Posted by: mattcolvin | December 27, 2011

Tabernacle and Priesthood in Exodus 33

Tuesday, Feast of St. John: Exodus 33.

7 Moses took his tent and pitched it outside the camp, far from the camp, and called it the tabernacle of meeting. And it came to pass that everyone who sought the LORD went out to the tabernacle of meeting which was outside the camp. 8 So it was, whenever Moses went out to the tabernacle, that all the people rose, and each man stood at his tent door and watched Moses until he had gone into the tabernacle. 9 And it came to pass, when Moses entered the tabernacle, that the pillar of cloud descended and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and the LORD talked with Moses. 10 All the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the tabernacle door, and all the people rose and worshiped, each man in his tent door. 11 So the LORD spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. And he would return to the camp, but his servant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, did not depart from the tabernacle.

Notice, first, that Israel is not in the presence of the Lord the way Moses is. This is of the essence of priestly religion under the Torah covenant: the symbolism is symbolism of exclusion and inability to approach except through chosen priests.

It is also interesting to observe the relation between this priestly central meeting place and the worship that is done by every ordinary Israelite: “all the people would rise and bow down each man at the entrance of his tent.” Thus decentralized worship depends on the central sanctuary, as synagogue worship later depended on the Temple, and as Christian church worship depends upon Jesus having entered the true Temple in heaven with His own blood.

33:11 – The statement that YHWH “spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” is not meant literally, since what follows in 33:23 indicates that even Moses is not allowed to see God’s face. Alter suggests that “the hyperbole is in all likelihood a continuation of the visual perspective of the people so clearly marked in verses 8-10, as it appears to the Israelites from their vantage point in front of their tents…”

33:11 – Joshua is called “a lad,” but his scouting of the land with Caleb indicates that he was a fully grown man. Alter mentions that Ibn Ezra “places him in his fifties at this juncture.” Probably the Hebrew נער is equivalent to Greek παῖς, which can mean not only a child, but also a servant or, as Alter puts it, “someone in a subaltern position”. It is very natural that he will be Moses’ successor, since he has been closest to him in the worship of God. This is one of the reasons why it seems appropriate for liturgical churches to maintain male acolytes, since they are ordinarily the ranks from which future priests will come.


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