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Shemot/Exodus 38:21 These are the reckonings of the Tabernacle - the Tabernacle of the Testimony - that was reckoned at Moshe's instructions
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The root appears twice in this text, first as a plural noun and then as a singular verb. These, the narrator tells us, are the , the 'reckonings' of the Tabernacle. is the mp construct form of the Qal participle passive, the things being counted, visited or reckoned: the reckonings. does have an unusually large range of possible meanings, as shown by the variety of options proposed in the English translations for this word: accounts (CJB, NJB), records (ESV, NRSV, NJPS), number (NASB), amounts (NIV), inventory (NKJV, NLT). While none of these is incorrect for the word as a stand-alone noun, I think it is a mistake to assign it a different meaning from the verb which follows five words later - as almost all the above translations do. The verb is the Pu'al 3ms affix form of the root - he/it was reckoned - and by its singularity draws an immediate contrast with the plurality of the reckonings of the first word. This is not lost on the classical Jewish commentators who argue about what has been reckoned!
TheRashbam tells us that "these are the accounts of the silver, gold and copper." Ibn Ezra, on the other hand, tells us that "these are the records of the furnishings, which are included within the meaning of the word 'Tabernacle'." Rashi supports his grandson, adding that "in this passage, all of the weights of the contributions of the Mishkan have been listed, for the silver, the gold and the copper." The modern scholar Umberto Cassuto sounds as though he is trying to have his cake and eat it: "[these are] the details of the inventory of the materials that were donated and used for the work of the Tabernacle, namely the tabernacle of the testimony, which included the ark of the testimony, which was (singular in Hebrew) reckoned - whose inventory was made."1 Walter Brueggemann suggests that "these verses present something like a formal, final and complete audit of the finances."2
Given, as Drazin and Wagner point out, that "Moshe and Bezalel were beyond suspicion", why was this audit or reckoning process necessary at all? DonAbravanel explains that in this verse and the next, "as is standard with accounting, three different groups are mentioned: Moshe, who ordered the accounting to be made; the Levites, under Itamar's direction, who did the accounting; and Bezalel, who reported, 'This is what I took in and this is what I spent.'" Leon Kass agrees, confirming that "these 'reckonings' were ordered by Moshe, not by HaShem."3 According to this line of argument, what was Moshe trying to do? Cassuto responds that "Scripture's purpose in this verse is to inform us that Moshe specifically appointed the Levites to keep the accounts of the construction of the Tabernacle - to record the gifts that were brought and the use to which they were put in the course of the work, to draw up a balance sheet, as it were, of the income and expenditure of the whole enterprise."4 That's all very well, but we need Kass to spell it out for us: "Among reasons he might have ordering an accounting, Moshe clearly wants all transactions to be transparent so that no-one could accuse him of enriching himself from the people's donations."5 Indeed, as the Baal HaTurim comments, "Moshe made his reckoning before all 600,000 Jews, so that they not suspect him of misappropriating any of the silver."
Might there have been any other reasons for the reckoning? RabbiHirsch suggests that the physical reckoning was part of the process of showing the importance of the Tabernacle when compared to the other much more costly temples that were to follow in Israelite history. "The Mishkan was the only Temple which was established out of the voluntary sacrifices and devotion of the nation," he wrote, adding that "No other Temple achieved the importance in heaven that this simple modest Temple-Tent reached. In it alone was the presence of the Shechinah visibly shown by the Cloud of the Glory of G-d. It alone never fell into the hands of an enemy." While the cloud of G-d's glory did descend on Solomon's Temple (the First Temple), this was only on the day of its dedication and was not a permanent feature of the Temple as it was for the Tabernacle in the wilderness. By noting how much of their substance the Israelites gave - both in the physical offerings and the hours of construction and artisan labour - to the Tabernacle, Hirsch compares its relatively modest costs and accoutrements favourably against the much more expensive - and in some cases, coerced - buildings that would be erected in later years.
There is a third possible reason for the very public 'reckonings' to have been set in place. It comes from Israel Drazin and Stanley Wagner, whose comment started the first reason a couple of paragraphs above. Let's hear them finish their sentence: "Although Moshe and Bezalel were beyond suspicion, they set an example in accountability in the use of public funds." This offers the possibility that this is actually a teaching point, embedded in the Torah for us all to read and from which we can learn: that no-one should conduct any public work, collect or appeal for public funds, without a fully audited and transparent process in place. This should be operated by at least one (if not not several) independent parties to ensure that all funds are full traceable and accounted for, without any questions about exactly where the money went, what it was used for and who authorised its being spent.
Moshe teaches and the Torah records that he was accountable and transparent right from the start of the Tabernacle process. He announces the L-rd's call for material and labour gifts and offerings, but "Moshe then called Bezalel and Oholiab, and every skilled person whom the L-RD had endowed with skill, everyone who excelled in ability, to undertake the task and carry it out. They took over from Moshe all the gifts that the Israelites had brought, to carry out the tasks connected with the service of the sanctuary" (Shemot 36:2-3, NJPS). We can see the level of detachment on Moshe's part that they had to come back to him later to tell him that the people had given too much; until they told him, he had no idea of how the work and provisioning was progressing. When accused by the men of Korah's rebellion of raising himself above the rest of the congregation of Israel, Moshe justifiably points to his open record: "Then Moses became very angry and said to the L-RD, 'Do not accept their grain offerings! I have not taken so much as a donkey from them, and I have never hurt a single one of them'" (B'Midbar 16:15, NLT). You know, he says toHaShem, and so should they!
In the gospel narrative, we find an indirect record that Yeshua followed the same model: "[Judas] said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it" (John 12:6, ESV). The immediate context is that Judas was complaining at what he saw as the waste of money in Mary anointing Yeshua's feet with expensive perfume. He would have preferred the money in the moneybag so that he could pilfer from it. But see what else the text tells us: firstly, that Yeshua did not keep or control the funds that were donated to Him or the group. To do so would have been to open Himself up to possible accusations of personal enrichment or of living 'above' the rest of the group. Secondly, notice to whom the charge of the moneybag was given; not to Nathaniel "in whom there is no deceit" (1:47, ESV), nor to John "whom Yeshua loved" (21:20, ESV) or even to Levi who had experience handling money "sitting at the tax booth" (Luke 5:27, ESV). Any of there might have been too close. The moneybag was given to Judas, the one who would betray Yeshua, the most unlikely one to be trusted with anything, the most independent party among the disciples.
During a time of shortage in Jerusalem, Rav Sha'ul organised for the congregations in Macedonia and elsewhere in Greece to raise funds for those in need in Israel. He wrote about this to the Corinthians, explaining that Titus - whom they knew - had volunteered to take the collected monies to the congregations in Jerusalem. With Titus, Sha'ul explained, he was sending another well-known preacher and evangelist, saying "We take this course so that no one should blame us about this generous gift that is being administered by us, for we aim at what is honourable not only in the L-rd's sight but also in the sight of man" (2 Corinthians 8:21-22, ESV). So much so, that actually, "with them we are sending our brother whom we have often tested and found earnest in many matters, but who is now more earnest than ever because of his great confidence in you" (v. 23, ESV). A party of three would be going, so as to be "honourable" both in the eyes of G-d and man; each could check and account for the others and there could be no suspicion of wrong-doing.
Sha'ul reminds us that "each of us will give an account of himself to G-d" (Romans 14:12, ESV), suggesting that the same standards of accountability and transparency apply to us, whether pastors and leaders, teachers or believers without portfolio. We all need to be accountable and be prepared to give an account to any who ask, whether G-d or men. This is a challenge in these days, but following Moshe's example and making sure that we are open, transparent and honest is one of the ways in which we please G-d and demonstrate the reality of the kingdom of G-d in these days. We are called to be faithful servants, doing Yeshua's bidding at all times, ready to welcome Him home.
1. - Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, (Magnes Press, Jerusalem, 1983), page 468.
2. - Walter Brueggemann, "Exodus", in The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary Vol I, edited by Leander E. Keck, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015), page 500.
3. - Leon R. Kass, Founding G-d's Nation - Reading Exodus (New Haven, Yale University press, 2021), page 578.
4. - Cassuto, page 469.
5. - Kass, page 579.
Further Study: Romans 14:16-18; Philippians 4:8-9; 1 Peter 2:11-17
Application: Are you transparent enough in your reckonings, financial and spiritual? How could you move towards greater openness and accountability in your life, your work, your accounts and your family? Speak to the Chief Auditor today and ask what measures He wants to see implemented in your life.
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© Jonathan Allen, 2021
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