Why so many details, God?

I’m reading Exodus, and have arrived at those lengthy chapters of instructions for the tabernacle.  My eyes begin glazing over in the confusion of cubits and networks, fine twisted linen and pressed oil … why not say “Make it beautiful” and leave it at that?  And why did ancient Israel have so many instructions about forms and ceremonies, while we are set loose with the admonition to “worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24)?

Left to their own devices in the matter of beautiful worship, Israel ended up with a golden calf rather than a tabernacle.  Do we really do any better?  Ah, yes, we know there is a mercy-seat, but what images have we not placed upon it, to what have we not looked for salvation?  Like Israel, we cry, “Make us gods who shall go before us” (Exodus 32:1).  In the face of mighty deliverances accomplished by a mighty God, we hold feasts of celebration to our idols.  Rather than thanking the One who feeds us, we give all our gratitude to the food.  And our God, who would have destroyed Israel for this offense, continues, day after day, to deal patiently with us.

We build, day after day, His tabernacle to match our own plans: “This is what I consider beautiful; surely God will be pleased to see that I am made happy.”  And, day after day, He undoes our building, removes our laboriously-carved pillars, erases lines in our blueprints and adds designs of His own … we would have unity, strength, wholeness, while “the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit” (Psalm 51:17).  When the work of the perfect Sacrifice was complete, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two” (Matthew 27:51).  (No doubt they set about mending that brokenness at once, completely ignoring the new wholeness that had been accomplished, the union of God with man.)

The details of the tabernacle are not my favorite reading material, but I find this comfort in them: as surely as God cared for the details of His tabernacle then, so surely does He still care for them.   His dwelling place is no longer in a tent or a stone temple, but it is in human hearts — in me.   And, though He has not chosen to tell me the plans, though He has not told me the cubits and curtains and lamp-stands of my life, I know that He has them, that He has designed them to be more beautiful than I ever could imagine, and that He will see to it that His plans are accomplished in me.  That, indeed, is very good.

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