For the week of March 17, 2007 / 27 Adar 5767
Torah: Shemot / Exodus 35:1 - 40:38; 12:1-20
Haftarah: Ezekiel 45:16 - 46:18


An Ancient Book

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. (Shemot / Exodus 40:34)

This week's parsha (English: Torah portion) details the construction of the Mishkan (English: Tabernacle) and associated items. For the most part this section repeats what God had told Moses to do, except this time we have the description of it all being done. It is common for people, when they begin to read the Bible, to get bogged down at this point. It is difficult to keep attentive when reading something so foreign to our own culture and experience.

Interestingly this is not the only part of the Bible that is foreign to us. In our attempt to make Scripture relevant to our day and age, we sometimes forget that the Bible is an ancient book, written in, what is to most of us, foreign languages in a foreign cultural context. This is not to say that the spiritual truths we discover within its pages are not timeless. It is just that these timeless truths are to be discovered within a foreign context.

In God's providence and wisdom he determined to reveal himself through the Scriptures that were written during a particular time period and in a particular part of the world. These were days of tribal peoples, of kings and prophets, of fighting with spears, swords, and chariots. This was a time when religion and life were intertwined, and each people group had its own god or gods. Affluence was rare; most people worked the land. It was a time before hospitals and modern medicine, pesticides and genetically modified foods, motors and telecommunications. Yet it was a time when the God of the universe entered the lives of certain people and situations. For God's own reasons it was those people and those situations which were recorded to provide subsequent generations, including our own, with an understanding of God's reality and truth.

The Mishkan, upon its completion, was filled with God's glory. The very presence of God filled this elaborate, tent-like structure. Yet due to its foreign nature we find reading about it boring. I wonder what we are missing just because we tend to shy away from reading about it.

The Mishkan is but one example of how the Bible's foreign nature presents a challenge to the modern reader. That is why many have attempted to modernize the language of the Bible. Scholars try to bridge the multi-millennial gap between the Scriptures and our own day. But no matter how modernized we try to make these ancient writings, there is no way to completely transform them into contemporary writings and still convey the things that God has revealed.

I do not want to give any impression that I think the Bible is not relevant for our day and age, nor that it cannot be understood by our contemporary culture. The teachings of the Bible are timeless. But at the same time, let us remember that we are dealing with an ancient book that does require significant work to fully understand it. Therefore, when we encounter hard-to-understand sections, it may be necessary to work a little harder to discover the riches God has for us there.

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