Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
The last sixteen chapters of Exodus are ridiculously boring. Save for the incident with the golden calf there is almost nothing of particular interest in these chapters. I dread Exodus because of all the stuff about building the tabernacle. I mean, come on, this kind of stuff is dry the first time you read it,
Make the tabernacle with ten curtains of finely twisted linen and blue, purple and scarlet yarn, with cherubim worked into them by a skilled craftsman. All the curtains are to be the same size- twenty-eight cubits long and four cubits wide. Join five of the curtains together, and do the same with the other five (Exodus 26:1-3).
But all of it is repeated soon after as Moses then records the actual construction of the tabernacle,
All the skilled men among the workmen made the tabernacle with ten curtains of finely twisted linen and blue, purple and scarlet yarn, with cherubim worked into them by a skilled craftsman. All the curtains were the same size- twenty-eight cubits long and four cubits wide. They joined five of the curtains together and did the same with the other five (Exodus 36:8-10).
I once heard a pastor comment that many well-meaning Bible readers have fallen (given up) in the desert of Leviticus. But honestly, I think it’s these chapters of Exodus that do the damage, then the reader sees the also extremely repetitive sacrifice stuff at the opening of Leviticus and just gives up before getting to all the cool and strange laws. Ever since the first time I read the Old Testament I have been begging the Holy Spirit to explain to me why I have to read all these numbers and descriptions not only once (which is awful on its own) but twice. Wait, stop. Replace “begging” with “whining.” I’ve been whining to the Holy Spirit to explain it. Finally, he has.
What the Holy Spirit called me to first is that God goes into extreme details on the specifications. Check this out,
Join five of the curtains together into one set and the other six into another set. Fold the sixth curtain double at the front of the tent. Make fifty loops along the edge of the end curtain in one set and also along the edge of the end curtain in the other set. Then make fifty bronze clasps and put them in the loops to fasten the tent together as a unit (Exodus 26:9-11).
The Lord not only determines the number of holes, but he also explains where the Israelites are to fold the curtain and even the metal that will make up the clasps. And sure enough, the Israelites followed the orders to the letter. We’re shown this amazing detail in order for us to realize that there is a right way in which to do things. Nowadays people have many choices in how to live their lives and feel that the decisions are their own to make. As long as someone doesn’t end up dead or in prison from their decisions, we figure he or she is “good enough.” But God isn’t a “good enough” God and we are not a people who are called to be “good enough.” No, the Lord is perfect and we are to be perfect like him. For Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:48, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Obviously, this is an impossible task, but the point is this: There is a right way. God has planned out our lives meticulously and with every decision we face, there is a right way and a way that may cause a detour. How are we to find the right way? Look to God; for when talking about how to build the articles for the tabernacle, the Lord said, “See that you make them according to the pattern shown you on the mountain” (Exodus 25:40). God says to follow the pattern from the mountain. What came from the mountain? The Law. Therefore, when seeking answers in our life, we should consult God’s Law, and by extension of that: that rest of the Bible.
Sometimes, God’s ways (and his commands) are easy to understand, make perfect sense, and are also relatively easy to follow. Like when the Lord says,
Command the Israelites to bring you clear oil of pressed olives for the lights so that the lamps may be kept burning. In the Tent of Meeting, outside the curtain that is in front of the Testimony, Aaron and his sons are to keep the lamps burning before the Lord from evening till morning. This is to be a lasting ordinance among the Israelites for generations to come (Exodus 27:20-21).
See that? It’s simple and easy to follow; like when we read, “You shall not murder” in Exodus 20:13. Most people are able to understand this commandment easily and very few argue with it. Even atheists generally find murder to be wrong (though believing in evolution should support eugenics which establishes that some people’s lives are more important than others). However, God doesn’t always explain why he wants us to do certain things- things that might actually be difficult to accomplish. In our tabernacle example, that could be like the fabric of the tent,
They made the curtains of goat hair for the tent over the tabernacle- eleven altogether. All eleven curtains were the same size- thirty cubits long and four cubits wide. They joined five of the curtains into one set and the other six into another set. Then they made fifty loops along the edge of the end curtain in the other set. They made fifty bronze clasps to fasten the tent together as a unit. Then they made for the tent a covering of ram skins dyed red, and over that a covering of hides of sea cows (Exodus 36:14-19).
Why goat hair, ram skins, and sea cows? What’s a sea cow? How were they supposed to get sea cows in the desert? Why are the ram skins to be dyed red; why not blue? Compare this to,
Keep my decrees.
Do not mate different kinds of animals.
Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed.
Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material (Leviticus 19:19).
Why can’t I wear polyester and cotton together? I don’t know, but the Lord says not to mix my fabrics. It’s not easy in this day and age, but we are supposed to follow God’s commands (suddenly I feel the urge to repent).
Sometimes, God’s commands and words don’t make any sense at all or may seem impossible. Take for example, the lampstand,
Make a lampstand of pure gold and hammer it out, base and shaft; its flowerlike cups, buds and blossoms shall be of one piece with it. Six branches are to extend from the sides of the lampstand- three on one side and three on the other. Three cups shaped like almond flowers with buds and blossoms are to be on one branch, three on the next branch, and the same for all six branches extending from the lampstand. And on the lampstand there are to be four cups shaped like almond flowers with buds and blossoms. One bud shall be under the first pair of branches extending from the lampstand, a second bud under the second pair, and a third bud under the third pair- six branches in all. The buds and branches shall be all of one piece with the lampstand, hammered out of pure gold (Exodus 25:31-36).
I have read this passage many times, and not once have I been able to get the menorah out of it. In fact, I’m pretty sure what’s presented here is some sort of impossible shape. Likewise Jesus told the disciples (and through his Word, us),
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).
Make disciples of all nations? This was an impossible task, but the disciples pulled it off and the mission is still being practiced today. The Lord will be with us when we do things his way, and will help us to accomplish all that he commands. We know this because somehow the Israelites actually did make the lampstand,
They made the lampstand of pure gold and hammered it out, base and shaft; its flowerlike cups, buds and blossoms were of one piece with it. Six branches extended from the sides of the lampstand- three on one side and three on the other. Three cups shaped like almond flowers with buds and blossoms were on one branch, three on the next branches and the same for all six branches extending from the lampstand. And on the lampstand were four cups shaped like almond flowers with buds and blossoms. One bud was under the first pair of branches extending from the lampstand, a second bud under the second pair, and a third bud under the third pair- six branches in all. The buds and the branches were all of one piece with the lampstand, hammered out of pure gold (Exodus 37:17-22).
Impossible shape? Maybe, but with the help of the Lord, the Israelites pulled it off.
Now, I’m not saying that living life God’s way is easy- it’s not. In fact, it is impossible. Solomon makes note of this when he writes, “There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20). Only one person in all of history has been able to live their whole life perfectly God’s way; and that was God in the flesh, Jesus Christ. And Jesus only had to do it while he lived 30-some years on the earth. Because of Jesus life on earth, the writer of Hebrews 4:14-16 proudly proclaims,
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are- yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Since Jesus was perfect, when we pray with him, God always takes notice. But Jesus also understands our weaknesses, so he is able to forgive- because though he chose rightly every time, he also faced temptation.
Just like there is a right way to live life, there is a right way (and in fact the only one way) into an eternal life in heaven. All roads do not lead to heaven, there is only one way, and that is through faith in Jesus Christ; for the Bible (God’s handbook to humanity) clearly states in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast.” There is no way to earn salvation; it is only through the saving blood of Jesus that you may be saved. And the Lord makes the steps of salvation clear, simple, and he even explains them in Romans 10:9-10,
That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.
People complain that God is stubborn to only have one road to salvation, but their complaint is silly. Salvation is clear, simple, and not difficult for you to achieve; just like the instructions for the oil in the tabernacle. So stop complaining and do things God’s way, the right way. You won’t regret it.