Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Old Testament Overtime: Toting the Tabernacle

The Old Testament inspires me.  And quite often, I find it beautiful discordant with life in the 21st Century.  With OT OT (Old Testament Overtime), I'd like to explore some of those contrasts as they strike me.  Today:

Toting the Tabernacle.

After staging an impressive mass exodus from slavery in Egypt (by the hand of God, of course), the Israelites found themselves stumbling around the desert trying to redefine their relationship with God.  You see, Egypt had been all they knew, and as sick and twisted as it might have been, they knew who they were to God - and who God was to them - in that place.  They had figured out how to relate to Him as a slaved people, as a people who had God to hold onto in captivity and that was some comfort.

And they were hearing His promise of a promised land, an incredible inheritance flowing with milk and honey.  They heard Him talk about taking them there and what it would mean to be His chosen people in His destined place.  They held onto that hope and could kind of imagine what it might be like when they got there.  They figured out what that promise might really, actually mean and that  was some comfort, too.

In between was the desert.  They had no idea where they were.  Let alone where God might be.  They were somewhere between yesterday and tomorrow, somewhere between captive and promised, somewhere between where they knew who God was and where they thought they might see Him again.  And it was a tough place to be.

Enter the tabernacle.

God knew they were struggling.  He knew that now, more than ever, they needed to see Him.  They needed to know they were in His presence and He was in theirs, that in the in-between times, they could still know and love and relate to this God who had both led them out and was leading them on.  He knew they needed His tangible presence within their community.  So He instructed Moses to build Him a tent.

The people brought gold, silver, and bronze to donate to the building of the tent of meeting, and those donations were then fashioned into a dwelling for the glory of the Lord - by smoke and by fire.  The finished product, according to Exodus 38, used 2,193 pounds of gold, 7,544 pounds of silver, and 5,310 pounds of bronze.  That is 15,047 pounds - more than 7 tons - of tabernacle.

Seven and a half tons of tabernacle that the people of God carried with them everywhere they went for nearly forty years in the desert.  All so that they could remember where God stood among them...and where they stood with Him.  The glory of the Lord can be quite a burden.

There is a simple genius in this, though.  When God weighs seven and a half tons, you don't just pick up and move whenever you feel like it.  Even if you're wandering.  

The Israelites never on a whim simply "broke camp" and moved on.  They waited on the Lord to guide them. When the glory of the Lord shifted and started to move, they packed up His tent and followed Him.  When His glory settled, they set everything back up and settled in until the Lord guided them to move again.

We could use a little of that discipline.  Here we are, a people in the between times.  We know how God was when we first met Him, when we sort of thought we knew how to relate to Him.  We imagine how He might be when we get where we're going, when we settle into the Promised Land.  Yet between yesterday and tomorrow, we're wandering.

Too often, we don't know where we're going or where God is, so we figure we ought to go anywhere at all and that He will meet us there.  That's a common myth in our Christian circles - that we just have to move and God will go with us.  We know the burden of the myth because in all our moving, in all our wandering, we're keenly aware how difficult it can sometimes be to pack God up and try to take Him with us.

You see, the glory of the Lord can be quite a burden.

Sometimes, we're better off waiting in our wandering.  Holding still.  Settling down for awhile, even though we all want to "get there."  Settle in here, where God has settled, and wait on Him to move.  Wait on Him to show you where to move.  Wait on Him to start shifting and then pack up and go where He's leading you.  Then when His glory settles in, settle down.  

It's not like you'd want to go anywhere without Him anyway.  If you're willing to wait, if you're willing to listen, if you're willing to follow, the Lord does the heavy lifting.

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