Tuesday of week 17 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Exod 33:7-11; 34:5-9, 28

There are two distinct parts in today’s reading. First, we are told how intimate Moses was with the Lord and, in the second part, there are instructions on how the people are to provide gifts for the needs of worship.

We are told that at some distance away outside the Israelites’ encampment Moses used to pitch a tent, known as the Tent of Meeting. The Tent is mentioned here by anticipation. Its actual construction will be described in later chapters. It is also probable that the Tent in the desert was the shrine of the Ark.

Anyone who wished to consult the Lord could go to this tent. This means that people could go there to ask for a divine response through the agency of Moses who spoke with God in the Tent. In later times, Yahweh would be ‘consulted’ through a man of God or through a prophet or even by using the sacred lots (as one can see Chinese doing today in their temples).

However, when Moses went out to the tent, the people would all stand at the entrance of their own tents and watch Moses until he went inside. As soon as he entered, the column of cloud, representing the Lord’s presence, would come down and stop at the tent’s entrance as the Lord spoke with Moses. And, while he was there, the people would also worship at the entrance to their own tents.

And “the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one man speaks to another”. This is a very remarkable statement because many times the Scripture mentions that no one can look on the face of God and live. Moses had this special and unique privilege, which does not seem shared with any other biblical character. In the Gospel, we have the scene of the Transfiguration where Peter, James and John, have a brief glimpse of Jesus in the glory of his divinity, where Jesus, as it were, removes the veil of his humanity to reveal his full self.

At the end, Moses would return to the camp but his young assistant, Joshua, the son of Nun, would remain in the Tent. Perhaps, he was responsible for the protection of the Tent, as the repository of the Ark.

The second part of the reading consists of a set of instructions from Moses taken from the next chapter (35:5-9). What he says is a command from the Lord. It is part of a large section on the furnishing and building of the sanctuary, a section which is an almost word for word repetition of earlier chapters. There the orders were given; here they are being carried out.

The paragraph in our reading is a list of contributions which the people can make towards the furnishing and adornment of the sanctuary. People are asked to donate as they feel inspired.

The gifts mentioned include precious metals (gold, silver, bronze); dyed thread (violet, purple and scarlet yarn); fabric and animal pelts (fine linen and goat hair); dyed skins (rams’ skins dyed red, and tahash skins); furniture material (acacia wood); oils and spices for sanctuary lights and incense; precious stones for vestments (onyx stones and other gems for mounting on the ephod and on the breast piece).

‘Tahash’ may be the name of a marine animal, such as the dugong or the porpoise. The Greek and Latin translations of the Old Testament understood it as indicating the colour hyacinth. ‘Ephod’ is a technical term for a peculiar piece of the priestly vestments, the exact nature of which is not certain. It seems to have been a sort of apron that hung from the shoulders of the priest by shoulder straps and was tied around his waist by the loose ends of the attached belt.

The link of this second part with the first seems to be that these furnishings would be found inside the Tent where Moses prayed and spoke with the Lord. The Tent was, as mentioned, very likely the place where the Ark of the Covenant was kept.

In our Christian tradition, we have a wonderful record of constructing beautiful places of worship, many of which represent the highest levels of architecture, art and culture – on the basis that only the best is good enough for the worship of God.

At the same time, we need to remember that even the most beautiful church or sanctuary is only as holy as those who use it. It is we who are the real Temple of God.

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