God had specific requirements for how the Tabernacle was to be built. Down to the last details: measurements, colors, arrangements, decorative adornments... God was a builder. He IS a builder, I should say. And He wants things done just the right way.
Take, for example, Exodus 26:3-6:
Join five of the curtains together, and do the same with the other five. Make loops of blue material along the edge of the end curtain in one set, and do the same with the other end curtain in the other set. Make fifty loops on one curtain and fifty loops on the end curtain of the other set, with the loops opposite each other. Then make fifty gold clasps and use them to fasten the curtains together so that the tabernacle is a unit.
And this is just the beginning of the details.
If I were receiving the instructions, I'd probably scrap it and give up. I get frustrated enough just trying to sew a button onto a shirt or fix a seam correctly. Imagine how hard it might be to make those fifty loops! And the time it would take to melt gold to make some kind of clasps to fasten those curtains together! By the time I was done, I'd probably be old and gray.
Oh, but it gets better. In just the next verse, God says this:
Make curtains of goat hair (GOAT HAIR?) for the tent over the tabernacle--eleven altogether. All eleven curtains are to be the same size--thirty cubits long and four cubits wide. Join five of the curtains together into one set and the other six into another set. Fold the sixth curtain double at the front of the tent. Make fifty loops along the edge of the end curtain in one set and also along the edge of the end curtain in the other set. Then make fifty bronze clasps and put them in the loops to fasten the tent together as a unit. As for the additional length of the tent curtains (just in case you were wondering, Moses...) the half curtain that is left over is to hang down at the rear of the tabernacle.
OK, seriously, goat hair? How long would that take? I realize, within cultural context, that was probably a common practice--weaving goat hair together to make curtains. Even still, that had to be a daunting task. And then the folding? That could get frustrating trying to make sure they're folded exactly the same and with equal lengths on the appropriate sides. I have enough of a hard time folding a fitted sheet without just shoving it into the closet in a big ball!
I like plans with details. Don't get me wrong. I'd hate for God to just say, "Go build me a tabernacle. And make it nice." That would surely make me nervous. And God knows in this day and age, someone would go and stick one of those hideous red felt bows on it somewhere that people use on their front porches at Christmastime. Yuck.
But all of these details, with the twisting and the joining and the looping and the clasping, make me nervous. If I had been Moses, I'd have been insanely anxious about the whole task, afraid I'd screw up every little bit of it or have some measurement off somewhere. Let's face it-when you're building something to house the very presence of God, you want it to be perfect, right? I don't think I'd want to cut any corners on that job. I'm not sure I'd want the job to begin with.
But I missed something in all of those details. It's where God began. He didn't begin with the instructions for the tabernacle itself. His instructions were first for the Ark of the Covenant, which was the representation of the covenant God made with His people. It was the basis, the foundation, the reason for their journey and relationship with Him. It was the center and the starting point.
He then moved to the instructions for the table, the lampstand, the tabernacle itself, the altar for burnt offerings, the courtyard outside the tabernacle, oil for the lampstand, and the priestly garments. He started at the heart of it all and worked His way outward. I think He was onto something there...
There's something about our hearts that are similar to the Ark, and our bodies like the tabernacle. Our hearts are the center, the core of our being. So why, when we're building our lives, do we so often start by putting the curtains up around the tabernacle when the Ark of the Covenant has yet to be given a home? Why do we dress up the outer parts of ourselves, ignoring the fact that the inside is empty? It's like spending all the money, time, and energy you have to build a beautiful, brand new house, but once it's built you've got nothing to put inside. It's just a house. Not a home. It's just for looks, for people to drive by and think "Wow, they must really be living it up!" while inside you're sitting on your hardwood floors, bored and broke, and probably a little bit remorseful.
We do the same with our bodies, dressing ourselves to appear one way when inside we may feel completely different. It is always the case with girls. Every girl knows what clothes she puts on in the mornings, but there's more to it than that. You know who you're going to see that day, where you might go, what kind of situations may occur. There is an entire thought process. And yet while we care so much about the outside of our bodies, many often ignore what's going on inside our hearts.
I am just as guilty as the next person.
The girls in my spiritual formation group (SFG) at Lincoln and I are reading through Dallas Willard's Renovation of Character. It's a re-written version of his previous book, Renovation of the Heart, which is a little more lengthy and wordier. (Is wordier even a word? I've used it twice today...I should find out.) I had already read Renovation of the Heart for the one Seminary class I took in 2005 called Shaping the Heart of a Leader. It was a great class and a great read. Reading the second version with the girls is making me realize how often I may consider the heart or read about my character, but how often am I carefully building a place for the presence of God within me?
I'm guilty of not making much time to read my Bible and to sit in silence and to just talk to God. I fill my time with TV shows and facebook and I drown out the silence with songs and more songs. Sometimes even worshipful songs that I sing out loud, but my heart isn't singing in tune with my voice. I catch myself doing this too often.
I need to keep myself in check. I need to keep my heart in tune. I don't want to ever live in an empty house. (Oddly, I write this from my living room floor that is currently void of furniture as I wait for my new furniture to arrive...interesting thought...)
Do I care too much about the Courtyard and the priestly garments and not enough about the Ark? God doesn't want us to completely ignore the other pieces. He simply asks us to start with the heart. Start with the very place we began with Him, and then work our way out. When our heart is right, then we'll work out the other parts of our life. It doesn't mean they'll just "fall into place." It will still take work. There are still things to maintain and details to follow. We still need to take care of our bodies and relationships and keep clean homes and healthy families and work hard at what we do.
It's interesting how tonight as I was reading this scripture in Exodus, I didn't seem to notice the details until it came to the curtains in the tabernacle. Somehow I skipped right over the details concerning the Ark of the Covenant. I read them, but I didn't think much about them. I guess sometimes that's how it is with my heart. I read about and think about changing it, but I don't really do much with the words on the page. Do I just pass over those instructions and go on toward building something I can see on the outside?
My mind is flooding with other scriptures right now about the Tabernacle, the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place, and how the veil was torn, and the words of the Shaun Groves song I always love, Welcome Home. (Sidenote: Read this article for more of the story behind the song.) There is so much correlation between the Ark and the Tabernacle with the Heart and the Home. Is the home really where the heart is? Or are we living in empty houses?