “The Lord’s people left Egypt exactly four hundred thirty years after they had arrived.” (Contemporary English Version). Notice that word exactly. Somebody thought it was important to keep track of the dates. There are about 600,000 Israelites, not counting women and children, and many other people went along with them too for one reason or another. (v. 37-38)
Three days after crossing the Red Sea, they arrived at Marah (bitter water), and later came to Elim where they made camp. (15:27). No date is mentioned there, but they stayed there a while – because on the 15th day of the 2nd month, they left Elim, heading toward Mount Sinai. They moved several times, were attacked by Amalekites at Rephidim, and went on toward Mount Sinai.
They arrived at Mount Sinai two months after leaving Egypt and set up camp at the foot of the mountain. (19:1-2) Here’s where they stayed while Moses went to the top of the mountain to meet with God and receive His instructions. This included what we call the 10 Commandments and many other regulations, rules, and instructions for daily living and worship.
It took Moses a long time to get it all recorded, and he came down and went back up more than once. It was actually longer than 40 days and 40 nights, if you read the texts. (24:15-18)
While he was there with God, God gave him a shopping list. He didn’t tell Moses what it was all for at first. Read Ex. 25. The Israelites had brought with them all the wealth of Egypt (12:35) and these items on God’s list were to be gathered from that stuff. Gold, silver and bronze metals. Blue, purple and red wool. Fine linen. Goat hair. Tanned ram skins. Fine leather. Acacia wood. Olive oil. Sweet-smelling spices. Onyx stones. Wow, what a list!
Then God explained to Moses what he wanted done with all those things – “I also want them to build a special place where I can live among my people.” (25:8) And not just any old design – “Make it and its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.” (25:9)
The pattern was intricate and detailed, including the curtains for God’s special place. There was a large courtyard, hung with curtains for walls. There was a large tent inside that courtyard, hung with curtains for outside walls, more curtains to divide the tent into two rooms, and further curtains for a tent roof.
In Ch. 26 read the patterns for the curtains! Not too plain, were they?! Embroidered with pictures of winged creatures. The same pattern wasn’t used for every curtain, either. There were layers of curtains on that tent, (1) embroidered linen/wool, (2) goat hair, (3) ram skins dyed red, and (4) fine leather.
Now, that’s just the curtains. All the posts, the bases for the posts, the tables, altars, utensils, lampstands, everything had a distinctive pattern, metal-covered wood, inlaid, edged, carefully decorated. And then there was the clothing – including undergarments – for the priests. More detailed instructions. Sashes and turbans, robes and vests and breastplates, not to mention cords to hold things together, and decorative edging to make things beautiful.
How long do you think all that took to make?
Of course, in the middle of receiving all these instructions, Moses had to come down and discipline the impatient, disobedient people. To talk with God when he wasn’t up on the mountain, he set up an ordinary tent and went there from time to time. (33:7) All that took some time.
Then finally he went back up into the mountain for another 40 days and nights. Once he came down for good he began explaining this building project, appointing the right people for the job.
God’s textile factory got to work. It had taken two months to get to that campsite, over 80 days for Moses to get God’s instructions, say at least three months for that – and it took the rest of the year to weave and embroider all that linen/wool cloth, weave the goat hair into a curtain, make all the other curtains and the hooks to fasten them together.
Plus they had to cut the wood poles and cover them with assorted metals, create the bases for the poles, make one altar for the animal sacrifices and another for incense, make the tables and lampstand – not to mention the most important piece, the sacred chest and lid, what we call today the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat.
The actual work is described in Exodus chapters 35-39. Once it was all ready, God told them to set it all up in a specific order, which they did. (Ch. 40)
“And on the first day of the first month of the second year, the sacred tent was set up.” (40:17)
Up until this time, God’s appearance was as a thick cloud and fiery glory up on the mountain, or just thick cloud whenever Moses went into the tent of meeting. But those appearances were not close to the people, they were far off.
Now, however, God’s cloud and glory moved into this brand-new, specially designed and constructed tent, located smack dab in the middle of the camp. And “No matter where the people traveled, the Lord was with them. Each day his cloud was over the tent, and each night a fire could be seen in the cloud.” (40:38)
Timetable so far – one year, from time of leaving Egypt to the finished Tabernacle of Moses.
“At Timna Park, 20 miles north of Eilat in the Arabah, a life-size replica of the biblical tabernacle has been constructed. While no original materials (e.g., gold, silver, bronze) have been used, the model is accurate in every other way based upon the biblical description.”