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Shemot/Exodus 26:17 Two hands for the one board, joined together, a woman to her sister; thus you shall do for all the boards of the Tabernacle.
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Here, as we immerse ourselves for another year in the building instructions for the Tabernacle - the place of dwelling - that the Israelites are to build forHaShem in the wilderness, we find a powerful picture for building the kingdom of G-d.
Each board (beam, panel) is to have two hand or finger-like tenons projecting downwards from its base to engage with the silver socket that spreads the weight of the board - so that it doesn't sink in the sand - and, together with the other sockets, provide a footing around the walls of the Tabernacle to provide stability and strength, and to take the weight of the multiple layers of coverings over the Tabernacle. The word is the plural of , hand, and is a visible description of what most Bibles translate as 'tenons'. Two phrases particularly stand out in our picture: "joined together, a woman to her sister" and "this you shall do for all the boards of the Tabernacle".
Friedman translates the first phrase as "each aligned with its sister piece", but the exact meaning of the word is uncertain; this particular form - a feminine plural Pu'al participle of the root that is not used as a verb in the Hebrew Bible - occurs only here and in the parallel account of the building in Shemot 36:21. A connected word, occurs twice in 1 Kings 7:28-29, where the most common translation is 'frames' while Nahum Sarna suggests 'crossbars'. Here it is understood as "joined together" (Davidson).Rashi suggests "like the rungs of a ladder". Who or what is to be joined? The words "a woman to her sister" are feminine, as is the participle and the 'hands'. Targum Onkelos translates this as " - opposite one another". Cassuto1 explains that "two tenons were necessary - not one - so that the board should not be able to turn like a door on its hinge, but should remain securely fixed in its place." This would provide locking in the vertical plane, so that the boards could not rotate around a single pin, in that way preventing the wall from buckling or flexing. The Ramban refers to an ancient book called, "The Construction of the Tabernacle", which suggests instead that the two tenons projected horizontally into the adjacent boards to provide a lock to prevent the boards rotating around their middles (where they are held together by centre bar, see verse 28) so that the tops and bottoms of the board would come out of alignment.
The second phrase makes it clear that all the boards used in the Tabernacle were to have this arrangement, not just some of them. No board was to be capable of moving or being moved independently; they were all to be locked together in a firm, stable and secure way. If only some of the boards were locked, symmetrically and in the same way, then buckling or twisting under the weight of the covers or waviness in the lines of the wall, would always place strain on each joint, on the centre bars and at the corners, so that the Tabernacle might be weakened or damaged. The Tabernacle might even collapse while in use, not only harming any priest who might be serving inside at the time, but damaging or revealing the furniture and fittings of the Tabernacle - such as the altars or the menorah, which always had to be covered while in transit so that they should not be seen by the people. Such a collapse would also reflect badly upon HaShem Himself, if His house were seen to collapse or break.
Rav Sha'ul picks up the analogy and writes quite architecturally to the Ephesians: "I pray that from the treasures of His glory He will empower you with inner strength by His Spirit, so that the Messiah may live in your hearts through your trusting. Also I pray that you will be rooted and founded in love, so that you, with all G-d's people, will be given strength to grasp the breadth, length, height and depth of the Messiah's love, yes, to know it, even though it is beyond all knowing, so that you will be filled with all the fullness of G-d" (Ephesians 3:16-19, CJB). This is very inclusive language, including all of G-d's people; just as the Tabernacle was filled with the presence of G-d at its commissioning - "Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the L-RD filled the tabernacle. And Moshe was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the L-RD filled the tabernacle" (Shemot 40:34-35, ESV) - so the body of believers is to be filled with the fullness of G-d in Messiah. The concept of rootedness, without room for twisting or buckling out of shape is so important that Sha'ul writes again to the Colossians: "Therefore, just as you received the Messiah Yeshua as Lord, keep living your life united with Him. Remain deeply rooted in Him; continue being built up in Him and confirmed in your trust, the way you were taught, so that you overflow in thanksgiving" (Colossians 2:6-7, CJB). Here, once again, fullness is contingent upon being built up together so that there are no gaping holes and that the body doesn't leak.
Neither is the body to collapse or the underpinnings of G-d's witness in the world to be undermined. Sha'ul writes, "You have been built on the foundation of the emissaries and the prophets, with the cornerstone being Yeshua the Messiah himself. In union with Him the whole building is held together, and it is growing into a holy temple in union with the Lord. Yes, in union with Him, you yourselves are being built together into a spiritual dwelling-place for God!" (Ephesians 2:20-22, CJB). Our foundation is to be secure and unshakeable, with our feet firmly placed upon the Rock, Messiah Yeshua.
Our structure as the Body of Messiah too is to be firm and rigid, capable of bearing weight without spinning, twisting or buckling out of shape. Peter tells the believers among the Diaspora, "As you come to Him, the living stone, rejected by people but chosen by G-d and precious to Him, you yourselves, as living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be cohanim set apart for G-d to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to Him through Yeshua the Messiah" (1 Peter 2:4-5, CJB). We are to be fit for purpose and an architectural witness to the peoples of the world, filled with G-d's presence and shining with His light in us. Yeshua is the one who builds, bringing people together and cementing them into place with relationship, friendship, shared calling and vision; He binds our lives together as we work and grow in His kingdom.
Some might object to a tight locking or bonding between believers, trying to insist upon autonomy and freedom in the Spirit. Ultimately, though, this just means anarchy and chaos as happened in Israel during the days of the Judges: "In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did as he pleased" (Judges 21:25, JPS). As Rav Sha'ul said, "All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful, but not all things are edifying" (1 Corinthians 10:23). Instead, we are to love one another (John 15:12) as Yeshua loves us. Love means hanging on to each other and not letting go; love means telling each other the truth even if we don't want to hear it; love means giving and caring even when it hurts, so that we stay in step and stay connected. We are G-d's family, brothers and sisters of Yeshua and just as the boards in the Tabernacle are to be joined as closely as a woman to her sister, so we are to be the friend that is "closer than a brother" (Proverbs 18:24)). This is the work of the Spirit, bringing that closeness and commitment, allowing each to live their own lives while preserving a high level of interconnectedness and care.
1. - Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, Magnes Press, Jerusalem, 1983, 965-223-456-7
Further Study: Romans 14:18-21; Colossians 3:12-15
Application: Are you as close as a sister or a brother to your fellow believers in Messiah? How can you develop that level of commitment, openness and transparency to help each other grow and stand firm?
© Jonathan Allen, 2014
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